The suspended Antonio Candreva joins the list of Lazio absentees, alongside first choice right back Abdoulay Konko and star striker Miroslav Klose. Vladimir Petkovic probably has two options to replace Candreva – either Stefano Mauri comes in as a direct replacement on the right of midfield, or Alvaro Gonzalez moves wide from a central role and Lazio play two forwards. Given Sergio Floccari’s difficulty in replacing Klose in attack by himself pairing him with Louis Saha may be a good option, but Petkovic has favoured a midfield five this season to accommodate Hernanes, so may go for the conservative option.
Fiorentina may also be considering a tactical switch. Having deployed a 3-5-2 system all season, Vincenzo Montella has used a 4-3-3 variation for the previous two games. The reasons for the change are unclear and the results were mixed – Fiorentina lost the first game but beat Chievo in the second, and in both games Montella made second half substitutes that allowed a move back to a 3-5-2 shape. There is the possibility that he may persist with this tactic, but against as strong an opponent as Lazio, especially one that is currently under-strength, it is more likely that Fiorentina will return to what they know. This is likely to result in Luca Toni dropping out of the forward line and fit again Facundo Roncaglia competing with Nenad Tomovic for the third centre back position.
Both clubs have enjoyed promising seasons, but have also stuttered of late. Lazio have won only once in Serie A in seven games, whereas Fiorentina have lacked consistency since the new year.
Tactical Comparison: 4-1-4-1 vs 3-5-2
Both teams have spare men at the back, but equal numbers in midfield should resulted in a tactical contest decided by depth and the exploitation of space.
Lazio’s defence will be wary of the movement of Fiorentina’s forward line, but with the away side playing with wing backs both Stefan Radu and Bruno Pereirinha should find themselves able to move forward relatively unopposed. Their main aim will be to combine with the players in front of them, Mauri and Senad Lulic, and outnumber Fiorentina on the flanks. This is a common feature of back four/back three contests and one that Fiorentina will be used to, but it will still be a threat they have to deal with.
Fiorentina also have two spare men at the back, with Lazio likely to play a solitary forward. This should although Montella’s centre backs time on the ball and give them the opportunity to build patiently from the back. Roncaglia and Gonzalo Rodriguez have sloid passing statistics – 89.6% and 85.6% pass completion respectively – but they particular excel at long passes forward, averaging 4.7 and 8.7 accurate long passes per league game. This may not be a threat that Lazio can effectively prevent, but it will be one that they need to defend.
In midfield, Fiorentina’s lack of depth has been discussed before, so Lazio will want to exploit the space between the lines. Hernanes will look to move forward in support of Floccari but the visitor’s lack a natural holding midfielder to combat this. David Pizarro general positions himself the deepest of Fiorentina’s central trio, but lacks the defensive discipline to track opponent’s runs. In contrast Lazio have a specified holder in Cristian Ledesma who will track the attacking runs of Borja Valero and Alberto Aquilani, as well as picking up Adem Ljajic and Stevan Jovetic when they drop off the front line.
Tactical Adjustments: Space around Ledesma
The space behind Fiorentina’s midfield has already been highlighted, but given they have two spare men in defence it is a threat they may be able to contain. However the space between the lines of Lazio’s midfield and defence will be particularly interesting in that it offers both teams attacking potential.
With Fiorentina’s midfield likely to play quite flat across the middle, Lazio may find that their deepest midfielder can find space and time on the ball to construct attacks. While this isn’t particularly suited to Ledesma, Hernanes is just as capable dropping deep as he is moving forward. However both Fiorentina’s forwards are also comfortable dropping deep, and Ljajic in particular may look to close down Ledesma/Hernanes as well as exploit the space himself to create chances. With up to four players looking to take advantage of this area of the pitch, it could become the key battleground.
Individual Analysis: Stefan Radu
As already mentioned, Lazio’s full backs will be key to pushing Fiorentina’s wing backs back and offering a threat out wide. With Pereirinha and Mauri new to the side on the right flank, and Ljajic and Jovetic both tending to spend more time in Fiorentina’s left channel than their right, Lulic, and particularly Radu, may be Lazio’s key men.
Radu isn’t a naturally attacking full back, but he will need to pose an option in the opponents half. Ideally Petkovic would have an attacking wing back capable of overlapping Lulic and stretching Fiorentina’s defence, but in place of this Radu will need to take up advanced positions to double up on Cuardrado with his wide midfielder.
With Floccari likely to struggle to retain possession against three defenders, Lazio should build attacks out wide, and the left wing may be their best option to do this.
This preview is based around the likely tactical contest given either clubs’ general style over the season, but given the lack of consistency from both sides it is conceivable that both managers could make major changes to their sides. The options are clear – Lazio using their absentees to move to a 4-4-2 system and/or Fiorentina persisting with a 4-3-3 shape. Either way, the indecision reflects the current state of either side – solid, but far from settled. However with the same being true of both clubs, the two managers will see this as a chance to tighten their grip on their respective European goals, Lazio the Champion’s League and Fiorentina the Europa League.