Fiorentina 0-1 Hellas Verona
With 3rd place looking out of reach and a big home Europa League match against Dynamo Kyiv looming midweek, what could possibly go wrong with a touch of squad rotation to protect the key players?
Except instead of a few tweaks here and there, Vincenzo Montella decided to make wholesale changes, essentially putting a team of reserves out, and ended up losing at home to 16th placed Hellas Verona, a club that had not won at the Franchi since 2001.
Verona were happy to put eleven men in their own half for long spells of the first 45, and though they had the lion's share of possession, Fiorentina showed no cutting edge. A glancing header from Gilardino, well saved by 'keeper Rafael on the half hour mark was really the only noteworthy action in a tedious first half. At the break though, there was no feeling of impending doom as the viola have played the "patience" game before this season to good effect, and there were options on the bench.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="http://t.co/XGl3RJkeiC">pic.twitter.com/XGl3RJkeiC</a></p>— Viola Nation (@Viola_Nation) <a href="https://twitter.com/Viola_Nation/status/590236987203973120">April 20, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Montella decided to change things around when he brought on Khouma Babacar to replace Josip Ilicic on 55 minutes, but last Thursday's game changing man lasted only 4 minutes as he worryingly limped off after looking to have twisted his knee in a challenge with Eros Pisano. Mohammed Salah replaced the subsitute Babacar, and the injection of pace seemed to be what was needed after all, and the game started to heat up. Minutes before, Luca Toni had almost been played in by a superb Bosko Jankovic cross, only for Nenad Tomovic to intercept well. It was then Fiorentina's turn to threaten the goal and after a sharp series of passes, Milan Badelj lifted a superb pass over the defence only for Aquilani, not for the first time in the game, to be too slow to react to what was - for a split second - a golden opportunity.
Former viola striker Toni, again threatened the goal, with a sharp turn that his 37 years and 6 foot 4 inch frame, but fired his shot straight at Neto. When Alberto Gilardino, clear through on goal, was brought down by Rafael in the 65th minute, it seemed like the breakthrough had finally come when the referee awarded the spot kick. Alas, Alessandro Diamanti had a fairly weak effort saved by Rafael and made it 4/4 league penalties MISSED by the viola this season. A flurry of activity followed - Aleandro Rosi should have certainly been red carded when he pulled down last man Toni but escaped with a yellow, and Mohammed Salah turned in the box and managed to get his shot away but Vangelis Moras headed the shot off the line.
A scoreless draw at this point would have been bad enough, but Verona were growing in stature and seemed to be getting closer to scoring with every counterattack. In the last minute of normal time the gialloblu broke away after some effective hold up play from Toni. The move was sealed by two Veronese substitues - Neto uncharacteristically spilled Lazaros Christodoulopoulos' cross and Mounir Obbadi was there to fire home the follow up. Game over.
The glittering double prize of a trophy and a Champions League place - awarded to the Europa League winners - has most definitely grabbed Montella's attention, but has it blinded him when it comes to squad selection for the remaining Serie A games? Tonight's disappointment now puts more pressure on the squad to advance to the semi finals on Thursday, as it continues to become increasingly obvious that Europa League success is the sole priority. The fans will only be able to forgive such rotation if the gamble pays off on Thursday evening.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Neto Rosi Tomović Basanta Pasqual Aquilani ➡️ Badelj Lazzari Diamanti Iličić Gila Baba Salah Mati Montella </p>— Viola Nation (@Viola_Nation) <a href="https://twitter.com/Viola_Nation/status/590257031262658560">April 20, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>