Coppa Italia: Semi-finals / Team rating: 6 / Top scorer: Ilicic (8)
Europe: Europa League semi-finals
Despite qualifying for Europe for the third consecutive year under Vincezo Montella, the season was ultimately a disappointing one for Viola fans, writes Marco D’Onofrio.
Even after reaching the semi-final of both the Europa League and the Coppa Italia, it has been a season filled with disappointment for the Viola. Vincenzo Montella's side had to deal with a plethora of injuries and changes to their squad, but Fiorentina fans had much higher expectations of the club coming into the season.
Fiorentina entered the campaign with the goal of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, but were left on the outside looking in once again when the season came to a close. To be fair though, the club had a campaign filled with bad luck.
Josip Ilicic led the team with eight goals in League play, with both Khouma Babacar and defender Gonzalo Rodriguez just behind him having seven goals each. While it is great to have offensive production from a defender like Rodriguez, it also speaks volumes about the season that the club's two star strikers, Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez had.
Rossi underwent yet another operation on his right knee in September and has yet to return for the Viola. In his two years with the club he has only managed to make a total of 19 League appearances, but scoring an impressive 16 goals during that time. All 19 appearances came last season though, as he was unable to return to the pitch at all in the 2014-15 campaign.
Gomez on the other hand, has also had an injury-riddled couple of seasons, but was able to muster nearly 30 appearances in all competitions for Fiorentina this year. While he netted a solid 10 goals, only four of them came in Serie A play. The club definitely needed more from the German, who they had hoped would really help them push for a spot in the continent's most prestigious club tournament.
Montella's side just kept getting bad news though. The aforementioned Senegalese striker, Babacar, and 21-year-old, Federico Bernardeschi, also missed large portions of the year through injury, when they were needed most too.
Needless to say, it was a tough season for Fiorentina's strikers. To make matters even worse though, their goalkeeping situation was not much better either.
Norberto Murara Neto was supposed to be the goalkeeper of the future for the Viola when he was bought from Brazilian club, Atletico Paranaense, in January 2011. Only 21 at the time, the youngster was seen as someone who would be a stalwart at the club for years to come.
However, this season the Brazilian broke the heart of Fiorentina fans and management when he refused to sign a contract extension with the club. Neto will be a free agent at the end of the campaign and whilst the club were hoping to keep him in the squad for years to come, or at least sell him in order to make a profit, neither will be the case.
“This situation has deeply hurt me on a human level and I’m left with a profound sense of bitterness. I’m well aware that these things often happen in football but I’m struggling to accept it,” said team President, Andrea Della Valle, of the decision back in January.
Montella and the club decided to bench Neto for the remainder of the season as a result of the situation, but when Romanian goalkeeper, Ciprian Tatarusanu, went down injured, the club was forced to play Neto in one of the biggest games of the year.
With Neto being the only other ‘keeper on the club's Europa League squad list, the 25-year-old got the start against Tottenham Hotspur in the second leg of their Round of 32 clash. He did not disappoint, earning a clean sheet and helping the Viola pull off a 2-0 victory. Neto finished the campaign with 29 appearances in Serie A.
Viola fans will not have been happy with the way the season turned out, but the fact that they have qualified for Europe for the third consecutive season under Montella has to be commended. Although there has been talk of the tactician leaving for greener pastures, both Montella and the club are aware of their potential.
“There is great respect for the people here. I was fair and so were they, the important thing is to discuss and say things in a responsible manner, thinking above all of what is best for Fiorentina,” said Montella. “We have to understand if the conditions make it possible to continue together with the same enthusiasm.”
Make no mistake about it though, both fans and management wanted more in 2015 from Montella’s side. The club not only finished with fewer points than in their previous two seasons under the Coach, they also missed out on the Champions League by one spot in the table for the third consecutive year.
However, it is hard to argue that Montella is not the right man to lead the Viola going forward. The club were able to sell their Colombian superstar Juan Cuadrado to Chelsea in January for €32m without missing a beat. Mohamed Salah arrived in Florence as part of the deal and he looked stellar under Montella. The 22-year-old made 23 appearances in all competitions since arriving in January, scoring seven goals and adding four assists.
The Viola have had their hearts broken on a number of occasions in recent years, narrowly missing out on the Champions League in Montella's first season with the club and losing in the Coppa Italia Final to Napoli last year, but things continue to look bright for the club.
Whether Montella is around next season or not, the club have a reason to be optimistic about the future. The only objective moving forward for the Viola now will be qualifying for the Champions League for the first time since 2010.
Vincenzo Montella has gotten Fiorentina into Europe for the third consecutive year, despite having to deal with numerous injuries and squad changes throughout the season. He has ensured the club has an identity with or without their star players and that the Viola remain an ambitious side at all times.
Since arriving at Fiorentina at the beginning of February, the 22-year-old has been outstanding. He started in all eight of the club's Europa League knockout round matches, helping them reach the penultimate round. His seven goals and four assists in all competitions are a big reason the club did not miss Juan Cuadrado.
- After losing four consecutive League matches, Fiorentina won their last five games of the season to finish ahead of Napoli, fourth in the table for the third straight year.
- No Viola player reached double digits in goals scored or assists provided in League play this season.
- Fiorentina did not beat any of the three clubs who finished ahead of them in the table this season in Serie A competition.
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