Marco Giampaolo rotated his defense a bit, bringing in Jacopo Sala and Lorenzo Tonelli, but otherwise set out his usual XI; Viola loanee Riccardo Saponara is dealing with an injury and was thus in the stands rather than on the pitch. Stefano Pioli, meanwhile, fielded Bartłomiej Drągowski in goal as Alban Lafont is only fit enough for the bench, while Edimilson Fernandes filled in for Marco Benassi. The big news, though, was that Marko Pjaca made his first start, hopefully ushering in a productive new attack featuring him, Federico Chiesa, and Giovanni Simeone in the tridente.
Also worth noting is that this is the second away fixture in a row that Fiorentina have played in which featured protests from the home support. Unlike the Napoli tifosi, this had nothing to do with ticket prices; rather, the Sampdoria faithful were angry that the match kicked off at a UEFA-mandated 7 PM local time rather than at 5 PM. The Luigi Ferraris was half empty, and those fans that did come refused to bring their flags.
Fiorentina nearly took a first minute lead through a nifty corner routine to find Germán Pezzella, who’d shaken free to wait alone at the back post; the captain headed it back across, but Simeone somehow misplaced his point blank header to let the Blucerchiati off. The hosts nearly capitalized a few minutes later as Drągowski nearly gifted Gianluca Caprari a goal from nothing. At 6’, Cholito was again presented with a wonderful chance after a terrible Joachim Andersen backpass, but the Argentine whiffed again. Third time’s the charm, though, as Cristiano Biraghi lofted a deep cross into the box, where Gio beat Andersen to glance his header past Emil Audero in the 13th minute.
With that goal, Fiorentina perked up and began to absolutely dominate play, keeping the ball in Samp’s half as Jordan Veretout directed traffic. At 20’, Chiesa got loose down the right and played a nice cross for Pjaca, who mistimed his jump and gave Audero an easy save. 5 minutes later, a Veretout-Chiesa-Simeone combination combined to put both Pjaca and Biraghi free on the back post; the latter took command and fired a rocket that forced Audero into a desperate save. Moments later, Samp managed to get forward as Nicola Murru crossed low for Caprari, all alone at the penalty spot, but the attacker’s first time shot was well wide.
The one-way traffic resumed, though, as just after the half hour mark, Audero denied Pjaca his first Viola goal. Veretout had found him in space, and the Croat stepped over, dropped his shoulder, and let fly, but the Juventus loanee was equal to the effort. 2 minutes later, a Chiesa cutback found Gerson all alone on the penalty spot, but Audero somehow palmed away his blast. At this point, Chiesa and Pjaca switched wings, and Fede played a curler inches wide of Audero’s back post a couple minutes later. At the other end, Vitor Hugo made a dumb foul on Fabio Quagliarella just outside the box, and Caprari’s free kick slammed off the bar, although Drągowski may have gotten a touch to prevent the goal with a brilliant jump. However, the half was clearly controlled by the Viola, who kept the ball, kept the pressure on, and made a lot of good chances; they could have gone in at the break with 3 goals and the match already wrapped up, but the 1-goal lead seemed insurmountable the way they were playing.
Giampaolo’s a good mister, though, and fired up his team at the interval. Bart had to make another excellent save on a Caprari free kick from nearly the same spot as the first, and the hosts tightened up at the back to deny the visitors as much space to break into. The forwards did a much better job of finding space as well, as Caprari and Grégoire Defrel drifted to the wings rather than staying central, which stressed the Viola backline quite a bit more. The Blucerchiati midfield began keeping the ball a lot better, too, and Fiorentina faded badly.
At the hour mark, it was, of course, that man Caprari who equalized. Samp won the ball high and played it wide to Edgar Barretto, who quickly switched play to Caprari on the left. The Italian took a touch, cut inside, and fired an unstoppable curler past Drągowski. It was a cracking shot, but he was left all alone in acres of space; perhaps Nikola Milenković thought that a midfielder was helping mark back, but it was pretty dire. Pioli responded by bringing on Kevin Mirallas and Marco Benassi for Pjaca and Gerson, but neither seemed to add much; indeed, Benassi’s clumsiness nearly gave the match away with a dumb foul, from which Gastón Ramírez nearly struck the winner.
Pioli made a final change, handing 19-year-old Riccardo Sottil his Serie A and professional debut for the final 10 minutes in relief of Chiesa. 4 minutes from full time, though, it was Mirallas who nearly found the winner, dancing inside from the left and firing a hard, low shot that fizzed just wide of the post. In stoppage time, Milenković nearly scored his second bomb of the season, but Audero once again barely reached it, and the whistle blew shortly after.
Samp were perhaps the most in-form team in Italy prior to this match, so a draw at the Luigi Ferraris shouldn’t feel like a disappointment. However, when you look at Fiorentina’s dominance—15 shots and 9 on frame, compared to 10 and 4 for the hosts—particularly in the first half, it’s hard not to feel like the team lost 2 points rather than earning one.
It’s hard to blame Pioli entirely for the let off, as he can’t really control a magnificent performance from Audero and some poor finishing from his forwards. However, this is the second match in a row that’s seen his charges wither over the final 45 minutes after a strong opening half, and his tactics may be at least partly to blame. While it makes sense to sit deep with a lead and give his nuclear tridente space to break into, it makes more sense to keep doing exactly what you did when you were in complete control. The mister’s reactiveness won’t win him too many friends in Florence if the points continue to trickle away in the second half; every goal his team has conceded has come after the hour mark, which speaks to a lack of focus that’s squarely on his shoulders.
Drągowski—7: Nearly boofed everything up early, but made up for it with a couple of top drawer stops. That effort on the Caprari free kick that came off the bar was magnificent, and the goal certainly wasn’t his fault. Looks confident and has clearly issued his challenge to Alban Lafont for the starting role.
Milenković—6.5: Not sure what happened on the goal, as he was forced to mark two men at the back post, but it wasn’t good. Nearly won it at the end. Was otherwise quietly competent and did well to keep Defrel and Caprari quiet from open play.
Pezzella—6: Steady from the captain but not spectacular as he was given the sweeper role. That means it’s doubly important for him to organize the defense, and he clearly fell down on the job for the goal. That said, he was mostly sound and reliable.
Vitor Hugo—7.5: Got a little bit foul-happy at the end, but basically marked Quagliarella out of the match. Sticking tight to a striker no matter what and making the guy’s day miserable seems to be the Brazilian’s strength, and he played it almost perfectly.
Biraghi—7: The cross for the goal was an inch-perfect mortar shot. Not as involved going forward as when Eysseric is out there, as even Pjaca/Chiesa cutting in leaves him less space to gallop into. Steady at the back when called upon and rarely lost his man.
Fernandes—6.5: Clearly more suited to the mezzala role than the holding one, as it lets him get out and stride into space. Drove forward whenever possible and sometimes even helped pressure the centerbacks. His passing can still be a little bit wild and he loses the ball too often, but certainly shows promise as a vice-Benassi.
Veretout—7.5: Absolutely bossed the first half, controlling play and moving the ball forward with incisive passes. Did his share of the defensive work as well, including one memorable tackle in the middle of the pitch to break up a counter after a corner he’d taken. Not as good in the second half as the Samp midfield marked him tighter, but may have been the man of the match.
Gerson—6: A battling performance from the AS Roma man without too much quality going forward. With Biraghi bombing forward on his wing and Chiesa/Pjaca tending to stay higher up the pitch, rarely drove forward, which is one of his strongest attributes.
Chiesa—7: Brilliant in the first half, when he was inches away from tallying a goal and two assists. Faded a bit in the second half, perhaps due to the exhaustion of having played a tough 90 minutes against Napoli on Saturday. Also tracked way back while on the right.
Simeone—7: A brilliantly headed goal is always thrilling, but he’ll rue the two early chances he missed. On the plus side, his link up play has improved immensely; gone are the days when he’d put his head down and try to dribble four defenders. Instead, he’s developed a knack for shifting the ball to teammates in space, which bodes well indeed. And, as always, his defensive effort was tremendous.
Pjaca—6.5: Bottled two tremendous chances sculpted by Chiesa, but otherwise did well to provide a threat from the wing. Looked better on the left than the right. Faded in the second half as he dropped very deep on the right to help the defense, which surely isn’t the best use of his talents.
Mirallas—5.5: Invisible until the late shot that nearly won it, although it’s hard to blame a guy recovering from injury and trying to get synced up with his new team for not blowing the doors off in half an hour of play off the bench.
Benassi—5: A fouling machine who didn’t use the ball well when it came his way. Rather reverted to last year’s version in his 15 minutes, which is a cause for concern.
Sottil—n/a: 5 minutes of Serie A for the youngster is plenty exciting.