When Juventus and Fiorentina set upon each other for the first leg of their Coppa Italia semifinal on March 2, there was one single storyline coursing through the day: that of Dusan Vlahovic and his return to Fiorentina so soon after departing Florence for Juve.
Seven weeks later (seriously, seven weeks, as if we needed further evidence that the Coppa is kinda nonsense and in massive need of an overhaul) there’s a lot more to talk about.
These are two teams going in opposite directions. Fiorentina haven’t lost a game since the first leg, when Juan Cuadrado’s cross bounced off Lorenzo Venuti in stoppage time and silenced a molten crowd at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. In the process they held a seemingly title-bound Inter squad at San Siro and did serious violence to Napoli’s dream of a scudetto when they beat them 3-2 at the Stadio Maradonna two weeks ago. Vincenzo Italiano has shrugged off the loss of Vlahovic and has gone 7-2-3 (W-D-L) in all competitions since the transfer, putting La Viola firmly in contention for a European place and justifying his status after his year at Spezia as a coach firmly on the rise.
Juve, on the other hand, have stagnated.
The first leg was a true all-hands-to-the-pumps situation, with a ridiculous number of injuries seeing Massimiliano Allegri forced to start U23 prospect Marley Ake (badly of position as a wing-back) and only make two substitutions all game. Things are a little better on that end, but not by much, and the number of impact subs Allegri can make is slim. Then there’s the question of whether Allegri is actually getting the best out of his team. Saturday’s performance against Bologna, despite his protestation to the contrary, was dire, largely due to his own questionable decision-making about where to deploy certain players. The team’s form has been up and down as well. They’ve only lost three times since the end of November, but those losses were huge games—the Supercoppa Italiana and a home league tie against Inter and the humiliating 3-0 defeat against Villarreal that knocked them out of the Champions League—and their wins tend toward the unconvincing. They’ve only scored more than two goals in a league game five times all season, and even the arrival of Vlahovic hasn’t seen them rise above 10th in the league in scoring. The blame for that can be split two ways. First, the midfield is shot through with injuries and often unable to create quality scoring opportunities. Second, Allegri’s tactical approach often makes the entire team unable to create quality scoring opportunities.
Juve’s two games against Fiorentina are emblematic of that trend: both ended in 1-0 victories that were earned deep into stoppage time after Fiorentina largely had the better of the match. In their first league encounter at the Allianz the difference was Nikola Milenkovic’s second yellow card. The battle between Milenkovic and Vlahovic is sure to be a focal point of this game. It will undoubtedly be a physical affair—Milenkovic beat the everloving tar out of Vlahovic and probably deserved a few more bookings than referee Marco Guida ended up handing out. Vlahovic has proven susceptible to being dominated physically since he arrived at Juve, and will need to overcome that against his countryman if he’s to have any success.
In the end, this game will probably play out largely the way the first leg did. Allegri has never met a lead he won’t sit on, and up 1-0 on aggregate he’ll likely look to defend and counter while Fiorentina chase the tie, as they must win in order to have a chance to advance. A draw or a win will send Juve through. Because the Coppa has yet to join the 21st century and is still subject to the away goals rule—the competition will embrace modernity next year—any Fiorentina victory in which they score two or more goals would see them advance, while a 1-0 scoreline in the visitors’ favor would see extra time and, potentially, penalties.
- As is customary in the Coppa, Mattia Perin will start in goal. It will be his first game since renewing his contract late last week.
- Leonardo Bonucci will start, his first starting assignment since Juve’s 3-2 win over Empoli in late February—a game in which he was clearly playing hurt.
- Arthur will not be available due to his ankle injury. Allegri rather colorfully used the word “morto” to describe the prospects of him playing at his press conference, but his absence does leave the team with only two healthy senior-team midfielders in Denis Zakaria and Adrien Rabiot.
- Allegri mentioned Fabio Miretti as an option as well, but given the hoops Allegri jumped through to keep from using him on Saturday, seeing him get minutes is unlikely.
- The long-term absences remain the same: Federico Chiesa, Weston McKennie, Kaio Jorge, Marley Ake, and Manuel Locatelli.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
If this game goes as many expect it to go, Mattia Perin is going to be very, very important on Wednesday.
The Coppa is always the domain of the team’s second keeper, and Juve are fortunate to have perhaps the best No. 2 situation in the league. Perin has shown in his limited action that he’s still more than capable as a keeper, to the point where his decision to stay as a clear backup is a little surprising.
Perin was excellent in the first leg, saving six shots and keeping the defense compact in the face of a monumental onslaught by a fired-up Fiorentina team playing in front of a crowd as hot as molten lead. He did also nearly have a massive brain-cramp 15 minutes in when he passed the ball straight to Giacomo Ventura at the edge of the penalty area and was lucky to see the midfielder rush his shot skyward. But beyond that he was very, very good, and he’s likely going to have to be that good again if Juve want to keep their lead and advance to the final against Inter.
When: Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy.
Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time in Italy and 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.