Some of yall may remember that I used to crunch a bunch of numbers after every Fiorentina match and then attempt some analysis on them. I got out of the habit over the past year or two because there was too much other stuff on the site to take care of, but now that we’re fully staffed again, I’m going to pick it back up, albeit a little bit differently. Instead of analyzing every number I can get my hands on, I’m going to highlight a few telling statistics that best explain the match. I’ll be using data from WhoScored.com.
Inter start fast, but Fiorentina grow into the match
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Inter Milan passed the ball much better in the early stages, but the numbers provide a pretty good picture of that dominance. Inter played a total of 227 passes in the first half hour, compared to 166 for Fiorentina. The Nerazzuri also played the ball forward 135 times and played 53 passes in the final third, compared to 80 and 37 for the Viola.
The rest of the way, though, the guests out-passed the hosts 402 to 357. Of those passes, Fiorentina played 250 forward and 144 in the attacking third, compared to 228 and 97 for Inter.
So what’s it mean? Well, Inter’s passing didn’t really change that much throughout the match between the opening 30 minutes and the final 60. The rate at which they passed the ball generally, and also moved it forward and in the attacking third, stayed pretty constant. That indicates that they didn’t really ease off, but continued trying to attack. It also indicates that, even as Fiorentina improved, the midfield remained incapable of slowing down its opposite numbers. Then again, considering that Inter played a higher rate of forward passes and not nearly as many in the final third, that indicates that the Viola figured out, at least partially, how to prevent their opponents from getting into the danger areas quite as much.
For Fiorentina, though, it’s much more interesting. They played nearly 50% more forward passes after the half hour mark, and nearly doubled the rate at which they passed the ball in the final third. This indicates that the team worked out how to move the ball out from defense and all the way forward as the match wore on. However, the high number of passes in the final third seems to indicate that Inter were willing to let their guests maintain possession near the goal, sitting back as the Gigliati midfield shuffled the ball around the area without really doing much else.
Viola overrun in the wide areas
If you look at the defensive actions for the Fiorentina wide men (Valentin Eysseric and Gil Dias), what jumps out is how diligently the wingers tracked back. Eysseric made 3 tackles and an interception fairly deep on the left wing, while Dias made 3 and 1 on the right; their heat maps also attest to their workrate. When your wingers are that willing to help defend, your fullbacks can pinch in and help squeeze opposing attacks.
The problem was that the fullbacks didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Nenad Tomović had the man on the back post for both goals, but didn’t mark well enough to prevent the cross from reaching its target. On the final goal, you can see Gil Dias in the box and ready to mark Ivan Perišić should the Croat have cut back towards the ball; when he sees that Tommy let Perišić drift onto the back post, he’s visibly infuriated, and justifiably so: dropping all the way back like that, then sprinting forward to join the attack, is exhausting enough without such demoralizing mistakes.
The knock-on effect of dropping the wide players back so far, of course, is that the defense often lacks an out ball. With Marco Benassi unable to influence the match from an unfamiliar trequartista role, Giovanni Simeone and Khouma Babacar spent more time trying to track down their teammates’ clearances than actually receiving passes to feet, head, or in space. With the defense so woeful even with the wingers dropped deep, Stefano Pioli will have to wonder if it’s worth leaving his wide men further forward to jump start the attack if the flanks are going to be overrun no matter what.
As Kyle reminded us, Fiorentina are going to get a lot better in the coming weeks. After all, this XI probably hadn’t ever played together before Sunday. Once they’ve worked out each other’s tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses, they should be much better moving the ball around and creating chances. The fact that they were this good in their first match together should inspire a lot of confidence for, say, the second half of this season. Let’s also remember that Pioli was down two-thirds of his attacking three, what with Federico Chiesa suspended and both Riccardo Saponara and Matías Fernández injured. It’s going to get better, yall. Can’t read too much into this one.