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Roma v Fiorentina: Europa League Round of 16 Preview

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Thursday's Round of 16 Europa League return leg marks the fifth meeting this season between Roma and Fiorentina, the fourth since January alone. With Roma needing only a scoreless draw to advance, will they sit back and absorb the blows?

Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Well, let's say this about Monday's performance against Sampdoria, at least Roma didn't draw. After all, results matter, right? In a somewhat fitting twist, Roma owes her Europa League life, tenuous though it might be, to a come-from-behind draw. Having "stormed" back to grab an equalizer against Fiorentina last week in Firenze, Roma grabbed the oh-so-precious away goal in the first leg of this Round of 16 matchup against their countrymen. But this is still Roma we're talking about, so advantages, perceived or otherwise, are extremely perilous.

Roma v.FiorentinaMarch 19 19:00 CET, 14:00 EDT Stadio Olimpico Roma, Italia

As this is the fifth meeting between these sides this year (that has to be some sort of record, I would imagine), we'll keep this preview brief. Let us start by taking a quick look back at the first four fixtures.

Roma v Fiorentina: The First Four

August 30, 2014 (Serie A): Roma 2, Fiorentina 0

Roma practically ran Fiorentina off the pitch on opening day, hanks to goals from Radja Nainggolan and Gervinho. Nainggolan was particular dominant that day, scoring one goal, setting up the second and generally bossing the midfield on both sides of the ball.

January 25, 2015 (Serie A): Roma 1, Fiorentina 1

While Nainggolan was a factor in this match, Adem Ljajic would play the role of hero, well, semi-hero given the results, levelling the match in the 49th minute. Given how lackluster they played as a whole, particularly in the first half, we could consider this match the trendsetter for everything that has followed in 2015.

February 3, 2015 (Coppa Italia): Fiorentina 2, Roma 0

It was really a choppy, tense match for both sides, Roma were ultimately done in by the sexiest man on the pitch, Mario Gomez. The Viola's oft-injured forward crushed Roma's Coppa hopes with two goals after the 65th minute. It an ugly match, Roma were felled by superior finishing when it mattered most, late in the second half.

March 12, 2015 (Europa League): Roma 1, Fiorentina 1

Thanks to a moment of magic from Alessandro Florenzi and Seydou Keita, Roma gained the precious advantage heading into Thursday's return leg at the Olimpico.

The Fifth Element

So, what can we glean from the first four meetings this season?

The first match, the one in which Roma dominated, might as well have been a decade ago; that team is not this team, in neither shape, form nor spirit, while the ensuing three matches were really dull affairs punctuated by brief moments of brilliance. So despite the 360 minutes of football between them this year, there is no outline, no clear path to victory, no plan of attack and just for good measure, the two men who've had the most impact through the first four turns, Nainggolan and Gomez, are both out for this match due to suspension and injury, respectively.

At this point, we have to seriously question why Garcia isn't doing more to shake things up, be it through personnel or tactical changes, but without Nainggolan, and with Daniele De Rossi, Miralem Pjanic and Keita all hitting the proverbial wall, if Garcia's midfield isn't begging for new blood or a fresh set of ideas, I don't know what is; something has got to give.

However, the problems don't end there. As we saw on Monday, the defeat Rudi Garcia blueprint has now been CC'd to every manager on the peninsula; sit back, close down the passing lanes in the middle and let Roma dance on the wings, serving up fruitless crosses to their non-existent target men. Lather, rinse and repeat.

Fortunately,  thanks to Keita's 77th minute goal, Roma did just enough to make advancing in this tournament feasible, and therein lies Garcia's genius; all Roma has to do to advance (at minimum) is manage a scoreless draw.

Shit, that's Rudi's milieu, see you in Brugge!