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A rough assessment of Fiorentina’s European hopes

We use a lot of intuition and a little bit of statistics to predict Fiorentina’s European chances

Football Italy Cup Fiorentina-Juventus Photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Following a massive win against Napoli, Fiorentina head into the home stretch of the season competing on two fronts. While playing in Europe next season was more of a dream than an expectation last August, with the Viola’s recent good form there is a real chance of playing continental calcio next autumn. I’ll briefly analyze our chances of qualifying for Europe below.

Path 1: The Coppa Italia

Fiorentina booked a spot in the Coppa Italia semifinal after a chaotic win at Napoli, and then a dramatic last-minute winner in Bergamo.

The first leg against Juventus went according to plan on the pitch... except for the final scoreline. Despite outshooting the merde 22-6, the Viola lost in heartbreaking fashion due to a Lorenzo Venuti own goal.

The Viola still head to Turin in two weeks with everything to play for in the second leg. Despite having the highest payroll in the league (and it’s not even close), and reinforcing their roster through a certain €80 million Serbian, an embarrassing loss to Villareal in the Champions League and a disappointing Derby d’Italia result have the Bianconeri looking at the Coppa as their only chance at a trophy this season.

Normally I would be resigned to admitting defeat in this tie, but after our recent performances, I’m not so sure. Remember, away goals still matter in the Coppa, so a 2-1 or 3-2 win would be enough to see the Viola go through. A lot will depend on Juve’s injury status heading in, as a full tridente of Dybala-Morata-Vlahović is a lot scarier than Bernardeschi-Kean-Vlahović. Still, the merde should be motivated for this one, but on the other hand, this happened less than a month ago. I’ll give the Viola a 14, or 25% chance to advance.

ACF Fiorentina v Juventus FC - Coppa Italia
No more of this, please
Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Were the Viola to progress here, they’d play either Milan or Inter in the one-off final. Once again, I’m probably more bullish than I should be here- we’ve seen the Viola beat Milan already this season and they just played Inter pretty evenly at the Guiseppe Meazza. However, there’s no denying the talent gap between the two sides, and Fiorentina has still only won 4 of 11 matches against the top 7 sides this season. So, I’d give Fiorentina a 13, or 33% chance of victory.

Thus, according to my rough calculations, our chance of winning the Coppa Italia is

14 * 13 = 1⁄12, which we’ll round to .08, or an 8% chance of winning the Coppa.

Path 2: The League

Even though the Viola are potentially just two matches away from winning the Coppa and booking a spot in the Europa League, Serie A remains the likeliest path to European qualification. In addition, it’s hard to understate just how important yesterday’s win against Napoli was for the Viola’s chances.

Let’s start with some history here. Since the league expanded to 20 clubs in 2004, here are the teams that have finished 7th in Serie A (the threshold for European competition this season), along with their point totals.

Serie A 7th place teams and point totals

Season Team Points
Season Team Points
2004/05 Messina 48
2005/06 Livorno 49
2006/07 Empoli 54
2007/08 Udinese 57
2008/09 Udinese 58
2009/10 Juventus 55
2010/11 Juventus 58
2011/12 Roma 56
2012/13 Lazio 61
2013/14 Torino 57
2014/15 Sampdoria 56
2015/16 Milan 57
2016/17 Inter 62
2017/18 Atalanta 60
2018/19 Torino 63
2019/20 Napoli 62
2020/21 Roma 62
Average 57.35
Average Last 10 seasons 59.60

As you can see, with 53 points from 31 matches, in past seasons the Viola would have basically booked a top 7 finish and Europe already! Interestingly, it seems that in recent years there’s been an upwards trend, with teams needing more points to finish in the top 7. Why this is happening is another discussion entirely, but it seems that there are fewer mediocre teams and more bad teams than there were in the past.

This is what statistics websites, such as 538 back up. They believe that 7th place will need to have at least 65 points, which would mean the Viola need 12 points from their last 7 matches to advance. 538 even puts Atalanta and Lazio on the same number of predicted points as us (65) and Roma at 66. What this means is that the race is going to be close, and every point matters. That may sound superfluous, but one point could very well be the difference between the Europa League and 8th place.

So, I’m going to set the Viola’s target point total at 65, mostly for the fact that between the four teams competing, I think at least one will have a rough patch of form and finish below that number. Here are the likeliest scenarios for achieving that goal:

Path #1: Clean up against the bad teams

Sounds easy, right? Of Fiorentina’s seven remaining Serie A matches, four are against teams in the bottom half of the table. Next weekend the Viola host Venezia, then travel to Salernitana on April 24th, host Udinese on the 27th, and finally play away at Sampdoria on May 15th.

The Viola will be favorites in all four matches, and four wins from these four matches would put them at that magical points total of 65. However, that’s a lot easier said than done. While it’s easy to blame Fiorentina as “chokers” or underperforming at the wrong time, in reality, it’s just hard to beat any four teams in this league.

To give a rough reason for why that is, suppose that Fiorentina has a 75% chance of beating Venezia, a 70% chance of winning away against Salernitana, and a 65% chance of beating Udinese at home and Sampdoria away. Multiplying these odds together gives Fiorentina just a 22% chance of winning all four matches. I’ll round this down to 20% for simplicity.

What this means is that no matter how hard the Viola play, we can’t rely on this outcome.

Path #2: Do alright against the bad teams, and beat one of Roma, Milan, or Juve

What’s most likely is the Viola win two or three matches of the four “easy” ones, and drop points in one or two. Say Fiorentina wins nine points out of twelve from those four matches. That would put us on 62 points with three matches against Roma, Milan, and Juve. This means we’ll need to win one of those three matches (or draw all three) to hit the 65 point mark and achieve European qualification.

Because drawing all three seems pretty unlikely to me, I think we’ll need to win one. While Milan and Juve are certainly beatable, the match at home against Roma has to be the easiest one to win. The Giallorossi have been better in the second half of the season but given their tough last run of matches, I think their current position in the table is giving them a little too much credit. As of right now, I’d put Fiorentina as the favorites in that match.

Thus, let’s say Fiorentina has a 40% chance of beating Roma, and a 20% chance of beating both Juventus and Milan. Then the chance we win at least one is equal to 1-(.6*.8*.8)=.616, so I’ll round down and give Fiorentina a 60% chance to win at least 1 of those 3 matches.

Path #3: Another team falls apart

We can’t rule this possibility out either. While Fiorentina could very well be that team, Atalanta has been sputtering for the last two months and may start prioritizing the Europa League as a path to next season’s Champions League. Roma also still has European competition to play for which may cause them to drop more points than one would expect. Lazio seems to be least likely to combust given their schedule and lack of European matches, but calcio has seen crazier things happen. Long story short, if one of those three squads averages a point per game for the rest of the season, Fiorentina should be practically ensured European soccer. We’ll give this one a 20% chance of happening.

So, what are our chances of finishing top 7?

With all this in mind, let’s come up with an exact number. Let’s say Fiorentina has three possible paths against the four weak teams and assign more probabilities to them:

  1. Win all four- 20 % chance
  2. Win a couple, lose/draw one or two- 70%
  3. Fiorentina combusts spectacularly- 10%

Now, we can model all of this below as a decision tree, with three outcomes happening in order. First, we find out how Fiorentina does against the four bad teams. Next, we find out if Fiorentina wins a game against Juve, Milan, or Roma. Finally, we find out whether any of Lazio, Roma, or Atalanta “combust”. To simplify the tree slightly, we’ll say that if Fiorentina combusts, then it doesn’t matter what happens otherwise: we aren’t going to Europe.

Thanks to draw.io

From this, we can see that our chances of finishing in the top seven according to my logic are 1-.1-(.7*.4*.8)=.676, which we’ll round to 68%. Interestingly, 538 gives us a 69% chance of the same thing, so maybe I am being less of a homer than I thought!

Conclusion

Finally, I can come up with an exact chance of Fiorentina qualifying for Europe: that is, (.68+.08)-(.68*.08)=.7056. Thus, I’d say we have roughly a 70% chance of qualifying for Europe.

My estimations here don’t account for a multitude of things and the entire process here is based more on intuition than any actual data, so I wouldn’t trust my numbers. However, there are a couple of takeaways that I feel apply regardless.

1. Chances are, Fiorentina will qualify for Europe

This seemed pretty unreasonable as recently as two days ago, but the Napoli win yesterday really changes things. Now, Fiorentina doesn’t need to go into the Milan, Roma or Juve matches needing results, as long as we take care of business against four teams that are currently in 13th, 16th, 18th and 20th place.

Because we’re Fiorentina fans, it’s hard to be confident, especially when it comes to end-of-season European pushes. But with how this team is playing, I think it’s alright to have some hope.

2. If Fiorentina does qualify, it will almost certainly be through the league

Because we’re only two matches away from winning the Coppa, it may seem like that is the competition to target and to rest players in the league for that purpose. If anything, after analyzing our schedule I would rather us rest our players in the Coppa instead if it meant an extra 3 points in the league. Simply put, we should be 100% prioritizing Serie A right now.

3. Even in the worst-case scenario, there’s plenty to be optimistic about.

As much as I’ve spent this article trying to show that we are in a pretty good position to qualify for Europe there’s a very real chance that we do not. After the Dušan sale, I was one of those who had written off any chance of seeing us in Europe. Thanks to Vincenzo Italiano, there’s a high chance I’m eating crow in a month or two.

No matter what, the future is bright with Italiano in charge. Because Nicolas Burdisso is now playing a key role in our scouting, I feel a lot more confident in Fiorentina’s recruitment this offseason. So, we should all be excited for the future.