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Preseason Q&A with Fiorentina blog Viola Nation

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ACF Fiorentina v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Hi there, and welcome to another season of...well, it’s sort of still the preseason, but in a...special treat? Unexpected pleasant surprise? I don’t know what to call it, but I managed to have a chat with Tito Kohout, boss-type person of Viola Nation, SBN’s Fiorentina blog, in advance of today’s crucial really important legendary pressure-filled preseason game in the prestigious world-renowned International Champions Cup.

We talk about what to expect from the game, what preseason is shaping up like, and a trip to Italy. I answered questions about Arsenal from Tito, as well, and you can find those answers (and, crucially, the questions) right over here.

Let’s get to answerin’!

TSF: Fiorentina finished 17th, three points away from relegation, last season, after finishing 8th in 2017/18. For us non-Serie A watchers, what happened?

VN: Gah. Everything is a what, right? The short answer is that Stefano Pioli’s kick-and-rush tactics proved to be a dead end that the rest of the league completely figured out after a few months. The attackers (besides Federico Chiesa and, for a month after he arrived in January, Luis Muriel) were laughably ineffective at both finding space, dribbling, and shooting. The midfielders basically just ran in circles until they collided with each other. The defenders were great to start off, but then were overtaken by the same morass of awfulness that grabbed the rest of the team and were simply miserable in the new year.

Part of it was the tactics, but a large part of it was that the players just seemed to give up, especially once Pioli was sacked and replaced with Vincenzo Montella, who stuck with the same approach with even worse results over the final dozen or so games. It’s probably worth mentioning that the win over Chivas to kick off the ICC, as meaningless as it was, was this club’s first victory over a professional side since 17 February, which is, uh, not great.

TSF: Did Fiorentina have a lot of major transfer targets this summer? Any progress on any of them?

VN: Given that Fiorentina has a new owner in Rocco Commisso who’s promised to splash some cash around, there’ve been links for a number of exciting names: Rodrigo de Paul, Mario Balotelli, Chicharito, Dylan Bronn, and Diego Demme have been among the more exciting. However, Commisso and DS Daniele Pradè have stated their intention to get rid of around 60 players between the senior and youth sides and seem much more focused on that; they’ve said that they’re not going to bring anyone aboard until 10 August. So far, they’ve signed backup goalkeeper Pietro Terracciano, but every other transfer has, sure enough, been an exit. Needless to say, the fans are not at all upset or anxious about this, nope, not even a bit nope nope nope.

TSF: I’m very hesitant to ask serious tactical/analytical questions about the walking, talking small sample size that is the season’s second or third preseason friendly, but: Give those of us that don’t follow Fiorentina the elevator pitch. What can Arsenal fans expect to see tomorrow?

VN: That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Montella is known for possession-based football that wrenches opponents apart with clever ball movement across the pitch before finding space to exploit in the box, but he’s working with a bunch of players who really don’t fit that style of play. From what we’ve seen this preseason (which isn’t much), it’ll be a 4-3-3. The wingers have tended to drop deep with one midfielder pressing higher up in defense to form more of a 4-4-2 on the back foot.

In attack, the strikers tend to work the channels and look to link up with midfielders making vertical runs, while the fullbacks and wingers both stay wide. Again, this is just what we’ve seen in a couple of friendlies, but it’s unlikely that the Viola will make any wholesale tactical changes now, even for the unbelievably prestigious ICC.

TSF: Who is the Fiorentina player you’re most excited to see play this season, and why?

VN: It’s got to be Our Lord and Savior Federico Chiesa, doesn’t it? He’s a full Italy international, the unquestioned best player in the team, and capable of wreaking havoc on pretty much any defense. He’s still just 21, so he’s still a bit loose at times with his decision-making, but he’s outrageously talented and would walk into pretty much any team in the world. Best forward the Viola have had since, I don’t know, prime Adrian Mutu? Maybe Stevan Jovetić or Adem Ljajić (when he wasn’t busy eating Nutella and playing video games)? He’s probably better than even Federico Bernardeschi, who we thought was the truth.

The rub, of course, is that Fiorentina sucked last year and everyone wants our Fede, with Juventus (boo hiss) supposedly the top suitor. If he sticks around--which is likely, following a Commisso charm offensive--Fede’s the best. Otherwise, there are a bunch of interesting young players to watch: Bartłomiej Drągowski is a 21-year-old goalkeeper who spent last year on loan at Empoli and set the Serie A record with 17 saves to keep a clean sheet against Atalanta last year and saved a PK against Chivas (he’s very good); Riccardo Sottil is a jinky winger with a great appreciation for space who scored the winner against Chivas with this outrageous finish; Gaetano Castrovilli is a playmaking midfielder who floats around and finds passes and pockets of space as well as anyone else out there. But yeah, it’s always Chiesa.

TSF: Can we tag along with you to the Fiorentina home opener? Purely for research purposes, of course.

VN: For you fine folks at TSF, here you go. Whenever Serie A decides to release the schedule (and this clown-show league won’t do that until the 26 July, which is great and cool and not at all REALLY DAMN STUPID), you should swing by the Stadio Artemio Franchi, which is a genuinely lovely and unique ground. We expect the tifosi to be back in full force (the club’s already sold over 5,000 season tickets, which is more than double last year’s tally), so the Curva Fiesole should be rocking.

Florence is obviously a pretty nice city to visit with regards to, like, culture and art and stuff, but the Franchi is so wonderful and everyone should get to watch a game with the fans there, who range from terrifyingly committed (in the Curva) to loving, realistic, and steeped in that fine Tuscan irony (pretty much everywhere else. Hit us up if you’re going and we can offer some recommendations. Although we hear that London ain’t half bad either; maybe a Europa League meetup next year? First round’s on us.

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Thanks to Tito for forcing me to shake off the off-season rust and answering my questions! Give Viola Nation a visit, and while you’re at it, why not follow them at @Viola_Nation on the Twitter apparatus of your choice? It’s what good people do, and you’re good people.