Whoo doggies. This one was a real emotional rollercoaster, and not in a good way. The pattern of the game was mostly as expected, with Fiorentina controlling the ball and making chances, while AS Roma threatened sporadically on the break. The quality of finishing was the real difference between the sides, as Fiorentina had 70% possession and took more than three times as many shots in a losing effort. For those of you keeping track at home, this makes three straight defeats, and two in a row at the Franchi, as well.
The game started rather frantically, with Roma closing down like made and hoping to knick an early goal, which strategy was certainly aided by referee Daniele Orsato's willingness to wave off a succession of what looked like bad fouls, including a couple on Borja Valero and one on Jakub Blaszczykowski. Rudi Garcia's plan worked to perfection, as la Viola were unable to clear their lines and conceded possession on the left side of their box. After a one-two with Miralem Pjanic, Mohamed Salah (of course) cut inside and curled one past Ciprian Tatarusanu, who seemed curiously close to his near post, for the opener in minute six.
Fiorentina fought back as Roma bunkered down, putting some pressure on Wojiech Szczesny's goal. The Polish keeper may have picked up a through ball slightly outside the box, but got away with it. Nikola Kalinic got in behind the defense on a long pass from Facundo Roncaglia, but, as Szczesny rushed out, he went for the chip and put too much on it, wasting a glorious opportunity to equalize. There were several other shots, including a Matias Vecino drive from distance that forced a sharp save, but it was Roma who struck with their first shot since the goal, catching Fiorentina out after a corner; Alessandro Florenzi knocked the ball forward to Gervinho, who was all alone and, with Salah, led a two-on-none counter down the field before slotting past a helpless Tatarusanu.
Fiorentina had a couple more shots before the end of the half, but the whistle blew on a 0-2 deficit for Paulo Sousa's charges, who must have been awfully discouraged to control the half and still be down by a pair.
The second half featured more of the same: a physical Roma defended with seven at all times, leaving the attacking to the front three. It nearly paid off again, as Gervinho outpaced Davide Astori, but Tatarusanu denied the Ivorian, and Miralem Pjanic's follow up shot was miraculously blocked on the line by Federico Bernardeschi. Fiorentina started piling on the pressure, culminating in Berna firing a one-on-one chance straight at the keeper. Kalinic missed another golden chance in the 83rd minute, skying a chance created by Giuseppe Rossi. Salah got himself carded for a dumb foul on Facundo Roncaglia and sent off for dissent in the 88th minute, but that wasn't enough, even when Khouma Babacar eventually latched onto a Valero pass in the box and swept it home with his left foot in stoppage time.
Tatarusanu--6: Seemed out of position for the opener, but made a brilliant stop against Gervinho to balance it out. Distribution remains dicey.
Roncaglia--7: Brilliant for the second game running. Roma built nothing down his side, and he should have had an assist to Kalinic. Salah was also sent off for a foul on him.
Gonzalo--6: Marshaled Dzeko well, but left the defense disorganized on the Gervinho goal; not entirely his fault, but his responsibility.
Astori--5.5: Both goals came from his side. Had a nice cross, but was otherwise pretty mediocre.
Blaszczykowski--5.5: Suffered some rough play early and never seemed to recover. Solid defensively and chested down a cross for Kalinic, but otherwise anonymous.
Vecino--6: Passed the ball reasonably well and battled in the middle. Nearly scored with a blast from distance.
Badelj--6: Played a little higher up the pitch than usual, but was mostly his typically solid, underrated self.
Bernardeschi--6.5: If he'd finished that chance, he'd be man of the match. Showed pace and dribbling ability, and somehow swept Pjanic's shot off the line.
Valero--6: Assisted Babacar's goal, but seemed discomfited by Roma's physical play in midfield, especially when the fouls weren't called.
Ilicic--5.5: Spent too much time near his own defense. It was Bad Josip today, with all the expected giveaways, but he did come close with a couple of shots from distance.
Kalinic--5: Heavens above, just finish a chance. Yikes.
Rossi--5.5: Seemed the likeliest to unlock the defense; set Kalinic up nicely, but Nikola couldn't finish. Can't wait to have Pepino fully fit again.
Fernandez--5: Used as a right wingback and seemed uncomfortable. Made himself a nuisance, but didn't accomplish too much.
Babacar--6: Got the goal, but didn't have enough time to do much else.
Well, so long, top of the table. It's been real. Here's hoping that Paulo Sousa and the lads can get it turned around against Uncle Luca Toni and his Hellas Verona pals on Wednesday. Until then, Forza Viola.