Juventus’ first game in the month of December has the chance to be a doozy.
That’s almost always a possibility when Juventus travel to Florence to face Fiorentina, though, so it’s not like we’re venturing into uncharted territory here, folks.
Either way and no matter how you look at it, Juventus will be beginning the month of December in quite the away atmosphere, with an always-warm welcome — ehhhh, the exact opposite of that because I know — awaiting the arrival of Max Allegri, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Mandzukic and the rest of the current Serie A leaders who have an eight-point lead over second-place Napoli entering the final month of the calendar year.
Because this game has the potential to be a good one and minor detail that we like to play nice with others, myself and Tito from our Fiorentina sister blog, Viola Nation, decided to exchange a couple of questions for one another and try to get a little inside information on how each person’s favorite team has done this season.
Away we go...
BWRAO: Greetings, Tito. I noticed you used a picture of Giuseppe Rossi for your Juve-Fiorentina match preview. Thanks for reminding me of that. Now that I try to get that game out of my head — again — let me serve up the first question for you: Fiorentina are in that mid-table bunch where consistent results seem to not be a thing this season. How would you describe the season to date?
VN: Gah. Being a Fiorentina fan this year has been like slapping yourself in the face with an only-slightly venomous sea urchin — it hurts, it’s stupid, and it’s probably not great for you in the long run. It’s tough to figure if we should blame Stefano Pioli’s utterly maddening tactics or Pantaleo Corvino’s inability to find pieces that work for the mister’s (crushingly limited) system, but the plus (lol) side is that there’s enough frustration to pass around to everyone. I think the most irritating part is that there’s plenty of individual quality in this side — i.e. Chiesa, Veretout, Milenkovic — that’s been pretty well smushed under a set of tactics that really doesn’t bring the best out of anyone.
This team’s inability to keep the ball or generate anything resembling a threatening attack has left them scrambling at half chances and hoping that opponents make enough mistakes to let them in on goal. Against a team like Juventus, that does not seem like a very good strategy, but it’s almost certainly what they’re going to do.
Again, slapping yourself in the face with a sea urchin.
BWRAO: Going off that, what’s preventing Fiorentina from really challenging for a European place?
VN: The only thing preventing Fiorentina from challenging for a Europa place is the attack. And also the midfield. And maybe the coach. And also maybe the transfer policy. Honestly, pretty much everything other than the defense has been rather turgid all year, with a couple of outliers that I think we can safely mark off as random happenstance.
Again, there’s a lot of quality in this side, but it feels like Pioli’s policy of super-aggressive man-marking in midfield and defense has dragged everyone down into the mud. The problem with the system is that every time Fiorentina win the ball, the midfielders are right next to the opponent they were marking and are thus closed off as options to move the ball forward. Instead, it’s a lot of optimistic passes — rather, optimistic clearances from the defense — into the channels for Federico Chiesa and Giovanni Simeone to chase. Were this a Pokémon battle, we could safely say that it’s not very effective.
tl;dr Fiorentina are shooting their own feet with distressing regularity because they’re not very smart right now
BWRAO: Your starting goalkeeper is 18 years old and looks like an athletic freak. Has Alban Lafont been as good as I think he’s been?
VN: Alban Lafont has every chance to be a superstar. He’s built like a shorter version of Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is cool, and has a whole lot of swagger. Unfortunately, he’s very much a teenager and has a lot of room for growth. (Read: He’s liable to give the Viola faithful serious coronary issues at any moment.)
His distribution out the back is often hair-raising, and he loves coming off his line even when he can’t really make a play on the ball. He’s also shown a distressing penchant for punching shots right into the middle of the box, although that’s only really come back to bite him once thus far. However, he’s got absurd reflexes and is already a very good shot stopper.
I give him two or three years until Arsenal or someone drops about €50 million on him.
BWRAO: So much hope for both club and country is pinned to the young shoulders of Federico Chiesa. Can he do it?
VN: Yeah, he can. He’s honestly that good.
The problem is that he doesn’t have any help, so he’s starting to develop some bad habits. I’m not blaming him in the slightest here; When you’re 21 and your team’s entire strategy to qualify for continental competition is “lump passes in Fede’s general direction and hope he does something cool,” you get some leeway to make mistakes.
And there’s no question that he’s made some mistakes. His decision making in the final third is frequently wrong — he dribbles when he should pass, shoots when he should dribble, and passes when he should shoot. On the other hand, with just a misfiring Simeone and a rotating toilet of Marko Pjaca/Kevin Miralllas/Valentin Eysseric opposite him, he’s routinely been double- or triple-teamed by opposing defenses who don’t have to worry about any other attackers. This has not been very enjoyable for fans to watch.
Even so, he’s so damn talented that he’s likely to provide some fireworks no matter what. While Alex Sandro may have the sheer athleticism to stick with him, I think that he can roll past Mattia de Sciglio without too much trouble. I’d expect someone like Blaise Matuidi to drop in and help out against him, which will in theory free up a lot of space for Marco Benassi or Gerson to operate in. It hasn’t really worked out that way, but Fede remains the truth and is the only chance the Viola have for a result, I’d think.
BWRAO: Of those players not named Chiesa, who should I be worried about the most come kickoff Saturday?
VN: Guh. None? I mean, maybe Pjaca will come out all amped up to perform against his parent club, but I doubt it. Fiorentina’s best players this year besides Chiesa have been Germán Pezzella and Jordan Veretout. The former has been as good as any central defender in Italy this year but is coming off a hamstring injury and may not be firing on all cylinders. The latter is one of the best mezzale in the peninsula, but has been operating as a slightly above-average regista this year. I’d say the next most dangerous player is Cristiano Biraghi, who’s been Fiorentina’s second-best attacker this year and fully deserves his recent Azzurri caps. That he’s a left back should tell you all you need to know about the Viola forwards (they’ve been bad). He gets forward well and is a really clever crosser; I don’t think there’s been a game this year in which he hasn’t created a very good chance with a lovely pass into the middle. Putting Chiesa on the left where he can cut in and hoping that Biraghi can find space against João Cancelo is probably going to be the best chance Fiorentina has of getting any sort of result here.
Also watch out for Nikola Milenković tracking Cristiano Ronaldo, which should be a genuinely enjoyable battle. The young Serbian is simply enormous and could deny Ronaldo the aerial advantage he generally enjoys against opposing fullbacks, but is also a lot quicker on his feet than anyone built like Gregor Clegane has any right to be.
BWRAO: You asked me for my prediction. Now it’s time for your completely un-biased prediction. Who ya got?
VN: At this point, I’m just assuming that every single Fiorentina match for the rest of the year will finish either 1-1 or 0-0, and I don’t see any way that the good guys keep a clean sheet. I guess that means a 1-1 draw. I think that Juve will absolutely dominate this one, pushing Fiorentina into their own box for much of the match and keeping them quiet on the counter before Paulo Dybala puts them in the lead. For the Viola, I’m saying that Giuseppe Rossi signs for the club at halftime, comes on for Simeone, and hits a late equalizer. Failing that, uh, maybe a goal for Benassi or Veretout? I don’t know, man. I’m fully expecting to do a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth come Saturday.
BWRAO: Ah, one last Rossi mention. Thanks, buddy.