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Match preview: AS Roma vs. Fiorentina

Serie A is finally back, and we get a treat on the first day - Fiorentina will try to surprise Roma at Olimpico

Giuseppe Bellini

Here we are again. A new Serie A season is (finally) about to start. After 105 days without Italian football (thankfully, there was that little obscure tournament called World Cup to fill the void), Fiorentina, and the rest of the teams, are back. And already in the first round we have a huge game. Both AS Roma and Fiorentina enter the new season with great ambitions, with both teams pursuing a top-3 finish. Certainly this match won't decide anything, but it could give us some ideas about what to expect.

Vincenzo Montella is once again going back to the place where he made his name as a player. He spent ten years with the giallorossi and no doubt he will get his usual warm welcome. But the truth is, the aeroplanino isn't particularly successful as a coach against his old team. So far he has three draws, four defeats, and zero wins. Seems time that finally changed.

How Roma will line up

Fiorentina might be helped by the fact that Roma are missing several important players, especially in defense. Mehdi Benatia has left and joined Bayern Munich. Kostas Manolas has now arrived to replace him, and he might have to play already, despite not being 100% fit; Leandro Castan is injured so Rudi Garci doesn't have much choice, he has to either use Manolas or the young Romagnoli. Garcia cannot count on Douglas Maicon and Federico Balzaretti who are also out injured, which leaves him with Vasilis Torosidis and Ashley Cole as fullbacks.

In the midfield, the lupi are still without perhaps the most important part of Garcia's machinery - Kevin Strootman. Still, let's be honest, a midfield of Radja Nainggolan, Daniele De Rossi and Miralem Pjanic is a formidable one.

Last season, Roma were probably the team that played the best football in Italy. Key to their style of play is a very quick transformation from defense to attack. The giallorossi are especially dangerous on the flanks, where Gervinho, and now Juan Iturbe are capable of creating carnage if Fiorentina's fullbacks let them.

Also, they have Totti. Even when he's 100 years old, he'll still be dangerous.

What about Fiorentina?

It's not like Montella doesn't have to deal with injuries. Giuseppe Rossi is out, hopefully not for long, and Juan Cuadrado (who is thankfully staying for at least one more season) is suspended. Facundo Roncaglia, Matias Fernandez and Marko Marin are also out. It would seem that Montella is keen on sticking with the 4-3-1-2 that worked well in some of the friendlies, with Borja Valero playing as the trequartista. That might be a little risky, though, considering that Roma's biggest strength going forward is wide players.

Mario Gomez is starting up top, but who will keep him company remains to be seen. If Montella does opt for a 4-3-1-2, it will be between Josip Ilicic and Khouma Babacar, with the latter being the favorite for the spot in starting line up. However, if it's a 4-3-3, that leaves a few options. It might be Joaquin and Juan Vargas on the flanks, or the young Federico Bernardeschi could make his debut.

Key battles

Flanks. I'm repeating myself here, but Roma will try to win the game on the flanks, and it's of great importance that Manuel Pasqual and Nenad Tomovic (or whoever Montella choses) are 100% focused.

Borja Valero vs. De Rossi. This becomes important if Borja starts behind the attacking duo. Both are world class players and no doubt this battle will in itself be spectacular to watch.

Mario Gomez vs. whoever is in Roma's central defense. We've seen that Mario is motivated. He was great in the preseason, and he got his much deserved reward by being called up for Germany squad again. No doubt he'll be up for it. If he smells blood, he will make the lives of Manolas and Davide Astori extremely difficult.

Projected line ups

Roma (4-3-3): De Sanctis; Cole, Manolas, Astori, Torosidis; Nainggolan, De Rossi, Pjanic; Iturbe, Totti, Gervinho.

Fiorentina (4-3-1-2): Neto; Pasqual, Savic, Rodriguez, Tomovic; Vargas, Pizarro, Aquilani; Borja Valero; Babacar, Gomez