We’ve reached the quarter-final round of the Coppa Italia, and Napoli are faced with a crucial, high-pressure match with frequent thorn-in-the-side-semi-rivals Fiorentina. Like the annoying kid brothers they are, Fioretina always seem to pop up at awkward and unwelcome moments in Napoli’s schedule, and now they have to be shoved out of the way once more before Napoli can concentrate on what’s coming up in the near future.
Of course, annoying kid brothers can still teach us a thing or two now and then, and to that end we sat down and spoke with Tito Kohout, manager of fellow SB Nation blog Viola Nation and longtime Fiorentina fan. His thoughts are below, and as always, we thank him for allowing us to give him grief and having the patience to actually answer our questions.
The Siren’s Song: How much does Fiorentina actually care about this competition?
Viola Nation: Honestly, I'm not sure. With Fiorentina sitting in 8th and facing what looks like a serious struggle to push on for European qualification next year, the Coppa may be the best shot to get into the Europa League. On the other hand, it looks like this offseason is going to be a big transition, so maybe taking a year off from Europe next year to start rebuilding the team is something that the Viola brass are considering. That said, I think that the Coppa is still probably behind Serie A and the Europa League in the hierarchy of competitive focus.
TSS: What will be Paulo Souza’s probable formation and starting eleven? What would your ideal formation and starting eleven be, given the players in the squad?
VN: Paulo Sousa is a bit of a formation switcher, so it's tough to guess. That said, his 4-2-3-1 and his 3-4-2-1 are very similar setups, as the players in the back three bands rotate around a double pivot in midfield and a lone striker. 3-4-2-1 looks like the likelier setup, as I think that it matches up with Napoli a lot better than the 4-2-3-1. Without Gonzalo Rodriguez, I think you're going to see something along the lines of:
This is probably the best XI right now, although a case could be made that bringing in Josip Ilicic for Badelj or Vecino and dropping Valero farther back is a better attacking side (although a good bit flimsier defensively).
TSS: Who is the most in-form player for Fiorentina in all three areas of the pitch?
VN: The best defender right now is a midfielder, weirdly enough. Carlos Sanchez came in as a solid ball-winning midfield destroyer, but has been brilliant the past two weeks on the right of a 3-man defense; he was probably man of the match against Juventus, and was very strong against Chievo Verona too. The best midfielder right now is probably Matias Vecino, who's been what we wanted him to be so far this year: energetic, incisive, willing to connect the midfield to the attack by running with the ball, and occasionally threatening with a strike from distance. The best forward these days has to be Federico Bernardeschi, who's in the process of becoming truly world class right now, although Nikola Kalinic looks confident, which means he may actually convert his chances.
TSS: Which Napoli player are you most worried to face? Who do you think is going to be the biggest goal threat?
VN: Ugh. I hate facing Insigne, who's always troublesome for this defense because he's fast, can shoot from distance and dribble past his man, and really whacked Fiorentina last time out; were I a betting man, I'd lay decent money that he's going to score, although Callejon's sheer pace also makes him a likely candidate to score. Hamsik is also scary, since he dictates play really well, but I kind of think that surrounding him with Vecino, Chiesa, and Bernardeschi will keep him pretty busy. Not having Mertens in there is awfully comforting, at least.
TSS: What are the matchups to watch, both in terms of personnel and in tactics?
VN: Seeing who picks up Insigne will be very interesting; if Chiesa tracks back too far, his attacking threat is nullified, but if he stays up, it means that Insigne will be running against Sanchez, who's strong but really dang slow and will probably get eaten for lunch if he's supposed to corral Insigne by himself. I really like the thought of Bernardeschi and Kalinic up against Tonelli and Maksimovic, as the Viola duo are usually very quick to pounce on any errors in the backline. I also think that Chiesa may give Strinic a pretty rough time if he gets him one-on-one.
TSS: Prediction time: final score, and who scores?
VN: Bleh. Because I love it when my occasional optimism comes back and bites me, I'll call it a 1-2 win for Fiorentina, with an early goal from Insigne and late ones from Kalinic and Berna, with a lot of midfield scrapping and last-ditch defending in between.