With Inter’s Saudi Arabian Super Coppa journey done, the focus is back on Serie A. The newly crowned Nerazzurri are welcomed back to the peninsula with a none too easy visit to Fiorentina, giving us the chance to check in with Tito the Fiorentina expert at Viola Nation to see what awaits us this Sunday in Firenze.

Q: What are your takeaways from the first half of Fiorentina’s campaign? High and lows, strengths and weaknesses? 

A: It’s definitely been a wacky year for Fiorentina. The most enjoyable results have also been some of the ones with the lowest stakes (1-4 at Genoa to open the year, 6-0 against poor Čukarički in the Conference League), although there’ve also been some pretty riveting moments, like a pair of wins on penalties in the Coppa Italia. I think the overall funnest game was a 1-3 triumph at Napoli back in October: at the time, it felt like the Viola were cooking up something pretty special. There’ve certainly been low points as well, of course. I’d say the lowest has been the 4-0 loss at (uh oh) Inter Milan earlier this year, as Fiorentina failed to show up at all, but I was also pretty mad about the 0-1 loss to Juventus, which was a Max Allegri masterclass in that the Viola dominated every possible statistical category and still lost.

As far as strengths and weaknesses, the major strength has been Nico González, who’s transcended to another plane. Games feel different when he’s on the pitch because he can go grab a goal at any given moment. On a less individualistic level, I’ve been really impressed with Fiorentina’s ability to progress the ball through the first two thirds at times, along with a newfound willingness to sit deep and suffer. For weaknesses, well. That’s a much longer list. Squad depth is probably the major one, as this club has just 2 starting-caliber midfielders, 2 starting-caliber wingers (injured and at AFCON), and maybe 0.5 of a starting caliber striker. The latter two are a huge problem, as the Viola simply don’t have enough players to offer a threat; time and again, we’ve seen these poor overmatched dudes try and fail to make an impact.

Q: Fiorentina has been getting points but it doesn’t seem to be playing the usual aesthetically pleasing Italiano Ball. Is that really the case or just a false correlation thanks to Fiorentina’s frequent low-scoring games?

A: Nah, David, you’re spot on. Over the past couple months, Fiorentina’s turned into a really odd team. There are entire halves in which the Viola bypass the midfield entirely and just thump it long like a caricature of a Tony Pulis side instead of building out from the back, as we’ve come to expect from Cousin Vinnie’s teams. I’m convinced this is partly intentional: Italiano has realized that opponents often sit deep and look to break, so he’ll do the same, ceding possession and mucking up the play in the first half, then playing a reverse card and having his guys pass around in the typically lovely fashion after the break. It also decreases the number of counters his team concedes, which in turn means Fiorentina doesn’t need to score as many goals. And with such a hapless group of attackers, ensuring that his side only needs a single goal to win most of the time is a pretty clever adjustment.

Q: How would you grade Fiorentina’s summer transfer window and what does it need from the current one?

A: You’ve fallen right into my trap, David, as https://www.violanation.com/2023/12/31/24019351/fiorentina-regrading-the-2023-summer-transfer-window-loan-buy-sell-grades a couple weeks ago. Long story short, I think sporting director Daniele Pradè did a really good job of selling players for maximum profit, as he often does. The problem was the additions: Arthur Melo’s been brilliant, Lucas Beltrán is showing signs of life, and Fabiano Parisi’s still exciting, but Yerry Mina, Gino Infantino, Maxime Lopez, and M’Bala Nzola have all failed to varying degrees and for varying reasons. Combine that track record with the almost comical lack of Serie A-level wingers despite 5 roster spots dedicated to that position, along with the alarming lack of goals from center forwards and the thin midfield and it’s hard to give the summer mercato anything better than a C, and probably something more like a C-. Italiano’s worked wonders thus far but there are only so many rabbits he can extract from hats.

Q: What are the Viola’s goals for the remainder of the season?

A: Everyone’s talking up a 4th place finish, which is reasonable considering that’s what the table says right now, but I have a lot of trouble believing this group can hang on without significant reinforcements beyond Davide Faraoni (who got a lovely assist in his debut, by the way). The underlying metrics–xG differential, PSxG, et cetera–paint the picture of a team punching well above its actual ability. With Atalanta, Lazio, AS Roma, Bologna, and Napoli all within 3 points of 4th, I just don’t think Fiorentina’s got the juice to hang on, especially since several of those teams may well improve over the second half of the season.

Don’t get me wrong, as a return to the Champions League (and its financial bonus) would be a staggering achievement. I just don’t think that’s where Fiorentina’s level is this year. I’d be happy with a Europa League place to demonstrate clear and obvious progress from last season, but again, that could be a tall order without some serious investment in personnel, and that’s really not been the club’s modus operandi for the past few years despite the enormous fees received for Federico Chiesa and Dušan Vlahović. Unless and until Rocco Commisso puts some more money into the team, the Conference League is probably the ceiling.

Q:  What’s your prediction for Sunday’s matchup? Any players that could cause Inter problems?

A: It’s hard for me to give you a rosy prediction after all that doom and gloom, but I’m not without hope. Inter will be on short rest due to the long flight back from Riyadh and won’t have Nicolò Barella or Hakan Çalhanoglu. Fiorentina should have González ready to go as well, which makes a huge difference both tactically and mentally. In terms of odds, the line I’ve seen is too high and should come down in the next few days, but Inter are going to be rightly be favored pretty heavily. Even so, I’ll take a (very, very optimistic) 1-1 draw with a Nico header canceling out a Lautaro Martínez goal in a game that’s simultaneously scrappier and more open than you’d expect from a top 4 clash.