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Know the enemy: Calcio talk with a Fiorentina expert

Fiorentina expert and manager of Viola Nation, Tito Kohout, gives us some insight heading into Saturday’s big match.

ACF Fiorentina v SSC Napoli - Serie A
Let’s hope this doesn’t end up like our last trip to Florence
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Our thanks to Tito Kohout, manager of Viola Nation (@ViolaNation), for giving us some much needed insight on Fiorentina ahead of the big match on Saturday

The Siren’s Song: How has the addition of Luis Muriel changed the way Fiorentina attack? What qualities does he bring to the table that the other forwards don’t have?

Tito Kohout: The addition of Muriel has created two differences in the Viola attack. The first is that defenses can no longer key on Federico Chiesa, sending two or three defenders his way every time the ball comes near him, as that would leave Muriel a lot of space to attack. Kevin Mirallas and Marko Pjaca simply didn’t demand the sort of attention that the Colombian does on the opposite wing, and it’s opened things up for the entire side.

The second outcome is that, with so much speed on the wings, Fiorentina have been sitting deeper than ever, trying to tempt their opponents farther up the pitch and then hit the ball in behind for the wingers to chase. This has led to the team looking even less capable of controlling a match with its passing in midfield and thus to a lot of very wide-open contests. Conversely, anyone who sets a deep and compact defensive block will already be 75% of the way to completely throwing Fiorentina’s attack into disarray. Paradoxically, it means that bigger sides who want to control a game are probably more vulnerable to the Viola than smaller sides that want to sit deep and play on the counter.

TSS: What should Fiorentina’s goals be for the rest of the season? Is the priority to be playing in Europe next season (maybe even champions league) or winning the Coppa Italia and do they have the depth to fight on both fronts? I’m sure Juventus losing in the quarters has made it feel like anyone’s trophy to win.

TK: Club owner Andrea Della Valle stated at the start of the season that the goal was to finish 7th and thus qualify for the Europa League. Frankly, I wouldn’t lay money on that, but it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility; Pioli led this team on a crazy winning streak around this time last season to fire them back into European contention, only to end up agonizingly short. I think there are some legitimate concerns that a failure to qualify for the Europa League would lead to some serious financial and personnel issues (does anyone really think that Chiesa is going to stick around a mid-table team forever?), so that has to be a goal.

I think, then, that the Coppa Italia may be the side’s primary objective now. For the tactical reasons mentioned above, Fiorentina are well placed to take advantage of the remaining sides, who all like to keep the ball to some extent, and for some reason I have a lot more faith in this team to perform over a two-legged cup tie than I do in it to sustain a run of form for a few months in the league (having said that, they’re probably going to get shellacked by Atalanta in the first leg). It’s not ideal, but it’d put the Viola into Europe and improve their odds of hanging onto the likes of Chiesa, Jordan Veretout, and Nikola Milenković, which would in turn provide a really strong platform to take it up a notch next season.

lol @Fiorentina in the Champions League.

TSS: How would you compare Frederico Chiesa to his father? He seems like he’s really starting to live up to his potential this year. Do you think he will stay in Italy like his father or eventually look for a new challenge?

TK: Fede probably has the potential to be better than Enrico, and that’s a crazy thing to say considering how much Chiesa Senior is still venerated in Florence. They place different positions, obviously, but I think that Fede’s dribbling ability and pace are beyond his old man’s, and he’s already developed an ability to take over a match by sheer force of will. He’s a special player, the type you build a World Cup squad around. If he keeps improving as he has every year, he’s going to be one of the five best in his position in the world at some point, and that’s pretty cool.

As for leaving Florence, that’s tougher to figure out. There’s no shortage of rumors about pretty much every big team in Italy making a play for him this summer, and we’ve also heard about Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. However, there are a couple of factors that make me think he won’t go as quickly as people think, and they’re both family related. First, his dad is his primary advisor, and it seems to me that Enrico doesn’t want to push him too hard, too fast. Second, the Chiesas are very well settled in Florence; for example, his younger brother Lorenzo is in the Viola academy and serves as a ball boy. Fede seems to be really into his family, so it’s hard to see him leaving them unless it’s with their blessing and for a perfect opportunity. That day will probably arrive eventually, but hopefully not soon.

TSS: Speaking of footballers with famous fathers, do you still see a role for Giovanni Simeone on this team?

TK: Oof. Heaven help me, yes I do. He’s a good and useful player, but I’m not convinced he’s a striker. Maybe a move to a deeper role, where his energy and grinta would be more important than his finishing, would serve him well. As a secunda punta floating off of a target man, I think he’d look a sight better. I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying that I’d like to see him stick around unless a mega-offer comes in. Since that’s not likely, it’s probably in the club’s best interests to keep him and hope he shakes this case of the yips he’s got.

TSS: Is there a player you think will cause some trouble for Napoli and surprise a few people on Saturday?

TK: Since Chiesa, Muriel, and Cristiano Biraghi are all full internationals and aren’t really sneaking up on anyone, I’ll go with the midfield pair of Veretout and Gerson. The former is the closest thing the Viola have to a metronome in the middle; he’s a physical presence and generally serves as the trigger for those quick breaks down the wings. He’s probably getting sort of close to a spot on the France team, although he doesn’t have the name recognition. Gerson has really turned his career around after a dreadful showing at AS Roma last term. His ability to hold the ball up or burst past his marker and into the final third has been astonishing; the Giallorossi may have been a bit harsh on a dude who was 20 and in his first year in Italy. He’s combined very well with Chiesa on the break this season and seems to be figuring out a partnership with Muriel as well. But this is going to be the Fede and Luis show going forward, make no mistake.

TSS: Should be a fun one on Saturday. What’s your prediction for the match and who do you think will score?

TK: I feel like this could turn into a track meet if Napoli push up. Yall have too much quality going forward for the Viola to have much hope of a clean sheet, particularly because Lorenzo Insigne always seems to shine in this fixture. That said, I think that Carletto tends to play on the front foot a bit, so there could be enough space at the back that not even Kalidou Koulibaly can snuff out. I’ll say a 2-2, with goals from Muriel and Simeone for the good guys and Insigne and Mertens for the bad guys (that’s you). Assuming that yall don’t blow the doors off this Viola midfield, I think it’ll be a really fun one.