Vincenzo Italiano’s Fiorentina is having a great start to the season, with much credit going to their impressive inter­pre­ta­tion of pressing.

Vincenzo Italiano’s Fiorentina is one of the most interesting teams in Italy after the first games of the Serie A season. After making a name for himself by bringing Spezia back to the top division with a propositive, intense and fluid style of football, the Sicilian manager accepted Rocco Commisso’s offer and joined Fiorentina, who have been looking to make their return to European football for a while now. The first game of the season already showed a different mentality than previous years: Italiano’s Viola are an intense team, very focused as a collective. One of the aspects that better showcase this feature is their pressing.

The match against Inter Milan was a great showcase of the dynamism and cohesion of their high pressing, especially as it was performed against one of the best teams in the league in terms of moving the ball from the back. Italiano played his offensive trio asymmetrically, asking his center mid (Torreira) to press high up the pitch, as Inter played with their usual 3+1 build up with Brozovic lying deep to help the defenders, with one of the center-backs (Bastoni) playing wide and high.

As such, Fiorentina’s right-wing mostly sat deeper, being able to close on Bastoni, while the left-wing - Nico Gonzalez - played higher up the pitch, almost in line with Vlahovic, so to help him press the remaining two center-backs, and sometimes even the goalkeeper, to divert the ball towards the sideline.

Fiorentina pressing's priority against Inter was to protect the center. The first necessity was to limit Brozovic’s possibilities, but this priority had to get together with controlling Inter’s two advanced forwards - Barella and Calhanoglu, both dangerous for different reasons (the deadly runs from the first, the passing and verticalization of the latter). So, Italiano’s two advanced forwards - Bonaventura and Duncan - pressed high on the respective opponents, while Torreira had to deal with Brozovic. The result was a high and impetuous pressing that sometimes ended up collapsing on the strong side but also had great effectiveness, strongly limiting Inzaghi team’s solutions to advance the ball.

The sophistication with which Fiorentina pressed in the game wasn’t merely limited to man-marking, but built on the ability to adapt choices and movements depending on the context, while keeping structural coherence in fluidity.

Again in the match against Inter, we can see a good reactivity when covering the ball, regardless of the opponent. In this case, the midfielders are matched up differently, with Duncan pressing on Brozovic, Torreira covering for him and being ready to press on Barella, and Bonaventura covering and following Calhanoglu.

When the progression of the play forces Fiorentina to lie deep, defense becomes more classic to protect their own half, and the recomposition of the back line is prioritized, with the two wings that lie deep in line with the three midfielders. Depending on the opponent, the team can prioritize more the zonal marking or the man-marking.

The choice of how to press on the goalkeeper’s goal kick is also peculiar: Bastoni, who was usually marked by Sottil (right-wing) in a normal situation, on the goal kick gets closer to the box with Skriniar, while center back de Vrij takes more of a center-mid position. In this case, Bonaventura (advanced forward) takes the task of marking Skriniar, in line with Torreira pressing Brozovic, while the other two center-backs are marked by Vlahovic and Nico Gonzalez.

To be able to press forward, though, it’s still crucial the players’ ability to shift, to recognize the opportunity to leave their man when he’s not an immediate threat to press on another opponent, or simply trying to interfere with the opponent’s build-up.

In this case, we can see Bonaventura leaving de Vrij the moment he’s blocked by Vlahovic and can’t receive the ball from the goalkeeper anymore. And when the latter passes the ball to the defender on one side, he immediately presses on him.

In previous games, against less efficient opponents in the build-up - and generally more ‘direct’ - Fiorentina pressing setup was less obvious and important, but it’s still possible to notice the differences depending on the opposing team.

Against Genoa, which built up with four at the back with two high fullbacks and had two center mids being played vertically, one of the two advanced forwards pressed the defenders with Vlahovic, the other one marked the center midfielder, while Pulgar took care of the other one. The two wings Callejon and Gonzalez sat deep to control a potential receive from the fullbacks.

In this play against Atalanta, we can note both the specific positional choice for this match and the situational adjustments. The two central midfielders Pasalic and Freuler are marked by Duncan and Bonaventura, while the right-winger Zappacosta is pressed by left-back Biraghi. Atalanta often tend to overload the wings with 4 or 5 players, asking the offensive midfielders to lie deep and emptying the center.

In this case, Fiorentina’s adjustment was to overload the wing themselves, sometimes even closing passing lines to the ball carrier without marking directly every possible receiver, but always being ready to intervene. In the attached image we can see Biraghi and Sottil being halfway between their man and the passing line, while Duncan decides to leave his man to better close the way to Miranchuk. Of course helping the defender that was marking him in the first place, Igor.

Fiorentina had a great start to the season and attracted many people’s attention with their fluid, determined and cohesive style of play. Even if pressing is a critical factor of modern football, it can’t be limited to its most standardized interpretation. The most innovative teams are the ones that show the ability to adapt their structure, being able to combine the necessary fluidity to absorb the positional rotations of the opponents while losing the less possible compactness.

If they will be able to continue like this, Vincenzo Italiano’s Fiorentina will be a very interesting team to follow this season to admire many more fascinating variations on this subject.

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