Fiorentina started out with a bang as Nikola Kalinić fired a shot that forced Wolfsburg goalkeeper Koen Casteels into a sharp save in the opening minute. The Viola kept the pressure on for a few more minutes without creating any clear chances, but the Wolves eventually weathered the storm and the match settled into a rather dull pattern of midfield possession and half-hearted passes into well-marshaled defenses.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the match was Wolfsburg’s willingness to commit some very unfriendly fouls, particularly on Rafik Zekhnini and Maxi Olivera, that led to some shoving and required referee intervention, although he kept the cards in his pocket. Despite some nice work from Matías Fernández, Federico Chiesa, and Zekhnini, a goal looked unlikely.
In the 38th minute, though, Jordan Veretout played a perfect curled pass over the defense to a streaking Kalinić, who neatly lifted his finish over an onrushing Casteels to break the deadlock and hand the visitors an unexpected lead. That was the last significant action of the half, and Stefano Pioli shepherded his charges into the dressing room looking reasonably well satisfied.
Once again, the Gigliati started the half strongly. This time, though, they made it count, with Chiesa playing a one-two with Kalinić, who sent the teenager through. As we’ve come to expect from our newest favorite player ever, he made no mistake with the finish, putting Fiorentina up 0-2 in the 51st minute.
Pioli made some changes soon afterwards, with Khouma Babacar, Ante Rebić, and Sebastian Cristoforo coming on for Kalinić, Zekhnini, and Olivera. It was nice to see that the new mister will continue the tradition of playing Cristoforo all over the pitch; in fairness, though, the Uruguayan looked solid at leftback, and even made a spectacular run culminating in a strong shot at one point. The rest of the match, though, was fairly uninspired, as the Viola defense kept things locked down. The final moment of entertainment for the Tuscans was watching Mario Gómez ruin a good chance late on by mistiming his run badly and ending up well offside.
Three things we learned
1. This team is going to score some goals. While the one-two punch of Kalinić and Babacar up top was never the problem, moving to a 4-2-3-1 puts more support behind them than they’ve enjoyed in previous seasons, allowing them to hold the ball up and combine with the attackers. That attacking band of Chiesa, Riccardo Saponara (who’s still injured), Mati, Zekhnini, and Ianis Hagi could be really exciting as well. With pace, creativity, and technique in the attacking roles and strength, cleverness, and finishing up front, this team will trouble most opposing defenses.
2. Maybe the defense is finally coming together. Davide Astori and Vitor Hugo seemed much more solid today, rarely leaving each other stranded and communicating well. Maxi Olivera was a bit dodgy, but we know exactly what we’ll get with him. Most promising, though, was Bruno Gaspar finally settling in and looking like he’d played with the rest of the backline once or twice. He stopped playing as an extra winger and focused more on defending. His positioning and instincts remain iffy, but he’s at least demonstrating a willingness to improve himself, which is promising.
3. Wolfsburg were nearly relegated last year, so maybe let’s chill a little bit. A calm, assured, and controlled performance from Fiorentina is always grounds for celebration, but let’s keep in mind that this Wolfsburg side was nearly relegated last year and lost its two best players in Ricardo Rodríguez and Luiz Gustavo. If anything, the Wolves are in straights more dire than Fiorentina’s, so let’s not jump to conclusions yet. The Viola still desperately need reinforcements all over the pitch.