There was a lot going on in this one. Most obviously, of course, it was the 135th Derby dell’Appennino. It was a chance for Fiorentina to earn its first win of the year at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. It was another meeting between Pantaleo Corvino and Bologna, which he built up rather nicely in the past couple of years. Stefano Pioli and Roberto Donadoni opted to keep the drama out of their lineups, though, as they both trotted out their expected XIs.
It immediately became apparent that Fiorentina were going to dominate this match in terms of possession, as Bologna focused on sitting deep and absorbing pressure. The Viola spent the opening 10 minutes trying to find a way through, but didn’t do too well from open play. However, Cyril Théréau got a header on frame at 10’ from a Biraghi free kick.
However, the Felsinei did well to disrupt their hosts’ attacking rhythm, mostly through a campaign of fouling that referee Paolo Valeri allowed to go on a bit too long. The result was a disjointed and ugly first half with few chances. The visitors didn’t record a shot until the half hour mark, when Rodrigo Palacio fired just wide on the break after Davide Astori had attempted an overhead on a corner at the other end.
Really, both teams were reduced to speculative shots from distance which didn’t trouble either Marco Sportiello or Antonio Mirante. The latter, though, flapped at several corners, and it looked like a mistake from the veteran goalkeeper was Fiorentina’s best chance of scoring until Federico Chiesa went on a storming run from his own half and fired a daisy-cutter of a shot just wide before the break. It was perhaps the most exciting moment in a snooze-worthy half.
Pioli clearly wasn’t thrilled either and pulled Marco Benassi out in favor of Gil Dias for the second half, switching to what looked like a pure 4-4-2. The switch seemed to work, too, as the Viola applied furious pressure to the Rossoblu goal right out the gate; Mario Gaspar, Chiesa, Jordan Veretout, and Giovanni Simeone were the ringleaders as the Viola pushed their opponents back into their own box and refused to let them out. Finally, Dias switched one from the right wing to the left, finding Chiesa deep. The teenager cut inside, leaving two defenders for dead, and curled a laser-guided shot into the far post that Mirante could only watch nestle its way into the netting for a 1-0 lead at 51’.
That lead lasted all of 30 seconds, as Palacio took the ensuing kickoff, dropped it back to Saphir Taïder, and then ran in behind. The midfielder returned the pass, and the veteran Argentine striker latched onto it (possibly fouling Davide Astori in the process, but c’mon, capitano), and lashed home to pull the visitors level. It was the first time Bologna had scored at the Franchi in 6 matches.
The Viola, although stunned, righted the ship fairly quickly, resuming their furious pressure of the Felsinei goal, and it paid off in the 68th minute. Cristiano Biraghi took an in-swinging corner and floated it to the back post, and Germán Pezzella did the rest, rising well to powerfully head home and leave his marker sprawled on the turf.
Now with the lead, the Viola began to sit back and break quickly. Although they created a couple of half-chances through Chiesa and Simeone, nothing really seemed like it was going to add another one. However, Pioli signaled his intent to park the bus with 12 minutes left, bringing on Vitor Hugo for Théréau. With one less attacker to account for, the visitors roared forward and pinned their hosts deep in their own half, although they only manufactured one clear-cut chance. That one, though, was a doozy: Erick Pulgar hit a free kick into the box from the right, and Palacio got a free header which he clanged off the upright. That seemed to take the wind out of the Emilian sails, and Fiorentina were fairly comfortable the rest of the way.
Let’s give due credit to Pioli for switching things up after the first half clearly demonstrated that his tactics weren’t working. Moving to a 4-4-2 at the start of the second period forced the opposition back; similarly, the addition of another pacey, technical player on the wing added a new dimension to the attack and put the Bologna backline into a series of 1-on-1 battles which it had little hope of winning.
However, the introduction of an extra centerback for a striker was a bit unnerving with just a one-goal lead, as evidenced by Palacio still managing to hit the post with a header and the reduced fluency in attack. Given that the Felsinei had generated just 2 chances in the entire match, abandoning the 4-4-2 in favor of a 5-4-1ish setup invited way too much pressure without providing an outlet on the break. Rather than Vitor Hugo, this might have been a good spot for the defensive nous of Carlos Sánchez or the energy of Sebastian Cristoforo in the middle to solidify things.
Sportiello: 6—Didn’t have much to do as Bologna only put 2 shots on frame, but impressed with his calm distribution from the back, which jump-started a couple of nice breaks.
Gaspar: 7—Bustled forward whenever possible and won a couple of free kicks in dangerous areas, but never created much. Mostly kept Federico di Francesco in check, though, which was certainly an improvement.
Pezzella: 8—Shut down everything that came his way. Possibly lost Palacio when the striker headed off the post, but it might have been Vitor Hugo’s man, so hard to ping him. The goal was brilliant stuff.
Astori: 5—Not a great match for the captain. Lost Palacio in the first half to give him a free shot and completely fell apart on the goal, letting the Padawan body him into the turf without any real resistance. Even a defender as class as Astori will have the odd off game, so it’s good to see Fiorentina win anyways. He’ll be fine.
Biraghi: 7.5—Did well on the back foot against a tricky opponent in Simone Verdi, and motored forward in open play to provide some width. His dead ball delivery has been revelatory, too; got the assist on Pezzella’s winner and has a clever little routine with Veretout.
Badelj: 6.5—Was Milan Badelj steady, mistake-free, reliable, and unspectacular? Does the bear defecate in a sylvan setting? The answer to the first is yes. The answer to the second, well, it depends on the bear.
Veretout: 6.5—Really starting to like this dude. Varied his positioning brilliantly, sometimes dropping between the centerbacks to pick up possession and sometimes drifting to the wings, but always got himself in position to move the ball around and usually forward. Certainly looks like a keeper.
Chiesa: 8.5—Looked like the only player on the pitch who could make something happen. Seems to relish working on the right, where he can cut inside and let fly. With more accurate shooting, could have scored a couple more. Already very good and only getting better.
Benassi: 5—Again, the low rating is an indictment of his role rather than his talent. Not quick enough or direct enough to work as a number 10. Very anonymous in his 45 minutes and certainly needed to be removed. Still want to see him get a chance in midfield.
Théréau: 5.5—Managed a header on goal and won a few aerial balls, but doesn’t provide much attacking inspiration on the wing. A very quiet performance here could see a chance for Khouma Babacar next week if Pioli wants to keep an extra striker on the pitch.
Simeone: 5.5—Ran around a lot, but is too eager to shoot when a more patient decision would be better. Part of that is probably a lack of service, but he needs to improve his hold-up play a bit and get involved more in the buildup.
Dias: 6—Got the “assist” for Chiesa’s goal and stayed wide, which opened things up considerably. Even when he doesn’t do too much, his positioning, pace, and dribbling are enough of a threat that the opposing defense has to account for him.
Vitor Hugo: n/a—Might have let Palacio go on that header, but it’s hard to say. Mostly just bunkered back.
Eysseric: n/a—Nice to see him healthy, and he should start next week.