On Friday night Roma eased into third position in the Serie A table with a 3-1 away victory over Carpi. The team from the capital now sit pretty on 47 points having won their fourth consecutive game in a row. Luciano Spalletti's side join both Fiorentina (46pts) and Inter Milan (45pts) respectively, as serious contenders for Champions League qualification. As much as Roma's upsurge in fortune has coincided with the return of Tuscan born Spalletti to the Giallorossi dugout, it has also rather fortuitously corresponded with a run of patchy form from both Fiorentina and Inter.
The two teams that share the limelight of Serie A's prestigious Sunday night kick off slot, have both recently suffered a decline that has seen them free fall from the top of the standings. Overtaken and accelerated away from by the winning machines that are Napoli and Juventus, the top two's unassailable form brings the race for third spot into sharp focus. A focus that will understandably be brought to bear on Sunday night's fixture. Come the final whistle on Sunday, if there is to be a winner, that club will move back into third position. Ousting Roma, and in the process adding another twist to the tale, in what looks to be shaping up as a potential Serie A merry-go-round for that all important, lucrative bronze medal position.
In recent times Fiorentina have fared reasonably well against the Nerazzurri. The Viola have won their last three matches against Inter with a combined aggregate score of eight goals to one. Looking back to the last six games, there have amazingly been two 4-1 victories for the team from Florence. The first one back in February of 2013 when Stevan Jovetic and Adem Ljajic put on a show at the Franchi, scoring two goals a piece in a humbling scoreline for Inter. Sunday night's match will see the return of these two players to the field, that to date, they arguably played the best football of their careers on. By a quirk of fate both now don the famous colours of Inter. The other 4-1 victory came at the San Siro back in September, a Nikola Kalinic inspired hat trick helped to knock Inter off their pedestal as early pace setters in the race for the Campionato.
Across the course of the season Fiorentina have averaged 1.7 goals a game to Inter's 1.2 a game. That said each team does possess firepower, the Viola's coming in the form of Nikola Kalinic and Josip Ilicic. Both men are in double figures for goals scored this season. Inter can match the calibre of the Viola arsenal having recently acquired the services of Eder from Sampdoria. Meaning the Milanese also have the potential to field two players who are on double figures for goals scored this season. The other being another ex Samp man, Mauro Icardi. The Argentine's clinically finished consolation goal in Inter's 1-4 defeat to the Viola in September should be enough of a warning to the Fiorentina defence, that if given the opportunity in front of goal, exactly what this player is capable of. This is a player who does not discriminate, having scored 6 of his 10 goals this season away from the San Siro.
The referee for this fixture will be Paolo Mazzoleni. Mazzoleni has officiated eleven games this season, producing a grand total of 45 yellow cards and 4 reds. The 41-year-old Bergamasco has taken charge of both clubs, albeit only once and on separate occasions. On the 20th December Mazzoleni took charge of Inter's 1-2 home loss to Lazio, the match eliciting 4 yellow cards and 2 reds from the referee's pocket, in what was a dramatic game. More recently for Fiorentina the referee officiated on the 24th of January, overseeing the Viola's 2-0 home victory over Torino. In that game Mazzoleni dished out 5 yellow cards, 4 of which went to Torino players.
In the last 6 fixtures between Fiorentina and Inter there has only been one red card. That card was brandished to Inter Milan centre back Miranda in the game that ended 1-4 in September. At the time Fiorentina were already leading the game 0-3.
Fiorentina have witnessed over 2.5 goals scored in 6 of their last seven matches. Maybe more pertinent to this fixture is the fact that the Viola have scored a minimum of 2 goals in 6 of their last 7 home fixtures in Serie A.
Players sitting this one out on the sidelines for the Viola include, Milan Badelj who is still ruled out with a muscle strain. New signing Yohan Benalouane is also ruled out due to concerns over his fitness, as is Tino Costa. Mati Fernandez is the only other Fiorentina player not available. The Chilean is suspended due to the red card he received in Bologna last Saturday.
Paolo Sousa will be looking to stem the erratic form of his side who have won 2, drawn 2 and lost 2 of their last six league matches. A sequence that has seen the last four games develop a pattern that for this game alone would be good to continue. Fiorentina having won, then drawn, then won, then drawn again. A win on Sunday would silence the many vocal critics of the Viola's post Winter Break performances.
Fiorentina will probably employ a 4-2-3-1 that could also be construed and adapted to a 3-4-2-1, with a familiar cast at the back, as well as in midfield. Cristian Tello and Josip Ilicic will be tasked with assisting Nikola Kalinic, who will most likely start up top for the Viola. Whether Marcos Alonso gets the nod over Manuel Pasqual on the left side of the formation is a toss up, with Alonso rumoured to be an injury doubt. Both Borja Valero and Marcos Alonso will go into this game on 4 yellow cards, knowing one more will mean an automatic suspension. Fiorentina's next league fixture after this game against Inter, will be away to Atalanta on the 21st February.
Inter share the same fitful form as the Viola having won 2, drawn 2 and lost 2 of their last six games. The last of which was a disappointing 3-3 draw with bottom of the table Verona. After having seemingly mastered the art of the one nil victory earlier in the season, in recent times Inter's fortified back line has gone AWOL. The Milanese club have conceded 6 goals in their last 3 matches, considering they had conceded only 7 in their previous 12 league outings, there does appear to be something rotten in the state of the Lombardy team's defence. In light of the fact that 9 of the 20 goals Inter have let in this season have come from set pieces (only AC Milan have a worse record), a defence that purports on paper to be the third best in the league, is perhaps on closer reflection, not as organised as one might expect. With Gary Medel, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Alex Telles and another ex Viola player in the shape of Felipe Melo all on four yellow cards. One more misstep will result in a one game ban for any of these individuals. Apart from that, Inter look to be in healthy shape, with just a slight doubt surrounding the fitness of Stevan Jovetic. Roberto Mancini will probably opt for a 4-4-2 with Icardi and Eder leading the attack. If we can look to the past to enlighten the future, then this game should be full of goals, but as you are probably already aware, that usually just means it will end 0-0.
Projected Line Ups:
Fiorentina: (4-2-3-1) Tatarusanu, Roncaglia; Astori, Rodriguez; Alonso, Vecino; Borja Valero, Bernardeschi; Ilicic, Tello; Kalinic
Inter Milan: (4-4-2) Handanovic, Nagatomo; Murillo, Miranda; D'Ambrosio, Biabiany; Medel, Kondogbia; Perisic, Eder; Icardi
How To Watch:
Bein Sports, RAI International, & BT Sports have this one covered, for full options you can check listings here.
As always there will be a live match thread for discussion of the game, or if Twitter is your thing you can follow coverage @Viola_Nation, and true to form we will have updates of the most important events on our Facebook page.