Paulo Sousa shuffled the deck considerably for this one reverting to the 3-4-2-1, while opting for Cristian Tello over Federico Bernardeschi and Matías Fernández over Josip Iličić behind the striker. Maurizio Sarri, meanwhile, set out with his first XI. Following AS Roma's 1-3 pasting of Empoli to pull a point ahead of the Viola and into third, a win looked an important result.
Fiorentina started well, pressing Napoli high up the pitch and dominating the ball while manufacturing some good chances. Indeed, the early pressure paid off with a 7th minute corner, which Borja Valero curled right onto Marcos Alsonso's head, and the towering Spaniard glanced it into Pepe Reina's net. This being Alonso, he couldn't let such a brilliant moment define him; Napoli tried going long directly from the restart, and he somehow managed to mishit a clearance straight into Gonzalo Higuaín's feet. The Argentine easily finished past a clearly startled and badly out of position Ciprian Tătăruşanu to level the scores just a minute later.
While it would have been all too easy for the Gigliati to drop their heads, they instead continued bossing the match, keeping the ball in the middle of the pitch. Tello looked extraordinarily dangerous throughout, with his pace and technique simply too much for Faouzi Ghoulam, and Mati Fernández compounded the Algerian's trouble by buzzing around the right flank as well, providing his typical incision from the midfield. The next major chance came in the 32nd minute, as Tello played a beautiful ball to put Nikola Kalinić through. The Croatian beat Reina, but not the crossbar. Six minutes later, Tello beat Goulam down the line, cut inside and past Kalidou Koulibaly, and curled his left-footed shot off the crossbar as well. Fiorentina continued to press forward with intent, but Tagliavento blew the whistle before what felt like the inevitable breakthrough arrived, and the teams went into the tunnel after the most one-sided period that finished level you'll ever see.
I have no idea what Sarri said to his charges during the interval (probably something really unpleasant), but it worked. Napoli were much sharper in the second half, mostly by virtue of their pacey front three. Davide Astori and Gonzalo Rodríguez did a good job of turning and and snuffing out the danger on the run, but in the 58th minute, José Callejón got in behind Marcos Alonso, turned Davide Astori like a top, and uncorked a low shot that Tătăruşanu brilliantly parried. Unfortunately, the ball dropped directly to an oncoming Higuaín, who easily slotted home. Psych! Instead, Tata somehow got back to his feet and blocked the presumptive Capocannoniere's shot, preserving the draw for his side (video).
The rest of the match settled into a familiar pattern: Fiorentina would hold the ball and try to work it into Napoli's area, while the Partenopei would, upon winning the ball back, immediately launch it down the field for the attackers to chase. The Viola faded a bit toward the end of the match, as their furious pressing clearly left them gassed, with Tello and Borja Valero looking particularly exhausted. Paulo Sousa tried bringing on an in-form Federico Bernardeschi for Mati, but the young Italian had little impact. In fact, he only made one other change, with Iličić coming on for Milan Badelj in the 90th minute. This willingness to stand pat (from both managers, frankly, as Sarri only made like-for-like changes to bring on fresh legs) showed that both sides seemed comfortable with a point.
And sure enough, both walked away with a point that, while possibly valuable down the line, sure feels like an underachievement following a majestic first half from the Viola. The tie drops Fiorentina to fourth, trailing Roma on goal differential. Napoli, meanwhile, are now 3 points behind leaders Juventus (ugh, writing that remains very un-fun), and will need some really impressive results to break the Juvenuts' stranglehold on Serie A.
Tătăruşanu: 7--Badly caught out on the goal, but redeemed himself brilliantly with the double save.
Roncaglia: 7--Almost completely neutralized Lorenzo Insigne, but did manage one of his now trademarked giveaways to provide Napoli with a good chance in the second half.
Gonzalo: 8--Typical from the captain. Good in the air, faster over the ground than expected, and read the game brilliantly.
Astori: 7.5--Made a number of excellent tackles when forced to turn and run against Callejón, but let the Spaniard by. Only saved by Tata's brilliance.
Tello: 8.5--Simply looked unplayable. Only the crossbar kept him from having a goal and an assist for the second Serie A game in a row, and Ghoulam will have nightmares about him for weeks.
Badelj: 7--Steady as ever, but left too much space in front of the defense towards the end, allowing Napoli a number of dangerous counters.
Vecino: 6.5--Lots of industry for very little payoff. Helped control the first half, but looked tired in the second.
Alonso: ?.?--Seriously, I have no freaking idea what to do with this guy.
Valero: 7.5--Imperious as ever for the first hour, but was so tired by the end of the match he was cocking up plays he usually could make blindfolded.
Fernández: 7--Kept things ticking nicely, and combined excellently with Tello. That relationship may be worth maintaining, as they already have some excellent chemistry.
Kalinić: 6--Even more invisible than usual, although he had a few nice moments of holdup play. But oh my gosh does he need to finish chances like that one he bottled off the crossbar. Looks like he officially has the yips.
Bernardeschi: 6--Won a couple of fouls, but didn't really inspire the attack as we might have hoped.
Everything is nicely set up for a Friday showdown with Roma at the Olimpico, which could well end up deciding who wins third place and Champions League football next year. As always, we'll have all your coverage right here.