Another successful Serie A weekend is in the books and Juventus have one and a half hand on Scudetto. A couple of more matches without dropping points and we can start to celebrate. Now it’s time for the second goal of the season: Europa League. Round of 16. Juventus-Fiorentina.
Europa League isn’t the most fascinating competition in the world, we all agree on that. But two facts make it more pleasant. First of all, Juventus entered it in the best part, the win or go home round, skipping the group stage. Most teams from unknown places you have to travel long hours to reach have been eliminated, there is no more NT friendlies or Coppa Italia matches, so the schedule is not so grueling. Secondly, the final is at Juventus Stadium: this is almost a once in a lifetime chance. I think that at this stage EL is no more a burden, but an opportunity.
Seeing the approach in the return match against Trabzonspor, I’m optimistic that Juventus are valuing this competition and are willing to progress as much as possible. Also, I don’t think I’m being a homer when I say that Juventus is the strongest team in the competition. These are the other teams that are still in: Ludogorets, Valencia, Porto, Napoli, Basel, Salzburg, Az Alkmaar, Anzhi, Olympique Lyonnais, Sevilla, Betis, Tottenham, Benfica. Porto and Napoli, Tottenham and Benfica are facing each other. I don’t see many of them winning the trophy.
Unfortunately, Juve will have to face a very good team this early and Della Valle & co. would love an upset.
The squad rotation conundrum. Juve have a 14 (11) point lead and face Genoa on Sunday night. Surely a good team with Gasperini at the helm, but let’s not forget that Chievo beat them this Sunday and Udinese scored three goals on the road against them. This led to the main question: why not playing the best lineup possible against Fiorentina (and then again in the return leg), and field a XI full of backups against Genoa? If you lose, you are still 11 (8) points above Roma (assuming they beat Udinese, which is probable but not a sure thing), with only 10 games to go. If you lose in Serie A, you have retests. In Europa League, you don’t.
There are mixed report coming from Vinovo. Let’s start from the certainties: Isla will start, he has been designated to speak in the pre-game press conference along with Antonio Conte. Pirlo will start as he was disqualified in the League. Bonucci will start, as he was rested this Sunday.
In the back, there should be BBC, with Caceres and Ogbonna maybe giving a breather to the banged up Barzagli’s Achille’s tendon and Chiellini’s calf muscle against Grifone. Reports confirm it. More uncertainty in the midfield: Marchisio played a good game against Viola, but in the DLP role. Pogba was ok, Vidal was subpar. It’s a battle between the French and the Chilean, but I’m sure nobody will lose his sleep over this.
What I’m more worried about is the left flank. Some reports suggest that Peluso will start. A simple question, do you prefer Peluso starting against Cuadrado, or do you prefer Peluso starting against Marco Motta (probably Vrsaljko won’t be healthy enough to start)? That’s a no-brainer. Peluso isn’t a bad player, but I think that due to his physical structure, he’s not efficient against the Cuadrados of the world. He would probably pick up an early yellow card, make a second dangerous tackle and force Conte to sub him off to stay in 11 on the pitch after 20 minutes. Just start the red-hot Asamoah.
Trouble in attack. Carlos Tevez has a sore patellar tendon. This is one of those injuries caused from usage and you can live with that, but you have to managed it properly. A small tear would sideline him for a month, a complete tear would mean that his season is over. Tevez has been the driving force of Juventus attack also when it has struggled and I think in this kind of matches his fighting spirit is much needed. But the latest report say that Giovinco with start. Giovinco did well in Trabzon, but here he’ll have to face tall, strong, elite CBs: it’s a different story. “Il Bomber di Coppa” Osvaldo will probably start, but don’t rule out Fernando.
The Turin match has given Montella some useful indications. Diakitè at RB is terrible. Mario Gomez isn’t Mario Gomez yet, he’s not ready, he does not move enough to play alone upfront, even in a 4-3-3. Wolski, Fernandez and Matos have provided a good spark off the bench.
Borja Valero is available in Europa League and of course he will start. Pizarro wasn’t very brilliant, to say the least, against Juventus. It’s not easy for Montella to renounce to him, but Aquilani might start in the regista role, with Valero and Mati Fernandez completing the midfield. Anderson isn’t included in the EL squad list.
Rumours say that Montella will continue with 4-3-3, with Tomovic returning as RB, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 3-5-2, with Ilicic and Matri in the attack. Ilicic was rested at Juventus Stadium, Joaquin too. Savic and Joaquin didn’t train yesterday, but they are expected to be called up. Compper and Diakitè are ready to replace Savic if he’s not able to make it.
Alessandro Matri spent 90 minutes on the bench at Juventus Stadium on Sunday (trip down the memory lane?) and I think it’s safe to say that he will start the match. “Il gol dell’ex” is a rule in football, hopefully it won’t be respected this time, even though we know how much Mitra would like to stick it to Conte & co.
Europa League is a different animal from Serie A. Last Sunday, it was a must-win match. This Thursday, it’s a must-win large match. After taking the lead, I think Juventus went on cruise control to save some energies for the following clash. The second half was poor, but all in all Fiorentina created only a really good chance (the bar by Matos).
Juve need to start this match like the lunch match and the one against Trabzon, hammering the opponent, with an intimidating high pressing in the first half. Juve need to keep a clean sheet or win like 3-1 to go to Stadio Franchi with more serenity. This game lasts for 180 minutes and we have to keep that in mind.
My main concern is: Fiorentina tomorrow will field a better lineup than on Sunday, they will be more driven as Europa League is their main target now, the second half they played on Sunday probably gave them confidence. They will be a better team than the one that lost 1-0. Will Juve be?