Fiorentina boss Stefano Pioli had to cope with the absences of CB Nikola Milenković (suspension), RB Vincent Laurini (hamstring), and CM Marco Benassi (suspension), while CB Vitor Hugo was fit enough only for the bench. That meant that the defense was more of a back three with David Hancko and Federico Ceccherini flanking Germán Pezzella. Bryan Dabo finally got his first start of the year, albeit in an unfamiliar right wingback role. Up top, Federico Chiesa dropped off of Luis Muriel.
For Napoli, Carlo Ancelotti opted for Piotr Zieliński on the left wing and Fabián Ruiz in central midfield, with Dries Mertens up top. The Artemio Franchi also went from ear-splittingly loud to noiseless just before kick-off in memory of Emiliano Sala and also of the deaths from the fire at Flamengo.
The first notable event of the match occurred at 4’, when Mário Rui went down with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Faouzi Ghoulam. 2 minutes later, though, the visitors had their first chance. José Callejón floated a cross to Zieliński, who was all alone on the back post, and the Pole squared it to Mertens. Alban Lafont got a hand to it, knocking it to an unmarked Lorenzo Insigne, who somehow shot high. 5 minutes later, Lafont made a tremendous save on Mertens, who met Ghoulam’s cross from a slightly offside position and forced the goalie to stand strong.
It was at 19’ that Fiorentina first mustered a real threat to Alex Meret’s goal, as Gerson muscled past Ghoulam and fired in a low cross which Chiesa beat everyone to at the back post before turning brilliantly and firing, but the shot deflected wide. 3 minutes later, Allan scythed down Gerson on the break without a whistle, leading to a chance for Mertens at the other end which he spooned well over the bar. After 27 minutes, Jordan Veretout nearly scored his first goal from open play this season, ghosting past Ruiz and smacking a piledriver that Meret somehow repelled. A minute later, Mertens again fired high after the visitors got a 3-v-2 counterattack.
And a minute after that, Fiorentina came close twice again. First, Gerson again popped in a low cross that forced Nikola Maksimović to stretch his entire 6’4/193 cm frame to deflect the ball with Fede lurking unmarked in front of goal. Veretout corralled the ball and delicately lofted it over the defense to the Viola 25, who watched it over his shoulder and hit his volley sweetly but just wide. At 35’, Meret sure looked like he picked up a Ruiz backpass, but on the ensuing Napoli attack, Lafont made possibly the save of the year on Mertens: Insigne and Zieliński combined for the latter to cross it from the touchline to the Belgian attacker, who was unmarked and about half a yard from goal. Lafont somehow got to the ball and took it off Mertens’ foot in a piece of sorcery I still don’t understand. 5 minutes later, Chiesa nearly reached a thump over the top, but Meret was quick and cleared it from outside his area before Fede could strike. Next, it was Fede nearly finding Muriel, only for a superhuman effort from Allan to cut the cross out. Finally, Insigne spun and fired in stoppage time, but the defense deflected it out for another corner. The whistle went with Napoli perhaps in the ascendancy but both teams showing an ability to create chances.
Lafont reminded everyone that he’s still young by flapping at a corner a minute after the restart, but Fiorentina recovered from his error easily enough. It was a sign, though, that the Partenopei were going to start putting the pedal down, and they kept the ball in the Viola half for the next 10 minutes or so. Lafont again came to the rescue at 53’ as Zieliński fired sharply from close range; the Frenchman somehow got all the way down to palm the ball clear yet again. In the 59th minute, Chiesa roared to life again, absolutely dusting two defenders before lofting a cross to Dabo on the back post; while Bryan was clearly pulled back by Ghoulam as he rose to head the ball, Calvarese deemed the contact unworthy of a penalty; in fairness, it would have been a bit soft, but heaven knows we’ve seen softer. From a corner a minute later, Ruiz seemed to block a cross a bit with his arm, but that too was (correctly) waved off.
3 minutes later, Fede was in the spotlight again, striking a half volley from the edge of the box after a corner. The ball kept rising over the bar, but not by much. Substitute Arkadiusz Milik, however, was providing a different challenge to the Viola defense and causing problems with his movement, most notably at 68’ when he connected with Insigne in the area, but Pezzella made the last-ditch tackle. Both sides continued to charge back and forth in a match with little control, each having half-chances in the ensuing minutes, but none that seemed likely to pay dividends: Ruiz cut a long shot high and wide from a good position and Fiorentina caused a bit of a scramble in the Napoli area off a corner.
At least, not until Fernandes when all Mr. Fantastic to deflect a pass high up the pitch in the 77th minute, giving Muriel the ball on the break with Chiesa and Kevin Mirallas in support. Perhaps due to his clear exhaustion, the Colombian completely borked the opportunity with a miserable pass. 3 minutes later, though, bad things happened. Both Mirallas and Pezzella pulled up injured, the former with a knee issue and the later with a calf. Giovanni Simeone replaced the Belgian, leaving Pezzella to try and grit through the pain; desperate not to leave his side with 10 men, he moved up top and tried to contribute without being able walk without limping. Napoli nearly capitalized 2 minutes after that as Callejón found acres of space in the middle of the pitch—where Pezzella had been playing—but dithered on the ball and eventually fired wide. Milik missed a sitter late and then saw Lafont, of course, punch another dangerous shot clear, but when the dust settled, a scoreless draw felt fair.
Keeping a clean sheet against Napoli when you have to switch defensive shape, use the end-of-the-bench options, and then lose your captain and top centerback is pretty impressive, even if it required Lafont to produce the best performance of his young Fiorentina career. Pioli adapted pretty well to his crisis at the back and, after a nervy opening, the players settled in well and even forged some chances. A league-leading 11th draw of the season doesn’t really help anything—the Viola are now in 10th and 6 points off of 7th—but it was a gritty and impressive performance.
That said, at some point, this team needs to win some games if it wants to play in Europe. This would have been a huge momentum-builder if Fiorentina had won and would have pushed them all the way up to 8th. Instead, they dropped a spot despite an astounding performance from their goalkeeper. Again, you can’t fault Pioli for sharing points in this match and you should probably praise his schemes here, but 11 draws in 23 matches is too damn many.
Lafont: 9—Man of the match without question. Made the save of the year on Mertens and had several other world-class stops as well. Still had a couple of wrinkles, such as whiffing on a corner to start the second half, but he’s just amazing. You can see why he’s so highly regarded, and he deserves every ounce of recognition he gets for this match. What a player.
Ceccherini: 6.5—Looked solid, actually. Rarely beaten by his man and pushed up well to pressure or provide an extra passing option a couple of times. Had some trouble figuring out how to mark Zieliński, but it was definitely a positive performance for the number 5.
Pezzella: 7.5—Marshalled this makeshift backline brilliantly, stepping in to make timely interventions when necessary and generally just leading the way by example. Staying on while he could barely move at the end was heroic and inspiring and might have hurt his knee even worse, but what an inspiration to his teammates.
Hancko: 6—Mertens and Callejón are a tough pair for a youngster to deal with, but Hancko was mostly equal to the task. Lost Mertens early and had trouble finding Callejón a few times, but was good on the ball and strong in the box. Not sure if he was injured when Pioli subbed him, because it was a very solid performance from a guy who’s starting to find his stride.
Dabo: 5.5—Had trouble adjusting to an unfamiliar wingback role in the first half and lost the ball at the back a couple of times, but grew into the match and added some muscle and aerial prowess. Still want to see him get a start in central midfield rather than out wide.
Fernandes: 5.5—A very Edi performance saw him misplace very simple passes while providing some strong tackling and presence in the engine room. Motored up and down well enough without really adding too much, but wasn’t as disastrous as he’s been at times by any stretch.
Veretout: 6.5—Produced a couple of brilliant moments and was only denied a goal by an excellent Meret save. Showed plenty of grinta in scrapping with Allan and doggedly sticking with Ruiz. Would be lethal with another passer in midfield.
Gerson: 6—Used his ability to carry the ball forward through pressure to good effect in this one, creating a couple of chances by shrugging off defenders and getting to the byline. The end product remains a bit frustrating and he could be a bit more involved defensively, but he was fine here.
Biraghi: 6—Didn’t contribute much going forward, but that’s not surprising as Fiorentina don’t have any real targets in the box for crosses. Had a bit of trouble communicating with Hancko about which of them was supposed to track Callejón at times, but came up strong when necessary.
Chiesa: 7.5—Once again looked like the only Viola player capable of making something happen, and he came close numerous times. Has completely kicked the selfishness he exhibited earlier this year and has cut down on the diving. Looked like a natural in a more central role with freedom to drift around.
Muriel: 5—Not his best showing, sadly. Made some poor decisions on the break and couldn’t find space in behind Koulibaly, although there’s no shame in that. Was clearly out of juice towards the end. Brighter days are ahead.
Vitor Hugo: 5.5—Made his trademark dunderheaded mistake in just 30 minutes with a pass from a free kick that went straight past Veretout and into the Napoli midfield, but otherwise held strong against Milik and company. Better hope he’s fully healthy.
Mirallas: n/a—Hurt within minutes of coming on and seemed really frustrated about his early exit.
Simeone: n/a—Basically charged around as an auxiliary midfielder to harass the Napoli playmakers, but didn’t have enough time to really do anything.