Both Stefano Piolo and Rolando Maran rolled out their expected XIs, eliciting groans from Fiorentina fans when they saw that Marco Benassi and Cyril Théréau were starting again, with playmakers Riccardo Saponara and Valentine Eysseric glued to the bench.
The visitors got out to a roaring start, as Théréau broke down the left wing, cut back onto his stronger right foot, and floated in a cross. Giovanni Simeone brilliantly split markers Dario Dainelli and Alessandro Gamberini and surged upwards, glancing the ball home past a helpless Stefano Sorrentino in just the 6th minute. It was his second goal of the year and put the Viola firmly in the driver’s seat.
Although the Gigliati produced a few more attacking moments in the early going, it soon became clear that Chievo Verona was going to control the match by flooding the center and overloading Jordan Veretout and Milan Badelj to win the ball, and then play directly into the strikers. At 19’, this approach nearly paid dividends as Cristiano Biraghi badly misjudged a long ball into the box and let it drop for Manuel Pucciarelli, but Davide Astori was on hand to sweep the ball clear. It was a warning of things to come, though, as Biraghi completely lost Lucas Castro at the back post 8 minutes later, and the Argentine had time to bring the ball down, settle himself, and smash home from point blank range to level the score.
The match really opened up at this point, with both teams galloping up and down the pitch mostly unopposed as the midfields scuffled with each other. For all the running, though, there weren’t many chances until 5 minutes to time, when Veretout swung in a free kick from the wing that Simeone again beat everyone to, but this time Sorrentino managed a full-extension dive to palm away the header. That was the last significant action of the half. It’s worth noting, too, that Federico Chiesa injured his knee off the ball towards the end and needed treatment, but tried to soldier on.
Any momentum the Viola may have gathered before the break was stopped dead as the Donkeys doubled their lead in the 46th minute. Once again, Biraghi lost Castro at the back post, and the midfielder softly floated his header over a flat-footed Marco Sportiello. It might have been an attempt to cut it back rather than a shot, but nobody in Verona would complain.
Fiorentina tried to seize back the initiative and did an okay job of pinning Chievo back, but the Donkeys never seemed very threatened as their opponents cluelessly looked for a way through. Instead of finding one, though, they resorted to a series of thoughtless crosses and optimistic long shots, none of which found their way to Sorrentino’s net. Chiesa had to leave after his knee became too painful to play on, so we got another cameo from Gil Dias, and Saponara entered for Théréau before the hour mark, but while both had the right idea, neither had the key to unlock the defense.
That’s how the remainder of the match played out. Sportiello had a smart save, but Chievo rarely bothered to venture forward and trusted that Fiorentina would waste their chances. Some poor finishing from Khouma Babacar and some woeful free kicks from Biraghi proved the approach correct. Although the teams argued and shoved about some hard fouling towards the end, the Viola couldn’t channel that fire into anything productive, and the whistle eventually blew down another crushing, boring, and frustrating 90 minutes.
First of all, we’d all better pray that Chiesa’s injury is light enough for him to recover fully over the international break. After that, let’s maybe pray that Dias and Saponara or Eysseric feature from the start every match. Dias’ width and ability to beat his marker opened things up and would have stretched Chievo considerably had he been opposite Chiesa, and the Cheese did a nice job of offering a simple forward option and shifting the ball neatly around the attacking third. While neither was particularly memorable, they both offered the sort of competence in their respective attacking roles that Théréau and Benassi don’t.
Sportiello—6: One decent save, but maybe could have done better on Castro’s second goal.
Gaspar—6: Towards the end, often looked like the player most likely to produce some attacking magic. On the other hand, both assists came from his inability to stay in front of his man.
Pezzella—7: Stood tall in defense and stonewalled his opponent for all 90 minutes. Not at fault for any of the goals.
Astori—6.5: Passed the ball quite nicely and hit some really good long ones through the midfield or out to the wings. Dinged because he didn’t organize his backline as well as he should have as the leader and ranking veteran of the team.
Biraghi—2: Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong for him today did. He’s shown, though, that he’s better than this, so we’re not too worried in the long term. But yikes, this was a horror show.
Badelj—5: Had a couple of really bad misses and didn’t use the ball as quickly as we’re used to seeing. Was solid defensively, but overrun by sheer numbers.
Veretout—5.5: Played some nice passes, but was rather lost on defense at times. Also needs to take the set pieces from Biraghi when they’re of the shooting variety.
Chiesa—5.5: Was actually rather quiet for most of the night, although he did manage one reasonably threatening shot. He’s too young to expect him to win every game, week in and week out, so no biggie.
Benassi—4: Showed the occasional sign of life and did well to track back a few times, but remains badly overmatched as a number 10. He was his usual invisible self.
Théréau—5.5: Got the assist, yeah, but was otherwise almost entirely invisible. Demonstrated again that he doesn’t have the pace or the technique to consistently beat his man out wide.
Simeone—7: The goal was wonderfully taken and he was only denied a second by a tremendous Sorrentino save. That said, he was otherwise almost entirely anonymous. Needs some creators behind him to set him up; otherwise, what’s the point of having a poacher?
Dias—6: Dribbled by his marker a few times and even forged some half-chances out of nothing. While he remains a very raw prospect, he’s always a dangerous character out there.
Saponara—6: Wasn’t spectacular by any means and didn’t create a lot of chances, but his composure in the attacking third was miles ahead of Benassi. Drifted between the lines and neatly kept moves going, which is what a number 10 should do. The results will come if he keeps getting minutes.
Babacar—5: Missed a pretty dang good chance to equalize, marking the second match in a row he’s whiffed on a sitter. You don’t want to judge him from two performances, but it’s awfully easy to think that his bench role is affecting his confidence and thus his finishing.