With Inter on a collision course with Fiorentina, it was time to see how our friends at the Artemio Franchi are faring. To do so, we of course checked in with the purple corner of the internet and our sister site Viola Nation. The superb site boss Tito was kind enough to answer our Fiorentina-related queries, going over everything from Gennaro Gattuso’s twenty-day tenure to Dusan Vlahovic’s future to early signs from Vincenzo Italiano's reign.
Q: Fiorentina’s original Beppe Iachini replacement was Gennaro Gattuso but his appointment lasted only 22 days. What happened there? Any regrets over how Gattuso’s Viola adventure ended up panning out?
A: What happened there was that Fiorentina thought they were getting a good manager and wound up stepping in a big pile of Jorge Mendes. The agent allegedly tried to funnel a bunch of his clients to Fiorentina—Sergio Oliveira, Tecatito Corona, Gonçalo Guedes—while negotiating for both the Viola and their respective teams, inflating prices and his own commission along the way. Rocco and company drew the line there, and Mendes got Gattuso to step back so he could take the Tottenham Hotspur job, which, uh, yeah.
We were definitely pretty disappointed to start with, largely because the meme of Iachini busting back in to take over was a little too believable for comfort, but (allegedly) Mendes-dominated clubs tend to have bursts of brilliance and then fall off really hard (Swansea and Valencia wave a sad hello). It also helps that Spurs supporters rightly pushed back against Rino’s appointment for various misogynistic and homophobic comments he never apologized for, and that Vincenzo Italiano has done a heck of a job in Florence so far.
Q: Continuing with that vein of questioning, the next man up was Vicenzo Italiano. From an outside perspective, things are looking good in Tuscany. What have been the main takeaways from Italiano’s first four games? What are Fiorentina’s strengths and weaknesses?
A: The main takeaway is that Fiorentina have been proactive with and without the ball for the first time since Vincenzo Montella’s first time around, maybe? Maybe Cesare Prandelli’s first stint? After watching the deeply passive approach from Iachini the past couple of years and Stefano Pioli’s headless chicken style before that, it’s been great to see a coach who’s clearly got a coherent philosophy in all phases of the game. The quick passing and constant pressing are great, but for me, the biggest difference is that the players are clearly behind him all the way. No matter the situation, they’re looking to impose themselves on their opponents using his principles, and that kind of belief in yourself and your coach has been foreign to Firenze for too long.
In a more concrete, less woo-woo sense, Fiorentina’s greatest strength is the attack right now. New signing Nico González (who might start this one from the bench due to injury) looks like one of the league’s most dynamic dribblers already, drawing the most fouls per 90 minutes, and he’s rapidly developing an understanding with Dušan Vlahović. Having the big Serbian, of course, means that the Viola always have a chance to score goals. Adding some more thrust from midfield, particularly from a rejuvenated Giacomo Bonaventura, means that the team now has three dangerous options going forward instead of just one.
The biggest weakness is that Fiorentina is a glass cannon. They’ve yet to keep a clean sheet after conceding in the 89th minute against Torino and in the 98th minute at Genoa, which makes me think that the physical and mental exhaustion inherent to such a hard-running style makes them vulnerable late. They’ve got the 3rd-worst xG against in Serie A and don’t have any depth at either fullback spot right now, which concerns me. The centerbacks in particular seem very well-suited to play a high line that encourages them to tightly mark opposing forwards even if it means stepping way up the field, but I can see serious problems if they come up against a smart and talented pair of strikers, and baw gawd, Jeem, that’s Inter’s music.
Q: One of the big stories of the transfer market was Dusan Vlahovic’s future. What does keeping hold of the Serbian mean for Fiorentina? How long is he going to stay?
A: Keeping Dušan, more than anything, means that Fiorentina can push on for Europe this year. He was Serie A’s best young striker last year (sorry, Lautaristas); he can and will win points on his own. His holdup play, finishing, and mentality are all elite (I hate the way that word gets used now, but sometimes it’s true), and those are qualities that improve the rest of the team immeasurably. Having players like that makes the entire project a lot more attractive to prospective signings. For example, I don’t think that González or Lucas Torreira would’ve been as interested in moving to Florence if the only striker was literal violent criminal Aleksandr Kokorin.
How long he stays for is anyone’s guess. His contract, of course, expires in 2023, which means that the club will likely have to cash in on him next year if he refuses an extension or risk losing him for nothing. Sporting Director Daniele Pradè has floated a couple of low ball offers at him, but it sounds like the Viola brass is finally getting serious about offering him a salary that reflects his value. From what we’ve heard, the sticking point is the buyout clause; Pradè wants it somewhere around €80 million and Vlahović’s camp is holding out for somewhere around €50 million. The guy seems to like playing for Fiorentina and has a good relationship with Commisso, so I’d say there’s a 50% chance that he sticks around for another year, especially if Fiorentina qualify for Europe. By then, the mercato will likely have recovered further from coronavirus’ depressive effect (sorry, that sounds post-human) and Dušan can probably earn a lot more if he moves then. It’s the same situation we saw with Nikola Milenković this summer, who extended his stay by a year when the mercato came up dry.
Q: What would be a successful 2021/22 season for Fiorentina? What about the expectations for Italiano’s tenure overall?
A: A successful season for Fiorentina? That’s been such a contradiction in terms of late that I can barely even imagine it. I guess I’d say that anything below eight place would be a mild disappointment, and Europa League qualification would feel great. That’ll probably require some further investment in January (hi, Domenico Berardi). More abstractly, seeing a Fiorentina that scores goals and entertains fans and neutrals would feel like a return to normalcy for a club that’s traditionally boasted some of the funnest attackers in Italy. Nobody’s expecting Vinnie Italian to turn this club into a Champions League contender in the next year or two, but fun and respectable are what we’re looking for. With Rocco’s money to back him, I think there’s a very good chance we see exactly that.
Q: And last but not least, what’s your prediction for Tuesday?
A: I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, Inter are the reigning champions, own Serie A’s best attack, and match Simone Inzaghi’s intelligence with an experienced and talented squad. There’s a reason they’re massive favorites in this one. On the other hand, though, Fiorentina have tended to play the Nerazzurri pretty close over the past few years. I also don’t think that Inter’s played anyone who’ll press them like Fiorentina will, and I’m not sure if their current sparkling form is the new coach bounce or if they’re actually this good. The schedule, too, hasn’t done them any favors here, as I’m sure you’re acutely aware: hosting Atalanta, then a midweek trip to Kyiv, then a tricky trip to Sassuolo is quite a stretch.
If González is good to go (and I’d rather not imagine what’ll happen if he isn’t), I’ll call it a 2-2. Vlahović isn’t likely to have two quiet games in a row, so I think he’ll get one, and the team’s shown a willingness to bomb forward that should net another. That bombing forward, though, leaves a lot of space, so Lautaro Martínez is probably going to have a lot of fun running in behind. I’d lay good odds that he scores at least once, and I’ll put the other one down to a blast from distance; Perišić, Hakan, whoever. No matter what, though, I think it’s going be a very up-and-down, entertaining ninety minutes.