By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
Fiorentina needed nothing short of a complete facelift in the summer. Following a season which featured three coaches, few wins and countless off-field issues - including a bizarre dugout attack by Delio Rossi on Adem Ljajic - the Viola were desperate to return to the kind of form which saw them become a hugely-effective Champions League side just two years earlier.
But while many Serie A clubs were blindly backed to challenge once more, despite difficult transfer campaigns, the Florence outfit were fancied by few to have the kind of impact which has seen them win five successive games to climb to within one point of second-placed Inter, one third of the way into the season.
Some fabulous market moves saw the likes of Borja Valero, David Pizarro, Juan Cuadrado, Facundo Roncaglia and Emiliano Viviano brought in to help replace a number of familiar names, but rather than taking time to gel, the new kids on the block have revelled in the feeling of freshness in the Tuscan air.
Riccardo Montolivo, Alessandro Gamberini, Juan Manuel Vargas et al were all players who had served the club well but they moved on at the right time and the Viola have only benefited from their departures.
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The new faces have brought a new life to Fiorentina under the watchful eye of Vincenzo Montella, whose capture from Catania in June was nothing short of inspired. With a clear intent to play the game the right way, the Neapolitan has instilled confidence in possession as well as a tremendous work ethic. And in basing his side around the artistry of Borja Valero, the endeavour of Pizarro, the pace and freedom of Cuadrado and Manuel Pasqual, and the solidity of a tremendously effective back three, he has ensured that star man Stevan Jovetic has become the byproduct of a confident unit.
While Jovetic’s leadership from the front helped to get them going in the early days of the campaign, it has taken the Viola very little time to get into their stride. Only once this season have they had less than 50 per cent of possession in a game, with that coming in the 3-1 win at AC Milan last week. That statistic is a measure of how much Montella has had them rely on their new-found confidence on the ball to make them Champions League contenders once more.
That ability and belief has made them many people’s favourite team to watch this season. They have never once abandoned Montella’s philosophy of playing neat, energetic, fluid football, drawing comparisons with some of Europe’s most effective outfits. Borja Valero even compared their style to that regularly seen in La Liga, saying the retention and recycling of the ball reminded him of his experiences in Spain.
Now they are in the middle of a magnificent run of form. Five wins have been recorded in successive games, with 11 goals being scored in their last three, but even more reassuring for Montella was that the victories over Milan and Atalanta in the last week came despite the absence of Jovetic. And while the Montenegrin is undoubtedly still a key part of their future plans, the work done by the Italian coach over the last five months means he is no longer the be-all and end-all.
Between now and the end of the andata, the Gigliati have a relatively tame run of fixtures. Juventus, Inter and Milan have all been faced already, and only Roma of their next six opponents come with any significant threat, meaning that Serie A’s form side could well become Juve’s most dangerous challengers before too long. It may be a big leap to suggest that they could be Scudetto contenders come May, with that possibility too early to tell at this stage, but what can be said is that the combination of style and substance has quickly made them one of the best teams to watch in the Italian league.ELSEWHERE...
- We're back to square one at the top of the table again as Inter failed to keep up the pressure on Juventus for a second successive week, dropping two points at home to Cagliari. Ivo Pulga's side were excellent value for their 2-2 draw at San Siro, with Marco Sau scoring two goals and Samir Handanovic being forced into a couple of big saves as the Isolani made the Nerazzurri pay for not building on an encouraging opening 10 minutes which were capped by Rodrigo Palacio's opener. Diego Milito - for once - was the big culprit, firing over an open goal from eight yards with the scores at 1-1 in the second half, but it was the failure to perform as a team which will have disappointed Andrea Stramaccioni most. The Inter boss will now be hoping neighbours Milan can do his men a favour by taking points off Juve in order to spark life back into the Nerazzurri's stuttering challenge.
- By the time the Derby della Lanterna kicked off on Sunday evening, Genoa and Sampdoria were propping up the Serie A table, with the latter's 3-1 victory ensuring that neighbours Genoa stayed rooted to the bottom after a sixth successive defeat. Andrea Poli's opener was his first-ever top flight goal, and only his second in all competitions in nearly four years, with the other also coming against the Grifone in the Coppa Italia for Inter last season. As soon as the midfielder had found the net, Samp always looked likely to end their own horrific seven-game losing streak, and Cesare Bovo's bizarre own goal helped to seal the deal, leaving coach Luigi Del Neri already needing to answer serious questions just three weeks after being handed the reins by under-pressure Genoa president Enrico Preziosi.
- The delay of Roma's fixture against Torino until Monday night to allow for the rugby union international at the Stadio Olimpico gave Catania the opportunity to climb into the top six with victory over Chievo at the Massimino. Sergio Almiron's double secured three points and also formed the basis for a notable oddity in Sunday's fixtures, with nine of the daily total of 24 goals being registered by one-time employees of Juventus. Alberto Aquilani grabbed two and Luca Toni one in Fiorentina's big win, while Marco Marchionni and Raffaele Palladino earned Parma a point at Udinese and on-loan striker Manolo Gabbiadini contributed to Bologna's big win over Palermo before Ciro Immobile grabbed the consolation goal in the Genoa derby.