We’ve come to think of Fiorentina as a very skilled team that can rely on some ultra-talented player to produce some individual magic, usually via beating a couple of dudes en route to a goal, when things aren’t clicking for the team as a whole. With players like Juan Cuadrado, Mohamed Salah, Joaquín, Federico Bernardeschi, and (yes) Josip Iličić, this has been a pretty good bet in years past. This year, we all expected more of the same from Federico Chiesa, Valentin Eysseric, and Gil Dias.
It’s been rather different thus far, though. While trying to dig out of a large early deficit against Inter Milan, the team completed 18-of-19 dribbles as the Nerazzuri defense sagged back. In a competitive match against Sampdoria, though, they completed just 7-of-11. Against Hellas Verona, that number was just 4-of-7. From this admittedly limited sample size, it seems that this edition Fiorentina tends to do better when not dribbling as much.
Whether that’s causation or correlation is tough to say due to several factors, the most obvious of which is limited sample size. Too, it could well be that a team that’s way behind will take more chances in one-on-one situations to try and do something to pull even again. Finally, if a team wins the ball high up the pitch, attackers won’t need to beat anyone off the dribble and can instead focus on either a simple pass or a quick shot.
Still, this is going to be something to watch very carefully going forward. After the Vincenzo Montella and Paulo Sousa regimes emphasized beating a man and going forward, it seems that Stefano Pioli is trying to get his players to win the ball in promising places or make the sort of quick, incisive passes that make beating an opponent superfluous. That could be one of the biggest changes we see in this Fiorentina.
Long shots versus short shots
Fiorentina took 20 shots against Hellas Verona. 10 were from inside the area and 10 were from outside the area. The 20 shots is a good number, and the ratio is also about right. Ideally, a team should shoot from inside the area as often as possible, as those shots are far more likely to go in (Kuper and Szymanksi 2009, page 162).
If you refuse to shoot from distance, the opposing defense can collapse into the box and make it impossible to play through them. Conversely, most defenses are happy to allow opponents to shoot from distance, as those shots are unlikely to go in—for all of Fiorentina’s success in attack, only one shot from distance went in, and that was a free kick.
There are, of course, various other factors that effect quality of shot besides distance. Situation is probably the biggest one, and the Viola opted for a bunch of long shots on the break, rather than trying to beat a man and lessen the distance to goal or find a better-placed teammate. Giovanni Simeone, Marco Benassi, and Federico Chiesa were all guilty of this sin. Against a better opponent than Hellas, such eagerness to shoot immediately and forgo the chance to manufacture a better opportunity could be a real problem.
What the heck is up with Benassi?
There probably hasn’t been a more confounding player for the Viola this year than Marco Benassi. The €10 million man hasn’t looked comfortable in the attacking band yet and has received a lot of criticism from the fans. It’s not too hard to see why if you look at the numbers: 3 losses of possession, 2 very bad shots, 0 through balls, 1 gain of possession, and 9 missed passes is a pretty meager return for a number 10. Then again, he did set up 2 goals, so he’s doing something right.
It’s hard to figure out what Pioli is trying to do by sticking Benassi, who’s obviously more comfortable in a deeper role, in the hole. In fairness, Marco’s been quite good at pressuring opponents high up the pitch, always picking the right moment to step forward and force a wayward touch or nervous pass.
It could be that Jordan Veretout and Milan Badelj have formed such a natural partnership in the middle that Pioli is loath to break them up, and is shoehorning the midfielder into the lineup until a better option arises—perhaps the sale of Badelj in January, which will allow Benassi to drop further back. Of course, the impending return of Riccardo Saponara and Valentin Eysseric from injury will complicate matters. Still and all, though, it seems like a waste to have the likes of Ianis Hagi, Rafik Zekhnini, and Simone Lo Faso languishing on the bench.