Fiorentina came into this game with high hopes. The first game of a European tournament is exciting enough, but opening the campaign against Basel--Paulo Sousa's club last season--led to expectations for a riveting match. And riveting the match was, but for all the wrong reasons.
Things started out about as well as Fiorentina could have hoped, although Matias Vecino gave way to Borja Valero in the opening minutes due to a minor knock. Not even five minutes in, Facundo Roncaglia stepped up and tried to curl one through for Nikola Kalinic. Basel's nervous-looking keeper Vaclik flubbed what should have been a clean take, and Kalinic pounced to bundle it over for his first goal in purple.
After another few minutes of dominance, though, Basel started to assert themselves, taking away Fiorentina's passing options from the defense. Their grit saw them in control for the final thirty minutes of the half without actually creating any chances, leaving Fiorentina to hoof doomed and hopeful passes in Nikola Kalinic's general direction.
Khouma Babacar replaced Josip Ilicic at the half and looked like the spark Fiorentina needed, troubling the Basel back line with his pace in the channels and setting up Jakub Blaszczykowski to round the keeper and slide his finish off the post from a tight angle. Mati keyed several breaks, as well, but none of them came to anything.
Things took a turn around the hour mark, as Davide Astori and Mark Janko smashed their heads together, the Fiorentina defender leaving but eventually returning, glassy-eyed and clearly concussed. Moments later, Gonzalo uncorked a late, sliding, studs-up tackle against the lively Embolo on the break and well within Basel's own half, earning a straight red card. Astori also slumped over, unable to continue, and Sousa was forced to shuffle the deck considerably. Not long after, Bjarnasson fired in a shot from the right edge of the area that beat Luigi Sepe to his near post, pinging off the woodwork and into the goal. Then, Mohammed Elnenny (briefly considered a Fiorentina target this summer) fired a laser that hit the top of the net from a loose ball twenty yards out.
La Viola battled gamely on, but, short their captain and two starting center backs, the damage was done. English referee Michael Oliver denied two rather obvious Fiorentina penalties within seconds, as Babacar was dragged down by the shirt in the box, then Manuel Pasqual was tripped up immediately afterward. That seemed to completely break the home team's spirit, and the game wound down rather uneventfully.
Three things we learned
1. New coach, new players, new season, and Fiorentina still can't protect a lead to save their lives. That it was at home and to Sousa's old team makes it all the more humiliating.
2. Sousa needs a Plan B. His back line drops deeper throughout the game, and opposing midfields begin denying passes from the defense to the Viola midfield, resulting in a lot of long passes from deep positions. First against Torino and now against Basel, the blueprint to beat Fiorentina is clear. Hopefully Sousa can figure something out, and fast.
3. The fans at the Franchi are wonderful. They kept singing and yelling for the whole ninety minutes. This result is only going to exacerbate the split between the Della Valles and the ultras, but no matter whose side you're on, the stadium was rocking the whole time, and that's pretty admirable.
That's all, folks. Stay tuned for Fiorentina's trip to Carpi on Sunday. The Europa League resumes in two weeks, when Fiorentina will travel to Portuguese side Belenenses.
Chins up, everyone. Forza Viola.