Absent Federico Chiesa and Franck Ribery through injury, Vincenzo Montella opted for a forward pairing of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Dušan Vlahović. Paulo Fonseca fielded an AS Roma side containing ex-Viola players at all three levels: Gianluca Mancini in defense, Jordan Veretout in midfield, and Nicolò Zaniolo in attack.
Roma came out strong from the word go, dominating possession and position, while Fiorentina sat deep and tried to break. Aside from an early double-chance with Vlahović nearly reaching an Erick Pulgar through ball and Boateng forcing a save from Pau López on the rebound, it was all the Giallorossi. Nearly immediately after that episode, Lorenzo Pellegrini meandered around the top of the Viola box before playing a lovely pass around the corner to Zaniolo, who squared for Edin Džeko to tap home. Not 2 minutes later, referee Daniele Orsato called an absurdly soft foul by Germán Pezzella on Zaniolo, and Aleksandr Kolarov tucked the ensuing free kick away. Milan Badelj pulled one back not long after with a poached finish after some mayhem in the Roma box that would’ve made Alberto Gilardino proud. Only a Pol Lirola block on Diego Perotti and some shady finishing from Džeko prevented the visitors from increasing their lead, despite some sparkling work from Gaetano Castrovilli.
Fiorentina controlled the first 20 minutes, finding space to break into and even creating the odd chance; Pezzella borked a header from a Dalbert free kick and Orsato called a Viola break dead when the hosts were 2-v-2 to bring it back for a foul, but it was just enough for the fans to think that maybe, just maybe, there was a way back in. That door slammed shut when Džeko laid off a long pass to Pellegrini, who drilled his shot into the very bottom corner. All that was lacking was a goal from Zaniolo, and he obliged shortly before full time to complete the Viola misery. Despite occasional positive signs from substitutes Pedro and Riccardo Sottil, Fiorentina never looked like scoring, even when Vlahović splatted the bar with a free kick in stoppage time.
Drągowski: 5—Dodgy positioning on Kolarov’s free kick, although he’d never have saved it anyways. Could have maybe done a bit better on Pellegrini’s as well. No impressive saves or claims, but no catastrophic errors either.
Milenković: 6—Kept Perotti quiet and looked the most competent of the defenders, not that it’s saying much. Made a few nice challenges and showed a willingness to defend on the front foot. Still lumps the ball forward too often rather than recycling or at least trying to switch play or break the lines on the ground.
Pezzella: 5—Struggled with Džeko, clearly, and looked uncomfortable in space when the team pushed forward in chase of a goal or two. Also had a few very poor giveaways with his passing, although that may be down to the mask restricting his vision a bit. Let’s go with that.
Cáceres: 4—Couldn’t contain Zaniolo, who dribbled past him countless times. Occasionally motored forward to decent effect, but was basically a turnstile in defense, providing minimal resistance to anyone going by.
Lirola: 6—Fairly quiet going forward but pretty solid at the back. Marshalled Perotti well and made a couple of truly spectacular defensive blocks in situations that would have otherwise resulted in goals. Has been playing deeper, which seems to suit him.
Pulgar: 4.5—Not a good day for the Chilean. Clunky in possession, aside from that lovely ball through for Vlahović, and barely registered defensively. Roma’s fluid attacking band had him chasing ghosts all day, and he never really bothered Veretout and Diawara higher up the pitch. Matches like this are Exhibit A of why he’s redundant with Badelj.
Badelj: 6.5—Pretty quiet aside from the goal, which looked like the sort you expect from a veteran poacher. Otherwise, wasn’t all that active with the ball and didn’t do much to deter Roma from running riot in the middle. Not sure why he body-swapped with Benassi, but not sure that we like it.
Castrovilli: 7.5—Clear man of the match for the hosts. Battled away in midfield, won the ball consistently, drove forward to stress the opposition, played some clever passes through, and generally looked like the only guy worth a damn. Guilty of trying to do too much at times and losing the ball, but look at who else was out there with him and tell me that he made the wrong choice.
Dalbert: 5—Stayed high up the pitch in order to force Alessandro Florenzi back, but definitely lost his battle with the Giallorossi captain, who shut him down completely and provided some threat going forward as well.
Vlahović: 4—Inches from scoring off that Pulgar pass, but couldn’t quite reach. Nearly buried a peach of a free kick, but hit the bar instead. Just that kind of game for the Very Large Teen. In his defense, he was starved of service, but he never looked like getting the better of Chris Smalling or Mancini.
Boateng: 4—Dropped deep in an attempt to link play but didn’t get on the ball enough, and wasn’t incisive enough when he did. Outside of one good shot, was entirely invisible. Was understandably frustrated with himself when he was subbed off.
Pedro: 4.5—Showed a few decent signs, including a soft first touch to hold up the ball on the break and play in teammates. Perhaps due to his anxiety to impress, overplayed a few simple moments. Didn’t really get any service in the area, but that’s not his fault.
Sottil: 5—Looked lively in his cameo, fearlessly dribbling at opponents and forcing the Roma defense to react to him rather than the other way around. Snapped off a couple of shots and generally seemed like a better option out wide in attack than, oh, anyone not named Federico Chiesa.
Eysseric: 4—Huh? Forced an impressive intervention from Smalling as he jogged onto a through ball that would have seen him in on goal, but didn’t do a dang thing otherwise.
Three things we learned
1. There just isn’t enough firepower up top. With all respect to KPB and the Very Large Teen, who are both talented players and certainly useful in the correct situation, neither of them is a prolific goalscorer at this level. The former doesn’t have the pace to get into dangerous spots and the latter lacks the composure and anticipation to consistently bury his chances at the moment (although we’re still sold on his long-term ability). It’s time to either hand the keys to Pedro for a few months or get ready to make a splash in the January mercato, because there simply aren’t enough goals in this team to threaten for anything other than mid-table, and that’s probably a best-case scenario.
2. There also isn’t enough creativity in the middle or on the wings. You know what can mask the lack of a clinical striker? An attack that creates plenty of chances. You may recall this set-up from Montella’s first spell in charge. Aside from those too-brief periods when Giuseppe Rossi was banging them in, Fiorentina never had a top-notch striker to round off chances. But with the most inventive midfield in the league and a number of dangerous options on the wing, it didn’t matter because the Viola would manufacture enough chances for someone to eventually pop one in. When your most incisive passer on the pitch is arguably Dalbert, that’s not the situation you’re in.
3. It takes a special kind of fan/masochist to stick around for this. Did you hear the Franchi? It was so, so loud, even though the people in it were watching a truly hideous match. You have to really love a team to keep singing and screaming through all 90 minutes of a display like that. Similarly, everyone who’s taking time out of a Friday (for many of us, during work hours) to spend time with this miserable Fiorentina possesses either a faithfulness to the badge or an unhealthy love of self-inflicted pain. Either way, thanks for being here.