Paolo Sousa's team woke up on Sunday morning knowing that a victory away at Frosinone would claw them back to within three points of third placed Roma. What effect if any that had on the team's state of mind is questionable. That said, one could easily posit that the toothless display that ensued was a direct result of the pressure and expectation laid at the team's door. Putting aside conjecture and looking at the facts of the matter does not paint a pretty picture for fans of the team. One victory in the last seven games across all competitions is the type of form that in recent weeks has seen a miasma of negativity descend on the club. The hope had been that this downward spiral would be halted in Frosinone. Having drawn at home to bottom of the table Verona last week, this was a must win game for the Viola.That the team could not score against a side that has conceded 55 goals this term (the worst defensive record in Serie A) tells its own story. Crucially it is as big an indicator as any that Paolo Sousa's charges are suffering from a crisis of confidence.
The first half of this match was a dour affair with neither team settling into any type of rhythm. It was a bitty and awkward game, a match where gaining control seemed to be beyond the grasp of either team. Paolo Sousa had opted for what could be construed as a full strength side. Yet despite the caliber of the line up the team from Florence could not assert their authority out on the pitch. It was certainly not a first half for the purists. Those caught dozing off were - in the 45th minute shaken from their dormant state when Facundo Roncaglia crossed to Nikola Kalinic. The Croatian striker expertly manoeuvred himself in sync with the ball to get his shot away, it was an adroit piece of play by Kalinic who saw the ball rebound off the post. The ball skipped back in the direction of Borja Valero who instinctively hit it goal wards, unfortunately Valero's effort was right at Nicola Leali in the Verona goal. Leali could only repel the effort back to Valero who with a second bite of the cherry snatched at his shot, the ball rising sharply to ricochet off the crossbar to safety. The edge of the seat, pinball effect produced by the ball hitting the woodwork twice in quick succession was in stark contrast to the staid action that had been the staple of both sides first half displays.
In fairness as a spectacle the second half was a major improvement on the first. Both teams looked to commit more men forward and though it was the Viola who created more chances Frosinone certainly came as close as the visitors to breaking the deadlock. In the 54th minute Federico Bernardeschi's deflected shot crawled just wide of the post. From the resulting corner Matias Vecino connected sweetly with his head, Leali was equal to it palming the ball away. It was a splendid save from the 23-year-old who was impressive throughout. In the 60th minute Kalinic had another effort dealt with by Frosinone's no.1, the Viola centre forward's half volley did not trouble the score line. In the 61st minute Bernardeschi shot from range, the shot was spilt by Leali but then quickly gathered before Kalinic could pounce. The game looked to be headed in the right direction for Sousa's men.
The peppering of the Frosinone goalmouth continued throughout the remainder of the half. Fiorentina finished the game with 25 attempts to their name, crucially however only 6 of those shots hit the target. Though Frosinone played their part too, the team from just south of Rome were not bystanders. The home side mustered 14 attempts themselves, 5 of which were on target. In the 63rd minute Sousa replaced Bernardeschi with Cristian Tello, and in the 72nd minute Sousa switched Milan Badelj with Mauro Zarate, the manager's final roll of the dice was to bring on Khouma Babacar for Josip Ilicic in the 86th minute. Unfortunately for Sousa none of his changes had the desired effect. In the 70th minute Tello had a tame strike at goal and in the 88th minute Zarate skied a well positioned free kick, apart from that the substitutes had little to no impact on proceedings.
If anything it was in the last quarter of the game that Frosinone upped the ante. In the 74th minute Bulgarian Aleksandar Tonev came on for Roberto Stellone's men. Tonev's incisive running combined with his desire to leave a mark on the game led to a number of ill at ease moments for Fiorentina's back line. Tonev's drive from distance in the 76th minute provoked an uncharacteristic mistake from Viola keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu. Tatarusanu gathered the ball in a rush and hurriedly threw the ball out only for it to land at the feet of Frosinone's Luca Paganini. The Frosinone forward worked the ball back to Tonev who was in a more central position only to see the substitute snap at the chance and the ball roll wide of the Viola uprights. In the 81st minute Oliver Kragl's shot from distance deserved a goal, the German's spectacular strike from all of thirty yards left Tatarusanu rooted to his line, the goalkeeper could only watch on helplessly as the ball crashed off the underside of the crossbar. It was a fantastic hit from Kragl who could not have connected with the ball any sweeter than he did. Fiorentina looked to be hanging on by the skin of their teeth. If any side looked like scoring all of a sudden it was Frosinone. In the 84th minute Tonev again found himself in space with room to get a shot off, fortunately for Fiorentina the shot was off target.
On reflection when referee Paolo Valeri blew for full time Frosinone had earned their point. The 0-0 scoreline was a deflating one for Fiorentina, this match marked only the third time in the league this season that the team have failed to register a goal against their opponents. That the Viola could not break down the team who possess the worst defensive record in the league is perhaps symptomatic of the rut they now find themselves in. Despite their perceived dominance, exemplified in many of the lists compiled to provide post match statistics, the ineluctable truth is that the Viola failed to create enough clear cut opportunities. Most of their attempts at goal came from half chances. The failure to convert the one or two clear chances they did furnish themselves with ultimately proved to be all too costly. Much like last week, this felt like two points lost rather than one point gained, Fiorentina remain in fourth position on 55 points, 5 points behind third placed Roma.
For once Fiorentina may well be happy with the break afforded them by the upcoming International fixtures. The pause in league play gives manager Paolo Sousa time to get the team's focus back on track. Fiorentina's next league game is at home to Sampdoria on the 3rd of April. With eight games to go in the league all is not lost. For Paolo Sousa a brief hiatus is just what the doctor ordered. The recent dispirited displays must be swept under the carpet and forgotten about. In order for the Viola to progress Sousa must find a way of re-instilling the enthusiasm and desire that was evident earlier in the season. As of right now the team and players collectively look a shell of their former selves.