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Watch out for Youssef Maleh (and others) next season

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We look at five loanees who have a chance at making an impact with the Viola in the upcoming campaign

AC Monza v Venezia FC - Serie B Photo by Giuseppe Cottini/NurPhoto via Getty Images

For a mediocre club, Fiorentina possesses quite the loan army. The Viola currently have 29 players on loan, ranging from ex-primavera afterthoughts (Marco Marozzi) to big-money flops (Pol Lirola). In between that range, however, are a lot of talented young players, who will have the chance to impress new manager Gennaro Gattuso at the club's retreat in Moena starting on July 17th. I’m going to list five below who have piqued my interest, and see what their odds are of fighting for a first-team place this season.

Riccardo Sottil

Sottil had an excellent start to the season on loan at Cagliari, thriving as a winger in Eusebio Di Francesco’s signature 4-3-3. However, a thigh injury in late January couple with the arrival of Leanardo Semplici and his 3-5-2 killed Sottil’s season. Luckily for him, Gennaro Gattuso is now in town and in desperate need of wingers. Despite the disappointing second-half, Sottil showed this season that he has the quality to be a Serie A winger. Whether Sottil is prepared to take the next step average to good remains to be soon, but there will be no better chance for him to prove it than this upcoming summer. Fiorentina will need at least four wingers on the roster come the beginning of the season. We can expect one of Franck Ribery and Jose Callejon to stick around, and the Viola are heavily rumored to be purchasing two wingers in the upcoming Mercato. That leaves one winger spot open, which Sottil would be perfect for. I expect him to be around and contribute next year, although there’s a chance Gattuso doesn’t see him as ready and he’s loaned to another mid-table Serie A side (Hellas Verona?)

Odds of being with the first-team this season: 80%

Portugal v Italy - 2021 UEFA European Under-21 Championship Quarter-finals
Sottil against Portugal in the U-21 Euros
Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Youssef Maleh

He’s the title of this article for a reason. Maleh’s signing went under the radar in January, but the 22-year-old silky midfielder had a tremendous second half of the season with Venezia, being the best player for Venezia in their promotion campaign. In fact, Maleh was good enough to be in Serie B’s official team of the season, while missing six matches in the winter due to contract disputes with the Lagunari. Three of Maleh’s four Serie B goals came in the last ten matches of the season, but he saved his best for last. Maleh scored a goal and added two assists in Venezia’s promotion playoff battles, including the clutch assist at the death to beat Cittadella and return to Serie A for the first time since 2001-2002. Besides the fact that Maleh has now shown he has the clutch gene, he could offer something different than anyone else in the Viola midfield. Lacking the dribbling of Gaetano Castrovilli, Maleh possesses better defensive skills while offering great passing and movement from the left. Alfred Duncan is currently Fiorentina’s only left-footed midfielder, and he doesn’t offer the same going forwards as Maleh. While it’s tempting to loan Maleh to Venezia again and let him rack up experience in Serie A, he will be 23 by the time the season starts and thus should be starting to reach his potential. Whether he remains with the first team next season, however, is a toss-up.

Odds of being with the first-team this season: 50%

Luca Ranieri

The ex-Primavera captains’ Viola future has not looked bright as late, with Igor’s purchase last winter taking away many of the opportunities he would have had. However, Ranieri turned in a great performance at Igor’s old club this season, as a key cog for SPAL in Massimo Rastelli’s 3-5-2. Ranieri started just two of his first 13 matches for the Estensi, and wasn't even in the squad for seven of those. For the last 25 matches of the Serie B season, Ranieri started 22 of those, and his form was enough to get him a starting role in the last three matches of Italy’s u-21 Euro campaign. Keep in mind both Sottil and Maleh were also in the squad and failed to notch a start between them. As previously mentioned, Ranieri’s main competition this season will be Igor, as the two play very similar positions, although Ranieri is slightly more adept as a left-back. That could be enough to see him win the role as Cristiano Biraghi’s backup this upcoming season, which will be a key spot of contention for Fiorentina in the preseason.

Odds of being with the first-team this season: 35%

Portugal v Italy - 2021 UEFA European Under-21 Championship Quarter-finals
Ranieri at the U-21 Euros
Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Aleksa Terzić

Joe Barone made a bold statement defending Cristiano Biraghi earlier this week, saying that Gattuso “wanted Biraghi at wing-back” for his new Fiorentina. While that’s disappointing to hear, it does mean the spot backing up Biraghi is a black hole on Fiorentina’s current roster. Antonio Barreca did nothing of note last season and has returned to Monaco, while Martin Caceres looks likely to leave as a free agent. David Hancko also had his option to buy redeemed by Sparta Prague. That leaves Lorenzo Venuti and Pol Lirola for the job, but both of them are more comfortable on the right and will be competing for that starting spot. As a result, Terzić is the most natural left-back on the roster besides Biraghi, and is the best in-house option to deputize for him. Terzić is Pantaleo Corvino’s last purchase for the club, and the 21-year-old spent last season on loan with Serie B champions and Tuscan neighbors Empoli. He’d started the first eight matches of the season, but an ankle injury disrupted him around the holidays, and he only started ten of 23 matches after returning. Still, Terzić received a boost over the most recent international break, starting at left-back for the senior Serbian national team against Jamaica and Japan for his first two caps. While Ranieri had the better season and is more versatile, Terzić is the better pure wingback, and I can see him not just making the squad, but pushing for a starting spot if Biraghi’s poor form continues. Still, a loan back to Empoli and the guarantee of Serie A minutes may be preferred.

Odds of being with the first-team this season: 35%

Japan v Serbia - International Friendly
Terzić against Japan
Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

Petko Hristov

Hristov is not a player I ever expect to contribute for Fiorentina. I threw him in here because how cool is it that he started and played the full 90 against the World Champions France for Bulgaria last weekend? On loan with Serie C’s Pro Vercelli last season, Hristov made his debut for the national team on March 31st of this year. Given the new manager and his new international pedigree, I’m not going to rule out Hristov adding more depth in the back for the Viola next season.

Odds of being with the first-team this season: 15%

FBL-EURO-2020-2021-FRIENDLY-FRA-BUL
Our Serie C loanee against Mbappe
Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images

Conclusion

Fiorentina has a deeper group of loanees than expected, and with the club in transition this summer there is plenty of opportunity for surprises. While the big-money Mercato purchases will steal the headlines, expect there to be one or two loanee contributors filling in around the edges of the squad.