INTERVIEW: Mina Rzouki previews Tottenham’s Fiorentina test

As Tottenham Hotspur are set to take on Fiorentina in Thursday’s Europa League clash, Italian football expert Mina Rzouki gives us the lowdown on the Violas chance against Spurs.

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Despite being a distance off the top three, Fiorentina are having a very solid season. What kind of a threat will they pose Tottenham?

A possession based team that love to rotate the ball and look for avenues forward, they boast technique, intelligence, creativity and great balance. While their conversion rate hasn’t been the best considering the many absences they have suffered in the attacking department, they have since found a way to score the goals – via set pieces. Vincenzo Montella’s men are, by far, the best in Italy when it comes to profiting from a dead ball situation, having already scored 13 this season. Only Werder Bremen and Atletico Madrid have scored more in Europe’s top four leagues this season.

Early on in the season, the Tuscan club struggled to settle in and were often changing tactics and personnel in order to find the right balance. Since then they have steadily climbed Serie A, currently sitting in fourth place and the last defeat they experienced was at the start of 2015 to Parma, a game in which they received two red cards. Before that, it was against Napoli, the team sitting just ahead of them in third.

They are confident, they have slowly recovered men and they have options, thanks to their dealings in the winter transfer market, to change tactics midway through matches to facilitate victories.

Obviously, Juan Cuadrado left the club recently, how big of a blow is that to how Fiorentina play and how will Mohamed Salah be as a replacement?

It was a huge blow both on and off the pitch. Not only did he help market Fiorentina’s brand, proving a hit when it came to shifting merchandise and negotiating commercial deals but on the pitch it was his versatility, direct style of play and intelligence that made him a hit with the team.

Fiorentina are a possession based side with plenty of ball playing players. Having Cuadrado available to switch play and facilitate the transitions made life easier for them against the sides that clammed up defensively. However, Mohammed Salah has made an impressive start to his Serie A career, proving to be a sensation against Sassuolo over the weekend.

Not only did the Egyptian score but he provided the assist and demonstrated an already great understanding with striker Khouma Babacar as the duo ripped Sassuolo apart. His pace, intelligence and hardworking nature will prove handy for Vincenzo Montella and the fact he’s happy to roam and play in different positions will facilitate the coach’s many tactical ideas.

Fiorentina were once a really feared team in the days of Gabriel Batistuta, is it about time they really proved themselves on the continent?

It seems Fiorentina are always destined to come close to glory but not quite achieve it. Just when they constructed a stunning and balanced team with the likes of Mario Gomez and Giuseppe Rossi upfront, they lost both strikers to long term injuries quickly, impeding their ability to push up the table.

Under Cesare Prandelli, they shocked Liverpool in the Champions League and played an aesthetically pleasing style of play that earned them a firm a following. That stylish football is evident again under Montella where players rotate the ball and look for the right openings but they’ve been unlucky with injuries and absences, failing to provide the consistency required to reach greatness. Can they do it now? How likely is it they can be consistent but on their day, they are a match for anyone.

It’s a very ‘continental’ side with players from England, Croatia, Brazil, Argentina, Spain and of course, Germany’s Mario Gomez. Who poses the greatest threat to Tottenham?

Take your pick, many of Fiorentina’s players are dangerous. Whether it is Borja Valero pulling the strings or Khouma Babacar showing off his stunning strength up top, Fiorentina is filled with talent. Mohammed Salah has previously shown how much he likes to score in the Europa League and has stung Tottenham before while Mario Gomez has recovered his scoring touch and is full of confidence up front and may well start the match.

And vice versa, who on Tottenham’s team can expose any weaknesses in Fiorentina’s team?

Harry Kane is the obvious one. He may not be the quickest but his willingness to fight for every ball will disturb Fiorentina’s centre-backs and force them into mistakes.

However, it’s not a particular player who can truly expose the weaknesses of the Tuscan club but rather the collective. As Napoli perfectly showed, stretching the back-line and playing a courageous game in which four attackers are pressing Fiorentina’s defence will cause problems. The Italian side do not like being overwhelmed and if they are pressed sufficiently, they will not only err but they will struggle to create.

Tottenham needn’t play a cautious game. If they push bravely and concentrate on enjoying their football, they will cause problems.

Finally, what are the chances of Fiorentina going through after the two legs, would you class them as favourites?

No they’re not the favourites. Pitted against a Tottenham side that boast stamina and energy, they could falter. The pressing will disturb Fiorentina’s rhythm and passing game while Tottenham’s pace and direct play will trouble the Italians who can be a bit slow on occasion.

On a technical level they may well prove superior while their elegance can frustrate their opponents but in these matches, determination and relentless energy can make all the difference. It is all down to who wants it more.

Follow @Minarzouki

Follow @RichJLaverty

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