The impenetrable Marassi hosts Champions League rivals Fiorentina, as we get set for a thrilling three-way fight for that treasure chest of fourth spot. Both sides experienced tough games last week against similar Euro-rivals, as la Viola stole a late win against Lazio, while the Rossoblu were well beaten at Roma – both will know this Sunday’s game might just prove the difference come May.
Fiorentina’s surprise overhauling of Milan to claim the final spot amongst Europe’s elite last season has given clubs such as Lazio, Genoa, Udinese and even Napoli and Palermo the hope (albeit an ambitious one) of landing a spot in next term’s mercurial Champions League. And while Lazio, and Napoli have fallen away somewhat in recent months, along with Udinese’s nosedive down the table – Genoa have surprisingly found themselves in amongst the challengers for the much-sought after European place.
Roma had been expected to challenge for the title again this term but their abysmal start laid pay to that, with Champions League qualification the only way they can rescue what had looked like a disastrous situation. Currently sixth, the Giallorossi have both the Gigliati and Rossoblu sat ahead at present but with the two sides set to play one another on Sunday, it is Luciano Spalletti’s men who will benefit from the guaranteed dropped points.
The Rossoblu were unbeaten in ten before last weekend’s heavy reverse in Rome, although the 3-0 score line was perhaps a little harsh on Gian Piero Gasperini’s men who were well in the game for the most part, but for some stunning finishing from i Lupi. It was seen as a huge statement of intent from the capital club as they look to continue their fabulous mid-season form and oust their two “inferior” rivals and claim one of the top four spots they had been expected to find themselves in from the season’s start.
Much of Genoa’s surprising success this season has been down to Gabriel Milito’s goal scoring exploits – 14 goals in 19 games tells its own story while the Argentine’s goal haul is almost half of his side’s total scored in the league. Giuseppe Sculli has netted an admirable seven this season while the likes of Bosko Jankovic and Thiago Motta have chipped in at times as well, although Raffaele Palladino has been disappointing and offered very little on the goals scoring front, while many of the midfield regulars have failed to net at all this season.
The statistics speak for themselves in terms of the Rossoblu’s reliability on their hit man but with a defensive record bettered only by three teams (all in the top four), Gasperini has made his side difficult to beat and not only has the defensive line and goalkeeper impressed this season, but the midfield is incredibly industrious and tenacious, always working and tracking back for the team. But with all the battle and bite his midfield offers, only Jankovic offers genuine creativity and real quality in the final third. Il Grifone have also had to rely on many late goals – nine scored in the final ten minutes of matches has seen them pick up some vital late points to keep alive their European dreams. In fact over three quarters of their goals have come in the second half of games – read what you like into that. Whatever Gasperini’s formula is, it’s certainly worked wonders for him and his team this season, but you wonder how a drop in form from their ex-Zaragoza talisman would affect their results.
The same could be said for their opponents, who also boast an impressive 14-goal striker in Alberto Gilardino. The former Milan man has scored some vital goals for his side this term, few more so than that of the stoppage-time winner against Lazio last time out. But arguably it’s not Gilardino who is the main man for la Viola. Adrian Mutu, who boasts eight goals to his name, is a huge loss whenever he doesn’t play and the Gigliati clearly miss him when he’s not there.
Fiorentina are expected to line up in a 4-3-3 formation, with the impressive Felipe Melo suspended for this clash. Franco Semioli is set to start in his place, wide on the right with Mario Santana amongst the long term absentees. Last Sunday’s win over the 10-men of Lazio showed up Cesare Prandelli’s side’s lack of width as they created next to nothing even with the extra player. But with Mutu and Semioli both playing as part of an attacking trio, along with front man Gilardino, expect la Viola to be far more potent and possess much in terms of flair and creativity. Gilardino clearly enjoys playing with the two wide men either side, the former Parma ace is superb in the air and loves attacking crosses. Riccardo Montolivo is another who will worry the Rossoblu backline – although not if they were watching on Tuesday night – la Viola captain is a major driving force for his team and much of their good attacking play comes through him.
However, Genoa will be really up for this one, knowing last week’s defeat has to be followed by a victory, as losing to their two closest rivals in seven days may just spell the end to their Champions League ambitions. The Rossoblu have yet to lose on home turf this season with impressive victories over the Rossoneri, Partenopei and Roma in amongst a barrel load of excellent results in front of their own tifosi.
With Roma away at Atalanta this weekend, both Genoa and Fiorentina could find themselves outside the Champions League places come Sunday night. A draw would only benefit Spalletti and his men – while a win would boost either side’s Euro ambitions immeasurably.
Massive game this, with a massive prize.