If the Viola's away loss to Empoli a couple of match days ago was a nail in the coffin for Fiorentina's bid for Champions League qualification. Then this match has to rank as something of a nadir for Paolo Sousa's team. The Viola are surely now, barring a miracle, out of the race completely. Coming off the back of a poor run of form, that had not seen the Viola win a league game stretching back to February. In the team's last outing Sousa's men had managed a creditable 3-1 victory at home against Sassuolo. This win prompted hope that the side may have turned a corner. Sousa (potentially with one eye on this weekends fixture at home to Juventus) made three changes to the victorious line up that had started against Sassuolo. The Portuguese coach replaced Borja Valero, Josip Ilicic and Nikola Kalinic with Federico Bernardeschi, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Mauro Zarate. Unfortunately for the manager the changes were ineffective and ultimately costly. Any remnants of the cohesion that the Viola exhibited in Sunday's encounter at the Franchi, soon dissipated under the floodlights of the renovated Stadio Friuli.
Fiorentina have not beaten Udinese away from home in the league since 2009, the Zebrette have fashioned themselves in to something of a bogey team for Fiorentina. But with only five home wins in the league to their name all season, Udinese on paper at least, appeared vulnerable. For Paolo Sousa this was the perfect opportunity to consign a less than enviable record to the history books. Regrettably, from a Viola perspective Udinese did not see it that way.
Fiorentina's disarray was impressive. From referee Davide Massa's first whistle the Viola looked a disjointed and dis-enthused bunch.The men from Florence looked less a team with a task at hand and more a team making summer holiday plans. The sides early reticence was punished in the second minute when Colombian Duvan Zapata, seemingly with little effort, rose above Viola captain Gonzalo Rodriguez to clinically head in the opener for the home side. Zapata was impressive throughout, plugging away the opening scorer caused the Viola back line problems across the duration of the ninety minutes played. The Colombian unsettled the Viola defence, his direct running coupled to a bustling desire saw him prove more than a handful for Fiorentina's defensive unit. The centre forward's presence was negotiated but never completely stifled by the visitors. In the tenth minute the 25-year-old dangerously strode through the centre of the Viola defence leaving Nenad Tomovic little option but to haul the player down with a lunging slide tackle. The Serbian defender was given a yellow card for his trouble. On reflection a yellow card was fortunate considering that there was a slight argument for the Viola defender being the last man, not to mention the cynical nature of the foul itself. The resulting free kick came to nothing.
It took until the 22nd minute of the game for Fiorentina to create themselves their first clear opportunity. Cristian Tello found himself with enough space to run to the byline, before pulling the ball back in the direction of an onrushing Marcos Alonso. In an attempt to get to the ball, Alonso ended up sprawled out in a heap, remonstrating with the officials in the hope that they would award him a penalty. In fairness to the referee the right decision was made as Alonso's pleas fell on deaf ears.
Up until the Spaniard's half hearted appeal Udinese's quick fire start to the game appeared to have shook Fiorentina, if not to their core, then in to a state of disorientated stasis. Venturing into the Udinese penalty area seemed to awaken the collective muscle memory of the team. Woken from their slumber the Viola poured forward. Matias Vecino had an effort blocked, then from out of nowhere, magically, Nenad Tomovic morphed into Dragan Stojkovic. The much maligned defender gliding forward with the ball at his feet before delivering a superlatively flighted cross that was so good, it would have been a crime had it not ended with a Viola goal. Thankfully Mauro Zarate whose head it found at the back post gobbled up the chance. That said the Argentine forward did need two bites at the cherry, Zarate's header was wonderfully kept out by Udinese's Orestis Karnezis. The Udinese goalkeeper's effort was to be in vain as the ball bounced back to Zarate who made the most of his second invitation, clinically stabbing the ball home from close range with a side footed half volley in to the roof of the Udinese net.
Buoyed by the goal Fiorentina gained a foothold in the game, the team from Florence started to assert themselves. In the 27th minute to howls of derision by the home fans, Zarate claiming contact went over in the box, the referee having none of it waved away the appeal. The Viola were starting to click into gear, the impression given could have been mistaken for momentum. In possession Zarate and Tello looked particularly threatening. In the 33rd minute Milan Badelj was booked for a mistimed challenge on Emmanuel Badu. In the 36th minute against the run of play Ali Adnan put in a tantalising cross which Ciprian Tatarusanu smartly collected to avert danger. One minute later Tatarusanu balanced his smart save out with a ridiculous clearance that left the Viola no.1 stranded and his goal at the mercy of Emmanuel Badu. The Ghanaian midfielder could not make the most of the Romanian goalkeeper's error, as with the outside of his right foot he crashed the ball goal wards only to see his effort cannon off and over the crossbar.
In the 41st minute Cristian Tello went on a mazy run, twisting and turning, feigning and feinting, before slipping the ball in to the path of Bernardeschi. The Viola no.10 hesitated for a second which was all the time required for the Udinese defenders to pounce and clear to safety. Just before half time Udinese won a corner. The ball was swung away from goal finding the head of Udinese center back Danilo. The Brazilian headed downwards towards the Viola goal, Udinese's centre forward Cyril Thereau intercepted the bounce of the ball and in one motion, swivelling on the spot, connected from just over six yards out to redirect an effort on goal with the most deft of touches. The French forward was unlucky to see his inventive flick skim the top of the crossbar and go out for a goal kick. The whistle blew on the first half with the scores tied at 1-1.
The teams came out for the second half with the stadium reverberating, the Udinese fans were in good voice for the duration of the match. In the 50th minute Facundo Roncaglia saw yellow for a blatant foul on Zapata, the Argentine defender pulling the Colombian back, in the process stopping what looked to be a dangerous attack. Udinese were not to be quelled for much longer. In the 53rd minute Silvan Widmer put in a lovely cross that found Thereau in his stride, the skillful 32-year-old finished first time, sweeping the ball high in to the back of the net giving Tatarusanu no chance whatsoever. It was a great finish by the front man who like Zapata caused Fiorentina's defence problems right up until the 83rd minute when he was substituted for ex Viola starlet Ryder Matos.
In the 58th minute Matias Vecino went down in the Udinese penalty area, the Uruguayan International hobbled off the pitch. Sousa rang the changes in the 60th minute, bringing on Borja Valero and Nikola Kalnic for Vecino and Bernardeschi. This was only the second time this season that Valero had been dropped to the bench. In the 64th minute Borja floated a ball into Kalinic who had the merest sight of goal before Udinese defenders shepherded the Croatian away from the danger zone. In the 65th minute Zarate let fly with a speculative effort from distance, however the shot went straight down the throat of the keeper causing little to no alarm for the home fans.
In the 66th minute as a result of a defensive clearance, Zapata found himself clean through. The Viola defence stepped up in unison only to see Zapata take control of the long ball, the Napoli loanee found himself onside and clean through on goal with only the keeper to beat. The ex Estudiantes forward pulled his shot wide of the target. It was a let off for Fiorentina, one that they would not be able to make the most of. Paolo Sousa in the 71st minute looking for an angle, twisted for the last time, bringing on Josip Ilicic for Cristian Tello. Unfortunately for Sousa what little influence Ilicic did bring to bear on the game was only noteworthy for what it was not, rather than what it should have been. In the 73rd minute Ilicic and Zarate found themselves two on one, all the Slovenian midfielder needed to do was slip Zarate in for a chance that would have proved harder to miss than to score. The Viola no.72 fresh from the bench was slack with his pass, the ball was sloppily released and easily intercepted by Udinese defender Thomas Heurtaux who cleared the danger.
The last 15 minutes played out with little fanfare. Ilicic pulled a free kick wide. Udinese used up all of their substitutions tactically running down the clock. In the 84th minute Mauro Zarate put in a contender for worst corner of the season. In the 86th minute Marcos Alonso was yellow carded. Four minutes were added to the 90 but it could have been 25 and it would not have made a difference, Fiorentina never looked like troubling the home side. When full time came Udinese were deserved winners 2-1 on the night.
Where does this result leave Fiorentina? In literal terms it leaves them fifth in the table on 59 points from 34 games played. That is seven points ahead of sixth placed Milan who have a game in hand on Fiorentina. The Viola are now 9 points off of third placed Roma. Crucially there are only four games remaining in the season. With Juventus next up for Paolo Sousa's men, this weekend approaching is starting to look ominous. As a Viola fan, one would hope if there were one fixture in the season that the players should automatically get pumped up for it would be Juventus at home. Though it is hard to escape the fact of the matter, in recent weeks the team has looked jaded. This slump in form has given rise to a depressive mood among fans. The perfect antidote to all of this doom and gloom would be a positive result against the hunchbacks. If Sousa can against all odds deliver a result against the death star known as Juventus all will be forgiven. On the strength of this insipid display though most fans will not be holding their breath.