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Coppa Italia Rapid Fire Preview: Juventus vs. Fiorentina, Leg 1

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The last time we all visited the wonderful and sometimes annoying land of the Coppa Italia, Juventus were basically waiting until the last minute or two to try and beat a downtrodden Parma side. As we know now, Parma is, well, even more of a mess than we originally thought at the time. But, with Parma's elimination from this season's tournament, so goes the chance to beat up on teams Juventus should be up on.

Goodbye, sweet (and bankrupt) Parma. We hardly knew ye.

And hello to you, Fiorentina, you little rascal with a well-dressed manager whose jaw line is looking as strong as ever.

This is the difference between the quarterfinals and the semifinals of the Coppa Italia. This is where the strongest teams are supposed to be — at least in theory. As much as a club like Parma would have liked to actually have something go right in their 2014-15 season for once, they almost certainly wouldn't be able to hang at this stage of the game.

That's why Juventus vs. Fiorentina, two teams who can play some nice football when everything is going right, is a much more fitting semifinal regardless of how Max Allegri's squad slogged through the last round.

Fiorentina has been one of the more in-form sides in Serie A over the last four or six weeks. There's only two other teams not named Juventus who have yet to lose their last six games. We know Roma is one of them because the only thing they do these days is pick up draw after draw after draw. The other? That's Fiorentina, which last suffered a league loss — ironically to Parma — on the first matchday of 2015. Since then, La Viola has won five out of eight Serie A games while also ousting Roma from the Coppa Italia in the quarterfinals.

Sounds like a step up from Parma in the quarterfinals to me, folks.

You know what? That's the right thing to say. As much as we make fun of it or mock it from time to time, Juventus should be taking the Coppa Italia seriously these days. The silver star needs to happen. And, from my point of view, I'd like it to happen come the end of this season.

I know I said pretty much the same thing last season, but we wouldn't be repeating ourselves these days if business was taken care of a year ago, now would we? Exactly.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. How much squad rotation will actually happen in the competition where squad rotation is unofficially mandatory?

In the bylaws of the Coppa Italia, it said managers must rest at least some of their regular starters. Or something like that. It's basically assumed, even in the semifinals, that some sort of squad rotation will go down. Maybe not as drastic as in the earlier rounds against lesser opponents, but it's still going to happen. A good portion of Max Allegri's pre-match press conference was him addressing the condition of some players who were either rested over the weekend (Paul Pogba) or haven't played much at all lately (Stefano Sturaro, Andrea Barzagli). Whether a serious amount of rotation — or even what tactical setup Allegri uses — is still left up in the air, but we've all learned to pretty much expect something in the Coppa Italia. That's just what happens.

2. Is this the game Stefano Sturaro makes his Juventus debut?

We've heard plenty about the 21-year-old midfielder since his loan spell with Genoa ended a little earlier than originally planned,but we haven't actually seen him in a game yet. With the injuries and likely resting of at least one of Juve's regular midfielders (just a hunch), Sturaro's chance to get some serious playing is as good as its been since he came to Juventus at the beginning of February. Will he? I sure hope so. I want to see what Sturaro can do in a Juventus jersey. Not that one game will make or break has Juve career, but Sturaro has emerged as a serious prospect for the future over the last six months. And no matter who he's potentially playing alongside tomorrow night, getting a glimpse at what Sturaro can do on the field is something I've been looking forward to. No offense, Simone Pepe.

3. The "return" of Paul Pogba.

Even s bright and wonderful person like Paul Labile Pogba needs a rest from football every now and then. That just happened to come against Roma following a build-up that featured uncertainty about Pogba's health status. What does Allegri have to say about Pogba just a few days later?

Ah, "Pogba" and "good shape" sounds like a wonderful thing to talk about. That scintillating form Pogba was in earlier in 2015 has cooled down a bit. Some of it could be the fact that he's played the most minutes of any Juventus midfielder not named Claudio Marchisio this season. But now that he's had some serious and well-earned rest, how will he play? Based on everything considered, I'd put my money on Pogba doing quite well. Facing a team like Fiorentina that always seems to give Juve a good battle in the midfield the last few years, the important of Pogba being, well, Pogba is just that much more important if they want to have a positive first leg at home.

4. Who plays up top?

While other areas of the field have injuries and players likely to be rested, Allegri has all of his strikers available to choose from. That's something that has basically been a constant all season, but it just amazes me how little injury time all of Juve's strikers have missed this season. That, of course, means Allegri has options tomorrow night. Based on previous Coppa games, Carlos Tévez will likely be rested. The real decision comes down to two things: 1) Will Álvaro Morata and Fernando Llorente play alongside one another? And 2) What's Kingsley Coman's role, if there even is one, from the opening kickoff? Coman was a surprise starter the first time Juve played Fiorentina this season, but that was months ago. The Coppa Italia seems like the perfect chance for Coman to get some much-needed minutes. But we'll just have to wait and see if anything involving Juve's other talented young Frenchman comes to fruition.

(Now we wait for all the strikers to get injured, one after another, 24 hours in between them. You can thank me later.)

My starting XI (4-3-1-2): Storari; Cáceres, Bonucci, Ogbonna, Padoin; Sturaro, Marchisio, Pogba; Pereyra; Coman, Morata

OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY; 2:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 11:45 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST