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The Viola Nation SEASON PREVIEW 2015-2016

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Get excited, ye blog peoples, for the new Fiorentina season approacheth. Here are the whole VN team's thoughts on the campaign to come!

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Spitting Hot Opinion Fire

What should be our primary objective this season?

Lorenzo: Fiorentina should chase after the Europa League trophy again. Serie A is fun and all, but it is too long a season for us to battle it out with the more moneyed clubs in our current circumstances. We got close to a trophy and a Champions League berth last season, and Paulo Sousa has some European pedigree. Let's go for it.

Chloe: I think that with a change of manager and a tight playing budget that the primary objective should be the fourth place finish in the league. Personally, I would happily sacrifice the cups this year for a season of consolidation.

Tito: I think the primary objective should be qualifying for Europe and making the quarter finals either in the Europa League or the Coppa. With a new manager, a new philosophy, what promises to be a changed squad, and a league full of rivals who are spending a lot of money, some regression is to be expected.

Nolan: Top 3. Unfortunately Serie A is much stronger this year, but at this point we need to end the 4th place treadmill and take a step forward. This would justify letting Vincenzo Montella go, and redeem us after the Salah You-Know-Who fiasco. We can make the CL by winning the Europa League too, but finishing top 3 would be the best way to silence the haters.

Is midfield still the Viola's strongest area?

Huw: The league looks a bit difficult and I think everyone will be going hell for leather towards the top three spots. While they’re distracted, sneaking a cup win or bettering previous Europa League positions is very possible.

What is the strongest part of this team? The weakest?

Huw: The new shirts are very nice. I think the midfield is strong, if not quite as good as last year. There’s less chance of getting bullied, but fewer creative outlets. Not 100% sold on the fullbacks, but I guess it depends on the formation.

Chloe: We look pretty good up front now, with Federico Bernadeschi in good pre-season form, the hope of a full season from Giuseppe Rossi, new signing Nikola Kalinić from Dnipro and an increasingly mature Khouma Babacar.

I’m concerned that the weakest part of the team is actually central midfield. The defensive aspect of the midfield looks OK with the pairing of Mario Suárez and Milan Badelj, but the departure of David Pizarro and even Alberto Aquilani as backup has left the squad threadbare in this position. Even though players like Matías Vecino are starting to come through, we need an established creative central midfielder in addition to Borja Valero and Matí Fernández IMO.

Lorenzo: The wings are the weakest part of this side right now. Joaquin is the only worthwhile player in the whole squad who likes to play near the touch line and can consistently beat his man. As for strengths, I know it sounds corny, but I still think the strength of this Viola generation is "the strength of the group," a phrase that the players themselves reference often even now that Montella has left. When a team has good vibes, that means good play, and that means good wins, which keeps the whole thing going.

Tito: The midfield is now a fantastic mix of guile and grit. Borja is Borja and Mati looks like the star we thought he'd be when he arrived. Suarez provides the muscle. Vecino and Badelj make for good depth and useful options off the bench to change a game. In terms of weaknesses, I would say right back, but that implies that there is a right back on the roster, which is not the case. I'll probably go with left back then, where, if we could turn Dr. Moreau loose on them, Pasqual and Alonso combined would make an excellent (single) fullback.

Nolan: Right now I'm very excited about the midfield, and would say that is still our area of strength, albeit in a very different form than last year. Borja looks revived, and Vecino has developed into a complete midfielder many were not expecting. I miss Pizarro, but Suarez is exactly the type of player we wanted. The back line on the other hand, still scares me.

What fixture are you dreading? Eagerly anticipating?

Tito: I dread every fixture, honestly. My disposition is to expect everything to go pear-shaped at any given moment. I'm pretty excited for the Empoli games, because Tuscan derbies are good derbies.

Huw: Dreading Inter. Because I’ll have spent weeks saying "no, it’s fine. There’s nothing to worry about. They have no idea what they’re doing." And then they’ll click perfectly and win four nil before losing to Carpi the week after. The first match against Milan should be decent, though.

Nolan: Same answer for both - Roma. I think you all know why.

Chloe: To be honest, I’m dreading the first game but only for the reason that I feel sick with nervous excitement every time I think about it; we’ve all waited what seems like a lifetime for the new season to start and it would be so disappointing to get off to a bad start. We will definitely need to be wiser to the talents of Milan’s new signing Carlos Bacca than we were when he played against us for Sevilla last season.

Is Borja's beard a "show beard"?

But I’m eagerly anticipating the home game against Roma at the end of October, because I have recently booked my flights to go to the game! If anyone has a message to shout towards He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, let me know in advance and I’ll gladly pass it along.

Lorenzo: I'm dreading Fiorentina hosting Roma on October 25th. Not only will that be a key time in the Sousa reign, but there will be the return of You-Know-Who. Could be a positively venomous air at the stadium that day, although I hope not. I am looking forward to facing Milan opening day. Not sure why, just have a good feeling about it, despite the presence of Bacca.

Best facial hair?

Nolan: I think the beard gives Borja new powers. He better bring it back... Sorry Rocio!

Lorenzo: I like what Mario Suarez has going on, it's a classy addition to the team facial hair. Very underrated.

Tito: Best facial hair award goes to Jose Maria Basanta. You could light a match on that stubble.

Chloe: Well that award would have gone to Borja Valero... if he hadn’t been henpecked by his wife into shaving it off that is. RIP Borja’s beard.

Huw: Obvious answer is Borja, but that’s a show beard. Bit too flashy. The real answer is Gonzalo’s secret upper lip shadow. Not instantly noticeable, but it creeps in from time to time. Makes him look like a tired 70s police sergeant days away from retirement.

If you could fight any member of the team (or staff) ... who would it be?

Chloe: Oooh no I couldn’t fight anyone, it’s really not my thing! Having said that, I wouldn’t mind dong a bit of ‘Rocky’ style training at the Franchi. Running up and down all the steps singing "Der Der Derrrrrr, Der Der Derrrrrrrr" ... wait sorry, what was the question again?

Tito: If I could fight any member of the team, I'd probably get my ass beaten. These dudes are all professional athletes, which means they are capable of physical things that I can't even really understand. If you forced me into the octagon with one of them, I think I could take Bernardeschi on the grounds that I could pick him up and throw him like a very non-aerodynamic javelin. I wouldn't want to, though. I like Berna.

Nolan: Roncaglia, so I can experience a new level of pain. I'm not exactly an experienced fighter, so I might as well take my lumps because, as they say no pain, no gain.

Lorenzo: I would probably fight Joaquin. He'd disable me quickly, probably with a deft jab or two, and I think he would be quite gentle and apologetic about it.

If Rossi is healthy, we can challenge for 3rd

Huw: Rossi. In a car park. We’ll be in a Fight Club kind of situation and it’ll turn out I’m actually a figment of his imagination. Then he’ll attempt to embark on a campaign of urban terrorism based on some half-concocted anarchist ideals. Giuseppe Rossi and Helena Bonham Carter embrace as they watch the buildings collapse. Cue Pixies soundtrack. Roll credits. Wait, what was the question again?

Predict the Future, Geniuses

Who is destined to be our key player this season?

Huw: Mati. He’s the most creative player on the team now and I think he can really come into his own. His first half performance against (an admittedly rubbish and not-really-bothered) Chelsea was fantastic.

Tito: If Giuseppe Rossi stays healthy, this team could challenge for third (although I don't think it's likely).

Chloe: For me, it will be Gonzalo Rodriguez again this year. He is a natural leader and the rock in the centre of our defence. If he can chip in with some goals (and if the game against Chelsea was anything to go by, he looks like he might) then it will be another invaluable season from Gonzalo.

Lorenzo: Giuseppe Rossi. No doubt in my mind. Gonzalo and Borja will be Gonzalo and Borja, and there will be surprises through the team, but Pepito is our 100% certified world-class player when fit, and a leader by example on the field. If he is healthy for even two-thirds of the season, he'll give us 15 goals and who knows how many assists, and those goals will make everyone's job - from Babacar to Sousa to the defense to the fans - so much easier. This is also a huge season for our Pepito since he turns 29 next February. He needs a big full season, and Lord knows he deserves it.

Nolan: Mario Suarez will make or break us this season. Sousa's system needs strong ball winners in the middle, and if Suarez can play up to his potential, and not get sent off every match, then we will hopefully avoid being immediately under threat in our own end when we lose possession, which happened often under Montella.

Who is your "player to watch"?

Lorenzo: Federico Bernardeschi. I think I have hyped him up enough by now - and will be doing some more in the SB Nation Serie A preview to come, where I name him the league's player to watch - but it's worth reiterating. Potential bandiere of his still-developing caliber don't come around very often. And (I think) I finally figured out what player he reminds me of, and who he should model his game after: Thomas Muller. He can play anywhere across the forward line and, while not exceptionally good at anything, he has an excellent eye for goal and few true weaknesses in his game. Debate me, please, but that comparison demonstrates how limitless I see this kid's potential as being.

Chloe: I am hugely looking forward to seeing some more of Gilberto this season. His youth and lack of European experience may mean that game time will be more limited but I’m hoping that Sousa will give him a chance to prove himself. Against Chelsea he looked assured and defensively strong but also showed pace and dynamism going forward. He certainly could be a hot prospect for the future.

Nolan: Josip Ilicic. At times he looks like our best player, at times he's painful to watch. Will he actually step it up this year? Right now he's showing a lot more confidence than he has in the past. Will that be enough, like it was for Ljajic?

Huw: Suarez. He looks like someone Jason Statham hits in the face halfway through a straight-to-DVD thriller, so looking for him to bring this hopped-up henchman approach to the midfield. If he can kick Mario Mandzukic, then I’ll be a happy person.

Will the Babacar-Bernardeschi bromance reach new heights this season?

Tito: I think that Matias Vecino could wind up becoming a steady performer. He's a good technical player and he brings a lot of energy. I wouldn't be surprised to see him really come on after the winter window, sort of like Milan Badelj did last year.

Off-field story that you are most excited to watch develop?

Tito: Babacar's Instagram. I'm not on Instagram, but I think Babacar should go ahead and accept his crown as the Shogun of Instagram.

Nolan: Will Sousa's collar ever go down? Will Borja be able to keep a beard once grown?

Chloe: It’s got to be the long awaited birth of mini-Gonzalo after his romance novel-esque love story with the local girl and fellow rock music lover who works in the gelateria!

Huw: I think Paulo Sousa will grow a pencil thin moustache and start wearing cravats. It will be a very exciting moment in the history of Italian football and will cause a huge amount of consternation. Future generations will see this moment as a game changer, a paradigm shift.

Lorenzo: The Babacar-Bernardeschi bromance reaching new heights. I hope they rope Mati in, now that he doesn't have Pek to keep him company.

What poll do you really want to see?

Lorenzo: Probably something really indulgent that no one will get. Like a Cymbeline-themed poll, or something.

Chloe: How about picking a name for said mini-Gonzalo? I’m sure they would gladly call their new arrival Batigol.

Tito: "Which player would you most like to treat you to dinner at a nice restaurant?"

Huw: We need to really get to the bottom of the biggest questions of our age. Which season of the Wire is the best? Season four is the correct answer, by the way.

Nolan: More than new polls, I hope we can step up our "joke" poll option game this season. Last year was solid, but we need to take it one step further!

Over / Under: 9.5 games Rossi misses due to injury this season?

Nolan: Over. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm just not yet able to have hope that Rossi can stay fit. If he can play in half the games this season, I will be very happy.

Lorenzo: Over. But I do have a feeling that he will only miss 10-15 games, which would actually be amazing. Resting him often in the fall would be smart.

Huw: Twenty euro on over. He starts the season in blistering form, picks up a few niggling injuries around Christmas, then catches a mysterious illness after eating some out-of-date cheese. He’ll be back for the last two games of the season, scoring two hat tricks and swearing off dairy forever.

Tito: Dude, that's a terrible question. It's going to be the over, and I'm going to be sad and cope with my emotions through food and end up looking like Seba Frey. This is all your fault, Lorenzo.

Chloe: Rossi should be used wisely this season to minimise the risk of his injury reoccurring. After such a long road back to recovery, who knows what the future holds for Pepito, but for his sake, I hope that he can stay clear of injury – and for that reason I’m going to go with under 9.5 games missed through injury. Forza Pepito!

Describe our best game of the season to come:

Tito: Best game of the season is going to be when Fiorentina beat Juventus 4-0 at the Franchi. Statistically speaking, it's bound to happen some time, and it may as well be this year, because that is how statistics and probability and other things work.

Huw: Beating Frosinone three nil at home. Imagine it. A routine win. The whole team plays well for the full ninety minutes. Not a foot wrong. No heart in mouth moments. Three points, a clean sheet, and everyone’s happy. Just a nice time had by all. Except Frosinone, but who cares about them?

Nolan: I really want us to continue our new tradition of humiliating Milan. Will be tough on such short notice at first, but at least we will get another crack at it.

Chloe: Let’s take the Roma game as an example. Fiorentina are playing well but the scores are locked at 1-1 in the 89th minute. Their new signings of Edin Dzeko and You-Know-Who are misfiring. Sousa decides to bring Rossi on for one last throw of the dice. He latches on to a long ball from Mario Suarez and fires from distance into the top corner to send the home fans wild! Fiorentina take all three points and the fans go home happy. That’s a realistic scenario, right?

Lorenzo: I have a funny feeling that we are going to absolutely hammer Napoli at home this season, and it will be wonderfully cathartic. They are the team I want us to beat more than anyone, more than Juventus, even. No I am not bitter at all why do you ask.

The Big Questions (That We Will Get Wrong)

Are Fiorentina better or worse than they were a year ago?

Lorenzo: Better, by a feather. This is using hindsight and seeing how disappointing Juan Cuadrado and Mario Gomez proved to be last year (I had named Gomez our "key player" in last season's preview), but I think we have made some subtle key improvements, and streamlining the squad should actually make Sousa's job easier. Of course this verdict depends on how we finish off the transfer window, and yes, we have not improved enough to have kept us in touch with the richer clubs, so it feels like we are worse in some ways. But I think we will still surprise some people this season, and we have no reason to believe we will fare significantly worse in Europe.

Sousa is the reactionary pragmatist to Montella's ideologue

Tito: I think that in terms of squad talent, Fiorentina are about the same as last year. Losing Pek hurts, even if he was sort of catastrophic for a lot of last year. Ditto for Mario Gomez. However, a full year of Rossi (please, just one full year) and B2, the addition of Mario Suarez, and (please please please) some %&^#%@ing fullbacks would turn this team into a tricky proposition for anyone. However, with the Milanese clubs both spending crazy amounts of money, another fourth-place finish is going to be much more difficult to achieve.

Huw: Better than they were a year ago, worse than they were six months ago.

Nolan: Right now, I think better. I have new doubts about this team, but last year we often seemed out of ideas. Sousa is more pragmatic, for better and for worse, and I'm hoping the team has a chip on its shoulder after this summer. Besides that, I think Kalinic is an upgrade on Gomez (as sad as that sounds), and Astori is a little more consistent than Savic.

Chloe: On paper, probably worse. There is less strength in depth than last year and don’t forget that we started last season with Cuadrado still in the squad. That could change though, with a couple more additions and there is always the chance that Sousa could do more with less.

Will Paulo Sousa be good enough? Better than Vincenzo Montella?

Huw: Sousa is the reactionary pragmatist to Montella’s ideological flight of fancy. I think games will be tighter and the team will adjust in deference to the opposition, even the weaker ones. There won’t be so many games where the opponents are just passed to death, but those prickly tight games might turn in Fiorentina’s favour now. Less imposing ourselves on other teams, but less dropping annoying points against weaker opposition.

Tito: I think that Sousa will be good enough to guide Fiorentina to Europa League qualification; he's got a good enough team. What I'm not so certain of is that Sousa will be able to bring as much flair and joy to the team. Even with the mind-blowingly frustrating losses to relegation-threatened clubs, the inability to kill off games, and the shambolic defending against opponents' counterattacks, Cousin Vinny's teams were always fun to watch and made you feel like you were somehow ahead of the curve for liking them. While Sousa may not be Mihajlovic-level negative, I think some of that joyfulness is going to get snuffed out. I hope he proves me wrong, though.

Chloe: This is a hard one. Sousa’s experience is very varied and it is hard to judge him on what he has done in the past. It has been reported that he is working on the squad’s physical strength, which could be a real asset in Serie A. Preseason has been encouraging but friendlies do not provide enough of a clue of what is to come. It was a real wrench to lose Montella at the time of his sacking, but based on what I have seen already, I think Sousa is good enough and could become better than Montella (here’s hoping)

Lorenzo: He's done very well to win the fans and team this summer, and that is actually quite an accomplishment. I think he will use the youth effectively. But these are almost totally uncharted waters for him, and I am curious to see how is tactical nous will stack up against some of the more veteran Italian coaches in the league, specifically how proactive he is in tricky away games against the likes of Sampdoria, Torino, or Palermo. Montella was untutored at Fiorentina's level, but he knew Serie A like the back of his hand. Sousa will have to learn on the go, and I think he will last the season but have several bad stretches. A good man to rebuild with.

Nolan: I can't get over the unfair bad taste in my mouth I have for Portuguese managers (who, to generalize, tend to suck all joy out of the sport), but Sousa's confidence is refreshing. While it may backfire at some point, compared to Montella, Sousa seems to believe in himself a lot more, and it seems to already be spreading to the players. I was worried he'd be too negative, but while he's a reactive manager, so far he has kept up his promise of committing with an aggressive, forward pushing attack, even if it's more based off of counters than what we had under Montella. This might be the type of balance we need.

I loved the football Montella had the team play, but in his last year he often annoyed me by showing a complete lack of ambition. If things go wrong, Sousa's confidence bordering on arrogance, and his mercenary history could backfire significantly, but I think he's a better fit right now than Montella was at the end.

Where will Fiorentina finish this season?

Chloe: I’m sticking with the habit of the last three seasons and going for 4th place. It will be tougher this year with increased spending from the Milan clubs but I think we can do it.

Huw: 4th place. The team’s good enough to rack up enough points, but not great enough to rise up above the more moneyed teams.

Nolan: 4th place. Unfortunately this is one thing I think won't change... I have a lot more confidence in this team than I did a few weeks ago, but Serie A continues to revive itself, and 4th place will still be an achievement, even if it will still hurt (no fault of our own - Fiorentina has been one of the few clubs to not let Italy's coefficient down!).

Tito: 6th place. Juventus is going to regress due to players leaving and Allegri being unable to sustain their pace, Roma's reloading and looks even more dangerous, Napoli's still good, and now Inter and Milan have brought in a lot of talented players. I think that one of those teams (Napoli, for my money) will underachieve tremendously, but too much has to go perfectly for Fiorentina to finish much higher than sixth, in my opinion. Once again, I really hope that I'm wrong.

Lorenzo: Roma, Juventus, Inter, Milan, Lazio, and Napoli. We have to outperform 3 of those clubs to get 4th and 4 of them to get 3rd. I think we are finishing in 5th place, ahead of Lazio and Napoli. But let's hope the Milan clubs have one more train wreck of a season in them.