There have been some promising sides in Serie A lately, with it being quite a competitive league with some interesting coaching philosophies being implicated. One of these sides have been Fiorentina. After having a flying start of the 2018/19 season, being arguably one of the most threatening attacking teams, they suffered a downfall in form. This resulted in Stefano Pioli’s leaving and taking Vincenzo Montella on charge in pursuit of a better performance.
Last season didn’t go according to plan and the team suffered 13 consecutive league games without a win. Even worse, they faced eight defeats during the coaching changes which dropped them to the 16th place in Serie A.
The team were struggling defensively and it slowly emerged into a tactical problem. They lost their pace and their attacking actions started to be less efficient, making it impossible to find the balance and get a win.
Fiorentina saw the departure of some of their most active players, although some of their most talented ones decided to stay. La Viola took measures to avoid repeating the same fate as last season and were active in the summer transfer window.
They made sure to replace Vitor Hugo and Jordan Veretout properly who both played an extensive role. Some young prospects joined the team, as well as the experienced ex-Bayern Munich star Franck Ribery and the controversial Kevin-Prince Boateng. This would allow the team to achieve the needed balance and improve in some areas they didn’t have the chance to previously.
But did they manage to cover all the missing positions to prevent repeating the same old mistakes?
Style of play and formations
Fiorentina tend to play with a more aggressive approach. The players would try to dictate the tempo and take control of the game using a mix of short passing combinations and long balls in order to retain possession and keep the pace high. They would receive play in their own half yet stay near the midfield line. By performing pass combinations in this area between the central-defenders, full-backs and the defensive midfielder they try to build out from the back and transition the ball quickly to the more advanced areas.
They have been known for their attack-minded approach, which is implicated by using lots of through balls and relying on players’ vision and creativity. They try involving all players when forming an attack in order to release the press and get the ball further. Although they tend to use the flanks, which results in the players in the central areas being isolated. That is partly the reason for the lack of settled actions in the final third.
The team’s defensive line would often be highly positioned, depending on the tactical set-up, which helps during the build-up and when they counter-attack. But this is also the reason for them often being exposed when caught on a counter. The defensive midfielder often fails to provide the needed support and cover in moments of defensive transition when the back-line could not structure well on time.
Their most used formations in the 2018/19 season under Stefano Pioli were 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1, although the new manager Vincenzo Montella would set them up in a variety of formations in a search of the most efficient one. Montella experimented with using a three-man defence, but it didn’t go to plan and he ended the season with two draws and six defeats.
He is yet to find the perfect formula for achieving a balance between the lines but what could be seen during the pre-season is that he tends to rotate players and switch players’ positions in-game. This might make it harder for the new players to settle but could also be of help by making the team unpredictable.
Fiorentina conceded 45 goals last season, which is only two less than their record in attack. The combination of weak defensive awareness and lack of good finishing found them only three points away from the relegation zone.
They would often struggle during quick defensive transitions as the back-line would often be unable to organise themselves well under pressure. This would result in chaotic actions and many open spaces for the opposition to exploit. As we’ve mentioned earlier, despite its important role in their build-up, the pivot in defensive midfield would often fail to provide any defensive support. Being unable to do that would get La Viola in а disadvantageous position in a counter-attack.
When the opposition applies a high pressing strategy they often fail to adapt and lose possession. That’s not a result of the opposition closing the passing lanes and giving them options, but a result of Fiorentina’s players lack strong off the ball movement and support from the front lines.
The team often struggles in winning their defensive duels which leads to lots of clearances. This would mean that the back-line is concentrating, but the issue with their actions is they often do this out of desperation and the ball ends at the opposition’s feet. They often commit fouls and earn themselves yellow cards. The team was even struggling with red cards at some point in the season. They were shown red in four out of eight games in December and January.
Being unable to work under pressure has caused them trouble throughout the season. They also lack awareness when defending long balls. Their opponents manage to expose the highly positioned defensive line very well, by sending long balls behind the defence.
Fiorentina have huge attacking potential. Ten different players have produced goals last season, although this wasn’t enough for them to turn the events in their favour.
The teams’ attacking players are very creative and are always looking for a good through ball finding the tiniest open spaces. They have been struggling to convert these balls into goals. Their actions in the final stages of the attack have been insecure and the players often find themselves either isolated or struggling for a good finish.
Their passing accuracy is something they need to improve in the new season. For a team with that many defensive struggles and such potential in attack, 81.9% on average is an extremely low accuracy rate. This could happen by trying to improve their work under pressure. Even at the start of the season, when they were doing considerably better, they failed to get anything against the top teams, which is mostly because of them constantly pressing.
They experience struggles against teams using low block strategies as they often get stuck on the edge of the box, losing momentum and sending inaccurate balls. Only 69% of their passes to the final third per 90 minutes are accurate. For a team that controls the midfield and has that many talented players, this number should increase in order to be able to create more shots.
Despite being insecure behind the ball when defending, the team are pretty good at gaining back possession and stealing back the ball from the opposition. If they work on it, they could turn their 43 interceptions on average into creating more opportunities, hence increasing their shots on goal record.
What they’d miss and what they’ve got
Fiorentina sold two of the players that were constantly contributing in their games. The centre-back Hugo and midfielder Veretout parted ways with the club in a search of a new challenge. The club had to act quickly in replacing them immediately, as they were both quite important to Fiorentina’s set-up and approach.
Hugo was extremely useful for the team when it came to ground duels as his confidence and physicality often resulted in him winning 100% of his defensive duels. He was quite consistent when it came to gaining back possession with his 5.27 interceptions and 11.8 recoveries on average per 90 minutes.
As a new option for this position La Viola signed the 20-yeard-old Riccardo Baroni from the newbies in Serie B Virtus Entella. The youngster has a lot of similarities with Hugo but covers slightly wider areas. He helps with the build-up and often stays on the midfield line helping retain possession and using lots of lateral passes all over the pitch.
Veretout was another player that Fiorentina relied on. He was used in different positions although most frequently his role was part of the double pivot. He was used as a passing option during the build-up, but would often be unable to release the press and provide forward passes, which resulted in him sending balls back or looking for lateral passes around him.
What was unusual for a player in such an important position is his considerably low passing accuracy. Usually, the central and defensive midfielders, in particular, are tasked to provide accurate passes, help with increasing possession and distribute the ball to the more advanced areas. However, he should be used as a tool for releasing the press and supporting the defensive line. That’s why using the Frenchman with his 83.6% passing accuracy didn’t add much to the team’s performance.
The club’s move towards bringing someone as a replacement was the arrival of Erick Pulgar from Bologna. The 25-year-old was a key player for his ex-club and he is most likely to be one for Fiorentina too. He contributes effectively to both the defensive and attacking actions and could be used successfully for switching positions and internal midfield rotations. Showing awareness during defensive transitions and hunger during the build-up would make him an important part of the team’s strategy.
What would increase their scoring chances is bringing the likes of Franck Ribery and Kevin-Prince Boateng. Their experience would be of great support to Federico Chiesa’s actions. The 21-yeard-old is arguably Fiorentina’s best player as his creativity and movement are often the only sparks of successful attacking movement in the team. Their confidence would also help Giovanni Simeone’s actions as he often lacks strong decision-making.
Being this active on the transfer window and securing players for the needed position is a sign of awareness and will to improve. The main task for the new season would be finding a balance between the lines and achieving smoother transitions in order to feel more confident on the ball and strengthen their decision-making. One thing is for sure – Fiorentina are on the verge of transforming for the better.