Club Focus – Fiorentina – Holding their nerve

Fiorentina’s resolve continued to impress this week as they comfortably dispatched their Sicilian counterparts Catania 2-0 at the Stadio Angelo Massimino. Their consistency of late was finally rewarded, with draws to rivals Genoa and Juventus, meaning that Champions League qualification is now more a probability than a possibility. There are even faint whispers amongst la Viola supporters of an audacious bid to usurp Claudio Ranieri’s struggling side for third place, signifying automatic progression to the group stages of Europe’s most prestigious club competition. Goals from Montenegro forward Stevan Jovetic and the on-loan Luciano Zauri, complemented by an 11th clean sheet in the league this season, sent Prandelli’s men to victory and their passionate followers into raptures. With two winnable fixtures at home and away to Sampdoria and Lecce respectively before la Viola host Milan in the final game of the campaign, it would be a huge disappointment if Fiorentina failed to finish within the top four.

Prandelli continued with the 4-2-3-1 formation against i Etnei that has served them so well recently, now yielding six wins in the last seven matches. The tricky Jovetic, who has filled the gap left by Adrian Mutu with aplomb during the Romanian’s spell on the sidelines, was a constant threat to the Catania defence, and could have converted more than just his one superbly-taken goal. Zauri’s effort was a neat turn-and-finish following some indecisive defending in the home side’s penalty area in the dying seconds of the game. Prandelli will be hoping the goal gives his second-choice right-back a shot of confidence, considering that he is likely to start against Sampdoria as Gianluca Comotto is ruled out through suspension. Whilst Catania will be disappointed not to have registered on the score-sheet, with midfielder Giacomo Tedesco guilty of missing a glorious opportunity, the result was a fair reflection of the match. Stand-out performers, particularly in the second-half, were Felipe Melo and Juan Vargas (making his return to the Sicilian city since his summer transfer), who gave a master-class in keeping the ball. Prandelli was understandably pleased with his team’s performance, commenting that he saw “the right spirit, the will to compete in every moment,” and concluding that “Fiorentina entered the pitch with the objective of winning the contest.”

Prandelli’s own future has probably been the talking point of the week in Florence. With supporters desperate for their manager to remain in the dugout, they would have been delighted to hear his comments of contentment with life at Fiorentina, holding no desire to leave. Whether or not this means Prandelli would reject an offer from a more successful club (Juventus being the team in question currently) is a matter of debate. To explore the arguments for and against the former Juve player’s potential departure, take a look at the Should He Stay or Should He Go? – Cesare Prandelli article already available on Football Italiano.

The other name that is in the sporting headlines this week for Fiorentina is Adrian Mutu, for two reasons. The talented Romanian, eulogised as ‘il fenomeno’ (‘the phenomenon’) by one Florentine journalist, has seen his court-case with Chelsea drawing to a close, as well as being ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. It’s interesting to read Italian opinion on Mutu, considering his underwhelming stint in London, and a fair conclusion appears to be that he is another one in a long list of gifted players unsuited to the physicality of the Premiership. However, over in Serie A, the supporters idolise him for his goal scoring and creating ability, and would have sorely missed his presence in the tail-end of this season if it wasn’t for the strength in depth Prandelli’s squad evidently possesses. Nonetheless, the news that his knee problems will deprive the team of his qualities has been a source of frustration for the Fiorentina tifosi, and no doubt the player as well. But it would be fair to say that Mutu has bigger problems at present – anyone would be forgiven for being slightly preoccupied if they had a potential €17m penalty hanging over them. It remains to be seen if and how much the ex-Juventus forward will be forced to compensate Chelsea for breach of contract, but the size of the fine is another painful reminder to the player of his troubled past.

Despite Prandelli’s best efforts to keep all minds focused on his team’s pursuit for Europe, the transfer rumour mill has been working over time this week. Analysing the Fiorentina squad, it seems clear that improvements could be made in the centre-back, right-back and right-wing positions. However, the Italian press is claiming that the Fiorentina Coach has earmarked a new central midfielder as imperative to his future plans. With the possible departure of Marco Donadel to Udinese in the summer (despite his claims on Tuesday that his future lies in Florence), it is conceivable that Prandelli is looking to refresh his engine room with a new face. And judging by the calibre of players that have been linked this week, the rumours suggest the Orzinuovi-born Tactician is in the market for an established pro to instantly compete for a place in the starting line-up. This may seem a bit odd considering the success Melo and Riccardo Montolivo have had together this season, but adding more competition for places can hardly hurt a squad that is a little thin on the ground as it is. Here is the lowdown on three of the well-known players that Fiorentina are rumoured to be pursuing:

Massimo Ambrosini – the Italy international has become almost synonymous with Milan, having plied his trade at the San Siro since 1995. The long-haired central midfielder has been linked to Fiorentina for a long time now, but a move never seems to materialise. Certainly his combative attitude and passion for the game would be welcomed at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. However, a summer switch is doubtful – confirmed by the player’s agent who suggested that “a transfer to Fiorentina doesn’t seem plausible this summer – the necessary conditions don’t seem to exist.”

Angelo Palombo – the former youth-team Fiorentina player, who managed ten appearances for the first team before his move in 2002 to Sampdoria, has eight caps for the Azzurri. With an almost flawless injury record and the ability to play the ‘Claude Makelele role’ in front of the defense to great effect, Palombo may be an inspired signing. Constant rumours seem to suggest he is definitely one of Director of Football Pantaleo Corvino’s summer targets.

Cristian Ledesma – the Argentine has a little more attacking prowess in his locker than the previous two listed, and has the added interest of already being signed by Corvino, during his time as Sporting Director at Lecce. If speculation is to be believed, it seems the Lazio ever-present is in demand not only by Fiorentina but Napoli as well, so a summer transfer out of the Stadio Olimpico seems likely.

But back to this season. A week ago, Fiorentina’s task of defeating Sampdoria at home this weekend would have seemed a lot easier, following the lacklustre display put on by i Blucerchiati in the derby against Genoa. However, a morale-boosting 5-0 demolition over Reggina could have Prandelli’s men thinking twice. Ex-Viola striker Giampaolo Pazzini, scorer of Sampdoria’s fifth goal, should be hungry to show what his former team are missing, aided by the unpredictable but hugely-talented Antonio Cassano, of whom many Serie A enthusiasts believe to be the most gifted Italian player at this moment. Daniele Dessena, scorer of two goals at the weekend, is also proving to be a player with an extremely promising future. However, with the form that Fiorentina are showing at the moment, they should have too much for Walter Mazzarri’s charges, considering the mid-table, nothing-to-play-for position Sampdoria are resigned to conclude their 2008/09 season.

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