When these teams met in Florence this September to kick off their respective Europa League campaigns, the story line was compelling, albeit simple: Paulo Sousa, having made the jump to a big team in a big league, faced off against the side he led to a Swiss championship last year. Without forgetting the disaster that ensued, things look to be different this time, as Fiorentina's fortunes have improved dramatically. However, this is still a deeply tricky fixture, as Basel are a tough nut to crack at home. The referee, by the way, is Slovakian Ivan Kurzliak.
Since their shocking upset at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, FC Basel have done nothing but impress. They sit top of Group I with 9 points, and have already opened a 7 point lead in the Raiffeissen Super League. Domestically, they're simply too overwhelming for anyone to handle, as their +18 goal differential demonstrates. They did lose at home to Belenenses, though, so a win isn't an impossible proposition. They also dropped their most recent league match to St. Gallen, so there are fissures showing. They'v also got some injury issues, especially at the back: central defenders Wálter Samuel, Daniel Höegh, and Ivan Ivanov are all out, and Daniel Akanji may be unable to go as well. Right back Philip Degen and midfielder Matías Delgado are also hurt, forcing one-time Fiorentina target Taulant Xhaka into the central midfield.
Sousa's replacement, Urs Fischer, has kept the ball rolling. His default shape is a 4-3-3, with speed on the wings and a sturdy trio in the center protecting a solid back line, although he may tilt the midfield to look more like a 4-2-3-1. Striker Marc Janko is the obvious goal threat, as he's already got 13 goals in the league; the Austrian is very tall and very clever with his movement in the box, as well as an assured finisher. Breel Embolo is a pacey striker deployed as a direct wide attacker, and is the second-leading scorer with 8. Wingers Shkelzen Gashi (6), Davide Callà (6), and Birkir Bjarnason (5) are also threats, although former Viola midfielder Zdravko Kuzmanovic will surely relish any chance to have a pop from distance. Expect Basel to defend deep, concede the midfield, and use their collection of wingers to strike quickly on the break.
Paulo Sousa really needs a win here for several reasons. The draw against Empoli was a real punch in the crotch, for one thing. For another, the club needs the money that Europa League advancement brings. Finally, he'll be desperate to beat his former club at their own ground, returning the favor they paid him earlier. With Fiorentina second in Group I on 6 points, a good win would put them first on goal differential, with only the home match against Belenenenses remaining.
He'll have to do without Jakub Błaszczykowski, who's still laid up from a knee injury picked up with Poland. Ante Rebic is suspended, and Mario Suárez was left out of the squad; Borja Valero has picked up a knock, but should be good to go. With this one something of a must-win, expect Sousa to pick his first-choice eleven (with the exception of cup goalkeeper Luigi Sepe), although cameos from Giuseppe Rossi and Gilberto would hardly be unexpected.
Basel (4-2-3-1): Vaclík; Lang, Suchy, Akanji, Safari; Xhaka, Elnenney; Embolo, Zuffi, Gashi; Janko
Fiorentina (3-4-2-1): Sepe; Roncaglia, Gonzalo, Astori; Bernardeschi, Badelj, Vecino, Alonso; Valero, Ilicic; Kalinic
How to watch
TV: Doesn't look like this one's going to be on TV, which is a real bummer, man.
Online: Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, we'll have a match thread live here for discussion of the game at hand. If you post illegal viewing streams in the comments, we'll delete them. We won't be angry, but we'll be very disappointed. You can also follow along with us live on Twitter, and we'll have updates of the most important events on our Facebook page.
Comments from the team
Paulo Sousa: We have everything required to win this game and are a team who believe more and more in ourselves.
We cannot have a preference between Serie A and Europe, because a culture of victory has to be fed by consistent wins. You cannot abandon the idea of winning. We must be aware of what that all means and the petrol in the tank that has to be meted out."
Nenad Tomovic: "Many things have changed since the last time we played Basel and we are more tuned in with what the Coach asks of us."
“I know the Europa League Final will be played in this stadium. It is my first time here in Basel, but obviously I hope to be back…”
Shameless homer prediction
I'm going with a 2-1 win for Fiorentina: an Ilicic penalty, a Kalinic tap-in, and Embolo capitalizing on a bad pass out from the back.
Watch this space for the lineups and comment thread tomorrow. Until then, forza Viola.