Created on 18-12-2009 at 00:00 AM
Fiorentina and Bayern contrived to avoid each other in Europe for decades, but the clubs will now meet for the second time in two years. In the 2008-9 Champions League group double-header, Munich won 3-0 at home and drew 1-1 at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. The clubs have were paired again on Friday, this time in the first knockout round of this season’s competition.
The key men for Luca Toni’s former club are strikers Adrian Mutu and Alberto Gilardino, although the pair have not played together all that often this term. Coach Cesare Prandelli favours a 4-5-1 formation with Gilardino as a lone striker, backed by an attacking line of three featuring Mutu, Italy international Marco Marchionni, and Peruvian Juan Vargas.
Below par in the league
In characteristic Italian style, Fiorentina are happy to play on the break off a solid defensive platform. Of all the teams through to the last sixteen, the men from Florence had the lowest figure for possession of the ball (46 percent). However, Prandelli’s side scored 14 goals in their six matches, a total beaten only by Real Madrid (15). Fiorentina beat Liverpool twice (2-0 at home and 2-1 away) in winning Group E from Lyon, Liverpool and Debrecen.
“It’s a well-assembled young team with star strikers. We mustn’t underestimate them,“ warned Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. However, Fiorentina lie a disappointing ninth in Serie A after 16 games. A defensive record of just 15 goals conceded is one of the best in the section, but Gilardino, Mutu & Co have mustered a mere 18 goals between them so far, while leaders Inter have struck nearly twice as often (35).
Turmoil on the board
Coach Prandelli’s job looks secure - he has guided his side to three fourth-place finishes and one fifth spot in the last four seasons – but President Andrea Della Valle, who took over when the club were compulsorily relegated to the third tier seven years ago, bore the brunt of fan and media anger early in the season. Caught in a hail of criticism for selling Felipe Melo to Juventus, Della Valle quit in September. Vice-president Mario Cognini currently heads the club in an acting capacity.
Despite their problems in domestic competition, Fiorentina have blazed a trail in the Champions League, qualifying for the last sixteen for the second time in their history. The club’s greatest successes are the European Cup Winners’ Cup (1961), two league titles (1956, 1969), and six cup triumphs (most recently in 2001).
Van Gaal’s warning
The Italians will be utterly determined to progress to the last eight at Bayern’s expense. Bayern must be sure not to underestimate the Tuscan outfit, as Louis van Gaal warned: “Last season’s results against Fiorentina count for nothing any more.“