Juventus travel to Fiorentina in tomorrow’s Coppa Italia semifinal first leg but the biggest storyline will be the return Juve’s new striker Dusan Vlahovic, who engineered a transfer during the January mercato to the ire of the Florentine fans. The Serb is not the first player to have made the switch from the purple to the black and white stripes and will likely not be the last, but has now joined Roberto Baggio, Federico Bernardeschi and Federico Chiesa on the supporters’ most hated list.
Fiorentina have had to take an extraordinary step of warning their ultras to refrain from racially abusing Vlahovic tomorrow, and Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri was asked about what he could be walking into at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
“It’s a game of football tomorrow. I believe in the intelligence and culture of Fiorentina fans. Vlahovic will forever be grateful to Florentines and Fiorentina, the club that allowed him to move to Juventus. The game is not a matter of concern. There are other problems in the world, such as the war. Tomorrow is just a nice football game.
“Fiorentina have a nice team with an exciting coach, he’s given an aggressive and attacking mentality to Fiorentina. However, we want to reach the final. It must be a nice game and a night of sport.
“Fiorentina haven’t changed much without Vlahovic. They don’t have different characteristics. Both Vlahovic and Piatek are physical strikers who attack the space. Fiorentina haven’t changed. They still have high intensity and create troubles.”
Was there anything specific Vlahovic would need to do to prepare for the hostile environment he was likely to face, and would he even start?
“I must yet take a decision, he has played a lot. We’ll see. I am happy with Kean’s performance. He [recently] scored a goal and had a few chances. I must make my assessment, one between Kean, Morata and Vlahovic will rest.
“Vlahovic is calm, he returns to the place where he grew up. It’s normal to be thrilled, it will be a special game for him, he must remain calm; otherwise, he would never play against Fiorentina.
“Vlahovic has given serenity to the team, now they know we can score goals. We worked well and built the basis in the first months of the season. However, we have conceded naive goals. We tend to relax when we take the lead, so we need to have the right mentality. We must remain focused.”
The Bianconeri have been absolutely decimated by injuries this season, and questions have been brought up about the medical staff at Vinovo.
“I am not worried by injuries, we’ve played many games. Dybala and Bernardeschi will be available from Sunday.
“Rugani is doing well, Alex Sandro will remain out for ten days and hopefully, Zakaria can return against Villarreal while Chiellini is still out. We must accept what happens. The medical staff is working well. We must get to the break in the best way and return with all the players available.
“Let’s see who will be available tomorrow. There are also three or four youngsters ready to play. It will be a good test for us. It’s always nice to play in Florence, we’ll need to be ready. The away goal rule is still valid, so it will be important to score.
“De Sciglio can play, Bonucci rested in the last two days. He gritted his teeth at Empoli, so he must rest [against Fiorentina]. We have De Sciglio, Danilo, De Ligt, Cuadrado and the young Stramaccioni.”
Meanwhile, Matthijs de Ligt also commended his new teammate.
“We lost Cristiano Ronaldo late in the summer and of course, we lost 30 goals with that. Because it was so late, we couldn’t get someone like Dusan Vlahovic back right away. We certainly missed that in the beginning.
“When I played against him [Vlahovic], I already noticed how strong and technically good he was. And what particularly appealed to me is that he is so driven to score a goal; he almost scolded teammates when he didn’t get the ball. You need an attacker like that up front.”