Coppa Italia: Round of 16 / Team rating: 6 / Top scorer: Ilicic (13)
Europe: Europa League Round of 32
Fiorentina looked as though they were on for a title challenge prior to the winter break, but some poor performances in the second-half of the season left much to be desired, writes George Rinaldi.
There were many concerned when Vincenzo Montella exited as Coach after a three-year stint at Fiorentina, with the introduction of FC Basel's Paulo Sousa not exactly warming the cockles to those worried faces situated in the Curva Fiesole. The 45-year-old man at the helm stamped his authority down on proceedings, bringing in some fresh faces to try and push la Viola past the infamous fourth-place finish whilst also getting rid of the typical deadwood floating around.
The most influential of those who signed on the dotted line was former Blackburn Rovers striker Nikola Kalinic, who arrived from Dnipro for around £4m. The Croatian forward slotted seamlessly into Sousa's new style of play, forming a formidable attacking line-up with Josep Ilicic, something many of the Fiorentina faithful thought would never work.
But even with such a wonderful piece of business to allow Fiorentina a better attacking edge, the poor signing of Mario Suarez, coupled with the exit of Stefan Savic, showed some cracks would always form. Mario Gomez left on loan to Besiktas after a torrid time in Tuscany, and fan favourite Giuseppe Rossi jetted back to Spain to join Levante following consistent blows with a recurring knee injury.
What was left is arguably a very hit-and-miss selection of additions. The loan window allowed Sousa to strengthen up the defence somewhat with Davide Astori, alongside winger Jakub Blaszczykowski, but the permanent exits of some of "Montella's Men" such as Neto, Alberto Aquliani, David Pizarro, Juan Vargas and Joaquin meant this should’ve been a much needed transitional season.
And so it should have been, had it not been for Sousa's spectacular entrance to coaching on Italian soil. Some pre-season friendlies that saw Federico Bernardeschi smash in two early goals to defeat Barcelona and a Gonzalo Rodriguez strike to down Chelsea left many journalists and fans scratching their heads when predicting where Fiorentina would finish this year.
It started off well enough, a five-game winning run included handing Inter their first loss of the season when beating them 4-1 in their own back yard. Fiorentina were partying like it was 1999, considering that was the last time they had topped Serie A, 16 years ago.
Despite the hammering of the Nerazzurri, Fiorentina still struggled against their closest rivals. Tight losses to both Napoli and Roma preceded the aforementioned run of victories, whilst a resurgent Juventus also swept aside Sousa's team and they ended up in third-place, although going into the winter break they were just a point behind league leaders Inter and joint with Napoli in second.
The cries of those housed in the Stadio Artemio Franchi demanded Andrea Della Valle bring some fresh faces in order to keep up with their closest rivals if they were to challenge for the Scudetto as well as the Europa League. It came as no surprise that continual protests surrounded Delle Valle's choice to not invest as much as was needed for a side that had finished outside the Champions League places three years in a row.
And thus began the demise of Sousa's incredible start to life in Italy and Serie A. It was as if Florence was showing two sides of its beauty, even though one of those depicts mass disappointment.
The paper thin squad was starting to become too strained, with a tough Round of 32 draw in the Europa League against Premier League title contenders Tottenham Hotspur. The lack of centre-halves proved costly, with clean sheets at a premium. In fact, in the first-half the campaign, Ciprian Tatarunsanu and co secured nine clean sheets whilst in the second-half just five and those came against relegation battlers Genoa, Frosinone and Palermo.
As they were swept aside by Tottenham at White Hart Lane all the foundations had caved in. Two wins in the final 12 games sum up the abysmal end to the year despite such hope and joy that begun the 2015-16 season. Even the infamous fourth-place finish was not secured as they dropped down to fifth.
Fiorentina were a joy to watch at one stage this year, by the end they looked bereft of confidence and style. Hopefully we will see them at their best more consistently next season.
The Portuguese boss had a topsy-turvy first season with la Viola. Installing his own tactics whilst also keeping some of Vincenzo Montella's work was tough but he showcased his ability early on. Had more money been available for transfers and not just a loan window, a fifth-place finish could have been bettered.
Although Josep Ilicic gave more throughout the season, the first-half campaign from the Croatian was nothing short of remarkable. Written off by fans and journalists alike, a brilliant hat-trick at San Siro versus Inter showed he was a force to be reckoned with, and hopefully he can continue such form into next year's fight for European football.
- Fiorentina scored in every single match prior to the winter break.
- In Week 6, Fiorentina topped the Serie A table for the first time since 1999.
- Fiorentina have won each of their last four meetings with Inter, home and away, the best run against this club since 1940-42.
|29||GK||Luca Lezzerini||1 (1)||-||-|
|4||D||Nenad Tomovic||19 (5)||-||-|
|13||D||Davide Astori||32 (1)||-||-|
|23||D||Manuel Pasqual||12 (5)||-||2|
|28||D||Marcos Alonso||26 (5)||3||4|
|32||D||Facundo Roncaglia||26 (4)||1||-|
|4||M||Mario Suarez||5 (4)||1||-|
|5||M||Milan Badelj||25 (2)||1||1|
|6||M||Tino Costa||3 (4)||-||-|
|8||M||Matias Vecino||27 (3)||2||1|
|14||M||Matias Fernandez||11 (11)||1||3|
|16||M||Jakub Blaszczykowski||9 (6)||2||1|
|20||M||Borja Valero||35 (2)||4||6|
|25||M||Joan Verdu||1 (4)||1||-|
|26||M||Panagiotis Kone||0 (1)||-||-|
|27||M||Ante Rebic||3 (1)||1||-|
|72||A||Josep Ilicic||24 (6)||13||5|
|7||A||Mauro Zarate||6 (9)||3||1|
|9||A||Nikola Kalinic||25 (11)||12||3|
|10||A||Federico Bernardeschi||25 (8)||2||4|
|21||A||Giuseppe Rossi||4 (7)||-||2|
|27||A||Cristian Tello||13 (2)||2||4|
|30||A||Khouma Babacar||11 (7)||5||1|