This San Valentino was kind for Fiorentina fans for at least one reason: their team turned a dominant performance into a priceless three points on the road. Vincenzo Montella certainly wouldn't have accepted chocolate or roses in exchange for his two jewels on the day, Khouma Babacar and Mohammed Salah. Between the two of them the young duo scored the 3 Fiorentina goals and HEART-ened (sorry) Viola fans on Valentine's Day ahead of a big Europa League match this Thursday.
But momentum wasn't the only thing of importance in this game, with Fiorentina still hoping in the outside chance of a Champions League place. A loss and a Napoli win would have nearly erased this hope, but after an emphatic victory by the Viola and a crushing defeat in Sicily to Rafa Benitez's men, things are suddenly looking quite rosy in the Fiorentina camp.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Fiorentina fans already singing "we've come all this way to watch Salah score"</p>— Viola Nation (@Viola_Nation) <a href="https://twitter.com/Viola_Nation/status/566654875174699010">February 14, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
The game started quickly and then mellowed a bit in the first half, but after 20 minutes or so Fiorentina appeared to adjust to the 4-3-3 and really get in their groove. Micah Richards played well in his first start in a while on the right flank, while in attack Babacar battled against the two Sassuolo center backs, leaving Salah to be a continual nuisance to the Sassuolo defense, drifting across the formation with pace. Sassuolo tried to break quickly on the rare occasions that they were able to win possession, but were a bit imprecise on the day, and were unable to often get behind Stefan Savic and Gonzalo Rodriguez.
Eusebio Di Francesco had his team playing a relatively high line on occasion early on in the game, hoping that Babacar wouldn't have the pace to exploit it, but Babacar was able to cleverly spring our new speedy Egyptian in the action that opened the scoring. Salah had oceans of time and space to finish past Andrea Consigli after Babacar dummied/flicked the ball on from midfield. The following 2 minutes were a blur of Fiorentina chances, finally culminating in Salah feeding Babacar in the box, who turned Paolo Cannavaro expertly and finished near post. With the game firmly in hand at after only half an hour, Fiorentina were able to ping the ball around, with David Pizarro orchestrating. Domenico Berardi - the best on the day for the home side - managed to scare Ciprian Tatarusanu when his curling volley grazed the post, but otherwise Sassuolo were unable to create much.
Di Francesco's side started the second half more on the front foot, with Simone Zaza slamming into a couple people early on, but then the game fell back into the previous pattern, with Fiorentina able to dictate play for large stretches. Jasmin Kurtic was denied when teed up by Babacar in the box, then the Ghanian himself was able to slot home his second after a broken set piece led to Pizarro finding him onside with the ball. Baba slotted home neatly at the second post to score his 7th goal of the season, and the game was essentially over. Sassuolo rescued a goal through Berardi (with Marcos Alonso a notable accomplice), but there was no real fightback. Alessandro Diamanti, last week's hero against Atalanta, had the game's last good chance, but Consigli was able to tip his dipping strike over the bar.
This 3-1 victory makes it 8 unbeaten for Fiorentina, with a staggeringly good record in the new year. Montella and company will certainly be focused on putting in a great performance in London on Thursday against Tottenham Hotspur, but I doubt that it has escaped anyone's attention that the Viola now sit only 4 points behind 3rd place Napoli.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Tata 6 Richards 6.5 Gonzalo 6 Savić 7 Alonso 5.5 Kurtić 6 Pizarro 6.5 Mati 6 Diamanti 6 Babacar 8 Salah 7.5 Montella 7 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ForzaViola?src=hash">#ForzaViola</a></p>— Viola Nation (@Viola_Nation) <a href="https://twitter.com/Viola_Nation/status/566672125919248386">February 14, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>