In another chapter of the bitter rivalry, Fiorentina will look to stake their claim on one of the top positions, while Juventus will attempt to prove to be a championship-caliber team.
Serie A Week 11 – Sunday 5 November 2023 – Stadio Artemio Franchi | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Fiorentina had a strong start, but the two recent losses surely took a lot of wind out of their sail, with the Empoli one being a lot more damning than the Lazio game, where they were unlikely late after a decent performance. Instead, they completely no-showed and were embarrassed by fellow Tuscan rivals two weeks ago.
As Vincenzo Italiano stated, they’ll have to pick whether they want to go far in Europe or focus on Serie A at some point. You never know how the season could unfold, but it’d be optimistic to think they could really compete for the top four. Even if they aren’t the favorites, the fifth position could be in play if they really catch fire and find consistency. It might be worth the Champions League qualification depending on how the Italian teams fare continentally this season. They are due for a trophy after losing two finals, but going far in the cups takes its toll, even though they have a deep squad.
They brilliantly sold players who were meaningful contributors but not world beaters, Igor and Arthur Cabral, and cashed in all their chips to bolster the no.9 position, spending lavishly for Lucas Beltran and a bit for M’Bala Nzola. It’s a sound strategy, as any team fares better with a prolific striker, even more so a proactive one. After all, they were their most fearsome selves with Dusan Vlahovic leading the line. However, the former Spezia staple has struggled to score, and the Argentine only recently opened his seasonal tally.
A slow start for him was to be expected coming from such a different football. His talent and technique are obvious, but whether he has the right traits to lead a trident is to be determined. It seems that he could work better with another forward next to him who handles the dirty work and opens up lanes. They have done it once, but it was a one-off, also because the rest of the formation is working.
Italiano already tweaked his beloved 4-3-3 to better accommodate Giacomo Bonaventura, and also Antonin Barak, midway through last season. They are more comfortable in the hole and unburdened by defensive tasks. The former has been splendid in the last couple of seasons. He and Nicolas Gonzalez have carried them not only creatively, which is their main job, but also scoring-wise while they were waiting for the marksmen to start producing. He has lost a step, but his IQ is off the charts, and he has incredible timing with his channel runs and is superbly polished in the box.
The winger often wrong-foots defenders with his peculiar skillset, as he’s not just pacey. For instance, despite his size, he’s great on headers, and he more than holds his own physically. They’d be in a rough spot if he hadn’t scored in spades. They’d be a handful for any foe if he stayed hot and the other attackers started joining him on the stat sheets. He might finish the season with numbers comparable to the very best specialists in the league such as Rafael Leao and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who are a lot more trumpeted.
They are unlikely to move on from the American style of management that handles the finances very carefully and routinely profits via the transfer market. But, to stay on an upward trajectory, they’ll need more high-end talents. Their squad is okay overall but not overly impressive. Nikola Milenkovic has inexplicably regressed, and some others are getting up there in age. They dangled Lucas Martinez Quarta during the summer, but he has made a big leap after staying put, and he has made his presence felt offensively not just on set pieces, which is rare for sides with a four-man defense.
Arthur has been a perfect fit, and they finally found the right role for him. He’s not dynamic enough to be a box-to-box or an Andrea Pirlo-like regista, but he can dictate the pace, distribute the ball well enough, and shield the defense just fine with a gritty guy next to him. He has been commanding, which had perhaps never happened in his career and surely not while he was with Juventus. Alfred Duncan has been a better partner than Rolando Mandragora in that regard. They have also signed some insurance for the Brazilian, who has a checkered injury history, in the form of Maxime Lopez. They should probably mix him in a little more to keep the starter fresh and because he will probably be the future of the position unless they make a sizeable investment.
They have a pair of lineup issues to address, one short-term and the other the rest of the season. Standout Michael Kayode, who has been a proper revelation after stepping in to replace Dodo, is hurt, leaving them with no pure right-backs, but Fabiano Parisi has been serviceable despite being left-footed. The only alternatives left are youngsters Pietro Comuzzo and Nicolò Pierozzi, so they are a little in trouble with their rotations.
Secondly, they need to identify the final member of their frontline sooner rather than later. Josip Brekalo, Andrea Sottil, Jonathan Ikoné, and Christian Kouamé all had a crack at it, with mixed results. The Croat has been the best so far, but he also dropped the ball a couple of times. They are all up and down and have different characteristics, which makes it a difficult choice.
Expected XI (4-2-3-1): Terracciano; Parisi, Milenkovic, Martinez Quarta, Biraghi; Arthur, Duncan; Gonzalez, Bonaventura, Brekalo; Beltran.
Doubts: Duncan/Mandragora, Brekalo/Ikoné, Beltran/Nzola.
Injury Report: Kayode (ankle sprain), Dodo, Castrovilli (ACL tears) – OUT.
Juventus might not have the a stacked squad as Inter, which roll 18/20 players deep, or the same high-end talent of other competitors, although that could become debatable if the likes of Federico Chiesa, Dusan Vlahovic, Adrien Rabiot, and others get it going. But they have a few advantages and certainties they can lean on. That has been enough to keep them close to the top of the table since no team has been perfect so far.
Not playing in the cup is a bummer, highly detrimental for their balance sheets, and a substantial hit to their prestige, even though their exclusion didn’t originate from a poor campaign but from financial misconduct. Yet, it saves them a lot of energy, and that’s particularly useful in a season with just one midweek round. We’ll see how far the contenders go in their respective competitions, and some might find themselves in the same situation soon enough. Still, they’ll have a lot less wear and tear. It’ll help with injuries, although they haven’t been immune so far.
After some seesawing and slightly bizarre performances, their game plan has fully come into focus. It’s pretty much the same as always for Massimiliano Allegri. Yet, their defense and passive phase have been a lot stingier than in the last two seasons, where their MO was the same, even though it has rarely been whole. Wojciech Szczesny catches a lot of flack, but he has just one or two blunders per year, and he’s spectacular in the other games. Even though his salary is probably too high for the current era of the club, it’s well-earned.
Even though they have had their fair share of off-the-field drama this season too, it has been a lot less eerie and uncertain than in the past campaign and hasn’t severely affected the team morale. Losing Paul Pogba and Nicolò Fagioli simultaneously was a tough blow, especially creatively, but they have just enough to skate by till January when they’ll have to sign one or two midfielders.
Even though they’ll never boast the most good-looking style, the string of good results has fueled their confidence and fighting spirit, which was in full display in the Verona game, where they didn’t panic even though the match just didn’t seem destined to go their way. But they came through in the end, and the good vibes can go a long way.
Surely nothing has dissuaded the boss from moving on from his conservative concepts; if anything, the opposite has been true. While it bores the fans, keeping things tight reduces the likelihood of collapses like the one versus Sassuolo, and what happened against the Scaligeri and Milan only stokes his beliefs. If you don’t concede, then you might find yourself in the lead by hook or by crook. It’s a tough pill to swallow for the staunch supporters of progressive football. While their collective play is lacking, they have a few stars who can do damage on their own or after getting open through simple combinations.
Their posture has alternated relative to their opponents. They have been cagey in more difficult matches, and a little more aggressive in easier ones. It’ll be interesting to see what level of respect they have for Fiorentina. They were blatantly happy with a draw versus Atalanta, a team with similar caliber, on the road. The Viola like to hold the ball and attack in bunches like La Dea, but they occasionally self-combust, run out of gas, or make silly mistakes that undo all the good they produced till that point. They’ll be ready to pounce if that happens, which might be their whole strategy.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Szczesny; Gatti, Bremer, Rugani; McKennie, Miretti, Locatelli, Rabiot, Cambiaso; Vlahovic, Chiesa.
Doubts: Cambiaso/Kostic; Vlahovic/Milik, Chiesa/Kean.
Injury Report: Danilo, Weah, Alex Sandro (thigh injuries), De Sciglio (ACL tear) – OUT.
Suspensions: Fagioli, Pogba.