Fiorentina fans had to feel pretty good about this one going in. Inter Milan are reeling, even under new boss Stefano Pioli, and had lost to Hapoel Beer Sheva in their last match. They were also missing first-choice centerback Gary Medel. And, let’s be honest, we all had images of last year’s 1-4 Fiorentina win at the San Siro in our heads and expected an embattled Paulo Sousa to produce a similar masterclass.
That dream was shattered almost immediately, though. Inter started off the game with some furious pressure and pinned the Viola back early, then struck in just the 3rd minute. Ivan Perisic beat the offside line and crossed from the right side of the defense to Mauro Icardi, whose shot from 5 yards out was blocked. The rebound caromed out to Marcelo Brozovic, though, whose first time snapshot flew into the roof of the net to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
We’ve seen Fiorentina overcome early deficits, so it didn’t seem like complete disaster yet. But Antonio Candreva got in behind the defense just a minute later and would have scored if not for a brilliant last-second block from Gonzalo Rodriguez. Inter had to wait until a full 6 minutes after the first goal for Candreva to turn home a cross in front of a flat-footed Hrvoje Milic after Perisic beat Carlos Salcedo and cut one back for the Italian international.
A shell-shocked Fiorentina tried to respond and nearly did; Samir Handanovic spilled a long-range Federico Bernardeschi effort right into Nikola Kalinic’s path, but the Croatian missed the tap-in. He was offside anyways, though, which pretty much sums up Fiorentina’s night. Borja Valero also came close in the 12th minute, turning Miranda inside out before Handanovic came out strongly to smother his shot for a corner.
At 19’, Icardi got on the board. After picking up a pass from Candreva, he drove straight at goal, beating Milic, Gonzalo Rodriguez, and Davide Astori en route to unleashing a powerful shot past a despairing Ciprian Tatarusanu to make it 3-0, signalling the beginning of a route.
Even at 3-0 up, Inter maintained their furious pressure. Josip Ilicic nearly made them pay at the 33’ mark, but Handanovic brilliantly parried, and referee Antonio Damato waved off some contact in the box that left Gonzalo supine on the ensuing corner. It was a warning shot, though, as Milan Badelj lofted an inch-perfect pass over the top for Kalinic a few minutes later that the Croatian neatly brought down and lashed home past Handanovic to reduce the arrears for the visitors.
The match settled down a bit after that, as Geoffery Kondogbia was cautioned for a bad foul on Bernardeschi and Salcedo got the same treatment for a bad tackle on Ever Banega, but Damato thrust himself into the spotlight just before halftime. Icardi picked up the ball on the break and was breaking towards goal when he ran into Gonzalo. It was a foul, no doubt, but despite three other defenders in covering position (not to mention an obvious embellishment of the contact from Mauro), Damato stepped up and showed the Viola captain a red card, much to the astonishment of literally everyone watching the match.
Reduced to 10 men and trailing by 2 goals at a raucous San Siro, it’s fair to appreciate Fiorentina’s second half effort. Sousa brought on Nenad Tomovic for a wholly ineffective Hrvoje Milic. Inter responded by blatantly fouling at every opportunity in an attempt to slow down the match, with Andrea Ranocchia and Marcelo Brozovic being the main offenders, hacking away at anything wearing a purple shirt. Ilicic shook off the punishment to blast one from outside the area with his right that nearly slipped past Handanovic, but the keeper parried it and Berna was just short of reaching the rebound. There was also a clear-cut raised elbow from Miranda that caught Kalinic in the face, but Damato decided such actions didn’t merit a red.
However, Ilicic left his mark on the match in the 62nd minute. Borja Valero picked up the ball in his own half (after Perisic blatantly tripped Salcedo without a peep from Damato) and lofted a flawless ball over the top for Ilicic. The Slovenian ran straight at goal and spanked one past Handanovic from the left side of the box, bringing the Viola back within a goal and reigniting the purple hopes for an unlikely result.
Just after the goal, Sousa brought on youngster Federico Chiesa for Berna, and the youngster could have easily pulled the visitors level a few minutes later. Kalinic brought the ball down in the box but, instead of laying it off to a completely unmarked Chiesa, he tried an optimistic shot and lost the ball.
Pioli signaled his intent to kill the game (and possibly some Fiorentina players) by bringing on Felipe Melo, who immediately got busy fouling in the middle. Sousa responded by removing the invisible Cristian Tello and handing teenager Josh Perez his debut. As a side note, he’s the first player with American nationality per FIFA (yes, pedants, I’m not counting Armando Frigo as he fought and died for the Italian partisans against the Nazis in WWII, which in my book makes him an Italian).
The match continued degenerating as Damato refused to penalize Inter for their persistent fouling to slow things down. He hit a new low by ignoring what was plainly a foul on Perez just on the edge of the box in the 80th minute, leading to a break from Inter which Joao Mario finished by shooting over an open net from about 5 yards out.
All the Viola labor came to naught, though, when Icardi turned home the rebound of a Perisic shot saved by Ciprian Tatarusanu in stoppage time, slamming the door on any thought of a comeback.
Fiorentina came out looking terrible, particularly at the back. The defense was shockingly disorganized, and a lot of that has to fall on Sousa. However, the Viola might well have fought back if not for the shockingly bad game from Antonio Damato, whose performance raised specters of calciopoli. Still, though, it’s hard to get a result when you spot the other team 3 goals in the first 20 minutes, and Sousa deserves plenty of blame for not preparing his charges better.
Tatarusanu: 5.5—Made a couple of decent saves, but completely whiffed on the cross that led to Candreva’s goal, and didn’t marshal his defense very well.
Salcedo: 4—Bamboozled for the full 90 minutes by Perisic. It’s an adjustment from the Liga MX to Serie A, and el Titan definitely knows it now. Picking up bookings at an alarming rate this past month, too.
Gonzalo: 6—Made to look silly by Icardi on the first goal, although his block on Candreva was vintage stuff. The red card was absolutely not his fault, so it’s hard to penalize him for it.
Astori: 7—Turned back numerous attacks single-handedly, especially in the second half, and passed the ball brilliantly. Weird to say when his defense conceded 4 goals, but this may have been his finest performance in purple.
Milic: 3.5—Badly beaten for Candreva’s goal and for Icardi’s first goal, and just looked out of his depth. If you’re on Twitter, might be time for some #FreeMaxiOlivera.
Badelj: 6.5—The assist was pure class, but he was a bit invisible otherwise as Inter overran the midfield with a physical group of players. Needed some help, but dug in as best he could and had some bright moments.
Valero: 6.5—Much like Badelj, had a lovely assist and not much else. In fairness, Damato let the Inter midfield hack the hell out of him, and he battled valiantly throughout, even if it didn’t quite come together.
Tello: 4—Barely made an impact. Didn’t track back to cover Cristian Ansaldi and didn’t exploit the space when the Inter leftback forayed forward. Probably the streakiest player on the team.
Ilicic: 7—All hail Lurch. Put the team on his back for most of the match despite some rough treatment from a dirty defense, and could have scored a couple more if not for an outstanding Handanovic. It’s hard to say, but he’s one of the best players for this club right now.
Bernardeschi: 6.5—Had some bright moments in the first half, but faded a bit. Still, his pace, vision, and directness supplied a few half-chances. Deserved better.
Kalinic: 6—The goal was brilliant, but he was otherwise quite bad. He whiffed a couple of chances and couldn’t win his battles against the Inter centerbacks.
Tomovic: 6—Actually helped settle the defense, which feels weird. Looked much better at centerback than on the right, to be honest.
Chiesa: 6.5—Continues to look like a star. His intelligence and appreciation for space are off the charts for a player his age (see the play where he could have equalized if Kalinic had looked up), and possesses an admirable directness.
Perez: 6—Encouraging stuff. Showed a willingness to run at defenders, and should have earned either a penalty or a free kick on the edge of the box. But, y’know, Damato
Special bonus rating for Damato: