Fiorentina came up short of a club record last week, but they have been hot for a couple of months now. They’ll look for a signature win versus Atalanta, which must do away with some inconsistency to compete for the top four.
Serie A Week 30 – Monday 17 April 2023 – Stadio Artemio Franchi | Preview by Enrico Passarella
The minor slip-up against Spezia didn’t allow Fiorentina to log ten wins in a row across all competitions, which would have been historical for them, but their recent run has been amazing nonetheless. They are still slightly behind schedule in Serie A due to a slow start, but Vincenzo Italiano managed to get 20-plus players on the same page and at a similar level of performance as the season progressed, which is a remarkable feat. They have one foot in the Coppa Italia final and are among the favorites in the European Conference League. Despite their so-so results domestically in the first half of the campaign, if they finish 7th, they’ll have met expectations. Italian sides have at times snubbed even Europa League, so they should be rewarded for their efforts in the third-tier cup with a trophy, and they’ll have two stabs at it.
After some tactical back-and-forth, they have succeeded sticking with 4-2-3-1, slightly modifying Vincenzo Italiano’s beloved 4-3-3. Rolando Mandragora staying healthy has been key to pulling it off. Sofyan Amrabat is a beast in such scheme, although he has rarely been as dominant as in the World Cup with the Viola, and the Italian midfielder is a perfect partner given his all-around skillset. Other options can do it too, and Gaetano Castrovilli looks increasingly comfortable, but aren’t as naturally suitable. The duo provides a ton of balance, which lets the attackers cook without worrying about draining defensive tasks.
The second crucial development has been Arthur Cabral hitting his stride. No team functions well without a prolific striker, but that’s especially true for Italiano’s ones, whose strategies have always been generous to strikers. Dusan Vlahovic surely misses being at the center of the attention and getting so many feeds. The Brazilian marksman is nowhere near the same level, but he’s mobile, powerful, and fierce enough in the box. Luka Jovic has been more inconsistent, but he has been engaged too, and hasn’t been a black hole. Even though the top option is now clear, they need both not to overload him, as they will play thrice a week for a while.
Giacomo Bonaventura and especially Antonin Barak would surely prefer being full-time starters too, but the alternation has worked just fine in the hole. The ex-Verona star is more at ease there than as a box-to-box, and the veteran doesn’t mind not having to chase after opponents too much. They could still use some more goals from the position, but they are strong playmakers and connectors even when they aren’t hitting the net on the regular.
Dodo has also made the leap, as he has been a ball of energy and a menace in the final third, finally stepping into the role he designated for him as Alvaro Odriozola’s heir, who was a very dependable contributor last season. The formation is now less lopsided considering the Cristiano Biraghi is a crossing machine. The two fullbacks have different styles, as the Brazilian prefers launching deep forays and reaching the baseline before looking for his teammates, while the Italian one tends to find them with long deliveries. It’s an interesting mix that keeps the defenders on their toes.
The most surprising aspect of their recent streak, which features victories against Milan and Inter and in a few other more feasible match-ups, is that they have been convincing, and at times commanding, even when they didn’t field Nikola Milenkovic and Nicolas Gonzalez, easily their top two stars, from the get-go. Players such as Martinez Quarta, Igor, Jonathan Ikoné, and Riccardo Saponara aren’t on par with them on paper, but their collective play lifts them enough for it not to be noticeable. Therefore, they can now manage their energies to their liking. That wasn’t the case early on, as they were visibly affected by the prolonged absence of the Argentine. Their defense has been particularly sturdy as of late and, similarly to Lazio, having a ton of possession contributes more to their solidity than the performances of their backline or goalie, who are sound but not spectacular.
The comfortable lead they built in the first leg against Lech Poznan allows them to field their top players here and potentially rest them Thursday, although the pecking order has been very blurred in the last few weeks, and their displays don’t hinge too much on who’s starting and who’s not. Their depth often permits them to rev up in second halves by bringing in fresh options.
UPDATE: Amrabat has been ruled out due to back pain.
Expected XI (4-2-3-1): Terracciano; Dodo, Martinez Quarta, Igor, Biraghi; Castrovilli, Mandragora; Gonzalez, Barak, Ikoné; Cabral.
Doubts: Martinez Quarta/Milenkovic, Bonaventura/Barak, Cabral/Jovic.
Injury Report: Amrabat (back pain), Sirigu (Achilles’ tendon tear) – OUT.
Atalanta got off their schneid with a couple of wins lately after a few negative results, but beating Cremonese and Empoli is nothing to write home about, and they fell back into their sorry ways against Bologna. Any good showing fuels the hopes they’ll go on a binge, which used to be in their DNA, but it doesn’t feel like they have it in them this year. They aren’t the favorites, but it’d be a missed opportunity if they weren’t part of the Champions League fray with Juventus out of the picture and a few contenders stuttering. Yet, they seem content with their current position, both on the pitch, where they have lacked that next-level determination, and off of it through some statements. Without the cups, they could have done all season long what Lazio pulled off lately, but they were unable to for one reason or the other.
There appears to be a disconnect between Gian Piero Gasperini, the squad, and the management. They are in between eras considering the shake-up at the ownership level, and slightly below it, and in the roster too. It’s unclear whether the gaffer wanted a deeper rebuilt and was denied it or the other way around, with the front office eager for it and the boss pushing back not to part ways with his staples, even though some have clearly lost a step. The second appears to be the case considering his recent lineup choices. Given the situation, the manager will be one to watch in the upcoming carousel, and his departure wouldn’t be shocking.
The oddity is that they have plenty of offensive talent, but they haven’t been able to fully unlock and overwhelm enemies merely thanks to it. They have done more with less in the past. Rasmus Hojlund has all the tools to be the next big center-forward, Ademola Lookman is a killer with his pace, dribbling skills, and clinical finishes, and Jeremie Boga has finally become a weapon after failing to adjust to his new surroundings for about a year. But the coach turns to Duvan Zapata, Luis Muriel, and Mario Pasalic, who have been lackluster, whenever one of the young guns has a poor showing. They should have deployed the trident for several matches in a row, letting it gel and breathe instead of routinely starting veterans whose best days are behind them. It’s almost as if Gasperini believes the Dane and especially the ex-Leicester man couldn’t keep up their production and regress to the mean, and instead his veterans, who are way below their standards, would eventually catch up with their past numbers if given regular minutes, but football isn’t math.
It’s always healthy to have depth and alternatives, but the Colombian duo has combined for two goals this season. It’s tough to justify them playing over much more energetic and promising forwards. Having a threat off the bench shouldn’t come to the detriment of the starting lineup. They fumbled away their competitive advantage in previous months, and now the injury bug has started to bite them, providing justifications for some of their recent duds.
Teun Koopmeiners is arguably their most irreplaceable piece, and he’s been out for multiple weeks with a thigh strain he has struggled to come back for. Even though Ederson has visibly improved once he became a regular in relief, they don’t have another midfielder with the same passing prowess. The ball doesn’t move as well or fast when Dutchman is missing, which has hampered the frontline too. Hans Hateboer went down with an ACL tear, which shortened the rotation on the flanks, where it would be better to rotate given the stamina the roles require. They’ll have in a left-footed wingback to finally replace Robin Gosens, as Davide Zappacosta is currently the only above-average contributor at the position, and he has spent a lot of time on the shelf. Plus, it’s about time to revive Brandon Soppy, who has been inexplicably cast aside after showing well early. It should happen with Matteo Ruggeri out perhaps for the rest of the season.
The two sides play in similar fashion, with a very intense style, so it will be a battle of attrition, but Fiorentina have done the trick with a lot more efficacy in recent fixtures, while La Dea too often loses the right distance between the lines, gets too long or overeager to score, and exposes its rearguard. Without a clear pecking order up front, the game plan and the feeds have also left a lot to be desired, and they have been bottled up too easily. The Bergamaschi have also generally failed to kick it into a higher gear when they needed to push, experiencing only the drawbacks and none of the benefits of lineups filled with attackers. In general, their tempo has never been as asphyxiating as in their best moments.
Lookman picked up a late injury and won’t be an option, same as Mario Pasalic, while Koopmeiners is coming off an injury, so the boss will have limited choices at his disposal in this one. It wouldn’t be surprising if he came up with an unusual solution to cope with the emergency. Otherwise, the only ways to go would be with either Boga in the hole and a physical pair, or a center-back and two wingers, as Luis Muriel has occasionally played wide. The fallback plans are using either Giorgio Scalvini or Joakim Maehle in the midfield as they have minor experience in such position, and take it from here rejiggering a few pieces to make the XI less aggressive, at least from the start.
Expected XI (3-4-1-2): Musso; Toloi, Djimsiti, Scalvini; Zappacosta, Ederson, De Roon, Maehle; Koopmeiners; Hojlund, Boga.
Doubts: Djimsiti/Palomino, Koopmeiners/Demiral, Boga/Zapata.
Injury Report: Hateboer (ACL tear), Ruggeri (thigh strain), Lookman (thigh injury), Pasalic (ankle sprain) – OUT; Koopmeiners (thigh strain) – Probable.
Draw – Under 2.5 Goals