Italian tactics 101: Stefano Pioli’s Fiorentina redemption project

Stefano Pioli’s experience in Inter was a disaster. He was fired after 27 games. He has to redeem himself, and Fiorentina is the perfect project for him. They had a make-over this summer, replacing their coach and nine starters. With a modest expectation, Pioli can experiment with players and tactics. Their performance has been rocky at the start of the campaign, and the result is mediocre; They are 8th in the league, the same position they finished last season. However, they have improved in the recent weeks and have been unbeaten in seven consecutive league games. Has Pioli finally found the recipe to redeem himself from the Inter’s fiasco?
Pioli has mixed his and Paulo Sousa’s ideas into Fiorentina’s gameplay. His recent experiments result in a 3-5-1-1 formation:
The formation transforms into an asymmetrical 3-3-3-1 in the initial offensive phase. Fiorentina’s players focus on building their attacks from one side of the pitch. Switching between flanks rarely happens. Fiorentina’s players also occupy multiple layers; The first and second midfield layers consist of Jordan Veretout/ Milan Badelj/Federico Chiesa and Cristiano Biraghi/Cyril Thereau/Marco Benassi, respectively. Veretout (a midfielder) and Biraghi (a full-back) reverse their positions. This setup enhances the ball-control because Veretout has better ball-playing skill than Biraghi. Similarly, Chiesa and Benassi occupy reverse positions on the right. Chiesa and Biraghi Also (or whoever replaces him) act as wide-men and stick to the sidelines to stretch the opponent’s defense.
The multi-layers, the wide-men, the asymmetry are critical strategies for Fiorentina’s offense. The three-men back-line allows Fiorentina to better control the ball in the center. The passing lanes between players increase with players positioning in multiple layers. Pioli uses Badelj, Veretout and Benassi in front of the defenders because they possess good passing ranges and positioning and are press-resistant. Therefore, Fiorentina have excellent control of the possession when building from the back. Vertically, the three center-backs and the first midfield layer draw opponent toward them and create space for Fiorentina’s most dangerous players such as Thereau, Simeone, and Chiesa (when he moves inside, see below) to operate.
If the vertical passing lanes are closed, Fiorentina’s wide-men help to create horizontal space. The wide wingers (especially Chiesa) occupy the defenders, both mentally (attention) and physically (marking). Therefore, they prevent the opponent from compressing their defense. Again, this strategy creates space in the middle for Fiorentina’s front players to attack. If there are few defenders, Veretout and Badelj can find their teammates with simple entry passes.
Fiorentina can also use positional exchanges to confuse the opponent and distort their defense. The most common pairs of players involved in these exchanges include:
– Thereau-Simeone
– Thereau-Chiesa
– Thereau-Biraghi
– Thereau-Benassi
– Chiesa-Benassi
Thereau, Simeone, Chiesa initiate most of the exchanges while Benassi primarily runs into the space left by others. On the left, when Biraghi runs into the middle, Davide Astori occasionally moves into the area left behind him. Veretout and Badelj tend to stay in the midfield to help control the possession.
After a rocky start, Pioli’s vision of La Viola has begun to materialize. It is a harmonious mix of old habits and new ideas. With little scrutinies, Pioli may be able to thoroughly express his football ideas and redeem himself from his Inter’s fiasco.

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