With the winter break concluded, last Wednesday saw Fiorentina return to action. Viola fans were left pleased as the team successfully traversed a tricky away fixture in Palermo. Taking maximum points in Sicily will have maintained, if not boosted, the players' confidence levels, so this can only be viewed as a good thing going into a fixture that in recent years has not yielded kind results for Fiorentina. The Viola have only won one of their last six home fixtures against Lazio, with the last four encounters in Florence all ending with the team from the Eternal City emerging victorious. The home side can perhaps draw ambition from the fact that of the nine league games they have hosted at the Franchi this season, Sousa’s men have impressively won seven. On Saturday evening, both Viola fans and players alike will hope that this rich vein of home form can continue, and in the process allay this recent hoodoo.
One only has to look to the league table to understand that three points from this fixture should be Fiorentina’s sole objective. Lazio are perched tenth in the standings, lagging 14 points behind the men in purple and subsisting on a goal difference of -6 to Fiorentina’s +20. Last season saw Lazio finish a spot above Fiorentina with a respectable third-placed finish. This fact, combined with the rather galling 6-0 aggregate score across both fixtures, will at the very least provide food for thought for Paulo Sousa. Despite the very real danger that Lazio do possess, Sousa’s team should go into this match with confidence as well as conviction. The Viola can take heart from a season that has seen a clearly identifiable gulf emerge between the two teams, one that is most acutely reflected in the statistics accumulated by each side.
Fiorentina will be without the precocious talent of their gifted number 10. After picking up five yellow cards for the season, Federico Bernardeschi will sit out this fixture due to suspension. Going into this match the Viola have a number of players walking the same tightrope that Bernardeschi fell foul of in Palermo. Matias Vecino, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Marcos Alonso and Milan Badelj are all one slip away from a one game ban. Nicola Rizzoli will be the referee presiding over the two teams, and you would not have to be a soothsayer to imagine a reality where one or more of these players will be suspended for next week’s trip to the San Siro. In the eight Serie A games Rizzoli has taken charge of this season, he has proved to be anything but card shy, doling out a total of 44 yellow cards and an equally improbable 8 reds.
Jakub Blaszczykowski looks a certainty to deputise for Bernardeschi on the right side of Sousa’s elastic formation. The Polish International will look to capitalise on what was good half hour showing against Palermo, capped off as it was with a smartly taken goal that effectively put the game to bed. Elsewhere in the team Josip Ilicic will look to extend his goal-scoring streak that has seen the Slovenian bag 9 goals already this term, a feat that already eclipses his entire tally for last season.
Other than for those that are either enforced by suspension or required due to injury (at the time of writing no injuries are reported) one would assume that for this game there will not be many alterations to the starting line up. Though Sousa is not afraid to shuffle the deck, the Portuguese manager will presumably keep faith in a defence that over the course of nine league games at the Franchi has kept six clean sheets, a stat only bettered by league leaders Inter who have seven to their name. And Fiorentina have now scored in each of their last 25 league games, scoring two goals or more in six of their last seven home fixtures in the league. All bodes well for the Viola in a game that is always a compelling fixture. Throughout the season many onlookers have questioned the staying power of Sousa’s team, the result of this match will do much to either bolster or indeed buffer those claims.
Ex Fiorentina central defending stalwart Stefano Pioli arrives with his Lazio side to his old stomping ground fresh off the back of a 0-0 draw against Carpi at home in the Olimpico. Pioli was frustrated with his side’s inefficiency in a game in which they peppered the Carpi goal with 15 shots but still ended the game with not a single attempt on target. This has been the story of Lazio’s season, with considerable pressure mounting on the manager. Lazio have only won one of their last nine league fixtures, a statistic that is compounded by the fact that they have lost six out of seven games in which they faced an opponent who sat above them in the league. The upside (if there is one) for Lazio is that in the game before the winter break they defeated league leaders Inter away in the San Siro. Though anybody watching that game would have to admit that despite a resilient first half showing, if it were not for Felipe Melo’s bizarre antics Lazio in all probability would not have won that game either.
In fairness to Pioli his task this season has been somewhat hampered by the fact that Lazio seem to be auditioning for The Walking Dead, with seven players confined to the sidelines through injury. Chief among the casualties has been Stefan De Vrij who was a rock for Le Aquile last year and has been greatly missed in the heart of their defence. Senad Lulic and Dusan Basta look unlikely to figure in this game, as does Brazilian centre back Mauricio, who suffered an injury against Carpi and looks likely to be replaced by new signing Milan Bisevac, who is a Serbian international, and just signed from Olympique Lyonnais. In other team news, Milinkovic-Savic returns from a one game ban and will seemingly slot in to the starting line up alongside the likes of the impressive Lucas Biglia, the irrepressible Antonio Candreva, the dependable Marco Parolo, the mercurial Felipe Anderson and one of last seasons goal scorers in this fixture, Filip Djordjevic. They also have record breaker Miroslav Klose, who has a penchant for scoring against the Viola with four goals in five games against the Tuscans; at least he'll probably start from the bench.
One thing is for sure, if Lazio do click in to gear they are a threat to any team in the division, even if they have not been able to exert much control this season and have at times looked like a ragtag bunch of players at odds with one another. The fact is they still possess the talent individually as well as collectively that is capable of spontaneous moments of magic. Are they to be feared? I would say certainly not, but it is hard not to respect players of the calibre just listed, on their day they could all prove to be match winners.
Fiorentina (3-4-2-1): Tatarusanu; Roncaglia, Rodriguez, Astori; Blaszczykowski, Vecino, Badelj, Alonso; Ilicic, Valero; Kalinic
Lazio (4-1-4-1): Berisha; Konko, Bisevac, Hoedt, Radu; Biglia; Candreva, Milinkovic-Savic, Parolo, Anderson; Djordjevic
How to watch
TV: RAI and BeIn have this one, so check your local listings if you have them.
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. You can also follow along with us live on Twitter, and we'll have updates of the most important events on our Facebook page.