Inter and Fiorentina are on collision course once again, and that means it’s time to check in with our old friend and site boss Tito from Viola Nation. We go over everything from what’s behind La Viola’s poor start to the season to transfer market grades and a prediction for the Nerazzurri’s Saturday night clash with Vincenzo Italiano’s side.
A big thanks to Tito for stopping by!
Q: First off, what happened?? Fiorentina went from 7th place, a spot in the UEFA Conference League, and known for free-flowing football last season to 13th and home of one of the worst attacks in the league. Is this just early-season blues or something worse?
A: Whoo boy. That’s the trillion lira question, isn’t it? The loss of Dušan Vlahović is probably the biggest problem: it’s tough to replace one of the best young strikers in the world even in the best of times (hi, Borussia Dortmund); Fiorentina never really figured out how to do that last year, seeing their goals per game decrease from 1.79 with him to 1.37 without him. That it’s dropped to 0.8 this season is a testament to the unclinical nature of current strikers Luka Jović and Arthur Cabral, especially since the Viola have underperformed their xG by about 5.5 so far.
That’s far from the only problem, of course. Lucas Torreira’s vertical passing hasn’t been replaced, although Sofyan Amrabat has been quite good in many other areas this year, but the real culprit is probably injuries: Fiorentina have played more fixtures than any team in Serie A this year and it’s taken a toll on the squad. Key starters Nikola Milenković, Nico González, Riccardo Sottil, and Dodô have all missed significant portions of the season, while Gaetano Castrovilli won’t be back until 2023. All in all, it’s a damning indictment of the roster construction that Joe Barone and Daniele Pradè have done, failing to add sufficient depth or replace key departures.
Q: How has Vincenzo Italiano fared as Fiorentina’s manager? What are the key components of his system and the good and bad of his skillset?
A: This answer sure would’ve been different a few months ago. I think he’s been hamstrung by a roster that is thin in the wrong places and features a number of players—Arthur Cabral, Szymon Żurkowski, Jonathan Ikoné, Marco Benassi, Luca Ranieri—that he doesn’t seem to trust very much, which indicates a lack of communication between him and the Barone/Pradè brain trust.
However, I also think that he’s been found out a bit. Fiorentina suffered a lot of reversals against opponents using a deep block and long balls to play forwards in behind last year, and it seems pretty clear that every manager in Serie A noticed and has adjusted accordingly. While Italiano has occasionally tweaked things to great effect—shifting to a 4-4-2 with Antonín Barák as a second striker against Hellas Verona worked brilliantly—those changes have all been one-offs rather than long-term fixes. Especially at the start of the year, the Viola’s only strategy was passing the ball across the back and down one of the wings, then hoping that one of the wingers would do something really cool.
That one-dimensionality combined with the fatigue from playing so many games means that the furious pressure that was his hallmark last year hasn’t worked as well either. I’ll also add that this is just his third year as a Serie A manager and his sixth as a full-time professional. He’s not very far into his career and he’s very much still figuring things out, so this is probably just a part of his organic growth process. If he can react well, it bodes very well for his future. Otherwise, we may have seen his peak.
Q: How would you grade La Viola’s summer transfer window? Any glaring holes in the squad left unfixed?
A: While Barone/Pradè made some astute acquisitions in this mercato (Dodô, Barák, Jović on a fascinating and creative deal), they didn’t really replace Vlahović or Torreira, which has scuppered Fiorentina’s season so far. They also failed to sell enough players, leading to a roster that’s bloated beyond belief (Benassi and Castrovilli aren’t even registered for Serie A) and full of misfit toys rather than guys Italiano can trust to fill in when necessary. That’s a huge problem and means that the 15 or so players he really relies on are carrying a massive burden to compete on three fronts.
There aren’t any holes in terms of numbers except in central defense, where injuries and suspensions recently forced Sofyan Amrabat into an unfamiliar role at the back. As I mentioned, the strikers haven’t impressed, although Christian Kouamé’s recent form has seen him become an interesting option. The midfield lacks anyone who can offer vertical progression through the middle outside of Alfred Duncan, who’s glued to the bench for reasons nobody can figure out. There’s not much depth at fullback either. Really, the wingers are the only place this team can go four deep with any competence.
Q: What are Fiorentina’s biggest strengths and weaknesses? Any star players for Inzaghi to keep a special eye out for?
A: The biggest strength is the third kit. It’s gorgeous.
I guess I’d say that the real strength of the team is the wingers. Nico González, Kouamé, and Riccardo Sottil are all genuinely good, although the latter may not be fit for Inter Milan. Riccardo Saponara and Ikoné are both sporadically useful options off the bench. They’re all capable of beating their man on and off the ball and they can all generate attacks on their own, particularly the former trio. I’ll also shout out Amrabat, who’s a tank in the middle and can physically dominate the center of the pitch all by himself while spraying a few nice passes to the wide areas.
Weaknesses, though? Woof. Pretty much everything else, if I’m honest. Cristiano Biraghi’s been solid at leftback, especially going forward, but I’m sure you vividly recall his limitations in defense. Igor and Lucas Martínez Quarta have been furiously competing to see which can make the biggest mistake every week. Giacomo Bonaventura, Barák, Rolando Mandragora, and Youssef Maleh have been anonymous at best in central midfield. Jović and Cabral have been sluggish, misfiring, or both up front. Italiano’s shown an inability to react to game state. It’s been real rough, man. Real rough.
Q: And lastly, what’s your prediction for Saturday?
A: I feel like Inter’s been much better than the table shows this year, particularly at the back, so I’m not as down as a lot of Nerazzurri fans seem to be, although I also acknowledge that, as a Fiorentina supporter, I’m probably a lot more accustomed to looking for positives in mediocrity than yall are. I’ll also add that, while the Artemio Franchi has one of the most incredible atmospheres in Italy, the ultras have been pretty ticked off at the team recently: they filled the Curva Fiesole against Hearts but refused to cheer for the first half, so it may not be quite the cauldron of terror that can help the home team.
In the Viola Nation preview, I have a running joke where I always predict Fiorentina to win 2-0 or 2-1, no matter who they’re playing against. I think the key factor here is how Inzaghi wants to play: if he pushes up to control play, Fiorentina will look decent, as they’re generally at their best playing against high defenses that give their wingers more room to cook. If Inzaghi sits off a bit and relies on his attackers to unlock things without committing too many bodies forward, I think Inter will walk this one. Because the handsomer Inzaghi isn’t a dummy, I’d guess he’ll adopt the latter approach, which should lead to something like a comfortable 1-2 or 1-3 for the visitors, although I’m expecting Fiorentina to get up for this one and make it a little tighter than most of the oddsmakers have it.