We are getting closer and closer to there being football in our lives again, people. That means the first international break of the 2019-20 season is basically over, and all of the major leagues around Europe are ready to get rolling again. And for Juventus, that means a trip to Florence to face our purple-clad friends who play at the Franchi.
Just as they were in mid-August at the Tardini, Juventus will be playing in the first game of the new month when Serie A action gets back underway after the international break. Juventus will make the trip over to Florence on Friday, with a meeting against rivals Fiorentina set for the mid-afternoon.
One team is coming off a wild 4-3 win over another one of its rivals to maintain a perfect record in the early goings of the new season.
The other team disappointed again as it continued a losing trend that dates back to the early months of the 2019 calendar year.
I think we can guess which is which — especially when you consider what happened around here the last time Juventus took the field.
Because Juventus is playing Fiorentina this weekend, it only makes sense that we meet up once again with out Viola-loving blog friend Mr. Tito from our sister site Viola Nation. Now, Mr. Tito has offered to buy me some beers the next time we’re in the same city at the same time, so I will obviously thank him for talking about his favorite club even though they’re not exactly playing all that well to start the new season.
We had questions about La Viola.
And, luckily, Mr. Tito had answers about La Viola even though they make him grumpy sometimes. (Seriously, during this conversation we actually discussed just how truly stupid sports can be most of the time.)
So, here we go with my conversation with Tito himself.
BWRAO: Tito, my friend. Thank you for joining us even though your favorite football club has made you extremely grumpy the last couple of weeks (and much beyond that, too). Let us start with this: You guys were able to keep Federico Chiesa despite all of the rumors. You guys brought in Franck Ribery to the surprise of many. Would you call it a successful summer?
VN: Not really, to be honest. Ribery is a big name, sure, but the dude is 36 years old and on a two-year contract. He’s definitely still got some skill, but when your marquee signing is a guy who’s old enough to parent half your squad, some disappointment is, I think, deeply understandable. Following rumors of Rodrigo de Paul, Sandro Tonali, Diego Rossi, and Matteo Politano (spoiler: none of them moved to Florence), it’s hard for Viola fans to get too excited about the summer mercato.
In fairness, Daniele Pradè did a good job of adding talent this summer. Bringing back Milan Badelj and adding Erik Pulgar has solidified the midfield in a big way. Pol Lirola is the first competent right back this club has seen since, uh, Lorenzo de Silvestri? Ribery and Kevin-Prince Boateng add leadership, which sure seemed to be lacking over the back half of last season. But with a new owner in Rocco Commisso, a lot of people expected lots of big business. Keeping Fede (and Nikola Milenković) shows ambition, but the loss of Cristiano Biraghi for peanuts and glaring lack of a creative force make this feel like a transitional year, if you’re an optimist. And, as Fiorentina fans, we’re optimists and totally believe that nothing is f****d, Dude. Nothing is f****d.
BWRAO: The not so good: Fiorentina’s start to the season. What the heck has happened on the field that has led to no wins the first two weekends? (Or basically continued from last season...)
VN: Haha, what? Surely you’re not referring to the 16-match winless streak that the Viola are currently riding. Because a 16-match winless streak in the league would make anyone want to WALK INTO THE OCEAN.
Ahem. Sorry. The main problem this year (and it’s a small sample size, so take from this what you will) is a leaky defense and a lack of finishing, which seems like it could sum up any team in the world. Milenković and Germán Pezzella have looked miserable as a central defensive partnership (to the point where we’ve heard rumors that Pulgar might drop into the backline to replace Pezzella), and the leftback spot has been abhorrent since Biraghi departed: Aleksa Terzić, Lorenzo Venuti, Luca Ranieri, and Dalbert have all tried to fill in, with limited success. Lirola, meanwhile, is very good, but clearly still getting acclimated.
Up top, Boateng has never been a lethal finisher, and Very Large Teenager Dušan Vlahović probably isn’t ready to carry the scoring load despite his status as a really talented prospect. Maybe Pedro or Bobby Duncan is the answer, but neither are likely to feature in this game. Elsewhere, Chiesa is a goddamn animal, but he’s not the type of animal who scores a lot of goals, and Riccardo Sottil is in his first Serie A campaign; like Vlahović, he’s super-talented without being ready for the full-year grind. Basically, this is a team with a lot of fun and interesting players, none of whom score goals with the possible exception of Marco Benassi, who does literally nothing but score goals sometimes. Then again, he’s mostly been on the bench, which is a very difficult place from which to score goals.
BWRAO: How long do you think Vincenzo Montella’s leash really is?
VN: Short. Fiorentina have a brutal early schedule: Napoli, at Genoa, Juventus, at Atalanta, Sampdoria, at AC Milan. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that il Aeroplanino goes winless over his first six matches this year, which, for those of you keeping track at home, is very not good. Given that Commisso opted to keep him on board despite changing pretty much every other member of the staff, it seems like Cousin Vinnie will probably have until the winter break to establish his system. If Fiorentina haven’t established themselves as at least a competent mid-table side by then, the likes of Luciano Spalletti are lurking in the wings.
In fairness to the mister, he’s had a pretty rough summer. After being promised de Paul and Tonali and Rossi and Politano, he’s instead making due with Gaetano Castrovilli (who’s been sensational) and, uh, Rachid Ghazzal? Yeah, he hasn’t exactly been set up for success. Given that it sometimes takes awhile for a manager’s tactics to really imprint themselves on a squad — not that y’all would know anything about this — he should have a decent amount of slack in the rope around his neck. But make no mistake: Fiorentina have the talent to push for a European spot, and if Vinnie can’t make that happen, Rocco will find someone who can.
BWRAO: Regardless of the on-field success (or not-success), you guys have a new owner who seems quite ambitious. What should we make of Mr. Rocco?
VN: Rocco Commisso has been a delight thus far. On a purely logical sense, he’s done exactly what he said: kept Chiesa, kept Milenković, added some very solid pieces, and shown up in a big way whenever possible. While Rocco is obviously business savvy — you don’t become a billionaire without some pretty obvious inclinations for how to run a company — he’s also been quite realistic about where Fiorentina stands as a company. The fact that he hasn’t shelled out megabucks just to shell out megabucks is very encouraging, frankly, and shows that he’s thinking of the long-term health of the club.
More than anything, he’s been smart about approaching the day-to-day stuff. He’s already established a bunch of sponsorships that’ll outpace what Fiorentina earned over the past few years combined. More importantly, he’s shown a willingness to leave the soccer business to soccer professionals; while he’s put his right hand man Joe Barone (who has been perhaps the most delightful figure of the season thus far) in a position alongside Pradè, and then left those two free to run the business of adding and subtracting players as they see fit. Rocco rolls into the stands for games and then leaves the operations to folks who know about it.
In a lot of ways, he’s a perfect owner, and the Viola faithful are already embracing him despite an underwhelming set of transfers, which is very impressive.
BWRAO: Obviously things haven’t started out great this season, but what does Fiorentina truly have to do this season to at least challenge for a European place? Or is that even out of the thought process right now as the new ownership tries to build La Viola back up?
VN: Europe is probably a pipe dream. After last year’s nightmare — hey, remember when not losing to Genoa at home in the final fixture controlled your Serie A destiny? — and a lack of impact signings in the transfer window, this feels like a season of consolidation more than anything. The goal should probably be something in the top half of the table; challenging for continental competition would be a bonus, but it’s hard to imagine that after watching this team struggle against Serie C titans Monza (now with 200% more Berlusconi to make you want to vomit) for 80 minutes, as well as the league losses, the priority for this year ought to be solidity, with an eye to kicking on next year. It’s not very exciting, but this is Fiorentina, so we’ve pretty much forgotten what exciting feels like.
Again, with Montella in place for this year — unless he’s a Delio Rossi-level catastrophe — consolidation seems like a good and attainable goal. After the chaos of a new owner this summer, a club of Fiorentina’s size probably needs to take a season to figure out its priorities and then create a roadmap to attain them. Anyone who expected bigger things than a foundation after Commisso’s purchase of the Gigliati was always going to be discouraged by the results this year. On the other hand, anyone who’s followed Fiorentina for the past couple of decade probably expected to be as discouraged this year as they are every year, so I guess it’s business as usual.
Stop letting other teams score easy goals and converting their big chances would be helpful. Per xG, Fiorentina have won both of their matches this year; if Serie A were a computer simulation, the Viola would be pretty impressive.
BWRAO: Prediction for Saturday — go!
No. Really? C’mon, man. Were I a betting man, I’d lay good money to this being just a hellacious couple of hours for the good guys (that’s Fiorentina if you were wondering). That said, I’m going to pretend like the spirits of Kurt Hamrin, Gabriel Batistuta, Rui Costa, Daniel Passarella, and Giuseppe Chiapella will possess Fiorentina for one night and one night only, inspiring them to a 2-1 win. Let’s say that Chiesa and Benassi get on the scoresheet for our outnumbered heroes, with Gonzalo Higuaín pulling one back for the villains (again, if you’re confused, that’s Juventus).
And yes, I’m very aware that this is a stupidly optimistic take and the probability of it occurring is roughly equivalent to the probability of successfully navigating that asteroid field.