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Viola Nation writers preview the 2018-2019 season

We are “experts.”

This is where we meet to discuss the season preview.
Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Ah, late August. The time of year when the Northern Hemisphere is sick of the heat, the Southern Hemisphere is sick of hearing that the Northern Hemisphere is sick of the heat, and, more importantly, football begins again. The resumption of calcio, of course, means that we dunderheads experts at Viola Nation are going to make some predictions, which, as you can see, are always completely correct. Without further ado, have a look at what we think.

1. What grade would you give the mercato this summer? Who’s the best signing? The worst? The least expected? Which loss hurts the most?

Kyle: I never like to give the Della Valles or Pantaleo Corvino much credit, but this has been the best summer they have had in awhile. Let’s say they get an 8 out of 10. There were a solid amount of really quality signings. Personally, I like the Alban Lafont transfer. That is actually a really difficult thing for me to say because I think Bartłomiej Drągowski should have had a bigger role last season and is the keeper of the future. The thing is, Lafont is very exciting and honestly has the chops to be a stud keeper for years to come. As a former keeper myself, they are the backbone of the defense and important to the team.

The worst signing is maybe the Gerson loan, honestly I cannot complain about any specific signing but Gerson has not had too much success in the past as an attacking midfielder. It is possible that he is just still young and finding his form which I truly believe, but I cannot complain about the other signing.

The least expected was probably Kevin Mirallas or Marko Pjaca; the reason for that is I feel like Fiorentina never gets big names like that. As a closeted Everton fan (all thanks to my fandom of Tim Howard), I think Mirallas is an exciting addition to the team because of his pedigree and success as a first team player. It was surprising to see that signing, but also exciting.

The loss that hurts the most is Milan Badelj, I never thought that I would say that because Badelj infuriated me as a player for Fiorentina. He was a professional and a steady presence as a holding midfielder that needs to be replaced.

Trayers: B+. All in all I think the mercato went very well. There may not have been any huge signings, but I think the club took a big step towards defining their identity this Summer, and it’s good to see the board refusing to cash in on their better players – even if it’s likely they’re just waiting for a bigger payday next season. The lack of a proven midfielder is the biggest negative of the window, but I’m hopeful that either Norgaard or Edimilson can step up.

I think the best signing of the Summer will probably be Alban Lafont. He might not be a huge upgrade over Sportiello immediately, but in a few years there’s every chance he’ll be one of the best players at the club, which makes him a steal at €8,000,000.

There haven’t been any especially bad signings this window, Gerson on loan and Mirallas are probably neck and neck for the worst but neither are deals that I feel especially strongly about.

Even with a year’s build up losing Badelj hurts. There aren’t many players in Serie A who can do what he does better, and his ability to take control of a game is something we’ll miss this year.

Alex: I’d give a grade B for this window I think that we’ve brought in some very good young talent which will improve the side. However, I believe keeping the likes of Chiesa, Simeone and Veretout will turn out to be the best business. They’re all another year older and with that comes experience. The best bit of business this Mercato was making the loan move of German Pezzella permanent. His ability to read the game and lead the defence are qualities that the Viola defence needed and making sure no one else snapped him up was essential. Beyond that, I’m excited to see how the likes of Kevin Mirallas and Marko Pjaca perform in their debut seasons in Viola. I think the least expected was Mirallas, it’s either going to be an incredible year for the Belgian or he’s going to flop massively. I don’t think there will be an in-between, I’m hoping it’s going to be the former and we’ll be talking about what an inspired signing he was come next May. Personally, the loss of Saponara hurt the most, he was a fantastic player at times but combining his injuries and varied form it probably was time for him to depart. With so many midfielders in the squad, he was never really going to fit in the side either.

Tito: I think this mercato deserves a solid B+, less for the players who joined, but rather for the ones who didn’t leave. Losing Milan Badelj for nothing stings, but we had plenty of time to prepare, and the press seems to think that Corvino turned down mega-offers for Federico Chiesa, Giovanni Simeone, and Jordan Veretout, which is a pleasant reversal after the past few years.

The best signing has to be Lafont. Dude is very good and very young and will either stay in Florence for 15 years or go to an English team for the GDP of, like, Poland or something. I actually don’t see any signings I full-on dislike, so I guess Edimilson Fernandes, since he seems awfully superfluous with Gerson, Veretout, and Marco Benassi around. Most underrated is Tòfol Montiel, who looks like the truth and, assuming that he’s force-fed pasta with the Primavera and puts on some muscle, could have a Chiesa-level impact next year. Edi Fernandes surprised me since there’s so much depth in his spot, so I’ll say Kevin Mirallas, about whom I heard nothing Viola-related until, like, the day of the transfer. Losing Badelj, as I said earlier, is definitely the biggest loss, as there’s no one with his composure in the midfield.

2. What are you expecting in Year 2 under Stefano Pioli? What’s going to improve, and what would you like to see improve that could remain a problem?

Kyle: With the talent that the team has added, I am expecting Pioli to step up. If the team does not finish in a Europa league position by the end of the season, it will definitely be a failure and Pioli may be looking for a new job. I think that the scoring will improve. One of the issues that the team was having was picking up timely goals. Although they did not add a big name striker, Fiorentina brought in some attack power that should have no issues with scoring goals. Look for Chiesa and Simeone to take the next step too. I’d like to see the defensive midfield improve, but not many improvements have joined the team. Bryan Dabo and Marco Benassi will have to step up with the departures of Carlos Sanchez and Milan Badelj.

Trayers: Given that Pioli’s now had three transfer windows to mould the club to his vision, I expect we’ll see a more specialised Fiorentina team that focuses on attacking teams down the flanks. The Chiesa-Simeone-Pjaca trident seems to me like Pioli’s trying to emulate the style his Lazio team had with Candreva, Klose, and Felipe Anderson. I don’t think Fiorentina’s front three is quite as good as the attack Pioli had at Lazio, but as all three of them are aged under 23, so there’s plenty of room for them to grow.

I think the squad’s biggest weakness last season was their consistency, which is worrying because that’s a much harder issue to address than most. An inability to bring the highest level of play they were capable of week in week out last year cost the club European football, and I don’t think it’s likely to be any better this season.

Alex: I think this year the level in Serie A has stepped up and Pioli needs to make sure his team aren’t cast aside. Saying this I do believe his young team will improve upon last season, Corvino has added some young talent to the squad and given Pioli the tools to succeed. I still don’t think the team has enough depth in certain areas. If Simeone goes down injured who is going step up? There’s no recognisable striker waiting in the wings. However, what has improved is the attacking players on the flanks. With Pjaca and Mirallas now there along with Chiesa, it’s going to be fantastic to see some pace and hopefully goals. Lots more goals.

Tito: I think that we’re going to see a rough start again this year due to the high turnover in midfield and attack, but once that’s all sorted in a month or so, Fiorentina might wind up being a pretty good squad. The pace in attack plays into the mister’s plans for a direct team that focuses on transitions, unlike last year when we got to see Cyril Théréau’s “sprints” forward. The midfield is a physical bunch with no shortage of grinta, and the defense has both talent and continuity, as well as some decent depth this year.

The problem I see is that Fiorentina is going to struggle when teams deny Chiesa, Pjaca, Cholito, and Mirallas space in behind. There isn’t really anyone in the midfield who can put a foot on the ball and control play; they’re all industrious motoring forward but don’t have the vision to unlock a low block. Against, say, Chievo Verona, that’s going to be a significant obstacle, since a veteran team will know exactly how to frustrate this side. I guess what I’m saying is that Stefano Pioli seems to lack a plan B, and that is my biggest fear.

3. Who’s going to be Fiorentina’s best player this year? Who’ll be the most improved from last year? Who’s going to flop?

Kyle: I think the best player will be someone that will probably go fairly unnoticed by the common fan and that is German Pezzella. This is one of the most underrated moves of the summer. Pezzella was one of the steadiest players on la viola last season. He stepped up when Davide Astori passed away and was the anchor of a pretty solid defense. Pezzella is the captain this season and the team should expect the same consistency he provided last year. The most improved player will be Federico Chiesa. He honestly did not have the best season last year and will improve this season. The young Italian has too much talent to not improve. Hopefully, he sticks around for the long haul and becomes the player that brings Fiorentina back into the Champions League. As far as the flops, the biggest flop will be Cyril Thereau, it annoys me that he is still on the team and that I may have to watch him step foot on the pitch this season. He is a flop because he just is not that good of a player anymore. As far as players that will flop because they have high expectations, Cristiano Biraghi will flop. He came on at the end of the season, but Biraghi was a mess in the beginning. Maybe his form during my first impression is influencing this and I like to think he just wasn’t actually a good player, but I can see him flopping. This season will really determine which Biraghi is the right one.

Trayers: Fiorentina’s best player will be Federico Chiesa. Chiesa was the club’s second-best player in my opinion last year, behind Badelj, and having Pjaca on the opposite wing stretching opponents will give him the room to excel. In all likelihood, this will be the last season Chiesa spends in Florence, and I expect he’ll leave on a high.

The most improved player ostensibly will be Cristiano Biraghi, but it will have little to do with him. Having Pjaca ahead of him instead of Thereau or Eysseric is going to give him more room to overlap and play the ball into the box, and also discourage the opposition from attacking in twos down Biraghi’s flank and being exposed on the counter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Biraghi called up to the Italy squad this season.

Given that he was sent home early from a loan spell with Olympiacos, I don’t think Mirallas has a lot left in the tank. Still he’s a solid enough rotation player.

Alex: I’m going to go with Bryan Dabo as player of the year. It’s a bold choice but with Milan Badelj gone, he will surely play more minutes and I’m backing him to thrive. With most improved, I’ll say, Vitor Hugo; while it wasn’t a poor season for the Brazilian I still think he has work to do to establish himself in the side as a regular. I’ve got a feeling that Gerson will flop. I hope I’m wrong, but I just don’t see where he fits into the side.

Tito: Chiesa is quickly becoming one of the best players in Italy and certainly looks the most talented member of the squad. The arrival of some other attacking options in Marko Pjaca and Kevin Mirallas should take some of the heat off him, and that’s only going to make him better. Somebody’s going to offer eleventy-gajillion euros for him next summer, and they’ll still be getting a bargain if Corvino decides to sell.

I think the most improved will be Giovanni Simeone. He got himself some goals last year but left even more begging. The addition of better attacking options to spread the pitch will help him as well, as it’ll open up opponents’ backlines a bit and let him charge into the channels as he loves. Honorable mention to Vitor Hugo, who endured a rocky start to last year but now enters this season as an established starter who has a good understanding with his centerback partner Germán Pezzella.

As I’ve mentioned, the midfield is my biggest concern. Hopefully some competition for places lights a fire under Marco Benassi and he becomes the player we saw that one year at Torino. Hopefully Gerson sheds the bust label he got after just one year at Roma (those fans are a little bit nuts to go after a 21-year-old for not being a star immediately). Hopefully Edi Fernandes trains hard and focuses on his job, as fans at West Ham rightly accuse him of not doing last year, and fulfills his potential. Hopefully Christian Nørgaard can get up to speed quickly in what is, with all due respect, a huge step up from the Danish Superleague, despite the uneasiness he displayed in the preseason. But I can see none of those things happening, which would hamstring the midfield in a major way.

4. What area of the pitch is strongest for Fiorentina right now? Which are you most worried about?

Kyle: The Attack is probably the strongest right now. Pjaca, Mirallis, Chiesa, Simeone and Veretout will surely put the plays together to excel on offense. There are a lot of bigger names this season than there were last season. Names are not always the end all be all, but most of these guys are young playmakers that can score with ease. I am most worried about the midfield. They did not improve the central midfield too much and as most football fans know success in the offense and defense comes from the middle of the pitch. I am worried but optimistic from the guys they kept from last year like Dabo and Benassi. Some of the new acquisitions may end up being great in the midfield as well, but they are unproven.

Trayers: The strongest part of the team is the attack. Assuming that Pjaca delivers I think we’ll be a very difficult team to keep from scoring and likely the most entertaining we’ve been since Montella left. The defence on their day are also very good, and if they can cut out the 3/4 awful performances that lead to 4-1 losses to Hellas then I think all four of the starting defenders will be in high demand next year.

The midfield I feel is somewhat lacklustre when compared to the teams around us. Veretout is a good, but not great player, and Dabo is a very useful player, but there’s no one in the middle of the park whom opponents need to worry about picking them apart. As a player who likes to move the ball out wide and drift into space, Benassi should be at his best in Pioli’s 4-3-3, but I’m not convinced he’s good enough. Missing out on Pasalic this Summer, especially to a team we’re in direct competition with for European football, looks a real shame as I think he’d have excelled as the third man in midfield.

Alex: I think the midfield is the strongest, as it’s absolutely stacked. Marco Benassi, Jordan Veretout, Dabo, Edimilson Fernandes and Gerson all will be fighting for similar positions. Pioli really has a big task on his hands trying to keep them all happy. As I mentioned apart from Simeone, strikers really do worry me, just got a bad feeling that he’ll get injured and Cyril Thereau might come back into the fray. Now, that’s the stuff of nightmares.

Tito: I like the back line a lot. Pezzella, Vitor Hugo, Nikola Milenković, and Cristiano Biraghi are low-key one of the better defenses in the league and have a year of working together under their belts. Kevin Diks and Federico Ceccherini provide better depth options than we saw last year, and David Hancko could wind up being a pleasant surprise as well. Throw in young gun Alban Lafont and you have a hell of a defensive unit.

As I’ve said before, I think that the midfield has too many players who do the same thing and not enough who can control a game with passing. Between losing Badelj and Pioli moving Veretout to the holding role, the trio will be undergoing a significant shakeup from last year. Lack of continuity + overlapping roles + no one to run things = Siniša Mihajlović’s Fiorentina.

5. Looking at the rest of the league, which teams got better? Which got worse? Which are going to surprise people?

Kyle: The pain of this answer hurts to write but Juventus got better...When they add one of the top two players in the world they have to get better. It is extremely annoying to see and it is more annoying as someone that lives in America because literally every Italian American I come in contact with manages to be a Juventus fan...I can compare it to all of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, then Cleveland Cavaliers, and finally Los Angeles Lakers fans that are out there AKA front runners. Sorry for the rant, but yes they got better.

I believe AC Milan is going to be better this year too. They have a young core and added some big pieces like Higuain. As far as teams that got worse, I think Napoli and AS Roma may take a dip in the standings. Both teams clearly have a lot of talent, but I thought they both over performed last season. Maybe it’s just jealousy on my part, but they may finish further down the table. The surprise of the season will be Sampdoria. They added some firepower with good old Riccardo Saponara and the underrated Florence native Lorenzo Tonelli. I believe they will finish in the top 7 this in Serie A this season.

Trayers: Juve added a generational player to their already incredible team, whilst Roma and Lazio quietly did some good business, I expect they’ll take the top three places in the league.

I don’t think any of the top 10 teams got much worse, which is a promising sign for the league. Losing Jorginho and especially Sarri will probably see Napoli drop off slightly, but their squad should still comfortably see them qualify for the Champions League.

Anyone who thinks either Milan team will be in the Champions League next year will be surprised.

Alex: I mean it’s hard to look past Juventus with the addition of Ronaldo. Inter have also made some smart signings and I’d expect them to be right up there. However, if anyone manages to top Juve I’d be amazed. Sampdoria also have a good side and I’d expect them to be challenging Fiorentina for the European spots, I think they will get some shock results and surprise a few people. Also, it’d be nice to see Saponara play well and get a run in the side. As for who will flop, I could see Milan struggling this year.

Tito: I don’t think Napoli is going to slip that much; Carlo Ancelotti is a pro and, despite losing Jorginho, it’s not as if there’s a dearth of talent anywhere on the pitch. Sampdoria had a heck of a summer and are a credible threat for the Europa League after adding players who fit Marco Giampaolo’s system perfectly. At the bottom of the table, I think that Parma, SPAL, and Empoli will all defy the odds and stay up while making life a merry hell for some of their more heralded opponents. Oh, and some trash-ass team from Turin added a guy.

I seriously doubt that Lazio will be as good this time out since a lot their key pieces are a year older, especially in midfield and defense. I’m also not sold on Inter Milan; even though they added talent, I’m not sure that the team really fits together and a Luciano Spalletti club always has room for a spectacular breakdown. I really like a lot of the players Roma brought aboard this summer, but losing Alisson is going to hurt them, and Daniele de Rossi and Aleksandr Kolarov are old and lack competent backups. AC Milan added talent too, but I’m not convinced that Gennaro Gattuso can replicate last year’s modest success, particularly if TAS isn’t around to bail them out.

Atalanta look about the same to me in quality, while Torino may have gotten stronger. Fiorentina should scrap with la Dea, il Toro, the Rossoneri, Nazio, and the Blucerchiati for the Europa spots. I think that the good guys have the quality to run with any of those sides. If Pioli can bring some consistency, especially against lower-half sides, Fiorentina could wind up surprising a lot of casual observers and newly-minted fans of the league.

6. Prediction time: where will Fiorentina finish in Serie A this year? Who’s the top scorer? And what ridiculous thing will Andrea Della Valle say to get the fans all riled up?

Kyle: Giving predictions on a team like this is simple; I can just say 8th and call it a day because that is a common position that they have fallen into lately. I will not do that though and go out on a limb and say they will finish 5th in Serie A. That is only a few steps up, but they are steps in the right direction. Fiorentina fans have a lot to be excited about and this season preview is way more positive than I was before last season. I believe last year I said they would finish 10th or 11th. The top scorer with be Giovanni Simeone. He has a stronghold on the striker position. Unless the team decides to bring Giuseppe Rossi back, Simeone is getting most of the time up top and should lead the team in goals. Andrea Della Valle will say he is actually not selling the team. Remember when that rumor was going around? I guess that is just not going to happen. Hands down the best thing to happen to this franchise would be for the Della Valles to sell. I know they helped bring back calcio to Florence, but they are such strange owners.

Trayers: I think both Fiorentina and Atalanta moved past Milan in terms of quality this Summer, whilst Sampdoria won’t quite keep pace in the race for Europa League. It’ll be tight, but I think Atalanta will just about edge it, and Fiorentina will finish 6th.

Simeone, 20 goals.

ADV will go the whole year without being incendiary, and everyone will be nice to everyone else.

Alex: I can’t see anything amazing happening this season but what I would love to see is a good cup run. A semi-final defeat to Napoli wouldn’t be too bad but if I were Pioli I would focus my attention on gaining some silverware. I do however think Pioli’s men will beat Juve at the Franchi with Ronaldo missing a penalty in the last minute, oh how that would be nice. A nice cup run, and a seventh-place finish, would be brilliant progress. It’s hard to look past anyone apart from Simeone for top scorer, I feel like he will have an outstanding season this year. The Delle Valles will no doubt pull out a few corkers and probably put Chiesa and Simeone up for sale, that’ll probably spark a protest or two.

Tito: I can see a range of outcomes that take Fiorentina anywhere from 5th to 10th, although I’d say it’s most likely that they end in 7th. Unlike some of the more highly-touted outfits, this is a team with a strong identity under Pioli and knows what it wants to do. I think Serie A is going to be fascinating this year, particularly in the 3-9 spots, and the Viola will be right in the thick of it there.

Leading scorer will be Gabriel Bocchio with 39. Okay, fine, I’ll say Cholito with 14; I’ll add that Chiesa may well hit double figures in goals and assists as well.

After arguing with the tifosi yet again about the club’s ambitions, Andrea will grant Radio Bruno an interview in which he goes completely off the rails, rivaling the “white liquid in a bottle has to be milk” rant of Rafa Benitez or the Aurelio di Laurentiis moped incident, before molting his skin, spreading his freshly-sprouted wings, and soaring off into the heavens.

Agree? Disagree? Want to pelt us with rotting produce regardless? Well, we can’t help you with the last one, but fire away in the comments, and keep this page bookmarked until 20 May 2019 so you can hold us up as either benevolent deities of footballing wisdom or a bunch of numpties. But don’t worry, it’ll definitely be the former.