As anyone who's watched Fiorentina for the past few years can attest, the midfield seemed to take a step back this season. Some of the old stalwarts had a negative season as age caught up to them or their form dipped. After an energetic Roma exposed the midfield's lack of depth in the season opener, Prade and company tried to assuage Montella's concerns with a couple of hasty purchases that ultimately proved insufficient to continue Fiorentina's midfield brilliance.
For the purposes of this recap, I'm ignoring Lazzari, Brillante, Vargas, and anyone else who occasionally helped out in the midfield. All statistics are per 90 minutes, so as not to unduly weight substitute appearances. I've also excluded data from the Coppa Italia, since for some reason it didn't show up. The numbers are from WhoScored, as always.
|David Pizarro||Milan Badelj|
|Short passes attempted (accuracy)||57.9(91%)||59 (88%)|
|Long passes attempted (accuracy)||16.6 (71%)||6.6 (68%)|
|Dribbles (success rate)||1.8 (83%)||1.6 (63%)|
|Shots (rate on target)||1.3 (9%)||1.2 (20%)|
|Tackles attempted (success rate)||3.5 (49%)||5 (70%)|
|Yellow cards/red cards||0.22/0.0||0.19/0.0|
David Pizarro has been the heart of the Fiorentina midfield, but age seemed to catch up with him this year. His all-round passing game remained excellent, and it was his long passing that, as usual, made him an impressive player; he led Serie A in long passes. His ability to wriggle out of trouble in deep areas is also a special quality, as evidenced by his incredible rate of dribbling success.
Where Pek has really fallen off is on the defensive side. Never known for that side of his game, his tackling was quite bad this year, his interceptions were substandard, and his low tackling rate combined with his fouls shows that he simply wasn't around the ball much on the defensive end. While his ability to move the ball quickly into a attack from a deep position seems a useful quality for a team that wants to play on the break, Sousa probably doesn't care for his defensive shortcomings. So ends a beautiful era. Adios, Pek. Te queremos mucho.
Milan Badelj, on the other hand, shines in the defensive phase. He tied for tenth in tackles and ninth in interceptions in the league - especially impressive considering that he only really began starting for Fiorentina in January - and his few cards show his affinity for intelligent positioning and technically excellent tackling. It's clear why Montella considered him a decent emergency centerback.
In attack, he was tidy rather than incisive, preferring to keep the ball on the ground, although he did show a decent long-range passing ability. His only weaknesses are a tendency to try and dribble out of trouble and, in connection to that, a higher rate of losing the ball than one would want from a functional player in his role. Overall, he appears to be an excellent example of what Sousa wants: smart and capable, both with and without the ball, despite having little "magic" in his boots. While Badelj may not get the heart racing, he should be a positive player for Fiorentina for several seasons to come.
|Matias Fernandez||Borja Valero||Alberto Aquilani||Jasmin Kurtic|
|Short passes attempted (percent success)||40.6 (90%)||52.7 (88%)||50.5 (88%)||49.9 (89%)|
|Long passes attempted (percent success)||1.5 (75%)||3.1 (80%)||6.7 (65%)||2 (58%)|
|Dribbles attempted (success rate)||2.5 (64%)||1.7 (43%)||0.7 (42%)||0.6 (58%)|
|Shots (rate on target)||1.9 (29%)||1.5 (30%)||1.9 (18%)||1.5 (21%)|
|Tackles attempted (successful)||2.6 (68%)||2.7 (48%)||3.1 (65%)||2.8 (75%)|
|Yellow cards/red cards||0.03/0.0||0.28/0.0||0.3/0.0||0.25/0.05|
After two years spent in the shadow of "The Three Tenors," Matias Fernandez finally showed why Viola fans were so excited he joined. His energy, creativity, and unexpected grittiness really held the midfield together. Despite his exceptional and incisive passing, he's not a languid playmaker, but prefers to beat his man, burst into the attacking third, and either shoot from distance or slip in a forward. While he was guilty of trying to do too much at times (losing the ball three times a game, mostly while trying to dribble, and shooting too frequently for a player who only scored twice), he was often the only spark in the center of the park.
His defensive work rate was also good, as shown by his surprisingly high tackle rate. All in all, he's the sort of player Sousa should adore: hard-working, intelligent, and deadly on the break. Now if only he can live up to the "MatiGol" monicker a bit better, he'd be well on his way to becoming a club legend.
Speaking of legends, Borja Valero is already nearing that status. With his non-stop passing and movement, he was the soul of Montella's stylish squad. Last year, though, he fell off a bit. While his passing remained as metronomic as ever, he seemed to lose his cutting edge, providing fewer key passes and many fewer assists than in the past. This could maybe be explained by his slightly deeper positioning.
Of greater concern, though, is his abysmal dribbling and tackling. While never a defensive stalwart, Borja used to be able to at least impede opponents fairly effectively, and to glide away from trouble with minimal apparent effort. His high rate of cards compared to fouls is illustrative of a player who's either unfocused or frustrated, or perhaps that his legs are going. He may have to settle for a reduced role under Sousa, although his tendency to drift to the left and overload the wide areas fits in with the coach's past schemes. While an exit is unlikely, given Valero's status as future mayor of Florence, we could be watching the beginning of the end.
Alberto Aquilani has fallen farther and faster than Borja, though. At his best, he's a clever, goal-scoring midfielder, elegant and commanding. Unfortunately, this year was far from his best. Unable to unlock defenses like in years past--see the low numbers for assists and key passes--and incapable of dribbling past opponents, Aquaman became more of an immobile passer, capable of maintaining possession in the center but not much else.
While his desire to shoot from distance remained, the ability was sadly absent, as he didn't notch a goal all season. While his defensive numbers may look decent, he did spend a fair amount of time in the holding role, which inflated the volume of his tackling and interceptions. Now linked with a move to the MLS, he could join Sebastian Giovinco as a former Serie A golden boy who was never able to translate his intermittent brilliance into sustained stardom.
Finally, we reach Jasmin Kurtic. The oddly-coiffed Slovenian announced his arrival with a splendid goal against Atalanta, but never reached those heights again. Much reviled by the fans, the numbers paint a picture of a hard-working, aggressive player. While not a creator, he did provide more assists than any Fiorentina midfielder besides Mati, because of a decent crossing ability from the right. His dribbling stats show a player who's more of a runner without the ball, backed up by his excellent tackling and defensive work.
The piles of fouls and cards show a player who's maybe a bit too enthusiastic. His other major drawback is some occasionally catastrophic passing, as evidenced by how often he lost the ball compared to how often he tried dribbling. It may be that we've been too hard on Kurtic, a limited, albeit useful, player. It equally may be that the numbers are telling bald-faced lies. Maybe it's a combination. Either way, the defense and work rate are qualities Sousa would probably like to have. The rest of it, perhaps not as much. Anyways, he's gone.
With Pizarro and Aquilani also likely departing, reinforcements must be expected. Could that means major roles for Matias Vecino (returning from a strong showing with Empoli on loan), or Amidu Salifu, coming back from Modena, or Leonardo Capezzi, Rafal Wolski, Josh Brillante, or even Marko Bakic? It could mean a transfer or two (Elnenny? Walace?). Either way, expect a major shakeup of a midfield that was, for a time, one of the best in Serie A and the soul of the team.