- Introduction – Missing philosophy
- Squad planning – Poor quantity and quality
- Transfer system – No clear system for transfers
- Playing style – Cristiano Biraghi: Factor X
1. Missing philosophy
At the end of the year, AC Fiorentina surprised with a 3-0 away win at Italian record champions Juventus Turin. However, the powerful performance (twice as many tackles as the opponent) and effective chance conversion of 60% were very deceptive. Since then, they’ve only picked up 4 points from 5 games – in total, they’ve only won 2 of their last 13 Serie A games! In the table, the Viola is in 14th place with just 18 points, much closer to the relegation zone than to the international spots they are aiming for. In addition, there were beaten in round of 16 of the Coppa Italia against Inter Milan midweek. Clearly too little for the demands of owner and U.S. media mogul Rocco Commisso, who wanted to push Fiorentina back into the national top spots with generous financial injections (used, among other things, for veteran stars such as Ribery, Callejon and Bonaventura). The list of problems ranges from bureaucratic problems with the new stadium construction, to coach discussions and Chiesa hate speeches, to extreme performance inconsistencies of the current squad. But hovering over everything is the more than non-transparent squad planning of sporting director Daniele Prade, whose lack of club philosophy and playing culture is increasingly becoming his doom.
2. Poor quantity and quality
Despite a lot of activity on the transfer market, Fiorentina’s team contains only 24 players – together with champions Juventus, they have the smallest squad in the league! Furthermore, the number of regularly used players is surprisingly low. New signings such as José Callejon (on loan from Napoli) or highly rated youngster Lucas Martínez Quarta (6 million euros from River Plate) are rarely used and usually only subbed in. The Tuscan intermezzo of talented right-back Pol Lirola, who was signed by US Sassuolo for 11 million euros in the summer, has even come to an end – the Spaniard was loaned to Marseille a few days ago with an option to buy. As a result, Lorenzo Venuti (who wins only 51% of his challenges), who is often overtaxed in duels, is now the only right-back in the Violets’ squad.
Chiesa’s footprint is too big for Ribery and Co.
With the aforementioned Callejon (33) and Franck Ribery (37), who was already signed in 2019, there are also only two wingers in the squad. Due to their age, both lack the agility for many successful dribbles – Ribery wins just half of his attempts (3.3 per game). The Frenchman in particular, as in his last phase in Munich, is repeatedly suffering from minor injuries (especially to his ankle) and has already missed 21 games for his new team in just over a year. The constantly recurring rumours about a premature departure from Italy (family is living in Munich again after a burglary took place at their Italian villa) are also unlikely to be beneficial to his performances.
After the departure of captain and hero Federico Chiesa, there is a huge lack of squad depth and real quality in the attack. Chiesa left his youth club in the summer for top dog and arch-rival Juventus Turin, which caused lasting dismay among fans and club officials alike.
Again, and again, we talk about balanced squads, which in the best case are equally filled in every position, but in our description of the Gigliatis’ squad directly shifts some positions into focus. The already mentioned right-back position is usually taken by Lorenzo Venuti, at times he is replaced by centre-back Martin Caceres – both players are virtually non-existent in attacks and collectively created 1 scoring chance in a total of 14 games (for comparison: Biraghi creates 0.94 goal chances/game on his own).
Biraghi is absolutely set as a left-back, rival Antonio Barreca is no real alternative and has only played 76 minutes in the league so far. Taking a look at the forwards, Dusan Vlahovic, only 20 years old, is the lone striker for most games. Christian Kouamé (11 million euro signing from Genoa), who joined the club in the winter of 2020, has so far failed to hit form after tearing his cruciate ligament and has only been playing a few teams. In Prandelli’s preferred 3-5-2 formation, Ribery often plays the role of second striker alongside Vlahovic. With nominally four attackers, the offensive line-up is more or less set for every match, but in midfield Erick Pulgar, the rising star of last season, is benched most of the time. In addition to the Chilean, returnee Borja Valero, Valentin Eyserric and Alfred Duncan are also completely sidelined.
3. No clear system for transfers
This very Alfred Duncan is a good example of Fiorentina’s confusing transfer policy. The Ghanaian was signed on Deadline Day in January 2020 in the Viola’s then spectacular transfer hat-trick (together with Kouame and Amrabat) and cost the club 15 million euros in the summer of 2020 due to the used buy option. After 10 first eleven appearances in last year’s second half of the season, his playing time in the current round was limited to a minimal 161 minutes out of a possible 1350. Since mid-January, the 27-year-old has been playing for Cagliari Calcio, who have an option to buy him for 12 million euros in the summer.
We have already explained the situation of the Spaniard Pol Lirola in more detail – a similar story could also happen to Lucas Martinez Quarta. The young Argentinian was signed as vice-captain from top team River Plate with some praise in advance but has not yet been able to draw attention to himself. The ball-winning defender shone with 70% successful defensive challenges, 10 ball recoveries per game and good speed in Argentina. He would be more than suitable for one of the two lateral central defender positions of the three-man defence.
Another new summer arrival is the above-mentioned, now 36-year-old Borja Valero, who returned from Inter Milan and is expected to pass on his experience to Gaetano Castrovilli in particular. Along with Castrovilli, Bonaventura, Ribery and Callejon, he is one of the many players who could not find their offensive edge yet.
Saviour Kokorin was in prison for almost a year!
Due to the precarious sporting situation, which particularly affects the attack with only 18 goals in 18 games, further improvements to the squad are necessary in the winter transfer window. The Russian centre forward Aleksandar Kokorin has just arrived in Florence! The former Russian international, who was involved in a brutal fight in Moscow in the autumn of 2018 (when he was still a Zenit player), most recently served almost a year in prison before joining Sochi and later Spartak Moscow after his release. There, the 29-year-old could not come close to his former form, which is why the transfer fee is said to be just under 5 million euros. Kokorin’s style of play should be quite compatible with Vlahovic in a second man attack – as a mobile striker he makes many runs (50 actions + 3.2 dribbles per game) and can thus create space for the Serbian target man.
The more than questionable transfer policy was already shown by Prades’ predecessor Carlos Freitas and has now been running through the club for about four years. Over and over, young talents, such as the French goalkeeper Alban Lafont or the hyped Brazilian attacker Pedro, are lured to Tuscany from home and abroad and sometimes leave the club on loan without a single appearance.
Pedro came to Europe from Fluminense back in 2019 for 11 million euros, but was immediately loaned back home to Flamengo after poor training performances. A few weeks ago, Flamengo used their option to buy him for 14 million euros – this helps Prade and Co. to generate a transfer profit, but also shows the inadequate work done by the scouting and coaching staff. Incidentally, the 23-year-old South American is tearing up the domestic league with 12 goals in 20 league games and impresses with a 31% chance conversion rate, almost 0.9 created scoring chances and 2.7 shots (all per game).
Another example is centre-back Jacob Rasmussen, who was transferred from FC Empoli in 2018 for 7 million euros as a perspective option and has been loaned out season after season since then without exception. However, the engagements of Giovanni Simeone, Riccardo Saponara or Marco Benassi were also very expensive and did not meet the expectations.
So, there is no clear philosophy in the transfer market. They scout many diverse markets in search of exciting new signings, but often forget the factor team spirit. The two centre-backs German Pezzella (2018 signed for 10 million euros from Betis Sevilla) and Nikola Milenkovic (2017 signed for 5 million euro from Partizan Belgrade) are the only players who have been regular starters at the club for several years and thus form a kind of team core.
4. Cristiano Biraghi: Factor X
Weak in attack, unsettled in defence, 14th place – how bad is Fiorentina really?
18 goals after 18 games, only 8 of which came from play. A statistic of horror and rightly one of the worst in the entire league, ahead of underdogs like Crotone or Spezia. The main reason for this is the extremely predictable playing system of the Gigliati – due to the aforementioned offensive underperformance of the right flank, the team is extremely focused on the left side. Cristiano Biraghi is the key player of the rudimentary style of play – with 6 crosses (28% accuracy) he produces almost half of the 15 crosses per game (top in the league). In addition, the Italian, who is back in violet after an unlucky season at Inter, already boasts 4 assists, 1.35 key passes/game and 0.94 created goal chances/game, leading all these stats in the team comparison as well. Especially exciting is the look at the expected assists of the 28-year-old! Here he is already at 8 xA, which means that he would have already given 8 assists if his teammates had converted their chances normally/averagely. This team’s conversion rate is currently at only 22%, only 3 teams are more ineffective. According to expected goals, the should already have scored 26 goals, almost 30% more than currently. If you also take the expected goals against into account (5 conceded goals less), AC would have scored 7 points more. Accordingly, they would now be in 7th place instead of 14th!
Especially Kouame, who is highly talented, is very poor in using his chances (13% conversion). On the other hand, Dusan Vlahovic can make good use of the vacancy in the centre of attack after the departure of Giovanni Simeone. He converted a passable 27% of his chances (6 league goals) and, with his 1.90 m height, is an ideal target man for Biraghi. Nevertheless, his success rate in aerial duels is only 32% – he can win about 2 out of 7 tries, and his offensive duels are equally weak.
It is therefore obvious that playing via the wing will not bring success in the mid-term, which is why the centre should become much more relevant. At the moment, they are the weakest team in the league with only 1.61 shots after attacks through the centre. Although Castrovilli in particular is an absolute asset with 0.82 key passes and 0.59 created chances, he repeatedly lacks support and clear teammates up top. The Viola penetrates the opponent’s final third with the ball 42 times per game, but does not even manage to create 5 goal chances from these actions. Here, Franck Ribery (0.87 created goal chances per game) needs to become more of a fixed point, starting at best in the playmaker position rather than as second striker. Newcomer Kokorin will definitely give the team new components with his physicality (53% of offensive duels won recently) and ways of attacking play, but it remains to be seen whether these will be used accordingly.
At the end of the short analysis, Sofyan Amrabat’s should be also talked about. The new addition from Hellas Verona mostly starts alongside the offensively oriented Deep Lying Playmaker Castrovilli – acts in his role as a box-to-box midfielder on the entire field and is therefore missing as a ball winner most of the time. He also stands out due to his defensive inadequacies, such as the average duel rate of 52%. In general, he also has significantly lower rates than competitor and holding midfielder Erick Pulgar in other defensive actions such as interceptions or tackles. The Chilean intercepts 7 passes per 90 minutes and wins 15% more duels than Amrabat, he could give the team the much-needed stability in the center.
Fiorentina is making life difficult for itself. They are trapped in a structure of high demands from fans and investors, a lack of club strategy and philosophy, and frequent changes in key positions (coach and sporting director). In addition to great dissatisfaction and lack of clarity, the club is stuck in mediocre sporting terms due to an only slightly above average squad.
Even if they are better off in terms of expected points, the future of the Viola does not look very bright. Major problems such as the stadium issue and the lack of strategies for sustainable success will not be resolved in one or two years – so for the time being, there is still the threat of the sobering mediocrity that almost ended in the relegation 1.5 years ago
This is also due to the appointment of the current (temporary) coach Cesare Prandelli, who traditionally relies more on experienced players and will certainly not start a revolution in Florence despite past successes at Fiorentina (already coached them from 2005-2010).