In my preview of the Napoli-Fiorentina match a few weeks ago, I wrote that a lot of football fans (including myself) kind of like Napoli, even though we root for other clubs. And then they went out and spanked the Viola. In my preview of today’s match vs. Udinese, I wrote that I enjoyed watching Fabio Quagliarella and Antonio Di Natale since they are fun, exciting players. Well, both of those gentlemen scored in today’s three-one rout of Fiorentina. As God as my witness, I am never complementing another player or club again. From now on every player or team not wearing purple sucks it hard. End of story.
Big-picture wise, it was an interesting day. Fiorentina deservedly lost, and remain three points up in fourth place. However, the fifth place club is now Udinese, who are now only three points back and looking rather feisty. Milan, meanwhile, who most Viola fans (including myself) still see as out most serious threat to Champions League football, lost at home to Atalanta, and continue their happy trend of doing whatever Fiorentina does, thus assuring they never seem to gain any ground on the Viola. Milan had a PK saved in the dying minutes, so Fiorentina fans must tip their caps to our friends from Bergamo for keeping Milan four points behind the Viola.
This is one of those matches that are engrossing to a genuine fan of one of the teams, who cares passionately about the result, but it was probably a snoozer to the neutral. Lots of long balls and knocking it around in the midfield, in spite of the big score line. It was a portent of things to come when an Udinese “goal” is ruled offside in the second minute, although Fiorentina too is playing with their typical aggressiveness early on. In the 4th Donadel gives up a stupid and dangerous free-kick that comes to nothing. In the 11th Fiorentina have two solid chances on goal that are saved by Udinese ‘keeper Samir Handanovic, who had a very fine day today. Pazzini (who was dangerous all day) blasted one over the bar in the 12th, but it is Udinese who scored first with a laser from just outside the box. The rest of the half is relatively uneventful; Santana has a decent turn-and shoot in the 15th, Montolivo clangs a beauty off the post in the 35th, and Frey makes a number of fine saves. But the Voila still go into the half down 1-0.
Frey makes a number of great saves (in the 49th and 51st) and the Viola signify their attacking intent by subbing Osvaldo for Montolivo. In the 58th the Great Man brings on another striker, Bobo Vieri, who moments later heads in a high ball off the noggin of Pazzini to draw the game level at one. At this point I have become aware that Milan is down 2-0 to Atalanta (they eventually lose 2-1), and I have visions of the fellas picking up three points on Udinese and Milan.
It was not to be. Di Natale scored for Udinese on a sweet breakaway in the 73rd and Quagliarella got his in the 76th. The last quarter-hour played out quietly for Fiorentina, as I spend the last few minutes of the match more worried about the happenings at the San Siro, but Milan were unable to mount a final comeback.
Fiorentina played poorly today. They were without their most gifted offensive player (Mutu) and their steady playmaker out of the midfield (Liverani) but they did little that was dangerous upfront and were shaky at the back. Frey prevented Udinese from getting four or five, although Handanovic made a number of crucial saves as well for the home side. If we had gotten away with that 1-1 draw today it would have been a little undeserved; Udinese earned their win.
A larger question is how much, if at all, the upcoming UEFA Cup match played into this result. It has become clear that Fiorentina are in the tournament to win it (unlike many Italian teams) but it is unclear if it played a role in team selection today. I lean towards thinking it did not. It will be interesting to see how things go on Thursday.
What is clear from today’s matches is that the run-in for this season will feature at least three teams (Fiorentina, Milan, and Udinese) and maybe more fighting for the fourth spot. During the week I am going to take a look at the Viola’s schedule as they come to the end of the season and see how manageable this all is. This is all complicated by the UEFA Cup matches, but Fiorentina might have the most favorable schedule coming in.
I will be back this week with a closer look at the Series A Race as well as a look forward to the PSV match. Take care, everyone.