Fiorentina have stuttered of late but travel to Juventus having been unlucky not to get more than a draw from the reverse fixture earlier in the season. Vincenzo Montella will use his regularly 2-5-2/3-6-1 system to stifle Juventus’ midfield and build from deep. Antonio Conte will continue with his 3-1-4-2 system that has served his side so well, but the addition of Nicolas Anelka adds to the selection dilemma in attack. Since the Serie A winter break Juventus have stalled a little, losing one and drawing two of their five games in 2013, so the home side will be keen to get back to winning ways.
3 vs 4 in central midfield
It is rare for Juventus to find themselves outnumbered in midfield, but Montella’s use of Adem Ljajic as a deep forward/advanced midfielder behind Stevan Jovetic allows the away side an extra body in the centre of the pitch. Just as Leo Messi drops deep to form a midfield diamond at Barcelona, Ljajic offers a similar option, and his deep positioning will be particularly important if Fiorentina are to prevent Andrea Pirlo from dictating the game. Pirlo is used to this attention however, and may operate higher up the pitch than usual to escape the attention of Ljajic.
Fiorentina’s playmaker David Pizarro will theoretically have more time on the ball. Both pairs of central midfielders will be concerned with each other, so Pirlo and Pizarro will be the players looking for space in front of their defenders, especially as both are the key playmakers for their respective sides. Pirlo will almost certainly have Ljajic to contend with, and it is likely that Conte selects a forward partnership that will occupy Pizarro.
Juventus do have an advantage in the nature of their central midfielders as both Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal are strong, powerful players capable of dominating opponents. In contrast Fiorentina’s diamond is full of playmakers with only the energetic Borja Valero likely to enjoy a physical confrontation – there is perhaps a likeness to AC Milan’s midfield of the mid-2000s, where the combative Gennaro Gattuso lined up alongside Pirlo, Massimo Ambrosini, Clarence Seedorf and Kaka. While Fiorentina will prefer a slower pace to suit the creative talents of Pizarro, Ljajic and Alberto Aquilani, Juventus will be happy to quicken the tempo. In Pogba and Vidal Conte has two players with the physical qualities to apply pressure to the Fiorentina midfield whilst also having the technical ability to profit from transitions. Should both deep playmakers be taken out of the game, the physicality of Juventus’ midfield may give them the edge.
As alluded to already, Conte has several options in attack. Attempting to predict Juventus’ forward line over the last few years has been difficult, given all of their options are of similar quality and no player has done enough to make themselves indispensable. However Sebastian Giovinco’s movement and creativity make him a likely starter, partly to work the channels to drag Fiorentina’s three centre backs out of position, but also to occupy Pizarro without the ball. Conte has often selected Giovinco against stronger opposition, probably for his deeper positioning to that of his fellow forwards.
Alongside him Conte now has the option of Nicolas Anelka, recently loaned from Shanghai Shenhua. Anelka has evolved as a footballer in recent years, now working the channels and bringing teammates into play rather than operating as an out-and-out striker as he was in his younger days. Alternately Fabio Quagliarella has been in favour in recent weeks and may get selected as a more central focal point. Fiorentina have a good defensive record of late, and therefore Conte will want to get his combination right.
Wing Back support
With two back threes and two pairs of wing backs, there is the potential for large areas of space to be exploited on the flanks. Both teams may enjoy the same right-sided advantage, with Juventus’ right wing back Stephan Lichtsteiner likely to have the edge over Manuel Pasqual, and Fiorentina’s right wing back Juan Guillermo Cuadrado probably superior to Paolo De Ceglie, selected in place of the unavailable Kwadwo Asamoah. The two sets of wing backs will look for support from the players around them, but Juventus’ formation gives them far greater opportunities to provide this than Fiorentina’s.
With Jovetic likely to play as a lone forward against three defenders, Juventus’ outer centre backs Martin Caceres and Andrea Barzagli will both have the freedom to move wide in support of the wing backs ahead of them. Caceres should be comfortable doing this, having played as a wing back himself, but Juventus will miss Giorgio Chiellini who performs this role extremely well and possesses the technical quality to move forward with the ball. In contrast Fiorentina’s defenders have two opponents to mark and there will be fewer opportunities, or greater risk, for them to take up wide positions.
In attack Juventus’ front two also offers greater scope for moving into the channels and finding space behind the wing backs than Jovetic will have. One of the home sides forwards may copy Ljajic’s role of dropping on to the deep playmaker, but should they remain in an advanced position moving into wide areas could expose the opponent’s wing backs and drag Fiorentina’s centre backs out of position. Both Jovetic and Ljajic are comfortable moving across the pitch in search of space, but it will likely be at the removal of a central target man.
Two 3-5-2 variations can often lead to scrappy games, but Fiorentina’s commitment to an extra midfielder makes the contest interesting. Conte will undoubtedly have the same thought – with both team’s fielding deep playmakers the greatest threat comes from the space behind your strikers. Should this happen, and two midfield diamonds threaten to cause a stalemate, Pirlo’s superior movement gives him the option of stepping into midfield, away from Ljajic, which is something Pizarro is less accustomed to and may prove decisive.