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Your Viola Nation staff rounds up the first half of the season

We’re experts. We have opinions. At least one of the previous two sentences is true.

Looks kind of like this.
Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

Okay, so the title up there is a little bit of a lie. We’re actually 5 games short of the midway point in Serie A this year, but having a week without any matches gives us a chance to breathe that we won’t get in January. To that end, your VN staff has gathered here to talk about what we’ve seen so far, what we’re going to see next, and whether those things are good or not.

What grade would you give to the summer mercato? Who’s been the best signing? What areas haven’t been addressed that really needed to be? Who’s surprised you the most?

NickyNutella: C-. Selling Chiesa on the last day of the mercato didn’t give Fiorentina much time to find a replacement and that’s one the many reasons the grade is so low. LMQ, Callejón, and Barreca have been pretty much non-existent. While Amrabat was technically signed last winter, he has been a bright spot in recent games. Vlahović has been on fire the past few games, but I still believe ST is a position that will need to be addressed in the winter window. I think Bonaventura has been solid for us and while there is a debate on whether he should start, his veteran experience has been more than helpful.

Ben: D+. Giacomo Bonaventura has been invisible despite his substantial playtime, and sadly no one else who was brought in has been relevant to the team's (lack of) success. Callejon has yet to have a consistent run in the starting XI, which I’m hoping is the reason why he’s looked past it in his limited playtime. Barreca was always a stopgap, and I’m confident LMQ will step up following Milenkovic’s eventual departure. The sentimental value of Borja and my faith in LMQ keeps this mercato from being a complete Pradé failure.

Adam: C. While this may be the highest grade from all of us thus far, it’s one of those classes where your professor hasn’t put in 95% of the grades yet. I have a lot of leniency here given the many challenging circumstances (COVID, the inevitable departure of Chiesa, a mid-season coaching transition, etc.), and thus I’m hesitant to heavily criticize the decisions made in the summer mercato without more time to evaluate. This grade could become a B or even an A with European qualification, but could just as easily become a failure depending on how the front half of 2021 shakes out. It’s a C with an attached “stay after class” note to Pradé (not his first).

Mike: C-. The summer mercato will be known by one thing, selling Chiesa. I think in the end, Fiorentina sold Chiesa for a fair ransom, most likely getting 60 million euros in return. The problem is the phrase “in the end”. In typical Prade fashion, we waited until the last days of the market to sell Chiesa, without putting any time or effort into replacing him. Making matter worse, Prade told Beppe Iachini all mercato long that he would have Federico Chiesa at his disposal, that he would not sell him. A bunch of older players were once again brought in, once again without thought of fit in any system. My all-time favorite player, Borja Valero was brought back! My biggest gripe is still the fact that we sold our best young player, loaned out a second, and did nothing to give fans excitement for the future. I did expect at a minimum a Samuele Ricci type, but remain sitting here confused and empty handed.

Trevor: D. In the end, the inevitable happened, Chiesa went to Juventus. Everyone seemed to know this would happen, except poor old Beppe Iachini. Of course it went to the very last day after we were told this would not happen. Which gave Prade the usual excuse of not having enough time to replace him. Callejón has been much more disappointing than I expected and we haven’t really seen enough of either Quarta or Barreca to judge how good they actually are or whether they fit this squad. Unlike a lot of others, I wasn’t overly impressed with the decision to bring back Borja Valero, I think we’ve had enough of these returns to the past that never quite work out. Yet again we failed to bring in a proven striker and Prade’s claim that we have all the attacking power we need has been shown to be just a little off the mark. Bonaventura is the only new player to have seen a decent amount of game time, but has been pretty average. I often got a “can do better” on my school report cards, the problem here is that I don’t think Prade can.

Tito: D+. The inability to replace Federico Chiesa’s explosiveness makes this market a failure for me. José Callejón has been, thus far, barely visible, which isn’t what you want from your marquee signing. Giacomo Bonaventura has had moments of serviceability but probably isn’t one of the four best central midfielders on the roster. Antonio Barreca hasn’t looked good in limited minutes. Lucas Martínez Quarta had a rough debut and, while I still think his future is bright, he hasn’t done anything good this year. All that saves this from being an F is the triumphant return of Borja Valero and the sense that a lot of the issues here stem from coronavirus more than incompetence in the front office.

What’s been the best moment of the season so far? The best goal? Conversely, what’s been the low point?

NickyNutella: This is the easiest question I am going to have to answer all day. Tuesday’s drubbing of Juventus was the moment of the past few years for me. The way they finished that game was amazing and there may very well still be some fight in this team. Best goal for me actually came in the Coppa Italia tie with Udinese. Tofol Montiel’s strike in the 112’ gave La Viola the win and secured passage to the next round of the Coppa. He’s been a prospect for a while now and to see him smash home that ball from the top of the box was pretty gratifying. The low point for me was a couple weeks ago when they got smashed 3-0 by Atalanta. After that game I was pretty confident we’d be in a relegation battle all season, but that was the wake-up call they needed. Since then, they’ve taken five points off three top table teams.

Ben: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pinch myself after watching Martin Caceres, the player I’ve criticized more than any other this season, tap home the third goal and complete the rout against Juventus in Turin. Then watching Juventus fans complain about the refereeing afterward? Beautiful. As for the worst moment, where do I start? The letdown against Sampdoria after looking good against Inter? Choking a two-goal lead then desperately holding on against Spezia? Watching Ribery and Callejon play together as strikers against Roma? Watching San Cesare’s first match result in a listless defeat to Benevento? Watching an injured Milan never leave second gear and dominate us? No, the worst moment was definitely Atalanta. While Beppe was manager, at least I had optimism that once he left, things would improve. After Atalanta, that hope with Cesare was at its lowest.

Adam: I’m usually the one with off-the-wall takes, but I’d lose any and all credibility if I said anything other than that juicy, juicy win in Turin. More specifically, I don’t think I was alone in feeling the sadistic pleasure of being on the other side of Federico Chiesa’s infamous frustration. I was worried we were finally going to experience the typical infuriation of other teams’ fans who have lost or drawn after facing 90 minutes of Freddy Church shenanigans, but shutting him down and causing his classic tantrum is such sweet retribution. Add in a completely useless cameo from ex-Fiorentina Federico #2 (Bernardeschi), and we got the best Christmas gift anyone could ask for. On the other hand, I’m going to go with something a little bittersweet for my low point: seeing the club-reviving performance by Stefano Pioli at AC Milan while we continue to languish with our revolving door of mediocre managers. It was the right decision at the time to relieve Stefano of his duties at Fiorentina, but that man was such a good presence for our young squad. This is a man who fully adopted this team and this city, with his iconic purple vest and even getting “DA13” tattooed on his wrist — so I have the most profound happiness in seeing him get his due. I just wish it was with us, man.

Mike: Best moment is a tie for the top. Danielle Sabatino’s 95th minute goal coming off of a set piece cross from legendary assist-lady Tatiana Bonetti that brought Fiorentina Femminile into Champions League levels never seen before sits up top with an incredible shellacking of Juventus, riding the backs of Vlahovic, Milenkovic, Amrabat and Dragowski. Best goal is the just mentioned Bonetti to Sabatino in the final seconds of Champions League life for Fiorentina Femminile. The celebration the ensued is an image I will always remember.

For me the low-point of this season has been the constant bickering and complaining of some fans as well as certain media spreading stories for the sole purpose of egging on these negativity of fans. Seeing the vitriol directed towards players, Rocco, Beppe and even recently, Cesare Prandelli has been both mind blowing and asinine. I hope we grow as fans, we grow as journalists and the team grows in performance.

Trevor: Fiorentina went and saved the best for last. With the men’s team, after a bad to worse start to the season, nobody could have predicted an emphatic win in Turin. Everything about it was enjoyable, an early goal, Cuadrado’s sending off, seeing Chiesa constantly harrassed by his former team-mates, Juventus complaints about the referee, Nedved storming off, the list is endless. Also the women’s team, after a disappointing run in the league, left it until the last seconds to score the goal that took them through to the last sixteen of the Champions League.

The low point for me was after Beppe Iachini left and Cesare Prandelli took over. I wasn’t expecting miracles or results to change straight away, but just the complete lack of reaction from the players was hard to understand. There was no new energy, no optimism and nothing really changed at all, if anything things got worse..until Turin.

Tito: I mean, best moment isn’t even close, is it? We just saw it. Best goal is either Dušan’s last time out or (and I hate saying it) Federico Chiesa’s strike against Inter Milan; it’s worth pointing out that both came from Franck Ribery and his incredible ability to weight a ball through. Chiesa also features in the low point for me, as the drama surrounding his exit was quite bad. I’m particularly distressed about the social media threats his younger brother received. On the field, it’s got to be the Spezia game. Even though it wasn’t a loss, you could just tell that Fiorentina weren’t going to win despite going up 2-0 in the first 5 minutes. The agony of having to sit and see how they’d choke it away was excruciating.

What grade would you give this team through the first half of the season? Assuming that it’s pretty low, are you keeping them after class, sending a note home for their parents, or just assuming they’ll figure it out?

NickyNutella: D+. Recency bias is really saving this grade from being an F. I know they’ve played better of late, but that doesn’t excuse poor results against newly promoted sides and a general lack of effort. The coaching carousel, Chiesa saga, and blown leads were really tough to swallow early on. Definitely setting up a zoom with the parents with some Rum on deck in case the conversation gets too intense.

Ben: C-. We all know Fiorentina’s abilities are far above 14th in the table, and they’ve looked horrible for the most part. To be fair, this squad was put together pretty incompetently by Pradé but that doesn’t explain the mental fragility that has only just started to improve under San Cesare. I’d get everyone together after class, and give an “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed” speech. I’d also let them know that any more flirting with relegation means detention (or retiros?).

Adam: D. While I was hesitant to give a grade on the summer mercato given how much is still left unanswered, it’s much easier to say that the first half of our season outright sucked. Apart from our most recent win, watching this team has been so boring that Tito has decided that it’s a better use of his time to learn incredibly obscure vocabulary words (what the hell is “moribund”?). The only thing saving this grade from an F is seeing that there are still signs of life on this team, which is nothing short of a miracle.

Mike: C-. This team is flawed. It is flawed in design. It is flawed in its leadership. It is just flawed. The good news is there are several keystones to build a resurgence around. If I am Rocco I am looking to the January mercato to reestablish the team’s identity. Understanding Daniele Prade is still at the helm, I would rely more heavily on the thoughts of Mister Prandelli. The team needs to set proper expectations on what they want out of every player. They need to then give the players an environment to then go and do their jobs. Sell those players who do not fit, buy players who do. I believe that looks like one experienced forward to pair with Vlahovic, a winger and one to two stud midfielders. If Milenkovic does not renew his contract (as there are now rumors) I would sell him and use that money to purchase a comparable replacement.

Trevor: D. I can’t give any higher than that after what we’ve had to sit through so far. The 0-0 with Parma was just about the worst game of football I have seen in a long time. While the last game was obviously a big improvement and the two draws before that showed a little bit more fire, I can’t ignore all that went before. Keeping them back after class has already shown us some results, so for now I think we need to send a note home telling the parents that their performances are still very much under review and we expect to see the same commitment after the break as we saw in the last game.

Tito: C-. While the last 3 outings have shown that they’re not dead yet, the boys have been moribund through 14 league games. I can’t be all that excited about a point a game and a -5 goal difference. More than that, though, the lack of structure and character was as bad as it ever got under Vincenzo Montella last year, which demonstrates a team on the brink of collapse. I’d definitely be sending a note home to the parents and maybe setting up a meeting with them to discuss what’s going wrong and how we can address it.

Who’s the best player in the first half of the season? Who’s been the most underwhelming? Who’s been the best young player?

NickyNutella: Have to agree with the mighty Tito on this one, it’s Bart hands down. If it wasn’t for the bearded Pole, we might already be in Serie B. His heroics bailed us out of a lot of games and preserved the few positive results we’ve had. He’s been shaky lately, but he’s earned that with his show-stopping performances. Given Handanović’s decline in recent years, I don’t see many keepers above Bart besides Wojciech Szczęsny and Gianluigi Donnarumma. Christian Kouamé is the most underwhelming for me, but Lirola and Cáceres were making strong cases. I had high hopes for Kouamé coming into this season given that he was fully fit. He only scored once and it was a simple tap in after a unselfish play by Jack Bonaventura. It looks like Vlaho has locked down that striker spot so Kouamé is going to have to work extra hard to regain his spot. Milenković is the easy pick for the best young player so I am going to go with Castrovilli. He’s cooled off a bit since his torrid start to the campaign, but he’s a magician on the pitch. Those early years of ballroom dancing have really paid off because there aren’t many players better off the dribble than him in the league.

Ben: Bart’s the only thing keeping this team from a goal differential in the negative double digits, so he gets my vote. Weirdly his form has decreased the last three games while the team as a whole has improved, but I’ll assume it’s a blip. For field players, Cristiano Biraghi has been the most consistent by a decent margin. Biraghi has been the only player other than Bart to exceed my expectations. He’s established himself in the upper-echelon of Serie A left-backs and fights for the badge every match. For a player that I did not expect to ever suit up in purple again after his loan move to Inter, he’s been a great surprise. I expected a lot more out of José Callejon. Watching Chiesa on Wednesday made me miss having a winger with that elite-level change of pace and dynamism, which Callejon either doesn’t have any more or hasn’t shown. He hasn’t been set up to succeed, and I hope the purchase of another winger (so we can actually play a 4-2-3-1) leads to a much stronger second half from the Spaniard.

Adam: I’m going to be so sad when Bart leaves. And barring divine intervention, he will — the last team I saw a goalkeeper carry this hard was 50 miles down the road in Empoli, where a young phenom set multiple Serie A records after recording a clean sheet against an Atalanta team that put up 47 shots against him. Wait... that was Bart too. And the worst part about this whole thing? His team is so underwhelming that he’ll almost certainly be sold for much less than he’s worth, despite the evidence that he’s probably a real-life superhero. I just know I’m going to wake up one day to see Transfermarkt value him at €957 trillion two months after moving to a team that actually reflects his quality. Choosing and keeping #69 as the first-choice goalkeeper is still such a spit-in-the-face to everything that is holy, but Bart has earned the right to do literally whatever he wants (including some recent mistakes). And let me remind everyone that he’s younger than Castrovilli too, so there’s nobody else worth mentioning here considering all of our young players have visibly lost a step.

Mike: Our best player is easily one of the top 3 goalkeepers in Italy, Dragowski. He has kept us in games, built the confidence of his teammates by picking them up after many mistakes and is just generally a scary looking dude.

There are several candidates for underwhelming, Jack, Callejon, Caceres (pre Juve) and Pulgar, but I am going to go with Lirola. I have no clue how his value dropped so quickly. The bottom literally fell right out and it doesn’t make any sense. Fiorentina used to be a place where players who did not maximize their skillsets at previous clubs would flourish and rejuvenate their careers, now we are that previous club to so many players.

Is Bart young enough to be best young player? If not, I will go with my baby man child, Dusan Vlahovic. Yes, he hasn’t had the best season, but he has endured many hecklers to bring Fiorentina out of the relegation zone, securing 5 points in their last three games. You may not like to hear it, but tough, without Dusan’s recent performances the naysayers would still have a very prominent soapbox to stand up on and complain about how awful the Viola world is.

Trevor: There really is no other option here but Bartłomiej Drągowski. This guy has been the one outstanding and consistent player in this team. He kept us in so many games and saved us from what could have been some very embarassing beatings.

If others have chosen Milenković as best young player, then as they are the same age, for me Drągowski has to take this award too. The most disappointing player has a lot more contenders, Callejón and Cáceres amongt them, but I’m going with Kouamé. When that strikers role was still up for grabs, when Vlahović was still disappointing, Kouamé just never took his chance to claim a place in the starting line-up. While it’s been tough for anyone playing up front and not receiving much service, he just never looked like providing us with much options.

Tito: Bartłomiej Drągowski is the only answer for MVP. Despite a couple of wobbles in these last two outings, he’s looked like a top-three goalkeeper in Serie A and is probably the only reason this team isn’t behind Genoa in the standings. His shot stopping from close range, his command of the area on crosses, and his distribution have been top shelf. Callejón’s my pick for most underwhelming, although it’s not exactly on him, given the roles he’s been asked to play. I’d also hand (dis)honorable mentions to Martín Cáceres (whose performance against Juventus is all that saved him from earning the nod) and Pol Lirola. Weird how it’s all guys who’ve played on the right, eh? Anyways, best young player after Bart has to be Nikola Milenković, with Igor as the runner up.

What are you hoping to see in the January transfer window? What do you think will actually happen?

NickyNutella: I agree with Tito on all fronts, you can probably just read his since it’s definitely more well written. If you want to read mine, do so at your own peril. Getting Il Gallo in the mix would be huge because he’s a proven goal scorer in Serie A. Tòfol Montiel going out on loan would be also good for his development as he’s had some bright moments this season. What will actually happen is them bringing in mediocre strikers and probably offloading our most promising young talent in Milenković.

Ben: There are three clear needs that should be addressed in January: a creative midfielder, a winger (or two), and a striker. A dream window for me would consist of two wingers, a striker and a regista. Something like Jermaine Boga, calling back Riccardo Sottil, Diego Demme, and Belotti would do the trick. But coming back to reality, I don’t want much spending this window. I’d much prefer the money be saved for Pradé’s successor, and have low expectations accordingly. My predictions? We’ll bring in Gervinho, Miguel Veloso, and Felipe Caicedo and offload one of Milenkovic or Pulgar. Maybe we spend heavily at one of those spots or bring in a young prospect, but I don’t expect much beyond that. As long as Cesare approves of the players and they don’t break the bank, I’m game. Save the spending spree for the summer.

Adam: I was ecstatic when we signed Pol Lirola, but I don’t think he ever found his footing in Florence. Shortcomings on the right side were largely hidden behind Chiesa’s pace alone, but have since been thoroughly exposed. Recent rumors around Bryan Reynolds give us a little hope, but the more seasoned members of our community can speak to just how awful the right-back position has been for Fiorentina for way too long now. Honestly though, all I want is for us to get players that actually match whatever formation we put on the pitch. Even though it found minor success, we’re all tired of justifying things like a front two of Federico Chiesa and Franck Ribéry. We’re tired of seeing Fiorentina purchase talented and proven players like Alfred Duncan and Christian Kouamé just to see them be criminally underutilized. At this point, we just want to see something that makes sense.

Mike: This mercato reminds me a lot of the immortal George Thorogood song, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer. Sing it with me now, One Forward, One Winger, One Midfielderrrrr.

I hope we keep Kouame. I’d love to see him paired with Dusan. I wish we could have seen this pairing being experimented with pre-mercato. Does it work, yes or no? Depending on the club’s mentality, bring back Sottil. We also need to stop shopping in the same storefronts. I don’t know about you but I am very sick of hearing the same names being linked to us the past four mercatos. What I would really like to see happen is for Fiorentina to get out there and research players most likely to take that next leap, ie Alonso, Veretout, Biraghi, etc. What is more likely to happen is we will ask retired, legendary players to come off of their AARP to play with the club for another year while selling our young talent to rivals teams that have multi-year payments structures that would make Bobby Bonilla’s accountant blush.

Trevor: The same as I’ve wished for in the last few transfer windows, we need a proven striker. If we get that I’ll be pretty happy to see out the season with the squad we have, provided they can keep on improving. The only other thing I would ask for is not to sell one of our best players in Milenković. For those expecting to see Prade very active in January, I would take a look at his comments after the win at Juventus, where he used this as an excuse to throw out his favourite line about this squad being complete. So don’t be expecting too much, possibly some semi-retired forward who has nowhere else to go.

Tito: I’d like to see Fiorentina sign Andrea Belotti, offload Valentin Eysseric and Riccardo Saponara, and loan out Tòfol Montiel. What I think will actually happen is that Patrick Cutrone will leave in favor of some underwhelming veteran striker (Felipe Caicedo?). I also think that Milenković has a pretty good chance of moving on as well, which would likely thrust either Cáceres or LMQ into a larger role. I’d also expect another midfielder (Borja’s old and two coaches in a row seem to despise Alfred Duncan) and maybe another developmental option on the left wing.

What are your predictions for the rest of the season? Where will Fiorentina finish the year?

NickyNutella: Given the recent form and potential for some transfer craziness, I’m going with 11th place. They will beat some of the bottom feeders next time around and continue to get stronger under San Cesare. They have dug themselves too deep of a hole to challenge for European places, but I think they get close to the top half of the table. At this point, staying in Serie A is my goal so I think that is more than doable.

Ben: Due to a mix of stubbornness and unfounded optimism, I’m going to stick to my ninth place prediction at the start of the year. I expect ninth-place Verona (20 points) to fall off similar to last year, the team wasn’t reinforced properly and won’t hold up for an entire season. We have more talent than any other team outside of the top eight, so I’m betting that the strides I’ve seen since Atalanta are here to stay. I’ll predict that the right additions in January help build off our current momentum and we can put this terrible fall behind us.

Adam: Despite putting all of my frustrations into words here and realizing just how disappointing this year has been, I’m going to say 8th place — in conflict of nearly everything I’ve said thus far. We’ve been conditioned to sit in the same mediocre spot in the table for weeks at a time, but wins are a big deal; if we can string just a couple together, the narrative of a season changes entirely. Against all expectations, we actually put the ball into the net three times on Tuesday (yes, one was an own goal but I’m counting it). Every season, the end product has always felt like the one thing this team has been missing — and while it’s certainly not there yet, there was a time under Prandelli when it was. I’m going to put my faith in him to do it again.

Mike: I am who I said I am. I can’t change and you can’t change me. I will be optimistic again. Daniele Prade will trip into deals for Maxi Gomez or Lucas Alario at forward and Yusuf Yazici in midfield. Milenkovic will resign his contract and commit to the club who has always been there for him. Ricky Sottil is brought back and burns a hole on the left side of Fiorentina’s pitch. Finally, Fiorentina also sign future USA star Bryan Reynolds to replace Lirola and Empoli’s Samuele Ricci to round out the excitement being back in our beautiful city.

With all of these moves, Dusan taking off his Clark Kent glasses and keeping his Superman cape on, Fiorentina slide back into 7th place by the end of the season and see a whole bunch of momentum riding into next year, where we finally find ourselves back into European contention. That said, if we do what we have heard AGAIN, connected to the same, uninspired players, ho-hum, I will be calling our dear friend Dr. Massimo Balestri for some Fiorentina induced psychological therapy sessions.

Trevor: Despite what we’ve seen so far, I still think we can get a top ten finish. I said 8th place at the start of the season, and I’m going to stick with that. Prandelli has finally got this team performing a little better and things can surely only keep on improving. I think we can build on our recent results and the team will have a bit more confidence and belief when they come back after the Christmas break. I do see us pulling away from the bottom of the table and making games more enjoyable for us to watch.

Tito: I think a 12th-place finish is pretty realistic. The team remains reliant on Franck Ribery, whose injury history makes me think he’ll miss another bunch of games, and adjusting might kill some of the recent momentum. If he does sit for a while, I think we’ll see Christian Kouamé ball out. I also think the midfield’s going to improve, as Sofyan Amrabat continues to settle in and Gaetano Castrovilli regains some of his form. I also think that Vlahović will finish with a dozen goals and establish himself as, at minimum, a useful striker in Serie A.

As always, our opinions are entirely correct, especially when they contradict each other or reality. We’ve called everything right; sometimes the universe just doesn’t match up the way it's supposed to.