That one was a real punch in the crotch, and it was all going so well. Everything, from the narrative of Sousa's Basel return to an early Federico Bernardeschi goal, seemed to be going just as Fiorentina had planned. Then, of course, the game-altering madness from Facundo Roncaglia forced Sousa to rejigger his entire approach in a pretty interesting way. As always, the numbers are from WhoScored.com.
|Possession||Passes (short/long)||Passing success||Crosses/attempted||Dribbles/attempted||Shots (on target)||Shots inside/outside area||Tackles/attempted||Interceptions||Aerial duels won attempted||Fouls||Yellow/red cards||Corners||Offsides|
|FC Basel||58%||526 (430/70)||87%||1/26||5/22||15 (3)||5/10||22/26||13||5/19||28||5/0||4||1|
|Fiorentina||42%||384 (311/64)||77%||1/5||4/15||6 (3)||3/3||21/26||16||14/19||17||3/1||0||2|
|Short passes/attempted||Long passes/attempted||Crosses/attempted||Dribbles/attempted||Shots (on target)||Shots inside/outside area||Touches||Possession lost||Tackles/attempted||Interceptions||Successful aerial battles||Fouls committed/suffered||Yellow/red cards||Offsides||Saves||Goals||Assists||Minutes|
Paulo Sousa must be enormously frustrated about this one, but he actually did a pretty brilliant job. Fiorentina were head and shoulders above Basel in the early going, creating several nice chances, and were brilliant while a man down. What's most interesting to me is how he changed his shape. Instead of defending in two banks of four, with a striker chasing lost causes, he opted for a 3-4-1-1, which was unbelievably positive. especially for a manger with a reputation for pragmatism. Understanding that he needed to provide some counter-attacking threat kept Basel from throwing everyone forward. The only problem was that, with two players high up, there were plenty of gaps through the wide channels. In the second half, he pulled Borja Valero deeper, so the shape resembled more of a 3-5-1, hoping to hold on.
The team's defensive organization was very good. Right after the red card, the team sat back and allowed too much space on the edge of the box, exemplified by Basel right back Taulant Xhaka motoring forward unchecked to have a good shot from twenty yards, but they reset well. Milan Badelj and Matias Vecino deserve a lot of credit for completely shutting down that space, and the center backs were excellent at stepping forward when necessary. Basel had lots of shots, but nearly all of them were speculative shots from distance, and most of those were blocked. Similarly, they frequently crossed for 6'5 (1.96 m) striker Marc Janko, but the Austrian didn't even have a shot attempt. The strategy of disciplined defense and long passes to Nikola Kalinic and Valero to hold up was very nearly successful, and Fiorentina were unlucky to concede from a set piece (and an uncalled offside) and another good Mohamed Elnenny finish.
Also, I'm going to break with my tradition of not discussing the ref just this once. Slovakian Ivan Kruzliak had a shockingly bad game. While the red for Facundo Roncaglia was justified, he was otherwise quite bad. Setting aside Elnenney handball in the box he missed early on and the Embolo offside that led to Marek Suchy's goal, he completely lost control of the match, allowing the Basel defenders to hack Kalinic and Valero repeatedly without any repercussions. At one point shortly after the restart, Suchy fouled Kalinic three times within five minutes. Instead of cautioning the player so that the game could continue, Kruzliak allowed it to become a stop-start affair. Whether it was nerves on a big stage or an admirably vociferous home crowd, he allowed the match to devolve. Valero's booking for dissent is understandable, if not entirely forgivable, under such circumstances.
Quick thoughts: Okay, I'll say it: "What the hell, Facundo?" Interesting strategy from goal kicks: Basel pressed high up on the restarts, so Luigi Sepe, instead of playing short, aimed for Marcos Alonso every time. The Spaniard is tall, particularly for a wide player, and won most of his aerial battles. Josip Ilicic's off-ball movement continues to be sneakily excellent: watch how he stood in front of Basel's left back Behrang Safari to keep him from tracking Federico Bernardeschi for the first goal. Kalinic didn't have a shot in this one, but he spent most of the game holding up play, laying the ball off to midfield runners, and being fouled relentlessly. Still can't believe Suchy and Lang managed to stay on the field for the entire ninety minutes.
No time to worry about this one any more, though, because Fiorentina travels to fifth-place Sassuolo on Monday. Until then, forza Viola.