Inter and Fiorentina are on collision course once again, and that means we have the chance to check back in with friend of the blog Tito from Viola Nation, our Fiorentina SB Nation sister site.
Q: Let’s start with your thoughts on Fiorentina’s summer transfer window. What signings excite you the most? Any key departures?
A: It’s been a funny transfer window, but I guess that’s also every transfer window. Everything felt like it was in purgatory around Sofyan Amrabat but DS Daniele Pradè still managed to do some shrewd business while turning a profit, so Joe Barone and Rocco Commisso are likely delighted with the financial aspect. With Rocco especially, that’s always felt like one of the most important pieces.
On the field, though, it’s tougher to say. Arthur Melo already looks like a steal. He’s so good in on the ball and offers a very different dimension with his passing; he looks set to be the finest regista Florence has seen since the departure of the dearly beloved David Pizarro. The only problem is that he offers little out of possession, which could make for a pretty lightweight midfield, especially paired with fellow new signing Maxime Lopez. M’Bala Nzola looks like a functional striker if not an exciting one, while Lucas Beltrán could be a monster if things break well. Fabiano Parisi’s also really exciting, although he’ll have to push past Cristiano Biraghi.
As far as departures go, Amrabat’s obviously the big one. I don’t think there was a more physically dominant midfielder in Italy last year and he papered over so many of this team’s defensive shortcomings, so there’s definitely some concern about how Italiano can adapt without him. I’ll miss Arthur Cabral—for his antics and sheer comical presence as much as anything—and won’t miss Luka Jović. The other major departure is Igor, who’s obviously talented but took a step back last year. Riccardo Saponara is another key loss, although he likely wouldn’t have played much this year.
That sounds like a pretty good mercato, but this team’s now very lightweight in midfield, especially with Gaetano Castrovilli injured and trying to push his way out, and has questions at the back, where the perpetually-injured Yerry Mina was the only reinforcement. Luca Ranieri grew into a starter last year despite starting the year as surplus and I like him so much, but he’s never spent a full year as a Serie A rotational player, much less regular starter, and Lucas Martínez Quarta’s very boom or bust. I’m definitely a little anxious about the depth through the middle but cautiously optimistic about the new arrivals.
Q: Fiorentina came so close to silverware in 2022/23 only to come up short in two finals, but it still qualified for Europe thanks to Juventus’ ban. Was last season still a success or was it a regression?
A: I don’t think you can look at last year as anything but an incredible success, considering the adversity this team faced. Nico González and Nikola Milenković missed a lot of the first part of the season, Italiano had to figure out how to compete on 3 fronts for the first time in his career, and the winter World Cup (still an idiotic idea) threw everything into disarray. To start out the year looking like a distinctly midtable side and finish in the top half while reaching two tournament finals is a huge achievement for a team that’s been decidedly mediocre for the past half decade.
That said, last year also highlighted a lot of the structural problems in this team. The failure to replace Dušan Vlahović hamstrung the attack, which never scored as many goals as it should’ve while Jović and Cabral scuffled for primacy and Italiano tried to adapt to new circumstances. Dropping a spot lower in the table was definitely disappointing but quite understandable given that Fiorentina played more games than any other team in Serie A despite a relatively thin squad.
Q: What are the expectations for Vincenzo Italiano’s third season in charge?
A; Guys like Arthur have been talking about qualifying for the Champions League, but that’s probably not a realistic goal. Both Milan clubs, Napoli, and (sigh) Juventus are clearly ahead of the Viola, while AS Roma, Atalanta, and (sigh) Lazio are at least as good. If everything breaks right, the key guys stay healthy, and a few unknown quantities become quality players, I don’t see any reason why 5th is out of reach, but that’s probably the ceiling, especially if the club’s serious about making another run in Europe. As you well know, getting to a European final means sacrificing some points in Serie A.
Q: What’s your starting XI and score prediction for Sunday?
A: Guessing Italiano’s XI is always tough because he loves throwing curveballs out there and isn’t afraid to ride his stars until their legs give out; poor old Giacomo Bonaventura has started 4 games in 2 weeks, for example, as have González and Milenković. With the international break coming up, though, he may roll with the usual suspects. The question marks are up front, where Nzola had a bit of a horror show against Rapid Wien on Thursday and could make way for Beltrán; opposite González on the wing, where Riccardo Sottil, Christian Kouamé, Josip Brekalo, and possibly Jonathan Ikoné (returning from injury) could all get the nod; and the fullback spots, where Parisi and Primavera revelation Michael Kayode could spell Biraghi and Dodô, respectively. Here’s my best guess, but don’t be shocked if there are several differences come Sunday (and feel free to format this however you want):
Dodô Milenković Ranieri Biraghi
González Bonaventura Brekalo
As for a score prediction, Inter are obviously the big favorites, as you’d expect from a home team coming off a full week of rest and with a payroll that’s nearly twice Fiorentina’s. Rapid Wien was about as energetic a team as I’ve seen in the past couple years and I’m worried the Viola will have some very heavy legs as a result. Even so, a sloppy Fiorentina is a very different opponent than Monza or Cagliari, so I’m hoping the shift in style throws the Nerazzurri for a bit of a loop. Ultimately, though, I’d guess yall have too much in the tank. I’ll call it a 2-1 win with Lautaro (he’s got the 3rd-most goals against them of any player currently in Serie A, which is a wild stat for how young he is) and Marcus Thuram on the scoresheet with Beltrán pulling back a consolation.