Welcome to the latest from Florence where it has been quite a season with the winter World Cup taking place in Qatar which incidentally England won 1-0 against Denmark meaning that we had to have a pre-season break in December. My last save update took us up to that winter break with us in 5th place in the table 5 points off Juventus at the top of the table.
The mid-season winter break for the World Cup was somewhat of a distraction and we suffered several injuries with the main one being Manuel Locatelli was sidelined for the rest of the season. We also picked injuries up during the friendlies in December.
Results January-March 2023 🇮🇹
A defeat in Greece against AEK meant that we finished 3rd in our Champions League group meaning we be playing Thursday night football in the Europa League. Not an ideal situation but we just were not good enough. The result in Greece did seem to give us a kick up the arse though with us just losing one other game up to the end of March a total of 17 matches in all competitions. We also lost the services of Patrick Cutrone who limped off before the whistle had gone in Greece.
In Serie A we had good wins against Napoli (4-0) which saw Jose Mourinho get the boot and away at high flying Sampdoria (3-1) with Maximiliano Romero grabbing a hat trick. Nicolo Barella was showing the form that I expect from his ability and the reason I purchased him from Cagliari in the summer of 2021. The race for the title was hotting up nicely with us also in the mix along with Milan and Juventus. In this period we played 11 games winning 6 drawings 4 and losing 1 which was a 4-3 defeat to Milan in the San Siro in a game that saw two of our next generation (Newgens) get on the scoresheet. Prince Bakouboula and Ganso who you may have read about in my last post titled The Boy From Porto Alegre.
The result in Milan was the first glimpse of what the future may hold for the Viola in a positive sense in terms of us taking an Ajax type approach in that we are investing heavily in our youth development system which is something that I had planned from the start of my reign at the club. We needed to make the right investment in terms of transitioning the club from a mid-table club to a club that consistently could contest for honors and European qualification.
I had to move a lot of players out of the club during the first 3 years whilst both investing in the right players to bring in to the club using the transfer system and investing in our youth development system that would provide us with our own players without relying on the transfer market.
‘We are now starting to bear the fruits of our investment in developing our own’
The Coppa Italia has been good to us over the years and wins against Palermo (2-0) and Sampdoria (2-0) set up a two-legged Semi-Final up against Juventus with the 1st leg to be played in Turin. We were lucky to have Patrick Cutrone back from injury for the trip to face the old lady and it was Cutrone who opened the scoring after just 5 minutes but in typical Juve fashion they bounced back with two goals of their own before half time. The inform Domenico Berardi earnt us a well deserved 2-2 draw to set up a fascinating 2nd leg in Florence.
Florence is always ready for a visit of our biggest rivals Juventus, and it was no different for our midweek Coppa Italia Semi Final 2nd leg. What nobody could have predicted was the way we took the Old Lady apart with a devastating display of attacking football that ended in a 5-1 win. Nicolo Barella was the man of the match with what was his finest performance to date in the Viola shirt, capping his performance off with 2 goals. Patrick Cutrone (2) and Ganso got the other goals to set up a third final for us under my watch against Internazionale.
Knocked out of the Champions League we turned our attention to the Europa League and first up for us in the first knockout round was Feyenoord at home in the new format of a single game to advance to the next round. It was a hard fought game which ended 2-2 at the final whistle sending the game into extra time which is where we came out 5-2 winners.
The draw for the 2nd knockout round paired us with a familiar foe AS Roma who are now under the watchful eye of Nuno Espirito Santo. The game was a right affair with both sides canceling each other out after Domenico Berardi had put us 1-0 up in the Olimpico after just 8 minutes. The game ended this way to set up a quarter-final with Seviilla.
Results April-June 2023 🇮🇹
Despite winning 8 of our remaining 11 games in Serie A it was just not enough to catch Milan at the top of the table with us finishing 2nd for the second year running 6 points behind top spot and 7 points clear of Juventus in 3rd. Draws against both Sassuolo and Cagliari and a defeat against Palermo was enough to crown Milan the champions. This period of games saw me introduce a few players to life in the big time. Forward and debutant Leandro Centrone scored the winning goal away to Atalanta after Luther Gendrey had given us the lead in a game that resulted in Atalanta sacking Marcelo Bielsa.
Midfielder Leon Zimmerman scored our opening goal in a 2-1 win in the Franchi against Hellas Verona whilst another midfielder Pierluigi Poli made an appearance.
Along with Centrone, Gendrey, Zimmerman ,Poli Scotta, Mottola, Giannatassio, Granieri, Gentile, and Bakouboula are all the next generation (newgens) to feature in the 1st team signifying the start of a new era on the horizon in Florence.
The Coppa Italia Final 🏆 against Internazionale was soon upon us and it was a chance for us to make it third time lucky after penalty shootout defeats on our previous two final appearances both against AS Roma in 2020 and 2022. We went into the game with confidence but we had to rely on a Rafik Zekhnini goal in the 82nd minute to equalize an early Martinez goal. Extra bloody time again and when Domenico Berardi gave us a 2-1 lead with just 8 minutes left on the clock I thought that we had broken our hoodoo but there would be another twist when Martinez grabbed a goal at the death to send the game into a penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw. History went on to repeat itself when Inter were triumphant in the penalty shootout inflicting our third coppa final defeat on penalties in four years. We really need to practice our penalties before a Coppa final.
‘Always The Bridesmaid’
The Europa League kicked off again with a Quarter Final clash with Sevilla and a superb 2-0 win in the first leg in Florence thanks to a goal in each half courtesy of both Patrick Cutrone and Rafik Zekhnini which gives us a big chance in Spain 7 days later. I threw a question out on Twitter basically asking how the FM World would approach the 2nd leg of a quarter final going in to the game 2 goals to the good. I had already played the game in question but just wondered how others would have approached the game.
I put faith in our system and went in to the game with the system that gave us the two goal lead in the 1st leg, well we needed a 41st minute penalty from Domenico Berardi to settle our nerves at the break because Sevilla had opened the game up with two early goals giving them a 2-1 lead at the break. The situation was simple Sevilla had to score two goals without reply. My decision was a little trickier because we never looked like scoring in the 1st half so I was more than happy when Berardi dispatched the penalty.
Well I decided to go with a more defensive philosophy switching to a counter attacking mentality which you could say was a mistake because just 3 minutes after the restart Sevilla went 3-1 up meaning the game was wide open and we were holding on to the away goal with the aggregate score tied at 3-3. We got to the 75 minute mark withstanding a lot of pressure from our hosts so I decided to bring on a couple of players to give us fresh legs in the middle of the park but it was not a predictable change because I changed the shape and dynamic of the side by bringing on Abdou Diakhate and Christian Nørgaard on for Berardi and Zekhnini to flood the midfield giving them both the role of ball winning midfielder which worked a treat with both of them acting as destroyers which upset the Spanish rythem which helped us see the game out to advance to the Semi Final to face a familiar foe.
Napoli awaited us in the Semi Final with us travelling to Naples for the 1st leg. Napoli have had a bit of a renaissance after the departure of Jose Mourinho and it took a 78th minute strike from Patrick Cutrone to settle this game giving us a valuable away goal in a 1-0 win.
The 2nd leg in Florence was a tight affair but we always looked to be in control and Patrick Cutrone made things easier when he coolly finished a through ball from Tonali just before the interval. The second half saw us show our dominance seeing out the game to set up a Europa League Final against Manchester City with a 2-0 aggregate win.
Europa League Final 2023 : Istanbul 🏆
AFC Fiorentina 1-4 Manchester City
Our first European Final together ended in a disappointing showing from us against a Manchester City side who rolled over us by racing in to a 3-1 first half lead. We played better in the second period but with only a Nicolo Barella goal behind us we just didn’t turn up on the big occasion. With our three Coppa Italia Finals this is our 4th final that we have failed to get anything out of.
With the game lost I decided to give Kevin Diks a run out in the last 20 minutes so he can say goodbye to the fans. Diks will leave us at the end of the season so I thought it was only right to allow him a little game time if not a swansong.
We need to learn from our experiences and whilst sticking to our philosophy we need to work out how we approach the bigger games in Europe going forward.
Serie A Final Table 22-23
Serie A 5 Year History
During my spell at the club, there have been 5 different winners of the Serie A title including ourselves Internazionale, Napoli, Juventus, and Milan. We have had 4 top 3 finishes in the last 5 seasons including 1 title win and 2 runners up spots in the last 3 seasons.
Squad Statistics 2022-2023
Domenico Berardi was, without doubt, our player of the season top scoring with 24 goals and 11 assists averaging 7.36 over the season. Cutrone finished the season with 20 goals ahead of Zekhnini with 13 and Barella on 10.
Team Of The Season
Overall Best Xl
With just one year left on my contract, the Viola board offered me a three-year extension which I signed so if all goes well I will be at the club until 2027 which would make it nine seasons in Florence. I average one season per month game time so at that rate, a tenth season would take me until the end of August which would be just right for me to finish my reign in Florence by resigning and maybe simming the game for a period of time for one last blog post to see how the Viola get on in the future without me. Or I could keep the save and you never know dip back in to it in the future.
With a new contract signed it is time for me to get to work ahead of the new season which I think will be a season of transition with a number of our development squad knocking on the door for a first team place. I will be looking to blend our youngsters with a few of the older players in the squad this coming pre season. The likes of Domenico Berardi and Manuel Locatelli will be important in influencing the younger members. Locatelli himself may well be the subject of a few transfer bids in fact I am expecting the big clubs in Europe to come after a few of our players. Depending on the money offered we may say goodbye to a couple of players which will give an opportunity for someone to step up and also balance the books.
We will not be buying any players for the first team in the transfer window, our focus now is to develop within only signing promising youngsters for our youth teams. You could say we have become the Ajax of Italy both on and off the field.
Florence And The Goal Machine: The Story So Far 🇮🇹
2022-2023 Serie A 2nd Place / Europa League Runners Up / Coppa Italia Runners Up
2021-2022 Serie A 2nd Place / Supercoppa Italia Winners🏆 / Coppa Italia Runners Up
2020-2021 Serie A 1st Place 🏆 / (Manager Of The Year)
2019-2020 Serie A 5th Place / Coppa Italia Runners Up
2018-2019 Serie A 3rd Place / (Manager Of The Year)
I would be interested to hear your opinion on whether you think we have been successful or under achieved during our first 5 years at La Viola. Personally I think we have been successful in taking the club to the next level from mid table mediocrity to being a consistent challenger for silverware and Champions League qualification. We have a very successful youth development system in place and a very successful record in the youth leagues.
Finally I would like to wish you all a very happy Easter and hope that you have not indulged those chocolate eggs too much. Below you can see my links to my social media platforms including FM Base.