Old problems of the new Fiorentina: why did the team stop achieving results?
Italiano’s team scored little, looked predictable in attack and often got goals in their own net in the last minutes. In this material, we will try to understand the reasons for the difficulties: why did a team that gained important experience begin to play worse, how much does the lack of suitable performers affect the success of the style, and is it possible to tactically reorganize without changing the principles of the game?
Fiorentina ended the first half of the season with a loss to AC Milan in extra time, but prior to that, the Violets were able to issue a five-game winning streak (including the Conference League matches), rectifying the situation a bit. Butthe results are not yet impressive: four out of five championship victories in the fall were won over outsiders(“Verona”, “Sampdoria”, “Cremonese” and “Spezia” occupy places from 20th to 17th),and four goals conceded at home from Lazio and Inter hint at problems in defense.
At the same time, Fiorentina did not abandon last year’s principles of the game – rather, on the contrary, it became more radical.Coach Italiano wants the team to attack positionally, trapping the opposition in his defensive third, and defend with a high defensive line covering a large area. All this together makes Fiorentina vulnerable.
Fiorentina’s problems relate both to the completion of attacks (18 goals scored at 21 xG, according to fbref) and to actions without the ball.It is worth talking about the organization of defense separately: the violets become a very fragile team when playing in transitional phases, since the players are in very high positions.
“Unfortunately, we pay a high price for not being able to score our own, this is a huge disadvantage for any football team”, – Italiano’s words after the match against Lazio succinctly describe the state of Fiorentina for a significant part of the autumn.
Sales problems began almost from the moment Vlahovic was sold in the middle of last season. The Serb played a key role both in the completion of the attacks and in their development as a target of transmissions. Vlahovic’s ability to grab and hold the ball allowed Italiano’s team to fill the opposition’s final third with even more players. Balance and control of matches took a major hit with Torreira’s non-buyout in the summer of 2022. The Uruguayan had a great influence on the game of the team: in addition to the huge amount of defensive actions and the ability to control the pace of attacks during long possessions, he also took part directly in the end (he scored five goals in the period from December 2021 to May 2022).
Despite the progress of Amrabat, who became a replacement for Torreira, Fiorentina still lost some of the freedom and unpredictability with which they previously moved the ball during positional attacks.It is also worth mentioning the unavailability of Gonzalez in the first half of this championship draw: last season, the violets could more often use the right flank, on which the Argentine, when receiving the ball in a high position, either dribbled into the semi-flank and found himself dangerously close to the opponent’s penalty area, or used Odriozola’s connections followed by a cutback from the end line from the Spaniard. This season, Fiorentina has no such freedom of choice.
Some performers left (Vlahovic, Odriozola, Torreira), some were unavailable due to injuries (Gonzalez played 14% of the possible playing time, Castrovilli did not play at all due to a cruciate ligament rupture), others experienced a physiological decline due to age. In the latter case, of course, we are talking about Bonaventure – a key player in Fiorentina in terms of the ability to create a majority in the zone through dribbling. In 2023, the Italian will turn 34 years old.
As a result, without a lot of key players from last season, coupled with a summer transfer window that gave the manager new puzzles rather than solutions, the Violets have predictably become a more straightforward and vulnerable team, despite retaining the general principles of the game.
More direct team
Vincenzo Italiano’s team began to rest less on the front line of the field, but still actively fills the flanks (first place with a margin in the number of innings).With the development of positional attacks, there were more long passes: Central defenders, with space in front of them, move the ball forward, giving their midfielders time to move up to the forward and form a line of four or five people (forward, two narrowly spaced wingers, and at least one of the eights). This is followed by a long pass on top of the forward in the hope of winning a duel or rebound. At the same time, the center of the field is empty: only the defensive midfielder (Mandragora or Amrabat) remains there.
Last season, Fiorentina also used the wings a lot to develop attacks, but this time the emphasis has become even stronger.: the 3-1 build-up scheme began to be used more often, and in the 3-2 structure, the place of one of the eights was occasionally taken by the extreme defender. Quite often the verticalization of the game led to the neglect of high-quality openings from the midfield: check out Mandragora in the episode below.
However, there were options for a wider five position when trying to make a 3-2-5 during possession: in this case, the flanks were filled with full-backs. For example, in the match with Inter, Biraghi and Dodo did it.
Italiano brings eights and full-backs into the final third to try to free the wingers and position them closer to the opponent’s box. In such a scenario, a lot begins to depend on the ability of the playmaker to deliver the ball to them – most often it was Amrabat, who improved his ability to control the pace of attacks compared to last season.
Fiorentina have become less likely to use full-back-winger-eight flank triangles and change flanks more often in possession, seeking to create isolation for the player on the opposite flank.However, it has not been possible to achieve high-quality decisions at the end (both a strike and the last pass) from the remaining one-on-one player at the moment. We’ve already mentioned Gonzalez’s importance to the Violets attack, but he has problems with the quality of his shots (especially with his feet): 27.5% of shots on target last season (19 of 69) and a negative delta between expected and realized (seven goals). at 10.4xG).
However, it’s not just Gonzalez: Sottil, who started the season brightly, has been absent since September 18 due to an injury, and Icone, despite his excellent ability to beat an opponent, has obvious decision-making difficulties. Saponara, on the other hand, is limited in terms of physics: excellent technique and vision of the field, coupled with discipline when playing without the ball, stumble upon a lack of speed and volume of action over the distance of the entire match as a whole.
The only ray of light comes from the performances of Christian Kouame, who was nearly sold to Brighton at the end of August.The Ivorian is best adapted to playing in support next to the central striker (remember their pair with Pentek in Genoa), at a decent level he knows how to bring the ball to a hit through a pass (1.9 passes per shot in terms of 90 minutes), he has a good jerky and excellent distance speed. It was thanks to Kuama that Fiorentina got at least some unpredictability in the development of attacks. When playing defensively, he is also good: his ability to play episodes to the end is impressive:
Quame’s defensive reading is also good (check it out here as Serie A doesn’t like to have her videos posted anywhere else).
However, one great offensive player can’t change the big picture:Fiorentina of this season’s model is a team that is very limited in terms of the decisive stage, when it is necessary to bring the ball to a shot from a vantage point or complete such a moment.(on average, the quality of the shot sank from 0.12 npxG/Sh last season to 0.08 npxG/Sh this season). Due to this, Italiano tried to speed up the delivery of the ball forward, despite the relatively small volume of openings behind the back and problems with the ability to create a numerical majority in the episode.
(Dis)adapted by Barack and Jovic
In the context of the “Fioren” styletina “-2022/23, a lot at the end of moments also depends on the eights: you need to take a high position and be ready to receive the ball immediately after it is delivered to the flank, followed by entry into the penalty areaunder a hit or final pass ( example ).
At Fiorentina, the eights are primarily involved in the passing game during possession development and are responsible for getting into the box. It seems that this is not quite suitable for Barack, because his qualities require adjustment of the role.Čech scored 18 goals while at Verona in the last two seasons and was acquired by the Violets in an effort to improve chance conversions and make attacks through the center more effective.
However, in the “mastiff” camp, Barack was actively involved primarily in the return of possessions for his team and, most importantly, was used as a guide for partners. The Czech had the freedom to search for space throughout the field without being tied to any zone. That “Verona” was strong precisely in fast attacks, on space – the absolute opposite of “Fiorentina” Italiano, seeking to open the opponent’s defense through long possessions. In this style, Barack is forced to move in a more limited space and purely across the width of the field.
On the graph below, first of all, pay attention to the number of single combats in the attack (offensive duels per 90) and the quantity / quality of the striking moments received (xG per 90).
The nominal initial position on the field is also important for the context: at Verona, Barak played under the deuce of attackers, while at Fiorentina he often had to act as an eight with someone. This limited the player: when located on the left, the Czech was too far from the opponent’s goal and was not able to open in depth. All this led to the fact that Italiano preferred to use Mandragora instead of Barak, which was more suitable for passing.
However, the most problematic position for Fiorentina is still the central striker.After Vlahovic (37 goals in calendar year 2021), three players managed to play for the Violets in this role. None of them could even come close to the Serb’s performance level. In the summer, instead of Piatek from Real Madrid, they managed to acquire Luka Jovic, from whom they still expect the same efficiency that the football player had four years ago at Eintracht, when he scored 27 goals in two tournaments in a season. In Spain, the player spent less than 1,500 minutes on the pitch in a total of two and a half years, so it was obvious that he would need time to return to playing tone and adapt in Italy.
Nevertheless, Jovic managed to score in the first round of the new season against Cremonese and show that he can be dangerous in any condition. Alas, a successful debut did not give the Serb an impulse. It is possible that the mental state of the player was also affected by the penalty he did not score against Juventus in the championship, but the fact remains: Jovic still looks clumsy, he is not yet able to give the amount of movement required from the Fiorentina forward. The most striking impression is four ruined moments at once (big chances) in the game against Lazio . That match, despite the approximately equal number of chances created by the parties, ended in the defeat of Fiorentina and showed how much the teams differ in the quality of the implementation of the moments.
Jovic is successful only in the Conference League, where the technical level of opponents and the intensity of matches are lower.It is worth noting that the same is true when talking about Cabral: perhaps in some places the Brazilian looks even more static. In the last rounds before the break, the situation improved somewhat (Jovic scored a great winning goal against Salernitana), but the level of performance is still far from pre-season expectations.
“Jovic has shot four times, he needs six shots to score!” Italiano said from the bench during the match against Spezia (according to DAZN).
A sharp contrast, given the Serb’s performances for Eintracht, where he demonstrated both the ability to open up perfectly, and participation in the development of possessions, and a high level of technical performance. Now Jovic looks like he’s dropped out of the game, as if the player has let negative feelings consume him completely.
Vulnerability when playing off the ball
Obviously, Fiorentina is severely limited by the need to support forwards who are in such poor condition. This forced the coach to look for other ways to load the opponent’s defense, including an attempt to switch to 4-4-2(or even 4-2-4?) on possession. Cabral and Jovic played together against Inter, against Spezia – Jovic and Kuame (in the first half Bonaventura also climbed into the deuce), against Istanbul in European competition Barak made up a pair of Serbs.
Italiano also tried 4-2-3-1 in some parts of the match.A striking example is the second half of the game against Sampdoria, in which Bonaventure was responsible for the transition to this formation from 4-3-3. It is difficult to say whether Fiorentina will continue to play like this in the second half of the season, but the skewed balance in favor of the attack has gradually allowed the team to become more dangerous when attacking through the center, also due to the narrower position of the wingers. It is important to note that such a scheme requires performers with other qualities to pair in the center of the field: Duncan, who came on as a substitute in the second half of the match with Spezia, looked best in this role.
Of course, the principles of the game remained extremely aggressive. Fiorentina has seven players above the line of the ball, which is why if you lose, if you can’t quickly regain possession or at least not give the opponent an “open” ball, each time you get an extremely dangerous counterattack.After the match against Inter, an Italian writer described Italiano’s side as follows: “They are so aggressive it was reckless: the highest barycenter in Serie A, first in average defensive action height and second in average attack return height… When they lose, they rise even higher, they become even more aggressive, bringing everything to masochism.”
Separately, let’s talk about the exits of the central defenders from the defensive line when playing without the ball: against teams choosing the 4-3-3 formation, one of the defenders takes care of the attacker, and the other rises to the center of the field to put pressure on the midfield. As a result, space is formed in the center of defense.
In the example below, Igor climbed high to put pressure on Milinkovic-Savic, but the Lazio players took advantage of the Brazilian’s excessive focus on the ball through a play on the third and were able to overcome the pressure.
As a result, when defending, each of the defenders has a large number of episodes in which a mistake becomes fatal: you need to defend high, very far from your goal, while controlling the space behind your back and quickly reacting to possible mistakes of partners located above.Thus, the central defenders of Fiorentina often have to go into martial arts without a safety net at all.
In the episode below, Milenkovic comes out of the line to cover the opposition winger, the full-backs have not yet returned to their positions. Quarta is busy guarding the striker, but also has to think about Jasi’s possible opening behind his back. The risk is very great.
Obviously, any lost duel or a banal delay in the game in the selection (as in the episode above) can be decisive, especially considering how unbalanced the team is and how recklessly Fiorentina organizes the notorious rest-defence(the structure of the game on possession, which allows you to quickly start counterpressing and moving into positional defense when the ball is lost). This is also reflected in the data: Violets have the seventh defense in the league in terms of the total allowed xG, but the last in the average danger of an allowed hit on npxG/Sh.
Despite the fact that there were those who considered this Fiorentina squad stronger than last season,the team’s tournament move quickly took the form of a downward spiral. The club, the coach and the players received only negative, and this is the great merit of the leadership: a year earlier, the “violets” returned to European competition after a six-year absence, but even this great achievement for the current level, the fans were happy for less than a day. It was all to blame for the immediately appeared (and confirmed) news about the non-purchase of Torreira, the best player of that squad.
The team is actively trying to reverse the negative trend and return the enthusiasm of the fans. Lots of work: we need to get back the former form of the newcomers of this season (Jovic, Barak), to restore the important players of the season of the past (Gonzalez, Sottil, Castrovilli) to decide on the scheme and find a balance between defense and attack.It is unlikely that we will be able to repeat the results of the last season, however, in the current situation, even adjusting the old mechanisms and returning the value of the squad will be a great achievement.