Walter Mazzarri handed Ala Oina a rare start on the left wing over Alex Berenguer, but otherwise sent out his expected XI. Stefano Pioli, on the other hand, shuffled things quite a bit. Marco Benassi returned to the midfield to partner Jordan Veretout and Edimilson Fernandes, but the real surprise came in attack, as the mister sent both Giovanni Simeone and Marko Pjaca to the bench in favor of Kevin Mirallas and Valentin Eysseric, respectively.
The weather was pretty rotten in Turin: a steady rain left the pitch soaking wet, which meant in turn that the ball was very quick across the pitch and sometimes unpredictable. Despite the conditions, though, the home fans were very welcoming to their visitors and spent the full 90 minutes singing lustily and beating their drums, reflecting the strong tradition of friendship between these teams that’s in part based on their shared distaste for Juventus.
Things started off as perfectly as they could have for Fiorentina. About a minute after kickoff, Federico Chiesa drove down the right and drove a cross into the area that somehow evaded everyone. Everyone, that is, except for ex-Viola defender Lorenzo de Silvestri. The ball slipped through the crowd and bounced off his leg, right into the path of Marco Benassi, who coolly swept it past Salvatore Sirigu for his team-leading 4th goal of the year. Showing respect to the the team he captained at one point, he didn’t celebrate, but you could tell that everyone else in the side was pretty excited.
And that’s about the last time Fiorentina looked decent in this match. Torino immediately pushed them back in search of a goal. The powerful midfield duo of Tomás Rincón and Soualiho Meïté took over from there, bullying their counterparts and driving Fiorentina deep into their own box, an area from which they’d barely emerge for the remainder of the half. A shocking inability to even clear their lines let the Granata keep the ball in threatening areas.
The pressure paid dividends at 13’. Aina bamboozled Nikola Milenković on the right wing before cutting inside and smashing a shot off the post, which came back out and hit a sprawling Alban Lafont in the back before trickling in. It was marked as an own goal, but it’s hard to fault Lafont too much for it, especially as he’d caught Germán Pezzella’s shin in the face moments before and was maybe still seeing stars.
The rest of the half followed the same pattern of the hosts besieging the visitors’ goal without finding a way through. Lafont made a good stop on de Silvestri and a good one on Andrea Belotti (who was offside anyways), but the match was mostly dominated by the Torino midfield which couldn’t ever quite thread a way through a resolute Viola backline. Walter Mazzarri got himself sent off for protesting a foul by Vitor Hugo which went uncarded, but that was maybe the most exciting thing until halftime, unless you’re a big fan of seeing dudes get absolutely bulldozed with no repercussions. When the triple blast came, it felt like a miracle that Fiorentina were even.
Pioli yanked Eysseric and Fernandes to start the second half and brought on Simeone and Gerson, with Mirallas pushing to the wing. It nearly paid early dividends as the Viola won a quick corner which resulted in the ball squirting out to Gerson at the top of the box. The Brazilian squared for Chiesa, who had a drive from distance, but Sirigu tracked it well through the thicket of legs and gathered it easily enough. The Viola didn’t create any real chances for awhile after that, but they also limited the hosts and occasionally even passed the ball to each other, which certainly constituted a massive improvement. However, it was obvious that Chiesa was the only attacker who could do anything for the Viola, which resulted in him being triple-marked whenever he got the ball, and that rather stymied the Viola.
After 64 minutes, though, Fiorentina had their best chance of the match. Veretout threaded a pass to Mirallas on the break, and the Belgian motored into the box before trying to square it to Simeone. De Silvestri got a leg in the way and the ball looped towards the back post, where an unmarked Chiesa nearly arrived to turn it home but couldn’t quite reach. It proved to be an isolated incident, though, and both sides resumed their mutual kicking of each other until 72’, when Lafont made a fantastic stop on Iago Falque, who had time to pick his target in the top corner before shooting.
Fiorentina, despite their atrocious performance, nearly managed to smash and grab all three points late, creating a bit of mayhem in the Torino box with 10 minutes left, but it all came to naught, and Cholito bottled a 1-v-1 with Sirigu after being played through by Chiesa; Mirallas had a chance to turn home the rebound into an open net, but slipped and gave the old man Salvatore enough time to get back and kick-save his attempt.
We nearly got some late drama, too, as Fiorentina drove down the right in stoppage time and Chiesa threw the ball over Simeone’s shoulder into the box, where his marker Roberto Soriano clearly hit the ball with his hand away from his body. His back was turned, but there’s no way in hell the incident didn’t even deserve a second look. In keeping with his, hm, laissez-faire attitude to the action, though, Michael Fabbri waved play on, and the match fizzled out from there.
On the one hand, getting even a point when you play so incredibly badly is a positive. On the other hand, playing this incredibly badly is a negative. Stefano Pioli is in a tough spot: while Simeone and Pjaca are clearly misfiring, he doesn’t have a lot of quality options to swap in, and he’ll be pilloried for putting Mirallas at striker. However, it wasn’t a bad idea against a Torino defense that’s had trouble marking pace to try something new. But the execution was troubling and definitely heats up the mister’s seat a bit.
Of greater concern was the midfield, which was made to look fragile by the powerful Torino duo. Helpless to protect the backline and incapable of providing any decent ball forward, never has the absence of Milan Badelj hit so powerfully. Benassi is a player who’ll have some bright moments but simply can’t put in a consistent 90 minutes, while Fernandes and Gerson aren’t much better. Priority number one for this team in the January mercato has to be finding some way to get some creativity or some discipline (or, ideally, both) in the middle, because the current model of man-marking and running like maniacs clearly isn’t working.
Lafont—6: The own goal was harsh, but he was a bit slow on his jump. Made up for it with several excellent saves afterwards, though, and finally showed a bit of the promise that got us excited in the first place.
Milenković—4: Misplaced a hatful of forward passes in the first half alone and got soundly beaten by Aina on the goal. Recovered well in the second half, but looked shockingly out of his depth for the first 45. On the plus side, maybe that’ll stop these English sides from sniffing around as much.
Pezzella—7: Had a very strong match defensively. Kept Belotti and later Simone Zaza completely anonymous and turned back every attack he faced. Didn’t provide any passing, but his reading of the game and anticipation made him look every bit a star and a captain. After Chiesa, probably the best player on this team.
Vitor Hugo—6.5: Loves the hurly-burly of this kind of match and a struggle with Belotti, who enjoys a physical matchup as well. Was strong in the air but a bit suspect at times with his positioning, and continues to mishit clearances occasionally; it’s a weird habit that dates back to last year. Still, though, he was mostly pretty solid and deserves credit.
Biraghi—5: Was fairly strong against de Silvestri and did well to track him on several long diagonal passes that went back over his head. Didn’t offer much going forward today; can’t even remember him playing a cross, which is unlike him.
Benassi—6.5: How do you rate this dude? Scored a (rather flukey) goal, kickstarted a second half counter that ended when he was dragged down by the shirt, and made one very nice tackle on Belotti. And I honestly don’t remember seeing him outside of those three moments. He’s just such a weird player.
Veretout—5.5: Played a couple of nice passes, but got himself booked rather stupidly and wasn’t able to screen the defense worth a damn and was simply physically overpowered by his midfield opponents. That’s not the sort of performance you want from your general.
Fernandes—5: Completely invisible. Couldn’t cope with Rincón and Meïté’s strength. Never know which Edi you’re going to get week to week, or even minute to minute, so it’s awfully hard to trust him.
Chiesa—7: As usual, the only bright spot going forward. Skipped past defenders, had a couple of goes from distance, and showcased a more creative side today, sometimes drifting central to play in teammates rather than taking it himself. Going from strength to strength, although you have to wonder if he’s sick of carrying this team.
Mirallas—4.5: Had, like, two touches in the first half and showed that he’s not a striker in this team. Was slightly more active after the break, but couldn’t get anything going and cocked up two or three decent chances. Not worse than Pjaca, but not better either.
Eysseric—4: The incredible vanishing man. Was supposed to pull the strings in the middle of the pitch and play Chiesa and Mirallas through. Wandered around in a daze for 45 minutes before Pioli mercifully gave him the hook.
Simeone—5: Added a bit more of a threat than Mirallas, but his terrible finishing remains a concern and his inability to contribute to the buildup play means that he’s too often a passenger in possession. Started on the left wing a lot, which was interesting but ultimately negligible.
Gerson—5.5: Helped Fiorentina compete in the middle a bit with some calm passing, but didn’t bring enough going back to really aid the defense. Still, demonstrated why he’s clearly above Edi in the pecking order.
Dabo—n/a: Came on late to add some physicality, but his only contribution was taking a Belotti elbow to the face.