We've got a big match at hand in the growing rivalry between Napoli and Fiorentina, with Napoli needing a win in the worst way and Fiorentina not wanting to let Roma passing them in the table become a permanent thing. As we often do on such occasions, the meaning of the day lead us to reach out to some colleagues to answer our questions, and now we have answers to share.
We talked, as we so often do for Fiorentina matches, to fellow SB Nation Soccer blog Viola Nation, and their assistant editor Tito Kohout. Once we got a litany of oddly-mashed-together jokes about Star Wars and Loony Tunes and Monty Python out of the way, we sat down and hashed a few things out. The end result is below, and I also answered some questions of his own after he finally admitted my superiority when it comes to throwing staticky old men in bathrobes down ventilation shafts. You should go read that, too. But read what's below first!
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The Siren's Song: When last we met, Napoli outplayed a first-place version of Fiorentina to win the match 2-1 in a game that, honestly, could have seen a wider margin of victory. What changes to Fiorentina's approach in that match can Napoli expect to see?
Viola Nation: Fiorentina has really changed since that match, honestly. Over the past month or so, Paulo Sousa has really begun changing the team's focus from Montella-esque possession to speedy transitions, which is in line with his reputation from previous stops. The centerbacks no longer keep the ball for ten minutes at a time between each other, but are now willing to try long passes forward (Gonzalo and Astori are both actually excellent passers, which helps).
The other recent change is the move away from the 3-4-2-1 that Sousa featured earlier on in favor of a 4-2-3-1 (cuing a lot of Prandelli flashbacks). The additions of some decent wide attackers in the window is the main reason, but having wingers has really helped open up the attack. Overall, I think Fiorentina are going through some growing pains right now, but that these two changes in emphasis are going to be good for the club in the long run.
TSS: Nikola Kalinic was at one point going blow for blow with Gonzalo Higuain in the capocannoniere chase, but he's gone ice cold of late, scoring just once in the new year and twice since November. What on earth happened to him?
VN: I will preface this by saying that I'm a huge Kalinic fan. His holdup play and movement are exceptional and kind of reminiscent of Viola-era Alberto Gilardino. That said, he's completely reliant on service into the box to score. He didn't even take a shot from outside the area until nearly halfway through the season, and most of his goals come from about ten yards or closer. I think as opponents started figuring out the 3-4-2-1, they began sitting back, letting Fiorentina play in front of them, and focused on keeping Kalinic isolated and quiet. The move to 4-2-3-1, with its wide midfielders stretching play and making space, has really helped him a lot.
Also, he just couldn't finish for a couple of months. I have no explanation for that other than, "Eh, the yips."
TSS: What do you see as Fiorentina's biggest weakness to exploit right now? What about Napoli's biggest weakness?
VN: Fiorentina's biggest weakness is probably rightback, where Facundo Roncaglia and Nenad Tomovic have been, er, unconvincing. Neither is particularly fast, which is problematic, and both are very shaky in possession. Roncaglia's prone to inexplicably violent challenges, whereas Tomovic is prone to wandering away from his area and leaving his flank very exposed. The lack of wide attackers with pace is also a bit troubling, but I think rightback is the real problem spot.
Napoli's biggest weakness is harder for me to pin down, frankly. They look like a really good side right now, which I don't like. Given their (perfectly understandable, given the competition) inability to pull down a W for nearly a month, I'm hoping that there's a lack of confidence through the side, a questioning of whether what they're doing is really working, but that's probably hopelessly optimistic. Given Napoli's spectacular form at the Franchi over the past several years, I'm very anxious about this one.
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Thanks as always to Tito and to the Viola Nation crew for their fine coverage of Fiorentina. Now we hope that Napoli kick all your asses in this game. Nothing personal. OK, only a little personal.