In the build up to this game, much was made of the fact that these two teams had met in the same competition last season. They were billed as familiar foes, despite the fact that the relative peregrinations of each side since that last meeting meant that the teams on display here were barely recognisable from the ones that had faced off in that previous encounter. From a Viola perspective only Marcos Alonso could lay claim to being a member of the starting eleven on both occasions.
Paulo Sousa opted for a 4-4-2 formation in keeping with the strategy that the coach had gone with in the match against Inter Milan last Sunday. Nenad Tomovic was drafted into the side replacing the suspended Facundo Roncaglia at right back. Also Mauro Zarate started in place of Nikola Kalinic up top. Further changes included Jakub Blaszczykowski for Cristian Tello and Tino Costa in for Matias Vecino. On paper this appeared a more compact and defensively minded 4-4-2 than the one that was fielded against Inter.
Certainly the idea that this would be a compact Fiorentina was given strength by their showing in the first half hour. The game provided little incident and it appeared that the home side were reasonably happy to invite Tottenham pressure, content in the knowledge that any danger would be contained. Tottenham's plethora of attacking talent were being frustrated by the strategic, defensively orientated tactics of Sousa's team. Tottenham's frustration was perhaps best personified by the precocious Dele Alli. In the 29th minute with Nenad Tomovic grounded, the skilful midfielder inexplicably appeared to kick the Viola defender in the midriff. That Alli arguably changed his mind mid kick and thus did not boot Tomovic at full whack, is in the circumstances incidental. The young England International should without question have received his marching orders. As it was the 34-year-old German referee on the night Felix Zwayer, opted to caution Alli, brandishing only a yellow card for the infringement.
Fiorentina's best chance in the first half fell to Federico Bernardeschi. In the 31st minute Josip Ilicic delightfully whipped in a left footed cross that was an invitation begging to be clinically dispatched.The flight of the ball however was misjudged by Bernardeschi who was maybe in two minds. A split second later and the Viola no.10 had horribly mistimed his effort, the ball moving away from goal as opposed to in the direction that the player had no doubt intended for it to go.
It only took five minutes for Bernardeschi's miss to be compounded by a Tottenham goal. In the 36th minute, Ben Davies exchanged a one-two with Tom Carroll, and proceeded to race into the Viola penalty area. The Spurs left back glided past Nenad Tomovic only to be taken down as the two players' boots became entangled. The Serbian defender was adjudged to have brought Davies down and thus a penalty was awarded to the away side. Tottenham's Nacer Chadli duly obliged from the spot, sending Ciprian Tatarusanu the wrong way to give Tottenham a one nil lead. As the teams trotted off at half time, Tottenham were a goal to the good, leading 1-0.
At half time Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino brought on Mousa Dembele for Tom Carroll, whereas Paolo Sousa opted to hold fire, making no changes to the Fiorentina line-up. The second half started off in the same pattern as the first, with Tottenham probing and Fiorentina absorbing pressure and looking to counter. The Viola were finding it difficult to find any cohesion in the final third. The closest Fiorentina came to the Tottenham goal was with speculative efforts that really did not trouble Michel Vorm, who on the night was deputising for Hugo Lloris as Spurs number one.
Fiorentina, who have had the lion's share of possession in most games they have played this season, did not have it all their own way in this game. Looking back to Sunday's match against Inter, the Viola typically took away 62% of the possession in a match that although fairly even was glaringly one sided in terms of who had the ball at their feet. Here it was a different story, in a match that objectively ended evenly, the possession stats just like the final score was palindromic, with both teams enjoying 50% of the ball.
The strike that was to even up the scores on the night came about from one of those aforementioned speculative efforts. In the 58th minute Federico Bernardeschi received the ball from Jakub Blaszczykowski and let fly from all of 30 yards. The ball took a wicked deflection off of Ryan Mason, kissing the crossbar on its way into the back of the net. The trajectory of the ball screaming past a sprawling and ultimately ineffective Michel Vorm whose efforts could only prove residual such was the velocity of the ball. It was Bernardeschi's fourth goal in the Europa League this season.
The 60th minute saw the return of Milan Badelj to the Fiorentina team with the Croatian replacing Josip Ilicic, a sight for sore eyes for Viola fans, the team having missed the languid midfielder's calming presence in recent weeks. On the substitute front, Paolo Sousa doubled down bringing Nikola Kalinic in to the fray, the Viola no.9 coming on for Jakub Blaszczykowski in the 61st minute. All of Fiorentina's subs were used in a six minute window, with Matias Vecino entering the game at the expense of Tino Costa in the 66th minute.
After the equaliser something seemed to click for Fiorentina, all of a sudden there was a stride in the players' step. The pressure on the ball, both in and out of possession became more marked, the entire team seemed to become reinvigorated. All of a sudden it seemed if there was to be a winner, it would come from Sousa's side. Pochettino maybe sensing the tide turning looked to his own bench, in the 68th minute the Argentine coach plumped for Harry Kane, the England forward went in to this game having scored 18 goals in his last 22 appearances. Tottenham had called for their big gun, but it was still Fiorentina who would come closest to grabbing a winner.
In the 88th minute Mauro Zarate with the ball at his feet jinked into space and pinged a decent effort on goal, Vorm was forced into turning the shot around the post. The resulting corner gorgeously curled in at pace from the left foot of Bernardeschi, found the head of Gonzalo Rodriguez. From close range the Viola captain could not get enough purchase to turn his header on target. The ball flashed inches wide of the Tottenham goal, leaving Spurs players' hearts in their mouths and Fiorentina fans with hands on their heads. As the final whistle blew, the game ended 1-1.
On reflection one is hard pressed to say that either team deserved to win and so a draw was a fair result. Crucially from a Fiorentina point of view, come the second leg, which will be played next week at White Hart Lane all is still to play for. Both clubs share a similar predisposition, in that if they were to go out of the competition many fans would not see such an outcome in a wholly negative light. With fixtures mounting up for both sides and priorities not yet fully in order, some would welcome their own club's exit from a competition that asks a lot of a squad who may be battling on two or even three fronts. Naturally neither club would readily admit to this, as it would be a public relations disaster. Running in tandem to the negative outlook, is of course the positive one which espouses that as long as they are in the hat for the next round, then there is still a chance, however slim it may appear to be, that either club could emerge victorious as outright winners of the competition.