Despite the progress Fiorentina had shown under Cesare Prandelli, especially after his shift to a more positive 4-4-2 in the past couple of outings, the team has brought back Giuseppe Iachini and his well known 5-3-2 formation to see out the rest of the season following Prandelli’s unexpected resignation. For anyone who’d forgotten (or scrubbed the memory), here’s a quick refresher of what to expect from BeppeBall 2.0.
Iachini is synonymous with a 3-5-2 formation, but in reality it’s usually more of a 5-3-2 or even a 5-4-1 without the ball. He likes his wingbacks to stay even with the defenders to form a narrow back five, with the midfield trio staying compactly in front of the defense. Without the ball, one of the strikers will frequently drop back to join the midfielders, creating a bank of four in front of a bank of five.
Out of possession
Another hallmark of Iachini’s approach is the depth of the defense. He usually plays with a very deep line, looking to frustrate opponents by keeping as many bodies in the penalty box as possible. He also likes the midfield to stay pretty deep, minimizing space between the lines. There’s little emphasis on pressing high up, or even through the middle; rather, he wants his team to create an unnavigable labyrinth that frustrates opponents and tempts them into throwing more players forward.
The biggest part of that is the wingbacks. As I mentioned, they’ll sit level with the back three and rarely venture forward. The responsibility for closing down in that wide zone falls largely on the outside midfielders in the bank of three: as the ball moves wide, that group will shuffle across to shut the door. That leaves the team open to cross-field passes, as there’s often nobody on the back side, but one of the forwards will frequently drop in to prevent that.
To his credit, Iachini’s defensive structures are usually quite sturdy, although they can take a little bit of time to implement. He wants every player in a precise spot in relation to their teammates and the ball; a midfielder moving forward to press opens space for opponents to exploit, so the focus is on maintaining the shape at all times.
Upon losing the ball, there’s rarely any effort to counter-press. As you’d expect, the players will hustle to get back to their spots and get back to their grinding defensive shape. Because his teams tend to win the ball very deep, the main tactic when they win the ball is to thump it into the channels for the forwards to chase. Because everyone starts in such a deep position, there will usually be just 2 or 3 players on the counterattack, with the rest pushing forward a bit but trying to maintain the defensive shape to some extent.
There are a few situations that will trigger a higher press, usually when an opponent plays the ball to a fullback by the touchline with no obvious pass on the ground available. At that point, one of the outside midfielders will usually charge at the player in possession, with the forwards trying to prevent sideways or backwards passes. While this doesn’t usually win the ball, it can force a long pass into the midst of the deep defense, giving his charges a chance to recover possession and go on the attack themselves.
There won’t be too many situations in which Iachini teams see a lot of the ball. At times, the defenders will knock it back and forth amongst themselves, but the real idea is to launch it and try to win second balls against a disorganized opponent. The outside centerbacks in particular play a lot of long passes down the lines for the forwards to chase, which will ideally leave them isolated against a single defender.
Again, a lot of this is down to the wingbacks. While they’re normally responsible for a lot of the width in attack in a 3-5-2, Beppe usually wants his to stay fairly deep and ensure there’s not much space for opponents to counter into. He will encourage one wingback forward to cross (usually on the left in his previous stint), but the attack will usually stay very narrow, which in turn makes it a lot easier for opponents to defend.
If the long ball or the one wingback going forward don’t work, the onus usually falls to individuals. To Iachini’s credit, he turned the likes of Paulo Dybala and Andrea Belotti into household names during his time at Palermo, but there is a feeling that he too often relies on an attacker having a moment of brilliance to unlock an opponent. That means Franck Ribery and Gaetano Castrovilli are going to shoulder a heavy burden indeed, while Dušan Vlahović may wind up seeing even less service in the penalty area than he has thus far.
In defense, Lucas Martínez Quarta’s penchant for raiding forward may not be a positive in the mister’s eyes. Igor, too, is sometimes guilty of losing his concentration, which could set him back in the pecking order as well. The upshot is that Martín Cáceres could return to the back three, as his experience makes him an attractive (albeit mistake-prone) option at the back.
Further forward, Cristiano Biraghi played his best under Iachini earlier this year and could see a resurgence out on the left. Lorenzo Venuti will probably get the first opportunity on the other wing. In central midfield, Erick Pulgar’s diligence and grinta should make him undroppable. Sofyan Amrabat’s athleticism and ball-winning could supersede his occasional positional lapses, especially because Giacomo Bonaventura was definitely second-choice last time around. Gaetano Castrovilli should be a lock in the middle due to his defensive contribution and occasional magic.
Up front, Vlahović and Ribery should continue in an obvious partnership. The real worry is that Vlahović looked hesitant, confused, and lost under Iachini at the start of the year; all but one of his goals came under Prandelli and there’s a sense that Iachini doesn’t quite know what to do with him.
The Viola should do enough to stay up. It probably won’t be fun to watch and they’ll likely maintain their point-per-game average, but instead of scoring 13 goals in their past 5 matches, they’ll be lucky to hit that number in the 10 remaining fixtures, although the defense will hopefully stop leaking cheap goals as well. Expect a lot of 0-0 and 1-0 scorelines and a lot of route one, as Iachini’s basically the peninsula’s answer to Tony Pulis, ballcap and all.
What comes after that final tussle with Crotone, though, is anyone’s guess. Beppe is certain to move on at that point, but his replacement will have an unreal amount of work to do. This club remains a mess.