A reeling Fiorentina hosted hated rivals Juventus with the chance to stop a 5-match streak of shared points. Despite getting captain Germán Pezzella back from a hamstring injury, nobody in their right minds would have made the Viola favorites against the team with an 8-point lead in Serie A after just 13 matches, even though former Viola favorite Martin Jørgensen was in the Curva Fiesole to watch the match.
Also, full credit to Giorgio Chiellini and his teammates, who laid a wreath in front of the Curva to commemorate Davide Astori. It was a lovely gesture and probably the only worthwhile thing that Viola fans got to see in this one.
Marco Benassi nearly got the hosts out to a dream start, fizzing a 35-yard half-volley just wide of Wojciech Szczęsny’s post after Cristiano Biraghi whipped in a free kick. Things rather devolved from there as neither side really showed too much initiative: Fiorentina were unable to make three passes in a row (or two, or even one most of the time), while Juve never slipped it into high gear. Mario Mandžukić got himself in the book for a cynical foul on Gerson to stop a break, but the next real moment of excitement came at the quarter hour mark, when João Cancelo floated a cross just over Nikola Milenković, but Cristiano Ronaldo was unable to get on the other end of it.
5 minutes later, Fiorentina came close to taking the lead in a Three Stooges approved fashion, as Chiellini hammered a clearance off Gerson that nearly ended up in the back of the net, but Szczęsny managed to save it. Moments later, VAR came into play to check if Milenković had handled in the Viola box, but Daniele Orsato correctly waved it off. Ronaldo charged into the box at 27’ and smashed into Pezzella, but Orsato again declined to give the PK, much to the Portuguese’s disgust (in fairness, he probably had a decent case).
It was just after the half hour that the Bianconeri opened the scoring. Rodrigo Betancur played a 1-2 with Paulo Dybala which saw the Uruguayan stroll into a huge gap in the center of the Viola defense—Pezzella was tracking a Ronaldo in-to-out run and Vitor Hugo didn’t close it down, so once Betancur got past Jordan Veretout, all he had to do was take a couple of touches and slap it into the bottom corner of Alban Lafont’s net.
The goal seemed to briefly rouse the Viola, and Giovanni Simeone, who’d been getting some rough treatment from the opposing defenders, snatched at a half chance from 6 yards out on the break but couldn’t turn it home. That was it from the good guys, though, as Lafont made an impressive save on a Dybala drive before Edimilson Fernandes and Milenković scythed him down on the edge of the box. Fortunately, it was Ronaldo who wanted to take the free kick, and his effort, not surprisingly, didn’t threaten the goal. The half ended with Fiorentina down a goal despite the visitors never taking it out of second gear. Even that was too much, though, as the Viola managed to complete an abhorrent 66% of their passes.
Despite Pezzella needing to put a sliding block on a Ronaldo shot about 20 seconds in, Fiorentina opened up looking better; perhaps that’s because the Juvenuts came out very sloppy. Benassi had another off-target whack from distance and Betancur fouled Gerson to give Biraghi another chance at a free kick which the leftback badly mishit, leaving it to Vitor Hugo to mow down Juan Cuadrado to stop a counter. However, the Viola looked decent, with Federico Chiesa finding half-spaces to attack without producing an end product, although Cholito never seemed to be in the right place for him or Biraghi to reach.
At 63’, Milenković hammered Cancelo to give Ronaldo another free kick, but Alban Lafont adroitly tipped it wide. Despite the introduction of Juve loanee Marko Pjaca a moment later, it was Chiesa and Veretout who nearly equalized: the former’s shot pinged out off Cancelo to Jordan, whose lovely driven volley lanced through the box and straight to Szczęsny; the slightest touch off anyone could have given the Pole considerable trouble. 2 minutes later, it was Juve scoring again, this time with a lot of luck. After Fernandes headed a corner clear, Cuadrado headed it back into the box, where Chiellini—barely onside—hooked one on frame that Lafont desperately tipped upwards. Ronaldo (who sure looked offside) blocked Fernandes from saving it off the line, and the ball floated into the net to hand the ex-Viola man his first goal in 2 years. To underline the difference in quality, it was just a minute or two before that Biraghi had whipped in a cross that bounced off the back of Vitor Hugo’s foot and ricocheted away from the Juve goal.
And, at 76’, the visitors finally got a penalty when Fernandes handled a Mandžukić cross in the box. It was a really stupid move from the Swiss, who had both arms way out and basically begged the Croatian to pop one into his hand. Ronaldo fired the spot kick into the net, the celebrated by punting the ball into the stands (you know, like an asshole) and getting himself booked, then substituted. Despite the introduction of, um, Cyril Théréau, Fiorentina was unable to mount anything remotely resembling a comeback; indeed, the old Frenchman’s only contribution was to get himself booked for a vicious sliding challenge on Federico Bernardeschi with 2 minutes left, and things ended with nary a whimper shortly after.
This was simply a terrible effort from the good guys. Stefano Pioli got it all wrong, as the strict man-marking system the mister favors served to stunt his own team’s attack more than the opponent. His personnel choices—Fernandes starting ahead of the more defensively-apt Bryan Dabo or even Christian Nørgaard was a problem, as was the decision to bring on Théréau rather than, say, Dušan Vlahović for the meaningless conclusion to the match, while leaving his 3rd sub unused was a head-scratcher—have really irritated a lot of fans. While Fiorentina occasionally looked like they were standing toe-to-toe with Newcastle Junior, the fact is that they lost 0-3 at home to their most hated rivals without ever looking threatening, and that’s just not good enough.
If he wasn’t worried about his job before, Pioli surely knows that Pantaleo Corvino and the Della Valle brothers are going to start looking for his replacement shortly. If he can’t turn things around and get this team on another big winning streak to shoot them into the European places, he’ll be gone. We all groaned when ADV proclaimed that 7th was the target this year, but even that modest goal looks absurdly optimistic given the reality: 12th place with 18 points, with just 18 goals scored all year.
Hell, even the fans were terrible in this one. There was graffiti claiming that former Juve captain (and genuine class act) Gaetano Scirea, who died in 1989 in a car accident, is burning in hell; the fans also sang “I love Liverpool,” which seems normal enough, considering that the clubs have been friendly for years, but takes on a new meaning when it’s clearly a reference to the Heysel tragedy which saw 39 people (mostly Juventus fans) killed and over 600 injured. It’s a disgusting episode for the Viola and one that surely deserves to be investigated, with the instigators banned from the Artemio Franchi.
Lafont: 6—Rooted to the spot for Betancur’s goal and maybe could have done a bit better, but wasn’t at fault for the other two. Made a couple of nice stops and wasn’t as frightening with the ball at his feet.
Milenković: 5.5—Mostly kept Ronaldo in check, which is a heck of an ask for anyone. Struggled more with Cancelo, honestly, but that’s not wholly his fault, as the midfield should have tracked the fullback’s runs better. Continued to launch aimless punts downfield, which is becoming a habit with him, but certainly wasn’t the worst player out there.
Pezzella: 5—Tracked Ronaldo on the opening goal, which put him out of position, but as the captain he has to communicate those better. Lucky not to give away a penalty in the first half. Was reasonably steady otherwise, but still on the ragged side.
Vitor Hugo: 3—His predilection for stepping way out of the back to follow a striker dropping deep really hurt here. He pushed too high multiple times, leaving lots of gaps at the back that his teammates scrambled to cover, and his bizarre ability to skew clearances in truly unlikely directions was also on full display.
Biraghi: 5—Tracked Dybala well and kept the Argentine quiet when he stayed in the wide areas. Actually looked sound defensively against everyone. Didn’t offer as much going forward, which isn’t surprising as he had to cover for Vitor Hugo too often. Docked for some truly atrocious dead ball deliveries.
Benassi: 3.5—Nearly scored once, had another shot later, and may have been off the pitch for all we could tell otherwise. He’s such a strange player, but even when he has a good, goal-scoring game, he’s invisible for all but the 10 seconds leading up to the goal. Otherwise, he’s as tough to spot as a yeti in a ghillie suit, like he was today.
Veretout: 6—The only player in the middle who had any positive influence. Tried to build some rhythm with his passing in the second half and even succeeded at times, despite having no help. Struggled tracking Ronaldo and Dybala’s central movements, but again, some assistance from his fellow midfielders could have made a big difference there.
Fernandes: 2—Benassi may have been invisible, but Edi was quite noticeable indeed, mostly because of how bad he looked. Leaden first touches and boneheaded passes gave Juve the ball time and again, while he simply looked confused defensively and let Betancur boss the middle unopposed. Surely earned an extended trip to the bench with this one.
Gerson: 5—Not good, exactly, but certainly not the heart of the problem. Played a few clever passes in, won some fouls in promising spots, and generally looked like a professional footballer, even it was just vaguely. That’s more than can be said for a lot of these dudes, and he’d probably look better with as part of a full XI than as one of five and a half players.
Simeone: 4.5—Except for a 20-minute stretch in the second half, utterly starved of service. His movement in the box remains rudimentary, but it’s hard for a guy to look good against Chiellini and Bonucci when his teammates fail to get him the ball anywhere remotely dangerous.
Chiesa: 6—Jinked past a few defenders and, as ever, looked more likely to create the breakthrough than anyone else wearing a purple shirt. Still wasn’t especially good, but was surely better than anyone else going forward.
Pjaca: 4—I guess he was out there.