Faltering Fiorentina: Is there any way back for Italiano’s philosophy?

There is a chance that Vincenzo Italiano's way of playing is no longer working for Fiorentina, but where does the blame actually lie?

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One.

The number of times Fiorentina have won in their last five Serie A matches. Incidentally, it’s also how many times they had won in the four that preceded it.

In how many matches have La Viola scored in their last five across Serie A and the Europa Conference League? One. And how many goals does the team’s top scorer have to their name in the league after nine matches? One.

When it comes to attacking, the single figure of one seldom reflects anything positive. Goals and creativity are reflected in multiplicities, with volume being the critical factor in affecting who attacks well, and who does not.

Fiorentina are not. The attractive and impressive in-roads made last year under Vicenzo Italiano have quickly faded, and been replaced by a stifled and misfiring approach. With a system as possession-heavy as Italiano’s, there was always the risk that the goals relied on a red-hot striker that would shoot on sight. Such a player is distinctly absent.

For all their improvement made last year, it appears that the coach’s time is running out.

Cristiano Biraghi in action for Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League. [@europacnfleague]

Fiorentina not scoring in their kinder fixtures

Fiorentina’s struggles are laid bare when you review their results so far this campaign and see who they have dropped points against. Draws with Juventus and Napoli are highly credible, and so too are defeats to high-flying Udinese and Atalanta. The problem has been in facing teams towards the bottom of the table.

Bologna and Hellas Verona sit 17th and 18th respectively yet both have defeated La Viola this campaign, and a goalless draw with struggling Empoli felt like a glaring missed opportunity.

Italiano’s side are comfortable having the lion’s share of the ball, so facing the deep and compact blocks of a struggling team is not especially alien to them. Their issues lie in and around the penalty area, and making good on their plentiful spells with the ball.

No side in Serie A comes close to Fiorentina for touches inside the final third, and only Napoli and Udinese have had more inside the opposition penalty area. So getting the ball into dangerous areas is not the problem; it’s the finishing of chances that is.

Fiorentina’s Stadio Artemio Franchi. [@ACFFiorentinaEN]

‘Couldn’t hit a barn door with a machine gun’

The excitement and positivity generated last season at the Stadio Artemio Franchi was down to more than just an improvement in results. Having finished just seven points clear of the relegation places in 2020/21, Italiano’s arrival saw Fiorentina improve by a staggering 22 points, finish seventh, and qualify for Europe. Underlying this marked upturn was a bold and brave style.

They boasted huge spells of possession, pressed aggressively in the final third to win it back should they lose the ball, and had an attack built around the incredible form of Dusan Vlahovic to finish off their created chances. Vlahovic’s departure naturally saw a tail-off in striker quality, but this season the decline has gone even further. Fiorentina’s seven goals have come from an xG of 13, and point to an attack that is failing to convert even the simplest of chances.

The arrival of Luka Jovic was met with intrigue. Here was a striker that in just recent memory spearheaded a punchy Eintracht Frankfurt team to the Europa League semi-finals, so much so that he earned a €63 million move to Real Madrid. Whilst that venture was a failure for both parties, with the Serbian’s character brought into question as a result, there’s no denying that a promising player remains in there somewhere. Such a player has yet to surface in Florence however, with Jovic scoring just once from an xG of 2.8 this campaign.

Jovic’s 3.31 shots/90 are by themselves promising, but he is hitting the target with just 0.66 of them. A player striving to make an impact, without the form nor technical quality to turn it around in his current state. The same applies to the rest of the squad, with only Riccardo Sottil and Lorenzo Venuti registering over one shot on target/90 (among those to have completed over 180 minutes of action). This is despite four separate players all attempting over 2.32 shots/90 across the same timeframe.

In short, Fiorentina’s attack is wildly squandering any chances created.

Where does the fault lie?

The underlying numbers suggest not too much has changed from last season for Fiorentina. They are taking lots of shots (even more so than last term), and only conceding nine shots. Their expected goals-against figure lies close to their conceded goals tally of 11 from their nine matches, so their defence doesn’t appear to be flailing too drastically (the 4-0 home defeat to Lazio aside).

Even that heavy loss to Lazio showed some sign of life within the Italiano philosophy. Within seven minutes left to play, both Jovic and Jonathan Ikone had had very good chances saved and in the case of Jovic’s chance most would expect to score it. With Lazio scoring from a set piece just minutes later, the tone was set by such profligate shooting.

Watching Fiorentina, one does not see a team in collapse. One sees a system that the players largely understand, pressing high in a typical 4-2-4 shape to turn possession over and create gilt-etched opportunities. Their chance creation too comes from their expressive full-backs flooding forward and creating space for the wingers to invert and attack the box. La Viola possess both the technical passing of a side that builds slowly through the phases, and the pace on the counter to transition from deep when they need to. Fiorentina do all of this very well, and look like a competent attacking side until they reach the penalty area.

So wasteful has Fiorentina’s attack been, that Italiano’s future is in question. The inexcusable missing of chances can not be laid at the coach’s door when his system is creating such glorious opportunities. It bares a resemblance to the middle seasons of Brighton under Graham Potter. A team that was attractive and interesting across the pitch, but abnormally poor in front of goal. It nearly cost them their place in the division in 2020/21, before finally kicking on and finding their scoring capacity in the season that followed.

Fiorentina must pay heed to this, and stick with their own talented ideologue.

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