As all of the European leagues come to an end, we can examine some curious trends displayed by teams. One of these teams is Fiorentina. Data analysis has become an extremely useful method of identifying trends amongst players and teams. Fiorentina have seen a significantly low xG for a number of matches in the Serie A 2018/19.
Between the third March and 14th April, the Italian team played seven matches with an average xG of 0.94. This is an underwhelming amount of expected goals with less than a goal per match as apparent. But what exactly caused this? We will use statistics and data analysis to find Fiorentina’s problems in this period of Serie A 2018/19.
Data Analysis – Attacking inefficiency
One of the tactics Fiorentina adopt is to make use of the wings to cross the ball into the box. Either of Fiorentina’s wingers will look to dribble quite far up the field. Now, considering they play in a 4-3-1-2 or a 4-3-2-1, the one or two players at the tip of the formation will look to stay in the box as far as possible.
The wingers will then cross the ball into the box, rather than pull it back. Giovanni Simeone has been the target man for most of the time and his unreliable form towards the end of the season has been a major influence on Fiorentina’s xG as expected with the drop in a striker’s form.
Here, we see an example of Fiorentina’s inefficiency. They have three players in the box and the opposition have three with two on the edge of the box. The winger or attacking midfielder will play the cross from the edge of the box rather than near the corner flag. This has an advantage as it has the potential to thread through layers of opposition defence. However, the player who is free after his teammates shake off the markers is completely ignored and the ball is headed outwards when he could have had a clear shot. This inefficiency is a major problem as the missed chances build-up.
Data analysis has shown us that using the space between the oppositions’ lines is very important for any attacking-minded team and Fiorentina were no exception. However, along with their xG drop, one of the changes we can see is that they look to Simeone as a target man as always when playing through the middle. But the change is that they won’t have a player playing as a second striker as they did in a 4-3-1-2.
Instead, the players will look to pass to Simeone. But with him being so heavily outnumbered without anyone between the lines, passing to the wings becomes a recurring option. Had a player been playing between the lines, the striker would have had a passing option. This player could then play through balls if needed or pass to the wings himself.
Their inefficiency is based on bad communication between Fiorentina’s players in the box. Two of the players go towards goal dragging all three markers with them. But the player left completely open is ignored. This player would have been a great option with no player marking him.
Another instance of underutilised space is seen during counter-attacks. With the change in system to a more sturdy system, as seen with the inflexibility of players’ positioning between the lines, another change seen was the full-backs being more conservative. They will not push-up as high, leaving a lot of space on the wings as seen in the example.
This explains Fiorentina‘s increase in through balls. As there are not many players to overlap, Montella’s team look to use numerical inferiority to their advantage in playing through balls as the opposition have to team-up on each player due to the lack of players.
This means there has to be better communication between opposition defenders to successfully avoid through balls. However, this has backfired as Fiorentina don’t have passing options as it becomes too much space to cover for just the wingers and hence, Fiorentina has been looking to cross the ball in if not a through ball.
Fiorentina makes the most of counter-attacks and long shots as they are not up-to-par in finishing. Though through balls are a strength, the Italians have many problems in their system which affect attacking prowess. One of these is the earlier problem of numerical inferiority combined with an aggressively pressing attack.
When the striker presses forward, he has no support in terms of pressing of the wingers. However, in the second system used by them, the wingers will press or the second striker will press distributing the work evenly. But on getting possession, Fiorentina has problems in playing the ball through or finishing the final pass.
They most often tend to find the striker who is in a more difficult position and to do it with a more difficult pass, than to play a return-ball. This is a major problem as many chances are lost in the search for a better conversion rate. In this example, the ball is intercepted by the opposition. Had it been pulled back, it could have resulted in a goal.
One of the reasons is the lack of pull-backs. Here, we have an example where Fiorentina have possession in the box on the far side. From this situation, Simeone is open but has a marker in front of him. The striker in this system, in this case, Simeone, is instructed to find space in front of the defenders or make a run to meet the ball in front of goal but past the defenders.
This would ideally increase the conversion rate but Fiorentina have shown dismal finishing or badly timed runs. Here, we have another problem and that is when Simeone runs forward, the goalkeeper is at the post and he blocks the shot. These highly specific instructions have not helped Fiorentina’s goal-scoring record.
Fiorentina is a team with great potential with players like Simeone and Federico Chiesa. And by no means is Vincenzo Montella not familiar with his players. What the problem was that the experimentation with the team was done in a very sensitive part of the campaign.
This was a situation where had Fiorentina played like earlier, they would have finished much higher than 16th in Serie A. But had their experimentation worked out, they still could have done better than 16th. However, rather than the experimentation, the lack of change after defeats and draws but no wins in countless consecutive games was the problem.