Walter Mazzarri changed shapes a bit, moving to a 3-4-2-1 instead of his usual 3-5-2, with Simone Verdi and Álex Berenguer dropping off Simone Zaza. Vincenzo Montella made some changes too, opting for a 4-3-3ish shape with Martín Cáceres at rightback and Marco Benassi in central midfield. Rachid Ghezzal also started on the right.
Aside from Gaetano Castrovilli wasting a good chance on the break in the opening moments with an ill-advised attempt at a lob, Fiorentina were routinely miserable: unable to play through Torino’s midfield, they resorted to long balls (which never amounted to anything) and invited pressure. It took the Granata some time to realize that they didn’t really face an attacking threat, but eventually the hosts started stringing together passes as they looked for crosses. Cristian Ansaldi found one that Zaza thundered home with his shiny noggin as the Viola defense neglected to mark him, but the way they were playing, they should have trailed by quite a bit more. It was simply dreadful.
Fiorentina came out much more strongly, mostly on the back of some much more cohesive defensive pressure that made it difficult for Torino to play out from the back. While they kept the ball well high up the pitch and looked for chances, though, the Viola were unable to manufacture any, settling instead for a succession of corners. Naturally, after one of them, they allowed Ansaldi to gallop from his own area to the opposite one before dispatching a shot into the bottom corner that Bartłomiej Drągowski should have saved. Now down by 2, the Viola never stopped looking for chances, with Federico Chiesa providing alternate inspiration and frustration and Riccardo Sottil airballing a wide-open tap-in before Cáceres of all people got in front of his marker and slid home a lovely Chiesa cross in stoppage time. Despite some late chaos in the Torino box, the score was a fair reflection of the quality of play.
Drągowski—5: Made a couple of decent saves, but could have done better on the goal and had an Alban Lafontesque punch into traffic. Cleaned up his footwork in distribution as compared to last week, which is good, and claimed crosses fearlessly.
Cáceres—7: Got forward well to support his winger and did a decent job in defense, for the most part, although he had some trouble tracking runners when Torino flooded his side of the pitch. Looked like the soundest rightback on the team, which can’t be good for Pol Lirola and Lorenzo Venuti.
Milenković—6: Battled away and, particularly in the second half, did a nice job against Zaza. Looked a bit uneasy in the first half, but that may have had more to do with the team crumbling around him.
Ceccherini—4.5: Really struggled with Zaza’s movement on crosses and got outmuscled a few times in spots you really don’t want to see a centerback get outmuscled in. Settled down in the second half a bit, but still the weakest link at the back.
Dalbert—5: Played a couple of half-decent crosses in but was mostly very quiet. Given that wingbacks tend to cancel each other out, it was very disappointing that he lost his battle with Ola Aina.
Benassi—4.5: After a brace in the Coppa, a big game here against his old club would have cemented his spot in the engine room. Instead, he returned to anonymity. Had one nice moment leading up to a Sottil shot, but was pretty much invisible otherwise.
Pulgar—5.5: Battled well in the middle and won some free kicks, then did a decent job of offering himself as a passing option for the defenders and spreading the ball around. Dinged for some very bad set pieces, but was otherwise fine.
Castrovilli—6: Surged forward in possession as per usual but, because there wasn’t enough movement around him, never seemed likely to shake the tender ministrations of the opponents who regularly bum-rushed him whenever he got the ball.
Ghezzal—3.5: Evidence against the laws of causality.
Vlahović—4: Barely involved. Tried to drop deep and hold up play with mixed results; he did win some free kicks in the first half, but showed no ability to shake free of the defense in the area and never looked like even getting a sniff at goal.
Chiesa—7: Tried to do too much again, resulting in him not doing enough. In fairness to him, it was clearly hard for him to trust his teammates as the other two members of the tridente underwhelmed. Still looked a bit rusty at times, but at least got an assist.
Sottil—5: Showed some creativity out wide and occasionally caused some problems, but seemed half a beat off at times as well. Missed a very simple goal in astonishing fashion.
Pedro—5: Clearly much more comfortable finding space in the area than Vlahović and it showed. Popped up a couple of times to stress the defense and generally looked like he needs to spend more time on the pitch.
Three things we learned
1. Montella may not have lost the dressing room, but this won’t have helped. Fiorentina was as bad as we’ve seen this year in that first half (which is very bad indeed), but after halftime, they came out and dominated. The commitment to closing down up the pitch after the break is the kind of thing you see from players who believe in their manager, and it’s hard not to think that’s what we saw here. Inspired by the mister, the team got it together, followed his directions, and looked ascendant. Or did until they conceded another typically bad goal on the counter following a corner. That’s how a manager loses his players’ respect: sets out a bad game plan, makes the right changes at the half, and still sees his team concede in the sort of situation from which it’s conceded so many times this year.
2. It’s time to start Pedro. The Brazilian hasn’t blown anyone away in his cameo appearances, but his movement in the area seems to be miles ahead of Dušan Vlahović, who’s fine on the break or with his back to goal near midfield but seems to diminish the closer he gets to goal. He’s scored twice in 11 league appearances, and both came against a Cagliari team that had all but switched off. While you have to admire Montella’s belief in the youngster, there’s no way that Pedro can make the team worse right now. For €11 million, it’s time to see if Fiorentina have a player or not.
3. It’s time for something different. Everyone knows what to expect from Montella at this point. He’s going to send out mostly the same players using mostly the same tactics, which, in essence, boil down to “hope that Chiesa/Ribery/Castrovilli can make something cool happen.” The players never seem to know what to do next: watch how often someone thumps the ball long in the hope that a teammate is running under when nobody’s near, or how often someone needs to take three or four extra touches before making a pass to ascertain where the support is. I have no idea what this team is doing in training, but there’s ample evidence that it’s not working. It doesn’t take someone trained at Coverciano to see that.