This past weekend in Serie A saw a number of notable events, none more so than in Turin where the incredible unbeaten streak of reigning Champions Juventus finally ended, with bitter rivals Inter cutting the run short at a staggering 49 games. There were huge stories elsewhere too as Mattia Destro finally got off the mark (and was subsequently red carded for his over-exuberant celebration) in a game in which Roma managed not to throw away a two-goal lead. Even Milan appeared to play well, dismantling Chievo with five different goal scorers in what was comfortably their biggest win in 2012-13.
However, as much as those stories are part of this season’s early narrative, another side played well yet again and – while attention was divided by those headline grabbing tales – they quietly slipped into fourth place, just two points outside a Champions League place which would have been unthinkable before the current campaign began.
After two seasons which have seen them more concerned with matters at the bottom of the table, Fiorentina, after a complete overhaul this summer, appear to once again be on the rise thanks to a remarkable turnaround that has surprised even their most ardent supporters. Recognising that perhaps the stale air of complacency had settled in, owners Andrea and Diego Della Valle set about making wholesale changes, replacing long-term Sporting Director Panteleo Corvino with Daniele Prade.
The former Roma executive in turn brought in Vincenzo Montella, fresh from leading Catania through an impressive campaign in which they would eventually finish eleventh but won many admirers along the way for both their style of play and the tactical awareness of the coach. Alongside the arrival of L'Aeroplanino came a raft of new players with Emiliano Viviano, Matías Fernández, Borja Valero and the returning Luca Toni among the most notable acquisitions.
Montella’s teams are famed, as you would expect from a man who spent nineteen years terrorising defences on the peninsula, for their attacking verve and his Viola are no different. They rank third in terms of both possession (55.4%) and pass completion (84.7%) while only three teams can better their average of 15.5 shots per game.
Well known during his playing days for his skill on the ball, it is also no surprise to see Fiorentina lead the league with 12.6 successful dribbles per game as both Stevan Jovetic (2.8) and David Pizarro (2.2) rank among the ten best players this term. Overall their attack ranks as the fifth best in the league with sixteen goals scored via eight different players with the Jovetic-Toni reunion seeing the pair net nine between them.
No player in the league can better the four assists recorded by Valero, a Real Madrid youth product and a surprising summer signing from Villarreal, while Jovetic has weighed in with a further three himself. The understanding they have shown – a stark contrast to last season which saw former coach Delio Rossi grab one of his own players by the throat such was the frustration within the squad – is even more remarkable when noting they have used no fewer than 22 different players already with 13 of those making at least eight appearances.
Yet, for all their impressive attacking play, those constant changes have also failed to prevent a hugely impressive defensive cohesion, highlighted by the fact that only Napoli (7) have conceded less goals than the eight to have pierced Viviano’s net. One of only three players – Valero and Jovetic being the others – to have started all eleven league fixtures to date, the former Palermo man, a life-long fan of the club, has made 21 saves and already has five clean sheets to his name.
In front of him however, is a unit which – despite their short time together – has allowed just 8.7 shots per game, far and away the league’s best with Juve’s 9.9 the next lowest. They have also made 23.7 tackles per game, a total bettered by only three teams with the impressive Facundo Roncaglia leading the side with 3.4 per game. The Argentinian has been vital to Montella’s 3-5-2 formation – used in all 11 matches thus far – making a team high 31 interceptions (3.1 per game) while only countryman Gonzalo Rodríguez can better his 41 clearances (4.1 per game). That he was brought in on a free transfer from Boca Juniors only furthers the belief he is one of the summers best value for money deals.
Completely surpassing all expectations, the Viola capitalised on slips from Lazio and Napoli to reach their current position and have an opportunity to pile on the misery for a stumbling Milan when they visit San Siro this coming weekend. Yet, when asked about their ambitions for the remainder of the season, Montella merely said “it depends on the growth that we see in the team from here to the end of the season.” If they can continue the progress already shown Fiorentina could be the biggest surprise Serie A has to offer.