What: Serie A, Week 20
Who: Juventus - Fiorentina
When: Saturday January 24th 2009, 20:30CET
Where: Stadio Olimpico Grande, Turin, Italy
Old Lady Cruising
Juventus are flying high heading into the biggest game of week 20. All eyes will be on the Binconeri this Saturday night as Fiorentina come to town. With just three points separating Juve and Inter at the top of the table, this game will represent a stern test for Claudio Ranieri's men. Anything less than a win could derail their titles hopes as Inter have what should be a home banker on Sunday against Sampdoria. The reverse fixture between between Juve and Fiorentina earlier in the season ended in a 1-1 draw in Florence.
There are no room for errors this weekend for the Bianconeri. Their 1-1 draw against Lazio last week was not a bad result, it would have been had Inter won their game against Atalanta. Ranieri's men are in stunning form. They are unbeaten in their last six Serie A matches, their last loss came against the league leaders.
Confidence is high in Vinovo. All the talk this week has been about catching their bitter rivals at the top. Leading goalscorer Amauri has been the first to remind everyone the gap is only three points. “We must not give up. We have to keep on working well as we want to become the queen of Italy once again. The gap is only three points,” Amauri told Juventus Channel.
Juve's record against Fiorentina is not at all perfect. Many will remember the 3-2 home loss to Cesare Prandelli's men last season. In the last six fixtures between these two teams, the statistics make for some even reading. Juventus have won once as have Fiorentina, the other four fixtures have all ended in draws. The Bianconeri have not beaten the Tuscan side since December 2005 when they won 2-1 away from home.
Ranieri will be hoping things change this weekend. The players have been working hard this week and a number of stars have returned from injury. It's a massive game for Vecchia Signora and the result of this match will help provide a clearer view in the Scudetto crystal ball.
Fiorentina are still feeling the pain of two back-two-back defeats heading into the Juve clash, and thus Prandelli's side will be all fired up and ready to repeat their match-winning performance in this fixture last year. After three wins on the bounce against Torino, Catania and Sampdoria, the Viola got back into their old habits of stepping off the gas when all was going well.
They were punished by Lecce in a shock 2-1 home defeat and then they lost against Milan last week. Alexandre Pato's goal sealed the Tuscan's fate. The team's turbulent form over the past few weeks has seen them touch and then let go of the all important fourth place. Champions League football for next season is the club's ultimate aim. It is the main reason as to why Fiorentina spent big in the summer transfer market.
However, nothing much has changed since last term on the pitch. Prandelli's squad is sublime, but new faces such as Stevan Jovetic, and Juan Manuel Vargas have failed to shine this term. Only Felipe Melo and Alberto Gilardino have repaid some of the investment Pantaleo Corvino made for them. The former Milan striker has a habit of doing well against Juventus. It was his striker earlier this season which denied the Bianconeri maximum points at the Artemio Franchi.
The Italian international is also looking to end the season as Capocanoniere and, after last week's failure to get on the score sheet, Gila will be up for this one. However, the Viola's away form has been poor this term. They have lost six and won four in ten fixtures on the road. Their average goal count away from home this season stands at 1.1 goals per game. It's not looking good given the fact that Juventus have the best defensive record in the league.
Ranieri's men have conceded just 14 goals in 19 matches and so it will tough going for Gilardino and company.
Jan 18: Lazio 1-1 Juventus (Serie A)
Jan 11: Juventus 1-0 Siena (Serie A)
Dec 21: Atalanta 1-3 Juventus (Serie A)
Dec 14: Juventus 4-2 Milan (Serie A)
Dec 7: Lecce 1-2 Juventus (Serie A)
Jan 17: Milan 1-0 Fiorentina (Serie A)
Jan 11: Fiorentina 1-2 Lecce (Serie A)
Dec 21: Sampdoria 0-1 Fiorentina (Serie A)
Dec 14: Fiorentina 2-1 Catania (Serie A)
Dec 7: Torino 1-4 Fiorentina (Serie A)
There has been good news from the Juventus infirmary this week as Vincenzo Iaquinta and Olof Mellberg have returned to action. The Swedish star shook off the flu while Iaquinta has recovered from a muscular problem. Gianluigi Buffon and Alex Manninger have also shaken off the flu and they should be available for the game. Tiago, Giorgio Chiellini and Mauro Camoranesi are all doubtful. Jonathan Zebina has returned to the training pitch, but he is unlikely to be fit. David Trezeguet's recovery is progressing well. Momo Sissoko is suspended following the yellow card he picked up against Lazio.
Probable Starting XI 4-4-2: Buffon, Grygera, Mellberg, Legrottaglie, De Ceglie, Marchionni, Marchisio, Zanetti, Nedved, Del Piero, Amauri.
The bad news for Fiorentina is that Adrian Mutu will miss the game as he still has not recovered from a dislocated elbow. The Romanian star underwent further tests on Thursday and he has been told to rest for at least 10 days by the club's medical staff. This means he is likely to miss the Napolu clash next week as well. Martin Jorgensen is the only other absentee while Gianluca Comotto is suspended.
Probable Starting XI 4-3-1-2: Frey, Zauri, Kroldrup, Gamberini, Vargas, Kuzmanovic, Felipe Melo, Montolivo, Santana, Gilardino, Jovetic.
Players To Watch
Juventus: Alessandro Del Piero. Keep an eye out on the Juventus captain. Del Piero has a habit of doing well against Fiorentina. He scored his first goal in this fixture back in 1994. Claudio Marchisio, who starts on Saturday, was only eight years old back then and he watched it from the stands. Del Piero has been in hot form recently and he will be hoping to do the business.
Fiorentina: Alberto Gilardino. The Italian striker is back in the form of his life under Prandelli. He has scored 11 times this term and he is itching to make it 12 against Juventus. Gila scored his first Serie A goal for the Viola against Juve back in September so all eyes will be on him at the Olimpico.
Juventus against Fiorentina is always a special game. Expect some exciting end to end stuff with plenty of chances at both ends. The rivalry will be fierce and it will take something special to settle the game. Juventus will fancy their chances, but Fiorentina are no pushovers.
Juventus 2-0 Fiorentina
Salvatore Landolina, Goal.com