Paulo Sousa named a side in the usual 3-4-2-1 mold, with Josip Ilicic starting as the number 10 due to Federico Bernardeschi still being a bit tender with an ankle injury. Cristian Tello started at left wingback. With Borja Valero dropping deep and both Tello and Federico Chiesa staying high up, Fiorentina often looked more like a 3-3-3-1, with the 2 deepest banks of 3 both staying fairly narrow.
Atalanta came out firing. In just the 4th minute, Papu Gomez wiggled past Carlos Sanchez and Milan Badelj and slipped in Andrea Petagna, whose low shot flashed across the face of Ciprian Tatarusanu’s goal. 2 minutes later, it was Gomez who again created problems, this time by bringing down a long pass in the right channel, cutting in, and unleashing a right-footed shot that flew just high as Sanchez stood rooted to the spot. Fiorentina got their first shot at the 10 minute mark, as Davide Astori motored forward and swung in a lovely cross from the left to Nikola Kalinic, who mistimed his jump a bit and headed wide.
The game slowed down considerably after that, becoming a rather sterile affair in which the Viola were unable to work the ball forward and la Dea were unable to capitalize. Just before the half hour, though, Ilicic passed short Badelj on a free kick, and the Croatian curled one into the box that Gonzalo Rodriguez nearly snuck past Etrit Berisha, only to see it float a bit over the cross bar. Moments later, Tello surged down the right and ran himself into the box, only to see his rather tame shot easily kick-saved by Berisha, and Kalinic unable to reach the rebound. Neither team, however, looked particularly likely to score, and the half ended goalless and, if we’re being honest, pretty boring.
At 50’, Matias Vecino led a break right down the middle of the pitch. He cut to his right and beat his defender, but his off-balance shot was well wide of the post; he might have done better to play in Kalinic or Chiesa. 4 minutes later, Papu Gomez swept a free kick just over Tata’s cross bar, but the Romanian number 1 had it well covered. At 65’, Gomez cut in past Carlos Sanchez and cracked one wide. Gomez next turned provider again in the 73rd minute, cutting one back that eventually found its way to Remo Freuler, whose low effort from the edge of the box forced Tatarusanu into a diving save at his left post.
Sousa brought on Berna for Chiesa, but the advantage stayed definitely with the hosts. The match’s best chance came in the 76th minute, as Gomez burst down the left side and crossed to Petagna, who’d gotten inside Gonzalo at the near post about 2 yards from goal. Petagna dinked it low and surely thought he’d done enough, but Tatarusanu somehow got down and around fast enough to scoop it off the line, and Alberto Grassi could only pop his follow up over the bar, albeit by mere inches.
That pretty well wrapped up the match as both sides seemed to sit back a bit. Sousa signaled his happiness with a single point by swapping Ilicic for Maxi Olivera. Khouma Babacar replaced Kalinic deep into stoppage time. The only other notable feature in this one was Badelj taking a shot to the face that left him on the ground for awhile, but it was probably more a time-wasting ploy than anything. A scoreless draw was a fair result on the balance of a really poor match.
Sousa can’t be faulted for his attacking lineup initially, as the choice to field Tello on the left rather than Olivera was certainly positive. However, it seemed like he hadn’t really figured out how the team would defend in that area, as Tello’s Barcelona-instilled instinct as a winger is to stay very high and very wide at all times. Instead, Astori, Valero, and Vecino were variously pulled back into the leftback zone to defend, which frequently pulled the Viola defense out of shape.
The other serious failing from Sousa was leaving poor old Sanchez, one of the slowest players in Serie A, on an island against one of the absolute quickest in Papu Gomez. While the Colombian coped admirably, Gomez was still obviously the greatest attacking threat in the match and continually burned past his would-be marker and into the resultant space, as Gonzalo usually stuck tight to Petagna instead of looking to cover for his colleague. While it (barely) worked out, this match—along with the Lorenzo Insigne themed nightmares la Roca is still probably having—offer every team in Serie A template to beat Fiorentina: a quick dribbler to stay wide and torment the lead-footed Sanchez and a striker to occupy Gonzalo and prevent him from covering.
Tatarusanu—8.5: I have no idea how he saved that Petagna shot. Made several other sharp stops as well and commanded his area fearlessly. Marco Sportiello is probably a bit dismayed.
Sanchez—5.5: Kept Gomez off the scoresheet, which is what counts, but was beaten time and again by the Argentinean maestro’s pace and dribbling. He’s game as hell, but clearly needs a bit of help against fast opponents.
Gonzalo—6: Except for the Tata magic, mostly kept Petagna corralled and anonymous. His looping header would have been a truly extraordinary goal.
Astori—6: Rarely troubled as Atalanta clearly focused on attacking down the opposite flank. Used his freedom well to motor forward in possession.
Chiesa—5: Seemed a bit uninspired today, frankly. Still took on some opponents, but never seemed like he was going to find the final ball. Hardly an indictment, though, as he’s a just a kid and nobody else looked great either.
Vecino—6: Took some shots and galloped forward with the ball a few times, as we’ve come to expect. Stayed involved in all phases of the game, even if his shooting remains atrocious.
Badelj—6.5: Won the ball back 7 times and did a good job of spreading play. Another good and steady performance without any fireworks whatsoever.
Tello—5: Always hard to rate. Should have scored or had an assist on his one run, but drifted out of the game badly at times and contributed little defensively.
Ilicic—4.5: Did a good job of drawing fouls and keeping possession, but not much else. Made several bad decisions on the break and couldn’t find room to shoot.
Valero—6: Moved the ball around well, but couldn’t influence the game as much because he was frequently forced to defend the leftback zone.
Kalinic—4: Hard to recall a more anonymous performance from the Slender Man. Couldn’t find space against la Dea’s backline and had trouble winning aerial balls.
Bernardeschi—5: Swung in a couple of crosses, but never really got into the match. Should be fully healthy by next week, at least.
Olivera—5: Helped the team dig in at the end, but didn’t do anything else.
Babacar—n/a: Why the hell would you bring in your late-game specialist with just a minute left?