In a week featuring both Fiorentina Women’s and the Primavera competing for their respective Supercoppe, the men had to make do with a Lazio in a match with Europa League implications. The visitors were coming in off short rest after a last-minute defeat at Celtic, so Rocco Commisso, who was in attendance, may have hoped for an advantage in energy.
Fiorentina had a couple of early half-chances from Erick Pulgar free kicks, but referee Marco Guida took center stage as he declined to check VAR after a dazzling run from Manuel Lazzari saw him go down in the Viola area under pressure from Martín Cáceres, who was lucky not to concede a penalty. Ciro Immobile had the ball in the back of the net not long after, but was correctly ruled offside. He turned provider for Joaquín Correa after a terrible Milan Badelj giveaway, putting the Argentine through to finish past a helpless Bartłomiej Drągowski, although he looked a bit offside too.
After a world-class stop by Bart to deny Luis Alberto right after the restart, the Viola equalized with an incredible team goal after Dalbert won the ball on his own endline; after the ball moved from Dalbert to Badelj to Gaetano Castrovilli to Franck Ribery, the Frenchman crossed for a fantastic finish from Federico Chiesa. Montella was forced to sub in young Luca Ranieri for Cáceres before the half, which is never good. One blatantly ignored handball by Luis Alberto just outside the Lazio area later, Guida blew the half dead.
Guida really began to lose control of this one, as Lazio got in some very irregular challenges, but the first attacking of the half was Fiorentina’s: a Ribery through ball released Dalbert down the left, and his low cross for Pol Lirola at the back post was only cut out by a desperate slide from Senad Lulić. Chiesa had a golden opportunity not long after, but chose to let the ball run behind him in the area, thinking a teammate was there to thump it home. Another good save by Drągowski denied Lulić, but then it was Lirola who had to come off injured, replaced by the young and defensively-suspect Riccardo Sottil, leading Lazio to focus on that side of the pitch.
Ribery went over in the area after a shirt tug, but his overdramatic reaction guaranteed that Guida wouldn’t blow. The ref also ignored a rough challenge on Sottil by Luis Alberto not long after, and declined to card Stefan Radu for clattering Kevin-Prince Boateng from behind. The real drama, though, came when Jordan Lukaku obviously fouled Sottil on the wing before crossing the ball for Immobile, who headed home. Guida didn’t even bother with VAR to rule it out, infuriating the Viola. Perhaps still rattled, Ranieri gave up a stone-cold penalty by punching a Luis Alberto shot off the line, but Drągowski smothered Felipe Caicedo’s penalty, and that was pretty much that, aside from some idiocy from Ribery after the final whistle.
Drągowski: 8.5—This is the goalkeeper that rendered Alban Lafont superfluous. Two absolutely world-class saves and a penalty stop. His distribution was a bit iffy, but he came up huge between the sticks every time he was called on. No chance on Correa’s goal.
Milenković: 6—Quiet enough evening for the big man. Kept his wing tidy until Sottil was introduced and tracked the likes of Immobile and Correa well. Had some trouble with the offside line but was pretty solid overall.
Pezzella: 5.5—Was the man responsible for keeping Correa (maybe) onside and got himself booked for arguing the lack of a VAR review. The chaotic nature of the defense early on is on his shoulders as the captain.
Cáceres—5: Very lucky indeed not to concede a penalty, and had trouble with Lazzari during his entire stint on the pitch. Had trouble tracking Correa and Immobile in space, just like his colleagues.
Lirola—5.5: Didn’t add a whole lot to the attack, but was as defensively solid as he’s been all year, keeping Lulić very quiet and providing a decent out-ball. Still trying to figure out how to unlock his full ability.
Pulgar—6.5: Battled away like mad against a big, strong Lazio midfield. Won the ball like a terrier and provided some excellent set pieces.
Badelj—5: Had a great opportunity for a revenge game but couldn’t put it together. The giveaway leading to the goal was the most visible mistake, but he was bullied by Lazio’s aggressive pressing and didn’t put his stamp on the game.
Castrovilli—6: Darted around as usual and made a nuisance of himself, but simply couldn’t cope with the physicality and didn’t see enough of the ball.
Dalbert—5: Lost his battle with Lazzari, which isn’t any great indignity, but didn’t add anything going forward either, aside from one nice burst down the wing and cross. Needs to add consistency.
Chiesa—7.5: The goal was the type you expect from a world-class striker, which was pretty cool, but Fede also ran the Lazio defense ragged. If his team had been able to get the ball to him more often, he may well have won this game by himself.
Ribery—7: A wonderful assist for Chiesa’s goal, but like his striking partner, simply didn’t see the ball enough to influence the match. I’m not penalizing him here for his meltdown after the match, but it was very bad.
Ranieri—3.5: Poor kid. Coming on as a substitute with the brief to keep a 2-time capocannoniere in check is a lot to ask of a 20-year-old in his second Serie A appearance; this rating doesn’t reflect his quality. However, a dumb booking for a high boot and a PK conceded (even though Bart saved it) are just bad and overshadow a couple of really promising episodes.
Sottil—5: Never shook free on the wing, although his “losing the ball” ahead of Lazio’s winner is bollocks, given that Lukaku clearly hacked him down from behind.
Boateng—5: Showed good strength and holdup play in limited minutes, but didn’t add anything the team desperately needed.
Three things we learned
1. This squad is still mighty thin. Despite a rather bloated roster, Fiorentina’s real depth is barely there. Federico Ceccherini and Jacob Rasmussen are available to replace Cáceres/Ranieri, but the lack of a realistic replacement in midfield—Marco Benassi, Szymon Żurkowski, and Bryan Dabo don’t seem to be up to Montella’s standards—and up top—none of the strikers have proved they can be the Guy—really limits this outfit. With Ribery absent, what happens? If Castrovilli goes down, who can step up? Expect a reasonably busy winter window is what we’re saying.
2. Things are starting to look a bit Piolish. This game felt like Fiorentina and Lazio were lined up across from each other, daring the other’s best players to make something happen. That kind of reliance on a moment of raw quality, rather than a holistic approach, hearkens back to Stefano Pioli’s setups. That’s not a great feeling; Montella needs to figure out some fixes, and fast, before everyone’s figured him out.
3. Fiorentina isn’t ready yet and that’s okay. Full credit here to Rocco, who refused to promise European football this year in favor of preaching development. Turns out he’s spot on there, as this outfit badly needs some seasoning before it’s really ready to tussle with Serie A’s big boys. There are holes all through the squad, sure, but there also doesn’t seem to be a mindset that this group’s ready to compete for top honors. That comes with time, continuity, and smart personnel moves. So far, we’re seeing the right ones. Keep in mind that this team’s already a long way from where it was last year, and that’s a good thing. Steady progress (or steady anything) is a big change for Fiorentina; let it run its course.