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Behind enemy lines: A conversation with Viola Nation’s Tito Kohout

We talk about Tuesday’s Inter Milan-Fiorentina fixture.

ACF Fiorentina v SPAL - Serie A
David Hancko of ACF Fiorentina in action during the Serie A match between ACF Fiorentina and SPAL at Stadio Artemio Franchi on September 22, 2018 in Florence, Italy.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

It has been a short turnaround for Inter Milan as they prepare to host Fiorentina on Tuesday.

With the Viola looming large, we reached out to our sister site Viola Nation and asked Tito Kohout some questions about the upcoming fixture at the San Siro.

You can catch our side of the conversation here.

Fiorentina have enjoyed an excellent start to the new Serie A season, with only Juventus and Napoli sitting capable of amassing more points than the Viola over the first five weeks. What’s been the key to your success so far?

It’s definitely cheesy, but the key so far has been the squad’s belief in itself. There’s a palpable togetherness among the players that includes the fans and even the Della Valle brothers, who are frequently at loggerheads with the tifosi. Full credit here goes to Stefano Pioli, who’s instilled this mentality in a very young team. On a more tactical level, the biggest strengths in the side are a tactically flexible midfield and defense that shift to address whatever type of opponent they’re facing. And having Federico Chiesa makes things a lot easier in attack no matter who they’re playing.

There was a lot of consternation last summer when Fiorentina essentially sold their central midfield to Inter in one neat little package – are you happy with the way that the club have since replaced Borja Valero and Matias Vecino? Is there any of your current crop you think Piero Ausilio should be keeping a close eye on?! (Don’t worry, he doesn’t check out our site that often… that I know of…)

Udinese Calcio v FC Internazionale - Serie A
Borja Valero of FC Internazionale in action during the Serie A match between Udinese Calcio and FC Internazionale at Stadio Friuli on May 6, 2018 in Udine, Italy.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Ugh. There’s still a lot of anger over how Borja Valero in particular was sent packing, and he’d actually be a perfect player in this current setup to link the attack to everyone else. That said, I think the Viola fans have been pretty pleased with the midfield reinforcements this year. Jordan Veretout is probably the pick of the litter; although he’s been used in the holding role of late (where he doesn’t quite convince), he’s a monster mezzala with a marvelous engine who can control a match with smart, quick passing and the occasional incisive through ball as well. He’s also got a shot on him. Marco Benassi is very good when he’s good, but deeply uneven. Gerson has been a revelation since joining from AS Roma, and West Ham loanee Edimilson Fernandes has had a few bright moments as well. This is a physical, athletic group that’ll run opponents into the ground, but they don’t have a lot of fantasia, which is probably the team’s biggest weakness in the middle of the pitch.

It’s been just over six months since Davide Astori’s sudden death sent shockwaves around the Italian football movement. What kind of impact do you think his tragic passing has had since then, both on his teammates and on the atmosphere surrounding the club in general?

Obviously, it’s still one of the most horrifying things I can imagine happening to a team, and I still tear up a little bit thinking about it. It feels pretty scummy to say that such an awful thing has helped Fiorentina, but it also feels a little bit true, which is damn uncomfortable. For an idea of his importance to the team, look no further than the recent armband kerfuffle, in which the players said they’d pay the fine if Serie A penalized captain Germán Pezzella for wearing the commemorative strip of fabric he’s had since taking over. Pioli, a pretty buttoned down, middle-aged guy, got his first tattoo (at least that we know of) on his wrist, and it was DA13. Even newcomers to the team have said that they still feel Astori’s presence in how unified this squad is, which is enough to make your arm hairs stand up a bit.

Which Inter player do you fear the most heading into Tuesday’s match? Conversely, is there one Fiorentina player in particular that you think could cause us problems at San Siro? (Other than Federico Chiesa, because that’s a given…)

It’s funny that y’all are worried about Mauro Icardi, because I can assure you that we are more so. Dude’s scored 9 goals against Fiorentina since 2014, which is, frankly, obscene. I’m definitely worried about Radja Nainggolan in the trequartista position, because that’ll put his energy and aggression in direct opposition to Veretout. If the Belgian wins that battle, it’ll hamstring the Viola’s ability to move the ball into attack.

FC Internazionale v Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Champions League Group B
Mauro Emanuel Icardi (L) of FC Internazionale celebrates his goal with his team-mate Radja Nainggolan during the Group B match of the UEFA Champions League between FC Internazionale and Tottenham Hotspur at San Siro Stadium on September 18, 2018 in Milan, Italy.
Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

And of course we’re always concerned about goals from exes, so Vecino is a threat and heck, maybe Borja will chip in his annual goal. Basically, Inter has quality all over the pitch, and there aren’t a whole lot of weaknesses. If I had to pick one, I’d probably say that Marko Pjaca vs Šime Vrsaljko could be a lot of fun, given that they know each other pretty well through their work with Croatia, and I like the idea of Gerson running at Roberto Gagliardini, who hasn’t been playing much of late and might be rusty. But yeah, anything good for Fiorentina is probably going to start and end with Chiesa.

What kind of match are you expecting to see on Tuesday evening? Will Fiorentina try to take the game to Inter or do you think they’ll be looking to soak up pressure and pounce on the counterattack? In terms of the starting XI, do you think Pioli will make many changes from the SPAL game in an attempt to keep the side fresh?

Fiorentina simply don’t have the personnel to try and keep the ball in the middle, so I think Pioli’s strategy will be pretty typical of his approach over the past few games: press as a unit, particularly high up, and then drop deep once the press is broken and look to play balls into the channels for Simeone, Chiesa, and Pjaca to chase in hopes of getting them into 1-v-1 battles with a defender. However, Fiorentina sat way too deep in the second half at Napoli and Sampdoria, so we could see an attempt to park the bus if it’s scoreless after the half. That would be really frustrating, since it neutralizes one of the most exciting young attacks in Italy, but hopefully Pioli has learned his lesson from those two matches: Fiorentina had a chance to come away with something and coughed it up late because they invited too much pressure.

ACF Fiorentina v SPAL - Serie A
Alban-Marc Lafont of ACF Fiorentina in action during the Serie A match between ACF Fiorentina and SPAL at Stadio Artemio Franchi on September 22, 2018 in Florence, Italy.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

I think that Pioli will field his usual XI, exhaustion and everything. Simeone doesn’t really have a backup outside the shambling corpse of Cyril Théréau and the goddamn enormous 18-year-old Dušan Vlahović, so he’s stuck playing pretty much all of the minutes. Kevin Mirallas or Valentin Eysseric could replace Pjaca, but Pioli prizes continuity so I think the Croatian will start. Same goes for Edi Fernandes, who would step into midfield for Gerson or Benassi. Otherwise, this is a pretty settled XI, so unless Pioli goes against type and opts for some big surprises, I think it’s pretty clear who’ll be on the pitch on Tuesday.

Prediction time: what’s the final score going to be and who’s going to score the goals (if there are any)? Are you confident of taking a result away from San Siro?

Guh. I’m not particularly confident about this one, mostly because Icardi has owned Fiorentina for, like, almost half a decade. On the other hand, Fiorentina’s got a pretty decent record against Inter in that span, winning 5 and drawing 1, so the outlook isn’t completely bleak for our purple heroes. If the Viola can keep it even into the second half, I could see Inter getting panicky, especially without Spalletti (that he was sent off seems pretty absurd, by the way), and this Viola attack is pretty well equipped to take advantage of a panicky opponent. I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying that I’m (very optimistically) predicting a 1-1, with Icardi popping up for a tap in and Veretout scoring a late penalty won by Chiesa. Now that I’ve actually said that, it’ll probably end up being, like, 4-0 to y’all.

What do you think? Post your comments below!