Fiorentina v Juventus
Serie A Week 35 – Sunday, 24th April – 19:45 GMT – Juventus Stadium
After the convincing win against Lazio, the Scudetto is mathematically four points away. Should Juventus win against Fiorentina and Napoli drop points against Roma, we would celebrate on the couch on Monday. It certainly feels like the title race quickly moved from a wide open contest to a one-sided affair in two weeks. Napoli fought valiantly, but the Bianconeri’s pace was irresistible. However, considering our terrible start after a massive overhauling of the roster, many teams will regret in the future the fact that they did not seize the chance to win this year’s championship.
Giorgio Chiellini recovered from his hamstring injury but suffered a knee sprain, hopefully minor stuff as the club indicates. Roberto Pereyra re-joined the squad list. Stefano Sturaro is suspended and also ill so he will miss the game, alongside the long-term injured Claudio Marchisio, Martin Caceres and Norberto Neto. Alvaro Morata returns from a suspension so all the four strikers are available.
Massimiliano Allegri has opted for a no-rotation approach in the previous two matches in order to avoid letdowns and seal the deal as soon as possible and that is commendable. Only the two wingbacks changed, but there is no drop-off between one couple and the other in those positions. It is a logical consequence to expect him to field the best lineup available on Sunday night. So it will be a 3-5-2 with Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Daniele Rugani in front of Gianluigi Buffon, Sami Khedira and Paul Pogba in the midfield and most likely Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala upfront, but Morata has a chance to take Mandzukic’s place.
The doubts are on the flanks and in the heart of the midfield. Fiorentina has a lot of quality on the wings and it is possible that he will choose a more cautious approach with Stephan Lichsteiner and Patrice Evra, even though it would be tempting to field an ex like Juan Cuadrado. A battle between Alex Sandro and Federico Bernardeschi or Cristian Tello would be enticing, but the Brazilian left-back has often been benched in matches where he would have to take on more defensive duties. I do not think he is limited in that area, but obviously Evra is much more polished and experienced. Hernanes and Mario Lemina will battle it out for the deep-lying playmaker positions: Hernanes had a decent game against Lazio, but I think you should show more personality in that role, be more involved.
I honestly have never paid too much attention to the talks regarding Allegri’s renewal and his future: I always thought he would stay and extend his contract. The coach came out in the pre-game press conference and announced that he would stay next season, otherwise he would have already informed the management. On Sunday, he stated that he would like the current group to be confirmed.
It is legitimate request and I think one that is shared by many fans. Against Bayern Munich, the squad proved to be much more competitive on the European stage than everybody anticipated, so keeping the band together is be the easiest and fastest way to return to top of the mountain. The three most sought after players appear to be Leonardo Bonucci, but he has sent all the right signals, Paul Pogba and Alvaro Morata. The coach will likely push for their permanence and we will see what the executives will respond: the Morata situation is fluid and their hands are tied and Pogba does not seem eager to leave. Even with negative answers on these fronts, Juventus will be able to provide the coach with a competitive roster. Allegri does not strike me as a person that would leave just to prove a point or because his expectations are not met, so I think we will see him on Juve’s bench for quite some time.
3-5-2: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Rugani; Lichsteiner, Khedira, Hernanes, Pogba, Evra; Mandzukic, Dybala.
Marchisio (knee), Neto (calf), Caceres (Achilles).
The implosion of Fiorentina has been sudden, but not unexpected and also not that damaging. They have won only one game in their last eight, but all in all they will finish either fourth or fifth, which sounds about right. Certainly they started to dream big after the first part of the season, but they were overachieving and they have always been bottlers.
Paulo Sousa have had a positive impact with Serie A, as most of the accomplished foreign coaches do. Things started to go south in January after a botched reinforcement campaign that did nothing to help them go to the next leave and the obit on their Champions League hopes arrived in March and April, when they were smashed by Roma and then failed to win against Hellas Verona, Frosinone, Sampdoria, Empoli and Udinese. Thus, they will have to settle for yet another run in Europa League.
The atmosphere in Florence is uneasy. Paulo Sousa banged heads with the management and the ownership because of some miscues in the summer and in the January window and also because, reportedly, he would like to be more hands-on on the transfer market. There should be a big meeting after the Juventus game and the situation is in flux: some executives could leave in the summer and Sousa’s job is not safe either. Drama at Fiorentina, who could have guessed that.
The tenure of the coach has been overall pretty good, but not irreprehensible. In particular, he overthought some rotations, which were simply odd, and he often failed to properly motivate his team in home games against easy opponents. However, the good was more than the bad and they should definitely retain him and start a cycle with him. Moving Bernardeschi and Tello to RWB was a genius move.
Sousa continued Vincenzo Montella’s tradition and adopted a very European playing style, ball possession-oriented and managed to integrate a good striker into that, Nikola Kalinic, who was deadly until January. The centre forward fizzled out, some say because of fatigue as he did not rest much in the summer coming from the Ukrainian league, and Khouma Babacar did not pick up the slack so their efficiency decreased by a lot.
They interchangeably use 3-4-2-1 and 4-2-3-1 as Facundo Roncaglia can both play CB and RB and Bernardeschi and Tello both as RWB and offensive winger. Matias Vecino left the last game with an apparent injury and he will miss this one, leaving the coach with two options: moving Borja Valero to the midfield, while he usually plays as attacking midfielder, or inserting Tino Costa. It looks like the first option is the most likely one, leaving an opening behind the striker. Mauro Zarate did well against Udinese and could have earned himself the starting job, but Tello and Bernardeschi can play there. The other doubt is Davide Astori, who reportedly confronted the rest of the team after the Sassuolo game and was benched against Udinese, when he returned from a suspension. Nenad Tomovic could take his place.
They are very dangerous on the flanks with Marcos Alonso on the left, who grew a lot this season, and Bernardeschi or Tello on the right. They have a bunch of good shooters from distance and they are strong on set pieces. When you have that much quality at disposal, through balls are always an issue. On the other side of the ball, their defence has not always been stout and blunder-free and sometimes their offside trap has some glitches. It is also not a physical team and we know Juventus always take advantage of this aspect.
3-4-2-1: Tatarusanu; Roncaglia, Rodriguez, Astori; Bernardeschi, Badelj, Valero, Alonso; Ilicic, Zarate; Kalinic.
Vecino (hamstring), Benaloune (back), Babacar (hamstring), Kone (hamstring).
Infographics from Sporticos.com