FIORENTINA 1 - Roma 1
(Ilicic 17', Keita 77')
A slightly disappointing result and an accumulation of bitternesses were souvenirs for Fiorentina supporters at full time of a highly anticipated Europa League Round of 16 first leg against Roma. Much the better side for the most of the first half, and initially in control of the second half, some frustrating refereeing decisions and inexplicable team complacency from Fiorentina meant that Roma escaped with a 1-1 draw.
Once again playing without a true striker, Vincenzo Montella managed to set his team up for success in a slightly surprising 3-5-2 that pressed Roma relentlessly when they had the ball, and was able to counterattack incisively through Mohammed Salah and Josip Ilicic. Milan Badelj and David Pizarro dictated the play effectively, and Gonzalo Rodriguez reminded the Viola faithful how badly he was missed in the heart of defense against Lazio. Rudi Garcia also implemented a "B" attacking lineup and a false-9 formation, but it was his midfield that suffered early on, with Radja Nainggolan picking up an early booking and an out-of-sorts Daniele De Rossi especially exposed. Salah and Borja Valero both had goal-bound efforts blocked by defenders who knew little about them before a loose De Rossi pass was picked off by the same Egyptian. Salah sprinted directly at the three Roma defenders in front of him and slid through to Ilicic, who hammered home a right footed shot from a tight angle. Nearly twenty minutes in, and Roma had barely touched the ball.
Roma attempted to respond by committing more men forward, but Fiorentina continued to be the more dangerous side on the counterattack, with both Joaquin and Borja effective wide outlets. The half ended with three incidents of note: Roma finally entering the game with a bit of pressure culminating with a chance for the distinctly sub-par Adem Ljajic, who blazed over a bouncing ball in the box, several VERY soft yellow cards for Fiorentina players, and Pizarro having to exit the field with a hamstring (to be evaluated tomorrow).
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>I'll see this refereeing crew in hell</p>— SALAH NATION (@Viola_Nation) <a href="https://twitter.com/Viola_Nation/status/576140062531952640">March 12, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
The second half continued the same pattern for the first ten minutes or so, with a couple more Fiorentina half-chances, before a through ball for Juan Iturbe caught the Viola defense oddly high up the field. Norberto Neto - again in excellent form - did very well to touch the ball away from Iturbe when he came out, but the referee saw things differently and awarded Roma a penalty. Ljajic (thankfully) hit a fairly poor penalty which Neto kept out with a fine save, but the game had turned. Borja teed up Ilicic and then had an effort of his own as Fiorentina tried to put the game out of reach, but their game seemed to have lost the swagger of the first half. Roma found the equalizer from a corner with less than 15 minutes of regulation left, again with some debatable refereeing - Seydou Keita appeared to shove Marcos Alonso over before the ball arrived - but it was a somewhat reasonable punishment for Fiorentina's profligacy. Roma were quite clever to kill the match with sustained breaks in play and fouls, and the Viola never got going again.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Must have played about three minutes of football since the equaliser</p>— Giancarlo Rinaldi (@ginkers) <a href="https://twitter.com/ginkers/status/576140250860412928">March 12, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
The 1-1 draw makes the return leg at the Olimpico even trickier than it had to be. It'll be a match on short rest with Fiorentina hosting Milan on Monday, and they'll need to score at least a goal to progress after the giallorossi bagged their away goal this evening (one imagines Fiorentina will need more than one playing in Rome). It's a challenge that this team is capable of completing, but it is a challenge nonetheless, and, considering how the game set itself up, Montella and company will be frustrated that they didn't make things easier for themselves.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Neto 7.5 Tomović 6 Gonzalo 6.5 Basanta 6 Joaquín 6 Badelj 7 Pizarro 6.5 Borja 6+ Alonso 5.5 Iličić 7 Salah 6.5 Montella 6 Mati 6</p>— SALAH NATION (@Viola_Nation) <a href="https://twitter.com/Viola_Nation/status/576142053614206976">March 12, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>