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Friend or Foe: A Q&A with Tito of Viola Nation

Our old friend Tito stopped by for a coffee and a quick pre- game chat

AC Milan v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In advance of the match this afternoon, we caught up with out good friend Tito of @ViolaNation to catch up on Fiorentina and get his thoughts on the match ahead. With so much at stake in terms of league positioning, we thought it’d be a good idea to know what we’re up against here.

Spoiler, none of my questions were about Cutrone. I understood the sale, but it’s just too soon.

Q1: Much like Milan, Fiorentina has had an up and down season. Montellas been sacked and Iachini has since taken over. Have you seen much of an imprint from him on the team in terms of style of play, motivation, etc.?

Tito: 1. “BeppeBall is basically brutalist architecture: only a select few will find it aesthetically pleasing, but it’s deeply functional and makes the most of its available materials. The biggest difference in the team under Iachini as compared to under Montella seems to be that there’s an identity that the players all buy into and execute. There are a few technical tweaks—the wingbacks sit deeper, the forwards work the channels more, the buildup is much quicker (or, if you’re not feeling charitable, the defenders thump it forward more often), but the real change is that everyone’s on the same page.

Under Montella, it looked like none of these guys had ever met each other, much less trained together. Under Iachini, they know what to do and seem to be enjoying their football again; that enthusiasm alone is probably worth a few points, especially if it keeps Federico Chiesa around for a little bit longer.”

We know a thing or two about the disarray that comes with Montella, we feel your pain bud.

Q2: Piggy-backing off that, are there any players who’ve benefited from the management change and any who have really found the change difficult for them?

Tito: ”To me, right wingback Pol Lirola has been the biggest beneficiary of Beppe’s arrival. He clearly likes playing a little farther back the pitch, where he can see the play in front of him, rather than starting higher up and reacting. Dusan Vlahovic has really come into his own up top over the past month and is playing with way more confidence than a just-turned-20-year-old in his first senior season ought to have. Chiesa, too, looks rejuvenated in a big way; when he’s engaged, he’s mighty good, but he seemed bored and alienated too often under il Aeroplanino.

The only player who’s taken a step back is Dalbert, I think. Under Montella, his brief was to stay high, stretch play, and get in behind, which suited him perfectly. The deeper positioning he’s in now doesn’t let him attack as often, which blunts his usefulness, but he’s still solid enough. The real issue has been the defense as a whole: by sacrificing possession to a hilarious extent, Iachini puts them under a LOT of pressure over 90 minutes; when you never have the ball, you have to stay very sharp for the entire match rather than getting a bit of a mental break when the midfield’s just working it around.”

Q3: In Commisso’s first big winter transfer window, he went out and got quite a few names for you guys. Personally I’m very jealous of the Kouame signing, but is there anyone in particular you’re excited about? Amrabat looks like he’s going to be an excellent addition.

Tito: ”Kouame and Amrabat are both very exciting, but neither’s going to do much for Fiorentina this year. I think that Alfred Duncan is a massive addition, as he’s capable of grinding in the midfield but also has the technical quality to pick a forward pass or carry the ball himself. He was superb in his debut last week and should fortify that area, giving Gaetano Castrovilli even more license to attack. Adding Kevin Agudelo, a promising playmaking midfielder, provides more depth in the middle behind the decidedly unexciting Marco Benassi and Milan Badelj.

And while he hasn’t really stood out yet, there’s a certain handsome young man recently arrived from Wolverhampton you may have heard of. Vlahovic’s recent run of form coincides with Patrick Cutrone’s arrival, so even if he isn’t on the pitch, he at least provides competition in training and a solid piece on the bench.”

Unfortunately he maintained the same status for us before he left for Wolves. Please don’t score on us Patrick, we still love you.

Q4: Copying your question for these next two here since they were so good, but what players are in fine form that Rossoneri fans should worry about? Any players who you could see us targeting for their lack of form at the moment?

Tito: ”Vlahovic and Chiesa each had braces last week and seem to be figuring out how to play together; once they start clicking consistently, they’re going to be a handful, and they’re getting closer every week. Castrovilli has been a bit quiet since a scary head injury kept him out for a couple of weeks, but he should be ready to bubble back up too. Lirola and Dragowski are the other two to watch, as they’ve been fantastic of late as well.

Were I a Piolus (or even a collection of Pioli), I’d probably attack Dalbert, who doesn’t seem to relish defending that much and can get petulant as the match wears on, putting him at risk of cards. German Pezzella has also developed a rather concerning habit of fouling people right outside the box of late, so forcing him into physical confrontations with Ibra is probably a sound policy.”

Maybe Pioli will finally answer my calls and take my (or rather Tito’s) input here...

Q5: Are there any Milan players you’re worried about come match day? Any matchups you’re excited to see take place?

Tito: ”Ibrahimovic always scores against Fiorentina, seems like, and I seriously doubt that some time in the US has changed him; he’s scored against Fiorentina every season he’s been in Serie A except for one (2005-2006), so he is, as far as I’m concerned, just the meanest man.

Ante Rebic, too, is in superb form and probably has a bone to pick with Fiorentina, who failed to get the best from him and sold him off for a pittance (would like to note here that I always thought he’d come good at some point and am not happy at all that he got shipped off).

As far as fun matchups, Zlatan vs German is going to be very enjoyable. I think that Castrovilli vs Kessie will also be a lot of fun, and seeing how Fiorentina attack Milan’s leftback zone with Chiesa and Lirola should be intriguing, especially with how high up Hernandez likes to stay.

Finally, I really want to see a Rafael Leao vs Igor matchup; the Viola saw that rocket-powered refrigerator and decided to get one of their own in Igor, who’s basically Thanos Junior.”

One thing is certain, anyone with the nickname “Thanos Junior” is probably one we should avoid going after.

Q6: What did you make of the spat Commisso had after the Juve game where some controversial decisions once again went their way (we’re used to it by now, but it never gets any easier)?

Tito: ”The decisions weren’t surprising at all except in how much they still managed to hurt; you’d think I would have developed some mental calluses after all these years, but here I am.

Rocco’s response was actually the most exciting outcome. I think parts of the fanbase were still pretty skeptical about this big-shot American coming in, running his mouth about Fiorentina, and zipping back and forth between Tuscany and the States. But his passionate and furious response to the refereeing (along with that January spending spree) made it quite apparent that he’s not just along for the ride. He’s here to conduct the choir of death. He may be Calabria-born and Jersey-bred, but he sure seems like uno di noi.”

I think Rocco gained quite a few non-Fiorentina fans after that outburst. He said what we were all feeling deep-down.

Q7: Finally, who do you think comes out on top in this one? Who’s got the goals and what’s the headline of the paper after this match?

Tito: ”I’m calling a physically grueling and choppy 2-1 win for Fiorentina behind goals from Vlahovic on the break and one of the defenders (Pezzella or Milenkovic) from a set piece, with Zlatan reducing the arrears off a feed from Rebic. And let’s be real: the national headlines are all going to be about Juventus or Conte no matter what.

For the local rags, I think the focus will be on Pioli’s return; I’m hoping that the mister gets a warm welcome on his return to Florence. He never deserved to be forced out the way he was by the Della Valles, especially after his dignified and human response to Davide Astori’s death.”

Time is always well spent with Tito, even if we’re no fan of his prediction. No matter though, since we’re only a few short hours away from seeing the real result! As always we’d like to thank Tito for his professionalism and thorough thought in his responses. You can catch him and more Viola content at @ViolaNation. And as I said to him before I started writing this up, here’s to a great game!