Paulo Sousa named a rather unexpected formation, and an unexpected XI to match it. He returned to the 4-2-3-1, bringing in Carlos Salcedo at rightback and shifting Carlos Sanchez to leftback. Borja Valero partnered Milan Badelj in the middle, while Cristian Tello and Federico Chiesa flanked Riccardo Saponara, making his first-ever Viola start. Federico Bernardeschi wasn’t even on the bench, presumably to give him a bit of rest, and Matias Vecino was suspended for yellow card accumulation.
Sinisa Mihajlovic stuck with his 4-3-3, but made some personnel changes too. Most notable was that former Viola winger Adem Ljajic dropped to the bench in favor of Lucas Boye, while the unfamiliar centerback pairing of Arlind Ajeti and Emiliano Moretti were tasked with stopping Nikola Kalinic.
Maybe these Gigliati players love Sousa, because, fresh off the news that he’d be retained by the club until the end of the season, Fiorentina came out with all guns blazing, forcing Torino back into their own half and winning an early corner which Kalinic headed over. That was just the harbinger of things to come, as Chiesa jinked his way past 3 defenders and into the box before firing a near-post cross to Borja, whose delectable volley was deflected by Joe Hart. The English custodian put it right into the path of Saponara, though, who acrobatically finished into the empty net for his debut Viola goal. Just 8 minutes in and the Viola were already ahead.
2 minutes later, Chiesa spun a cross that Kalinic was inches from nodding home at the back post. The Croatian had another golden chance in the 15th minute when a Gonzalo Rodriguez longball dropped right to him after Ajeti utterly flubbed his clearance, but Hart dealt with his left-footed effort, and Sanchez headed over from the ensuing corner. Chiesa was the spark again at 24’, when he played in Tello, but the winger’s shot flashed across the face of goal. Young Fede played a luscious ball in for him 7 minutes later that put him one-on-one with Hart, but this time Tello was denied by a decent save, and Kalinic couldn’t get his followup effort on frame with the goal begging.
The Slim Reaper would have to wait until the 37’ mark to finally get a goal, and it was of the most basic variety imaginable: Borja swung in a corner kick from the right wing towards the back post and Niki outleapt everyone to head it home. Although they kept up the pressure, there was no further action in the half, and Fiorentina went into the break with 12 shots (5 on target) and 2 goals while allowing just 5 for Torino and a single unthreatening effort on frame.
5 minutes after the restart, Chiesa tore down the right flank yet again and fed the Cheese, whose angled shot slipped just wide of Hart’s back post; although yet another miss was frustrating, it showed that the Viola were hungry for more. So it seemed a grave injustice when, at the hour mark, Carlos Salcedo was adjudged to have tripped Boye in the box—it looked like a pretty weak call, honestly. Up stepped Andrea Belotti, perhaps the most in-form striker in Serie A, and pinged the penalty off the cross bar. What joy! What relief! Finally, the Gigliati were getting a break!
The reprieve was cruelly brief, though, as the Granata piled forward, now suffused with belief, and the Viola wilted. It took just 3 minutes for Torino to win a corner, bounce the ball around the box, and eventually have Moretti square to Belotti, who headed into an open net from point blank.
You could almost see Fiorentina surrender then and there, although it would take another 20 minutes before Torino actually got the equalizer. It was, of course, Belotti again. This time, perennial Viola transfer target Daniele Baselli chipped a cross in towards the back post, where Belotti was lurking completely unmarked. He made no mistake, tapping home the equalizer and knocking the fight completely out of the hosts. Indeed, Fiorentina barely got out with a point, as Ljajic came off the bench to curl in a lovely shot that Ciprian Tatarusanu had to acrobatically punch clear in stoppage time, but the whistle blew before the visitors could find a winner.
As you may have heard, this is the second match in a row that Fiorentina have led 2-0 at the break and proceeded to bottle. Sousa, already deeply unpopular with the fans, is now a good bet to be sacked before the end of the season to ease some of the pressure on the Della Valles, who are facing some vociferous protests from the tifosi.
It’s hard to blame the fans, though; Sousa’s been miserable recently. Desperately needing a winner, he left late-goal specialist Khouma Babacar on the bench and instead bringing on Maxi Olivera for Tello in a tied game at home with only moments left. That defeatist attitude, his obvious inability to motivate his squad in the dressing room, his poor in-game decisions, and his refusal to take on any responsibility after yet another devastating result have all but cemented his farewell. The only question left is when it’ll be.
Tatarusanu: 6.5—Made a couple of routine saves and had a great one to deny Ljajic at the end. Not really at fault for either goal.
Salcedo: 5.5—Gave away a very soft penalty, true, but showed occasional promise. Demonstrated solid passing and kept his side of the pitch quiet. A bit of rust is no surprise for a young player who’s barely featured recently and is still forced out of position.
Gonzalo: 6.5—Had a very Gonzalo game. Snuffed out danger early, threw himself around, hit some good long passes. Maybe could have marked Belotti better on the first goal, but it’s hard to fault him too much there.
Astori: 5.5—Mostly steady, but good lord, where was he on Belotti’s second? Of course, Sousa’s defensive adjustments were, er, confusing, and he may have thought there was someone else behind him, but dang. Don’t leave Belotti alone near goal.
Sanchez: 7—Coped well with Iago Falque despite being shunted out to the left, where his lack of pace and right-footedness could have exposed him. Picked up a hamstring strain and was forced off, which is a shame, but seems to be okay.
Badelj: 8—Brilliantly screened the defense today. Won 6 of 8 tackles and made 7 interceptions, which is nuts, and kept the ball as tidily as ever. He’s still the practical station wagon of the midfield, but it’s going to hurt when he leaves.
Valero: 8—A vintage performance from the Spanish maestro, who continually fed the ball into the attackers and otherwise buzzed around the pitch. Got an assist, but that really doesn’t tell the story like his passing board, which shows how he constantly got the wingers involved.
Chiesa: 8.5—Utterly terrorized a completely overmatched Antonio Barreca, running past him at will and causing chaos in the box. 5 dribbles and 4 chances created don’t even begin to describe the havoc he wreaked upon the Torino backline. Besides his usual dribbling and crossing, played an incisive ball for Tello, too.
Saponara: 8—Got his debut goal, which was great, and generally made himself useful. Could have scored another, but demonstrated some really intelligent movement in the box and in the buildup. Looks like he’ll be worth every cent.
Tello: 4.5—Just not his day. Should have scored at least twice after Chiesa put him through one-on-one, but could do it. Needs to be more aggressive in taking players on and putting the ball into the box.
Kalinic: 7—Glad to see him score, but he genuinely could (and probably should) have scored at least a hat trick and maybe even 4 in the first half. His finishing is still unreliable, although his movement and holdup play remain top-class.
Tomovic: 5—I don’t even know what position he was playing. Sousa seemed to push Astori to leftback and use Nenad in a sort of right-central spot.
Cristoforo: 6—Brought on to add energy and help close out a tight match. 5 minutes later, Fiorentina concede. Ugh. Anyways, actually showed something going forward for once and was his usual tenacious self in the middle.
Olivera: n/a—It’s not his fault that he was brought on when the team needed a goal, not a combative leftback.