Juventus need to keep their focus on Fiorentina ahead of Tottenham clash
There is no greater joy to be had in Serie A than defeating Juventus. Inflicting pain on a side that is relentless in their quest for victories, almost robotic in their manner is a feat few have enjoyed in recent seasons. However, no team in the league, not Inter nor Roma despise Juve quite like Fiorentina. In the words of Viola legend Giancarlo Antognoni, "For Florence it's THE Game, with a capital G."
For the Bianconeri, it is a match like any other, one to be played with maturity and professionalism in hopes of earning all three points before they can start preparing for their Game, with a capital G, the Champions League against Tottenham Hotspur.
Achieving another Scudetto is an objective for the Bianconeri but European success is all Juve dream about and beating Spurs will take them one step closer to another European final, one they hope they can actually win at some point. With several key players missing including Paulo Dybala and Blaise Matuidi, Juve realise that Fiorentina and their hunger for success will exhaust them on Friday evening and they're keen to avoid expending too much physical and mental energy at this point of the season, especially with so many important matches coming up.
While Juventus boast a squad packed with quality and talent that can cause the Viola serious problems, the home side will pay special attention to Federico Bernardeschi, just about the only fit winger available to Massimiliano Allegri, although Douglas Costa will also make the trip to Florence. A former Fiorentina player who learnt his trade in the beautiful city, the fans despise the "traitor" who put personal ambition ahead of idealism and loyalty.
Bernardeschi is still integrating within this Juve side but has already shown glimpses of the audacious talent he possesses. Gritting his teeth in the Bianconeri's last match against Sassuolo, he delivered several key passes, two assists and accuracy in his long and through balls. He is susceptible to foolish errors but in time, Allegri will help him minimise those and round out his game. Bernardeschi needs to play with a little more continuity to live up to his potential, something he will now be granted considering the injuries within the team.
While Allegri will look to him as well as Gonzalo Higuain, who is in a rich vein of form, Fiorentina have their own secret weapon and a talent they hope can dampen Juve's hope of yet another trophy at the end of the season, Federico Chiesa. The player is one of the few in the league who can change the face of the game with his movement, technique and tremendous work ethic. A youngster who represents the future of the Italy national team, he realises a goal against Juventus will forever guarantee the love and loyalty of the Viola fans but also bring with it even more attention as the player develops.
However, Chiesa is not the only man to watch for Fiorentina, as Juve fans also learned last season that a certain Giovanni Simeone is rather capable of punishing their mistakes. The player scored a brace for Genoa against the Bianconeri last season and will be looking to repeat such a performance to endear himself further to the city.
This is a game in which emotions are to be expected but Juventus are more likely to remain composed. Fiorentina will attempt to frustrate and provoke them but Juve must ignore the surroundings and the atmosphere and concentrate on what they do best, playing a rational game.
The odds are stacked in their favour. A side that has amazingly only conceded just once in their last 15 matches, the Old Lady is back to being an impenetrable side. In fact, according to Opta, they've only conceded 52 shots on target, a the best mark in Europe's top five leagues. Defensively sound and back to being a fortress, Juve are also they highest scoring team in the league and that is despite Dybala and Cuadrado's injuries, Higuain's dry spells and the integration of Juve's two new wingers.
Such continued success is perhaps the reason why Fiorentina boss Stefano Pioli rightly said, "[Max] Allegri, along with [Carlo] Ancelotti is the best Italian Coach by a long way." By a long way indeed. Pioli himself, a good tactician and a former Bianconero, has remarkably never managed to win against Juventus as a coach. On Friday evening, with the support of the home fans, he hopes he can finally beat Juve but it won't be easy.
Set to play in a 4-3-3 formation with Claudio Marchisio in place of Blaise Matuidi and Bernardeschi alongside Higuain and Mario Mandzukic in an attacking trio, Juve will be hoping they can continue their excellent form to ensure they have all the confidence in the world for their European fight on Tuesday evening.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.