Wins for Fiorentina and Genoa mean the Champions League battle is likely to go down to the wire.
Week 34 proved to be less crucial to the race for that fourth Champions League spot than the tifosi of la Viola were hoping, with both Fiorentina and Genoa recording home victories. Cesare Prandelli’s players did their bit by overcoming a stubborn Torino side 1-0 at the Stadio Artemio Franchi , but unfortunately for them Sampdoria were unable to muster a serious challenge against Genoa in the evening kick-off, despite the derby rivalry between the two Genovese sides. Gian Piero Gasperini’s charges made light work of i Blucerchiati, with Argentinean talisman Diego Milito bagging a hat-trick in a 3-1 win. This leaves the two teams in the same position as they were prior to the weekend’s fixtures, and now each sides’ supporters apprehensively wait to see who can hold their nerve in the remaining four games of the season.>
Torino’s ultra defensive tactics rendered the match a war of attrition, as Fiorentina laboured to victory. Keeping faith with the players who put Roma to the sword in last week’s demolition, Prandelli named an unchanged side, although he was soon forced into a change as early as the 15th minute. Franco Semioli, the Italian speed merchant on the right wing, pulled up with an adductor muscle strain and had to be replaced by the ever-reliable Dane, Martin Jorgensen. However, it was the cultured midfielder who contrived to miss a hatful of chances, including an open goal from only a few yards out. La Viola came close on many occasions, as Torino showed little interest in attacking, and only fortune provided il Toro the flattering scoreline, with Alberto Gilardino arguably the unluckiest of all. The goal itself reflected the match as a whole – a scrappy effort from a few yards by the talented Peruvian, Juan Manuel Vargas – persistence from both the player and the team finally paying off in the 57th minute. It was to be the only converted strike in a game that is unlikely to live long in the memory.
The Fiorentina fans left a little disappointed that their team could not replicate the previous week’s display, but overall were relieved that they had a won the game. In truth, there was little to criticise from the way la Viola played – breaking down a team who puts ten men behind the ball is never easy – and on another day more goals could have been scored. Stevan Jovetic was not at his mercurial best, nor was Zdravko Kuzmanovic (although he did supply the pass for the match-defining moment), and considering the lack of space the two had available to them, it would be unfair to single them out for Fiorentina’s shortcomings in adding to the scoreline.
Prandelli seemed to concur with this judgment as he commented that: “When a team fights to finish in a Champions League place it’s normal that there is tension. We have played our own game, from the first to last minute, against a Torino side that never had a shot on goal. I had asked for patience and the team listened to me.” The tension was there for all to see, as Prandelli became embroiled in a half-time argument with the referee Stefano Farina, who appeared to give the Fiorentina Coach a push. However, Prandelli quickly moved to deny any suggestions of conflict between the two: “We discussed, but he did not push me. I went to the referee to ask him about some things and he gave me his responses. There was no push from his end, it was just an impression.” The matter is now closed, as it should be, but it does highlight the pressure that the Coach and his team are feeling as Genoa breath down their necks. Undoubtedly they were delighted when Vargas managed to break the deadlock – the player seemingly shining in his new role as an attacking midfielder with three goals in his last four games. Prandelli was quick to notice how the change of position had affected the Peruvian, suggesting that: “He is playing in a more advanced role with less defensive responsibility, and this has given him more freedom. The player has finally found the serenity and tranquility that he was lacking and now he is giving us a lot.”
This weekend Fiorentina are faced with the potential banana skin of Catania, away at the Stadio Angelo Massimino. I Etnei are an unpredictable quantity, capable of eye-catching results against stronger opposition, demonstrated by their opening day victory over Genoa. Coach Walter Zenga’s side has had an adequate season, with top-flight status all but secured as they sit in 15th position, a comfortable 11 points off the relegation zone. With that in mind, Catania should be motivated for this fixture, but due to the capricious form that the team has showed this season, it really depends on the players’ mentality. Will they be the focused Catania who did the double over Sicilian rivals Palermo, or the apathetic, indifferent team that were thumped 3-0 at home to fellow strugglers Siena? No doubt noises will be made from inside the camp about the necessity of ‘ending the season strongly’ and the financial benefits of a higher-placed finish, but Fiorentina will surely be hoping to make it six wins in seven games.
La Viola head into the game with only Semioli (who has been ruled out for up to ten days) added to the injury list of Adrian Mutu, Mario Santana and the on-loan Sergio Almiron. Prandelli is likely to continue with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Gilardino spear-heading the attack in front of the creative midfield trio of Vargas, Jovetic and Jorgensen – the latter of which has been rumoured to be close to a new deal, as his current one expires in the summer.
In other news, Fiorentina’s former Under-21 striker Arturo Lupoli, currently on loan at Sheffield United in the second tier of English football, has suggested he would be keen to return to England on a permanent basis. Lupoli, who came up through the ranks under the watchful eye of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, has never really fulfilled the potential he showed as a youngster, but has now realised that the English style of football is more in tune with his own game: “The football is great here and I love the place. I could stay at Fiorentina as I am under contract there, but I am keen to be playing regularly and if I can’t get that at Fiorentina I will look elsewhere,” said the Brescia-born forward. Fiorentina already have the possibility of losing two attackers this summer, with the potential departure of the influential Mutu and the return to parent club Sampdoria for Emiliano Bonazzoli, so whether Prandelli would want to increase that number with the sale of Lupoli remains to be seen. As Lupoli comments, “it all depends on Fiorentina and we will wait and see what happens in the summer.”