From Prototype To A Well Oiled Machine - Montella's Wingbacks Pt.2

Excitement. I think that is the best word to describe the feeling of fans after finishing the 2012/13 season in 4th place and Coppa Italia runner-ups. Vincenzo Montella took the reigns with force and tenacity, giving fans the rare occasion of drooling on the pitch of the Artemio Franchi and also providing hope to cling on. How would Montella’s team perform in the next season? Where is this project going? We all probably asked ourselves this question in that summer, looking forward the next segment of Italian calcio.

After a successful first season as the Fiorentina Mister, Montella was hungry. Losing a long-awaited for cup in the final against Napoli was devastating. Montella wanted a bite of silverware. That’s exactly the reason Fiorentina brought in reinforcements. With the arrival of Mario Gomez, Ilicic, Joaquin, Marcos Alonso, Anderson and veteran Massimo Ambrosini, Montella was seeking improvement. But improvement cost money, which resulted in the departures of Jovetic, Ljajic and Luca Toni (although on a bosman).

In 2013/14 Montella decided to make his formation more flexible, switching between 4-man defense and 3-man defense formations every couple of matches. With 4-man defenses Montella usually played with a faux left Fullback-Wingback in the likes of Capitano Manuel Pasqual, and some appearances from Juan Vargas who returned from loan and recent bosman newcomer Marcos Alonso, while the right Fullback stayed in a more defensive position and did not run up and down the wing like the more dynamic and attacking role of the left Fullback. This gave Pasqual and co. more freedom to play with their creativity, unlike in a 3-man defense where the left Wingback is usually the defensive one. This played out good, because Juan Cuadrado locked down the right Winger position, which flexed the formation and gave Montella more dynamic abilities in switching systems on-the-fly.

This use of a fake left Wingback can be seen quite clearly on the players’ personal achievement; The two players that rotated the right Fullback position in the 4-man defense formation were Nenad Tomovic and Facundo Rocaglia. The two appeared in average in 30 matches and recorded a joined 1 assist. On the contrary, the left fake Wingback position was occupied by Pasqual, Vargas and Alonso, averaging 25 appearances (Should be noted that Alonso played 9 matches only) and accumulated 7 goals and 4 assists together.

While Montella did not deploy a 4-man defense, we could see the regular 3-5-2 formation used the year before, with slight adjustments to the personnel. Juan Vargas returned from loan at Genoa and Marcos Alonso joined from Bolton on a bosman transfer to give Montella the depth he was looking for. These arrivals (and return) allowed Montella to play with a 4-3-3 formation knowing he has fresh legs to put in the game when he needed.

Montella’s Wingbacks may not have revolutionized themselves over the summer, but they certainly made themselves efficient and dynamic. The use of the 4-3-3 formation gave Montella the options to deploy Joaquin and Cuadrado in the final 1/3rd of the pitch as attacking wingers with small defensive duties, making an optimal counter-attacking squad with the added strength from the left Fullback.

Every season you win some and you lose some. This season was a good balance between the two, losing 3 important goal scorers in Ljajic, Jovetic and Toni, but earning that capability to stretch the play into very dynamic and creative formations, with fluid attacks and control over the play. This was some of the best Fiorentina matches I have seen in my life. This was also the foundation for the 2014/15 Fiorentina which saw another formation introduced to the fans, a more balanced team with exciting prospects.