This weekend sees two sides bidding for Champions League qualification go head-to-head at the Stadio Artemio Franchi as fifth placed Fiorentina host sixth placed Roma.
Fiorentina currently trail Genoa by two points, but victory could see them reclaim the coveted fourth spot, whilst a Roma win would put them level on points with Fiorentina, although la Viola’s superior goal difference would ensure they could not be ousted from fifth place. With Genoa suffering a surprise home defeat to Lazio, Fiorentina missed a golden opportunity to leapfrog them into fourth place after losing 3-1 at Udinese. La Viola did not recover after falling 2-0 behind as the Zebrette showed little signs of a European hangover following their UEFA Cup exit to Bundesliga outfit Werder Bremen last Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a second half Francesco Totti penalty gave i Lupi a vital 3-2 win over strugglers Lecce to keep the pressure on Fiorentina. La Magica looked to be coasting with early efforts from Totti and Matteo Brighi giving them a two-goal advantage. However, a spirited Lecce struck back to draw level before Totti’s decisive penalty gave them all three points to keep them firmly in the hunt for European qualification.
Totti has been in impressive form since returning from injury and his brace against Lecce took his tally to four goals in his last three appearances, overtaking Mirko Vucinic as the club’s top scorer in Serie A. The veteran also scored in the second half of the reverse fixture earlier this season to give la Magica a narrow 1-0 win and Luciano Spalletti will hope his striker can continue his recent form as his side bid to ensure qualification into Europe.
After recently suffering a 4-2 defeat to bitter rivals Lazio this looked unlikely, but after the aforementioned losses for both Genoa and Fiorentina, i Lupi find themselves firmly back in contention with six games of the campaign remaining. It completes a remarkable turnaround for the club, who languished in the bottom half of the table after a torrid start to the season.
Fiorentina’s form at the Stadio Artemio Franchi has proved the foundation of their success this season, losing just twice in 15 encounters and keeping seven clean sheets in the process. Coach Cesare Prandelli will hope home advantage will help his side take a step closer to Champions League football next year. In contrast, Roma have struggled on their travels this term, with eight of their 10 defeats this season coming on the road.
Prandelli is likely to keep his faith with Stevan Jovetic in the absence of the injured Adrian Mutu, who is likely to be out for another fortnight having required surgery on his knee. Jovetic has had a frustrating season thus far, with most of his appearances coming from the bench. However, after scoring his first goal for the club in a recent win against Atalanta, the 19-year-old will be eager to further impress and consolidate his claims for a place in the starting eleven. Despite losing Mutu at such a critical stage of the campaign, Prandelli still has the formidable presence of Alberto Gilardino at his disposal. The 26-year-old is the club’s leading marksmen with 16 goals to his name this term, and with the Giallorossi without the experienced defensive duo of Christian Panucci and Philippe Mexès through suspension, he will be confident of adding to his tally.
Spalletti may also be without Mirko Vucinic after the Montenegrin picked up an injury whilst on international duty. He was forced to miss the recent home clash with Bologna as well as the Derby della Capitale defeat and he may not recover in time for Saturday, although Spalletti still has the luxury of having both Totti and Júlio Baptista fit for selection. Despite their attacking prowess, they have conceded six times in the last two games, an issue that needs to be addressed, particularly in the absence of Mexès and Panucci.
Defeat for Spalletti’s side, which narrowly missed out on the Scudetto last term, would be disastrous and would create a huge dent in their Champions League ambitions. Meanwhile la Viola, despite being out of sorts in recent weeks, will be looking to build on their good home form and push Genoa to the wire to secure their place amongst Europe’s elite.