New signing Mauro Zarate was unleashed on Serie A minnows Carpi this week, the former Lazio and Inter forward making an instant impression as he grabbed a late goal - and all three points - for his new side.
Moving from West Ham back to Serie A, the 28 year old told reporters at his introductory press conference that he was keen to help a team that he had enjoyed watching after an unhappy spell in England.
"I'm happy to be back [in Italy]. This is a great team, and I want to prove what kind of player I am," he said shortly after signing a three-year contract with the Viola. "I want to get involved and do well. Football in the Premier League is very good and I was fine there, but I wasn't playing the role I wanted, so I decided to come back so I can play in attack."
While Zarate undoubtedly underperformed with the London club, it was hoped he would add some much-needed variety and depth to the Viola attack which, despite driving the team to the top of the table in October, had recently become predictable to opposition teams - especially top sides with astute Coaches - who have quickly worked out Paulo Sousa's game plan. Sitting in third place in Serie A, the Gigliati have lost six games, totalling more than Inter and AS Roma below them, and four of those defeats have been inflicted by top six sides.
As the tweet below shows, possession was high in the games against AS Roma and AC Milan, but ultimately both games ended in defeat. On these two occasions, the opposition was content to concede possession and play on the counter attack, as passing was slow and Fiorentina's easily anticipated attack was dealt with comfortably.
31.2% - AC Milan's possession vs Fiorentina – only Roma have won with a lower possession this term in Serie A (29.2% also vs the Viola).Gist— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) January 17, 2016
Indeed, that view is supported by statistics taken from WhoScored.com which show Fiorentina lead the league in terms of both possession (61.1%) and passing success (86.4%) yet have only the fourth most prolific attack in the division. Their tally of 41 goals scored thus far is a staggering 11 behind Serie A leaders Napoli (52) and it appeared their lack of cutting edge was once again going to hinder progress in the midweek clash with Carpi.
Being held to a 1-1 draw, Paulo Sousa threw on Zarate with around a quarter of an hour to go and the Buenos Aires-born star quickly set about proving what he could do. With only a minute of stoppage time remaining, he quickly changed direction with the ball and curled a wonderful right footed shot into the net, perfectly fulfilling the role of an impact substitute that Fiorentina have been so desperately lacking.
Brilliant finish, Mauro Zarate. https://t.co/1r1P0ww3IL— Khaled Al Nouss (@KhaledAlNouss) February 3, 2016
He undoubtedly changed the game for La Viola, offering a different attacking approach to Josip Ilicic. The Slovenian has been in fine form this season and has netted ten times in Serie A, however up until now, Paulo Sousa has had no viable alternative in games where his passing style has become ineffective and predictable. Against Carpi, Ilicic made five dribbles and made two key passes but failed to register a single shot on target, but the difference post January transfer window meant that the man who replaced him brought something new to the attack.
As the graphic below - courtesy of the FourFourTwo StatsZone app - shows, Zarate played just 14 minutes but quickly set about making a good first impression, recording two shots, completed two dribbles and made four successful passes.
Unlike his new team-mates, he is not looking to pass first, and that selfishness could arguably be vital to the side over the coming weeks as an alternative when Plan A fails. That is not to criticise the style of play Sousa has implemented, but in order to force the opposition team to rethink the way they defend, there is now a viable alternative in Zarate.
"Anyone who speaks badly of me should wait and see what I do on the pitch," the man himself had said at that aforementioned press conference and his performance against Carpi suggests that Zarate has started as he means to go on.