Oh Fiorentina, what has happened to that team that was wowing Europe just four months ago? When these two teams met in the reverse fixture at the Franchi back on December 20th, Fiorentina emerged 2-0 victors and went into Christmas sitting second in the league table. Post Christmas, the Viola story has been one earmarked by a slow and torturous descent. This game extended a rather bleak run of form for Fiorentina; the result meant that the team from Florence have now won only once in their last ten league games.
Paolo Sousa brought in both Mauro Zarate and Mati Fernandez to the starting eleven, dropping Federico Bernardeschi and Josip Ilicic (who reportedly took a knock in training) to the bench. In a stagnant contest, Zarate was undoubtedly the star performer. The Argentinian busied himself around the pitch, always eager to take possession. The ex Lazio man's performance was in stark contrast to most of his teammates, whose level of ambition left much to be desired. On more than one occasion, Zarate jinked his way past a series of defenders to fashion himself space that he had no right to. Unfortunately his neat footwork could not be matched by a neat finish. With the frame of the goal in his cross hairs, the Viola no.7 was on the whole rather wasteful. That said, he did come closest to scoring for the Viola with a beautifully struck free kick that rocked the Chievo crossbar in the 51st minute. The resulting rebound ended in slapstick as Marcos Alonso, with the goal at his mercy, launched the ball into near earth orbit from all of six yards out. The Spanish full back would probably not be able to repeat the trick if he tried.
Chievo proved a well drilled opponent, unbeaten at home since January, and 'The Flying Donkeys' were well deserving of their point. Throughout the 90 minutes the Chievo rearguard restricted Sousa's men to half chances and shots from distance. A big part of that was down to the marshalled defending of two ex Viola players, as the wily veteran duo of Massimo Gobbi and Alessandro Gamberini rolled back the years to remind Fiorentina fans exactly what they were capable of. Shutting down any offensive threat that the Viola could muster in a defensive masterclass that showcased their many years of Serie A experience. Yet Chievo manager Rolando Maran could have had no complaints had his side gone down to ten men in the first half. Fabrizio Cacciatore could quite easily of seen red in the 36th minute for an attempted and unprompted makeshift vasectomy on Marcos Alonso. The 29-year-old defender escaped with a yellow card for his studs up kick out at Alonso's midriff. Such was the stale nature of the game that if the Chievo man had indeed seen red, one gets the impression that in this match it really would not have made much difference.
In the second half, Chievo were the team who created the more clear cut of chances; that said, the closest they came to scoring was from a speculative 25 yard strike from Nicola Rigoni. With Ciprian Tatarusanu in the Fiorentina goal well beaten, the 25-year old midfielder's shot cannoned back off the post, much to the relief of the Viola bench. The 69th minute of the game saw the introduction of Antonio Flores Flores. The Chievo forward came on for Roberto Inglese and soon set about causing unrest in the Viola defence. In the 78th minute the ball broke to Flores Flores, putting him one on one with Tatarusanu. The Chievo forward was reaching, and with the ball just beyond his complete control he dug out an effort. The Viola no.1 made the most of his opponent's hesitancy and rushed out, smothering the resultant shot and quelling the danger. Right at the death of the game Flores Flores had another glorious opportunity: Fiorentina were caught out on the counter attack, the ball ran kindly for Flores Flores, who this time got a good connection on his shot. The strike bounced off and through Tatarusanu's open legs and for a split second looked set to trickle over the goal line. Fortunately the goalkeeper's quick reaction speed allowed him to spin around and stop the ball with his outstretched arm just as it was about to crawl over the white chalked goal line. It was a lucky last minute reprieve for Paulo Sousa's team.
On reflection, neither team deserved to win this game, as both seemed pretty content with the draw. The two teams shared eight yellow cards between them, with four given to each side, one of which results in Nenad Tomovic missing next week's home game against Palermo (stop cheering at the back). In the post match press conference, Sousa admitted his team lacks belief, although he needn't have bothered. To anybody watching the Viola of late, a lack of belief transmits loud and clear without the need for any type of clarification. The manager also intoned that he thought that his side had controlled the match, mainly due to the home team sitting deep in their defensive ranks. The Portuguese coach lamented the fact that when the Viola committed men to attack, they left space in behind for their opponents to exploit. From an objective standpoint, one can be pleased that the manager understands and appreciates the inherent dangers that his side can face when a team decides to employ such tactics. What is hard to reconcile though is the fact that despite this becoming something of a regular occurrence for Fiorentina, the team still have no clue how to combat such a strategy.
Come the end of next week Paulo Sousa is due for sit down talks with the brothers Delle Valle amid rumours flying hither and tither. Fiorentina's scoreless draw with Chievo could yet prove to be a determinative result in what may well be a transformative week or two for the club.