Stefano Pioli was forced to cobble together a backline featuring Nikola Milenković at centerback due to Vitor Hugo’s injury woes and Bruno Gaspar at rightback due to Vincent Laurini’s suspension. Even though the rest of the XI was ready to go, there were a lot of nerves among the fans that Gaspar especially would spend all day getting skinned by Darko Lazović, as he did in the reverse fixture.
Not surprisingly, Genoa were quick out the gate, pressing hard and creating a few half-chances by targeting Gaspar. Marco Sportiello made a sharp save on an Oscar Hiljemark drive, and then Iuri Medeiros slipped past Gaspar and slightly overhit his cross. However, after the first 7 minutes or so, the Viola took control of the match and pushed the Grifoni into their own half. Their first chance came at 12’, when Marco Benassi neatly laid the ball off to Riccardo Saponara on the edge of the area. The Cheese blasted a shot that Mattia Perin parried into the air, and Giovanni Simeone reacted quickest but slipped as he shot, looping a volley miles over the bar. In not quite football stuff, at 13’, the Genoa fans sang and cheered for Davide Astori in a really wonderful display.
At the 19 minute mark, Genoa found space to break into, but the Viola defense held firm and Germán Pezzella recovered the ball in the box, only to be upended by Andrea Bertolacci, who earned a yellow (the first of 6 shown in this match). The Rossoblu came close again 4 minutes later through Giuseppe Rossi—making his first start of the season—who somehow couldn’t turn his shot on target after Cristiano Biraghi lost the ball in a clash with Aleandro Rosi that left the leftback supine for several minutes.
Shortly after the half hour mark, Saponara did well to find Biraghi on the edge of the box, and Cristiano’s ensuing shot was powerful enough to have caused Perin real problems had it not fizzed just wide. 3 minutes later, Hiljemark struck a venomous free kick that was curling towards the back post until a diving Sportiello palmed it away. Federico Chiesa wasted a good chance on a 3-v-2 counter a few minutes afterwards, and it looked like we were in for a scoreless and rather dreary half until a miscommunication among the Genoa defenders let Cholito run onto a ball in the left channel. The Argentine carried into the box, feinted a pass, and the squared it to an onrushing Benassi, who was so unmarked he had time to turn his body and slip the ball under a despairing Perin to hand the visitors a lead.
Genoa mister Davide Ballardini clearly wanted more attack from his side and brought on Goran Pandev (who’s only 34 years old, despite seeming like he must be closer to 50), for Rosi. The change paid off as the hosts took the initiative, pinning their opponents back. Sportiello made a terrible pass out from the back that forced Gaspar to pull back Pandev to prevent a dangerous attack and earned the Portuguese a booking, the first of 3 on Fiorentina players in the next 10 minutes.
At 65’, Genoa equalized, and of course it was Pepito. Genoa overloaded the leftback zone and played David Bessa through, and the midfielder’s low cross was met by Rossi, who’d lost his marker and finished with his typical aplomb. Bryan Dabo, who’d come on moments before, nearly responded immediately; his drive off the post beat Perin, but bounced back out of danger. But it was Genoa who got the next one, with substitute Gianluca Lapadula scoring with literally his first touch of the match to turn home a Hiljemark cross after shaking Pezzella in the box. The Stadio Luigi Ferraris was in raptures, and rightly so: Genoa fully deserved their lead at this point.
Lapadula nearly doubled his tally 2 minutes later, beating the offside line to meet a Medeiros cross completely unmarked, but couldn’t keep his header on target. It was Pandev, however, who next took center stage with a truly awful two-footed tackle on Gaspar that rightly earned the Macedonian his marching orders. 2 minutes after that, Chiesa was again guilty of being to casual, getting stonewalled by lumbering old Nicolás Spolli not once but twice in the same attack. Seconds later, Dabo popped up wide on the left and hammered in a delicious low cross that Simeone somehow poked wide from point blank. However, it was clear that the Viola were back in control.
Despite the pressure (and a pretty gnarly head clash that left Pezzella and Davide Biraschi bloodied and shaken), Fiorentina couldn’t find a way through. At 77’, Diego Falcinelli wasted a glorious chance when Perin denied him from close range. From the ensuing corner, though, Biraghi floated a cross in from the left that Perin punched straight into the middle of the box, but no further than Eysseric. The Frenchman calmly rifled a picture-perfect volley into the back of the net for the equalizer, silencing the home crowd.
Fiorentina weren’t finished, though. 2 minutes later, Falcinelli cut one back across the box to Dabo, who smashed the ball with his left foot. Perin got a glove to it but there was simply too much power on the shot, and just like that, Perestroika had his first goal in purple, sending the away fans into raptures.
Of course, this is Fiorentina, so seeing out a 1-goal lead for 10 minutes with a man advantage is never a given. Referee Manganiello carded Chiesa for a hard foul on Lapadula, but Ervin Zukanović lost his head and walked onto the pitch from the bench to insist that the winger deserved a red. Naturally, he got himself sent off for his efforts. Falcinelli had another good chance to put it away at the other end, but simply couldn’t put the ball past Perin. Deep into the 5 minutes of stoppage time, Medeiros nearly equalized after a twisting run, but Sportiello proved decisive again, and the blessed triple whistle arrived soon after.
The win keeps Fiorentina in the running for a Europa League spot, albeit barely. That said, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Ballardini significantly outmaneuvered Pioli here; the Viola mister had no response to the introduction of an extra attacker in Pandev and was very slow to make another change. On the other hand, his choices were awfully limited, especially in defense: with Vitor Hugo and Laurini unavailable, the only options were Maxi Olivera and Primavera centerback Petko Hristov.
On the other hand, the only thing that matters here is the win, as it keeps Fiorentina within striking distance of the final Europa League spot and all the attendant glory—or rather, lucre—that comes with continental competition. Consensus at the start of this season was that if the team qualified for Europe, it’d be a successful year. Given everything else that’s happened, it’s awfully hard not to consider this an unmitigated success regardless.
Sportiello: 7—Made an excellent stop on Hiljemark’s free kick, which was his only credited save, but was quick off his line all afternoon and presented a formidable last line of defense. His distribution remains iffy, but he’s a dang good goalkeeper.
Gaspar: 4—Clearly targeted as the weak link by Genoa, as Medeiros and Lazović ran circles around him despite extra defensive help from Benassi; also lost Rossi for the equalizer. Didn’t get forward much today, either, which is supposed to be his calling card.
Pezzella: 5—Had a couple of very good tackles, particularly one on Madeiros in the first half, but got turned around on the first goal, completely lost Lapadula for the second, and whiffed on the offside trap to give the striker another golden chance.
Milenković: 5.5—Held his own back there for the most part, but was off chasing shadows on the opener and shared the responsibility on that Lapadula miss. Still a bit shaky on his positioning at times, but he’s coming along nicely.
Biraghi: 6—Was absent in defense a couple of times, but that can be forgiven considering that he was also responsible for providing width in the attack as well. His cross resulted in the Viola equalizer, and he was involved in several chances. Continues to look like an absolute steal.
Benassi: 7—The goal was quite well taken, yes, but the grade is more a reflection of his general involvement. Played a few incisive passes and got his mates involved in play more than usual. His role still involves drifting to the right wing in possession to provide more width, which takes him out of the game sometimes, but that’s more due to his instructions than any shortcomings on his part.
Badelj: 6—Was a bit looser with the ball than we’re used to today, giving up possession cheaply a couple times to let Genoa loose on the break. That said, he was otherwise his usual, reliable self, winning the ball and moving it quickly and unfussily around the pitch.
Veretout: 6—Whether due to his own inclination or Pioli’s instructions, he mostly sat just in front of the defense today and never really got forward. Battled as well as ever, but just wasn’t all that influential on the front foot. As usual, when he’s not transferring the ball into the attack very well, the team seemed disjointed and struggled to build up play well.
Saponara: 5.5—It was a frustrating day for the Cheese, highlighted by the tackle that earned him a booking. After being dispossessed with a hard tackle, he shoulder-charged Bertolacci out of frustration. Drifted into pockets of space around the pitch, but couldn’t quite find that final ball.
Chiesa: 5—Didn’t look anything like himself today. Had two excellent chances on the counter and utterly borked them both. Doesn’t look nearly as threatening on the left as he does on the right.
Simeone: 6.5—Had two gilt-edged chances to score and badly missed both, but the assist to Benassi was pure class. The workrate and grinta were there, but the shooting boots were clearly left in the locker.
Dabo: 7.5—Uh, apparently Bryan can play on the front foot, too. Hit the post, should have had an assist with a perfect cross into Simeone, and scored the winner. This is the sort of performance that quickly turns most players into fan favorites, and Perestroika is well on his way there.
Eysseric: 7—The volleyed goal was simply delightful and would have earned a positive grade regardless, but the Frenchman was more involved than usual, drifting around and combining well with Falcinelli in particular.
Falcinelli: 6—Had a bit of a Cholito match, in that he bustled around, missed a couple of good chances, and then provided an assist. His inability to score is becoming almost comical at this point, but he’s not bad at bringing his teammates into play.