Two teams representing cities on Italy’s cultural vanguard will butt heads on Sunday afternoon enjoying very different strands of fortune. As is the time of season, the majority of teams are either putting together their second season stride or post-Christmas slump and in the case of Lazio, the tumble downhill seems to be becoming a steeper incline with every passing weekend.
Le Aquile had opened the season brightly, and dispatched Fiorentina with ease when the two clubs met at the Stadio Olimpico in September, but now the shoe is seemingly on the other foot coming into Sunday’s clash.
Following two straight wins, la Viola will hope to compound the misery for one half of the Eternal City and add a fourth straight loss to Delio Rossi’s miserable run and in doing so, propel themselves ever closer to the holy grail of the fourth Champions League spot currently being occupied by the unfancied Genovese. Having trounced Sinisa Mihajlovic’s resilient Bologna team in Monday’s rearranged tie, Cesare Prandelli must be hopeful that his charges can build on the win in the Renato Dall’Ara and the previous weekend’s win over Napoli to really start breathing down the neck of fourth place.
Meanwhile, the Biancocelesti will be picking themselves up and dusting themselves down after becoming the latest club to be on the receiving end of the rejuvenated Rossoneri. The 3-0 loss comes in the wake of a exacting dissection at home to Caligari (who proved it was no fluke by turning over Juve on Saturday night) and a 3-1 pounding of Sampdoria in midweek. Compared to the rising fortunes of Fiorentina, Lazio’s tifosi must be holding their heads in their hands. Having been fired to the summit of the league in October by the golden touch of Mauro Zarate, the club has now entered something of a freefall and go into Sunday’s game in 10th having been quickly overtaken by the resurgence of the city rivals Roma. Talk about adding insult to injury.
Back in September the roles were somewhat reversed, with a disappointing Fiorentina thankful for their keeper Sebastian Frey, who spared la Viola’s blushes further with an inspired performance away to Lazio. But even with the French stopper’s heroics, goals from Stefano Mauri, Goran Pandev and Sebastiano Siviglia handed the Aquilotti three points but when they meet on Sunday, it will not be so easy for the Biancocelesti.
Fiorentina’s players will have to turn around a day sooner than their counterparts, having seen Sunday’s fixture with Bologna delayed a day due to heavy snow but it is on Lazio to put in the hours over the next few days if they are to shake off this wretched run. In fairness to Rossi’s men, there were some glimmering nuggets of hope amongst the echoing sound of jeering Milanese on Sunday evening, with young Fernando Muslera impressive between the sticks against an imperious Rossoneri attack line. The €3m signing from Uruguayan club Nacional way back in 2007 is still very raw but lacks the impetus nature of his Argentine colleague Juan Pablo Carrizo but he is likely set to retain his place at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
Frenchman Mourad Meghni was seemingly lacking in match fitness against Milan and could make way for Stefano Mauri, who scored in the reverse fixture. However, the only likely change to the side felled by Milan is one forced upon Rossi with Emilson Cribari in line to start in place of the suspended left-back Stefan Radu.
Conversely, the Viola may have the luxury of calling on almost the same team that bagged a 3-1 victory on Monday afternoon having chosen not to bring anybody other than loanee Emiliano Bonazzoli in during the transfer window. A supposed €12m approach for Sampdoria stalwart Angelo Palombo failed to come to fruition and sporting director Pantaleo Corvino ended interest in Chelsea centre half Branislav Ivanovic for the meanwhile. Mario Santana is the only forced change after his injury sustained against Bologna and his place is likely to be taken by Franco Semioli. Sticking with the current 4-3-1-2 formation for the visit of Rossi’s men, Fiorentina will be hoping that enigmatic forward Adrian Mutu can build on Monday’s double and his strike partner Alberto Gilardino can add to the 12 he has already notched in the Tuscan outfit’s campaign so far.
Lazio may not be too hopeful of turning up at the Stadio Artemio Franchi at the best of times, regardless of the Viola’s current form, as the Tuscans have only been beaten once on their own soil this season by lowly Lecce in the first fixture of 2009.
However, the Biancocelesti could benefit from Fiorentina planning too far ahead. Sunday’s clash comes just one week before Prandelli’s men make the trip south to the face Genoa at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in what could be a very interesting fixture in relation to European qualification stakes, and Gilardino and co will have one eye on February 19 when they are set to entertain Dutch dynamos Ajax in the first leg of the last 32 of the Uefa Cup.
Lazio will look to capitalise on any complacency afforded them by la Viola and need to start building some momentum with some really winnable ties against Torino and Lecce on the horizon. However, the form currently being displayed by Fiorentina and the fact Mutu has rediscovered his scoring boots from the back of his locker means that they will be somewhat more upbeat than their opponents when the ball is set rolling in Florence on Sunday.