Do not book your flights to Stockholm just yet. On the basis of this performance, come May 24th, The Friends Arena in Solna is likely not to be decked out in purple, or indeed orange. On a night when orange was the new Viola, Paulo Sousa peeled back his first eleven, gifting Carlos Salcedo his first start, whilst also bringing in Khouma Babacar to partner Nikola Kalinic at the front of a 3-5-2 formation, though in truth it operated more like a 5-3-2.
One could be forgiven for wondering if Paolo Sousa's team talks are delivered in Mandarin, as so far this season their has been little indication of a clear directive on the pitch. With last year's fairy-tale start a fading memory, the emergence of eleven pumpkins on the playing surface was as sure a sign as any that the magic has long since departed. Perhaps this team has simply run out of juice, although this early in the season one would expect a little more impetus and a lot more zest than was on display at PAOK's Toumba Stadium on Thursday evening.
The team, ostentatious in orange, played with all of the energy of a Vitamin C deficient stoned fresher. In the first half of what was an instantly forgettable encounter Fiorentina's lack of imagination ceded 59% of the possession. In the second half, with PAOK perhaps realising there was no reason to press these oranges, they allowed Fiorentina the lion's share, secure as they were in the knowledge that their biggest worry would likely be the threat of having to swap shirts afterwards.
Goal threat wise the only attempts worthy of note from the orange outfit came from Khouma Babacar and Borja Valero. In the 37th minute Valero from just outside the penalty area connected sweetly, yet his angled shot did not trouble the goalkeeper who covered it comfortably. Babacar squeezed two efforts on target, the first in the 25th minute came from a decent Maxi Olivera cross. The Senegalese striker's instinctive half volley forced a smart save from Panagiotis Glykos. The second came in the 51st minute when Milan Badelj lofted in a cross only for Babacar, who with maybe a bit too much time on his hands, proceeded to not get enough purchase on his attempted volley. His tame effort was clearly a shot borne not from concentrate-ion.
Just as the game was coming towards its sought after denouement, PAOK almost pipped the Viola at the post. In the third minute of stoppage time Garry Rodrigues nearly stole it for the home side. Racing clear of the Viola defence, the PAOK forward opted to cross, this despite having a clear path for a shot at goal. The cross was deflected away by Viola captain Gonzalo Rodriguez. The home side appealed for a handball but it was waved away by referee Slavko Vincic. When the final whistle blew Mr Vincic had done everybody a favour. The cries of no more were audible from as far away as the orange groves of Orange County. This was a de-oxygenated performance from the Viola. As a one off I am blaming the orange, though if more performances of this nature follow responsibility will have to be laid at Sousa's door.