Both Luciano Spalletti and Paulo Sousa lined up with their expected formations, which looked oddly symmetrical: a 3-4-2-1 with a double pivot comprised of an all-action runner and a deep-lying schemer, a fullback on the left wing, a winger on the right wing, and a playmaking band comprised of a midfielder pushed forward and a winger pushed central. Khouma Babacar started for the visitors in the absence of the injured Nikola Kalinic.
It’s hard to believe now, but Fiorentina were the better team for the opening quarter hour or so. Babacar in particular was energetic and involved, nearly getting on the end of a long Federico Bernardeschi pass in the opening minutes and generally looking a handful for the slow-footed Federico Fazio. The best opportunity fell to Federico Chiesa, who blazed over the bar with his leftfollowing a corner. However, after that brief burst, the visitors never really threatened again, inexplicably sagging farther and farther back and inviting a series of breaks from AS Roma.
Despite offering a token threat from the forwards, the Viola midfield just vanished. Milan Badelj and Matias Vecino somehow got out of sync and gave the Giallorossi the run of the park, leaving the defense to deal with a series of breakaways that they did quite well to stop. Edin Dzeko was squeezing off shots left and right, as he generally does, but didn’t manage a particularly threatening one until the 38th minute, when he beat the offside trap via Carlos Sanchez stepping up a hair late and latched onto a Daniele de Rossi ball over the top and finishing the ensuing one-on-one with Ciprian Tatarusanu.
Still, with just moments left in the half, Fiorentina could feel good about having only conceded once despite the barrage of shots (12 in all) they’d faced in the opening period. However, it took a tremendous Tatarusanu save on Dzeko just minutes before the whistle to preserve that single goal deficit, and the Gigliati faithful went into the break hoping that Sousa would inspire a second-half turnaround.
Instead, Fiorentina took the pitch looking even flatter than when they’d left it. Roma’s backline stepped high up the pitch, squeezing their opponents’ playing space, and nobody could quite figure out the right angle to play a ball in behind for Babacar. Instead, a series of giveaways and fouls pinned the Viola back in their own half, and de Rossi finally spun a free kick from the left wing into Fazio, who outleapt everyone to head it home and double the lead just before the hour mark.
The second goal seemed to take all the fight out of Fiorentina, and they listlessly allowed Roma to continue knifing through their so-called defense at will. Indeed, it was only Roma’s profligacy in front of goal (Dzeko, unsurprisingly, was the main culprit) that kept the match as close as it was, although Antonio Rudiger very nearly managed a spectacular shot on the turn following a corner at 69’, and shortly after Tata made another brilliant intervention on Dzeko. However, the counters never stopped, and de Rossi undid the Gigliati again when his clever outlet ball found Kevin Strootman on the left wing. The Dutchman drove forward, then looped a cross into an unmarked Radja Nainggolan, who neatly controlled and dispatched it for an impressive third goal.
Not content with an already spectacular scoreline, Spalletti’s men continued to swarm forward, and their intensity was rewarded yet again in minute 83, when a long pass from the midfield deflected off an otherwise-invisible Borja Valero and let Dzeko slip by Gonzalo Rodriguez to finish past a despairing Tatarusanu once more. Even then, Roma kept pushing, and it probably would have been a fair reflection of the balance of play if they’d won by more.
This was as damning an indictment of Sousa as a manager as anything we’ve witnessed. The team clearly gave up in the second half, and that’s entirely on the coach; if he can’t convince his players to put forth some sort of effort, the team needs to part ways with him sooner rather than later. As Lazio and Atalanta both won, this drops the Viola even farther behind in the quest for the final European spot, and this kind of result is the type that can result in a rest-of-season malaise that ends with a mid-table club and a full clearing of the house. If this is all that the team can muster in such a critical situation, maybe it really is time for a rebuild.
The whole team (except for maybe Tata) gave us this, so I’m not going to rate them individually.
Next up is Udinese on Saturday. For now, let’s just forget this ever happened.