Both "races" for the Scudetto and the 3rd Champions League place have seemed over for a while now, but the victor of this game would go into the last four games of the season with continued hope of a big prize. Roma have chased Juventus impressively since losing their early-season lead atop Serie A, but still trail the bianconeri by 8 points (though Juve have a game in hand). Keeping the gap at 5 points would leave the potential for an interesting finale, especially with Juventus still to play in Rome. Meanwhile Fiorentina remain 9 adrift of Napoli for the final Champions League spot, but a victory at home against an opponent in the midst of such an impressive season would be quite a statement, and maybe even do more if Napoli slip up in their difficult away match in Udine. Borja Valero told Sky after last weekend's game that "we will fight to the end for 3rd place." Surely anything less than 3 points in this game would finally be the end of Fiorentina's Champions League aspirations.
Background on the Serie A table aside, I am excited for this fixture because it is a match between two of the most technically gifted and tactically variable teams in Italy, not to mention that playing Roma always carries extra spice these days with all of the "ex" players on both sides of the field. Vincenzo Montella, Alberto Aquilani, and David Pizarro are all notable former Roma players, while Adem Ljajic will be making his return to the pitch in Florence (if he plays) after a less-than-amicable departure last summer.
Vincenzo Montella will again be able to field his first-choice defense, with Nenad Tomovic, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Stefan Savic, Manuel Pasqual making up a back four. Both Aquilani and Pizarro should start in midfield, with the former Roma men potentially joined by Juan Manuel Vargas in midfield while Borja Valero is pushed forward into a trequartista role. If Montella instead prefers Borja in midfield, Josip Ilicic will join the attack. Juan Cuadrado will look to put in a third consecutive fantastic performance in his new slightly freer attacking role, although he may be paired with Alessandro Matri instead of Ryder Matos for the big game against the Romans. Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez will again be spectators, but their respective rehabs appear to be progressing well, with Gazzetta dello Sport reporting that Gomez will make the squad for the game away to Bologna; hopefully Rossi will also be able to make the bench for that match with the Coppa Italia Final drawing closer.
Roma enter with some important absences with Kevin Strootman out for the season, and Mattia Destro is serving a suspension. Perhaps even more importantly, Mehdi Benatia - one of the best defenders in Serie A this season - remains out due to injury. With Maicon returning to fitness, Roma will likely field an all-Brazilian defense behind a midfield of Radja Nainggolan, Daniele De Rossi, and Miralem Pjanic. Ljajic is expected to play with Gervinho and Francesco Totti in the middle as the "false 9," so Roma still field plenty of attacking threat without Destro.
Like I mentioned, both of these teams are among the Italian teams most pleasing on the eye, and the game may be as breathless as the one in Rome in December. Roma boast a more solid defensive set-up through the team than Fiorentina, and look to counter with the pace of Gervinho and the trickery of Totti. Ljajic will be eager to impress his old fans (and his current ones) as a less-than-perfect marriage with Roma could lead to him leaving the capital in the transfer window this summer. But Fiorentina still boast enough quality to cause the second place team problems, especially with the home fans behind them. We'll need the Borja Valero and Cuadrado we've enjoyed the past couple games, and some watchful defending. Let's hope for a great game and a HUGE three points for the final run in! Forza Viola!