The season has a long way to go, but so far it's been a far more enjoyable ride than many of us could have imagined before the season began. Fiorentina was something of a media laughing stock over the summer. Coach Vincenzo Montella, highly regarded by (most) fans and neutrals alike and widely credited for bringing an exciting identity back to Fiorentina after the club lost its way under Sinisa Mihaljovic, was fired and his departure was acrimonious, with club management making an unnecessary parting shot that they only recently have started to make amends for. Nobody knew what to do with Mario Gomez after two disappointing years where the marquee signing failed to fit in with the club's style even on the rare occasions when healthy. And the less said about Mohamed Salah, Neto, and Joaquin the better.
Montella was replaced by Paulo Sousa, the Portuguese coach who just won the Swiss league with FC Basel, where he was allegedly a polarizing figure. Sousa was coming off an impressive run of success in Hungary, Israel, and Switzerland, but these are the football margins and his journey was a result of his failings in England. To make matters worse, he was a former Juventino. Sousa came in with a reputation of pragmatism, something Fiorentina fans understood was missing, but for some of us there was valid concerns about keeping our identity. The summer signings were considered smart but thrifty, with none of the names as big as the departing Salah or Gomez, or even Savic or Joaquin.
An outstanding preseason brought some optimism, but still, the season began with nothing but questions. The evolution since then has been remarkable.
Week 1: Fiorentina 2 - 0 Milan
Immediately we began to realize that maybe the pre-season wasn't such a fluke after all. The Mihajlovic era of Milan hasn't been a huge success so far, but back at the end of the summer, both Fiorentina and Milan were dealing with new teams, and the latter was certainly the more hyped. Instead, Fiorentina started the match with complete domination (which would become a trend), leading to Rodrigo Ely getting himself sent off before half time for hacking Gomez "replacement" Nikola Kalinic. Soon after, a revitalzed Marcos Alonso opened scoring with a golazo into the top corner. The second half showed a more cautious approach, however Josip Ilicic made it 2 - 0 after converting a penalty he won himself. Milan dominated soon after that, but it wasn't enough.
Week 2: Torino 3 - 1 Fiorentina
This was the first of two times this season that Fiorentina came back down to earth. Torino was coming off an impressive win themselves, but it was Marcos Alonso who again opened scoring on a rebound from a Kalinic header. It looked like it would be a repeat of the Milan performance after Paolo Tagliavento awarded a penalty to Kalinic, however it was waved off. Fiorentina repeated the strategy it tried against Milan of sitting back for counters after the half time, playing into fears that Sousa would play too conservatively. This time it backfired; Emiliano Moretti equalized 67 minutes in off of set piece play, at which point the wheels fell off. Fabio Quagliarella gave Torino the lead soon after and Daniele Baselli gave Torino an insurance goal 77 minutes in. The one Fiorentina highlight was seeing Giuseppe Rossi subbed on after an 11 month absence, but the less said about this one the better.
Week 3: Fiorentina 1 - 0 Genoa
An important but ugly rebound win, the first half was scoreless as Borja Valero and Giuseppi Rossi linked up to dominate play, but this was a scrappy game that was finally opened up by a Khouma Babacar header off of a Borja cross, but soon after Milan Badelj picked up a lazy second yellow forcing Fiorentina to defend with 10 men for the final third of the game. Nevertheless this was a gritty performance that at least showed us a willingness to grind out results when necessary.
Week 4: Carpi 0 - 1 Fiorentina
Another ugly one, arguably just as important, this time away against Serie A newcomers Carpi. Fiorentina was coming off a bad Europa League loss to Sousa's ex club Basel, and dealing with significant injuries to Josip Ilicic, Matias Vecino, and Jakub "Kuba" Blaszczykowski. The highlight of this game was the start yet again by Babacar and fellow "B" Federico Bernardeschi, with the former once again getting the only goal of the game off of his own rebound. Both youngsters faded after that. The second half was unexceptional; Fiorentina dominated possession but Carpi arguably had the better chances after that.
Week 5: Fiorentina 2 - 0 Bologna
This was the precursor to the run that showed the world that Fiorentina just may be for real. Bologna was admittedly very poor, but Fiorentina nevertheless dominated the Derby dell’Appennino. Fiorentina's finishing started off poorly, but picked it up in the final quarter as Kuba took advantage of a Ante Rebic cross to open scoring. Kalinic got the insurance goal soon after off a Marcos Alonso cross, putting Fiorentina into second place.
Week 6: Internazionale 1 - 4 Fiorentina
Fiorentina reached first place for the first time since 1999 and at the same time showed the world that Sousa's team could entertain just as much as Montella's by humiliating Inter at San Siro. The good fortune started when a Stevan Jovetic reunion was avoided after the Montenegrin picked up an injury in warm up. The aggressive, vertical passing game pinned Inter in their own half immediately, and within the first few minutes Samir Handanovic conceded a penalty to Nikola Kalinic, which was converted with confidence by Ilicic. This was the first time all season that Inter had been behind and until that moment it appeared the league leaders had an impenetrable defense. Inter responded to the challenge by imploding, and after a sustained run of Fiorentina dominance, Kalinic doubled the lead 18 minutes in after Handanovic failed to cover him after making a save on Ilicic. The Croatian sensation got the third goal of the game soon after off of a Marcos Alonso cross. Domination continued throughout the first half, leading to Joao Miranda getting sent off on a dirty challenge against who else but Kalinic.
Fiorentina continued to dominate in the second half until Mauro Icardi saved Inter from humiliation off of a dead ball situation 60 minutes in. For roughly 15 minutes, Fiorentina dropped the tempo and it appeared an Inter comeback could actually be possible, and then Kalinic completed his hat trick off of a good pass from Ilicic, killing whatever moral victory Inter was hoping for, sending the Viola into first place, redeeming Badelj from week 3 sloppiness, and showing us that Kalinic was capable of doing more in one game than Mario Gomez could in two seasons.
Week 7: Fiorentina 3 - 0 Atalanta
Fiorentina consolidated their position as the sole first place team with another dominant, swashbuckling display. Once again early aggressiveness paid off as Kuba drew a penalty (converted by Ilicic) and Gabriel Paletta was sent off. The lead doubled after 34 minutes when Borja Valero finished off a series of passes between him and Bernardeschi. The second half was more possession by Fiorentina, capped off at the end of the game when sub Joan Verdu scored his first Serie A goal (and golazo) off a volley after a flick pass by Kalinic.
Week 8: Napoli 2 - 1 Fiorentina
Well, sole first place was nice while it lasted. This matchup between Serie A's two most in form teams was expected to be a good one, and and it was certainly entertaining, although probably more for Napoli. The Partenopei had just thrashed Milan 4-0 and welcome backed Lorenzo Insigne from injury, while Fiorentina had found its scoring touch. Once again the Viola got the aggressive start, although failed to capitalize on it and started to lose steam by half time. The second half got off to a nightmare start as Insigne torched the Fiorentina defense to get the first goal of the half. After that Napoli remained the better team - Fiorentina were able to sustain possession at times (though less than usual) but Napoli created the better chances from open play. Nevertheless, Kalinic managed to silence the San Paolo against the run of play after converting off a through ball sent by Ilicic, who was subbed on in place of an invisible Bernardeschi. The comeback would be short lived however, as Ilicic went from hero to goat as he lost the ball easily to Dries Mertens and Gonzalo Higuain, allowing Higuain to score the game winner only two minutes after Kalinic's equalizer. In stoppage time Higuain thought he deserved a penalty after a collision with Tatarusanu, but further humiliation was spared.
Week 9: Fiorentina 1 - 2 Roma
If the Napoli loss was tough but understandable, this one hurt. Roma, one point behind Fiorentina at the time, was always going to be a challenge, and the Salah drama wasn't helping, but Rudi Garcia's side has really been the only team so far besides FC Basel to expose Fiorentina while ignoring their possession advantage. Fiorentina was missing Marcos Alonso and Roma was missing the bane of our existence that is Francesco Totti.
Of course it had to be Salah to score the first goal, and within 6 minutes he combined with Radja Nainggolan and Miralem Pjanic to silence the boos and score the first opposition goal at the Franchi this season. Fiorentina responded with aggression, dominating both possession and chances, but Roma exploited the forward pressing to get a second goal 34 minutes in as Gervinho finished off a counter. The second half was more of the same, with Fiorentina bombing forward with no result. Some heroic defending from Tatarusanu and Bernardeschi prevented Roma from exploiting a third scary counter. Right before stoppage time, Salah got himself sent off for insulting the ref. In stoppage time, late sub Babacar managed to get the consolation goal, but only after blowing another chance that would have really made it into a game. Roma took over first place after this one.
Week 10: Verona 0 - 2 Fiorentina
After two disappointing weeks that included three straight losses in Serie A and Europe, this was a must win matchup against crisis laden Hellas Verona, and that is exactly what we got. Fiorentina got a lucky lead off of an own goal fumbled by Mexican legend and old man Rafael Marquez, after a Manuel Pasqual cross. Fiorentina got the second goal in the second half after Kalinic finished off a nice play by Rossi. Overall, if anything, a more ugly display than what we saw against Roma, but the result is important here.
Week 11: Fiorentina 4 - 1 Frosinone
Another match up against a bottom dweller, but Fiorentina returned to first place on a much better display. Fiorentina dominated right away but only got their first goal 24 minutes in, as a Rebic cross went off target and deflected off the post. It was a lucky way to break the deadlock, but Gonzalo Rodriguez quickly doubled it with a nice back heel flick to redirect a Matias Fernandez cross. Overall it was a return to form for the Chilean, who soon after was fouled in the box by Mobido Diakite. Babacar converted the penalty with a confident Panenka. The game was over before half after Mario Suarez, another player struggling to find his form, showed his value by stealing the ball, drifting through defenders, and finishing it with composure. Frosinone had not conceded more than two goals a game until this point. The second half had Fiorentina justifiably on auto-pilot, leading to a consolation goal finished by Alessandro Frara. With Napoli drawing and Roma losing to Inter, Fiorentina were back in first place (alongside Inter).
Week 12: Sampdoria 0 - 2 Fiorentina
Sampdoria was in poor form but still unbeaten at home, and the striker pairing of Luis Muriel and Eder was always going to be a test. Thankfully Ilicic was able to open up the score early on, converting a penalty after Zukanovic obviously handled a Bernardeschi cross in the box. Fiorentina continued to dominate both halves, and in the second, Kalinic finished a give and go between him and Ilicic, enabling Fiorentina to remain in first place heading into the international break. Sampdoria president Massimo Ferrero responded to the loss by sacking Walter Zenga and replacing him with Montella, a move that resulted in compensation for Fiorentina, making this a double win.
After the most recent break, Fiorentina, still in first place, returns to the Franchi for a Tuscan derby against Empoli.