Paulo Sousa set out with nearly the same squad (Hrvoje Milic started over Maxi Olivera) that’s looked so lackluster in the 3-4-2-1 this year. Against a pacey front three for AS Roma, this looked like it’d be another 90 minutes of sterile Fiorentina possession followed by conceding a dangerous counter, especially with Mohamed Salah—who received a lusty greeting from the Franchi—out wide. Also of interest was the fact that Giancarlo Antognoni watched from the stands, perhaps indicating that he’s willing to bury the hatchet with the Della Valles.
Things started out very poorly indeed. The Giallorossi pressed high, and Fiorentina couldn’t find a way through, leading to a host of passes to no one and frightened clearances. The Lupi weren’t able to generate many chances, though they kept the Viola pinned back in their own half. Edin Dzeko and Nenad Tomovic collided with each other in the box, leading Luciano Spalletti to call for a penalty, but referee Andrea Rizzoli waved it off. After that first half hour, though, Fiorentina grew into the match, finally finding a rhythm to their passing and having a few pops at goal from distance. It was Dzeko, though, who skied his shot from the six yard box in the 36th minute, which was probably the best chance of the half.
Things began much the same as they’d ended in the first period, with the sides probing away without really finding any weaknesses. In the 66th minute, though Nikola Kalinic got a free header off a corner, but only managed to tamely nod it directly to Wojiech Szczesny. On the other end, Ciprian Tatarasanu made an impressive stop on a Diego Perotti blast. Sousa brought on Federico Bernardeschi for a very underwhelming Cristian Tello and Khouma Babacar for an equally unimpressive Josip Ilicic, obviously hoping for more energy in attack, but it nearly backfired as Radja Nainggolan (whom Carlos Sanchez had kept quiet all day) fired a shot off the woodwork from inside the box.
However, it was Milan Badelj, who’d endured an uneven day, who proved the hero at the other end just a minute later. Tomovic slid him the ball about 22 yards from goal, and the Croatian turned and struck a low, hard shot in off Szczesny’s right post. Kalinic, who was right in the way, hopped over it, probably obscuring it for the keeper until it was too late. Roma responded by bringing on Juan Iturbe for Nainggolan and throwing everything forward for the remainder of the game, which included a rather questionable 8 (!) minutes of injury time. Fiorentina dug deep and cleared everything out—Sanchez was a rock—and Tatarusanu made an excellent save on a low El Shaarawy shot to preserve the win.
This was more what we expected from Paulo Sousa when he first signed on. Roma had 54% of the possession and 14 shots to Fiorentina’s 3, but the Viola probably generated more scoring chances. Whether this more defensive approach is the new default, or whether the Viola will return to a more expansive style against lesser opposition, will be a good questions, but Sousa deserves a fair amount of credit for a clean sheet against Roma, who’d scored at least 3 goals in each of their other Serie A matches this season. In fact, it was the first time Roma had been held scoreless since last season. With Juventus falling 2-1 at Inter Milan, the Giallorossi had a chance to take top spot in the league, but couldn’t find the final ball.
Tatarusanu—7.5: Made a handful of brilliant saves to preserve the win, although he’s still hopeless in possession.
Tomovic—6.5: Nearly had a Tomovic moment to give Roma a chance, but mostly showed well against a tough opponent.
Gonzalo—6.5: A bit more ragged than usual, but still a rock in defense.
Astori—6.5: Mostly solid, but had a couple of lapses in concentration that were a bit concerning.
Milic—7: Kept Salah and El Shaarawy quiet all night while motoring up and down the wing tirelessly, but has to improve his crossing.
Sanchez—8: Physically dominated the middle of the park, and made a number of key stops as Roma threw everything forward at the end. Looks like an excellent pickup.
Badelj—7.5: After a rocky opening half hour, grew into things. The goal was an absolute peach.
Valero—7.5: Rough start, but settled in and kept things humming, especially to kill off the game at the end. Put in a decent defensive shift, too.
Tello—6: Seemed off-rhythm with the rest of the squad. Berna looks better right now.
Ilicic—6: Sporadically useful, but rather in the background for much of the match.
Kalinic—7: Missed an absolute sitter, but made up for it with his dummy on the goal. Otherwise had a typical Kalinic game.
Bernardeschi—6.5: Looked lively and thumped in some decent crosses.
Babacar—6: Charged around energetically as ever; nice contrast to Ilicic.
Cristoforo—n/a: Didn’t play long enough to make an impression, but at least got his debut.