Fabio Pecchia shuffled his defense around a bit, but otherwise set out the lineup we’d expected. Stefano Pioli named newcomer Cyril Théréau in the first XI, positioning the Frenchman out on the left wing to complete the attacking band with Marco Benassi and Federico Chiesa. Bruno Gaspar got the start over Vincent Laurini.
Giovanni Simeone barely gave the fans time to settle into their seats before opening the scoring. After opting to shoot rather than play in Bruno Gaspar down the right on the break, Benassi’s (rather weak) shot was spilled by Hellas Verona goalkeeper Nicholas right into Cholito’s path, and the striker duly slotted home to open his Fiorentina account in just the first minute. It was absolutely a dream start for Stefano Pioli’s men and seemed to restore quite a bit of confidence in them.
Not content to sit back, the Viola pressed forward as a unit, denying the Gialloblu any chance to push forward and breaking at goal whenever possible. That persistence was rewarded in the 10th minute when Nicholas suicidally charged off his line and fouled Chiesa on the edge of the area. Théréau stepped up for the spot kick and put it away for his third on the season and first in purple.
Chiesa drove past his man down the right and brilliantly played in Simeone 4 minutes later, but the Argentine couldn’t quite get his shot inside the back post. Moments later, Jordan Veretout hammered a volley from fully 35 yards out that sailed just wide of the post. 10 minutes later, though, Fiorentina won the third of their 8 corners on the night. Benassi rose at the near post and flicked it on with his head, and the ball dropped perfectly for an advancing Davide Astori to volley home with aplomb from 8 yards out.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Gigliati at this point took their foot off the gas a bit, although Simeone and Germán Pezzella both forced fairly routine saves out of Nicholas before the half hour mark. Hellas, though, slowly grew into the game, pushing forward and creating a handful of half-chances, although they couldn’t put any on frame. The half ended with the visitors leading 0-3 and looking the stronger side by miles.
Verona continued to threaten as the half opened, applying a bit of pressure with a new, attacking formation, but rarely looked like actually pulling one back as the Tuscans sat back and weathered the early storm. Just before the hour mark, Juventus loanee Moise Keane somehow fired over from point blank range off a corner. That seemed to rouse the Viola attack, and the boys in purple roared forward again. Eventually, Bruno Zuculini hacked down Chiesa. Veretout absolutely crushed the free kick into the top corner, leaving Nicholas with no chance and throwing his hat in the ring for Viola goal of the year.
Now leading 0-4, everybody began trying to get on the board, leading to a rather embarrassing display of shooting from the Viola as everyone who got within 25 yards of goal had a pop, endangering the fans behind the goal with their wayward aim, with Simeone and Benassi being the worst offenders. However, aside from the moonshots, Fiorentina remained in complete control.
That control wavered briefly as Hellas threw numbers forward to ruin Marco Sportiello’s clean sheet, but the keeper was up to the challenge. He brilliantly denied ex-Fiorentina man Rômulo with a reflex save at 76’, and that seemed to take what little wind remained in Verona’s sails right out of them; it was just that kind of day. So when Bruno Gaspar broke down the right two minutes from time, paused, and then played in Gil Dias, nobody expected the Portuguese youngster to miss, and he sure enough scored right through Nicholas’ legs from a tight angle for his first in Viola colors. The whistle mercifully blew after a brief stoppage period to ring down the curtain on the first Serie A victory of the Pioli era.
Before we get too carried away, let’s all agree that Hellas Verona may well be the worst team in the league this season. They lacked any coherence in any phase of the game and are almost certainly headed back down to Serie B at the end of the year. That said, Fiorentina looked like an entirely different outfit than the one we’ve seen over the first two matches. Most notable was the intelligent pressing high up, which created numerous chances as the team surged forward together to dispossess a vulnerable opponent and then charge off the other way. The backline was also much improved, although again, that’s probably more on a lackluster Verona attack than anything else.
For those keeping track at home, this win moves Fiorentina’s goal difference to 0 again, which is a welcome sign after a pair of humiliating defeats. The 3 points that go with the victory have rocketed the Viola from the very bottom spot to 11th, which is a very nice improvement. On an individual level, Cyril Théréau now has 3 goals, which ties him for 4th in the league with Fabio Quagliarella (he trails Mauro Icardi (bleh), Ciro Immobile, and Paulo Dybala) and puts him solidly in the hunt for copacannoniere. No, really.
Sportiello—7: Wasn’t particularly busy, but did make a couple of very nice saves to earn his clean sheet. Was also fantastic with his distribution, lobbing a couple of passes over the first line of pressure to wide open teammates.
Gaspar—7: Had one or two nervous moments in defense, but showcased his attacking instincts to perfection. Always provided an option down the right flank and was smart with the ball. His assist for Dias was a neat little clip through and highlighted the budding on-field relationship between the Portuguese players.
Pezzella—7: Rock solid at the back and never seemed troubled by wily old Giampaolo Pazzini. Even got a header on target from a corner. Looks like an absolute steal by Corvino and a long-term solution at the back.
Astori—8: The volleyed goal was certainly the highlight, but it was a vintage performance from the captain. Quick to snuff out danger and assured in his passing at the back, he was as excellent as we could hope.
Biraghi—7.5—Up against a tricky and underrated opponent in Daniele Verde, the leftback was brilliant. He shut down Hellas’ most dynamic attacker and still found time and space to contribute going forward. He’s not as attack-minded as Gaspar on the right, but stays wide, overlaps well, and is quick on the ball. Another coup.
Veretout—8: Holy moly can this dude strike a ball. The goal was a peach, and his spectacular volley barely missed. He was really good in the middle, knocking the ball around, controlling the match, and always picking the right moment to jump start an attack with an incisive pass into the forwards. Definitely Aston Villa’s loss.
Badelj—7: Had a very Badelj game, which comprises of smart passing, intelligent defense, non-stop winning possession, and basically all the little things that make a team tick. Perfect partner for Veretout in the middle.
Chiesa—7: Easily won a penalty and should have had an assist to Cholito, but drifted in and out of the match a bit when he had the beating of any defender the Gialloblu threw at him. No matter, though, because he’s so so good.
Benassi—7: A weird game for Marco. He’s obviously not a natural number 10, as he showcased several times on the break when he made the wrong choice, but he set up 2 goals nonetheless. Right now, seems like he could be the new Josip Iličić, which, uh, hurray?
Théréau—7: Took the penalty nicely, but didn’t really contribute too much else. Seems a better fit up top than as a winger, although his willingness to put in a shift was encouraging. If nothing else, proved that he can be a useful squad player.
Simeone—7.5: A first-minute goal is a pretty nice thing, especially when it’s to break your duck with a new club. Other than that, Cholito’s movement was good and he looked hungry, which is good. Could have had another, and took some really ill-advised cracks from distance later, but it was a promising and productive performance.
Dias—7: Went on a couple of long runs on which he beat a few defenders, which is always encouraging. The goal was yet another manifestation of his hive-mind with Gaspar; those two could form a really enjoyable partnership down the right this year.
Babacar—6: Didn’t really have enough time to do a lot, and didn’t look super comfortable out on the wing. Still barreled into the area a couple of times and made himself a nuisance.
Cristoforo—n/a: 5 minutes, 2 fouls, 1 misplaced pass. Meh.