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2019-2020 season recap: The first part

The opening half of the season was really, really not fun.

ACF Fiorentina v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

The 2019-2020 season is over, thank goodness. It was the strangest, most painful, least pleasant, and most confusing campaign any of us can remember, so what better way to kill some time than going back over it?

The most obvious place to start this recap is with Rocco Commisso’s takeover of the club. Despite some early doubts, most people generally agreed that the Mediacom magnate was an upgrade on the stale and petulant Della Valle brothers, even if he kept much of their operations team—specifically DS Daniele Pradè and coach Vincenzo Montella—in place.

The offseason started very quietly as Commisso and right hand man Joe Barone took stock of the flaming wreckage that comprised Fiorentina. An unexpectedly high-profile preseason at the International Champions Cup (which doesn’t mean squat, but still added some cash to the coffers) was a little fun, but the real fun came later in the transfer market: the first-choice XI contained just 3 holdovers from the prior season.

Gone were squad staples like Jordan Veretout, Cristiano Biraghi, Giovanni Simeone, Alban Lafont, Luis Muriel (sob), Gerson, and Vitor Hugo. While there was some skepticism about the under-the-radar acquisitions—guys like Erick Pulgar, Pol Lirola, Milan Badelj, and Dalbert—the really big splashes came as Bosman signings: first Martín Cáceres and Kevin-Prince Boateng, then Franck Ribery. It seemed like a smart but understated beginning to a new era as Commisso stressed the importance of sustainability, focusing in particularly on the importance of revamping the venerable but literally crumbling Stadio Artemio Franchi and bringing it under club control to provide a steady revenue stream.

Coming off a streak of 16 straight games without a win, the team barely scraped through against Serie C’s Monza in the Coppa Italia, then fell in frustrating fashion to Napoli due to some refereeing shenanigans (Dries Mertens is a diver). While a loss to a poor Genoa side caused some anxiety, draws against Juventus and at Atalanta offered some hope before three straight wins—vs Sampdoria, at AC Milan (a banger), and vs Udinese—got the hype train prematurely rolling, given that this meant the team had won 3 of its previous 23 league games. Fiorentina only notched one more Serie A win (at Sassuolo) for the next 2+ months and had to scrap to knock out Serie B’s Cittadella out of the Coppa.

The writing was on the wall after Cagliari shelled Fiorentina 5-2, scoring all their goals in the first hour before letting the Viola try to claw back some dignity, but it was 1-4 dismantling at the Franchi by AS Roma that confirmed what we’d all expected: Montella got the axe. His insistence on playing a 3-5-2 with Ribery and Federico Chiesa up top meant highlighted the lack of a goalscorer in the side—Fiorentina didn’t score more than twice in a game through this stretch—but it was clear that the players were confused and unmotivated.

So, over the winter holidays, il Aeroplanino left and in came journeyman (and ex-Viola midfield terrier) Giuseppe Iachini. The ballcap-wearing mister arrived with a reputation for dour, defensively-sound soccer that was excellent at getting teams from Serie B to Serie A but fizzled at the top level, as evidenced by his previous record of sackings at lower-tier clubs. Fiorentina was by far the biggest job he’d ever taken on, but the hope was clearly that he could add some steadiness, motivation, and a well-established identity to the club.

In his first two games, he produced rather mixed results: a draw against Bologna was initially promising before a last-minute equalizer handed the Oscar Meyers a point, but he got the club’s first 3-pointer in 2 months and seemed to be pushing the players into becoming a better-organized, albeit hard to watch, group. And just like that, the first half of the 2019-2020 season was over.