Vincenzo Montella has transformed Fiorentina into a force worth more praise than it's getting.
Huge transfer activity over the summer saw the old guard—who still appeared to be reminiscing about the Cesare Prandelli days—ushered away from the Artemio Franchi and replaced by fresh, hungry recruits.
These new players, in addition to an effective system change, have seen the Viola string together five wins in a row to sit third in Serie A.
What has Montella done to make such rapid progress? Let's analyze his three-man defensive system.
Montella represents the new breed of young, innovative head coaches.
Above, they can be seen spreading to cover the width of the field on attack. This gives the wing-backs encouragement to move forward and hug the touchline, while not having to worry about leaving gaping holes in the channels.
Juan Cuadrado, playing right-wing-back, is able to push forward and commit two Atalanta players. This allows Rodriguez to step forward with the ball from centre-back and look for a pass without being chased down immediately.
In a three-man defence, the centre-backs are always encouraged to move forward, carry the ball and exert an attacking influence. What's not always mentioned is the fact that this is possible purely because of a wing-back's positioning.
On the reverse
While a three-man defence stays wide and stretches the pitch on the attack, going the other way is a completely different story.
The 3-5-2 concept changes from manager to manager, but under Montella, Juan Cuadrado and Manuel Pasqual tuck in deep to make it a five when their team is under pressure.
Here, we see a narrow set of three centre-backs who've just retained the ball deep in their own half, and Cuadrado is already turning on the burners in the top left of the image.
The presence of three at the back gives the Viola solidity whilst counterattacking, as well as genuine direct threats in the wide areas.
Is there a downside?
There is a slight issue with this system, but it's not experienced by this Fiorentina side.
It get can pretty lonely up front when you've got five to seven players committed to defending a phase of play. It also means that, should you receive the ball quickly from your defence, you're completely outnumbered.
This is where the 3-5-2 separates the men from the boys; if you can't hold the ball up front, your This is where where we saw Edin Dzeko fail against Real Madrid midweek.
Here, we see the isolation issues.
Luckily, the Viola have the mercurial Stevan Jovetic, tricky Adem Ljajic and dependable Luca Toni. They've all proven proficient at holding onto the ball under pressure, and Montella is using his peripherals expertly up front.