The Season So Far
Arguably the Arsenal of Serie A (they always finish fourth), Fiorentina’s season has been one of their most exciting for years, and yet it will surely be remembered by their fans as one of the more frustrating campaigns. Always one of the more watchable sides in Italy, Paulo Sousa seemed to have turned them into contenders this time around. A string of excellent performances culminated in a great early season run of form which saw them emerge as dark horses to win their first Scudetto since 1969, but then they went ahead and Arsenal’d it and la Viola now appear nailed on to finish 4th again, assuming Roma get their s**t together and stop Arsenaling it themselves.
The Artemio Franchi faithful still get to watch Josip Iličić, Borja Valero, Matías Fernández, Cristian Tello and Tino Costa on the regular, which must surely count for something, but genuine glory seems to be as far away as ever. Much like Spurs, they haven’t really treated the Europa League as a priority this season, and progress in the competition will be seen as something of an irritant until they get to a position from which they can win it.
The Season Ahead
It’s all a bit of an anti-climax from here: their title challenge is dead and buried and they’re already out of the Coppa Italia, so unless they decide to go for glory in the Europa League there’s not a great deal to look forward to besides the continually watchable football. Recent arrivals Mauro Zárate and Tino Costa should add a bit more ruthlessness and steel to the side, but Zárate could equally turn out to be more interested in the nightlife and fine cuisine on offer – it would be wrong to say this is a team you can back to put together a late-season run and secure silverware.
For the last few years Fiorentina have been among the best teams in the world at dominating the ball and Paulo Sousa hasn’t changed anything in that regard. Typically, they’ve played a number of different formations this season but their Plan A is a 90s-style 3-4-2-1, with three out-and-out centre-backs, two wide midfielders playing as all-action wing-backs, two solid all-round center-mids anchoring and two number tens pulling wide off a number nine. It’s been a while since Spurs have faced this kind of challenge.
Regardless of the formation, the style will be the same: hog the ball, work it down the flanks and then back into the middle via combinations between wing-backs and number tens. In that regard, it’s not too dissimilar to the type of attack Spurs face every week in the Premier League. If anything, the relatively slow tempo and patient buildup may make it rather easier to handle than Fiorentina would like.
Fiorentina’s big strength is dominating possession: 59.8% is the highest average in Serie A, only Napoli have played more short passes this season, and no team plays more through-balls – this last stat in particular shows how varied their attack really is. In Borja Valero, Matías Vecino, Milan Badelj and the lesser spotted Matías Fernández, Fiorentina have a number of adept passers, and in Josip Iličić, a source of incredible creativity.
Obviously, this is a side with lots of individual flair and high attacking output: only four Serie A teams have successfully dribbled more and no team has scored more penalties, which shows how difficult they are to stop in one-v-one situations in the box. Only two teams have taken more shots in total and only four have had more shots on target. In short, this is a team extremely capable of dissecting opponents, as long as they’re allowed the freedom to.
At the other end, only Juventus have restricted opponents to fewer shots this season, though this is more because Fiorentina hog the ball and pin opponents back than because they’re good defensively.
Indeed, if we’re talking about obvious weaknesses that Spurs can exploit, the first place we have to look is Fiorentina’s attack-to-defence transitions. They’re glaringly vulnerable when the ball is turned over in the opposition half, with little intensity in their pressing and relatively slow centre-backs who have been vulnerable to rapid counters since forever. If (when) Spurs force a turnover and counter, it should be absolutely devastating to la Viola.
Also, for all their dominance of the ball and raw attacking output in terms of shot statistics, they’ve continually struggled to finish those chances. More than anything else, their inability to convert domination and opportunities into goals has seen them fall away and leave Juventus and Napoli in a two-horse race to win the Scudetto.
It’s also worth noting that they’re very average in the air – no Serie A team has avoided aerial duels as much as Fiorentina this season. If Spurs can exploit their vulnerability to turnovers and force lots of set piece opportunities, they should have done enough to win.
Very difficult to call, but we’ll assume they’ll give it a good go given that this is their last shot at silverware this season. Something akin to their strongest possible XI, but not actually their strongest possible XI.
Obviously it all depends on the line-ups – if both teams played their strongest XIs we’d have a hell of a game on our hands, but that seems unlikely. A contest between less-than-motivated second strings is far harder to call, but Spurs have as much quality and are stronger tactically. Unless it’s Fiorentina’s best XI against Spurs’ second XI, they should win this.