Just when fans were ready for things to kick on, the regular season will be broken by a friendly: the Trofeo Santiago Bernabéu. It’s a match meant to honor the late Real Madrid president Santiago Bernabéu and is a chance for Real to show off their history by reliving old European classics. It might not be timed the best this season, but it should be an entertaining spectacle nonetheless.
Tito Kohout from SB Nation’s Fiorentina blog, Viola Nation, joins me to talk about his side and how they might fare in this encounter.
Om: Why did Fiorentina accept this friendly invitation? We all know that this is a Real Madrid event filled with a lot of tradition, but what’s in it for the opposing team to travel all the way to Spain and likely lose (that’s not me being arrogant, they’re just the facts, okay)? Money? Maintaining a good relationship with Madrid? More time to test tactics?
Tito: I have no idea why the Viola would take up Real on this one. After getting shelled 3-0 in the season opener (and it could have been much, much worse), you'd think that a full week of training ahead of the first home game of the year would be smart. I guess that, faced with a mediocre future, the club leadership is trying to remind fans and themselves of the glorious past. The downside is that yeah, they're going to lose, and probably badly. If there's a decent payout in it though, that could be a big part of the motivation; the Della Valles have developed a reputation as penny-pinchers in the last few years, and even though Fiorentina is flush with cash from selling half of last year's first team, a couple extra million might be all the motivation they need to go ahead with a bad idea.
Om: Madridistas are pretty sure Real won’t take this too seriously, so what about your boys? Are they in it to win it?
Tito: It's really tough to figure this squad out, since the turnover from last season is enormous; there are maybe 2.5 starters who've carried over. That said, this is the youngest team in Serie A and is chock full of promising talent, so a lot of these dudes may consider this a chance to audition for one of the giants of the game.
Om: What would you most like to see from your team (tactically or otherwise) when they play Madrid?
Tito: Not giving up double-digit goals? Dang, man. I guess the things that'd be nice to see are a functional defense that can perform basic functions like marking a man at the back post, a midfield that can win the ball in the center of the pitch and make a forward pass, and an attack that can get the ball into the opposing box. I know those sound like total cop-out answers, but given Fiorentina's performance on Sunday, these would be significant steps forward.
Om: Any big weaknesses that Los Merengues can exploit?
Tito: Ha. Ha. Hahahahahahahahahaha. ALL OF THEM. The weakest position on the pitch for the Viola is right back, which is great when facing maybe the greatest left winger ever; CR7 vs Nenad Tomovic or Bruno Gaspar is, like, a parable about the futility of human effort or something. The center backs don't have a very good relationship together and leave too many gaps. The midfield will hit a few nice passes forward, but don’t do a good job of winning the ball or controlling the match via possession and can look overrun very quickly. Really, the front four are the only bright spot, but since they haven't played together much (read: at all), it's difficult to expect them to put together the sort of quick, decisive action that you need to beat Real.
Om: Will Stefano Pioli start the big guns, or can we expect to see some bit-part players and some youngsters get a couple minutes?
Tito: I'm expecting a bunch of backups and youngsters for this one, as Fiorentina get their first home match of the season on Sunday against a fairly talented Sampdoria side, but it's tough to tell with Pioli. He could operate this as an extended training session and try to get his first XI out there for a half to gel with each other better. He could bring out a team comprised entirely of teenagers to audition for expanded roles and motivate the starters. Given his reputation as a developer of “the youths,” I'd expect a pretty young team. Of course, the hilarious run of injuries to the trequartistas (Marco Benassi may be okay, but Mati Fernandez and Riccardo Saponara are both out) means that we could get some experimentation.
Tito: Guh. Whatever the biggest number they can fit on the Bernabeu scoreboard to zero. In all seriousness, I can't see a way that this patchwork defense can slow down a nuclear attack, so I see an easy path to 4 goals for yall, minimum. Going forward, Fiorentina has some individual quality, so let's say a moment of magic from Federico Chiesa gives the visitors a consolation. 5-1 to the bad guys.