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Empoli 2-0 Fiorentina: Recap and highlights

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Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Pre-match

Both managers set out their expected lineups. Milan Badelj still isn't fully fit and started from the bench, while Nenad Tomović and Matías Fernández remain injured. Gonzalo Rodríguez, meanwhile, celebrates his 32nd birthday today with his 164th appearance for Fiorentina, while Matías Vecino made his first return to the club where he burst onto the scene last season.

First half

The visitors started energetically, pressing their hosts deep inside their own area and winning possession in some promising areas, although they didn't manage to create much. The match eventually settled into a familiar pattern: Fiorentina dominated possession, but only crafted a series of half-chances that they were unable to do anything with, although Josip Iličić curled one into the net while approximately eight yards offsides. Empoli, for their part, seemed happy to sit deep and soak up pressure, rarely even threatening on the counter and happy to kick Borja Valero out of the game. The only twist was that the Viola were dominating the battle on the wings due to their numerical advantage out wide. Then, in the 41st minute, Manuel Pucciarelli picked up the ball on the edge of the box in miles of space, deked Gonzalo out of the frame, and coolly finished past Ciprian Tătăruşanu.

Iličić forced a good save from Alberto Pelagotti with a curler on the other end, but the half ended with Empoli leading 1-0.

Second half

The last forty-five started out much like the first, and with similar results. The only difference was Empoli looking more dangerous on the break, which was hardly a welcome development. Paulo Sousa brought on Mauro Zárate for Federico Bernardeschi before the hour mark, which was weird, considering the young winger had been one of the team's lone bright spots while Iličić, frankly, had been quite bad. Speaking of which, referee Antonio Damato brilliantly snuffed out a 4-on-3 break for the visitors by whistling a ghost foul on Borja Valero, whom replays showed never touched the man he slid at. Nikola Kalinić managed to poke home from a clearly offsides position (he maintained quite a dialogue with the linesman for the entire match) and won what certainly looked like a penalty at the edge of the box that went uncalled; Zárate had a couple of half-chances, albeit none that were certainties; Vecino tried a trademark blast that drifted into low earth orbit; and even Borja snapped one straight at Pelagotti. But Fiorentina never looked like scoring, and, to the surprise of nobody, conceded a second in stoppage time to Piotr Zieliński as they fruitlessly hurled numbers forward.

Post-match

Uh, well, at least Panagiotis Kone made his Viola debut as an 82nd minute sub? It's hard to find bright spots on a team that hasn't won in 6 straight matches and has, barring something miraculous, played itself right out of a Champions League spot. Perhaps these are just the growing pains from Sousa's new style of play, but whatever the reason, something is deeply broken in this team.