Europa League Preview: Juventus vs. Fiorentina, Leg 2 — Returning to the scene of the crime

Watch the hands there, Ale. I know he's a former teammate and all, but, ya know... - Valerio Pennicino

Memories of Juventus' last visit to Florence aren't pleasant ones. To be completely honest, they're the exact opposite of anything that is to be considered pleasant. In hindsight, it was the kind of result Juventus needed to turn their season around and charge toward a third straight league title. But at the time, it was worthy of smashing plenty things around the house to the nth degree.

And guess where we're going tomorrow? I don't think I need to ask twice.

But this ain't a Serie A showdown. Nope. This is 90 minutes — or maybe more — with a spot in the Europa League quarterfinals on the line.

Juventus' third game against Fiorentina in the span of two weeks does have consequences. And it's basically because of Juve's own doing. You don't hold your 1-0 lead, you give Fiorentina the upper hand with an away goal. The Gomez Button was pushed, and thus Fiorentina got the away they worked to get in the second half.

That leaves us where we are today — everything to play for during the course of this here game between Serie A rivals. Juve don't necessarily need to win to advance to the quarterfinals, but you'd like them to play like they need to win. Does that make sense? I hope it does.

Juventus players, coaches and management have said ever since the end of the Champions League run that they will take the Europa League seriously. Well, this is one of those moments to prove that they do really care about it and want turn the final into a home game.

There's really no other way around it.

They don't advance, then there's a 14-point lead waiting for them when they resume Serie A action this weekend against the worst team in the league. They get to the quarterfinals, then maybe all those statements about the seriousness of the Europa League we've probably taken with a grain of salt over the last month or so become just that much more the truth.

In short: Talk is one thing. Actions are another.

Which one will it be, fellas?

GOOD NEWS

Carlos Tevez is back in the squad for tomorrow's second leg. That's pretty good news, if you ask me.

BAD NEWS

As we've come to notice these last few weeks, Juventus isn't exactly playing very well right now. Sure, results are still there. They're still winning games in Serie A, but the overall product isn't close to what it was, say, a few months ago.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. Who starts up front for Juventus.

Or, better yet, "Who starts alongside Dani Osvaldo." That part seems like a given, the other one pretty much comes down to Juve's regular starting forwards, Tevez and Fernando Llorente. It, of course, depends on how fit Antonio Conte deems Tevez entering the match. We saw how much Carlitos was missed over the weekend against Genoa — that's before you even look at the simple stats and realize that Juve had all of six shots (one on goal) Sunday. It obviously wasn't all because of Tevez, but a lot of it was because his spark and creativity wasn't there. Osvaldo hasn't done anything to suggest that Conte won't start him because of a pure lack of production.

Or maybe Conte just throws us a complete curveball and starts Tevez and Llorente. You never know. He's crafty sometimes.

2. Who starts in defense for Juventus.

There's been a whole lot of rotating going on lately when it comes to Juventus' three-man defense — both because of injuries and simple resting of certain players. And Thursday night isn't going to be any different. Andrea Barzagli, whose official diagnosis hasn't been given a definitive number of how much time will be missed, is all but certainly out of the second leg against Fiorentina. That means we'll be seeing much more of Martin Caceres than we've been seeing lately, and that's quite a bit. I'm not exactly opposed to that. I like high-socked Uruguayans. But I also like when the Barzagli-Bonucci-Chiellini connection is 100 percent fit and playing well. Then again, who doesn't?

3. What kind of formation Fiorentina rolls with.

Barring any kind of world emergency, Juventus will field a 3-5-2 formation and that will be that. The only thing that needs to be plugged in will be the players who are actually starting in said 11 positions. With Fiorentina, though, it's a little different. Three games, three different formations. All of them with a four-man defense, but completely different outside of that. It's been a 4-3-2-1 to 4-3-3 to something that resembles a 4-3-1-2 or 4-1-2-1-2. Vincenzo Montella has shown his tactically flexibility time and time again, and not just against Juventus. He's not afraid to shake it up — both personnel-wise and with his formations. And if he rolls with something different than what we've seen in the other three meetings against Fiorentina this season, would it really be much of a surprise?

4. How Andrea Pirlo plays — and is defended.

One is pretty much attached to the other. And all of it is probably attached to how Fiorentina play tactically. Pirlo wasn't all that great in the first leg. But then again, you can say that about the whole team lately. Even with his spectacular free kick golazo over the weekend, Pirlo wasn't particularly very good. That's obviously going to have to change if Juventus want to walk out of the Franchi knowing that they're still alive in the Europa League. Do we need a vintage Pirlo performance to ensure Juve will advance? Maybe not, I dunno. Just something better than what we've been seeing. One thing is for certain: When Pirlo is on, Juventus' midfield and attack becomes that more open, that much more dangerous, that much more beautiful to watch.

5. Containing Mario Gomez — from the opening whistle or off the bench, who cares.

Mario Gomez is the reason why Juventus are attempting to overcome an away goal rather than going to Florence with a 1-0 lead in their favor. There's definitely probably a couple other reasons, too, but Gomez is right up there because he is the one that bagged Fiorentina's goal in Turin. And there's no denying that Gomez could be one of the difference makers in a game that will be hotly contested. That's easy to say since he's a class striker when fully fit, but just stick with me. With no Giuseppe Rossi on the field, who are you going to key in on? Gomez — if he starts. Who are you probably keying on when he comes off the bench? Yeah, Gomez. Let's just hope it's the Mario Gomez from the first time Juve and Fiorentina played this month rather than the second time.

My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Caceres, Bonucci, Chiellini; Isla, Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba, Asamoah; Osvaldo, Llorente

OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 7 P.M. IN ITALY; 2 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 11 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST

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