We knew that Dusan Vlahovic’s return to Fiorentina was going to be explosive.
We just expected it in May.
But La Viola’s upset win over Atalanta in the quarterfinal of the Coppa Italia — secured when Nikola Milenkovic, of all people, hit a 20-yard half-volley with the last kick of the game when it looked sure to go to extra time — changed that, and brought Vlahovic’s return to the Stadio Artemio Franchi forward quite a bit.
Vlahovic’s return will, of course, be the dominant headline as the Coppa semifinal tie kicks off on Wednesday night, but that, as good friend of the blog Tito from Viola Nation pointed out in his latest conversation with Danny, is a bit of a disservice to everyone else preparing for this match. For Fiorentina, a match with Juve is always a blood sport. Vice versa, not so much (sorry, guys), but even if Juve and their fans don’t place the level of rivalry between the two on the same level as the folks in Florence, they also know what’s coming whenever the fixture comes up.
So what, besides Vlahovic, could this game give us?
Well, for one thing, Fiorentina is getting their first lick in at a very opportune time, because Juventus are completely wiped due to injury. Nine first-team players will miss this game due to an injury of one form or another, including both WINGS OF FEDE, whose presence would have otherwise turned the Ex Effect for Fiorentina up to 11. Juventus are going to be showing up with only two first-team midfielders available, only one center-back after Massimiliano Allegri has confirmed that Leonardo Bonucci will be rested after a gutsy but clearly-not-100-percent performance against Empoli over the weekend, and only three forwards (maybe four, depending on how Allegri decides to use Juan Cuadrado).
One could be forgiven for expecting Alan Alda to show up to Continsassa fully in character as Hawkeye.
Like Empoli on Saturday, this is going to be a game that Allegri will simply have to put the players he has available out for and hope something pops. And given the complete lack of in-game depth he’s going to have (whoever doesn’t start at full-back and whoever doesn’t start in the strike pair will be the only first-team substitutes) it will be nigh-on impossible to respond to any in-game adjustments Vincenzo Italiano may decide to make. If Fiorentina can make that difference pay, they could take a serious lead into the second leg next month.
Of course, they have to capitalize on it, and the Viola have been notoriously inconsistent this season. They’re as capable of taking advantage of a wounded Juventus as they are of faceplanting and letting a shorthanded opponent steal an advantage in the away leg. They’ll be without Lucas Martinez Quarta for the first leg after he was sent off against Atalanta, but other than that will be able to field a relatively full-strength side, and if they can put things together, Juve will be in for a hard time.
Of course, for Juve, that thing that pops could well be one Dusan Vlahovic. And then wouldn’t that be a story?
- The absentee list for this game is obscene. Apart from season-long absences Federico Chiesa and Kaio Jorge, Juve will be missing Weston McKennie, Federico Bernardeschi, Giorgio Chiellini, Daniele Rugani, Denis Zakaria, Paulo Dybala, and Alex Sandro.
- In his pre-match press conference, Allegri confirmed that Bonucci will be rested after playing not fully fit against Empoli.
- Four Under-23 players have been called up to fill the gaps: Diego Stramaccioni, Fabio Miretti, Matias Soulé, and Marley Aké.
- In some good news, Allegri stated that both Dybala and Bernardeschi should be ready to play by Sunday’s game against Spezia.
- Allgeri did raise some question about whether Vlahovic would start, considering he’s started every game since arriving at Juve and could probably use a bit of a breather. Still, it was a vague impression and the odds are in a game like this he probably will play.
- Here is the squad list in full:
- The last time these two teams played in this competition was the same stage in 2014-15. Fiorentina actually won the first leg at the Allianz Stadium 2-1 thanks to a brace by Mohammed Salah — remember he was at Fiorentina for a hot minute? — before getting pwned 3-0 in the return a month later, with goals from Alessandro Matri, Roberto Pereyra, and Bonucci.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
I mean, were you really expecting anyone else?
There could be a bunch more guys to talk about — for example, either Manuel Locatelli or Arthur could be here, given how the two playing together has often been a plus, even if the sample size is limited. Danilo could also be a highlight here as he’ll once again have to deputize at center-back since it’s all but certain Bonucci will be rested.
But Vlahovic’s return to the Franchi for the first time in Juventus colors is inescapably the lead, and it’s one that can’t be buried, not only because of its effect on the teams on the field but for the Fiorentina fans off it. Having been traumatized by losing the likes of Roberto Baggio, Bernardeschi, and Chiesa to their hated rivals, watching Vlahovic follow them to Turin in the middle of a season sent them truly over the deep end. Out and out threats of violence against his person were made, to the point that police patrolled outside his home in Florence in the days before he left. Fiorentina has already put out a statement that, while not naming Vlahovic in particular, implored fans to refrain from racially abusing the player during the game after he was subject to such abuse in a Fiorentina shirt at Atalanta in September.
It’s also important to note that Vlahovic has been going through an uptick in form, scoring three times last week against Villarreal and Empoli — all three of which were quite pretty indeed. With Juve in such dire straits due to injuries, they could end up needing another moment of brilliance to pick up an away goal (the Coppa Italia won’t be joining UEFA competition in the modern era regarding the away goals rule until next season) and head back to Turin next month with an advantage in their pockets.
When: Wednesday, March 2, 2022.
Where: Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence, Italy.
Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe, 8 p.m. in the United Kingdom, 3 p.m. Eastern Time, 12 p.m. Pacific Time.
HOW TO WATCH
Television: CBS Sports Network (United States); Premier Sports 1 (United Kingdom); Canale 5 (Italy).
Online/mobile: Paramount+ (United States); Premier Player HD (United Kingdom); Mediaset Infinity (Italy).
Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, you can also follow along with us live and all the stupid things we say on Twitter. If you haven’t already, join the community on Black & White & Read All Over, and join in the discussion below.