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10 things we learned from the first half of the season

Here is a completely incomplete list of stuff from 2016.

ACF Fiorentina v SSC Napoli - Serie A
Yes, Mauro, 10 is the number of things we learned.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Now that 50% of the 2016-2017 season is in the books, we’ve got ample time to look back on what we’ve learned about this year’s edition of Fiorentina. Some of it is good. Some of it is bad. Some of it is, well, ugly.

  1. 3-4-2-1 doesn’t work nearly as well as 4-2-3-1. The unusual formation that Paulo Sousa deployed last season to devastating effect has officially been figured out. While it’s working wonders in less tactically-astute leagues (Jurgen Klopp has Liverpool humming right along), it’s no surprise that Serie A tacticians figured out the weaknesses after a full offseason to study it. The switch to a 4-2-3-1 galvanized the team, but now the team may be sinking back into a rut of predictability. Still, the additional man at the back and the higher starting position of the wingers makes the new shape vastly superior, given Fiorentina’s current personnel.
  2. Federico Bernardeschi is the goddamn truth. Seriously, Berna looks like he’s the next bona fide attacking superstar to blossom in Florence, following in the footsteps of Adrian Mutu, Stevan Jovetic, Adem Ljajic, and Juan Cuadrado. He still tries to do too much sometimes and loses the ball more than you’d like, but he’s looked wise beyond his 22 years. His vision, shooting touch, appreciation of space, workrate, and ability to simply blow past opponents with pace or technique make him one of the 2 or 3 most exciting young players in Italy, and he surely deserves a place in the team of the year, as he’s frequently carried the Viola to points single-handedly.
  3. It’s probably time to part ways with Paulo Sousa. Look, the Portuguese mister did a pretty good job in transitioning the club away from Vincenzo Montella. He scored some great results and dragged a team to 5th place in the league last year over several more talented sides. But he’s almost certainly hit his ceiling in Florence. His tendency to freeze out good players who’ve scored hugely important goals (Khouma Babacar, Mauro Zarate), play down to opposition, and give the occasional counterproductive media comments have probably numbered his days, no matter what he and Corvino say. A parting of ways over this break or after the season would probably do both parties a world of good.
  4. The club doesn’t seem to know where it’s going. The Della Valles have been good owners for the past 14 years, but they’ve never seemed as directionless as they do now. The rehiring of Pantaleo Corvino briefly seemed inspirational, but he’s yet to recapture his old magic. Watching Manuel Pasqual get forced out over the summer hurt, and it seems like the same thing may be happening to Gonzalo Rodriguez, his successor as captain. The founding of Fiorentina Women’s has been wonderful and is a very intelligent move in the long run, but it’s hard to see which way forward the men’s side wants to go: either rebuilding for a year or two around Berna, or trying to compete with the group they have now. Hopefully, they’ll turn it all around shortly.
  5. Borja Valero is still the heart of the team. While he was fine as a playmaker in the 3-4-2-1, it’s obvious that Borja’s greatest talent is for advancing the ball from the middle third into the attacking third as quickly as possible. His scalpel-like precision in splitting open an opposing midfield and releasing the Viola attack is what makes the team tick, and his absence has been palpable as the team struggles at attacking transitions without him.
  6. So, uh, how about that Federico Chiesa? The 19-year-old (who, as you’ve maybe heard mentioned, is the son of Viola legend Enrico Chiesa) has suddenly rocketed into Serie A’s consciousness with a string of dazzling displays over the past month. His pace, dribbling technique, and confidence belie his tender years, and he’s pushed the better-established but maddeningly inconsistent Cristian Tello to the fringes. While he’s certainly got some rough edges that need smoothing out, particularly with his decision-making in the final third, he’s showing every symptom of a future star.
  7. The kids are alright. Chiesa isn’t the only teenager tearing it up. Ianis Hagi has been lights out for the Primavera, and we should be seeing him take a bow with the senior side soon enough. Kevin Diks has been just as good for the youngsters and probably deserves more time at the top as well. And there’s a host of dudes on loan who’ve been pretty darn good. The Primavera side has a bunch of other kids who could really work out. Even if the DVs decide to blow everything up, there’s a strong crop of talent working its way through the Viola system.
  8. Fiorentina is winning the league. We don’t talk about them as much because, frankly, covering one team is hard enough, but Fiorentina Women’s are tearing Serie A Femminile apart. They’ve won all 8 of their matches and sit at the top of the league with 24 points, 3 ahead of 2nd-placed Brescia. And that caution and negativity we talk about with the men’s side? Yeah, none of that going on across the aisle: with 34 goals scored and 3 conceded, the Viola are far and away the best outfit on the peninsula. Champions League, here we come!
  9. There is one adequate fullback on the roster. Maxi Olivera, take a bow. You’ve been just fine. But Hrvoje Milic has been utterly disastrous, while neither Nenad Tomovic nor Carlos Salcedo have looked even close to adequate on the right and Kevin Diks can’t even break in yet and is likely to leave on loan in January. You’d have to go back to the days of Lorenzo de Silvestri to find a solid rightback on this roster. The rumors about Pescara star Francesco Zampano are promising, but we’ve been burned too many times on this front for me to believe it until he’s actually on the pitch and wearing purple when the whistle goes.
  10. We still have no idea what we’re talking about most of the time. Okay, that’s mostly me. Remember, I’m the moron who thought that Cristian Tello was going to be one of the most important players on the team this year and that Hrvoje Milic would be a good and steady contributor. Turns out that I’m clueless. Hope everyone’s reassured now.

So, now that we’ve cleared that up, happy holidays, everyone.