A derby match alone is usually enough to send shivers through the spines of every fan, but couple this with the contrasting implications the result may have on Champions League qualification and relegation and this season’s Tuscan derby should be a spectacle well worth watching. Il Derby Toscano needs no real introduction. Pitting the pride of Florence’s footballing giants against one another, it is unquestionably one of the biggest events in the whole of the Tuscan region and this season’s contest between the purple colours of the high-flying Fiorentina and the magpie stripes of the relegation-dogged Siena is sure to merit its reputation. Both teams enter the match on the back of defeats, courtesy of the two Milan clubs, and doubtless will want to avenge their past result and compile further misery on their nemesis. With this in mind the neutral should be in for a breathtaking battle.
Looking at the stats, the Gigliati are in desperate need of three crucial points. Winless in their last four games in all competitions, they look in real danger of throwing away their best chance of a return to Champions League football that the majority of supporters will be demanding. After a group-stage exit in this term’s competition was followed with a disappointing 2-1 aggregate defeat to Eredivisie runners-up Ajax, qualification to play amongst next season’s European top dogs is all Cesare Prandelli’s men have to strive towards. Supporters of the Florence outfit will be growing weary as the club continually fails to fulfil their potential in club competitions, a problem not aided by the last-16 exit in the Coppa Italia, courtesy of a home defeat at the hands of struggling Torino. Now level-pegging with Roma on 46 points and two shy of the coveted fourth spot, the purple half of Florence are beginning to look up against it as the season draws into the home stretch.
It is imperative that not too much is made of their most recent defeat at the hands of reigning champions Inter. The Nerazzurri comfortably defeated the Viola thanks to two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who on his day can be a truly unstoppable force. Despite conceding twice, Fiorentina’s back four were far from disgraced against an attack that will in all probability, deliver lo Scudetto back to the black and blue half of Milan once again. What’s more, it is unlikely that Siena possess enough quality to impose anywhere near the same level of pressure applied by il Biscione nor thwart the advances of the Gigliati with the same ruthless efficiency. In Alberto Gilardino and Adrian Mutu, the Viola boasts two of Serie A’s leading goalscorers with 15 and 12 goals respectively, and against a side that concede an average of barely two goals for every three games this season, it is unsurprising they found themselves firing blanks at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza last time out.
Form aside (for Siena’s recent outings have been equally lacklustre), things could not be more different for the Bianconeri, with the dark clouds of relegation swirling a little too close for comfort for some fans of the Robur. Firmly put in their place with a shattering 5-1 drubbing from Milan’s finest, the Siena boys will be praying for a change in fortune come Sunday. Granted, confidence will undoubtedly have been dented by the score-line, especially in front of the home fans, but the players can take heart from their previous display away at Catania. The Stadio Massimino has not proved a happy hunting ground for many clubs this season, with gli Elefanti having won eight of their 14 home ties, making Siena’s 3-0 demolition all the more impressive. Unlike Prandelli, Siena boss Marco Giampaolo does not have the luxury of a star-studded squad to select from. Whilst Fiorentina have a host of match-winners lurking throughout their team, the Bianconeri are without any real superstars.
Instead, the black and white half of Florence rely on an ethic of hard work and self discipline which has resulted in a team with the ability to play beyond their individual capabilities. This considered, it would be no surprise if they show up this weekend in the sort of mood that might cause a shock to la Viola’s system, and if they do then Gilardino and his team-mates will certainly have their hands full trying to contain them.
If head-to-heads in Il Derby Toscano are in anyway accurate precursors as to what is to come then those expecting a thrilling goal-infested draw may well end up being disappointed. With just one of the last three meetings providing more than a single goal it seems as if we are destined for a cagey, tactical affair. Neither team can afford to lose the game and whilst la Viola will deservedly justify favouritism, the spoils could quite conceivably end up being shared. Of course, Fiorentina will be desperate for revenge, having lost the last two derbies to solitary Siena goals, but with so much riding on the result even they may have to stifle an all-out attack to begin with. The fans need look no further back than the season just past for a perfect example of exactly what Prandelli’s boys can do in front of a full house at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, 3-0 in the battle to be the pride of Tuscany tell its own story.
Although the Gigliati have proved poor value in recent weeks, the likes of Mutu, Felipe Melo andMartin Jorgensen may well find life easier against this less testing opposition, and if both teams are sufficiently tuned up Fiorentina’s attacking quality may just prove to be the edge that la Viola need.