Fiorentina had the first chance in the 3rd minute after some nice work from Ianis Hagi won the Viola a corner, which Davide Astori rose to head just wide. The match settled down a bit, with the good guys looking to work down the left wing with Hagi, Rafik Zekhnini, and a tirelessly overlapping Maxi Olivera, although they couldn’t quite make the breakthrough. After a quarter hour, though, it was Federico Chiesa who got a pass from Khouma Babacar in the area but couldn’t get a shot off.
Two minutes later, Babacar again set up a winger in the area, this time freeing up Zekhnini, but the Norwegian could only fire a tame shot straight at Bari goalkeeper Alessandro Micai. It was the Galletti, though, who struck first, through Riccardo Improta. The striker chased down a long ball that Vitor Hugo badly misread, then beat Astori and slotted home past Marco Sportiello, much to the chagrin of the fans in attendance at Moena.
At 39’, the impressive Sebastian Cristoforo hit a long diagonal for Chiesa, who struck a very good shot at the far post that Micai rather miraculously pushed wide. The half ended without much further incident, as Fiorentina camped out around Bari’s box without finding any way in.
Stefano Pioli brought on Nenad Tomović and Ante Rebić for Mario Gaspar and Chiesa at the break, but things looked much as they had in the first half. In the 51st minute, Babacar brilliantly turned past his marker and fired a shot that Micai was very lucky to palm away.
At 68’, Cristoforo served in a lovely corner kick to the back post, where Carlos Sánchez glanced his header just wide. The Viola luck finally changed, though, four minutes later, as Babacar brought down a long ball in the box, held off two defenders, and played in Riccardo Sottil down the right wing. The youngster played a low ball that Jaime Báez met at the front post and somehow backheeled across goal and into the net, utterly bamboozling Micai.
Rebić got himself booked in the 78th minute for a very bad challenge, which is unspeakably stupid in a preseason friendly. He nearly redeemed himself five minutes later when Olivera played a lovely cross to him in the area, but his shot was very disappointing. That was the final goalscoring opportunity of the match, which finished tied.
Three things we learned
1. Sebastian Cristoforo can do a job. He’s not at Matías Vecino’s level yet, but he did a nice job of filling in for his countryman. Bassy’s always had the defensive side of the game down pat, buzzing around the center of the pitch like a hornet, but his passing last year was harmless at best. Given a bit more freedom in the middle, though, and he played in a few decent balls. He may not be quite ready to start, but he’s coming along nicely.
2. The defense doesn’t look settled. They’ve only played 3 matches together, sure, but the miscommunication between Astori and Vitor Hugo on the goal was pretty bad. Hugo in particular looked nervous. Mario Gaspar also had a miserable game at rightback, looking confused defensively and out of sync going forward; it may take him some time to get on the same page as the rest of the team, which means we could see a lot more Tomović than we’d like. Maxi Olivera, however, looked like a top-notch leftback, doing his work defensively and bombing down the line whenever possible. He had a heck of a game.
3. Khouma Babacar can be the man. On the face of it, this wasn’t a great match for the Baba. He didn’t score and scuffed a couple of chances he should have done better with. He lost the ball a bit too often and misplaced some passes. He made the wrong run a couple of times. But he still created chances for his teammates with his brawn, intelligent holdup play, and selfless passing. Even when he’s not at his best, he can still provide a focal point for the attack, and that’s very comforting.