After their 2-1 victory over Inter at the weekend, Fiorentina host Tottenham Hotspur at the Stadio Artemio Franchi on Thursday evening in the last 32 of the Europa League.
The sides are old foes, having met at this stage in last season’s tournament, where La Viola ran out 3-1 aggregate winners; the first leg finished 1-1 at White Hart Lane, before La Viola triumphed 2-0 at the Franchi. Both of Fiorentina’s goal-scorers in the second leg are no longer with the club, Mario Gomez and Mohammed Salah, so they will need someone else to step up to perform the heroics this time around.
In UEFA competitions, Fiorentina have yet to lose – or indeed concede a goal – in five home encounters with English opposition (W4 D1), and they will be hoping to extend that run on Thursday evening. However, Fiorentina’s home form in Europe has been indifferent this season, as they lost 2 of their 3 home group games.
Tottenham have had an excellent first two-thirds of the season, and sit in second place in the Premier League, two points behind Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City. In Mauricio Pochettino, they have a manager who is much sought after, and has galvanised Spurs over the last 18 months, introducing a style of football that whilst solid in defence, is extremely counter-attacking and presses up high on the opposition defence and midfield.
Whilst the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen have drawn many of the headlines over the Spurs success, their defensive base has been crucial to their success. The likes of Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Aldereiweld have excelled in defence, whilst they have been well-protected by Eric Dier and Moussa Dembele sitting just in front of them.
Fiorentina will need to be wary of the pace of Spurs on the counter-attack, particularly if the likes of Nacer Chadli and the former Roma player, Erik Lamela, play on Thursday. The movement of the Spurs attack will also be something they will need to watch out for, particularly with Eriksen pulling the strings in the no.10 role.
With Spurs likely to rest several first-team players, it is important that Fiorentina begin the game with a high-tempo, particularly by putting pressure on the likely midfield holding two, Dier and Tom Carroll, whilst also getting in behind the Spurs’ full-backs who like to press on in support of their attacking team-mates.
The roles of Borja Valero and Federico Bernardeschi will be crucial if Fiorentina are to gain a first-leg advantage, and both will want to continue the excellent form they showed in the victory over Inter at the weekend.
Fiorentina qualified for the last 32 by finishing second in Group I with 10 points, three points behind Sousa’s former team, Basel. Spurs won Group J, finishing with 13 points, three points ahead of Anderlecht of Belgium.
Fiorentina have a number of injuries in their squad, most notably Milan Badelj, and will also be missing Cristian Tello and Panagiotis Kone, both of whom aren’t part of the Europa League squad list submitted to UEFA. Despite this, Sousa is also mindful that La Viola’s number one priority is clinching that third Champions League place. Therefore, the likes of Nikola Kalinic, Josep Ilicic, Ciprian Tatarasanu, Facundo Roncaglia and Matias Vecino are all likely to be on the substitutes’ bench, with Jakub Blaszczykowski, Tino Costa, Luigi Sepe, Nenad Tomovic, Mauro Zarate and Babacar all likely to get a starting berth.
Vertonghen, Ryan Mason and Lloris are all missing for Spurs through injury, and it is also likely that Pochettino might will also look to rest several players, with Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Dembele all likely to feature on the bench in the first-leg of the tie.
Speaking at his mandatory press conference before the fixture, Sousa said:
“Tottenham are different from last year. This time, they are more mature from a competitive point of view, having added a number of players who are giving the team something extra. They’ve been playing on a very high level from the start of the season, and they have many players that can raise their level of play. This team brings intensity throughout a match and they are one of the favourites to win this competition.
“However, Tottenham have not played against a team like ours, so we need to use this element to our advantage. We’ve always said that we must play football to take control of games and to win them. Today I can’t help but think we will be competitive tomorrow.
“But we also think the qualification is won over two games, not only in one. It will definitely be a great match, both physically and tactically.”
Fiorentina (4-2-3-1): Sepe: Tomovic, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Astori, Pasqual; Costa, Borja Valero; Blaszczykowski, Bernardeschi, Zarate; Babacar
Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Vorm; Trippier, Alderweireld, Wimmer, Davies; Dier, Carroll; Chadli, Eriksen, Alli; Son Heung-Min