Prior to the beginning of a new season, when the fixture list is published, there is always one game that Fiorentina fans look to before any other. Yes, you guessed it, it is this match. This is the game that stands out above all others. For Viola fans, hosting Juventus at the Artemio Franchi is the prestige fixture within the 38 game season. This is the contest where infamy, salvation, glory and everything else in between is on offer. Forget the position in the table, forget whether or not three points are required, this one is about more than points, this is a game in which pride is at stake. In that sense it is the perfect opportunity for Paolo Sousa's men to recoup some good grace from a season that has taken a decisive nosedive.
It is the nature of the beast that Fiorentina generally go in to this match as the underdog. To this extent Sunday night's clash is no different, Juventus sit atop Serie A and are currently on course to seal their fifth successive Scudetto. Whereas in recent weeks Fiorentina have dropped out of Champions League contention altogether. As such the Viola currently languish nine points off of third place, glancing upwards at the Bianconeri from fifth spot in the table.
Referencing the history books for this fixture is not an advisable pastime for anyone of a Viola bent. Fiorentina have won only 32 of the 153 league games played out between the two sides. What is more the Viola have won just one in their last fifteen league games against Juventus. Even more worrying perhaps is the fact that at home in the league, against their most hated of rivals, the team from Florence have - in the 21st century, mustered just one solitary victory. Taking aside 2013's glorious Giuseppe Rossi inspired 4-2 victory, you have to go back to Sunday December 13th 1998 to find the last home win in the league for Fiorentina. That day saw the Viola triumph 1-0. Paolo Montero was sent off for the visitors whilst a little known striker by the name of Gabriel Batistuta grabbed the headlines with the winning goal for Giovanni Trapattoni's team. Fast forward 17 years to the day, prior to this season's reverse fixture in Turin on Sunday December 13th 2015, the league table showed Juventus trailing five points behind Paolo Sousa's men. The points swing since that date has been nothing short of phenomenal. Juventus will kick off this match with a 23 point lead over Fiorentina.
For those of a purple tint concentrating on the present day does not fill one with too much confidence either. Juventus come in to this game off the back of eight straight victories in the league, they are also undefeated in 30 of their last 33 fixtures. The old lady have kept a clean sheet in 13 of their last 15 league games and maybe more pertinently have kept a clean sheet in six of their last seven games away to Fiorentina. Some more fun stats if you are a Juventus fan, Max Allegri's men have scored at least two goals in 11 of their last 12 away matches, added to which they have scored three goals in each of their last three encounters with their Florence based counterparts.
From a Viola perspective it may well seem that Juventus are an unstoppable force and that Fiorentina are very much a movable object. Depending how you want to frame it, Paolo Sousa's team have either only won one of their last eight league games, or they are undefeated in their last seven matches at home. Both facts are true, nevertheless come Sunday night, given the current form book, it would prove a difficult proposition for anybody to make the argument for a Fiorentina victory. The incontestable sentiment would appear to be that in order for Sousa's side to gain a creditable result in this fixture, the Portuguese coach will have to bring to the fore all of his inspirational powers. Only a galvanised and committed Fiorentina team will be able to dent the Bianconeri's march towards the title.
The referee for this match will be Paolo Tagliavento. Tagliavento has taken charge of three Fiorentina games this season. Of those three games the Viola have won one, drawn one and lost one. The Umbrian official has presided over Juventus only once this term, overseeing their 3-0 Coppa Italia victory over Inter Milan. In the 20 games in total that Tagliavento has refereed this season, the 43-year-old has given out a total of 87 yellow cards and six red cards.
Fiorentina will most likely be without the services of Yohan Benalouane (no change there), Panagiotis Kone, who apparently has a muscle injury, and Khouma Babacar who has torn his abductor muscle. There is also a doubt surrounding Uruguayan midfielder Matias Vecino who hobbled off the pitch in last Wednesday's 2-1 defeat away in Udinese. Facundo Roncaglia, Borja Valero, Nenad Tomovic and Manuel Pasqual all go into this game walking a tightrope just one yellow card away from a suspension. The latest indication is that Paolo Sousa will opt for a 3-4-2-1 formation with Davide Astori, Borja Valero, Josip Ilicic and Nikola Kalinic all returning to the starting eleven. Matias Vecino could potentially shake off the injury doubts to start from the bench. Mauro Zarate also looks likely to figure in an advanced midfield role, meaning Borja Valero would drop deeper in the formation to sit alongside Milan Badelj at the base of the Viola midfield.
The Juventus injury list includes Martin Caceres who has ruptured his Achilles tendon. Claudio Marchisio who has ruptured his cruciate ligament, 'Viola favourite' Neto who has picked up a mysterious injury, Giorgio Chiellini who has torn an abductor muscle (although is rumoured to be back to full fitness) and Roberto Pereyra whose injury (at the time of writing) is also unknown. Players who go in to this game one yellow card away from an automatic ban include, Paul Pogba, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Patrice Evra, Mario Mandzukic and Brazilian midfielder Hernanes. Leonardo Bonucci and Stefano Sturaro are both suspended for this particular match. Juventus will probably opt for a 3-5-2 formation spearheaded by Mandzukic and the irrepressible Paolo Dybala. There are conflicting reports as to whether ex Viola wide man Juan Cuadrado will get the nod to make the starting eleven. In addition this match may see the return of Alvaro Morata albeit from the bench, the Spaniard having served his suspension is an available option should manager Max Allegri need him.
Fiorentina: (3-4-2-1) Tatarusanu, Roncaglia; Rodriguez, Astori; Bernardeschi, Badelj; Valero, Alonso; Ilicic, Zarate; Kalinic
Juventus: (3-5-2) Buffon, Barzagli; Bonucci, Rugani; Cuadrado, Khedira; Lemina, Pogba; Evra, Mandzukic; Dybala
How To Watch:
BT Sports, Bein Sports, Rai, basically all the regular channels have this one covered as it tops the bill on Sunday night, kick off is 20:45 local time. For comprehensive listings you can check here.
As always there will be a live match thread for discussion of the game, or if Twitter is your thing you can follow along @Viola_Nation and true to form we will have updates of the most important events on our Facebook page.