Straight from the dark heart of Italy
If Juventus needed a relaxing build-up to Tuesday’s Champions League tie at Celtic, they got it from the shrinking violets of Fiorentina on Saturday.
The thought of the Viola turning up at the Juventus Stadium and ruffling the league leaders had Antonio Conte all a fluster, complaining his side had not been given enough time to prepare for their trip to Glasgow before returning to action against AS Roma on Saturday.
However, the first hurdle was easily negotiated without Juve having to break more than a moderate sweat. A compliant Fiorentina offered nothing more than a token hint of resistance after Mirko Vucinic opened the scoring on 20 minutes.
Alessandro Matri doubled the advantage just before the break – still managing to stroke the ball home despite losing his boot in the process – and from there the Old Lady strolled through the second half, leaving one to wonder what all the fuss had been about.
The only worry for Conte, who was back behind the Perspex glass as he sat out the final match of his two-game ban following his verbal assault on the referee at the end of the Genoa match, was the sight of Vucinic limping off with a knee problem. All indicators, however, point to a precaution - the striker is expected to start at Celtic Park.
What will have pleased Conte more than anything was the opportunity for his preferred midfield to not only prove their fitness, but also re-discover the free-flowing mojo that has been missing since the turn of the year.
Andrea Pirlo was given too much space but even when closed down the majestic playmaker wriggled his way out of trouble, completing 75 passes before putting one astray. Claudio Marchisio eased his way through the 90 minutes but it was evident that he has completely recovered from his recent injury problems.
However, it was Arturo Vidal who really impressed with his non-stop running and hounding of Fiorentina’s fragile midfield and defence.
The Chilean needed no better game to stoke up his competitive fires for what will be a much more demanding evening in Scotland. He set up Matri for his goal, went close himself with a curling effort and was still chasing like an over-eager terrier at the death.
With Pirlo and his able lieutenants dominating, Juventus had the perfect platform to launch wave after wave of attack. Down the flanks Paolo De Ceglie and Stephan Lichtsteiner were menacing, while Vucinic and Matri’s excellent link-play through the middle make them favourites to pair up against the Scottish champions.
That tandem of the nibbled-footed Vucinic and more direct Matri has now produced eight goals.
Leonardo Bonucci, who has also been sitting out a suspension for joining the official haranguing two weeks ago, will be refreshed and itching to return to action. That ensures his replacement, Luca Marrone, who was drafted in even though he is naturally a central midfielder, will not be left exposed to the more testing environment of European football.
If there was a weak area against Fiorentina it was in the centre of defence, but even when the hugely disappointing Stevan Jovetic muscled Marrone off the ball he could not get past the colossus Gianluigi Buffon.
The veteran goalkeeper is back to his world-class best and produced an eye-catching performance in Italy’s draw against Holland in midweek to allay fears he is on wane.
The only player who will not be on the flight to Glasgow is De Ceglie, but now Kwadwo Asamoah is back from the Africa Cup of Nations the athletic Ghanaian is the perfect replacement for a first leg that will be built around strength and power.
Juve could not have faced more obliging opponents at the weekend, but they will be ready to jump through the Hoops come Tuesday.
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