The Camp Nou version of the squad finally showed up in Serie A as well and the lads were not to be denied in Parma, as Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata were eager to brush off a rare poor outing and promptly powered the team to one of the best all-around showings of the season. The opponents were net great and easily melted away, however the Ducali had put up a fight in most of their recent games and, given the Bianconeri’s baffling troubles against the minnows this year, it is a much-needed display.
The only blemish of the night was that, even if a blow-out win and despite pulling the string for almost the totality of the contest, the adversaries had one or two big chances that could have changed the outlook of the tilt if it was not for Gianluigi Buffon or last-ditch interventions by defenders. It happens in every fixture as the rearguard does not generally allows many scoring opportunities, but those ones are basically always major ones and obviously that has led to some costly goals against the run of play. Now that secondary weapons have begun producing and the offense is in good shape, that is the biggest flaw that needs to be cleaned up to further the growth of the team.
With most players healthy, coach Andrea Pirlo has been able to rotate his contributors, which has generally kept them fresh and raised the level of performance. The formations have been very ever-changed but carefully crafted, for instance Dejan Kulusevski could have basically played on the right wing only against a side like Parma, which features an adapted centre-back who rarely attacks on that flank. I do not recall many instances where the Swedish starlet and Aaron Ramsey played together, but the contest called for it and the gaffer did not blink, completely revolutionizing the XI after some matches with three central midfielders together. Hopefully he will be able to be keep up the sharpness in that regard.
It has taken him a couple of months after an early injury that affected the pre-season preparation, but it is safe to say that Rodrigo Bentancur has now returned to last year’s outstanding standards and he is quite clearly the most complete midfielder. When he and Weston McKennie, who is proving to be much more than a ball of energy, starts together the intensity just skyrockets and the early ball-pressure works wonderfully. Arthur and Adrien Rabiot may possess exquisite technique, but they will have to show a little more to catch up to their teammates because in many cold nights in a small Italian town, it is just better to rely on the players that run the most and work the hardest, especially considering the at times excessively offensive-minded spirit of the team.
Wojciech Szczesny, Juan Cuadrado and Federico Chiesa rested over the weekend and could be back in the XI in this one, while Danilo, Weston McKennie and Matthijs De Ligt could be candidates to get the day off, although the Dutchman has been rumoured to do that so many times but always ended up playing. With Arthur sidelined, there probably will not be three central midfielders together, while Ramsey and Alex Sandro need to be managed, so Kulusevski might the second start in a row, unless the gaffer gives a chance to Federico Bernardeschi. Paulo Dybala might recover enough to be in the XI but he is unlikely to get the nod. Also Merih Demiral and Giorgio Chiellini are progressing.
3-4-1-2 Szczesny; De Ligt, Bonucci, Danilo; Cuadrado, Bentancur, McKennie, Chiesa; Kulusevski; Morata, Ronaldo.
Demiral (thigh), Arthur (thigh).
Fiorentina have certainly been disappointing so far in the season, they have never had any consistency results-wise, the reinforcement campaign turned out to be just so-so and few of their centerpieces have rarely seemed in good form. All of that has combined to put them in the second half of the standings, but, while they have not fully snapped out of their funk and victory keeps eluding them, they have been to hold to a tie some good teams like Sassuolo and Verona in the last two rounds, which has stopped the bleeding.
Few weeks back they sacked Giuseppe Iachini and brought back Cesare Prandelli: the new (old) coach tried something new tactically, adopting 4-2-3-1 or something similar to it, but the experiments did not really work out and in the last matches he has gone back to the three-man defence they have been using under the previous manager to give his players some more certainties in a difficult time.
They surely have the pieces in the roster to pull off more aggressive schemes as Gaetano Castrovilli and Giacomo Bonaventura are pretty versatile, but they have yet to find the proper to combination to field them alongside José Callejon and Franck Ribery, which would give them an incredible amount of technique. Instead, at least one of them come off the bench, mostly Callejon, who has not look good athletically as he spent the offseason as a free agent and then got COVID.
Their crown-jewel Castrovilli, one of the most intriguing and gifted prospects in the midfield in the League, had a blistering start but then almost completely faded, perhaps a little hampered by nagging physical issues and role where he is not totally comfortable yet, while the sneaky Bonaventura has been sprier. It would not be fair to ask Ribery to excel in every match given his age, he has alternated good stretches to unconvincing one, but he can bust out dazzling displays at any time.
Another sticking point that has held them back is surely the lack of a prolific centre-forward, but at least Dusan Vlahovic has recently bagged two penalty kicks and, as youngsters often do, he is streaky one way or the other. He certainly has a lot of talent, but perhaps is missing that veteran malice in the box that would allow him to be more productive. Given that he is pretty technical and likes to move around, he might need to partner with another centre-forward, and Christian Kouame could be a good sidekick, but, as mentioned, finding a go-to formation has been an almost unsolvable puzzle and Kouame has not showed well enough to be a part of the equation.
In the midfield they have to balance the fact that their big-ticket acquisition Sofyan Amrabat fares better in a two-man line, where he played superbly at Verona, while Castrovilli, Erick Pulgar and Bonaventura are better off in a three-man one. Their latest iteration has Castrovilli adapting to pivot next to Amrabat and Bonaventura, or Callejon, used in a supporting role behind the striker, next to Ribery, who does not really have the legs to play wide anymore. This formula takes something away from Castrovilli, who is great on channel runs, but he might find out down the line that he can still charge forward because Amrabat can take up so much space with his tireless motor. It is tough to adapt and get locked into a role if the scheme changes every week though. There might not be a suitable solution for all their question mark, they are better off picking one and grow into it. They would rever to a standard 3-5-2 if Erick Pulgar played instead of Bonaventura.
Adding to their troubles, the defence has not been particularly stingy, even though they few above average pieces there there with Bartlomiej Dragowski, Nikola Milenkovic, German Pezzella and the returning Cristiano Biraghi. Biraghi is also a meaningful part of their offense with his crossing and he shines as wing-back rather than as fullback. Their centre-becks are huge threat on set pieces.
They have few valuable contributors at every level, so they are surely underperforming. Their issues appear to be more psychological than anything else, that sort of mental blockage that affects teams that have higher ambitions but find themselves in the lower districts of the standings and struggle to re-calibrate their mentality and to become a grittier rather than a purely technically-driven one, as the situation would demand. The tactical conundrums have prevented them from building a clear identity and their main source of offense so far has been to get the ball to Ribery and Castrovilli and hope they do something useful with it.
Possible changes about the probable lineups are Igor playing instead of Caceres and Pol Lirola starting over Venuti, while Callejon and Pulgar are more likely to be used off the bench. Alfred Duncan and Valentin Eysseric are questionable with small injuries, while Patrick Cutrone is out with back spasms.
3-4-2-1 Dragowski; Milenkovic, Pezzella, Caceres; Venuti, Amrabat, Castrovilli, Biraghi; Bonaventura, Ribery; Vlahovic.