It was time for the big one, the be all and end all, Fiorentina versus Juventus. Szczesny was the surprise starter in goal for the Hunchbacks, with a makeshift back four consisting of Sturaro and Asamoah at right and left full back, respectively. Fiorentina gave Vincent Laurini his first start at right back, while Thereau, Chiesa and Benassi completed a familiar look in midfield for La Viola.
It was four minutes before Paulo Dybala took up a familiar position on the edge of the box causing Gigliati everywhere to wince with dread. The Argentine spent the early period of the game freakishly being everywhere constantly, with the opening ten minutes of the game consisting of Fiorentina keeping tucked in tight, denying the Argentine space to work with. One thing was abundantly clear, Stefano Pioli had sent his men out there to get stuck in, and given Juventus' ridiculously bullish pressing style, Fiorentina had to fight fire with fire.
Never the less, the opening quarter remained a choppy, frenetic affair, with Juventus' dominancy resulting in little goalmouth action thanks to Fiorentina's rigid shape. As Fiorentina's slowly found their feet, there was little for Vereout and Milan Badelj to work due to Juventus' man marking, then in the 24th minute, Veretout was unable to replicate his Hellas heroics as he blazed a free kick high and wide. As the first half rolled on, things weren't looking too bad for Pioli; Fiorentina's compact, efficient defending constricted Dybala's room to manoeuvre and pick out a pass for Gonzalo Higuain.
A point at the, eugh, J Stadium (J Stadium, seriously?) would have been a fine result, and Fiorentina were well on their way to getting just that. Simeone remained isolated as the only outlet, which is fairly understandable given Pioli's sensible tactics, and Chiesa's efforts were almost exclusively spent on patrolling Juventus' left flank. The first half fizzled out with both teams managing no shots on goal, leaving us all with a strange combination of shock, disappointment and relief.
Play resumed with Cyril Thereau proceeding to embark on a wonderful, jinking run only to place his cross just short of the waiting Simeone for what could have been the perfect start. But, it was coming, and it duly came when Mario Mandzukić headed home from a defence splitting ball sprayed across the box. Bruno Gaspar failed his acid test having been unable to get goal side of the Croatian, giving him what was all in all a fairly easy finish.
Things went form bad to worse shortly after, as Milan Badelj was victim of VAR dismissal as his, frankly reckless, challenge on Blaise Matuidi on the edge of the area was deemed a second bookable offence. VAR's influence on Badelj's dismissal was bitter-sweet, with the initial challenge looking inside the area at the point on contact. Fiorentina would have been arguably worse off had they not had VAR to confirm the tackle was outside the area, despite such technology resulting in the Croat taking an early bath.
Cyril Thereau, one of Fiorentina's best attacking threats was hauled off for Carlos Sanchez in what was a matter of Piolo realistically having his hand forced post Badelj dismissal. As the game bumbled on, what was such a valiant defensive effort for such long periods seemed in vain as Gaspar's brain-fart signalled what was the beginning of the end of Fiorentina's night. The last quarter saw Fiorentina looking for loose balls, but in all truth, what was a wonderful, dogged defensive display was undone by a type of error Fiorentina has thought they had rid of when they flogged Nenad Tomović to Chievo.
Alas, before Fiorentina could pack up and head back to Tuscany, there was a meeting with Judas-deschi to deal with. Chiesa faced up 1v1 with Berna shortly after his introduction and man, that is something I should never have had to see, let alone type.
Sportiello - 7 - The Italian had little to do, but put in a solid shift, nonetheless.
Laurini - 6 - Looked nervy, and picked up a booking in the first half.
Astori - 8 - Defended well, and was it not for Gaspar, it would have been a perfect game for il Capitano.
Pezzella - 8 - Similarly to Astori, did very well and defended Higuain out of the game completely.
Biraghi - 7 - A solid performance from Cristiano, kept tight and disciplined.
Badelj - 5 - A fairly unspectacular game from the usually dependant Croatian. His sending off was the final nail in the coffin for La Viola.
Veretout - 6 - An anonymous performance from Veretout, despite his defensive discipline, failed to repeat the kind of game he had against Hellas.
Thereau - 8 - Was the biggest threat going forward for Fiorentina and looked most likely to create.
Benassi - 6 - Spent most of the game isolated and running backwards, but was arguably never going to be able to showcase his talents in such a game.
Chiesa - 7 - Tracked to his hearts content but was a victim of Pioli's structured tactics. His workrate was very good, however.
Simeone - 6 - Was isolated, through no fault of his own, but squandered a few chances and failed to find the right pass on more than one occasion.
Gaspar - 4 - Gormless defending let Mandzukic score the opener, his alertness was disappointing given he was fresh.
Sanchez - 5 - Looked rusty, was introduced to fill Badelj's role.
Dias - 6 - Looked sharp but didn't have the quality to make the most of the situations he found himself in.