It is unsurprising that the "grande ex" (in every sense) of this match has dominated the headlines this week ahead of the second meeting of the year between Hellas Verona and Fiorentina. Luca Toni has been discussed, interviewed, and revisited from almost every angle, but it is not just the good will that the twinned societies have for the 2006 World Cup winner that has sparked conversation. Big Luca has netted 16 times this season, more than any Fiorentina player this season (although Rossi would almost certainly have passed that marker); not bad for a player that the Viola society determined to be only useful as a member of the off-field staff. Toni didn't hurt Fiorentina in the first meeting in Florence, although he did furnish an assist and came close with a youthful half-volley (see below), while Romulo (another ex) punished a sleepy defense with the opening goal.
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Despite Verona losing Italo-Brazilian midfielder Jorginho and a slightly indifferent run of recent form, Vincenzo Montella will be eager that his team does not relax into their trip to the Bentegodi Stadium. The home victory against Udinese last weekend was one of the better team performances in the past couple months, and a strong finish to the Serie A season and finishing no lower than 4th would give the team a mental boost ahead of next season, when we will presumably have more than a handful of games with our two first-choice world class strikers playing together.
One of the ways that Montella will likely keep the team hungry and unpredictable is rewarding Ryder Matos with another start ahead of Alessandro Matri. He will also be able to put out his first-choice defense ahead of Neto for the first time in a while, with Nenad Tomovic, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Stefan Savic, and Manuel Pasqual charged with protecting the Viola goal. In midfield some injury worries remain, with both David Pizarro and Alberto Aquilani missing a couple practices this week. Matias Fernandez and Massimo Ambrosini are both absent as well, so Anderson will substitute whichever of Pizarro or Aquilani is in worse shape; Borja Valero completes the midfield, Juan Cuadrado will be in his usual attacking position on the left, and one of Josip Ilicic and Joaquin will be tasked to the other wing.
It's unlikely that Verona coach Andrea Mandorlini will set up his team very defensively despite Fiorentina's technical quality, so it should be a relatively open and exciting contest on Sunday. La Viola would do well to remember and guard against Toni's threat in the air, as well as the pace of Iturbe, Romulo, and Marquinho on the counterattack. At the same time, even with the Fiorentina absences in midfield Borja Valero and Cuadrado should find enough space to express themselves. A lot may come down to finishing, where we will hope that the youngster Matos can find his first Serie A goal (a just reward for a season of growth and sacrifice from the Brazilian) before Toni can find his 102nd.
Verona (4-3-3) Rafael; Cacciatore, Maietta, Moras, Agostini; Romulo, Donadel, Hallfredsson; Iturbe, Toni, Marquinho
FIORENTINA (4-3-3) Neto; Tomovic, Gonzalo, Savic, Pasqual; Anderson, Pizarro, Borja Valero; Cuadrado, Matos, Ilicic
POLL COMING TOMORROW!