Paulo Sousa opted not to shake things up too much, replacing the missing Gonzalo Rodriguez and Milan Badelj with Nenad Tomovic and Mario Suarez respectively. Both players slotted into what has now become a familiar formation for Sousa’s outfit. Sousa’s opposite number, former Viola manager Sinisa Mihajlovic, made four changes to the AC Milan team that had started in the midweek Coppa Italia victory against Carpi.
With just three minutes on the clock, Carlos Bacca showed exactly why Milan was willing to spend so much money on acquiring his signature. The Colombian international found space to receive the ball from a beautifully weighted Giacomo Bonaventura pass. Bacca made short shrift of whatever defensive ability Nenad Tomovic sought to employ, ghosting past the Serbian defender with consummate ease before unleashing an unstoppable shot past Ciprian Tatarusanu into the bottom corner. Fiorentina had been caught cold. Scoring so early only served to boost Milan’s confidence, the goal itself not only giving the home team the lead but also serving to imbue a sprightly step into the home side's endeavours.
As the first half progressed Fiorentina found it difficult to string together effective passes, their incisive possession-based style, which has been the bedrock of the Paolo Sousa era was noticeable only due to its glaring absence. Simple passes were not sticking, and whenever players were able to combine, their passes lacked the requisite creativity to trouble their opponents. The Viola was looking a shadow of the team that had waltzed to a 1-4 victory against Inter on the very same pitch in late September. Milan looked like they had done their homework, employing a counter attacking approach to offset Fiorentina’s attempts at ball retention. When Milan got possession, they flew forward at pace, and on more than one occasion looked like they might catch out the Fiorentina rearguard. Bonaventura in particular looked a real menace, while M’Baye Niang and Bacca also kept the AC Milan threat looming large.
As the two teams edged towards half time, the Viola did start to get their foot on the ball, though this appeared more as a result of Milan deliberately sitting back, comfortable with their lead. Fiorentina were not assertive enough and the Rossoneri effortlessly contained the Viola attack, seemingly waiting for the men from Florence to turn over the ball in order to pounce on the counter. The half fizzled out with the Milanese still leading by one goal to nil.
Both teams came out for the second half with no changes in personnel, the pattern of the match more or less continued along the same path as the first half. Fiorentina fashioned a couple of half chances but their efforts were speculative at best and ultimately lacked conviction. Milan appeared content to keep the Viola at arms length, gifting them possession and maintaining their strategy of counter attack. In the 60th minute, as Fiorentina cleared their lines, Matias Vecino was caught deep in his own penalty area against the run of play. The ball was played back into the box, falling at the feet of Luca Antonelli. The Milan defender was in acres of space, yet clearly onside, and the former Genoa fullback should have done better. Thankfully for the Viola his shot was tepid, directed straight at Tatarusanu, who gratefully collected the ball, knowingly breathing a palpable sigh of relief.
In the 66th minute, Sousa looked to the bench, bringing on Giuseppe Rossi for Mario Suarez. Mihajlovic countered in the 69th minute, bringing on Juraj Kucka for ex Viola midfielder Riccardo Montolivo. The game was poised, Fiorentina realising the need to commit men forward and starting to look stretched. Fiorentina’s eagerness to get forward was playing into Milan’s hands, and for the first time in the half Milan started to look like a team who may add to their lead.
In the 78th minute Kevin Prince Boateng replaced M’Baye Niang, Paolo Sousa had just moments earlier been forced into replacing Marcos Alonso with Manuel Pasqual as the Spanish full back went limping off the pitch, leaving the Portuguese coach with only one substitute remaining. In the 82nd minute, Sousa went for broke, introducing Khouma Babacar for Josip Ilicic; Fiorentina would end the game with three centre forwards on the pitch. Milan made their final change in the 87th minute, bringing on Mario Balotelli for Carlos Bacca, and instantly Mihajlovic's team scored, not that Balotelli figured in the goal. Kucka hoisted the ball across the field, catching Facundo Roncaglia in no man's land where he was joined by his goalkeeper. Kevin Prince Boateng happily gobbled up the gift, taking advantage of the sleeping Fiorentina defence to round the Viola keeper and finish into an empty net, sealing all three points for the home side.
The second goal levelled off what can only be described as a lacklustre performance from the team from Florence. Viola fans were looking for an instant riposte after last Saturday’s home defeat to Lazio, and what they got was a continuation of the form that has now seen the team slump to three straight defeats in a row. Paolo Sousa will wake up to the critical glare of fans for the first time since the early stages of the season. ‘Reinforcements needed’ will no doubt be the cry from the Fiorentina manager and on the basis of this sluggish showing, most fans would have to agree fresh blood is something of a necessity if this team is to progress from their current position.
The team sorely lacked the leadership of Gonzalo Rodriguez in the back line and the calming presence of Milan Badelj in the centre of midfield. However, a team that seriously wants to compete for a Champions League berth needs to be able to accommodate injuries as well as suspensions to first team players. At present it looks like Fiorentina do not have the strength in depth to cover what can be viewed as the natural wear and tear that a season will inherently conjure up for any given team. Fiorentina amassed a whopping 69% of the possession on the night, yet still ended up losing 2-0. This statistic will lead many to wonder what credibility is to be had from keeping the ball if you do not actually do anything with it?
This defeat will send Sousa back to the drawing board. To get back to winning ways Fiorentina will have to get a result against a Torino team who dispatched the Viola 3-1 in Turin in the reverse fixture during the second week of this season.