Paulo Sousa named a very experimental lineup for this one in an unfamiliar 4-3-3 shape. Hrvoje Milic and Maxi Olivera played almost interchangeably as the fullback and winger on the left. The midfield 3 was a very functional combination of Milan Badelj, Matias Vecino, and Carlos Sanchez. Mauro Zarate logged his first Serie A start of the season up top.
We’ve discussed the first 27ish minutes previously, so we’ll pick things back up where the players did. The first real action occurred at 34’, when Ciprian Tatarusanu charged out to close down Diego Simeone outside the box. Simeone calmly turned and laid the ball of to Luca Rigoni, who had a pop at the wide-open goal Tata had abandoned. Fortunately, Gonzalo Rodriguez slid in and cleared the ball off the line, sparing his goalkeeper’s blushes.
The Viola weren’t as lucky 3 minutes later, when Nikola Ninkovic, guarded by Carlos Salcedo, cut back and curled a cross towards the far post with his right foot from the left corner of the area. Milic completely switched off (I’ve written that sentence way too many times this year) and let Darko Lazovic run right by him to turn the ball in, giving the hosts a 1-0 lead.
Genoa immediately retreated into their shell, often looking more like a 5-4-1, and decided to park the bus for the remainder of the match, threatening only sporadically on the counter. They were helped by the pitch conditions—both teams constantly lost their footing on a very slick playing surface—and by referee Marco Guida, who swallowed his whistle and allowed an extremely physical contest; he whistled Genoa for 17 fouls, but probably could and should have doubled that tally.
Fiorentina didn’t really look like scoring until after the break, although Sousa finally yanked Milic and brought on Nikola Kalinic shortly after the halftime. However, it was the Grifoni who nearly struck instead, with a blatant Simeone foul to dispossess Vecino going uncalled in the 50th minute. The Argentinean striker ran at goal and shot well over from a tough angle when he could have easily squared to a pair of teammates unmarked in the box.
In 58th minute, Mauro Zarate produced a bit of magic that very nearly evened the match, picking up the ball near midfield, then worming his way past a pair of defenders to uncork a magnificent strike from fully 30 yards out that beat Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin before smashing off the crossbar.
Just 2 minutes later, Zarate nearly proved key again as he lightly flicked on a Federico Bernardeschi corner that a sliding Vecino was centimeters from turning home at the back post. At the 70 minute mark, Rigoni nearly scored again; the Italian waited on the edge of the box for a Lazovic cut back, then sent a slowly rolling effort just wide. Tata got a very slow jump on it, so had he turned it on target, he may well have scored.
At minute 73, Berna, who’d been lively all match, beat 4 Rossoblu defenders in the box before rolling a weak effort straight at Perin. However, Genoa captain Nicolas Burdisso sent him sprawling with a clearly illegal studs up challenge after he’d shot; Guida, not surprisingly, ignored the obvious penalty and left Berna rolling on the ground in agony. He also declined to card Lazovic for a high boot/stomp combo on Maxi Olivera a few minutes later that may have had something to do with the Uruguayan’s subsequent substitution.
In stoppage time, Simeone latched onto a through ball and ran past the defense. As he ran down a slightly heavy touch at the endline, Sanchez bundled him over from behind, which is a penalty in any world but Marco Guida’s. The referee waved play on to the astonishment of everyone, and blew the game dead moments thereafter.
Okay, so let’s look at this rationally. Sousa has to develop a plan to play 3 matches in 7 days, so some squad rotation and janky lineups were inevitable. That’s fine and fair and he certainly doesn’t deserve any criticism for that. However, this particular lineup was just bad. Milic and Olivera on the flank provided no attacking inspiration. 3 hard-working and functional midfielders meant that no one was capable of moving the ball quickly into attack; the absence of Borja Valero has never felt so pronounced. Berna was really the only player with an ounce of creativity, but had nobody to work with until Kalinic and Ilicic came on.
Cristian Tello may be needed for Lazio on Sunday, but is fresh after not playing last week and could have at least provided 45 minutes. Heck, if Sousa was so worried about keeping his players fresh, Josh Perez or Ianis Hagi could have been called in to play some minutes. As Genoa is probably more beatable than Sunday’s opponent Lazio, you’d think it’d make more sense to punt on the latter and try for 3 points against the former. No matter how you look at it, though, this was a very bad match for the Viola.
Tatarusanu: 4.5—Really poor from Ciprian this time out. Made a terrible error that required some Gonzalo magic to save, and was nearly beaten by a very bad shot later. The errors are starting to stack up, and he may be wearing out his welcome, especially with Dragowski waiting in the wings.
Salcedo: 6—Much better from el Titan. Somewhat lost Ninkovic on the goal, but was otherwise solid. Did well moving the ball around the back, too, showcasing an unexpected passing range with both feet.
Gonzalo: 7—Back to being the captain we know and love. His clearance saved Tata, and he did well when called upon. Burst forward once or twice when Genoa had bunkered back, but nobody tried to open up for him.
Astori: 6.5—Stepped forward well on occasion and even played in a dangerous cross. Was mostly quite solid defensively, especially as he had to step over and cover for Milic a whole lot.
Milic: 3.5—Simply disastrous. At fault for the goal, and allowed Lazovic (who’s admittedly a tremendously pacy player) free rein up and down the left flank. Has yet to show that he’s good enough for Serie A.
Badelj: 6—Offered the occasional penetrative pass, but mostly sat back in front of the defense and orchestrated from deep. The lack of options ahead of him clearly limited his influence. Did well defensively.
Sanchez: 6—Battled well in the middle, winning the ball in the tackle and in the air. His distribution was tidy, but offered no forward thrust. Probably should have conceded a penalty, but Guida inexplicably waved it off. Effective but redundant.
Vecino: 5.5—As the most forward of the midfielders, needed to support the attack much better than he did. Alas, he’s more energetic and functional than inspirational, and the playmaking duties are clearly not his cup of tea.
Olivera: 5—Obviously out of his depth as a winger, but had a couple good moments getting forward from fullback after Milic went out. The grade is more a reflection of him being used out of position than his performance.
Zarate: 6.5—Had 2 near-decisive moments, but was otherwise pretty quiet; in fairness, that’s always been his MO. Looked better on the left wing cutting in than as a striker. He’ll make a chance or two for himself, but isn’t the type to involve anyone else.
Bernardeschi: 6.5—The only player looking to make something happen in the final third. Desperately needed another playmaker or two to take some of the burden as Genoa clearly decided to mark and kick him out of the game.
Kalinic: 5—Never got anything resembling good service, what with 3 midfield destroyers and Zarate disinclined to get him the ball in good spots. Mostly invisible.
Ilicic: n/a—Played fewer than 10 minutes and never had a chance to influence the match.
Tello: n/a—Entered in the 88th minute. Still managed a trademark nice run followed by a bad giveaway.