5 Things We Learned
1. Our play away from home remains a concern.
In the 2012-13 Seria A campaign, Fiorentina were 13-4-2 at home... and 8-3-8 on the road. As many wins as losses away from home will not cut it this year, not with a campaign on three fronts and the talent in this squad. My theory is that this is partially related to our brand of calcio, one that is free flowing and is more likely to groove when the team is "feeling" good. But whatever the reason, we have to get our heads straight when we travel, or the season might be very disappointing.
2. Pace and strength can give this team problems.
As much as this team deserves plaudits for its style (and I, personally, wouldn't want us to play any other way), this particular group of players does miss a little of the raw athleticism that features in even some of the most technical teams in Europe. Especially in the midfield, there is a lack of exceptional pace or size, and both Villarreal and Sporting demonstrated how this can make it difficult for Fiorentina to atone for any slack play in possession. Teams like Juve and Napoli (boasting complete athletes in the midfield like Vidal and Hamsik) can punish us if we are similarly sloppy.
3. Borja Valero playing his best looks more important than ever.
Like I mentioned earlier, rhythm is everything to this team, and while Pizarro gets a lot of deserved credit as the "metronome," in the past two games it was Borja Valero's play that most inspired the team. Flat and likely emotional against Villarreal, the 30 exceptional minutes he played in the second half against Sporting were also Fiorentina's best of the two games.
4. We are still learning how to use Mario Gomez.
So far El Torero has pleasantly surprised me with his skill on the ball in possession, work rate, and intelligent movement, but he has had very few touches inside the opposing penalty area, and even fewer good opportunities. His skewed off balance strike late against Sporting was his only true chance in the past two games; I am looking forward to seeing how we attempt to seek him out in whatever formation we favor for Grasshoppers.
5. Everything starts at the back.
Perhaps this is less of a lesson and more of a reminder. To a team that wants to play in a cultured style like Montella's side, moving the ball out of the back calmly and elegantly is the equivalent to basic footwork in tennis: if you can't get yourself in a balanced position, you'll never get anything over the net. The same was certainly true for us, at least if the "net" was the halfway line against Villarreal and Sporting. Our normally assured play from the back was horribly exposed by some really terrific high-press work, and we failed to find our play until 50 minutes into the Sporting match. Worst of all, our inability to advance the ball from the back exposed our defense to short-field counterattacks which led directly to goals. No more unforced errors please.
3 Things to Wildly Speculate About
1. Montella doesn't know his best eleven?
Leave the formation discussions alone. The influx of talent this summer has caused a different problem, and that is determining who is essential to the starting lineup in a must-win match. Rossi or Ljajic? Savic, Commper, or Hegazi? The fixed points appear to include Gomez, Borja, Gonzalo, Pasqual, and Cuadrado, but players like Ilicic, Joaquin, and Alonso might make the selections even more dicey as the season wears on.
2. Giuseppe Rossi is coming.
During the heavy speculation over Mario Gomez arriving in Florence, I made the following joke (and am still pretty proud of it obviously):
But another fuoriclasse has looked like (re)arriving in Florence, and that's our Pepito. He's been increasingly quick and sharp in the friendlies, playing with flair and confidence. A goal in our opening matches might really bring home the player we know he can be.
I have no insights towards answering the above question mark, because no one actually knows if he will be the starting keeper this season or not, or who would even replace him. During the Villarreal match, he had one fine save and one atrocious pass (although by the time he made the pass the team was already scrambling). Like I said earlier, everything starts from the back, and our goalkeeper is no exception. Which way will the front office go in the next ten days? A decision definitely has to be made very soon.