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Fiorentina’s forwards are the least effective in Serie A, but there’s reason for hope

Turns out that forwards who score goals can really help your team.

SSC Napoli v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Franco Romano/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We love the Fiorentina forwards. Federico Chiesa, Dušan Vlahović, Patrick Cutrone, and Kevin-Prince Boateng form one of the youngest and funnest groups around, and adding Christian Kouamé only ups the excitement for next year, as does the impending return of Franck Ribery. This is a skillful, explosive group blessed with rare athleticism and the ability to beat defenders with skill, pace, or both. There’s only one problem across the board with them, and it’s that they don’t score enough.

Vlahović leads the group with 4 goals in Serie A, Chiesa has 3, Cutrone’s yet to score, Ribery has 2, and Boateng has 1. Of the 25 goals the Viola have scored in league play thus far, that accounts for just 10. That means that the midfielders and defenders have chipped in with 60% of the clubs goals, which seems very high.

When we’re confused, what we do is compile the data and took a look. As a caveat, it can be tough to differentiate between “forward” and “attacking midfielder” at times, so there’s some wiggle room in a few of these totals depending on how you want to classify a player’s role. This is as close as we could figure.

All data from WhoScored

The average Serie A outfit this year gets 62% of its goals from forwards and thus 38% from midfielders and defenders. What’s most surprising about this to me is that there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between a team’s place in the table and its proportion of goals scored by forwards; Sassuolo, whose forwards carry nearly the entire scoring burden, is solidly mid-table and 1 point ahead of Fiorentina, whose forwards less than any other team’s. The outliers are all near the middle of the table, while the top and the bottom of the table are more or less even. While some of this is likely just statistical noise, it seems that Serie A soccer this year is pretty consistent across the board in this regard.

What I found most interesting here are the three teams whose forwards score 12% or less than the league average, which is about 2 standard deviations from the mean: Fiorentina, AC Milan, and Hellas Verona. The first two are both seen as underachieving largely because they can’t get on the scoresheet—they’ve both been outscored by the majority of teams in the league. The Gialloblu, on the other hand, are seen as punching well above their weight. Since the Mastini just got promoted, they’ve been following the time-honored tradition of sitting deep, breaking quickly, and hitting through set pieces (which generally gooses defenders’ scoring numbers), so they’re not interesting for the purposes of this article.

The Viola and the Rossoneri, on the other hand, both employ (or until recently employed) strikers who were heavily criticized for not scoring enough, and both are a fair distance further down in the standings than had been predicted. Both are suffering from similar afflictions: the creative players on the wings or in midfield—i.e. Chiesa, Ribery, Suso, Hakan Çalhanoglu, and Samu Castillejo—haven’t manufactured many chances for the guys up top, who’ve in turn missed too many of those paltry few opportunities (Vlahović and Krzysztof Piątek are guiltiest in this regard).

While this particular exercise doesn’t entirely explain those shortcomings, combining it with some time spent watching these two teams play makes the diagnosis pretty obvious. Finding solutions, at least for Fiorentina, is a bit trickier, but we’re guardedly optimistic for 5 reasons.

First, as the stench of Vincenzo Montella’s directionless leadership wears off and Giuseppe Iachini’s coherent and competent guidance starts to take root, the players will get better at generating chances as they’ll coordinate their attacking moves rather than wandering around lost. Second, the additions of capable forwards and midfielders in this transfer window—Cutrone, Alfred Duncan, Kevin Agudelo—should improve the team’s goalscoring return, especially once they’ve gotten on the same page as their teammates. Third, it’s unlikely that Vlahović in particular will continue to miss so many big chances. Fourth, the impending returns of Franck Ribery and especially Gaetano Castrovilli will add a lot of creativity and dynamism to the attack, which should help the forwards immensely. And fifth, part of the reason the midfielders score so many is that Erick Pulgar takes penalties which are largely won by forwards, which skews the numbers a bit.

We’re not arguing that all the structural problems with this team are solved; foremost among them, of course, is the fact that Chiesa, while unspeakably talented, simply doesn’t look suited to life in a front two. Also worrying is the nature of tactics: as more opponents figure out Iachini’s approach, the easier it’ll be to counter it, and the mister hasn’t ever really demonstrated an aptitude for switching things up. Related to that, Fiorentina’s difficulty in unlocking other defenses that sit deep remains a cause for concern.

However, looking back at Fiorentina’s paltry scoring numbers from up front thus far, it’s a minor miracle that the club’s still in 14th, especially without anyone to step up and carry the scoring burden. If any of the strikers can step up and start chipping in goals on a regular basis, this team could be poised for a second-half run up the table.