Fiorentina's fixture against Bologna last weekend may have seemed like a ‘must win' in the race to secure a Champions League berth, but since taking over on 28th October, Roberto Donadoni has created a side that is difficult to beat. After only two wins in their first nine games, the Rossoblu looked likely to be heading straight back to Serie B, but have risen to eleventh in the table under the guidance of the experienced coach.
With this in mind, Paulo Sousa switched his usual 3-4-2-1 formation to a 4-5-1, and the most significant aspect of this change was the positioning of Federico Bernardeschi. In order to combat Bologna's 4-3-3 and the strength of Adam Masina and Emanuele Giaccherini down the left, the Portuguese coach played four at the back and pushed Bernadeschi further forward, in order to deploy him more as an orthodox right winger than a right wing back.
This served to allow the youngster to play in his more natural role and free him from the pressure of defensive responsibilities. The graphic below highlights Bernardeschi's play so far this season, clearly showing how he has been utilised further back.
Last weekend however, when given the freedom to play closer to the opposition penalty area instead of being isolated on the flank, he was able to demonstrate what his potential has suggested for some time. Averaging 1.1 key passes and 1.7 shots per game this season, the change in position against Bologna saw these figures double to 2 and 3 respectively.
Fiorentina have played a settled formation for most of this season, but have suffered from tactical predictability in recent weeks. The effect of Paulo Sousa's switch was clearly visible when Bernardeschi played in team mate Cristian Tello with a perfectly weighted ball over the top of the defence, almost leading to a debut goal for the Spaniard.
Yet the ultimate reward was his first goal of the season, a low left footed strike that gave his side the lead in the second half. Sadly that tactical shift failed to secure all three points when an error from Manuel Pasqual -- exposed by the under-performing Borja Valero -- allowed Bologna to equalise. However this should not overshadow neither Sousa's new-found flexibility nor Bernardeschi's improved display.
14 - Federico Bernardeschi became the 14th Fiorentina's goalscorer in the current Serie A: only Roma (16) have more. Orchestra.— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) February 6, 2016
Widely regarded as one of Italy's best young talents, the 21 year old has clearly demonstrated his potential when his position on the field allows him to concentrate on what he does best. Former Fiorentina goalkeeper Giovanni Galli reaffirmed the value of the Viola's developing asset in an interview with calciomercato.com earlier this week.
"He can definitely play for a major European team," Galli said. "When he starts to score a few more goals, maybe even from range or from a set piece, then he'll truly be a top player, the kind who warrants a €50 million investment."
For now though, Bernardeschi seems content in Florence and at a recent Junior Tim Cup event, he spoke of his excitement at scoring his first goal for the club last season. "I grew up with Fiorentina, scoring my first goal at the Franchi in an important match was the culmination of a dream that I had since childhood, it was an indescribable feeling."
Paulo Sousa's job now is to harness this enthusiasm, and to support the player's development by allowing him to shine in his more natural position.