Coppa Italia: Quarter-final / Team rating: [5/10] / Top scorer: Federico Chiesa (10) / Europe: N/A
Fiorentina were capable of hitting great heights and devastating lows, often from one game to the next, writes Kaustubh Pandey.
The 2019-20 season was riddled with inconsistency for Fiorentina. If there’s a word that can best describe their campaign, then it is ‘enigma’. It was another such season where they had some supreme performances against the bigger sides, but also disastrous performances against minnows. Where Franck Ribery could inspire them to extraordinary heights and then Federico Chiesa seemingly forgot how to kick a football for weeks on end.
Vincenzo Montella’s time this season provided a fair share of flashes of brilliance in draws against Juventus and Atalanta and the scintillating win over Milan. It fell apart largely due to a lack of flexibility in the 3-5-2 shape and a failure to adapt a different style against lesser sides. Beppe Iachini’s arrival did stabilise things in late December, but they still found themselves lingering around the drop during lockdown. The January signings were looking towards the future rather than the present, as only Alfred Duncan could play immediately, while Christian Kouame had just ruptured his ACL and Sofyan Amrabat was allowed to remain on loan at Hellas Verona for the rest of the season.
Once football restarted, Ribery’s return from a fractured ankle provided them with the much-needed impetus to ensure survival and go on a six-game unbeaten run that ended in a 2-1 defeat to Roma. At least they secured their safety a lot earlier than last season’s panicked final round stalemate, but it wasn’t an inspirational first year under rich American patron Rocco Commisso.
All in all, it was a rather mixed bag of a season and the decision to stand by Iachini for the next term isn’t filling many with confidence. Iachini continues next season, as he looks to unlock the full potential of many players in that side including Federico Chiesa (assuming of course that he stays in Florence), Gaetano Castrovilli, Duncan, Erick Pulgar, Nikola Milenkovic, Kouame and Amrabat.
The Coach – Vincenzo Montella/Beppe Iachini
Montella’s main issue was to give this team an identity and make sure that he had a Plan B against the lesser sides. A lot of times, he struggled in that regard. Iachini used the same 3-5-2 system ever since he arrived, and while things improved, La Viola were still capable of losing or winning pretty much any fixture depending on their mood. Both managers relied heavily on Ribery’s ability as having him allowed them a better plan when they had more possession against lesser sides. For the squad Fiorentina have, surviving relegation shouldn’t be an achievement. But Iachini deserves some credit for how they had some good unbeaten spells, particularly towards the end when switching to 3-4-3.
Player of the Year – Erick Pulgar
A case can be made for Chiesa, Ribery or Nikola Milenkovic to get this accolade, but it probably belongs to Pulgar. A lot of it is down to how reliable he has been in possession and off the ball, contributing to both fronts in an equal manner. His tally of six goals from penalties shows how reliable he is from dead-ball situations, but the Chilean also came up with the most shot-creation actions from dead-ball situations and it shows what he really brings to the table. He likes to get stuck into tackles and often thrives in a more advanced role in some games as well. For a player who arrived from Bologna for just €9m, Pulgar has become one of La Viola’s most valuable players and one of their best signings in recent memory.
Highlight – San Siro domination
Despite this strange campaign, La Viola have had some really good moments on the way and the 3-1 win over Milan probably tops everything. In what was a thoroughly impressive performance, Montella’s men were romping past Marco Giampaolo’s Milan at the majestic San Siro. It was near-perfection and while Mateo Musacchio’s silly sending off did help, there were some great performances in there. Chiesa sparkled and constantly made runs in behind, Pulgar looked very good, Castrovilli was a constant headache on and off the ball with his pressing and ball-carrying. But the star of the night was Ribery and San Siro rose up to applaud the Frenchman’s performance when he was substituted in the second half.
Nightmare – Crushed by Cagliari
The lowest points of the season weren’t too far away from that Milan win and perhaps, it was bound to come under Montella himself when Rolando Maran’s high-flying Cagliari had put five past Fiorentina in a dominating display from Radja Nainggolan, Joao Pedro and former Viola man Giovanni Simeone, who broke down in memory of Davide Astori when he had made it 3-0. Dusan Vlahovic did score twice through pretty low-XG shots, but this game really marked the downfall of Montella’s second stint at the Artemio Franchi. They failed to win the next six games after this loss against Cagliari and that run resulted in Montella’s axing.
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