Following on from their 3-0 thumping of Udinese in Matchday 24, La Viola strode into the match amidst a mixed spell of form, with the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Roma undoubtedly fresh in Sousa’s mind. The latter decided to stick with his trusty 3 man backline, with Borja Valero and Federico Bernardeschi joining Nikola Kalinić in what was Fiorentina’s strongest attacking lineup. Die Fohlen entered the match under the leadership of their new manager Dieter Hecking, giving starts to the lesser known Hazard brother Thorgan and their captain Lars Stindl and they aimed to capitalise on what was a home tie at a rocking Borussia Park.
A slow start for both teams lead to a rather lack lustre first 10 minutes with both sides looking to find their feet. It became quickly visible that Fiorentina’s plan was one with caution at the forefront of their mind, with the back line dropping deep and soaking up everything the Germans had to to throw at them. A tentative start was thrown into jeopardy when Hermann stretched to get on the end of a Gladbach cross only to end up on the receiving end of what was a strangely unprotected questionable challenge by Olivera to scoop the ball clean. Olivera’s involvement in Fiorentina’s play involved his usual duties of shuttling up and down the flank like Sousa’s trusty robot, as Fiorentina struggled to really get a grasp on what was a really dull first half hour from Sousa’s men. Not that the Portuguese would've been too disheartened by the robustness Gonzalo Rodriguez and co. had shown in sniffing out the the darting runs from Hazard. Kalinić looked frustrated and struggled as he often does to get involved, offering little more than an outlet, not by any fault of his own as Milan Badelj and Valero struggled to discover the rhythm need to unlock the tie.
Lars Stindl’s propensity to fluff chances handed Fiorentina a life line as he not once but twice failed to capitalise on what were golden opportunities, provided by Gladbach’s industrialism down the wings with Wendt’s surging runs. Before I go on did I mention it was Bernardeschi’s birthday? No? Well he managed to make it his most memorable birthday since, well ever, with a thunderous free kick to give his side the league. A rocket powered strike from 25 yards out struck with herculean force set Fiorentina’s game into motion as they skipped into half time, tails up and rearing to give Berna the bumps.
Paulo Sousa sent the team back out unchanged, the goal before half time giving Fiorentina a real foot up in the tie and subsequently forcing Gladbach to attack and give their fantastic fans something to worth cheering. However, proceedings resumed as Fiorentina sprayed the ball out with an ease and fluidity made possible when Sousa’s often frustrating tactics come to fruition. Badelj continuing what he does best, picking his passes and playing the role of the middle-man perfectly, hooking the attack and defence brilliantly. The clock ticked on as Fiorentina looked more and more settled before a quite remarkable moment on the 62nd minute when the commentator let us all into a little secret that Valero used to play for West Bromwich Albion, who'd have thought it!
After Bernardeschi received the wrong type of card on the 59th minute, he was substituted presumably in an effort by Sousa to cement the lead Fiorentina had; a stellar night from the Florentine demigod in which he displayed a clinical touch which would prove crucial for Fiorentina’s eventual fortunes on the night. Late flurries from Hazard who linked well with Dahoud (I was secretly hoping he would score so I could use my Mahmoud is in Dahoud joke... get it? No? Oh well) proved fruitless as Gladbach stuttered to what was an underwhelming end to a home tie they would have been hoping to win. Nonetheless, Sousa orchestrated what really was a smash and grab job from the boys in purple. An assured, resilient, drilled and oddly satisfying 1-0 which made up for the lack of excitement with old-school Italian style efficiency.
As the lights when out at Borussia Park Fiorentina would have been hard pressed to find real negatives to take from the tie. Their performance lacked in attacking prowess but was in no shortage of coherence and organisation, giving La Viola their first win on German soil. Fiorentina go into the second leg in great confidence given Mönchengladbach’s inefficiencies, an assured performance giving them an invaluable away goal to take back to the Artemio Franchi.
Tātārusanu - 7 - A solid performance from the under pressure keeper.
Sanchez - 8 - Put in the kind of performance which merits his place in the team.
Gonzalo - 8 - Fiorentina are all the better from his return as he looked commanding in the middle of the trio.
Astori - 8 - Astori doing what he does best, professional all game.
Olivera - 8 - Useful in possession and made a fantastic challenge early on to keep the scores level.
Vecino - 7 - Has an incredible engine on him, used it to full effect with his driving runs.
Badelj - 8 - The metronome in midfield. Set the tempo and facilitated all of Fiorentina’s play.
Tello - 6 - Largely anonymous, provided width but was the victim of his own making as he was often too detached from the central areas.
Bernardeschi - 9 - A fantastic game from the Birthday boy... Corvino don't you ever think about it.
Valero - 7 - Exuded the usual calmness and combined well with Badelj, was important in slowing the tie down.
Kalinić - 6 - An off day for the big Croat, struggled to get involved, meh.
Cristoforo, Babacar and Tomovic’s introductions did little to influence the play, Babacar’s limited chances of late looking as if it could be the begging of the end for the Senegalese striker.
Next up is Milan on Sunday, with Fiorentina meeting an old friend in the form of Vincenzo Montella. Sousa will be hoping to carry on from what as a strong performance, hoping to give Montella a taste of what he's missing.