Fiorentina and Sampdoria are two teams with very bright prospects. The former has only been growing for the past five years, managing to pick itself up from the Calciopoli penalisations better than anyone else and finding themselves a step away now from conquering their second Champions League qualification in a row. Sampdoria has enjoyed a season of highs and lows – perfectly epitomized this week. The thrashing of lowly Reggina had the club on an almighty high heading into their first cup final for 15 years, only for the heartbreak of penalties to deny them the chance of lifting such coveted silverware. A 3-0 thrashing of Champions in waiting, Inter at the San Siro was enough to secure their coveted final spot – a result that the Viola should keep in mind when facing the supposedly inferior Blucerchiati. They may be in for a surprise.
A comfortable 2-0 win at Catania last weekend exemplifies how determined and concentrated the team in purple still is. The Champions League is still not secure, and Cesare Prandelli’s men will be taught like wires until the very end of the season in their effort to eschew a disastrous last-minute downfall. This state of constant psychological zenith may be the reason why, among all Fiorentina’s departments, the defence seems to be shining the most brightly – whereas normally the team’s strength lies in the midfield. Catania’s forwards are no lions, but the preciseness and coordination of all of the Viola’s defenders last weekend was rather impressive (the only exception was represented by Gianluca Comotto, who seemed slightly disoriented on the field). Playing at home can only make them more effective, so Prandelli should feel relatively safe on that side of the pitch.
Fiorentina’s midfield has gained significant strength since Juan Manuel Vargas was shifted from left-back to winger, a change of role that has allowed for his dynamic qualities to better express themselves. His performances were somewhat discontinuous at first (presumably the man was still in the act of getting accustomed to the new position), but his last few matches have some real moments of quality. Prandelli will be hoping that the Peruvian youngster can keep up the good form as it may prove crucial, since Sampdoria play a crushing game in the centre of the pitch with five men deployed across the middle and if one between Felipe Melo and Riccardo Montolivo runs short on energy, feeding the offence will become an ingrate task. Fiorentina’s two central midfielders usually provide an arresting combination of dynamism, coverage and technique, but the Italian is famously inconsistent and Melo has had a very tiring season – hence the possible need for support. Arguably, the fate of the match rests on their shoulders – if they can just get the ball to Stevan Jovetic or Alberto Gilardino, then that should do the trick. The two forwards are more than talented enough to disperse the modest defenders of the Blucerchiati.
14 Zauri – 3 Dainelli – 5 Gamberini – 23 Pasqual
22 Kuzmanovic – 88 Melo – 18 Montovilo – 6 Vargas
11 Gilardino – 8 Jovetic
If Fiorentina walk into the game with an encouraging result from the previous weekend, what of the Samp men? The thrashing of Reggina by a comprehensive 5-0 scoreline, and this with several starters rested in view of the Coppa final. Galvanising, no doubt – yet we should be wary of reading too much into it. Reggina barely turned up on the day and weren’t helped by an early sending off – thus leaving Samp to run riot. Sampdoria also had the derby woes to vindicate and were in a ravenous mood, while their adversaries were being lulled by the tranquillising certainty that there will be no more future for them in the highest league, regardless of that weekend’s result.
That being said, the Blucerchiati’s midweek misery will still be firmly in their minds and Walter Mazzarri’s first job this weekend will be attempting to pick his players up off the floor. And if he succeeds, Samp has enough arrows to their bow to provide a threat against any team. Antonio Cassano is, as per usual, their magic man and rightly so – if a better player has ever donned the Sampdoria shirt since the times of Roberto Mancini, then we do not know him. While he is likely to be benched after a tiring Coppa final, chances are we may see him in the second half if things are close. Talentino has enough vision to pry open even the high-geared Fiorentina defence, and the change of pace that he could impose on the adversary defence will be considerable. As for the first half, the Sampdoria attack without Cassano may be worth one goal against the defence they are facing on Sunday, but probably no more than that. Mazzarri should worry primarily about how to capitalise upon a small advantage if he hopes to win this match. What this means is that he should be concerned about the state of his defence more so than that of his offence.
The return of Pietro Accardi from injury is good news but it may not be enough. Playing a purely defensive game will not be enough to keep the Fiorentina powerhouse from scoring at least once, but an all-out attack on their purple walls would be suicidal. Ideally, Sampdoria should try and exploit the surprise factor – a highly offensive game to gain a lead in the first half an hour, then rest back and let Fiorentina throw themselves forward. This would force them to loosen the grip in their own half and open spaces for counter-attacks, which have all the potential to be lethal if Fantantonio is fielded in the second part of the game. If the first half an hour does not yield the desired results, then the best option is probably to play a cautious game for the draw – Fiorentina are too potent an adversary to fool around with. On a final note, keep an eye on Daniele Dessena. The young midfielder has not enjoyed great favour from Mazzarri, but he scored two when fielded against Reggina and will be hungry for more. If he sees the green again, chances are that his convincing stretch of form may carry on and even cause some serious damage in the lines of the Viola.
16 Campagnaro – 28 Gastaldello – 84 Raggi
20 Padalino – 19 Franceschini – 88 Dessena – 40 Delvecchio – 3 Ziegler
10 Pazzini – 89 Marilungo
There is no escaping the fact that Fiorentina are favourites – they have the better players, a more focussed psychological condition and they play at home. Nonetheless, they face one of the most unpredictable teams in Serie A (surpassed, in terms of lunacy of results, only by Delio Rossi’s Lazio) and the worst enemy they should be wary of will be themselves. Fiorentina’s fitness in the midfield should overpower the physicality of Sampdoria’s 3-5-2 and give them a clear edge during the first half, one which Prandelli would do well to exploit. We say this because what stands true for the first half may well fail to be valid during the second half, when questions of nerves, performance and athletic tension will come into play. If Fiorentina gain a lead in the first half, then the match is almost certain to end with a win for them. Any other result will pave the way to a second half of utterly unpredictable nature, whether highly entertaining or rough, sluggish and boring in its disclosure.