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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Fiorentina to again respect

After Fiorentina’s first half of the season, few would have believed that they would now dare to dream of Europe again. Rob Paton writes
Fiorentina fans endured a miserable first half to the season. Defensive uncertainty, an uninspired attack, an almost unrivalled injury crisis, formation tweaks, diminishing player motivation and a distracting transfer window all contributed to a woeful start. The end of January saw the side in 14th, five points off the drop zone and still in with a chance of being dragged into a competitive relegation fight.

However, since entering February, the team have lost just once – to Inter – from eight League outings, whilst only the Nerazzurri and Udinese recorded more points in this period. The last 10 games have seen just six goals conceded, half of the side’s clean sheets this term registered and a first away victory for a year, quickly followed by a second. Whilst currently just unbeaten for four games, it is the team’s best run of form for 18 months, and avoiding defeat to Roma this weekend would make it their best for almost two years.

What has changed? Sinisa Mihajlovic points to simply having the players at his disposal again, stressing since the opening weeks of the season that he has been suggesting a full-strength Viola would be a top six position side. Valon Behrami’s introduction has been hailed by his Coach for adding energy and stability to midfield, whilst Adrian Mutu’s second return has added creative, goalscoring support for Alberto Gilardino.

Beyond player availability are subtle changes to tactics in recent weeks. Riccardo Montolivo’s deployment in the team comes only in a three-man midfield, be that in an advanced role in a 4-1-3-2, or deeper laying in a 4-3-1-2. As well as this, Gaetano D’Agostino has taken a backseat, and it is interesting to note the only game both he and Montolivo have played together in since both starting in defeat to Lazio, was the subsequent loss to Inter, Mihajlovic otherwise choosing one or the other.

The team’s shape has also materialised into a narrower dynamic to attack teams with, but with Mihajlovic’s old trick of flexing into a more compact defensive shape when required, often a 4-4-2 when holding out for a result.

The turnaround doesn’t change the feeling that the summer will be one of significant change at the Artemio Franchi, given a host of first-team names are long-thought to want away, and a number of the reserve players relied upon this term have disappointed. However, it has warded potential suitors to Mihajlovic’s job away – rumoured to include Delio Rossi – with the Serbian’s newfound momentum looking set to guarantee his place for next season.

The club’s sea change is best reflected in the growing confidence emanating from the dressing room. Gilardino, Behrami and Mutu have all recently spoken of the players’ collective belief that Europa League qualification as a real possibility.

Mihajlovic echoes this confidence in catching the likes of Juventus in particular, but is careful to remind fans the first objective for the season is securing survival. After all, it didn’t look too certain a few months ago.

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