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Purple Pride

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Lazio’s upcoming Europa League clash with Stuttgart will be played behind closed doors, but Fiorentina did a fine job themselves of silencing the Olimpico on Sunday with a 2-0 victory in a showdown with massive European implications. Stevan Jovetic and Adem Ljajic supplied the goals, as the Viola continued their impressive campaign, leapfrogging Lazio into sole possession of fourth place.

The talented pair scored two goals apiece last month in a 4-1 demolition of Inter-Milan, and Jovetic would likely be in the thick of the Capocannoniere race had he not missed several weeks with a calf injury earlier this season. It remains to be seen whether Fiorentina can hold onto to its prized asset, but a Champions League berth would certainly help, and the Viola trail AC Milan by just three points.

Manager Vincenzo Montella could be in demand as well after engineering this remarkable turnaround, as Fiorentina finished 13th last season, winning only three of its final 13 league matches. Alberto Aquilani missed out on Sunday through suspension, but is enjoying a fine campaign alongside David Pizarro and Borja Valero in the center of the park, while 35-year old Luca Toni has chipped in important goals.

Montella’s next reclamation project will be Giuseppe Rossi who is set to return at the end of this month following a year and a half on the sidelines. The 26-year-old could provide a major boost for a Fiorentina side that holds a very favourable schedule down the stretch with only two matches remaining against teams currently in the top half of the table – home games against Milan and Roma.  

The way Lazio has performed domestically of late, with just one win in its last 8 league matches, the Biancocelesti’s best path to European football next season might actually be winning the Europa League. With Inter-Milan in need of a miracle against Tottenham, Lazio is Italian football’s only realistic hope left in the competition after notching an impressive 2-0 first-leg win over Stuttgart last Thursday.  

The result in Germany likely renders the closer-door ban irrelevant in this round, but Vladimir Petkovic’s side will be forced to play its quarterfinal home match in an empty stadium as well thanks to supporters who let off smoke bombs and flashed Nazi salutes during last month’s clash with Monchengladbach. The big question is whether Miroslav Klose will be available by then to help out the cause.    

Sidelined since early February with a knee injury, Klose has been sorely missed with new signing Louis Saha contributing about as much in Serie A as Nicolas Anelka. With Hernanes suffering another dip in form, the Biancocelesti are short on match-winners at the moment, though fellow Brazilian Ederson has shown flashes of being a potential impact player the rest of the way.

Lazio remains level on points with Inter, which followed up its White Hart Lane capitulation with an even more troubling 1-0 home defeat to Bologna. Alberto Gilardino spoiled the Nerazzurri’s 105th anniversary and Javier Zanetti’s 600th Serie A appearance by finding the back of the net early in the second half, and serious questions are now being asked about the future of Andrea Stramaccioni.

It appears only a matter of time before Roma surpasses both Lazio and Inter in the standings, though the Giallorossi’s momentum was temporarily halted by a 1-1 draw away to Udinese on Saturday. Erik Lamela opened the scoring for Aurelio Andreazzoli’s side, which is unbeaten in four league matches, but Luis Muriel equalised for the hosts who still maintain faint European hopes.

Unfortunately for Udinese, Antonio Di Natale has gone off the boil at the worst possible time with only 1 goal in his last 8 league matches. Di Natale trails Edinson Cavani and Stephan El Shaarawy in the race for Capocannoniere, but a new contender is emerging in the form of Giampaolo Pazzini who scored again in AC Milan’s 2-0 win over Genoa on Friday, as the Rossoneri remain in irrepressible form.

Elsewhere, Parma picked up its first victory in over two months thanks to a sensational hat-trick by Amauri, as the Giaolloblu pummeled Torino 4-1 at home on Sunday. Victor Ibarbo also found the back of the net three times, as Cagliari claimed a 3-1 win over Sampdoria, snapping the the Blucerchiati’s six-match unbeaten run, while German Denis scored twice in Atalanta’s 2-1 victory over Pescara.

Some Other Thoughts:

*Emanuele Giaccherini would seem an unlikely choice to score the most important goal of this Serie A campaign, but his stoppage-time winner against Catania on Sunday likely sealed a second consecutive Scudetto for Juventus, which now holds a seemingly insurmountable nine-point lead atop the standings. It was the second goal of the season for Giaccherini who has fallen down the pecking order in Turin.

In addition to avoiding any major slip-ups, the Bianconeri have also been helped by Napoli’s wretched form, as Walter Mazzarri’s side fell 2-0 away to Chievo, upping its winless run to five league games. Edinson Cavani hasn’t scored since late January, and the Partenopei desperately need a return to form from their Uruguayan hitman to at least secure a Champions League spot for next season.

*Massimo Allegri has come a long way since the early part of the campaign when his sacking appeared imminent. Reports in the Penninsula claim Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk is preparing a lucrative offer to lure the AC Milan boss away from the Rossoneri. Allegri has also been linked with a move to Roma and will boost his credentials even further if his side finishes the job against Barcelona on Tuesday.    

*Palermo is headed to Serie B after sensationally falling 2-1 at home to Siena, which was level on points with the Rosanero entering the match. Manager Gian Piero Gasperini who is in the midst of his second spell in charge…this season, admitted beforehand the loser would have no hope of avoiding relegation. The club’s plight represents just reward for the lunatic behaviour of owner Maurizio Zamparini