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Who’s a better fit as the 10, Bonaventura or Barák?

The Viola system doesn’t use a traditional trequartista, but the role is still extremely important.

Gaetano Castrovilli and Giacomo Bonaventura of ACF... Photo by Andrea Staccioli/Insidefoto/LightRocket via Getty Images

Here’s the second entry in our 3-parter about lineup choices. We’ve looked at Lucas Martínez Quarta and Igor at centerback, and we’ve still got Jonathan Ikoné vs Riccardo Saponara. For now, though, it’s time to look at the number 10 spot, where Giacomo Bonvaventura and Antonín Barák have both shone at points this year, and Gaetano Castrovilli may be getting back to his incandescent best, leaving Vincenzo Italiano with some tough decisions.

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I’ll be honest. When Fiorentina signed Bonaventura on a free in 2020, I was pretty underwhelmed. Jack had been good at AC Milan the previous season, sure, but injuries had derailed him: of the previous 4 seasons, he’d missed at least half of the league games in 2 of them. At 30 years old, I wasn’t certain he’d be able to stay healthy.

That hasn’t been an issue for him, though. He’s played over 2200 league minutes in both his seasons in Florence and is well on track for a similar number this year. He’s got 10 goals and 17 assists in 105 competitive appearances (a goal involvement every 3 games), including some bangers. More than that, he’s provided steady leadership and a surprising amount of juice defensively, happily pressing and tackling.

Barák’s also impressed, albeit in a very different way. The elegant Czech joined on loan at the start of the year after a fruitful spell with Hellas Verona, where he scored 18 goals over the past 2 seasons. It took him a little while to find his feet in Florence, but he’s definitely getting there: 7 goals this season (2 in Serie A, 4 in the Conference League, and 1 in the Coppa Italia) is a fine return.

Fiorentina v Torino - Coppa Italia Quarter Final Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

What is a 10 supposed to do?

That’s a dumb question, but humor me. A 10 is supposed to drift around, score gorgeous goals, dribble defenses, and provide the key to deep blocks. We’re talking about fantasia here. This isn’t supposed to be a runner or a worker; this is an artist who creates beauty in the service of victory.

At least, that’s the 1990s definition. The game, however, has changed so much that few outfits can carry a passenger without the ball, and Fiorentina is no different. Since moving to a 4-2-3-1, Italiano often has the 10 join the striker in pressing opposing defenses, looking almost like a second forward without the ball. In possession, the Viola fantasista offers some fantasia, but it seems like Cousin Vinny wants him to move wide to create overloads on the wings and serve as a second target in the box, rather than pulling all the strings.

Let’s look at some numbers

As usual, I stopped by fbref to pick up some numbers, which I combined in a spreadsheet for a more holistic look. I only included guys who’ve played the equivalent of 5 full games in the league to avoid small sample size problems, and I only looked at players whose functions within their teams are equivalent to a number 10, which can be tricky since a lot of teams play without one now. I understand that the last part is pretty fuzzy, but I had to draw the line somewhere.

I eventually ended up with a sample of 45 players, then averaged their stats to get an idea of what the baseline is for a number 10 in Serie A so that I could in turn get an idea of how Bonaventura and Barák stack up. It’s probably worth mentioning here that play-style (e.g. Fiorentina keeps the ball, Spezia pumps it long) impacts a lot of these numbers. As always, I’ll conclude this section with the warning that the statistics aren’t conclusions in and of themselves; they’re tools to help make sense of the chaos of the game.

All numbers from fbref. Also, sorry about the size; I can’t figure out a better way to do these on our publishing software.

And once again, here’s a radar chart to help visualize how these two compare to the league averages.

So what does it all mean?

These are clearly two very different players. Bonaventura’s statistical output is obviously better in almost every area than Barák’s, but I think a lot of that is a function of how they play. Jack likes to drop deep and get involved in the buildup while lurking outside the box and either crossing or shooting from distance. Antonín plays almost as a penalty box player, mostly lurking in the area and looking to find space rather than get on the ball, which suppresses his numbers.

I’d argue that these conclusions pretty well fit the eyeball test, too. Jack’s a bustling figure who drifts wide and likes to shoot from distance a bit too much (although not as often as a lot of other similar players). In contrast, Barák often seems peripheral to the action and only pops up near goal, much more as a moments player than a regular contributor. In his defense, I think that his teammates haven’t figured out how to find him when he drifts around, but he needs to work a bit harder to impact games as well.

Looking at the numbers here confirms what I’d suspected, though: Bonaventura’s probably a better tactical fit, as his defensive output and skill on the ball let him contribute more effectively to the buildup. Barák, on the other hand, is a more useful option when another penalty box presence is needed without adding a second out-and-out striker.

ACF Fiorentina v Sporting Braga: Knockout Round Play-Off Leg Two - UEFA Europa Conference League Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Wait, why is there another heading here?

Mystery solved, then, right? Bonaventura’s the slightly more effective player, while Barák is situationally more useful. But hey, remember the guy who actually wears number 10? That’s right, Gaetano Castrovilli announced his return to fitness with a bang last week, and he’ll certainly figure into Italiano’s plans going forward.

The question, then, is how Tanino compares to Bonaventura and Barák. We don’t have the stats to find out, as Castrovilli hasn’t played as the 10 enough to really show us how he’ll interpret the role. My guess is that he’ll be something in between these two but closer to Jack: he’ll drop deep and carry the ball forward, but he’s also shown a habit of floating around a bit too passively at times. These last 11 games are going to be a very good indication of what we can expect from him next year, and I can’t wait to find out.


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