Fiorentina v Juventus
Serie A Week 24 – Friday, 9th February – 19:45 GMT – Stadio Artemio Franchim
Juventus finally delivered the performance we have been for against Sassuolo as they ruthlessly piled on their opponents. Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic scored a pair of well-crafted goals in the first half, while Gonzalo Higuain joined the party in the second half with a hat-trick, showing off all his trademark finishes. The Bianconeri have leapfrogged Lazio as the best attack in the League, while they have the second strongest defence, just one goal behind Napoli. Pretty good, I guess.
Unfortunately, rarely has a win been completely satisfying this season and Sunday’s large one was no different because Blaise Matuidi suffered an adductor strain, which will sideline him for about a month. That means he is iffy to recover for the return leg of the Tottenham clash. Claudio Marchisio looked good in his cameo against Sassuolo, but at this point of his career, he relies more on his technique rather than on his dynamism, so he has a different skillset compared to the Frenchman.
It is undoubtedly a big loss for Massimiliano Allegri as Matuidi has been one of the biggest contributors this season and he single-handedly forced the coach to make a tactical switch, simply because 4-3-3 was stouter and more successful. I would not be shocked to see 4-2-3-1 come back on a more regular basis now. Stefano Sturaro is OK in that role, but he has nowhere near the IQ of Matuidi. Rodrigo Bentancur has a chance to carve out some real minutes for himself, even though that is not his ideal position and he might be a step too slow to be truly effective. They can both be decent placeholders, but they are not players of the same caliber as the former PSG man. I wonder if moving Kwadwo Asamoah back to his old position from the Udinese days could be on the table, but the coach admitted he has some doubts that could work.
Sami Khedira and Daniele Rugani were taken out at half time on Sunday, but it looks like those were just precautionary reasons: the German international is expected to start, while the youngster was not expected to be in the XI anyway and is questionable to make the trip. Douglas Costa could make a quick return to the squad list, but Federico Bernardeschi will start. As for the Paulo Dybala recovery, it looks like he will not be ready for the Tottenham game, or he will be on the bench at best.
For once there are not many doubts regarding the lineup: the squad will not be rotated. Stefano Sturaro has suffered an ankle sprain, but Marchisio was always slated to get the first crack at replacing Matuidi. The only real battle is between Stephan Lichtsteiner and Mattia De Sciglio at right back and it is a legitimate question because the Swiss train is now available to play in Champions League. Kwadwo Asamoah has a change to play too. Andrea Barzagli’s calf is still a sore, so the centre-back pair will be the usual one.
Juventus have not a great deal of success here in Florence, as they have won only three times in the last ten trips here, albeit the victories were particularly tasty. As we know, it is a very anticipated fixture in this town as they consider the Old Lady their arch-rival. It will an emotional homecoming for Federico Bernardeschi, who I am sure will hear it from the crowd.
A little extra note here, Giuseppe Marotta and Fabio Paratici are on the verge of putting pen to paper on a three-year extension: continuity is key for the most successful franchises and the two executives have proved to be the cream of the crop not only in Italy, but also at the European level, both financially and on the technical aspects with a plethora of good deals. On the other hand, the deputy sporting director Federico Cherubini could flee to become the main guy in Sassuolo.
4-3-3: Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Benatia, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Marchisio, Pjanic, Khedira; Bernardeschi, Higuain, Mandzukic.
Dybala (hamstring), Matuidi (hamstring), Cuadrado (groin), Howedes (hamstring).
Fiorentina have taken a clear step back this season, as captain Davide Astori candidly admitted recently, hoping to regroup and put the foundations for a better future. A sort of NBA-style rebuild. The problem is that I do not think that really works in football, especially at a club that tends to cash in quickly when they find good players.
They are in 11th position, not too far off the sixth place, but not close either. They could contend for the Europa League down the stretch if they put together a prolonged streak of good results, but they have had a hard time doing that so far this season. Even in their more positive moments, they have dropped some points in easy fixtures, therefore failing to keep up with Sampdoria or Atalanta, the most convincing challengers for the second Europa League spot.
Maybe this was to be expected form a side that has changed the coach and revolutionized the XI, losing a ton of talent, but, despite the many reasonable justifications, it is hard to suppress the feeling that they have under-performed because they do have several good players on their roster, such as German Pezzella, Milan Badelj, Marco Benassi, Jordan Veretout, Federico Chiesa, Giovanni Simeone and Cyril Thereau. However, they have a glass jaw and have inexplicably faltered in some games. The league is very top heavy this season, but it is pretty open in the secondary positions and they could have done better.
It is hard to have a firm grasp on their level of competitiveness, because they have had some pretty good performances, also recently against Milan and Inter at home, but then they gave up four goals in the same stadium to Verona and did not show up at Marassi against Sampdoria. Up and down, all year long.
They have used mostly 4-3-3 with Chiesa and Thereau wide, but the Frenchman’s form has declined recently and they tried different solutions on the left, such as Gil Dias and Valentin Eysseric, who possess more of the standard traits of a winger compared to the former Udinese forward, who really is a pure second-striker adapted to the flank. The trio in the midfield has brought few goals and is very well-assorted, with an above-average dose of shooting and passing skills. Giovanni Simeone has a tendency of scoring in big games and will have to be guarded carefully, especially in the air, where he excels despite being pretty minute.
Vincent Laurini is the only starter expected to miss the game, due to a double foot muscle tear. Bruno Gaspar is his natural replacement, but he is much more offensive-minded and pretty weak in the defensive phase. As you may recall, the first match-up in Turin was won with a Mario Mandzukic finish, where he clearly beat the Portuguese newcomer. So Stefano Pioli could opt for a different choice: the centre-backs Vitor Hugo, Nikola Milenkovic and German Pezzella have a little experience on the flank, or they could slightly tweak the scheme to a 3-5-2. In this formation, Chiesa would either play wing back or second striker.
4-3-3: Sportiello; Gaspar, Pezzella, Astori, Biraghi; Benassi, Badelj, Veretout; Chiesa, Simeone, Thereau.