For his final match in charge of Fiorentina, Paulo Sousa named a rather unexpected lineup. 19-year-old Pole Bartłomiej Drągowski made his Viola debut between the sticks, while Carlos Salcedo, Sebastian Cristoforo, Riccardo Saponara, and Khouma Babacar all made starts in a 4-2-3-1, with Carlos Sánchez, Borja Valero, Milan Badelj, and Nikola Kalinić all dropping to the bench. It was also the last appearance that captain Gonzalo Rodríguez would ever make in purple.
The whole team spent a fair amount of time before the match walking around with their kids, greeting the rapturous crowd and taking several squad pictures with their families, although Josip Iličić rather threw a pall over the proceedings by stalking out of one of the photos. It was easy to forget that Pescara were also inside the Franchi and ready to go.
And the Delfini certainly were ready. They came out energetically and pressed their hosts remorselessly from the word go, closing down in defense and midfield. As one would expect from a Zdenek Zeman club, they moved the ball forward quickly and with purpose. Dragowski was called upon for a few early (albeit routine) interventions, and after displaying some nerves on his first couple of touches, showcased some surprisingly good distribution from the back. The first real chance fell to the visitors in the 9th minute, though, as Valerio Verre crossed for Robert Murić at the back post. Dragowski misjudged the ball and whiffed completely, but Cristoforo made a spectacular diving header to prevent the Croatian striker from a point-blank chance.
But 6 minutes later, Pescara broke 4 v 2 against an overmatched Viola defense. Verre easily played Caprari through, and the winger stopped, let Gonzalo slide past him, and then easily finished across Dragowski for the lead. A 0-1 scoreline to the worst team in the league in the final match of the season at the Franchi. Perfect.
Federico Bernardeschi nearly equalized a minute later, though, with a missile from distance that zipped just wide of the post. Moments later, Babacar won a free kick about 25 meters from goal, and Berna’s curled attempt fizzed just wide again. Just after that, Matías Vecino latched onto the end of a cross from the left, but his well-hit volley was straight at Vincenzo Fiorillo, who parried it clear.
In the 36th minute, Chiesa picked up a very soft yellow for a professional foul on Campagnaro, and 2 minutes later, Serie A debutante Daniele Martinelli gave him his marching orders for a challenge from behind on Caprari. Despite furious protestation from the Viola, Chiesa trudged off. This pretty much ended Fiorentina’s pressure, and Pescara regained control without really threatening. When the whistle blew for halftime, it sure looked like another unbelievably disappointing, albeit meaningless, result was on the way.
After a warm halftime presentation of the scudetto-winning Fiorentina Women’s team, the teams took the pitch again and the Delfini immediately put their hosts under seige. Jean-Cristophe Bahebeck turned home a cross just 3 minutes into the half, but he was well offside. It was a portent of things to come, though, as Fiorentina simply couldn’t relieve pressure.
At the hour mark, Gonzalo made way for Borja. Holding back tears, the captain removed his armband for the last time and fastened on Valero’s arm, then acknowledged the rapturous applause from the Franchi before making that long walk to the bench. It was fitting, then, that Pescara scored a second just 5 minutes later. This time, Caprari turned provider, playing Bahebeck through the middle, and the Frenchman had no trouble dispatching it past Dragowski to double the lead.
Riccardo Saponara wasn’t having any of that, though, and reduced the deficit literally a minute later. Babacar latched onto a long ball over the top, brought it down in the area, held off a defender, and squared it to the Cheese, who blasted home from 6 yards out. Now with a bit more hope, Fiorentina grew into the match, but being a man down definitely didn’t help. Dragowski made an impressive save to tip over a Caprari free kick at the 78’ mark, but it was Vecino who eventually scored on the other side, picking up the ball from Borja and unloading a goddamned laser from outside the box that left Fiorillo hopeless in the 85th minute, and that was the last significant action of the match.
Managing a draw at home against last-place Pescara which involved a sending off and overcoming a 2-goal deficit is as fitting a finale for Paulo Sousa as I can imagine. It’s also a pretty miserable sendoff for Gonzalo; watching the defense concede almost as soon as he walked off was a bit chilling, although the ovation he received when he was subbed and watching his mates toss him in the air after the match was wonderful.
This was also the first time we’ve ever seen the Chiesa-Saponara-Bernardeschi partnership behind Babacar, which could well be the attack for next season. Frankly, they looked rather disjointed, but hopefully a bit more time spent working together will turn them into a finely-oiled machine. It was also probably the last time we’ll see Salcedo in purple, as his loan fee will go unfulfilled.
Dragowski: 6.5—Had some early jitters, but that’s understandable for a 19-year-old making his Serie A debut. Showed some decent distribution from the back.
Salcedo: 4—Nowhere to be seen on the first goal and never seemed to get a handle on Caprari. In fairness to him, still seems a much better fit at CB than RB.
Gonzalo: 10—C’mon, what other rating would YOU give him in his last match?
Astori: 6—Mostly steady, but let Bahebeck through for the second goal way too easily. Now officially the best defender on the team.
Tomovic: 4—Completely absent on both goals. Only looked solid because Pescara generally attacked down the other wing.
Vecino: 7—Grabbed himself a brilliant goal and otherwise had a typical Vecino game in the middle. Looked much better when Borja arrived to bear more of the creative burden.
Cristoforo: 5.5—The defensive side of his game, highlighted by his brilliant goal-saving clearance, is top-notch. But he’s a liability as a passer and needs a creator or two in the middle with him.
Chiesa: 5—Really didn’t deserve to be sent off for two fairly innocuous fouls. Was active, if not dangerous, before leaving.
Saponara: 7—Fairly anonymous for most of the match, but the goal was a nice addition. Could have scored again with a bit more composure. Excellent at finding pockets of space in the final third.
Bernardeschi: 6.5—Looked like the only way the Viola would score for most of the first half, coming within inches on two opportunities. Not sure why Sousa gave him the crook.
Babacar: 6.5—Got the assist for Saponara and looked a handful for Pescara’s backline. Seemed unclear on his instructions ahead of an attacking 3, but should improve with a bit more practice.
Hagi: 6—Came on for Berna and showed some neat touches. Not ready for the senior side yet, but could probably handle a year in Serie B.
Valero: 6.5—His presence completely changes the team’s dynamic, allowing the other midfielders to run. As good on the ball as any midfielder in the league. Got the final assist, too.
Tello: 5—Ran around without doing a whole lot.