Following our excellent success working with the good folks at Cartilage Free Captain last year for this tie, (and the, er, spirited responses from our discussion of Spurs' merits earlier) we figured we'd do it again. Here are our questions for their tyrannical overlord Bryan A.
Viola Nation: What's the general feeling in the Spurs camp right now? Are the players and fans focused on the Europa League, or more interested in continuing a pretty darn impressive domestic run?
Bryan A.: I don't think the feeling could be much better. I think most fans view of this fixture is that they don't care because we're in second and qualifying for Champions League is what matters and now that Spurs are amazing and the best club in the league (except, you know, Leicester, but who cares about details) this Mickey Mouse continental competition with it's automatic Champions League place doesn't even matter.
Seriously though, I think that as amazing as things are going, many fans are worried about fixture congestion and, as we both know, an extended run in Europa means a whole lot more games. Leicester City only have 13 matches left this season and Spurs could play double that number depending on how far they go in Europa and the FA Cup. We have a deep squad, but not so deep that that many matches isn't a little worrisome.
VN: What kind of team do you think Mauricio Pochettino will set out for this one? Is it going to be the starters, the youth team, or a mix? Will he use his usual tactics, or do you think he'll change things up against a 3-man defense that he won't have seen much of in England?
BA: Pochettino doesn't chop and change much. There will probably be a little bit of rotation. The fullbacks will definitely swap, but Spurs don't lose too much when that happens. There may be some rotation in attacking midfield as well, but other than that, I'm sure Poche will roll with mostly a full strength squad.
As far as countering Fiorentina's specific formation, I'm not sure. Poche has only deviated from his standard 4-2-3-1 formation once this year and that was against a Watford team with two very strong strikers. I don't see him doing that here, but I suppose anything is possible.
VN: Who's really in form for Spurs right now? Who's been struggling? Anyone you think is likely to shine particularly against Fiorentina? Please say that the answer to all these is Harry Winks, because, I mean, dude's name is Harry Winks.
BA: I mean, a better question is, who hasn't been in form? Harry Kane has been brilliant of late; Dele Alli is the future of English football du jour; Mousa Dembele is probably the best midfielder in the Premier League, and Hugo Lloris is probably the best goalkeeper in the league.This team as a whole is firing on all cylinders and there don't appear to be a weak link anywhere in the side. It's really a weird and amazing time to be a Spurs fan.
In terms of bad performance, I can't really think of anyone. Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen have gotten some stick from fans for being somewhat underwhelming this season, but I think that's mostly rubbish. Eric Dier's performances have been slightly less good of late and there are possibly some concerns with fatigue, but he's been far from "bad."
As far as players that might shine against Fiorentina, I'd say Dele Alli is nailed on to cause you lot problems. He makes such intelligent runs beyond the striker, and our defenders love to hit a ball over the top for him to run onto. I can see that being a problem for your defense.
As an aside, Harry Winks is a great name, but he's only played a few times this year. Sorry about that. [Editor's interjection: Damn]
VN: Which Fiorentina players are you most worried about facing? Any new or familiar faces making you anxious?
BA: I have watched maybe two Fiorentina games all season, so I'm probably not the best person to ask about this. Besides, not to be rude or anything, but there's not really anyone there who, on paper, is worrying to me. Last year, Salah and his pace were terrifying. This year....I don't know. Tino Costa, maybe?
Fiorentina strike me as a solid team that work hard, but don't have anyone too flashy. Ilicic is maybe the most worrisome on an individual level, but he seems streaky, at best. Maybe Cristian Tello, but I'm not even certain he's in the Europa League squad?
This seems like I'm slagging off your squad massively, but I'm not. Spurs have been so solid defensively this season, I'm confident they can handle just about anything.
VN: Given the recent bad behavior from English fans abroad recently, how do you think the supporters will travel? Think this one will be as (charmingly and almost disconcertingly) civil as it was last year?
BA: Yeah, I don't see any reason for this tie to be less than civil. The fans in Florence aren't like Lazio fans and Spurs fans are, generally speaking, well behaved. I expect more of the same this season. As to our traveling support, I'd expect a strong contingent as usual. Getting to Florence isn't as inconvenient as getting to some of the other Europa League destinations.
VN: Finally, what's your score prediction?
BA: I think these Europa League ties, especially when they're between two big clubs, are often decided by who cares more about the competition. English clubs, even Spurs, don't particularly care about the Europa League. I imagine Fiorentina will care more about this competition and something like a 2-1 win on aggregate could be on the cards.
Thanks again to Bryan A. for all the thoughtful answers. We wish him, CFC, and Spurs nothing but domestic bliss this year, although our feelings for their European success may differ just a bit. And, if you want to read my answers to some of Bryan's questions, here is the equivalent piece at Cartilage Free Captain.