One of our favorite parts about Inter vs Fiorentina is that it gives us the opportunity to check in with Viola Nation’s head honcho Tito. As always, he was happy to answer our Fiorentina-related queries, giving us the low down on everything from how Fiorentina’s return to European competition is faring and what to expect from Vincenzo Italiano’s men this Saturday. A big thanks as always to Tito for stopping by!
Q: What’s been up with Fiorentina this season? After qualifying for Europe last season, the Viola are back to the thick of mid table this time around. Is it a coaching problem, players, or something more?
A: That’s the 7-trillion lira question. It felt like the project never quite got off the ground through the first half of the season. Some of that was injuries: Nico González, Gaetano Castrovilli, Riccardo Sottil, and Igor all missed some time. Some of it was tactical, as Vincenzo Italiano tried to stick with the same system that worked like a charm last year. And some of it was just that the team was butt, particularly in both penalty areas. It felt like they’d never replaced Dušan Vlahović and that the defense had taken a step back. In short, it felt like everything was crashing back to earth.
Full credit to Italiano here, though. He made some tweaks—moved to a 4-2-3-1 from a 4-3-3, started playing a little more directly—and started to get things moving the right way, and they’ve really clicked over the past couple of months. Fiorentina’s undefeated through its past 9 and has its past 7 and suddenly looks like a team nobody wants a piece of. Some of that is Arthur Cabral suddenly figuring it out (looks miles better than Vlahović now), scoring 7 in those 9 undefeated games. Some of it is the defense, which has stabilized with the return of Lucas Martínez Quarta. And some of it is just that everybody simultaneously remembered how to play. Serie A’s pretty much wrapped, since Fiorentina can’t reasonably expect to reach higher than 7th and probably won’t even get there, but the momentum is pretty fine.
Q: Despite that, Fiorentina remain in two cup competitions, the Conference League (what’s that been like anyway?) and the Coppa Italia. What does a successful end to the season look like in Tuscany?
A: It’s been really fun. The Conference League is a blast, actually. I’m a gross hipster and genuinely believe that the Europa League and the Conference League are more intellectually stimulating than the Champions League, since you already know which teams are going to advance and you’ve already seen them play in that context for the past decade or so. The 2nd- and 3rd-tier competitions offer a lot more idiosyncrasies and a lot more intrigue, at least to my busted mind.
Sorry, let me put my soapbox away and actually answer the question. The Conference League is a blast, although the trip to Sivas was uh pretty wild (a fan punched Alessandro Bianco in the face on the pitch). Fiorentina’s got a date with Lech Poznań and then Nice/Basel to make it to the final, so there’s plenty of optimism. The Coppa, too, looks very tempting; beat Cremonese over 2 legs (which, knowing Fiorentina, means get eliminated on penalties after the world’s stupidest couple of red cards) and then see what happens in 90 minutes against yall or the Juvenuts.
It’s the club’s best chance at silverware since 2001 and either trophy would guarantee Europe next year, so it feels wise to put the eggs in those baskets, even if a trophy would make Rocco Commisso the smuggest man on earth. In short, I haven’t been so ready to be psychically wounded in a long, long time.
Q: What are Fiorentina’s strengths? Any players for Inter to keep a special eye out for?
A: Fiorentina’s turned into a really good defensive team, allowing just 31 goals in Serie A and only 2 over their past 5. Italiano plays a very high line so that his boys can squeeze the pitch, win the ball high up, and attack a short field, but you already knew that. Those transitional moments have been where they shine, which is a departure from last year and earlier this year, when the possession was frequently stodgy and lateral. The defenders and goalkeepers are happier to hoof it long now, hoping that their forward colleagues can win knockdowns or flick-ons to start quick attacks. It’s worked really well.
As far as individuals go, Cabral’s the obvious one, given his form. Nico González is probably the best player on the team and is capable of making stuff happen in various ways; he’s really fun and deserves more plaudits, although his rise to the Argentina setup means he’ll probably get them soon. Sofyan Amrabat might be the biggest name in the squad and he’s basically the Truckasaurus, but he hasn’t been quite as good since the World Cup.
Those are probably the big ones, although familiar faces like Cristiano Biraghi (scored from his own half a few weeks ago!), Giacomo Bonaventura, and Riccardo Saponara are steady contributors. Jonathan Ikoné will amaze you every game as well; sometimes it’s because his incredible technique and athleticism make him look like the best winger in the world, and sometimes it’s because he literally can’t stop dribbling straight into touch.
Q: On the flip side, what are Fiorentina’s weaknesses? How does that matchup with Inter?
A: The weakest link defensively is probably Dodô. He’s chippy as they come and loves to play the villain, but he’s also very small, prone to getting bodied off the ball in dangerous spots, and not always great at marking or tackling. In fairness, he’s really come along over the past couple of weeks, but I’d expect Simone Inzaghi to target him at the back post with Džeko and Lukaku.
Zooming out a little bit, I’m really interested in how the possession battle shakes out. Fiorentina and Inter are pretty even in most of the passing and ball progression statistics, so it feels like the midfield might be the key area. I’d guess that the Nerazzurri will sit deep and look to exploit the space in behind, since that’s the standard way to beat the Viola, but maybe Inzaghi wants to play a bit more expansively at the San Siro.
Finally, Inter are going to have a massive size advantage; besides Milenković and Cabral, Fiorentina don’t have any good aerial players in the side. Inter have scored the 3rd-most set piece goals in the league and I wouldn’t be shocked if they added another one here.
Q: And lastly, what’s your prediction for Saturday?
A: My heart says that Fiorentina really have a chance here, despite being massive underdogs with every oddsmaker I’ve checked. Inter has so many injuries, hasn’t played particularly well over the past few weeks, has dropped points against smaller teams, and Inzaghi’s facing questions about his future. With the Coppa semi against Juve looming on Wednesday, I could see your boys overlooking this one and getting ambushed at home by a Viola side hitting its stride at the exact right moment.
My heart is a liar, though, and my head remembers that Fiorentina hasn’t beat Inter at the San Siro since 2015. The Nerazzurri are a good team full of good players with a lot of experience and will understand its back is against the wall.
I think it’s going to be a really fun game, more open than people are expecting—over the past 5 league meetings, this fixture has produced 21 goals—so I’ll split the difference and make it a 2-2 (that’s you) with goals from Lautaro, Lukaku, Cabral, and González. And that prediction is going to make me look even stupider than usual when yall body the poor Viola boys like 5-1.