Fiorentina go into tomorrow’s Europa League fixture against Basel full of confidence after a 1-0 victory over Genoa on Saturday evening saw them register their second successive home win of the season.
The game against the men from Liguria however threw up several discussion points:
1. Sousa’s tactical flexibility and squad rotation
The game against Genoa saw Fiorentina coach, Paulo Sousa, implement the Viola’s third different formation and starting line-up in three League games. Against Milan on the opening day of the season, Fiorentina started with a 4-2-3-1 formation, whilst against Torino that had been switched to a 3-4-1-2 system.The game against Genoa saw the Viola line up with yet another starting formation, 4-3-3; although a brief glance at the teamsheet may have caused one some difficulty in identifying this with certainty. The changing formations provide more evidence of Sousa’s tactical flexibility, the level of thought that go into preparing for each opponent and how he can best utilise the personnel available. This will inevitably prove invaluable over the season, and will help the Viola squad develop as players, both individually and collectively.
Sousa has used 20 players in the first three league games, with only seven players making appearances in all three fixtures. However, those who have studied his coaching history would have expected this, particularly given his propensity for squad rotation when coaching at Swansea and Maccabi Tel Aviv previously. Whilst it is possible that Sousa is using these early games to find the personnel and formation that will he will rely on for the rest of the season, if Fiorentina are to prosper in three competitions this season, it is likely that the majority of the squad will get significant playing time to keep the squad fresh. It was noticeable that several of those who had been away on international duty, including Facundo Roncaglia, Gonzalo Rodriguez and Josep Ilicic, were absent from the Viola starting line-up this time round.
One can usually judge a coach’s tactical flexibility and nous when faced with an adverse situation such as that which Sousa found himself when Milan Badelj was dismissed just after the hour mark for a silly second booking. Whilst some coaches can be indecisive in such adversity, Sousa reacted quickly and effectively. He replaced Babacar with Mario Suarez to reinforce the midfield and to limit the effect of Badelj’s absence, and brought on Nikola Kalanic for Giuseppe Rossi, recognising that if Fiorentina were to hold on to their lead then Kalinic’s strength and ability to retain the ball would be crucial in relieving the inevitable pressure on the Viola defence.
Fiorentina supporters can also take heart from the way the players reacted to the adverse situation. Their work rate increased considerably following Badelj’s dismissal, and it was clear that the players are happy with the new coach and keen to work for him and the fans.
2. Time for Babacar’s full potential to shine through?
Fiorentina followers have long been aware of the potential that Khouma Babacar possesses yet that excitement has often given way to frustration at his inability to convert the opportunities that he has been given into an end product. At 22 years old, this really should be the season in which the Senegal forward repays the patience shown in him by the Viola. His pace and power should see him become a key figure in Sousa’s plans, particularly given his ability to stretch compact defences by running in behind them.
Last season, the injuries suffered by Rossi and Mario Gomez, saw Babacar gain greater playing time; he made 28 appearances across all competitions; and he did well in what was his first full Viola season, scoring 9 goals some of which were spectacular strikes. His winning goal on Saturday against Genoa had the Viola fans singing his praises but, the game should really have been over before he opened the scoring given that he missed several scoring opportunities before his 60th minute strike. If Babacar is to finally become a regular starter for the Viola he will need to start to consistently convert more of those chances. Viola fans will be hoping that the goal against Genoa will provide Babacar with the confidence to do that.
3. Astori’s assurance under pressure
In signing Davide Astori on a season-long loan from Cagliari, with an option to buy, Fiorentina might have recorded one of the deals of the transfer window. The 28 year old defender was outstanding against Genoa, marshalling the defence expertly during a display of sustained pressure by Genoa that followed the sending-off of Badelj.
It was a surprise to many that AS Roma did not retain Astori’s services for this season after his successful loan spell at the Giallorossi during the 2014-15 season. He was one of Roma’s best defenders last season and a steady performer during their second-placed finish. The downside with Astori has always been his ill-discipline and propensity to pick up bookings due to suspect decision making when it comes to the tackle.
Whilst not an outstanding defender, Astori is solid and effective. His key strengths of reading the game and making interceptions coupled with his excellent and consistent passing ability were there for all to see against Genoa – he had 79 touches of the ball against Genoa, more than any of his Viola teammates; whilst he attempted 70 passes, of 59 were successful (84.2%) again, more than any of his teammates. His composure and ability on the ball will prove hugely beneficial to a coach like Sousa for whom possession is key, and he will likely be a prominent player in the Viola’s quest for glory on three fronts.