Fiorentina played an 80 minute (?) training game against Serie C newcomers Virtuscomp Verona and came away with a 4-0 win. Giacomo Bonaventura, Riccardo Saponara, Nikola Milenković, and Dušan Vlahović scored the goals as the Viola controlled things pretty well. While there’s only so much to read into a preseason friendly—especially with half the starters absent—here’s some stuff that stuck with me.
1. Youssef Maleh is going to play serious minutes.
The 22-year-old was something of an unknown when Daniele Pradè snapped him up in January, but his work in Serie B provided some hope that he’d maybe contribute someday. In preseason, though, he’s looked very good in a way that makes me remove the usual caveats. He’s not dazzling with skill or athleticism against hopeless over-matched amateurs.
Instead, he’s constantly in motion, pressing in advance of the strikers, and making smart passes to space. He’s very good at arriving just as the ball does to force his man to make difficult decisions in possession, but I’m more impressed with his movement. He drops deep and pops up between the lines well, but his knack for pulling wide when the left winger (usually Saponara) moves inside impresses me, as Maleh always seems to stay involved when he does that.
He’s behind Castrovilli and Jack in the pecking order, and Sofyan Amrabat and Marco Benassi could be there as well, but don’t be surprised if Youssef plays some serious minutes this season, especially considering how much Vincenzo Italiano wants his midfielders to run and how much he’ll likely have to rotate them.
2. The press is going to be wildly different.
Going back to that point about Maleh’s pressing, it was striking how often he and Bonaventura pushed ahead of Vlahović to press the Virtus back line. Some of that is that the Rossoblù having just climbed up from Serie D, but it’s a far cry from Giuseppe Iachini’s insistence that the midfielders shield the defense and minimize space between the lines. Even regista Alessandro Bianco got in on the act, winning the ball very high up at times, and Milenković and Igor weren’t afraid to step well past midfield while pursuing opponents.
This has been one of Italiano’s priorities throughout the sessions at Moena, as he explained in the post-game presser: “The spirit I want is a team that always wants the ball and then when they lose it are quick to win it back.” With Erick Pulgar and Amrabat, who are both excellent ball-winners, this could work really well. Against Serie A sides with better players, though, it could also backfire and leave the Viola defense very exposed in space. That could mean that Italiano will prioritize quicker defenders who can make up ground when things go wrong (i.e. Milenković, Igor, and LMQ), which might explain why Pezzella’s been linked with moves to Atalanta and Cagliari in recent days.
3. This team is going to score some lovely goals.
Italiano’s insistence on moving the ball very quickly—he’s not quite at the Marcelo Gallardo “make your decision in half a second” level, but he’s close—means the Viola are going to unsettle defenses more accustomed to the more deliberate pace of Serie A at times. What’s more important, though (at least for aesthetics’ sake), is that Fiorentina is going to put together some fantastic moves.
The final goal was a perfect example. After Bianco switched play to the right, Louis Munteanu and Lorenzo Venuti played a really nice one-two to put the latter in behind. His cross from the touchline was low and fast and met Vlahović streaking towards the front post, where the big Serbian finished with a backheel flick into the far corner. That sort of pattern is exactly how this team ought to be attacking and it actually worked.
We won’t see those goals every week, of course, but the fact that the attacking philosophy relies less on one guy doing something cool and is now clearly a collective effort that prioritizes running and passing means that, as the players acclimate to each other (and remember that Castrovilli, González, Pulgar, Amrabat, Pezzella, and LMQ still haven’t even trained with this team, so it might take awhile), we should see greater levels of understanding and thus more cool goals. That’ll be really nice.