Fiorentina 2-1 Inter
In a huge weekend of Serie A action that also saw a top-of-the-table clash between Juventus and Napoli, Fiorentina struck a decisive blow in race for the all-important third place behind those two title rivals. Inter - who came into this round of action just one-point behind the Viola - arrived at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in poor form having won just once in their last five matches.
Yet Paulo Sousa knew his side needed to alter their approach and started with a back four which included fit again Marcos Alonso in place of Manuel Pasqual. Federico Bernardeschi was once again pushed further up the pitch, and Matias Vecino played the holding midfield role in the absence of the injured Milan Badelj.
The 4-2-3-1 shape saw Borja Valero line up alongside him, with Bernardeschi, Cristian Tello and Josip Ilicic supporting Nikola Kalinic who played as a lone striker and the new-look formation certainly saw the hosts begin the match in impressive fashion.
"We started really well and created many chances." - Borja Valero
The Viola attacked Samir Handanovic's goal from the outset, with Bernardeschi and Ilicic combining well, twice almost resulting in an opening goal. The best of those chances saw a perfect pull back from Bernardeschi find Ilicic, only for his shot to be denied by an excellent Alex Telles clearance off the line.
Handanovic saved his side from two further opportunities for the pair, saving at the near post from Bernardeschi and using his legs to stop another Ilicic shot.
"It was tough to come back when conceding a goal like that, but this team never gives up and we proved it again." - Borja Valero
Despite the early chances, Fiorentina couldn't find the breakthrough and were punished by Inter who went on to score on the counter attack with their first shot of the game. Having been widely criticised in the media, it was a neat through ball from Geoffrey Kondogbia that sparked the move, the Frenchman picking out Rodrigo Palacio's run.
1 - Inter found the net with their first shot on target when Fiorentina had already attempted three. Cynicism.— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) February 14, 2016
Collecting the pass as he reached the byline, the 34 year old then picked out the totally unmarked Marcelo Brozovic who made no mistake from around twelve yards, but Sousa will be furious with the defensive lapse from his side.
Conceding against the run of play, the disarray from the men in Fiorentina colours continued after the goal as they struggled to regain their early grip on the game. As has been the case so many times already this season, a disruption in the Viola's possession based style has been hard to recover from and the team went in at half time looking unlikely to turn things around.
"Tonight we rediscovered some of that style we'd had earlier in the season." - Borja Valero
Slowly the home side rediscovered their confidence, and after an hour their patience paid off. An Ilicic cross - helped on by Jeison Murillo - was headed in by Borja Valero for his fourth of the league campaign.
Even as time pressed on, Sousa did not panic and instead turned to his bench for answers, with the long-overdue transfer activity during last month's window meaning the Coach now has the option to make changes when things are not going Fiorentina's way. Telles was given a red card for what the referee deemed to be a second yellow card, and the Viola boss reacted quickly to take full advantage.
A double substitution in the 86th minute saw Vecino replaced by Tino Costa, while Khouma Babacar came on for Ilicic. Fans in the Curva Fiesole would be rewarded for their unwavering support, and it would be Mauro Zarate who once again made the difference, with his match-winning contribution against Carpi discussed at length in this previous post.
Less five minutes after those changes from Sousa, the former Inter and Lazio forward saw his shot saved by Handanovic who then parried Babacar's rebound right back at the Senegalese striker. He would make no mistake with a follow up effort, incredibly handing the Viola the lead injury time and the emotional impact of it would quickly boil over.
1 - Fiorentina have won tonight their first Serie A game this season coming back from behind. Heart. #FiorentinaInter— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) February 14, 2016
In a frenetic end to the game, Zarate was sent off for an off the ball incident with Murillo, when he appeared to grab him by the back of the neck and subsequently said something deemed inappropriate by the referee. Murillo himself was then red carded for sarcastically applauding as the teams walked off the field.
"This victory against a side like Inter really fires us up, but there's a long way to go yet and we have to carry on doing what we're doing." - Borja Valero
The result means Fiorentina now hold a four-point lead over Inter, with their opponents refusing to speak to the media as they left the field and announcing a media blackout as they headed straight back to Milan. There was of course no such reaction from the Viola however, with a visibly proud Paulo Sousa giving his thoughts on the result to reporters at his traditional post-match press conference.
"I saw a lot of character and my team is becoming more mature in certain situations," the Coach said. "I am happy, as to win a game like this when fighting back gives confidence." Indeed this tenacity will prove to be a useful asset to Fiorentina as they head into a busy schedule of games, starting with the first leg of their Europa League tie with Tottenham on Thursday. Heading into this fixture with a tough win against Inter under their belts will no doubt stand them in good stead.