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Statistics and Tactics: The Forwards (2014-2015)

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We've looked over the defense and the midfield. Now, it's time to review the Viola forwards from last season (a chilling prospect) and see how everyone fits into Sousa's possible plans.

"Seriously, though, kid, I know a really good barber."
"Seriously, though, kid, I know a really good barber."
Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

I have been dreading this one, as all Fiorentina fans have dreaded pretty much anything having to do with the forwards all last season. I've broken the players into wide forwards and strikers in anticipation of the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 that Paulo Sousa is probably going to use, so players who spent time as wingbacks (mostly Joaquin and Juan Vargas) are going to end up with some stats that may not reflect their value to the new mister.

All numbers are per ninety minutes (to avoid penalizing players for substitute appearances) and come from WhoScored.com, for whom I probably ought to bake cupcakes or something. I'm not including Federico Bernardeschi in this breakdown due to small sample size. All numbers are Serie A and Europa League combined.

Wide forwards

Juan Cuadrrado Mohamed Salah Joaquin Sanchez Juan Manuel Vargas Alessandro Diamanti
Short passes attempted (accuracy) 41.7 (88%) 39.4 (87%) 41.7 (87%) 39.7 (87%) 41.5 (82%)
Long passes attempted (accuracy) 3.2 (74%) 0.3 (86%) 1.9 (61%) 2.6 (70%) 4.4 (58%)
Crosses (accuracy) 2.4 (20%) 0.7 (0%) 3.79 (22%) 5 (33%) 8.1 (18%)
Key passes 2.3 2.5 1.8 1.7 1.3
Assists 0.21 0.22 0.17 0.14 0.0
Dribbles attempted (success) 4.9 (54%) 6.9 (55%) 5.2 (62%) 1.3 (61%) 2.5 (47%)
Fouled 5 1.4 1.5 0.4 4
Offsides 0.16 0.28 0.47 0.69 0.27
Possession conceded 4.2 5.1 2.6 2.1 4.4
Shots (rate on target) 3.2 (39%) 3 (35%) 1 (17%) 2.5 (31 %) 5.6 (29%)
Goals 0.26 0.37 0.09 0.28 0.27
Tackles attempted (success rate) 1.9 (61%) 1.4 (68%) 2.2 (69%) 2.2 (93%) 3.2 (29%)
Interceptions 0.9 0.8 0.9 1.1 1.2
Fouls 1.4 0.9 0.5 1.7 1.7
Cards (yellow/red) 0.26/0.0 0.06/0.0 0.04/0.0 0.21/0.0 0.53/0.0
Joaquin should have one more season in his legs

Juan Guillermo Cuadrado was certainly Fiorentina's best player for much of last season, growing into a true match winner and one of the most dangerous players in Serie A. Capable at either wingback or as a  winger, Montella also used him as a second striker, most notably against Inter.

Cuadrado's defining feature is his dynamism with the ball at his feet. He's a neat enough passer and an acceptable crosser, but his ability to beat his man off the dribble or draw a foul is simply unreal. With his searing pace, his ability to suddenly burn past several defenders at once was a critical gear change in Montella's quick-passing tactics. Now mooted for a return to Serie A after an uneven debut season with Chelsea, he's the sort of player Sousa would have loved: fast, direct, defensively willing, and lethal on the break.

There's also this guy Mohamed Salah who played for Fiorentina for half a season. Much like Cuadrado, his defining characteristic is his dribbling. Whereas Cuadrado would almost slow down to allow a defender to catch up before beating him, Salah just burned past, leaving only diesel fumes in his wake; defenders can't even catch him often enough to boost his "fouls" stats. More of a wide forward than a winger, Salah showed little interest in crossing or defending. A Basel alum, Sousa would doubtless have loved to have his pace and finishing, in the side but meh.

Joaquin Sanchez spent a good deal of the year learning how to play wingback. The 33-year-old Spaniard took to the demanding role admirably, but remains more effective in a role farther up the pitch. Preferring to receive the ball at his feet before beating his man off the dribble with wonderful close control, Joaquin is more of an old-fashioned winger than a wide forward.

What's interesting about him (besides his Instagram) is that he doesn't cross the ball as often as you'd think, instead jinking to the byline, turning in, and then laying the ball off to a supporter; his passing numbers (minus the crossing) are basically a central midfielder's. While he doesn't provide much of a goal threat, his ability to stretch the play and keep width was crucial for a team focused on packing the middle. His work-rate and dribbling will probably see him continue as a favorite for Sousa, as he should have at least one more season in his legs before Betis, and then retirement, beckon.

Juan Vargas is just a weird player to analyze. He crosses the ball well, tackles brilliantly, shoots excellently, and passes the ball more than adequately. He's also incapable of beating his man off the dribble, fouls too often, and is guilty of lackadaisical effort on defense at times.

While the Peruvian's renaissance under Montella the past two years has been remarkable, his lack of mobility and reliance on others to get him the ball in space to shoot or cross makes him unlikely to stick under Sousa, either as a winger or a fullback, unless he rediscovers the pace of his 2008 self. Still recovering from Peru's unexpectedly deep run in the Copa America, it's unclear if or when he'll rejoin the contingent at Moena.

Alessandro Diamanti is another veteran with a murky future at Fiorentina. Brought over from Guangzhou Evergrande, the trequartista played like a man accustomed to having the license to try anything, from shooting to hammering long optimistic passes at will.

While Alino had a couple of shining moments, his overall play wasn't particularly helpful, as he lost the ball at an alarming clip, showed an inability to beat his man, and wasn't able to unlock defenses like he could in his Bologna pomp. Whether a return to China is on the cards for him, or an extension of his loan, or something else entirely, remains unknown, but it seems unlikely that he'll have much impact next season.

Strikers

Mario Gomez Khouma Babacar Josip Ilicic Alberto Gilardino
Shots (rate on target) 2.7 (33%) 3.4 (54%) 4.5 (33%) 1.8 (56%)
Shots inside the area 2.4 2.4 1.6 1.7
Shots with head/shots with feet 0.9/1.8 0.3/3.1 0.0/4.5 1.1/0.7
Goals 0.26 0.61 0.44 0.45
Passes (success rate) 18.4 (71%) 18.2 (77%) 49 (84%) 21.9 (73%)
Key passes 0.7 0.7 2.7 1.2
Assists 0.09 0.14 0.15 0.23
Dribbles attempted (success rate) 0.7 (35%) 1.8 (42%) 3 (62%) 0.9 (25%)
Fouled 0.7 1.6 1.6 2.1
Aerial challenges (success rate) 1.5 (47%) 2.8 (38%) 1.4 (28%) 4 (46%)
Possession lost 3.2 5.2 3.3 3.3
Offsides 1.6 0.9 0.4 1.8
Tackles attempted (success rate) 1.2 (64%) 1.2 (50%) 2.5 (66%) 0.45 (25%)
Fouls 1.8 3.2 2.1 1.7
Cards 0.18/0.0 0.2/0.0 0.34/0.0 0.0/0.0

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Mario Gomez was pretty disappointing this year. One goal every four games is bad. When taken in conjunction with the other statistics, it's worse. While he was good in the air, he simply wasn't very involved. He attempted few passes, rarely dribbled the ball, couldn't win fouls, and generally looked as un-dynamic as a striker can.

He did his clumsy best in defense--look at all the fouls he committed--but was simply too absent to help his team. The only positive for him is that these collected weaknesses can be partially excused by a team playing a technical, possession-based style to which he is comically unsuited. In Sousa's system, which relies more on getting the ball wide and centering it, he could rediscover his form (if he stays), but it seems unlikely that we'll ever see this guy in purple.

Baba is a big, strong, fast, and lethal striker, and Sousa must be thrilled to work with him.

Kouma Babacar could be that guy, though. Although his season was marred by injury, the 22-year-old still had a very productive season. What stands out is his goal scoring record, better than a goal every two games. He's a complete striker, too, able to shoot from distance and capable of operating in the box.

I expect some regression next year, as all but seven (!) of his shots came off his right boot, and defenses are going to figure that out. He can dribble a little bit, he wins fouls, and he's a sneaky-clever passer for a big number nine. He still gives the ball away too much, but that's probably youthful exuberance more than a lack of ability and should be worked out with more playing time. Baba is a big, strong, fast, and lethal striker, and Sousa must be thrilled to work with him. Now that he recently signed an extension with Fiorentina through 2019, the future looks bright indeed for the young man.

Things are murkier for Josip Ilicic. The mercurial Slovenian certainly hit a purple patch last season, but is still mooted for an exit to a lower-tier Serie A team. His statistics certainly bear out that he was miscast as a striker for Fiorentina, preferring to work in a more withdrawn role. His excellent passing often went begging for a finish (compare his key pass numbers to his assist numbers).

As a goalscorer, he tended to fire from distance more than outfox or outmuscle opponents in the box, and despite being 6' 2" (1.88 m for our non-imperial readers), he is entirely hopeless in the air. He makes up for this by being an excellent dribbler, though. He also accumulates cards at a rather alarming clip for a forward. If Sousa is willing to let go of a player who would fit perfectly as the playmaker in a 4-2-3-1, then perhaps a 4-3-3 is his preferred formation. And, if you leave, Godspeed, Josip. Even if we didn't like you, we'll miss those goals.

Goals have always been the name of the game for Alberto Gilardino, and this year was no different. Planning a potential move into the office next season, the Gila Monster showed he still has that unnatural ability to find the net and do almost nothing else. Seriously, look at those numbers: he scores almost every other game, but he doesn't shoot very often, he doesn't pass, he doesn't dribble, he actively refuses to defend. He's good in the air and he knows how to draw fouls, but his only real ability is putting the ball in the goal.

He's not a full-time starter at this point, and he's probably only useful against lower-level teams, but he can still score, and that's a pretty useful quality. Having a veteran poacher who's not looking to start every game could help Babacar learn some of the tricks of the trade, too. Here's to a swan song season for Gilardino: lots of goals, nothing else, an invisible violin, and a long and fruitful career as an executive.

There are, of course, a few other names associated with Fiorentina's front line. Giuseppe Rossi is training with the team at Moena and should be bagging goals for however long his glass-and-chewing-gum knees can support him. Bernardeschi is rumored to be in contention for a starting spot, following a briefly promising stint and a season-ending injury. Other youngsters, such as Ante Rebic, Nicolo Fazzi, and Simone Minelli could also fill roles. A transfer for a paccey, dynamic wide player to replace Cuadrado and Salah is probably a priority. And, somehow, Mounir El Hamdaoui is still a Fiorentina player. So we've got that going for us, which is nice.