On a night when it seemed you would not be able to turn a corner in the Stadio Artemio Franchi without bumping into a club legend, Fiorentina did just about enough on the pitch to make sure their 90th birthday party went off without a hitch. Andrea Della Valle invited the great and the good of Fiorentina's rich and gloried past to take part in the club's anniversary celebrations. With former Viola players spanning the decades looking on from the stands, Paulo Sousa's current vintage could have been forgiven for succumbing to the pressure of the occasion.
Sousa somewhat surprisingly gifted home debuts to two of sporting director Pantaleo Corvino's recent summer signings. Colombian Carlos Sanchez replaced Milan Badelj in the starting eleven, while 27-year-old Croatian Hrvoje Milic was enlisted by the Portuguese head coach to cover Fiorentina's left flank. In what looked to be a 3-4-2-1 formation with captain Gonzalo Rodriguez missing out due to injury, left back Marcos Alonso shuffled over from the left to make one third of a three man central defensive shaping that saw Davide Astori in the centre and Nenad Tomovic to the right. Federico Bernardeschi was also omitted from the starting eleven in what was a slightly surprising decision by the manager, the youngster was left to watch the first half from the bench. To the delight of Fiorentina fans everywhere the Viola's heartbeat otherwise known as Borja Valero returned to the side following his recovery from a slight ankle injury.
Fiorentina started the game on the front foot pressing Chievo high up the pitch, forcing their opponents to give up the ball and then proceeding to zip passes around at a quicker rate than seen against previous opponents Juventus. In the opening salvos a pattern started to emerge that was to continue throughout the course of the entire match. That pattern could be summarised by a Fiorentina player lying strewn on the deck clutching their leg with a Chievo player in close proximity standing over them feigning innocence. To call the team from Verona battle hardened would be underplaying their willingness to put the boot in, watching on it felt hard not to entertain the notion that this aggressive style was something these players needed to employ in order to thrive as a unit.
In the eighth minute Matias Vecino had to depart the field injured with what appeared to be a muscle strain, Milan Badelj replaced the Uruguayan in the centre of the Viola midfield. As the game moved past the ten minute mark it started to simmer a little. Both teams reverted to type as Chievo dropped off to let Sousa's side enjoy possession of the ball whilst looking to counter at any given opportunity. In the 20th minute Davide Astori lofted a long ball over the top to Nikola Kalinic who strained to get to the ball before it bounced out of play. Kalinic just reached the ball in time but his stretched effort was off target.
Fiorentina's attempts to assert themselves as the dominant force were starting to pay dividends. Carlos Sanchez was hurriedly buzzing around the centre of midfield making his presence felt with crisp passing and good thoughtful probing. The Colombian was arguably the most impressive player in purple; his reading of the game helped him towards several interceptions not to mention what appeared to be a good understanding with his new teammates. The former Aston Villa man capped off what was an impressive home debut with what proved to be the winning goal. In the 28th minute, Borja Valero's angled shot at goal had been tipped around the post by Chievo goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino. Josip Ilicic whipped in the resulting corner which was met by Sanchez who was seemingly unmarked. With textbook aplomb the Viola no.6 headed the ball firmly down into the ground, the ball bouncing back up to reside in the roof of Sorrentino's net. It was a moment that proved pivotal. Fiorentina had the lead a lead they would protect all the way up until the final whistle.
Chievo, undeterred, looked to hit back instantly. In the 30th minute, a through ball set Riccardo Meggiorini in motion, as the forward darted through on goal. Ciprian Tatarusanu, alerted to the danger, raced from his goal line to collect the ball. While competently dealing with the attacking threat, the Viola custodian also unfortunately took a hit. As the Romanian goalkeeper slid in to collect the ball, his head ricocheted off of Meggiorini's errant knee; the Chievo forward was himself in the process of an attempted hurdle but was unable to evade contact with his opponent. After initially attempting to play through it, Tatarusanu came to his senses and on the 40 minute mark called to the bench to be substituted.
It is never nice to see anybody go off injured especially when it involves a head injury. Yet one man's misfortune is another's gain. In this scenario the man who gained happened to be Luca Lezzerini, who on replacing Tatarusanu on this most historic of nights for the football club went on to do his own budding reputation no harm at all. In what was quite a dull match, a moment that stands out came in the 52nd minute when Lezzerini made an astounding point blank reaction save to deny Roberto Inglese. In the end it would not have counted as a Chievo player earlier in the move had been adjudged offside, but in real time nobody was to know that. Lezzerini's superb reaction saved what looked to be a nailed on goal for the opposition. The 21-year-old's cat like reactions were put to the test again in the 62nd minute when the keeper got down well to beat away a well executed half volley from Meggiorini. All in all, you would have to surmise that it was a good night's work for the young Italian.
Federico Bernardeschi replaced Carlos Sanchez in the 59th minute due to the Colombian picking up what looked to be a muscle based injury. The debut man was stretchered off the field as a warm round of applause rippled around the Franchi. Bernardeschi looked lively in the 30 minutes that he was on the pitch: whenever he got the ball he was looking to beat his man and engineer himself space. The Viola no.10 looked desperate to make an impact yet never quite managed to produce a final product.
As the game entered the last ten minutes, Josip Ilicic ran clear of the Chievo back line. From out wide, the Slovenian dragged the ball into the box, fashioned himself an angle to shoot and wrapped his left foot around the ball only to be denied by the underside of the crossbar. The Viola's top goalscorer last season almost opened his account from the acutest of angles, but had to watch in frustration as the ball bounded off the bar and away from the Chievo goalmouth. Nevertheless, this was to be Fiorentina's night, the match drawing to a close with a serious of scrappy fouls and scrambled clearances. Realistically, Chievo did not pose much of a threat to the home side. However, if Fiorentina are intent on aiming for a similar finish in the rankings as last season, then on this evidence much improvement is required. With the International break now upon us, Paulo Sousa will be content that his team took all three points against what can only be described as mediocre opposition. It is early days in the season, so any judgement should be tempered by this fact.
After the game the 90th anniversary celebrations continued out on the pitch with old and young, past, present and future players of the club all intermingling on the hallowed turf and a sizeable crowd staying on to witness the festivities, festivities that no doubt went on and on deep into the beautifully Viola tinged Florence night.