Davide Astori inspiration behind Fiorentina's winning run - Stefano Pioli
Fiorentina coach Stefano Pioli says the death of Davide Astori has inspired his team to what could become a record-breaking run of victories.
Astori died just over a month ago prior to the Viola's fixture with Udinese. They had won at Chievo in Astori's last game as captain and have since beaten Benevento, Torino, Crotone, Udinese and Roma to move to within two victories of their club record for successive wins in Serie A.
Pioli says the respect the team had for Astori has united them and made them work even harder as the Tuscan club edge closer to a place in Europe next season.
"He always had a long-term vision and he was one of the first to believe in our new path, and he put in a lot of effort to help his teammates develop," Pioli told RAI radio. "We were playing good football even when Davide was with us, but we lacked consistency, which is also normal given the changes that we had made.
"Now we are more of a team, more mature and the results are arriving. We're reaping the rewards of a very long but positive job."
As things stand, Fiorentina would qualify for the Europa League next season by holding their current seventh place, as long as AC Milan finish inside the top six.
They are just two points ahead of Sampdoria and Atalanta, though, and in a battle Pioli expects to rage through to the end of the season, even if he admits he did not initially expect Fiorentina to be part of it.
"Right from the start, there have been six sides who are better than us, and they are the ones currently in the top six positions," Pioli said. "Then there's a group of sides who can make it into Europe, including sides like Atalanta and Sampdoria.
"We were starting almost from zero and the aim was to build for the seasons to come, but now we will try to get the best we possibly can from this season."
Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.