Fiorentina came out with close to their strongest XI, pending the arrival of Nikola Milenković from his World Cup campaign with Serbia. It quickly became apparent that the Viola were simply too big and too strong and too fast for their amateur opponents. Cholito got himself on the scoresheet 4 times, using his head and his feet, but missed a couple of chances as well. Diks was quite impressive getting forward down the right, creating 2 goals and putting in a number of nice crosses. Veretout played in the hole while Dabo roamed around higher up the pitch, which could hint at Stefano Pioli’s plans for the rest of the year. Vitor Hugo nearly lost the ball deep in his own half, but also played in a lovely cross with his left for a Simeone goal, so we’ll call that a wash. Benassi was, as usual, oddly invisible, while Biraghi and Eysseric were fine but not impressive. Chiesa was himself, but clearly was taking it a bit easy.
Lineup (4-3-3): Alban Lafont; Cristiano Biraghi, Vitor Hugo, Germán Pezzella (c), Kevin Diks; Bryan Dabo, Jordan Veretout, Marco Benassi; Federico Chiesa, Giovanni Simeone, Valentin Eysseric
Goals: Vitor Hugo 8’ (ass. Biraghi), 13’ Eysseric, 15’ Simeone (ass. Dabo), 18’ Chiesa, 35’ Simeone (ass. Vitor Hugo), 40’ Simeone (ass. Chiesa), 42’ Simeone (ass. Diks)
The second half lineup was as ragged as you might expect for an XI featuring a mix of veterans playing out of position and youth players who’d never played together. Saponara looked profligate, missing a number of chances, and Cristoforo had trouble keeping the ball as well. Vlahović showed some impressive physical qualities, including touch on the ball and quickness for such a big man, but his finishing was rather woeful. Montiel and Sottil were perhaps the brightest of the youngsters; the former found pockets of space all over the final third and made quick, incisive passes with his first touch, while the latter stormed up and down the flank. David Hancko played in a slightly unfamiliar midfield role and didn’t seem quite certain about what to do. Subs Gori and Medja (or Beloko, since I’m honestly not sure which name he’s going by) were a bit uninspired as well.
Lineup (4-3-3): Bartłomiej Drągowski; Riccardo Sottil, Maxi Olivera, Lorenzo Venuti, Petko Hristov; David Hancko (Nicky Medja 72’), Sebastian Cristoforo, Riccardo Saponara; Marco Meli (Gabriele Gori 72’), Dušan Vlahović, Tòfol Montiel
Goals: Cristoforo 48’, Montiel 62’ (ass. Vlahović), Clausa OG 89’
Three things we learned
1. As ever, depth is a problem. A reprise of the Maxi Olivera centerback experience is a bit of a concern even against an amateur side, but getting the Mountain back should help. More concerning is the lack of proven options in midfield. Veretout, Dabo, and Benassi kept things humming along in the middle in the first half, but the Cheese simply isn’t suited for a deeper role and Cristoforo, while excellent at breaking up play, can’t move the ball to save his life. After that, it’s a pile of youngsters such as David Hancko (a centerback by trade) and Nicky Medja Beloko (who looks physically talented but way too raw to see the pitch this year). Mario Pašalić can’t arrive soon enough, and even then there should be space for one more option in midfield.
2. The attack is full of talent but could use a couple more pieces. Simeone may have borked a couple of good chances, but 4 goals are 4 goals no matter how you slice it. Fede also looked scintillating on the three or so occasions that he actually turned it on. But Valentin Eysseric probably isn’t suited for anything more than depth and Saponara doesn’t offer the width that Pioli clearly wants. Sure, Tòfol Montiel looked fantastic, Sottil opened some eyes, and Meli was fine, but it’s probably not a good idea to count on a teenager who’s never started a match outside the academy for the entire season. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see all three of them make cameos at some point this year. Montiel especially looks like he could be special, although he’s very small and might not be ready physically quite yet. At striker, certainly Vlahović looks the part: he’s huge, quick, and surprisingly good on the ball. The downside, though, is that his finishing was rather bad. He had at least 4 decent chances to put one away and either missed or shot straight at the goalkeeper. It’s hard to see him making a significant contribution this year. Martin Graiciar is probably closer to ready, but has a knee knock that’s expected to keep him out for awhile longer and may not be ready for the responsibility of vice-Cholito yet either. A veteran backup who can score about 5 goals this season while still ceding some time to the kids has to be a priority.
3. Lots of versatile players. Pioli has stated his intention to play a 4-3-3 this season, but he should have the versatility to edit that formation to fit a lot of different circumstances. Davo and Veretout can switch between playing the holding role and a more box-to-box role. Chiesa and Eysseric are happy switching wings. Venuti can play either fullback spot. Hancko should probably focus on centerback right now but can play in the middle in a pinch. Montiel can play on either wing or as an attacking midfielder. Sottil worked as a fullback today but is probably more of a winger. Maxi Olivera, well, probably shouldn’t ever play through the middle again after that AC Milan game, but whatever. Especially if Corvino focuses on bringing more versatility in, Fiorentina could be very tough to plan against due to their positional flexibility.