There have been quite a few rainy days in Florence of late – both literally and metaphorically. Second-season syndrome has affected my boys early on, and we’re already playing catch-up in both Serie A and the Europa League. To make matters worse, I’ve accidentally killed team morale, risking the wrath of my captain and the club’s fans.
October could be more of a struggle. Not only do we have to dance with the devil (aka Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus), we must also plunge into the depths of ‘Hell’ (aka Istanbul). If things continue to go horribly wrong, I might even be tempted to sell my soul for
a donut three points.
FIORENTINA vs CHARLEROI (Europa League, Group B – Match 2)
In the wake of recent poor results, I saw to it that there would be no shirkers when we hosted Belgian Pro League side Charleroi in the Europa League. Team-bonding sessions were the order of the day when it came to training, and anyone who wasn’t performing was gently reminded of their responsiblities.
Sandro Tonali was one player who had consistently been among our best performers in training. I rewarded the 19-year-old with a first Fiorentina start, serving as our regista in a match that we really couldn’t afford to lose after what happened on Merseyside.
We quickly got stuck in and threw everything bar the kitchen sink at Charleroi. Unfortunately, makeshift right-back Bryan Dabo – deputising for the injured Almamy Touré – pulled his ankle ligaments only 11 minutes in. That meant young centre-half Nikola Milenkovic had to come off the bench to fill in on that right flank.
Dabo’s exit sparked a momentum shift. Our opponents started to take control of proceedings, giving us some almighty scares before Tonali’s clumsy challenge on Adama Niane gave them a penalty in the 38th minute. Niane had a fantastic opportunity to put the outsiders 1-0 up… but the Malian forward’s spot-kick was too close to Alban Lafont, who palmed it to his right.
Tonali’s full debut was not going to plan, so I brought Jordan Veretout on and switched to the 4-2-3-1 formation for the second half. We started to look more like our usual selves after those tactical changes, with Valentin Eysseric having a couple of near-misses.
By the 67th minute, though, we still weren’t much closer to ending the stand-off. Federico Chiesa was brought on for Domenico Berardi as a last resort, and it was he who made the difference a little over 10 minutes later. Chiesa brilliantly cut through Les Zébres’ defence with a long weighted pass towards Pietro Pellegri, and the teenager raced away before driving in his first Viola goal.
Chiesa wasn’t done there. In injury time, our vice-captain popped up at the back post to flick in a free-kick from Maximiliano Olivera and seal the three points. It really was an excellent set-piece by Olivera, considering that our Uruguayan left-back had taken a nasty knock to his knee about 15 minutes from the end.
Meanwhile, Everton registered their second victory of Group B, putting three goals past Galatasaray without reply in Turkey. In three weeks’ time, it would be our turn to visit Istanbul, where victory would put us in a strong position to qualify from our pool at the halfway point.
PARMA vs FIORENTINA (Serie A, Match 7)
It couldn’t be overstated just how much the Charleroi win boosted our confidence. Our tails were still up when we arrived at the Ennio Tardini three days later to play Parma. The Crociati had won their first two games in Serie A before watching their form fall off a cliff.
Barely five minutes after kick-off, Parma were seemingly heading for another loss. Chiesa’s right-wing cross into the box was met by a clinical header from Eysseric, who became the first Viola player to score a second goal this season. This was the NINTH game of our campaign.
Marco Benassi hadn’t yet found the net this term, though only the post prevented him from breaking his duck 21 minutes in. The rebound was then cleared by Parma midfielder Jacopo Dezi, who would himself come relatively close to equalising just before half-time.
Veretout again came off the bench for the second period, which he started with an excellent assist… for the home team. Riccardo Gagliolo intercepted a stray cross-field ball from the French mezzala and flicked it to Facundo Colidio, who sent Gervinho bursting clean through. The outcome was a tidy finish that I wish I’d seen more often when the unpredictable Ivorian winger was playing for Arsenal.
In the 57th minute, though, Veretout atoned for his carelessness. After receiving a square ball from Benassi, he rolled it first-time to Chiesa, whose low bullet crept underneath Parma goalkeeper Eloy Room to recover our advantage.
Two minutes later, it was Benassi’s turn to help the flagging Crociati out, shoving Colidio in our penalty area. Roberto Inglese stepped up to try and make it 2-2… but for the second game in a row, Lafont read the penalty correctly and diverted it away from his net.
Fears that we would throw victory away would be quashed by a couple of quick goals midway through the half. Firstly, in the 63rd minute, Nikola Kalinic provided a poacher’s finish from Nicolás Benedetti‘s flick-on after the playmaker had intercepted Gagliolo’s hooked clearance.
Three minutes later, Eysseric eyed up his second goal, and our fourth of the night. The in-form forward planted in a majestic header from Kevin Diks‘ cross, and my joint-biggest Serie A win as Fiorentina manager was effectively secured. 4-1 to the fabulous Viola.
While we climbed back into the European places, Milan saw their impeccable record ruined by an increasingly iconoclastic Genoa, who held the Rossoneri to a 1-1 draw. Despite that, Gennaro Gattuso’s side now had a four-point lead at the top, as Roma slumped to a 2-1 defeat against promoted Pescara, whose fourth win since September took them into the top five.
Napoli went level on points with Roma after coming from behind to beat Sampdoria 3-1. Inter conceded a 92nd-minute equaliser against Lazio, while Juventus contrived to lose a 1-0 lead over Salernitana in the 97th minute. I swear there are far too many late goals in this game…
The international break passed by without any notable injuries, though one of our central defenders did have something on his mind. I noticed that Vítor Hugo was feeling ‘Les Misérables’, so I asked him what was up. The 28-year-old Brazilian was wondering why he hadn’t started many games this season.
Vítor did have a point. While I hadn’t necessarily forgotten about him, it transpired that I had only used him in three of our nine matches – a pitifully low number of appearances for someone of his abilities. I promised him that he would feature more regularly in the coming weeks, starting with the big one.
FIORENTINA vs JUVENTUS (Serie A, Match 8)
Our most-hated rivals turned up at the Artemio Franchi still seething after recent poor results had frustrated their pursuit of a ninth straight scudetto. We were looking to pile on more misery and perhaps go one better than in our last home meeting with Juventus. Back then, we led 2-0, only to be pegged back to 2-2. This time around, though, the tables were turned.
Juve made a storming start, giving our defence plenty of work before breaking through in the 16th minute. Predictably, it was Cristiano Ronaldo who prised us apart with an excellent 40-yard to the Bianconeri’s new old centre-forward. Gonzalo Higuaín was back from his season-long stint at Milan, and an emphatic strike was the Argentine’s first in Serie A since returning to Turin.
Ronaldo was involved in Juventus’ second goal six minutes later. That time, he was on the receiving end of a corner delivery from Douglas Costa, which he got to before Jordan Veretout to head home. The Bianconeri were 2-0 up, and the Viola tifosi were in despair.
Then, in the 29th minute, came the start of what would be an incredible Fiorentina fightback. Pellegri squared a short ball to Chiesa on the edge of Juventus’ six-yard box, and Federico hammered in an unstoppable strike at the near post.
Within six minutes, we had got ourselves back level from a devastating counter-attack. Pellegri lofted the ball out left to the surging Eysseric, who picked out Chiesa in the area and then watched the 22-year-old slot in his second goal. It wouldn’t be his last.
Chiesa’s hat-trick goal came in the penultimate minute of the first half. Veretout’s direct ball found him wide open on the edge of the box, and he surged past Mattia De Sciglio to go one-on-one with the keeper. Though Federico momentarily lost his footing in the box, he was still able to slide the ball past Wojciech Szczesny and turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead.
He is indeed, Giosuè. I lavished him – and the rest of the team – with praise in the dressing room at half-time. That’s usually a sure-fire way to get your players to switch off in the second half, but I wanted to keep spirits high. After all, we were ahead of piggin’ Juventus.
As part of me suspected, though, we did seem to lose our way early in the period. Pezzella and Benassi were each cautioned before our advantage was snuffed out in the 54th minute. Ronaldo’s second strike was a virtual carbon copy of his first, as he flicked in another corner from Costa, forcing us to wake up and smell the coffee.
Alas, we didn’t realise where we were going wrong when defending corners. In the 74th minute, not long after Szczesny had prevented Chiesa from making it 4-3 Fiorentina, we were left trailing by that scoreline. Costa’s latest corner was cushioned by Sami Khedira to Portuguese right-back João Cancelo, who couldn’t possibly miss from so close to goal.
It had been a valiant effort from everyone wearing a purple jersey, but it still wasn’t enough against the champions. After a last-ditch banana shot from Christian Nørgaard went awry, we succumbed to our first defeat at the Franchi since I became manager.
It was some achievement to stay unbeaten at home this long, but what ‘better’ way to end such a proud record than with a gutsy performance against the eight-time defending champions? Sure, losing to Juventus in those circumstances hurts. However, Chiesa’s fantastic treble gives me belief that we’ll get ’em next time.
The top two clashed at the San Siro, but neither Milan nor Roma could strike the decisive blow in a tense encounter. Napoli were held 1-1 at Lazio, but the 3rd-placed Partenopei’s unbeaten start – just like Milan’s – remained intact for the time being. Juve climbed to 4th in place of Atalanta, following La Dea’s 2-2 tie with Genoa on home soil.
GALATASARAY vs FIORENTINA (Europa League, Group B – Match 3)
We tried to put Juve out of our system quickly when we made the long journey to Istanbul – the gateway to Asia. Awaiting us there in our latest Europa League group match were Galatasaray, who were top of Turkey’s Süper Lig and in good form.
The outcome of this game – along with the rematch at the Franchi a fortnight later – would go some way to determining who qualified for the knockout stages. Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere was tense, and neither team could get into their stride during the first half.
By the end of the first half, we were marginally the more likely team to score. Eysseric had been denied in the 15th minute by Gala goalie Fernando Muslera, while another attempt four minutes later narrowly missed the target.
Valentin’s fortune did not improve in the 66th minute. His fierce strike from Chiesa’s deep cross came back off the near post, and the rebound drifted so far off target that it went out for a throw.
While we rued our luck in front of goal, Galatasaray’s players were cursing the referee’s strictness. They picked up five yellow cards between them in the second half, and conceded 19 fouls throughout the 90 minutes. The most significant was committed after 73 minutes.
As Domenico Berardi tried to square the ball to Kalinic, our Croatian forward was felled by a clumsy slide tackle from Ghana midfielder Bernard Mensah (no relation to the Bristol Rovers winger). Domenico drilled the resultant penalty past Muslera, and after a nervy final quarter-hour, we could start another Berardi party.
Those three points helped us consolidate 2nd place in our group at the halfway stage. We were now just a point off leaders Everton, who had surprisingly only managed a 1-1 draw in Belgium against Charleroi.
Thanks to those last four matches, dressing room morale had shot right up again. We now felt confident that we could win our next two Serie A matches – both against teams at the wrong end of the table – and conclude October on a high.
CAGLIARI vs FIORENTINA (Serie A, Match 9)
Cagliari were floundering in 19th ahead of our latest visit to Sardinia. Excluding a resounding 4-0 win at Genoa, Walter Zenga’s men had claimed just one point from seven matches, conceding at least twice in six of them. Serie B surely beckoned if they didn’t pull themselves together.
Mind you, Cagliari did have a promising hitman in 20-year-old Christian Capone – on loan from Atalanta. One could only look on in admiration when Capone controlled a Jordy Clasie pass on the edge of our box and drove it plum into Lafont’s top-right corner.
Our own striking starlet was not faring so well. Pellegri was given a chance to equalise from the spot in the 29th minute, after Cagliari full-back Darijo Srna had fallen off his Zimmer frame and taken Eysseric down with him. Alas, the pressure got to Pietro, as the 18-year-old’s weak spot-kick was tipped behind by Alessio Cragno.
Not to worry, said Eysseric four minutes later. The experienced Frenchman beat home centre-back Filippo Romagna to a Chiesa cross and unleashed an excellent header to make it 1-1. That was his fourth goal of the season, bettering last term’s haul.
Eysseric then changed roles to turn the match around on 39 minutes. His right-wing delivery was perfectly weighted for Pellegri, whose confidence was restored when he flicked the ball past Cragno. He even did a little cartwheel to celebrate!
Just three minutes afterwards, though, ‘Al’ Capone burst into our area and gunned us down. A Srna free-kick bounced into the danger zone and caught every Viola player out, including Lafont, who looked ready to make a simple catch when Capone cheekily half-volleyed the ball past him. Was there no end to our set-piece woes?
Surprisingly, that fourth goal was the end to the scoring in this match. There was very little goalmouth action at either end until the final few seconds. Chiesa broke Cagliari apart with an excellent cross to the advancing Pellegri. Pietro’s heavy first touch was tipped towards the byline by Cragno, but that gave the 18-year-old another bite at the cherry. He agonisingly struck the post from a tight angle, and so we drew a match we arguably should’ve won.
Leaders Milan squandered a 2-0 advantage at home to Pescara but still led the way, thanks to Roma’s impotency against Atalanta. A single Lorenzo Insigne goal proved enough for unbeaten Napoli to see off Inter and jump into 2nd above Roma. As for Juventus, they conceded an injury-time leveller and drew 3-3 with recently-promoted mid-tablers Verona.
FIORENTINA vs GENOA (Serie A, Match 10)
Our midweek game was at home to Genoa, who had started the season dreadfully before developing a reputation for frustrating bigger teams. Roma, Milan and Atalanta had all had points taken off them by Roberto Donadoni’s Grifone, and we were next on their hitlist.
Home fans were already fretting by the sixth minute. Rubén Pardo’s searching pass to Lucas Boyé caught both Diks and Vítor Hugo unawares, allowing the skilful Argentinian to half-volley towards goal. Lafont needed a couple of attempts to secure the ball, nearly spilling it into Boyé’s lap with his first.
That wasn’t the last time Genoa would have us under the cosh. Iuri Medeiros’ free-kick in the 44th minute had to be pushed away by Lafont, and technology later revealed that the ball had almost entirely crossed the goal line. But for a few inches, we would’ve trailed 1-0 at the break.
Our profligacy at the other end prompted me to throw on Chiesa in the second half, even though he was at high risk of injury after giving everything in recent matches. It was worrying to see Chiesa holding his thigh just moments into the second half, but he soldiered on.
When Davide Santon clipped Eysseric’s heel in the 52nd minute, we were awarded our third penalty in as many matches. Sadly, Kalinic proved to be more of a Pellegri than a Berardi, as his drive to Ionut Radu’s right-hand side was clawed wide by the Romanian goalkeeper.
To make matters worse, Chiesa had broken down during the move that had resulted in the penalty. Though fears that he had pulled or even torn a muscle were later disproved, we couldn’t take any chances with our main man. Luciano Vietto came on for his first appearance in over a month, and the loanee winger once again proved to be frustrating.
By full-time, we’d mustered an astonishing 25 shots on goal, of which only five were on target. Many of those efforts were blocked by a resilient Grifone defence, though that was no excuse for another shoddy display. The deadline remained unbroken, and we now had an alarming record of one win in five home league games.
The top four all won to put those Champions League places out of our reach, at least for the time being. Milan survived a Franck Kessié red card to see off Atalanta 2-0, and fellow unbeatables Napoli eventually won 4-3 at Pescara, despite a one-man comeback from the Delfini’s hat-trick hero Fousséni Diabaté.
Roma’s four-match winless run ended at Salernitana, where they prevailed 3-1. Meanwhile, the Turin derby ended in a 1-0 win for Juventus, thanks to a 70th-minute goal for Cristiano Ronaldo. They were no doubt ‘assisted’ by the referee, who gave 27 fouls against Torino and sent off their right-back Lorenzo De Silvestri.
And so we’re in 8th place after a disappointing first quarter to the season. If it’s any consolation, at least Lazio and Inter appear to be struggling just a little more.
I honestly don’t know what’s up with this team. As you’ve seen there, we have been playing some very good football at times, but there’s very little consistency in many aspects of our game. With Roma and Milan to come in November, I suspect our situation will only worsen before it improves… IF it improves.
Just give me a couple of days to think things over, and then I’ll get back to you. In the meantime, I’d suggest you check out “Florence And The Goal Machine” by The Wide Playmaker. He has been a big part of the FM blogging community for a good few years, and he too is writing about his Fiorentina career on FM19.