Why are Fiorentina underperforming during Vincenzo Italiano’s second season?

Fiorentina have been enduring a pretty unpleasant Serie A campaign so far, but some underlying numbers suggest it may not take much for them to return to form.

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When Fiorentina clinched a seventh-placed finish in Serie A last season, it was fair to think that the club was on the way up again and there was more to come.

Not only had they significantly improved their 13th place from the previous season, but they also showed flashes of brilliant football during coach Vincenzo Italiano‘s opening 10 months at the helm, suggesting that he could keep it up and further raise the bar at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.

Their campaign was marked by wins over AC Milan, Atalanta, AS Roma, Napoli and Juventus, earning them a place in the UEFA Conference League, although some inconsistency prevented them from reaching even greater heights.

But fast forward to the current Serie A season and it looks like Fiorentina have completely lost their touch. Although their Matchday 24 3-0 win at Verona may be a sign of a potential upswing, the impression of a side that is heavily underperforming is still there.

Fiorentina players celebrate a goal against Hellas Verona. [@ACFFiorentinaEN]

Italiano’s first season at Fiorentina

Fiorentina’s stats from the 2021/22 season highlighted both their potential and issues to work on. At the end of the Serie A campaign, evidence showed that the Viola were a side fully able to make the most of Italiano’s possession-based playing style to regularly create chances, as they wrapped up the season having scored 59 goals.

The figure could’ve been higher had striker Dusan Vlahovic not joined Juventus during the winter transfer market, leaving a void that was just partially filled by the signings of Arthur Cabral, Jonathan Ikoné and Krzysztof Piątek, who scored a combined six goals in the second term after the Serbian alone had bagged 17 from 21 games.

However, as much as they could be both creative and intense on their best days, the Viola lacked the balance and consistency required to express themselves on a regular basis, suggesting they were still a side under construction. While they picked up 19 league wins, more than fourth and fifth-placed Lazio and Roma, no team in the top 10 except Torino lost as many as their 14 games and they also finished as the third-worst defence in the league, conceding 51 goals from 38 games.

Anyway, it was enough to claim that Italiano had been laying a promising foundation for the years to come.

What has gone wrong at Fiorentina?

Looking at the current Serie A table, one may think that all of Fiorentina’s best traits have completely been lost.

La Viola have racked up just two wins from their first nine Serie A games of 2023, a dip in form that has them sitting in 12th after 24 matches.

Even more worryingly, they’ve just scored 27 league goals, with the addition of Luka Jović from Real Madrid over the summer providing almost no contribution, as his scant three-goal tally left Fiorentina fans regretting Vlahovic’s departure even more.

However, such numbers don’t tell the whole story: the team remained faithful to Italiano’s principles but started to struggle when it came to converting their chances into goals. More specifically, what they have lacked the most is precision and coolness in front of the net.

In terms of chance creation, the Viola don’t seem to have registered a significant drop – even before their recent 3-0 victory against Verona, they were among the Serie A top 10 with 31.91 xG and their 15.96 shots per game means they are only second to Napoli in terms of attempts, although fewer than one-third of them (4.43) hit the target.

Also, Fiorentina haven’t given up on other key features. They have retained their trademark aggressiveness, allowing just 8.54 PPDA (Pass Per Defensive Action) to their opponents before winning the ball back, and they’re the team that keeps the most possession (57.4% on average) after leaders Napoli.

Arkadiusz Milik playing for Juventus against Fiorentina in Serie A. [@Juventusfcen].

In other words, it seems that Fiorentina’s diminished offensive prowess is preventing them from reaping the fruits of all the good work which is still there, and it’d be reductive to only blame Jovic for that.

Wingers Jonathan Ikoné and Nico Gonzalez also need to improve their finishing, as they play a pivotal role in Italiano’s system, but the same applies to Viola midfielders Antonin Barak, Giacomo Bonaventura and Rolando Mandragora, whose scoring contribution has been extremely limited so far.

However, moments of brilliance in the UEFA Conference League showed the other side of the coin, proving that, when they’re inspired, Fiorentina can easily turn into a goal machine, as this is still the most natural consequence for all the play they create.

While wider spaces and looser marking in the European competition may have helped some of Viola’s key players to express themselves to their best, it could just be a matter of time and confidence before they find ways to break through Serie A defences with regularity too.

Until then, Italiano should just trust his work and, as long as Fiorentina continue to show a clear identity on the pitch, keep heading in the same direction. Scoring goals has never really been a problem for his teams and chances are that sooner or later they’ll stop being an issue at the Artemio Franchi too.

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