Vincenzo Montella returned his Fiorentina side to a 4-3-3 (although it wound up looking more like a 3-5-2 once things settled in), with Vincent Laurini on the right side of the defense and Edimilson Fernandes in the holding midfield role. Kevin Mirallas remained the pick ahead of Giovanni Simeone in the tridente. Roberto de Zerbi, on the other hand, made few changes to his expected side, which lined up in a 3-4-1-2ish shape with Khouma Babacar up top.
The stadium was alarmingly empty for this one; whether that was because it was a Monday night game and fewer people were willing to stay out on a work night, or if it was because the tifosi had decided to withdraw, the Artemio Franchi was silent as a tomb before the match, and not much louder throughout the entire first half.
The first quarter hour was very calm from the Viola, who focused on keeping the ball deep and playing keepaway from their visitors. There were really only three incidents of note: the first was a 6th minute cross that Alban Lafont tipped over the bar with Domenico Berardi lurking on the back post. The second was a Cristiano Biraghi cross that ballooned way over the bar at the other end, earning a round of jeers from the fans. The final incident was another Lafont error: the young goalkeeper completely fluffed a harmless low cross and pushed it right into Berardi’s path. The striker fired and hit Nikola Milenković in the arm, but as the big Serbian had his elbows tucked all the way into his body, referee Francesco Fourneau had no interest in awarding a penalty.
Fiorentina waited until the 19th minute to get a shot away: after some nice work from Luis Muriel and Jordan Veretout, Federico Chiesa got through on goal with just one defender to beat; sadly, he was unable to shake loose and eventually fired weakly well off target. The match descended into a sleepy haze that only lifted right before the half hour mark, when Rogério somehow contrived to miss a shot from about two feet out; turning it well past the back post, where he was quite open, was really the unlikeliest possible outcome.
3 minutes later, Vincent Laurini made another great block to deny Mehdi Bourabia on a corner. Fiorentina responded through Mirallas, who killed a counter by just passing the ball over the endline with no one near him. 4 minutes later, Berardi (who’s somehow still just 24 years old) opened the scoring, firing home from outside the box via a big deflection from Germán Pezzella. The Viola were deservedly behind, as they had shown as much urgency out there as a geriatric pug wandering around the yard.
2 minutes later, though, they had a chance to change everything. Federicos Chiesa and Peluso tangled each with each other in the Sassuolo box, with each getting a handful of the other’s jersey. Good Fede was clearly in front of Bad Fede and earned the spot kick, much to the horror of the Neroverdi. However, Andrea Consigli saved the ensuing Veretout penalty—the first he’s missed this year—and somewhere, Rasheed Wallace nodded and smiled. Sassuolo could have had another just before halftime after Fernandes gift wrapped them a 2-v-1 break, but Berardi cut off his run and let the Viola off the hook. When the triple blast arrived, it was clear that Fiorentina simply didn’t care.
Montella made a couple of changes at the half, yanking Dabo and Mirallas in favor of Gerson and 19-year-old Primavera star Nicky Beloko, who made his senior team debut. It didn’t help at all, as the hosts continued playing like someone had snuck lead weights into their shoes. Chiesa had a strong penalty shout at 50’ after Volkan Demiral dragged him down by the neck in the box, but Fourneau wasn’t about to give him another penalty. Just before the hour, Fede nearly leveled the scores with a curling bomb after a cut inside from the left, but it fizzed just wide of the back post with Consigli merely a spectator.
Sassuolo looked to have doubled their advantage moments later, as Demiral slid home a shot from the near post following a corner, but VAR decided that he was about 5 cm offside and repealed the goal. Fiorentina had a couple of half-chances, with Demiral making a brilliant tackle on Muriel in the area and Babacar nearly popping a loose ball into his own net from a corner, but the real kicker was when Chiesa drove into the box and unselfishly squared for Muriel, who hammered his finish wide.
Not even the addition of Simeone for the final 10 minutes made any difference, and the Viola limped to the finish line without troubling Consigli in the slightest. Indeed, the only real question was how those few fans in the stadium would react, with silent apathy or lusty jeers. In the end, it was a mix; the supporters, lulled to sleep by the least enthusiastic performance imaginable, could barely summon the energy to whistle and boo the team.
This is the most embarrassing performance from a Fiorentina team we’ve witnessed since at least the end of the Paulo Sousa regime. It originally looked like Fiorentina planned to control possession and starve Sassuolo of the ball, which isn’t a bad strategy against a de Zerbi side. But it quickly became clear that the Viola were instead just knocking it around the back, then losing it every time they decided to try and move forward.
Perhaps Montella is trying to figure out which players he wants around for next year and is treating these final games as tryouts rather than actual contests. But the lack of fire and pride displayed by the team demonstrates something deeply rotten in the side, and it seems clear that wholesale changes are needed. Getting bossed at home by Sassuolo (a good side, but nowhere near Fiorentina in payroll or prestige) is deeply humiliating; perhaps this is a repeat of Montella’s season-opening lineup against AS Roma back in 2014, when poor Joshua Brillante earned a start so Vinnie could prove to the ownership how badly his team needed reinforcements. If that was his plan, it worked, because it’s now painfully clear how much this team needs to improve.
But the sting of this one goes way beyond the scoreline. The players didn’t care, and for that, head should roll. Being outclassed is one thing, but when even the opposing coach explains his side’s dominance by mentioning how checked-out your team was, you have failed on every possible level.
Lafont: 4—This was his second consecutive game with a major error, and it’s becoming a trend. While he’s generally a good shot stopper, his habit of punching the ball back into the middle of the box manifests itself far too often to ignore. May need another year or two of seasoning before he’s really ready.
Laurini: 6—Made a number of impressive interventions, won headers over much taller opponents in the box, and generally seemed like he cared a little bit, which is more than you can say for the majority of the team. Faded a bit in the second half.
Milenković: 5—Mostly okay, but completely switched off for Demiral’s goal (which, again, should have counted). Mostly kept Babacar quiet and battled well with Berardi. At the very least, he wasn’t the problem out there.
Pezzella: 2—He played badly, getting himself out of position and throwing away possession as well as deflecting the ball into the net for the opener, but this grade is more about the team’s overall demeanor. When nobody seems to give anything approaching a damn, a lot of that falls onto the captain’s shoulders.
Biraghi: 4—The crosses were miserable and the defending wasn’t much better. Dude’s going to lose his place in the Azzurri if he turns in another couple of weeks like this.
Dabo: 4.5—Slow on the ball and a little bit flaily in defense. Charged around admirably, but was full of sound and fury. Signified nothing.
Fernandes: 3—He’s got everything you could want from a midfielder. There’s just something missing between the ears, as he consistently borks simple passes, dribbles himself into corners, and commits to unwinnable tackles that open acres of space in behind him. And all of those qualities were on display today.
Veretout: 4—Missed a penalty, whiffed on some simple passes, and barely seemed to put in a shift. I hope it’s nice wherever his mind is, because it’s certainly not in Florence.
Mirallas: 3—Don’t think he touched the ball until half an hour had gone. Sure, he was dropped deep into an uncomfortable wingback role, but he was feckless with the ball and feckless without it, particularly in defense, where he hung poor Laurini out to dry a couple of times.
Muriel: 4.5—Had a few decent moments of dribbling and a couple of shots that, on other days, might have been threatening, but gave the ball away too much and was largely absent for long stretches. On a decent team, that’s forgivable, but that’s not the team he’s on.
Chiesa: 6.5—Once again, the only bright spot. Motored around and pressured the Sassuolo defense like his hair was on fire. More importantly, though, he was the only player who ever looked like creating something. Watching his heroic and doomed efforts made me want to cry.
Gerson: 4—He wasn’t hopeless or anything. Heck, he nutmegged the hell out of someone. But that didn’t really move the needle in the long run, just like everything else.
Beloko: 3—Going to give him a pass here since he was probably suffering from about as overwhelming a case of the nerves as you’re ever going to see. Still think he could wind up being a player.
Simeone: n/a—Can’t rate what you can’t see.