Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more the Serie A season is upon us and what a fixture to kick it all off! Juventus vs Fiorentina a headline event for the opening night of the Campionato. Undoubtedly nice for the neutrals but maybe not so nice for Viola fans who upon the annual release of the fixture list will instantly zero in on and make a mental note of when these two teams will meet. This year the build up was noticeably different with both sets of supporters albeit for different reasons not quite sure what their team would bring to the table.
Nevertheless this is Juventus vs Fiorentina damn it! And in this purple hued corner of the internet there is no need to elaborate on what this fixture means to Viola fans. If ever there was a match where fans might forgive their manager for breaking with the pedestrian, possession based mantra that he lives by, in order to perhaps Cry Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war, then this would be that fixture. Failing that, demanding a little more intensity than what was shown would not have gone amiss, this was the first game of the season, yet rather than it being coloured by optimism, instead a sense of lethargy and defeatism seemed to cling to the team from Florence.
Prior to kick off there were raised eyebrows on both sides of the divide with the inclusion of Federico Chiesa to the starting line up for Fiorentina and the omission of both Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic for Juventus. Both of Juventus big money summer signings watched on from the bench for the Bianconeri. For the Viola the 18-year-old Chiesa, son of former Fiorentina front man Enrico, was gifted his competitive debut by Paulo Sousa in what can only be described as a trial by fire for the youngster. Sans Borja Valero who was ruled out through injury Fiorentina lined up in a familiar fashion to last term with none of their recent acquisitions making the jump to the starting eleven.
In what appeared to be a 3-4-2-1 formation Fiorentina were instantly tested by the direct running of their opponents. With not even a minute on the clock Kwadwo Asamoah was felled by Milan Badelj gifting the home side a free kick just outside the Viola penalty area. Paulo Dybala stood over the resulting free kick but the Fiorentina wall did its job standing firm to repel the Argentine's effort. The match had started at a frenetic pace, the first ten minutes flashing by with Juventus repeatedly knocking on the Viola door, while Fiorentina were barely able to catch a breath let alone retain possession of the ball.
Having managed to get to the 30 minute mark without conceding it appeared Fiorentina may have successfully weathered the storm. The team's interplay was showing signs of improvement as passes that early on in the game had gone astray were now starting to stick. One highlight for the men in purple, in a half that to be blunt was full of lowlights, was the composed performance of the debutant Chiesa. Surrounded by players of a seasoned calibre the precocious teenager never looked uneasy or out of his depth. In fact the few bright sparks of a dull half in which Fiorentina failed to register a single attempt on goal came from the boots of the youngster. In particular an adroit turn in the 16th minute to skip away from Mario Lemina helped shine a little light onto the potential and promise of Fiorentina's no.25. That same promise and potential are presumably what gave Sousa the faith to start the Primavera product in such a high profile fixture.
In the 37th minute Juventus struck first blood. Even the most ardent, purple nosed, Fiorentina fan would have to admit that it had been on the cards, the first half having been one way traffic throughout. That said the goal came at a time when there had been a little pause in action. The Viola lulled into a false sense of security were perhaps guilty of complacency. Fiorentina players stood off the Juventus attack as they proceeded to pass the ball around the edge of the Viola box, the ball finally endend up at the feet of Giorgio Chiellini who under little defensive pressure picked out the run of Sami Khedira who cleanly connected to head the ball into the back of the Viola net from all of twelve yards out.
At half time Paulo Sousa took Chiesa off and replaced him with Cristian Tello. It would have been a hard pill to swallow for the debut man who from an objective standpoint had done little wrong. Hopefully the kid is made of stern stuff and his withdrawal will not scar him psychologically. Any player taken off at half time regardless of the reasons would feel hard pressed not to feel a little bit of a scapegoat for their team's poor performance. Word to the wise Paulo, you might want to exercise a little more prudence when experimenting with players that are set up to be the club's future.
If there was an Olympic event for kicking a ball repeatedly out of play from a place kick, then in the shape of Ciprian Tatarusanu Romania would have a gold medal contender. The Viola shot stopper inexplicably kicked the ball directly out of play trying to find Marcos Alonso who despite being on the touchline was positioned well within his own half at least six times. In some botched training ground manoeuvre that must have worked a wonder in practice the 30-year-old keeper repeatedly ignored the fact that, firstly the skills to execute whatever it was he was trying to execute were severely lacking and that secondly by the fourth attempt Juventus had cottoned on to this quite frankly stupid tactic. This was not a good game for Tata, he had the wobbles, apparent from the third minute on when he almost gifted Juventus the lead with a clearance not worthy of the name, the ball falling straight back in to the lap of the Juventus attack only for Khedira to blast the ball over the bar.
In the 65th minute Paolo Sousa handed new signing Carlos Sanchez his debut, the Colombian replacing Milan Badelj in the middle of the park. In the 66th minute Juventus called for their big gun Gonzalo Higuain, the Argentine striker taking the place of Mario Mandzukic in the defending champion's attack.
In the 70th minute against the run of play Fiorentina managed to draw level. In a rare foray into their opponent's half, Fiorentina managed to win a corner. Josip Ilicic, in what seemed like his only contribution to the entire game, lofted in a beautiful in-swinger that picked out Nikola Kalinic at the back post. The Croatian forward rose above his marker to head the ball firmly down past Gianluigi Buffon's sprawling right hand and into the back of the Juventus net. In truth it was hardly deserved but nobody in a Viola shirt cared about that. If one was to be generous you could say at this point Sousa's tactics had paid off, but in reality at this stage of the game Juventus had already wasted a glut of opportunities and really should have been leading by more than one goal.
The Viola's joy was short lived. Within 5 minutes of the equaliser Juventus as if rudely awakened by Kalinic's goal took the lead once again. Gonzalo Higuain marked his home debut off the bench with what proved to be the winning goal. It was a scrappy goal to concede. Asamoah found Khedira who had been given way too much room in front of goal, the German glanced up and struck the ball goal bound, Marcos Alonso scampered back managing to deflect the shot wide and off target, only to see Higuain pounce on the deflected shot to slip it past Tatarusanu at his near post. Cometh the hour cometh the man, much had been written and talked about Higuain's condition prior to this match, but if he consistently delivers like this for Max Allegri's team, then Juventus supporters will not be complaining too much about his preference for burgers over broccoli.
The rest of the game fizzled out as if there could be no other result but the one in which Juventus take all three points. Juventus peppered the Viola goal with shots mainly from distance but could not add to their advantage. There was a ten minute cameo for Giuseppe Rossi who took the field in place of Josip Ilicic but the Italian forward found it difficult to influence the game in any meaningful way. This was mainly due to Fiorentina's inability to get the ball past the halfway line. In the 90th minute Nenad Tomovic put in a bone crushing challenge that in real time looked like it might warrant a straight red card but on reflection was only deserving of the yellow card that the referee rightly produced.
In truth it was a pretty insipid performance by Sousa's team. The team's languid and disjointed approach from a fan perspective lacked everything you would want to see from your team when going up against a direct rival, let alone the team that you harbour the most enmity towards. Unfortunately this has become a bit of a staple of the Sousa era, against direct rivals the team tends to flounder, which in turn begs the question if you consistently lose to your direct rivals then how many times does it have to happen before they can no longer be considered your direct rivals?
Next week Fiorentina host Chievo at the Franchi in many ways an ideal fixture to get back on track, and in many ways also a fixture that will probably give onlookers a clearer picture of what this team is potentially about this season, or maybe not. After all this is Fiorentina, welcome back folks!