With the World Cup in the rearview mirror and the end of the winter holiday rapidly approaching, it’s finally time to gear back up for Serie A. For Fiorentina, that’s meant, more than anything, trying to figure out what the roster’s going to look like in January. We’ve heard all kinds of rumors, primarily about Sofyan Amrabat moving on, but the area that’s most interesting right now is farther forward. What’s going on with the front three?
Vincenzo Italiano has worked wonders so far, keeping Fiorentina competitive despite missing his two best wingers—Nicolás González and Riccardo Sottil—for long swathes of the season; indeed, neither is expected to be ready for the clash with Monza on 4 January 2023. Instead, Cousin Vinnie has turned Christian Kouamé and Jonathan Ikoné into veritable stars and gotten the most out of Riccardo Saponara as well, keeping the attack afloat despite underwhelming performances from strikers Arthur Cabral and Luka Jović.
I’m going to take a hard left turn here and talk about transfer rumors for a moment. We’ve moved past that weird moment where everyone thought that Daniele Pradè was going to buy another number 10 despite the sparkling form of Giacomo Bonaventura and Antonín Barák, as well as the impending return of Gaetano Castrovilli. The past week, however, has seen the narrative shift to insisting that the Viola are looking at more wingers.
On the surface, this feels just as pointless as adding more attacking midfielders. This already-bloated roster has 5 wingers for 2 spots: González, Sottil, Kouamé, Ikoné, and Saponara. Moreover, there are massive holes in other areas of the pitch. Why would Fiorentina want to spend on more wide attackers?
The obvious answer is that the inflated number of wide attackers is an illusion, propped up by two disappointing realities. The first concerns the injuries to Nico and Sottil. The Argentine is a world-class talent who likely would’ve helped his country hoist the World Cup with a little less stress, given that his propensity to stay wide and make runs in behind was exactly what the Albiceleste were missing for much of the tournament.
Nevertheless, availability is, to quote my high school coach, the greatest ability, and González has struggled with that. He’s made just 6 appearances this year, leading to obvious frustration for Joe Barone. While González barely missed a minute last season, he has a history of hamstring injuries dating back to 2020, when he was with Stuttgart. The balky thigh has seen him miss more than half of his final season with die Roten, and it seems to have reared its ugly head again. While he’s back and expected to resume training soon, it feels like he’s always right on the edge of another injury, especially as he’s already lost time to it this year.
Sottil is a different proposition. Enjoying a breakout into one of Serie A’s best wingers, he went off against Hellas Verona with a mysterious injury that we only learned months later was a back issue that required surgery. While he’s proven largely durable previously—the only other significant injury was a thigh back in 2021 that might’ve had more to do with Cagliari not wanting to pay performance bonuses—back injuries are tricky to deal with. Ricky’s apparently nowhere near full recovery yet and it may make sense not to count on him for the remainder of the year.
All of a sudden, that surplus of wingers has decreased to a deficit; Italiano loves his squad rotation and, with Fiorentina competing on 3 fronts, he needs more than 3 wingers. But remember that thing about Cabral and Jović underwhelming? That looks a lot more significant now, because the best striker on the roster in this system looks like Kouamé.
The Ivorian (currently dealing with a minor back injury of his own) hasn’t been especially clinical in front of goal, but his intelligence and dynamism without the ball, coupled with his skill on it, mean that he’s looked brilliant when fielded up front. That movement and athleticism occupy multiple defenders, freeing up space for his teammates, and thus mitigate his occasionally suspect shooting. Italiano has been experimenting with him at striker during trainings this month, possibly presaging a permanent switch.
If Kouamé ends up as a full-time or even part-time center forward, Ikoné and Saponara will be the only remaining wingers on the roster, aside from Primavera players like Filippo Distefano and Ciro Capasso, who are undoubtedly talented and undeniably too raw for Serie A. Even if González returns quickly and doesn’t miss any more time (unlikely, given the recent precedent), Sottil will need to reach full health immediately and similarly avoid setbacks or relapses to provide that crucial 4th wide option.
Neither looks especially probable, hence the rumors linking Fiorentina with wingers as diverse as Andy Delort, Gianluca Prestianni, Josip Brekalo, Roland Sallai, and Jesper Karlsson. While I’m generally not one to get worked up about transfer rumors, these particular smokes likely have some kind of flame behind them. I’m now fully expecting to either see Kouamé at striker or longer layoffs than anticipated for González and/or Sottil. This being Fiorentina, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was all of the above, because we just can’t have nice things.