To be the pride and glory of Firenze... Stevan Jovetic with a brace to start Fiorentina's season off splendidly.
The new season started today. New Sporting Director, new Technical Director, new Coach, new players, new attitude, new style and it all came together for an outstanding result as Fiorentina dominated Champion League participants Udinese for most of the match and took away a victory off the boots of one Stevan Jovetic at the Franchi today.
There were a lot of questions to be answered as Fiorentina hadn't played against top flight talent yet with this lineup and the new players were still being assimilated, as well as the old players still learning Vincenzo Montella's new system. Udinese had the advantage and disadvantage of playing midweek in the Champions League. On one hand, they had the leg up on experience, while on the other, they had a leg down in fitness as their talisman, Antonio Di Natale, was held out of the match, maybe more to keep him available for the second leg on Tuesday. The way Fiorentina played, it's doubtful even Mr Christmas would've made much of a difference. Udi made 7 other changes from the squad that held Braga to a 1-1 tie on Wednesday.
Fiorentina put out a squad that had little resemblance to the team that finished last season as well. Only two players from the starting squad today, Mattia Cassani and Manuel Pasqual, played in the final game that mattered (a 1-0 win at Lecce,) for interim coach Vincenzo Guerini, the rest are all but gone. That squad consisted of Artur Boruc, Alessandro Gamberini, Cesare Natali, Felipe, Cassani, Valon Behrami, Riccardo Montolivo, Houssine Kharja, Pasqual, Alessio Cerci and Ruben Olivera.
Today's starting goalie was Emiliano Viviano, playing his first match under the Curva and what an experience it must have been for him. The defenders in Vincenzo Montella's 3-5-2 were Facundo Roncaglia on the right, Gonzalo Rodriguez in the middle and Matija Nastasic on the left.
The outside of the midfield was the same as last season with Cassani on the far right and Pasqual on the far left, but the inside of the midfield was of a completely different meld as newcomer David Pizzaro was bracketed by our new friend from Spain, Borja Valero and Brazilian Romulo, who's now in his third position as a Viola, after having failed as a right back and a right forward. Romulo was in for Alberto Aquilani, who's recovering from an Achilles injury and made an appearance later.
The forwards were familiar to Viola fans as talisman Stevan Jovetic, whom every reporter, media pundit, blogger and pub dweller with an opinion saw as leaving the squad, stayed with Fiorentina and was paired with young Adem Ljajic, who had a great preseason after a turbulent end to last season with a suspension after a brawl with then coach Delio Rossi.
The match was played under a hot Tuscan sun, with the temperature exceeding 90 degrees, but it didn't do much to slow down the Viola players.
Valero and Piazzaro quickly showed their presence, maintaining control of the ball as no Viola fan has seen since one Fabio Liverani ran the pitch at Stadio Artemio Franchi, and maybe even longer than that. Although very early in the season, this midfield could easily be considered the cream of Serie A before many more games are played.
Even with all the possession, Fiorentina found it hard to get scoring chances for long stretches of the first half. It wasn't until the 12th minute that Pasqual got La Viola's first shot off, which went wide left off an assist from Jovetic.
Two minutes later Udinese responded with a shot on from Luis Muriel which Viviano saved without much difficulty. Muriel was not supposed to play, being injured in preseason, but was called on as Udinese coach Francesco Guidolin lacked attacking options due to injury and fitness issues from the midweek game.
It wasn't until the 20th minute that Adem Ljajic got Fior's first shot on goal, a right footed shot from the centre of the box from Pizzaro which was saved by Udi goalie Zeljko Brkic, who had himself a great match with 6 saves. Ljajic had another shot on goal 3 minutes later which was also saved.
Fiorentina continued to press, but in the 28th minute, Udinese shocked the home squad with a counter against the run of play. Luis Muriel sent a through ball that caught the Viola defense napping and Udinese newcomer Maicosuel made no mistake and put it past Viviano for the early lead.
Fiorentina seemed to shake off the disappointment fairly easily however, and continued with the game plan. They continued to hold the ball and press until Ljajic got off another shot on goal, a screamer from out the box at the 36 minute. Unfortunately, it was right at Brkic, who saved it fairly easily.
Fiorentina had a few shots, none on goal before minute 41, when Jovetic started to warm up and got two shots on, both saved by the Udinese goalie.
A corner near the end of the first half caused much consternation for Viola fans as Manuel Pasqual was put in a head lock by an Udinese defender and inexplicably was called for the foul by Match official Paolo Silvio Mazzoleni. On the same play, young defender Nastasic took an elbow and had to be assisted off the field, but was able to return. Fiorentina wound up with 10 corner kicks to Udinese's zero.
The half ended 1-0 in favor of Udinese, but Fiorentina fans had a lot to discuss over Espressos at the break as their team had clearly owned Udinese and could have been, and perhaps should have been, equal at the mid point.
As the second half started, Udinese tried to assert themselves, getting two shots off in the first two or three minutes, none on target, however and Fiorentina started to crank up the pressure again.
Jovetic got a shot off, but missed the frame and in the 56th minute, Ljajic put a ball on that Brkic had to save.
At that point, Montella started to shuffle his cards. He took off Cassani, who had been largely taken out of the game by Romulo, who had frequently drifted out into Cassani's space, and brought on newcomer Juan Cuadrado. Cuadrado brought a lot of speed into that side of the pitch and with that sub, any semblance of Udinese being an offensive threat went out the window.
Over the next six minutes, Fior continued to press, but never had any serious chance until Ljajic got of a zinger that went just wide. That shot turned out to be Adem's last participation in the match as Montella's second substitution was to bring on Mounir El Hamdaoui for the young Serb.
It was only a minute after El ham's appearance that Fiorentina finally broke through. Valero served a ball into the box to Jovetic. The ball went behind the Montenegran, but he corralled it, settle it and shot it at goal. The ball deflected off a defender's leg and soared into the goal. it was a freak goal, but also a heavily deserved goal, as well.
The goal seemed to light a small fire under Udinese as they came back over the next few minutes and got off two shots, both were blocked by defenders, however.
Fiorentina then seemed to crank it into another gear with 5 shots in teh next four minutes before the Little Aeroplane played his last card, Alberto Aquilani for Romulo and that move turned out to be decisive.
Two more shots for the Viola as time started to wind down, a shot from El Hamdaoui wide and a screaming free kick from Pasqual off the woodwork brought the squads to stoppage time, but Fiorentina had one last trick up their sleeves.
That final trick was a long pass from Aquilani to Jovetic out wide, who dribbled the ball in a bit and then lashed the winner in from an angle, sending the Franchi and owner Andrea Delle Valle, along with Mayor Renzi, into a frenzy.
Fiorentina out shot Udinese 23 to 7, with 8 balls on goal to udi's 2 and held the ball for 64% of the possesion, although it looked even more dominate than that.
The win is the first since a 2-1 victory in Rome over AS Roma on April 25th, 5 Serie A matches ago. That Roma match was also the last time that Stevan Jovetic scored a goal. Fiorentina have not lost a home season opener since 2006, a 3-2 loss to Inter.
Viviano(6) - Didn't have a chance on the udi goal, wasn't really his fault. had one official save and wasn't really called much into play.
Roncaglia(6) - gave up the goal, but shut down every other chance. he's going to be great.
Rodriguez(6) - also a bit to be blamed for the goal, but also shut everything else down.
Nastasic(7) - Never out of place, also contributed on the offensive end as well. he's still our guy.
Cassani(5) - A bit invisible offensively, he was at blame for the goal as well, left the man uncovered. subbed out for Cuadrado ; Cuadrado(6.5) - great on the ball, very quick, nearly took one ball past two guys and into the box, got a late free kick for his efforts. a few bad passes away from a 7.
Romulo(6) - had a pretty good first half, driving with the ball and playing strong defense. faded in the second and was subbed for Aquaman ; Aquilani(7) - i'll give him a 7 purely for his assist on the go ahead goal, as for the rest of his play, he didn't really get enough time to judge his play.
Pizzaro(7) - Not as dominant as he was against Novara, but clearly better than any play maker Fior has seen for many years. Great purchase.
Valero(7) - A rock in midfield, makes the last guy we had in that position who now plays for Milan look like pudding.
Pasqual(6.5) - Not having to worry as much about defending is good for Manuel, he still lakes a bit of quality in his crosses but his free kicks are something to be amazed about. First one hit the wall, but was clearly on goal and the second off the woodwork was amazing
Ljajic(6) - Everything but the finish. He was strong on the ball, got shots on, but almost always straight at the goalie. nothing to be ashamed about. Got tired and was subbed for El Ham ; El Hamdaoui(6) - A bit rusty, but showed great ball skills. Sounds like management doesn't think he's the guy, however, so he may be relegated to the bench. I think he would fit that role well, especially as a late change up with his driving ability.
Jovetic(7.5) - Man of the match. Took him a bit to get warmed up, he was a bit awkward in teh first half and the attack suffered for it, but the second half, he was masterful and always dangerous. Great link up plays with the midfield in the last 10 minutes or so.
Montella(7) - Had the guys ready to go, put out his best starting lineup and every substitution improved the squad. The attack was bit disjointed for much of the match and lacked that final strike, but maybe another addition to the squad can cure that. A dominant performance over the third place team in the league last season should have everyone happy.
Andrea Delle Valle
“Finally we saw entertaining football again. I am happy for everyone at the club, as after months of sacrifices we really needed a game like this,”
“We went through some dramatic months in Florence, so today I let myself go. I was happy to see the fans joyful again, as this victory is for them.
“We deserved to win against a side that is on paper stronger than us. We’re still only 95 per cent complete, as next week we’ll sign an important striker. Jovetic? Of course he will stay.”
“I am pleased for Ljajic, as Florence has forgiven him. We suffered so much over the last few months, but are now united again.”
“Winning with a last-minute goal was very exciting after piling pressure on Udinese for 90 minutes,” said the Coach.
“We kept our shape and that’s to the great credit of this team. It was a good performance, especially being the first of the season.
“However, we mustn’t let ourselves get swept up by easy enthusiasm. In the first half we had few efforts on goal, something that changed after the break. We can improve a great deal, but let us enjoy this victory for now.”
“The President already said it all. I like it when Jovetic does his talking on the pitch, as he did today, and fortunately we’re nearing the end of the transfer session. I would like to have a centre-forward with specific characteristics in the box, though.”
“President Andrea Della Valle was euphoric and it was a lot of fun to see him there. We needed this victory, as it allowed us to let out all that adrenaline. However, we are at the start and must not rest on our laurels.”
Fiorentina travel to Naples to play Napoli, Sunday afternoon. Game time is 2:45pm Eastern. Napoli will be coming off a trip to Palermo. Might be a reunion with former players Gamberini and Behrami, depending on the lineup. It will be interesting to see how our young defenders deal with the likes of one, Edison Cavani. Last season, Sinisa Mihajlovic's Fiorentina escaped with a 0-0 tie.