This Group J clash pits 3rd place hosting 1st. The Viola lead the group on goal difference after crushing 10-man Qarabag, but the Czechs will probably prove a sterner test. This will be the first time they’ve ever faced each other. The head referee for the match is Sedar Gozubuyuk, who will bring his Dutch crew with him. Kickoff is at 6:00 PM local/1:00 PM EST, Thursday the 20th of October, at the Stadion u Nisy in Liberec, Czechia.
Currently sitting in 14th place in the Czech league—just one spot above the drop zone—this has been a difficult season for the Modrobili (Blue-whites), with a leaky defense much to blame. They play at the 9,900 capacity Stadion u Nisy—watch for the grandstand embedded directly into a rock—is situated in front of the Nisa River. Liberec itself is home to about 102,000 people and is capital of its own province just south of the border with Poland and Germany, smack-dab in the middle of Bohemia and has some really wonderful late 19th century architecture. Formerly a hub of manufacturing, it’s now centered more on human services.
Slovan Liberec was founded in 1953 as a merger between several local clubs. After wandering between the first, second, and third divisions of Czech football, the club finally found success in the new millennium, winning the league in 2000-1. Overall, they’ve got three league trophies and a Czech cup, making them one of the most successful teams in the country.
Manager Jindrich Trpisovsky will probably instruct his charges to sit back and soak up pressure, then try to counter sporadically, which is an approach proven to work against the Viola. He usually sets out in a 4-2-3-1, with the wingers protecting the fullbacks before springing forward. The dangermen are 34-year-old Milan Baros, who’s lost his pace but still knows how to shake loose in the area; the massive Russian target man Nikolay Komlichenko; and Czech international midfielder Jan Sykoa, whose bursts forward have made him the club’s leading scorer this season. First-choice centerback Lukas Pokorny’s injured knee has Trpisovsky rotating his defense heavily, so it’s hard to know who’ll be back there.
An inability to get results in the league has landed Paulo Sousa squarely on the hot seat. The Portuguese mister has forgotten that goals are a necessary component to winning matches, and has instead set out to stymie lesser opponents, leading to the exact opposite of expansive and attacking football. While he badly needs wins in Serie A, a confident 3 points here would probably relieve a bit of pressure.
It’s unclear if Josip Ilicic (calf) is fully recovered, so he may not be risked. Expect a moderate amount of rotation across the squad, and possibly some Ianis Hagi off the bench. Fiorentina should dominate the proceedings here; whether or not they’ll offer anything resembling goal-scoring intent is really the question of the day.
Slovan Liberec (4-2-3-1): Dubravka; Coufal, Karafiat, Hovorka, Bartosak; Folprecht, Sykora; Bartl, Breite, Vuch; Baros
Fiorentina (4-3-3): Tatarusanu; Tomovic, Gonzalo, Astori, Olivera; Vecino, Sanchez, Cristoforo; Ilicic, Kalinic, Tello
How to watch
TV: Check the listings in your area, but this is almost certainly an internet-only sort of match.
Online: Here is a list of legal and reliable viewing options.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Given Liberec’s defensive struggles, I’m feeling a 3-0, with a Kalinic tap-in, an Ilicic penalty, and a debut goal from Ianis Hagi.