It is fair to say Fiorentina's expeditions to the Friuli region of northeastern Italy have not proven the most fruitful. In fact since the 2004/5 season, the Viola prior to this game had only amassed six points from twelve encounters away to the Zebretti. One victory and three draws sit next to a whopping eight defeats in the record books. Framed in such a context, coming away with a point from this fixture does not seem that bad a result for Paulo Sousa's men.
Fiorentina lined up in a 3-5-1-1 formation, with both Federico Bernardeschi and Khouma Babacar drafted in to the first eleven. Ex Genoa man Sebastien De Maio was handed a debut, deputising for the unavailable Davide Astori. The Frenchman linked up with Nenad Tomovic and Gonzalo Rodriguez to form the back three of what was a midfield heavy formation. Aside from Josip Ilicic and Nikola Kalinic who each dropped to the bench (and the aforementioned Astori), those who started against Roma on Sunday evening were all present once more.
It would be fair to say the opening fifteen minutes of the game were controlled by the home side. Former Viola midfielder Giuseppe Iachini is the new head coach at Udinese, graduating from the Serse Cosmi school of sartorial splendour, the former Palermo coach would have been happy with his side's opening exertions. Paulo Sousa on the other hand would have been less than impressed with some of the makeshift defending he was witnessing. With Udinese putting cross after cross into the Fiorentina box, the pressure almost told when Viola keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu flapped at one such in-swinger, pushing the ball away only for it to fall directly at the feet of Emmanuel Badu. Fortunately Tatarusanu's blushes were spared as Badu's resulting strike was deflected wide by a sprawling Hrvoje Milic, as the new Viola man did well to get in the way of the Ghanaian's goal bound effort.
In the 16th minute Duvan Zapata came close for the home side as he headed wide from a Panagiotis Kone cross. It was a precursor for what was to come. Ten minutes later Udinese took a deserved lead, moving the ball from left to right across the face of the Viola penalty area, it eventually found its way to Rodrigo de Paul who controlled it nicely, before proceeding to slip a lovely pass into Zapata, who was arguably just about onside. The Colombian took one touch to get the ball from under his feet before calmly rolling it right footed past Tatarusanu into the bottom corner of the Fiorentina net. It was nothing more than what the home side's ambition warranted.
Zapata's goal not only gave his team the lead but also seemed to wake Fiorentina from their collective malaise. The Viola, as if kick started by the reality that there would be no clean sheet here, sprang into life. That said in the 28th minute Zapata could have doubled Udinese's lead. Once again he was put through by Rodrigo de Paul, the Zebrette forward looked odds on to score, but luckily for the Viola, Tatarusanu made up for his earlier wobble by alertly rushing out and smothering Zapata's effort.
In the 30th minute much to the chagrin of the home supporters Fiorentina equalised. Receiving the ball on the right, Cristian Tello in true roadrunner style put on the burners, leaving Udinese defender Ali Adnan to eat dust, before expertly pulling the ball back across goal towards a hungry Khouma Babacar. The Senegalese striker let the ball run past his leading leg, before sumptuously flicking the ball with the back of his heel past Orestis Karnezis in the Udinese goal. Fiorentina could count themselves lucky to be level considering that up until the goal they had made little to no impression on the game.
Before the half time whistle blew the pendulum was to swing again. Paulo Sousa's side were guilty of a lack of concentration and the home side made them pay. In the first half Rodrigo de Paul was at the heart of everything good that Udinese pulled off and it was the Argentine no.10 who would help Iachini's men punish the Viola's complacency. On the stroke of half time in the 45th minute the former Valencia man picked out Danilo. The Brazilian centre back had crept in unmarked at the Fiorentina back post, taking full advantage from close range, the Udinese no.5 fired his team back into the lead.
Whatever Paolo Sousa said at half time, it seemed to work. In the 50th minute Federico Bernardeschi whipped in a left footed cross towards Khouma Babacar who was waiting in the middle. As the ball approached the Viola no.30 he was tripped by Ali Adnan, referee Silvio Mazzoleni did not hesitate in blowing up for a penalty. With normal Viola marksman Josip Ilicic on the bench the responsibility for the spot kick fell onto the shoulders of Bernardeschi. The youngster kept his cool, wrong footing the goalkeeper as he side footed his penalty into the bottom corner to level up the match at 2-2.
As the second half wore on Paulo Sousa opted to use all of his substitutes, bringing on Nikola Kalinic, Sebastian Cristoforo and Federico Chiesa for Cristain Tello, Borja Valero and Federico Bernardeschi respectively. Of the three replacements it was the Primavera product who impressed the most. Chiesa, who on the opening day of the season won plaudits for his first half performance against Juventus, further underlined his promise by once again looking more than comfortable in the company of seasoned professionals.
As the game petered out with no more clear cut chances for either side, onlookers were left to ponder what it was they had exactly witnessed. From a Viola perspective this game did not correlate to any other performance they have put in this season. The solid defence that has of late been lauded was completely absent. Whenever a cross was hoisted into Fiorentina's penalty box the defence looked vulnerable.
Elsewhere on the pitch Khouma Babacar and Federico Bernardeschi both merited their inclusion and you would like to think they will each figure prominently in the manager's plans going forwards. Babacar caused unrest in the Udinese defence all night, his link up play as well as his ability to finish will hopefully bring him into the reckoning for a first team place. Likewise Bernardeschi is wasted on the bench, the impact of both of these players in this fixture should give Paolo Sousa plenty of food for thought.
All in all Fiorentina were lucky to come away with a point. Despite the Viola dominating possession it was Udinese who had the better of the chances. It will be Giuseppe Iachini who will be ruing the lost points here; his opposite number Paulo Sousa should be content with the point gained, but perhaps not so content by the manner in which his team earned it.