All is not well in Florence and Vincenzo Montella knows it. His return to the Viola in April, on paper, looks like a disaster so far and defeat to Empoli seemed like proof of that. The Coach said he had complete trust in the squad and that he had arrived at the club to plan for the future. This may be the case, but recent performances have shown no real sign of his once-entertaining brand of football. Is the man known as ‘L'Aeroplanino’ - or Little Aeroplane – already nosediving just after take-off?
Fiorentina sacked Montella back in June 2015 after they had accused him of lacking commitment. In fairness to the former Roma striker, he had managed to get the club to fourth spot in each of his three Serie A seasons but, unfortunately for him, that was in an era when only the top three reached the Champions League. He had them playing exciting football and was in high demand when he left. Now he has returned and his record of one draw and four defeats is already yielding more questions than answers.
Montella certainly exhibited his own brand of football when he first came to Tuscany. He adopted a possession-based style, with a focus on the midfield, and the Viola were certainly easy on the eye. He regularly switched between 4-3-3 and 3-5-1-1 formations, setting up differently against teams he knew he could beat and teams who would pose more of a threat. His use of wingbacks in the latter formation was particularly effective. The short passing game, whereby Borja Valero and David Pizarro controlled the middle of the park saw his team win in style, as they were able to create space, playing in triangles and then suddenly releasing the wingbacks.
While the dismal start to his second spell does ask questions about whether he is still capable of getting this team back to winning ways, perhaps the question needs to be asked about whether he will get the resources. The Della Valle brothers, after all, have been heavily criticised for their lack of investment. During Montella’s first game back, the Curva Fiesole was empty in the first half as fans protested about their owners’ handling of club matters. Montella, as mentioned, has fallen out with brothers before, so it doesn’t look like a match made in heaven. Betting site reviews might already show odds on Montella's dismissal.
Nonetheless, Montella has hinted that things may be different this time around. He was extremely vocal about the Della Valle brothers visiting the training ground and talking to the team after the Empoli defeat, and he admitted he was already working towards next season. One would surmise that the conversations about investment (or lack of it) would have already taken place, and if the Coach is given the chance to add his own players to this young and talented bunch, perhaps the Viola could soon start exhibiting some of the traits that his Fiorentina side of old showed.
There is no need to panic in Florence, at least not yet. They may have fallen down the standings and still mathematically not be safe, but they can rely on Montella to offer some positive changes. He is certainly flexible with formations and will adapt to the players he has. This will lead to a more innovative approach and, as mentioned, a back three will be employed. He has even played with two ‘trequartisti’ at times. He will drill his players and, at the very least, they will play with organisation and possession.
Although it seems as though the Montella project has failed to take off, patience will be key. This season is a write-off and Milan next won’t help matters. Parma and Genoa may offer some respite, but it’s the summer that will be key. If he is happy with the investment he gets and is able to leave his mark on the playing squad, there may yet be reasons for Fiorentina supporters to be cheerful. Montella may not be able to compete with the likes of Juventus, Napoli and potentially one of both of the Milan clubs next season, but he could sculpt a very good group of young players into a very exciting team.