Paulo Sousa shook things up a bit, opting for Carlos Salcedo over Nenad Tomovic at the back and bringing on Khouma Babacar in place of an injured Josip Ilicic, which shifted his formation to more of a 3-4-1-2.
There was a moment of craziness before the match, as police found a car with French plates parked in a no-parking area in front of the Franchi. Fearing a bomb threat, they cleared the area, but eventually located the owner of the vehicle, who moved it. This would prove to be the most exciting moment of the match.
Fiorentina started energetically, leading us to believe that perhaps they’d broken the post-international break curse. Federico Bernardeschi was particularly lively down the left, combining well with Borja Valero and Babacar. He even struck a 30 yard free kick on target, although Atalanta goalkeeper Etrit Berisha covered it pretty easily in the 8th minute. In the 15th minute, Nikola Kalinic made a nice run through the box and lashed a left-footed shot towards the top corner which Berisha did well to parry away. Former Viola man Jasmin Kurtic had a couple of ambitious pops at goal, too, but never really threatened—shocking nobody familiar with him.
Kalinic had a couple more shots off target, but it was at the other end where the action occurred. Franck Kessie skinned el Titan and cut in, uncorking a powerful low shot that Tatarusanu blocked well. A minute later, the same thing happened, although this time with Boukary Drame beating the Mexican international, only to see his shot (which looked to be heading wide of the post) cleared off the line by Davide Astori, who was excellent throughout. When the whistle blew, it’s fair to say that the Viola had seen almost all of the ball, but la Dea had the better of the chances.
Fiorentina came out firing again, winning a series of set plays that saw both Babacar and Carlos Sanchez unable to head in a goal, while Kurtic was similarly incapable of nodding home at the other end despite a good ball into him. Sousa made a double-switch at the hour mark, bringing on Matias Vecino for Sanchez for more energy in the middle and Cristian Tello for deeply unimpressive Hrvoje Milic. Both did well to spark the hosts, with Vecino firing a laser shot from nearly 35 yards out that forced a surprised Berisha to punch over, while Tello twice cut inside and shot well with his left.
In the 71st minute was the hardest, though. Tello crossed from the right to Berna on the back post, who headed it back to Kalinic. The Croatian, who seems to miss excellent chances on a weekly basis, got a free header from perhaps 2 meters out and couldn’t put it on target. Sousa tried to change things by bringing on Mauro Zarate for Babacar in the 81st minute, but the sides continued in a stalemate until the final whistle.
There’s no need to mince words: things are looking awfully dire in Florence. Sousa’s tactics, while defensively sound, simply aren’t producing anything in the final third, and the fans are getting understandably frustrated. There were audible whistles at the half, and a full-blown cannonade of them at the end. If he can’t turn things around soon, we may witness the end of the Sousa regime sooner rather than later.
Tatarusanu: 7—Made a couple of solid stops, and his distribution was better than usual. Definitely not the problem.
Salcedo: 5—Started well, but looked awfully shaky when attackers ran at him with the ball. Had some nervous moments in possession, too.
Gonzalo: 6—Seemed a bit slow to react, but was generally in the right place at the right time. Solid match from the captain.
Astori: 7—Made 11 interceptions, which is nuts, and had that clearance. The Atalanta strikers really marked him to take away his long passing.
Milic: 4.5—He works hard and takes a beating (another elbow to the face today), but got routinely beaten by Andrea Conti and remained a black hole going forward.
Sanchez: 6—Made a couple of bad passes to lose possession, but remained a physical presence in the middle and an aerial threat in both boxes.
Badelj: 6—Typically understated performance from the Croatian. An early booking may have forced him to play more conservatively than he’d have liked.
Bernardeschi: 7—Seemed the only player likely to make something happen. Should have had an assist with his headed pass to Kalinic. Won fouls, made dribbles, found good passes. Finally looks as good as last year.
Valero: 6.5—Played a typical Borja match and was, as usual, hacked to pieces. Out of position as the trequartista and it shows.
Kalinic: 5—Should have scored but didn’t, which is his new refrain. Might be time to acknowledge that the Nikola we saw in the first half of last year was a fluke.
Babacar: 6—Gave the defense problems with his strength and physicality, but didn’t manage to convert any of his half-chances. Also dropped very deep and wide to the left in defense, putting in an impressive shift.
Vecino: 6—Added the necessary pep to the middle and even had a good shot from distance, but he’s hardly the player to unlock a packed defense.
Tello: 6.5—Showcased his dribbling and two-footed shooting. Was involved and in sync, which was at least a present change from his past couple of months.
Zarate: n/a—Buzzed around and had a shot blocked, but didn’t really have time to make an impact.
It’s back to the Europa League on Thursday with a trip to visit Czech side Slovan Liberec and maybe try to get some goals rolling again.