Fiorentina v Juventus
Serie A Week 20 – Sunday, 15th January – 19:45 GMT – Stadio Artemio Franchi
On Sunday, it was smooth sailing for the black and white gang at the Stadium, as it has often been this year: the squad wanted to redeem itself after the disappointing loss in the Supercoppa and Bologna simply had no chance. On Wednesday, however, old flaws crept back in the Coppa Italia tilt against Atalanta: the start was sizzling hot, Paulo Dybala was all over the pitch doing his thing, but there were lapses in focus after the 2-0 and especially after the 3-1, which allowed the opponents back in the game. These things need to be cleaned up before the games that really matter, the Champions League ones, where a goal can make a huge difference.
Until they play the Crotone game, Juventus hold a four-point lead in Serie A and will now face a delicate two-game stretch against Fiorentina and Lazio, where Bianconeri will have to be at their best. By now, everybody knows that we have dropped points on the road after midweek matches on three different occasions, so this upcoming match will be a good chance to flip the script. Massimiliano Allegri, doing the right thing in my opinion, has not rested many starters against Atalanta, basically only Gonzalo Higuain, who will be fresh and ready to unleash his fury against La Viola.
Two good news from the infirmary: Leonardo Bonucci is fully back and played the final portion of the last game and Alex Sandro has re-joined the rest of the group on Friday, so he has a good chance to start on Sunday night. Speaking of injured players, Marko Pjaca was spry in his return, of course he misses game rhythm but he can fit right in both in 4-3-2-1 and in 3-5-2 even though his best position would be left winger. Claudio Marchisio was subbed off as a precautionary measure at half time against Atalanta, but he is said to be ok.
The big challenge for the coaching staff will be to replace Stephan Lichtsteiner, who is suspended. The shift to the diamond lineup seems more permanent than not to me, but I think that just for this game they could opt to go back to 3-5-2 for a couple of reasons. First of all, they have the BBC at full strength, which is simply a competitive advantage. Secondly, and more importantly, there is not really a good option at RB, unless you want Andrea Barzagli out there on his own against pacey wingers. Juan Cuadrado was spared during the week and that is an indication that he will start in the weekend, likely as RWB. Using him as fullback would be very bold against an offensive-minded team. Stefano Sturaro would be the final, and desperate, option.
In case of 3-5-2, it will be interesting to see what happens in the midfield: Miralem Pjanic has played better as no.10, but it is hard to renounce to his creativity, even if he has to take on more defensive duties. Anyway, there is a chance he is benched for either Sturaro or Tomas Rincon, or that they use 3-4-1-2: at that point, Sami Khedira would battle with the more muscular alternatives. The attack will be in HD resolution- If Alex Sandro can not go, Kwadwo Asamoah will slide right into the XI, in a position where he has thrived. Asamoah has played decently well at left back, however dependability is always an issue with him. Patrice Evra seems on his way out and the management is still after Sead Kolasinac, we will see what will happen on that front.
Speaking of the raging winds of the transfer market, Juventus seems to have secured a deal for the youngster Riccardo Orsolini, whom they were pursuing even before he exploded on the Serie B scene this season. A spectacular talent with a bright future, who may be ready to give his contribution probably in a year and a half, after a season on loan in Serie A. Same thing for Mattia Caldara, whose purchase is official. The executives are already looking at the 2017/2018 season, that literally means being two steps ahead of the competition. Also Orsolini is a left-footed right winger, I wonder how his acquisition influences the (im)possible arrival of Domenico Berardi.
UPDATE: Alex Sandro has recovered and will start, but Giorgio Chiellini has the flu: if he can not shake it off by Sunday night, then it will likely be a four-man defence or in alternative Rugani will replace him.
3-5-2: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Cuadrado, Khedira, Marchisio, Pjanic, Sandro; Dybala, Higuain.
Alves (fibula), Lemina (AFCON), Benatia (AFCON), Mandragora (foot), Mattiello (nose).
It is difficult to properly grasp what kind of season Fiorentina are having. They are undefeated at home, but they have dropped points against Crotone, Atalanta and Sampdoria. Some of their talents have blossomed, Federico Bernardeschi in a big way, but they are in ninth position, nine points below the Europa League zone. They in the midst of an identity crisis, they do not play as well as in the previous years and also the facts that Paulo Sousa is a lame duck and that Nikola Kalinic may soon leave to go to China certainly do not help.
They have not won in three games, where they have lost against Genoa and Lazio and tied against Napoli. Their second half against Partenopei was truly one of their finest of the season: Bernardeschi showcased all his talent, but a silly foul in the final minute snatched away a victory they probably deserved. Their most impressive win was against Roma back in October, a 1-0 game where they managed to control the pace of the match and found a late goal. Since then, they have been defeated by Torino, Inter, Lazio and have drawn against Atalanta, Milan and Napoli. Juventus obviously defeated them 2-1 in the season opener, quickly responding with Higuain after the Viola equalizer. Basically, they have only one win against the sides that are above them in the table. Historically, they have never been a juggernaut against middling teams, so this is a bad combination if you want to go places.
Bernardeschi has been their best player so far and he has already scored nine goals. Kalinic picked up after a slow start and has resumed being the point of reference he was in the previous season. Josip Ilicic and Borja Valero have not been as good as in the past: as for the Spaniard, it is understandable because he constantly plays in more defensive position, while I do not know what happened with Ilicic, but he has always been a bit up and down in his career. Cristian Tello has not made a big impact in his second season at the club: he has often been supplanted by Federico Chiesa, who has been very impressive.
They still use a 4-2-3-1 that can very easily turn into a 3-4-2-1 if need be, because both Tello and Chiesa, who usually start as right winger, can also be used as RWB and Bernardeschi can play as attacking midfielder. Also, both Carlos Salcedo and Nenad Tomovic are able to cover the RB and the CB position.
They are dealing with two pretty big injury concerns: Davide Astori has a bruised thigh, while Borja Valero has an ankle sprain. There is optimism for both: if they did not recover, Tomovic and Matias Vecino would start, but the absence of Valero in particular would be a big blow. Mauro Zarate, who was electric against Napoli, and Sebastiano Cristoforo have an outside chance to start as trequartistas. Salcedo, who has won the battle at RB with Tomovic, made a pretty big mistake against Napoli, so I would not be surprised to see him benched. Maxi Olivera has constantly started over Hrvoje Milic on the other flank in December and he should be in the XI even though he is the more offensive option. They are bringing in Marco Sportiello to challenge for the starting job in goal, so that must say something about what they think of Ciprian Tatarusanu.
It will be an intense atmosphere: Florence hates Juventus and they get up every time Bianconeri come to town (besides when we won 5-0 I guess). They have not lost yet at Artemio Franchi in Serie A this season, but these kind of stats are made to be broken. They have also won only once in the last 17 matches against Juventus. Bianconeri will have to pay particular attention on the set pieces and to their weapons on the flanks.
UPDATE: Astori and Valero are trending in the right direction and should be able to start, but there is a chance Tomovic will just slide to the flank, with Salcedo on the bench.
4-2-3-1: Tatarusanu; Salcedo, Rodriguez, Tomovic, Olivera; Badelj, Valero; Chiesa, Ilicic, Bernardeschi; Kalinic.