Serie A Week 3 – Sunday 28 August 2022 – Stadio Artemio Franchi | Preview by Enrico Passarella
After a pretty comfortable start of the season in Serie A, which both sides exploited almost fully, Fiorentina and Napoli will collide in a mouthwatering clash of high-wattage styles.
Fiorentina have been surgical but a little late in getting things done on the transfer market. They were waiting to see whether they would indeed qualify for the Europa Conference League before adding depth to their squad. They didn’t have a lot of holes to begin with, and they caused some. They haven’t been particularly ambitious or lavish, but they could be a little better than last season if their biggest gambles pay off.
First and foremost, Luka Jovic, whom they got for peanuts from Real Madrid. He’s an interesting reclamation project for a coach who has worked wonders in player development. The early returns aren’t too bright, although he scored in the opener. The buzz on him is that he’s still very lacking from the conditioning standpoint. He doesn’t possess the fierce mobility of Dusan Vlahovic, nor does Arthur Cabral, but Vincenzo Italiano hasn’t moved on from having his no.9 constantly sprinting and toeing the offside line. He might have to adjust down the line to better fit his men.
Not retaining Lucas Torreira, who was an integral part of the squad last year, was an unforced error. Although, considering that he then moved to Galatasaray for a much lower sum than their option to buy, their attempt to get a discount makes more sense in hindsight. Maybe they botched the negotiation due to their tone or timing. Rather than signing a similar player, they onboarded Rolando Mandragora, who’s more muscular and less technical. He shares those traits with Sofyan Amrabat. So they can alternate in the role without changing characteristics.
That will allow them to field two offensive-minded box-to-box and not just one. They have just acquired Antonin Barak from Hellas Verona, and they are also eyeing Nedim Bajrami, who can feature in other roles as well. The Czech is coming off his most productive season yet, although he was starring as no.10 and taking care of PKs. He can be a little mercurial, but he can thrive in the right environment. If he does, they will be fearsome at the position. On the other hand, they seem to be moving on from Szymon Zurkowski, who might be more rounded than the newcomer in a couple of years.
They needed a new goalie, and they got a middle-of-the-road one in Pierluigi Gollini. They could have gone after loftier targets, but Pietro Terracciano proved to be a Serie A starter. He will stay in the mix alongside the former Atalanta shot-stopper. Their most expensive purchase was the one to substitute Alvaro Odriozola, whom they had no shot of retaining from Real Madrid. They did aim higher in this case by signing Dodo from Shakhtar Donetsk. On the other hand, it could be a while before he shows his worth as he has looked very behind from the physical standpoint. It was inevitable since he didn’t play for a long time. But if he lives up for expectations, their fullback pair could be a force to be reckoned with because Cristiano Biraghi is a crossing machine and a reference point.
They will obviously be hoping the new additions fully pan out, but a lot of their progression hinges on their incumbent players getting better. They somehow managed again to retain Nikola Milenkovic, and he’s still pretty young even though he’s been around for a while. Nicolas Gonzalez is entering his second season after a solid maiden one. He too can take it up a notch and become more consistent. While they are in different situations, the same goes for Igor, Youssef Maleh, Riccardo Sottil, and especially Jonathan Ikoné, who was underwhelming in his first six months.
They are a high-variance team because they have a ton of potential, but their success depends on how many of their youngsters take the next step. Their retooled squad seems more apt for the coach’s high-intensity, wide, and fast-paced 4-3-3. But they need their forwards to break through; otherwise, they risk being one of those sides that create a lot with little to show for it. Bonaventura, Barak, and Gonzalez can be major factors in the final third, but a large chunk of their strong performances in the first half of last season stemmed from having a terrific goal poacher. Their attack fell off a cliff once he left. Jovic and Cabral need to show up, or they will be in trouble.
Italiano announced that Gonzalez and Duncan are out for this one, and not having the former is a big blow, but they are more equipped to replace him than in the past, especially because Sottil has been going like gangbusters. Even Christian Kouamé has had some good flashes, and Riccardo Saponara is always steady when called upon. The lineup is a bit of a guessing game because the gaffer has rotated it wildly due to the early European tilts. Their first two performances need to be taken with a grain of salt because they were super focused on such objective, which is honorable.
Expected XI (4-3-3): Gollini; Dodo, Milenkovic, Martinez Quarta, Biraghi; Bonaventura, Amrabat, Maleh; Ikoné, Jovic, Sottil.
Granted that it was against two lowly teams that are still incomplete and need time to gel, but Napoli couldn’t have fared any better in their first two matches. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia looked like a star right away, Kim Min-Jae didn’t have wobbly knees, Piotr Zielinski seemed revived, and Victor Osimhen was a beast. That was the least shocking part since he has always produced, with only injuries getting in his way.
The moderately surprising part is that they performed as a well put-together and mentally free team. They have many outstanding matters on the transfer market, including very thorny ones, they have lost a ton of leaders, but that didn’t affect them right out of the gate. There could be two theories for their early showings. Perhaps letting go of so many veterans, Lorenzo Insigne, Kalidou Koulibaly, Dries Mertens, and David Ospina, freed them out from some baggage, allowing them to lean on the enthusiasm of the newcomers, who are eager to prove themselves, while those who left were no longer as hungry. Or the matches were just walks in the park, although roster-wise Verona and Monza shouldn’t be slouches.
The first difficulties will signal whether the charismatic losses will turn out to be costly. Or if this is the dawn of a new and more successful era. They have been on the cusp of that in recent years and under different coaches, just missing the final nudge. Asking them to contend for the title this year might be a little much, but they will be a problem for everybody if they always perform like this.
The Georgian starlet impressed in particular for his well-rounded game and physicality. His talent is undeniable, but Serie A defenders reserve special treatment to tricksters, but he has been able to elude it in the first two matches. And he has already shown his versatility in the box. The partnership with Osimhen is just scratching the surface, but it could be a lethal one-two punch for opposing backlines, especially when they have some room to run.
Luciano Spalletti started with 4-3-3, but that might change soon with the arrival of Giacomo Raspadori. The youngster became a specialist of the no.10 role in Sassuolo’s 4-2-3-1. They ran it very well with Dries Mertens in the final months of last season. After all, there’s not much difference with 4-4-2, where Giovanni Simeone would fit in next to their top striker, as he’s overqualified to be a backup. The possible, if not likely, tactical switch would leave Zielinski in limbo, as he has famously struggled to adapt to it last season, while he’s marvelous as an offensive-minded box-to-box. Somebody will probably end up being disappointed with their playing time, but we are in uncharted waters with the schedule this season.
The search for a new veteran goalie and the future of Fabian Ruiz are still hanging over their heads, but they have been very capable of compartmentalizing stuff. If they really landed Keylor Navas, it would be an incredible outcome for a matter that has been handled very poorly. Alex Meret clearly doesn’t have the trust of the coach, he probably has more fans among the directors, but he has been starting and hasn’t made blunders yet.
Instead, making up for the absence of the Spaniard has been easier with Zielinski resurfacing, Frank Anguissa staying the course, and Stanislav Lobotka continuing his surprising surge to elite-level ball handler and even a factor in the final third. Tanguy Ndombélé will help too, although he would have to really shine to be bought out because the option is sizeable.
Fiorentina will be a little gassed off of the midweek bout, but this will surely be a more telling test than the first two fixtures. They will lock horns with another well-organized side that likes to play with pace and has a much better squad than their previous opponents.
Expected XI (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Kim, Rui; Anguissa, Lobotka, Zielinski; Lozano, Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia.
Fiorentina: Gonzalez, Duncan (muscle fatigue), Castrovilli (ACL tear).
Napoli: Demme (foot infraction).