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Statistics and Tactics: The Defense (2014-2015)

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As Sousa and his staff seem to be firmly in the analytics camp, let's take a look at the numbers that Fiorentina's defenders produced last season, with an eye to seeing how (or if) they'll fit into the new mister's system.

Fiorentina's defense: This may be a bad idea
Fiorentina's defense: This may be a bad idea
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

New manager. New kits. New rumors. It's hard not to look ahead to next season thrown by the coming unknowns. But, as Santayana said, those who don't study history are doomed to rely on the likes of Houssine Kharja. In the interest of oh dear god never again, let's take a look at the numbers for Fiorentina's squad last season and glean what we can. For the record, this is only looking at the numbers, not actual on-field performance. I'm sticking to the assumption that Paulo Sousa is going to use a 4-3-3, because otherwise this is way too complicated. As usual, all statistics come courtesy of WhoScored.com.

Goalkeeper

As you may have heard, Fiorentina's number one is on his way out, leaving veteran Ciprian Tatarusanu between the sticks. Although he dealt with a late injury that eventually kept him on the bench through the end of the season, the Romanian international had a decent debut season. Most interesting to me is that he seemed comfortable with the ball, averaging 12 short passes per game (good for third in the league), although he completed just 4.8 of his 12.5 long passes per game.

The other telling stat was his interventions outside the box, which checked in at 1.3 per game (good for twelfth in the league). If Sousa opts for a high line and high pressure on his opponents, a sweeper-keeper will be useful; Tatarusanu is only middle of the pack in this. However, his skill in keeping the ball is very useful for a team that wants to build from the back, although this doesn't seem like a Sousa priority. His long-passing woes are possibly explained by the lack of a good target up top, so I'm willing to ignore them for now.

Centerback

Four of Fiorentina's nine highest-rated players this season were centerbacks: Gonzalo Rodriguez, Stefan Savic, Nenad Tomovic (only counting his appearances as a centerback), and Jose Basanta.

Gonzalo Rodriguez Stevan Savic Jose Basanta Nenad Tomovic
Tackles 2.1 1.5 2 1
Missed tackles 0.8 0.8 0.5 0.6
Interceptions 2.6 2.2 2.2 2.4
Blocks 0.8 0.6 0.6 0.5
Clearances 5.7 5.7 4.2 5.1
Aerials won 2.4 2.8 1.7 2.5
Aerial success 66% 65% 66% 61%
Fouls 1 1.1 1.2 1.1
Cards 12/1 9/1 6/1 1/0

The high number of statistically-observed actions performed by Gonzalo show that he's a non-stop defender. He's equally adept at stepping in front of passes and dispossessing his opponent, and he's also reliable in the air. Factor in his leadership, his organization of the defense, his scoring record, and his accurate long passing, and it's clear that he will prosper in any defensive scheme. His only weakness is a propensity for cards.

Savic, in contrast, seems happier to sweep up behind his more aggressive colleague, as shown by his lower tackling numbers. With his aerial ability, he profiles as a good penalty box defender, although he's also useful hanging back to snuff out any danger that gets by a more pugnacious partner. Like Gonzalo, he's probably a good fit for any system.

Jose Basanta seems to be more of a pure penalty box centerback. The lower number of actions he performs indicate a player who, like Savic, would rather sweep up behind the defense. However, his outstanding tackling success shows that he knows when to challenge an opponent. Strangely enough, he doesn't win many aerial battles, although his success rate is high. Possibly, opponents intentionally keep the ball on the ground against him. All in all, the stats paint a picture of a centerback who's more comfortable defending deep.

Rightback was a total black hole.

Finally, there's Nenad Tomovic. While his struggles at rightback are well-documented, the Serbian is actually a useful centerback. He's a very modern defender in that he prefers to win the ball by stepping in front of his opponent; his tackling, unfortunately, is pretty bad. While he wins a number of aerial duels, his success rate is low, which indicates that he's targeted in the air by opponents. He seems best suited to play a high line, due to his ability to snuff out attacks before they begin; his poor play in the air and his frequent missed tackles make him a bad fit for a team that wants to park the bus.

Rightback

With Micah Richards returning to England, the aforementioned and beleaguered Tomovic is the only returning rightback. Of course, he's more of a central defender, so his performance out wide isn't an entirely accurate reflection of his ability. Also, while I wanted to find data for Piccini, I couldn't find any accurate statistics for him with Real Betis since they were in the Spanish second division, so it's the Tomovic Show for now.

Nenad Tomovic
Tackles 1.5
Missed tackles 0.9
Interceptions 2.1
Pass completion 85%
Crosses 0.5
Cross success blech
Goals 1
Assists 2
Fouls 1.1
Cards 4/0

Turns out he's not a very good rightback. Shocking.

Leftback

While not quite the black hole the rightback spot is/was, Fiorentina's leftbacks were, at best, uneven. The numbers here could be skewed by the fact that both Marcos Alonso and Manuel Pasqual were frequently deployed as wingbacks, not fullbacks.

Marcos Alonso Manuel Pasqual
Tackles 2.3 1.3
Tackles missed 0.3 0.3
Interceptions 2.1 1
Pass completion 79% 83%
Crosses 0.5 1.4
Cross success 0.1 0.6
Goals 2 3
Assists 3 3
Fouls 1.3 0.9
Cards 8/0 2/0

Marcos Alonso had an excellent season, defensively. He won the ball regularly, although his aggression did lead to a number of fouls. Going forward, however, he was rather abysmal, mostly due to his atrocious crossing. His rocket left boot and handiness in set-pieces mean Sousa could keep him as a role player and spot starter, but may want an upgrade.

Club captain Pasqual was the opposite of his counterpart: he rarely contributed much to the defense, although his crossing remained threatening, if not always accurate. As the club captain, it's unlikely he'll be handed his marching orders, but I doubt Sousa will trust him against anyone much more threatening than the Europa group stage teams.

Stay tuned next week for a similar look at the Fiorentina midfield!