Big picture questions first. Are Fiorentina in a better or worse position to start the season compared to last year?
Lorenzo: Marginally better. I like what I have seen from the youngsters that look likely to consistently play a part (Babacar, Bernardeschi, Brillante), and I am hopeful that Basanta is as good as Vincenzo Montella and Daniele Prade say he is. Keeping most of this team together (and, one hopes, fit) will only improve the already strong team spirit.
MiQ: I believe that Fiorentina in almost a similar position with some ups and downs adding up to zero. The ups are: 1) Babacar and Bernardeschi are - from what I saw this pre-season - enough to lead the Viola attack if injuries strike again which makes me much less upset about Rossi's minor injury and then 2) The addition of Basanta is huge for our defense and when the communications gets to a certain level, things should be great back there.
The downs are: 1) If Cuadrado stays he will be demoralized starting this season not getting into a big club like Manchester United or Barcelona. Knowing his personality from the past two season he should still come around and showcase his worth probably early in the season. 2) The summer has been disappointing so far in terms of needed positions but a couple days remain and I would be very satisfied with a strong defensive mid / regista.
Uros: It's hard to say. Primarily because there are still few days until the transfer window is closed and we still can
lose Cuadrado (although probably not) sign some players. I'd say we look better than we did a year ago, even though there was probably more enthusiasm back then (because Gomez and Rossi). Compared to most of the last year, though, not just few days before the start - I think we're definitely in a better position now.
What should our biggest objective be this season?
Uros: I might be delusional, but I say our objective should be scudetto. I don't think we're the strongest team, but we are among the strongest, and with the Juve chaos and coach change we can definitely be there, provided everyone's healthy. In any case, Serie A is the thing we should concentrate on, third place at the least.
Lorenzo: The Europa League. Our style and players are both well suited to play in Europe, and we had a terrific first campaign back last season. If we can keep key pieces healthy, we should be able to make another deep run. And there is a Champions League place for the winner this season... What, I'm just saying...
MiQ: On the domestic level, Fiorentina should be aiming from the start to mount a Serie A challenge. We should set that as an objective from day 1 while having in mind that Fiorentina have the depth to win any Europa League group. Come Christmas, things could change regarding where our efforts should be focused. I mean, there are many variables here and this season a new variable comes into play: winning Europa League means Champions League qualification. For the preview purposes, I would have the same objective as last season: either Europa League or Coppa Italia trophy and/or Champions League qualification.
What grade do you give to the Fiorentina mercato?
Lorenzo: B. Buying all of Juan Cuadrado and then holding on to him has been a really nice move, but it seems to have taken our whole focus. The main problem that needed work this summer was was the oversized depth roster of under-performing players, but despite the many small deals, we haven't done enough to streamline and improve the group. This problem was evident when the team arrived at Moena with so many players that Montella couldn't even train all of them at once. And although Fiorentina have finally trimmed a bit, we haven't added as much quality as we could have hoped this summer. If we are bring in Benjamin Stambouli from Montpellier - which would be an attractive low-cost signing - that grade could go up to a "B+." To finish, I would also like to mention that I was personally disappointed with the way we handled the Romulo and Ambrosini situations, the club's actions lacked our characteristic class.
Uros: Let's say 6. Again, depends on what happens in the next few days. We didn't do that much (nor did we need that much doing, except in the defense), and we brought back Babacar and Bernardeschi who could hopefully shine this season. I'm glad we found good loan deals for Vecino, Wolski, Bakic, Rebic and to a lesser extent Piccini. I must say I was hoping he would stay, but I guess Montella believes Marcos Alonso has improved since the last season. I must say I'm skeptical about that.
MiQ: I give it a 5 out of 10. I will not blame Prade or Macia because i believe the main reason is the indecisiveness of the so called "big clubs" in pursuing Cuadrado. Fiorentina do not have the funds to risk a big transfer before selling Cuadrado, because almost everyone agrees that his price would not be this high any other transfer window.
In your opinion, who is destined to be our key player this year?
Uros: We are a team of several key players. Rossi, Gomez, Cuadrado, Borja Valero, Pizarro and Rodriguez are obviously the spine of this team, they will play whenever they are healthy. But, I'm going to be hipster for a second here, and say that this is going to be Josip Iličić's season. Maybe he will mostly be our supersub or something like that, but I have the feeling he's going to be really important and score some decisive goals this season.
Lorenzo: Mario Gomez. For two seasons the midfield has carried Fiorentina without reliable, healthy center forward play, and that's exactly what Gomez brings when he is in form. Not only does he put the ball in the net, but he also gives shape to a whole team's attack, creates space behind him, occupies the central defenders, and generally liberates our other, more creative players. El Torero has looked good in preseason even though he still isn't a 100% from a stamina/quickness perspective. If we get a season where Mario is, well, super? Look out.
MiQ: I think this is Pizarro's year. With one of Bernard, Babacar and Gomez up front; his long through balls will be killing defenses every week. Last season his performances were so horrible in the beginning after not getting any serious offers from bigger clubs - which he deserved - but this year it feels as if he has chosen to stay and get something done here. So my money is on Pizarro to have an outstanding season.
Sure, we are all fans of Vincenzo, but what adjustments or growth do you want to see from Montella this season?
Uros: I might not be the most objective person when it comes to this. I loved Aeroplanino as a player (always hoped he would come to Fiorentina), I like him even more as a coach. I think he is, to put it in the simplest of words - predestined to do great things. But of course, there was never a coach that did everything right. What we suffer from is what Italian teams in general suffer from, and that's pressing. I want to see us press like a real team from outside of Italy. We deal with pressure of other teams alright most of the time, having that many skillful players, but I want to see us being more aggressive as a team and do it consistently.
MiQ: Montella was trouble for the best Serie A teams in 2012-13. Last season, Fiorentina had a bad record against the best in Serie A but his team also showed "big team" spirit by finishing off the smaller teams. Having said that, I want Montella to put more teams in the "sure to beat" list.
Lorenzo: I want to see him be more effective with his substitutions this season. Hopefully this season we won't have to be changing our formation(s) as much as we did last year because of injuries, so we can regain a bit of rhythm and trust in a specific formation (to start the season the 4-3-1-2 looks likely). Vincenzo has also generally been very good at preparing his team for specific opponents. But Montella is still inconsistent with the effectiveness of his subs, both to control a game and to attempt to change it. Tactically flexible options like Marin, Babacar, Brillante, Bernardeschi, and Vargas should help matters, especially when you reflect that at times our only available attacking sub last season was Ryder Matos.
What is the biggest hole in the Fiorentina squad?
MiQ: The biggest hole is the "injury proneness." I am afraid Fiorentina are more exposed to this issue than any other Serie A club. In terms of positions, then that would be the defensive capability of the midfield.
Lorenzo: The defensive wings. I know, I know, I am always the first to bang my "vice-Pek" drum, but when David Pizarro is fit and in the mood, he is still one of the best holding midfielders in Italy. Right now our terzini are Nenad Tomovic, Manuel Pasqual, Juan Vargas (?), and Facundo Roncaglia, all of whom were exposed against Roma, Juventus, and Napoli last year. It worries me that we haven't brought in anyone knew in those areas while we sent Romulo and Cristiano Piccini away.
Uros: Full-backs. I hate saying it, cause I love il capitano Pasqual, and Tomovic, whose career I followed from when he was 18, but the truth is, neither one of them, nor Alonso or Roncaglia (who seems to be on his way out) are top players. I thought that needed addressing in this transfer window...
Do you have a player you think we should keep an eye on?
Lorenzo: Joshua Brillante. I have been impressed with the fearlessness and intelligence of the young Italian-Australian in the preseason matches. His ability to walk into a crowded Fiorentina training camp and make an impression against seasoned Serie A professionals would have been statement enough, but Montella has also made it clear that he will use Brillante in midfield this season since he hasn't been sent away on loan to get game time (which I fully expected immediately after the signing was announced). He could be one of the stories of the season.
Uros: I already mentioned Bernardeschi, Babacar and Ilicic. I also think Vargas could really build on the last season.
MiQ: So many to choose from. If used in the right match, the right time and the right formation and setting by Montella then any of the youngsters could have a breakout season. I think the most ready to do so is Babacar.
What fixture are you dreading? Eagerly anticipating?
MiQ: I dread the idea of another injury crisis, but I think the squad has been properly deepened not to fall victim to such an issue, although specifically I dread the idea of not have the Gomez/Rossi pairing because of injuries.
Anticipating? take your pick:
1) Writing about everything Viola through 38 Serie A matches and hopefully through Europa League and Coppa Italia up to the final.
2) Slakas and the referees
3) Waking up to 200 comments on the latest blog article.
4) The young talent more than anything, namely Babacar, Bernardeschi and Octavio
5) Epic Neto saves
6) A viola top goalscorer maybe
... and more from where that came from
Uros: Can't say I'm dreading any. For some reason, ever since I started following Fiorentina I am most scared of Lazio. I guess it's still that 8-2 loss to Zeman's Lazio 20 years ago that's bothering me. And of course, looking forward to another Rossi hattrick against Juventus!
Ok, now to get specific. What Montella fashion moment are you most excited to see make a comeback?
Lorenzo: Gimme that whimsical white and brown cow-spotted scarf baby, yeahhhhh!
MiQ: Nothing beats the rainbow scarf. It will be a winner against Roma.
Uros: Have to admit, I'm not so attentive to fashion details, but we definitely have one of the coolest coaches around. I guess I did notice how scarves look good on him, though.
*editorial note*: the blog consensus? Scarves.
Over/under: 7.5 games that Rossi misses due to injury?
Uros: I'm going with under. I think he'll miss these two or three in the beginning of the season, but then it will be ok. Yeah, I'm an optimist.
Lorenzo: Over. *cries*
MiQ: Always an optimist, so much under.
Predict the future! In January we will...
MiQ: Be second in Serie A.
Lorenzo: Be into the knock-out rounds of the Europa League, be second or third in the league, and will be faffing about in the mercato while we are once again inundated with Cuadrado rumors. Oh, and we are about to be knocked out of the Coppa Italia by Roma. Again.
Uros: ... be first in the table, four points above Napoli.
Uros: Borja Valero.
Lorenzo: Aquilani keeps letting his hair grow, I think in an effort to get himself talked about more...
MiQ: Goh.... Goh.... GohmeZ... uhm.
Lorenzo: Savic, without question. Especially as long as that cancerous caterpillar stays underneath his nose.
MiQ: None in general, but i don't really enjoy it when Montella jokes about someone in his interviews, although the journalist really deserved it when he said something about Cuadrado not being included in the squad against Real Madrid when he wouldn't be playing against Roma.
Uros: Hmm, this one really seems hard. I cannot remember any specific interview that I didn't like, but it somehow always feels reading Pizarro's are the hardest. Just seems like he's always whining about something :D
Anything else you'd like to tell us about the Fiorentina season to come?
Uros: Yes. I already mentioned it, and I realize I might be overly optimistic to the point of delusional, but I really do feel this is our season. With a little luck, and maybe one or two signings until the end of transfer window, we can really challenge for the title.
MiQ: It goes without saying, but hopes are up again and I would love to start the season with a win against early scudetto contenders Roma. Keep an eye on the young ones. Believe in Neto, rest assured with Gonzalo, Savic and Basanta. Enjoy and revel in the beauty of Valero, and Pizarro's creativity. Ready you neck for stretching when Cuadrado and Marin breakdown defenses, and train your jumping skills so you can hit the roof after every Gomez and Rossi goal. Oh, and prepare your "Thank You Montella" speech for the end of the season.
Lorenzo: The polls might get weird guys. I mean, weirder.