Stefano Pioli opted to leave out all of the big names and give the youngsters a run against Real Vicenza, a club with a rather confusing history that’s currently comprised of players hopeful of earning a European contract through good performances in showcase matches like this one; basically, it exists as a youth academy and scouting service. On a very slippery pitch, the Viola had trouble establishing themselves early in a scrappy contest. Nicky Medja was the outstanding player of the first quarter hour, motoring all over the pitch and winning the ball every time he came near it, but it took a rather glaring mistake by goalkeeper Ikonomopoulos to open the scoring; the Greek let a smart shot from Tòfol Montiel, cutting inside, roll right through him, possibly due to the wet conditions. While Real Vicenza responded well, the next goal came on the other end as well, with captain Sebastian Cristoforo looping in a corner that Petko Hristov powered home. A minute later, Medja played Dušan Vlahović through, and the Serbian giant finished neatly with his left.
The floodgates were open now, and it was another corner from Cristoforo that found Vlahović, who converted a corner at the front post just like Hristov’s. Just a minute later, Riccardo Sottil drove to the touchline and cut it back to Marco Meli, who tapped in easily. Then it was Federico Ceccherini‘s turn, the ex-Crotone man reacting quickest to prod the ball home after a corner. Finally, Sottil scored one himself, clipping his left-footed shot through the 5-hole after Meli put him through.
Lineup (4-3-3): Drągowski; Diks, Ceccherini, Hristov, Hancko; Meli, Cristoforo, Beloko; Montiel, Vlahović, Sottil
Goals: Montiel 14’, (ass. Medja), Hristov 24’ (ass. Cristoforo), Vlahović 25’ (ass. Medja), Vlahović (ass. Cristoforo), Meli 32’ (ass. Sottil), Ceccherini 36’ (ass. Cristoforo), Sottil 43’ (ass. Meli)
The first standout moment belonged to Ikonomopoulos, who produced a genuinely world-class save to deny David Hancko’s overhead kick from a corner. However, those good feelings didn’t last long: less than a minute later, the keeper spilled a Meli shot right into the feet of Vlahović, who tapped home for his hat trick. Meli finished his next chance, though, after losing the ball in the area on a corner, by winning it back, then cutting inside and powering a nice left-footed shot just inside the near post. Cyril Théréau struck the post after being put through by the outstanding Montiel. Cyril turned provider next, neatly dissecting the defense for Meli run through and smash home for his third. The final goal came from Real Vicenza centerback Sagaria, who turned a Cristoforo corner into his own net.
Lineup (4-3-3): Drągowski (Ghidotti 73’); Hancko, Ceccherini, Hristov, Olivera; Meli, Cristoforo, Beloko; Montiel, Vlahović (Báez 67’), Théréau
Goals: Vlahović 58’, Meli 65’, Meli 85’ (ass. Théréau), Sagaria 88’ (OG)
Three things we learned
1. Tòfol Montiel is for real. The reed-thin little Spaniard has nearly everything you could ask for in such a young player: his technique is flawless, his first three steps are explosively quick (although he may not have a top gear yet), and he’s got a powerful shot with either foot. The most exciting thing, though, is his brain. He’s clearly a step ahead of everyone else on the pitch at any given moment. He always seems to know where his teammates are and looks to get them involved with quick, incisive passes to put them in space. He also knows when to drop his shoulder and go it alone. Yes, this was against a bunch of academy players and not a real test, but the prospect of Montiel pulling the strings in the Viola attack in the next year or so should have fans salivating.
2. Pioli still isn’t worried about keeping the ball. Credit where credit is due: Real Vicenza pressed much higher up the pitch than anyone might have expected, fearlessly attacking Fiorentina in the middle. It didn’t work out so well, as the Viola were able to play through them fairly easily, but it did highlight the primary shortcoming in this team, and that is an overly functional midfield. Obviously none of the starters were here, but nobody’s accused Jordan Veretout, Marco Benassi, or Bryan Dabo of having any fantasia about them. Don’t be fooled by Sebastian Cristoforo’s 3 assists, which all came from corners. This is a midfield designed to win the ball and feed the front three, which is to be the source of all the creativity. Fiorentina will usually attack with just the tridente, with support from Cristiano Biraghi and maybe Benassi lumbering forward. It may be enough to accumulate points and move up the table, but it won’t be nearly as watchable as the Cesare Prandelli or Vincenzo Montella years.
3. We could see a lot of young players this year. We just talked about Montiel, but there are several other youngsters who could figure prominently in Pioli’s plans this year, especially if the mercato doesn’t yield further results. Dušan Vlahović looks to have the inside track on the backup striker position (with Cyril Théréau serving as the veteran option) due to his sheer size and physicality. Martin Graiciar, who’s been dealing with a knock but is maybe rated even more highly by management, also in the mix. Riccardo Sottil isn’t a burner, but he’s smart and unfussy and can certainly function as the fourth winger. Simone Ghidotti could see time as the third goalkeeper. Kevin Diks sure looks like the starter at rightback. Expect some growing pains, sure, but expect to hear a lot about the bright Fiorentina future as well.