When the opening whistle blows Thursday evening at the Artemio Franchi, it will mark the 160th time Roma and Fiorentina have gone toe-to-toe, dating all the way back to the fall of 1931. This is, however, the first occasion these old foes have met in European competition. Granted, it's not the Champions League final, but tomorrow's Round of 16 Europa League fixture adds a new wrinkle to this 84 year old rivalry; it will also be the third different competition in which the Giallorossi and Viola have faced one another this season.
Mario Gomez's double dip in early February sent Roma packing in this year's Coppa Italia, but prior to that 2-0 loss, Roma had won four of their list five fixtures against Vincenzo Montella and Fiorentina. So, will a different competition breed different results?
Let's take an abbreviated look and see what changes, if any, Rudi Garcia will make ahead of tomorrow's first leg.
Rested For a Reason?
Garcia, despite having the full midfield crew at his disposal, opted to leave Daniele De Rossi and Miralem Pjanic on the pine over the weekend against Chievo, preferring instead to give Seydou Keita and Leandro Paredes some extended run against the Donkeys, while defensive injuries and ineffectiveness forced Garcia to utilize Alessandro Florenzi and Ashley Cole on the flanks.
With a crucial Monday Night Calcio clash with Sampdoria looming on the 16th, Garcia's selections will carry further weight, as Samp is a mere eight points behind Roma on the table. Not a small amount, granted, but with Roma's mediocre form, that gap could shrink quickly, so every point and selection matters.
The simple matter of familiarity complicates these matters further, as well. It's not as if Garcia can run out some amalgam of eleven men and catch the Viola by surprise; these two sides know each other about was well as any in Italy, so this could be a slugfest. That is, unless...
Roma, you may recall, was connected with Mohamed Salah during the January transfer window, instead opting for Victor Ibarbo. In case you've turned a blind eye to calcio this winter, Salah has taken the league by storm, slotting home three goals and dishing out one assist in only five appearances, include this bit of athleticism:
It's not often you see a team go from defending a set piece to unleashing an end-to-end counter attack in little more than 13 seconds, but that's precisely what Salah brings to the table; speed--now, picture that running against Cole, Florenzi or Maicon, then go bury your head in sand.
Given both sides compacted schedules, their familiarity with one another and Roma's decisive lack of bite, this match might swing on one moment of sheer athleticism. And with Salah and Gomez in the fold, fortune might favor Fiorentina.
I'd venture a guess or try to formulate a hypothesis about what Roma must do in order to win, but that's a fool'serrand if ever there was one.