Having tasted defeat just three times since November, Juve were firm favourites, though they had failed to win their last three fixtures, recording draws with Parma, Lecce and Roma. As for the financially troubled hosts, Mancini had managed to steady the ship since taking over, with just two defeats in their previous eight fixtures.
Mancini had to do without star man Manuel Rui Costa for this one, as the Portuguese ace watched from the stands. Despite his absence, Juve stopper Edwin van der Sar had to be on his toes early on, flying off his line to superbly deny Enrico Chiesa from point blank range.
As is the norm when these fierce rivals clash, the Artemio Franchi was a cauldron of noise, but the hostile atmosphere didn’t faze Juventus in the slightest. And with talent like French duo Zinedine Zidane and David Trezeguet, as well as the predatory instincts of Filippo Inzaghi, there was no need to panic.
Zidane began to see more of the ball, as he typically controlled the pace of the game, and his influence would soon pay dividends. A deep cross from Alessandro Birindelli caught Francesco Toldo in no-man’s-land, leaving Trezeguet at the back post to intelligently cushion the ball back to Zidane, who easily slotted home from eight yards.
As the fresh-faced Mancini looked to encourage his team from the side-lines, they soon found themselves with a mountain to climb. Just four minutes after falling behind, Fiorentina failed to defend a Juventus corner, leaving Igor Tudor unmarked at the back-post to nod the ball past the hapless Toldo. With the Bianconeri already looking comfortable, Mancini reacted quickly, replacing the more defence-minded Sando Cois with Brazilian midfielder Amaral.
The tactical change seemed to work as just five minutes before the break, some comical defending and goalkeeping gifted the Viola a lifeline. Van Der Sar somewhat uncharacteristically flapped at an aerial ball which fell to Marco Rossi, who headed home from all of two yards.
The giant Dutch keeper’ redeemed himself almost immediately after the break, flying through the air to deny Fiorentina an equaliser. Mancini was impressed with the start his side had made to the second half, but on the hour mark, the tactician went for broke. Substituting Paolo Vanoli, the Italian tactician put his faith in Portuguese forward Nuno Gomes. But as the Tuscan side looked to press forward, they were left vulnerable at the back. The Bianconeri’s French duo threatened on two occasions, but both Zidane and Trezeguet were denied by the brilliant reflexes of Toldo.
As the game drew to a close, Zidane left the fray, much to the relief of the home fans. However, just two minutes later, his fellow countryman secured all three points for the Turin giants. Yet again, Fiorentina failed to defend another set piece, as Trezeguet beat his man to head past the diving Toldo. Despite the brave effort from Mancini and his side, Juve held on to secure a 3-1 victory.
The sides meet again this Sunday evening in what is always one of the most intriguing fixtures in the Serie A calendar. Supporters of the Viola will be hoping to enjoy an entirely different outcome to the one during the sides’ classic clash of 2001.
Words by Giovanni Dougall @giovannid86