There was a brief period in the game on Saturday when Fiorentina would have been feeling like proper European contenders, as they rode on Franck Ribery’s masterclass to go 3-2 up at San Siro. There was this feeling of deja vu creeping in, as La Viola were the only team that Inter had failed to beat last season and it seemed like another one of those days.
Antonio Conte’s usage of the bench changed the game in a single minute, because Radja Nainggolan and Arturo Vidal then controlled the game, Achraf Hakimi added pace from the right and Alexis Sanchez created the two vital openings. Despite the defeat, Fiorentina came away with their heads held high, knowing that in many ways it was a performance which perhaps stands as testimony to their potential European calibre.
There were times when the decision making in the final third was reminiscent of the game against Torino. There were too many needless passes around in the box when a single killer move would've created a chance. Dusan Vlahovic missed a huge chance and if he had scored, Beppe Iachini’s men could've sealed the deal there. And perhaps, that is a cruel lesson that they really need to learn from in the next few matches.
While the midfield looked largely compact and the plan of restricting build-up from central areas worked, they were slow in defensive transitions in three goals. Sofyan Amrabat had an enjoyable debut and he was crucial to adding structure to the midfield, but there was a risk of Inter over running the midfield quickly whenever they got the ball back. The Nerazzurri were regularly pushed wide when they dominated possession and in a way, it shows that Iachini does have a plan for the team.
Questions have been raised about his decision to use the talented Federico Chiesa at right wing-back, but the Inter-linked Italian came up with a vital performance. He made three crucial defensive interceptions and scored a goal as well in a performance to be proud of against a superior outfit.
Ribery, once again, turned the clock back to 2013 and constantly dazzled the Inter backline. He did get a couple of assists and could've had three if Vlahovic had scored, but Iachini’s decision to take him and Chiesa off can be questioned - especially when the substitutions that Inter had made really changed the game.
Pol Lirola isn't quite the player Chiesa is and Patrick Cutrone is more of a grafter than the ball carrier and chance creator that Ribery is from central areas. For a team that was to sit deep and play on the break, taking off two of the three best ball carriers in the team makes little sense. Ribery and Chiesa were both very effective when they broke forward and so was the ever-mercurial Gaetano Castrovilli.
A case can be made that while Inter really got control when they made their five substitutions, La Viola lost their grip on the game when Iachini made substitutions of his own. They didn't quite coincide with how they were set up tactically, when Conte's substitutions made perfect sense. Whether it comes down to the variety of players available to him, an over-reliance on an aged Frenchman will become clearer in the long term.
In his defence, Iachini could easily say that having Erick Pulgar would've added even more structure to the midfield and that is true, considering how the Chilean adds a hardworking attitude to the midfield and could have complemented Amrabat well. But perhaps, it would've made more sense if Iachini had shifted Chiesa's and Ribery's positions and taken the veteran off for Lirola. That would have given Fiorentina some more pace than Cutrone provides.
There's clearly loads of talent in that Fiorentina team and great potential. There are issues to be ironed out, as there's still a pretty young core in there, and that is what Iachini needs to do. On paper, that side seems made to play Europa League football and against Inter, it became clear that it can happen too. But there's work to do and Iachini has detractors to prove wrong as well. The shades of brilliance need to transform into consistent blazes on and off the ball.
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