AS Roma boss (and beloved former Fiorentina manager/slightly befuddle grampa) Claudio Ranieri handed a surprise start to teenaged winger Justin Kluivert—perhaps in deference to the Viola, who boast a squad chock full of second generation talents—but otherwise kept more or less to his expected XI.
Stefano Pioli similarly avoided deviating from his preferred lineup. With Federico Chiesa fit only for the bench, Luis Muriel and Giovanni Simeone spearheaded the attack; VN favorite Bryan Dabo got his first start of the year as an actual midfielder, rather than a wingback, in a fluid 4-3-3ish shape.
Fiorentina emerged much the stronger side and nearly took the lead after just 4 minutes, with a neat Dabo cross from the left finding Marco Benassi for a volleyed shot that forced Antonio Mirante into an acrobatic save. 5 minutes later, a clever Jordan Veretout pass through the lines freed up Simeone in the box, but some strong pressure from Federico Fazio saw him lose the ball, only Gerson and Benassi to scuff the chance after the Roma defense handed it right back. While the hosts weren’t entirely toothless—some nice interplay between Nicolò Zaniolo and Edin Džeko caused some problems for the Viola defense—the visitors’ persistence was rewarded after some lovely interplay between Veretout, Simeone, and Gerson freed Luis Muriel up for a shot that Mirante palmed out for a corner. And from that corner, Cristiano Biraghi hung a cross into the area that, due to some clever play design, gave Germán Pezzella a free header. The captain’s noggin hammered the ball off the turf and up into the roof of the net for his second goal of the season.
And, 85 seconds later, Roma equalized. Some tricky work from Kluivert on the left after a lovely switch of play from Džeko let the teenaged Dutchman dink in a cross for Zaniolo, who’d shaken loose of Pezzella, to head a ball into the goal off the post. It was the most Fiorentina goal imaginable.
Aleksandar Kolarov played a neat cross to Džeko, but Pezzella got his block in. At the 23’ mark, Muriel nearly scored the best goal in Serie A this year with a swerving strike from fully 35 yards out that utterly befuddled Mirante but pinged out off the upright. Alban Lafont made a sharp save on a Džeko effort at 34’, but the rest of the half was mostly a dreary affair consisting of players booting each other’s shins in midfield with almost no goalscoring chances, although Simeone nearly flicked on a corner to a sliding Nikola Milenković just before the half.
6 minutes after the restart, it was, of course, Gerson who fired his current club into the lead against his parent club. A well-struck volley may not have beaten Mirante on its own, but a big deflection off of Juan Jesus did the trick, and Gerson got the goal; demonstrating some class, he opted not to celebrate, although his teammates certainly picked up the slack in that department.
In a marked improvement over their efforts in the first half, Fiorentina waited a full 6 minutes to concede an equalizer this time. Once again, Kluivert danced around on the left before pinging in his cross, and this time it was Diego Perotti who met it with a splendid volley that, after a deflection off Milenkovic, fizzed into the back of the net, leaving Lafont no chance.
Roma were probably the better side after that, although Fiorentina sporadically threatened on the break. The real high point was the introduction of Chiesa just after the hour; our Lord and Savior looked a bit rusty, but not short on confidence. Some tempers flared—Milenkovic and Perotti had a bit of a dustup that was rather amusing due to their significant differences in sheer physical size—but by the time the triple blast arrived, a 2-2 draw felt about right on the balance of play.
This is one of the better matches that Stefano Pioli has orchestrated this year. The Viola shut down the ever-dangerous Džeko and spoiled much of their hosts’ midfield play. While some of that is surely on the ongoing Roma implosion, some outstanding work from Bryan Dabo (gee, who’d’ve thunk?) and the other members of the midfield, as well as some fearless stuff from the defenders, created a solid platform for the team to earn at least a point. Roma’s goals both came from moments of individual brilliance rather than a tactical shortcoming. Well done, mister, in laying out a mostly-stifling plan that created some chances and gave your side more possession than last year’s Champions League semifinalists at their own stadium.
A lot of it, though, was simply players winning individual battles. Dabo did well in the air and carrying the ball past defenders, and Gerson was his usual masterful self in winning free kicks in midfield by using his all-butt, old-man-at-the-YMCA-pickup-game style to help relieve pressure. Milenković mostly kept Perotti quiet and Simeone attacked the space behind Kolarov relentlessly. The problem with that approach, as we’ve seen, is that this Viola squad probably doesn’t have the sheer quality necessary to rely on that particular set of tactics, and this might be nothing more than a false positive.
Lafont: 6—Didn’t really have much to do, honestly. Completely helpless for both goals and had rather routine work otherwise.
Milenković: 6—Kept Perotti very quiet aside from the goal. But left him too much space for the shot and also let the little Argentinian get under his skin, earning himself a cheap booking.
Pezzella: 7—His splendid header was somewhat undermined his losing Zanioli shortly after for the equalizer. But he kept his head up and unceremoniously destroyed every other attack that the host attempted to construct. Dude is fantastic.
Vitor Hugo: 6.5—For the first time in what feels like forever, he just played a good, solid defensive game. Didn’t get beaten. Didn’t do anything crazy. Heck, didn’t even pop up his usual lamentable clearance. Well done, young man.
Biraghi: 6.5—A very Biraghi performance. Spent a lot of time as an out-and-out winger per Pioli’s instructions. Played in some clever passes and pressed well from the front. Did a nice job of defensive containment when it was asked of him.
Benassi: 6.5—Motivated and involved today, relatively speaking. Cracked a coupleof nice shots on goal and occasionally even participated in the buildup. Even dug in defensively a few times, but we’re mostly looking at his shooting and his positive forward passing.
Veretout: 7—Beasted around the base of midfield, cutting off opposition passing options and picking up the ball whenever possible. Used clever changes of pace to break the lines with the ball at his feet and played it neatly along the carpet when his space was limited. Just such a tidy, clever, and hard-working guy in the middle.
Dabo: 7—Won the ball in the air and on the ground. Carried the ball past opposing midfielders and broke the lines. Created opportunities for his teammates. Basically did everything that we’ve insisted he can do all year. Needs to start every week.
Gerson: 7.5—Drifted around between the lines and continually found half-spaces on the left to turn and run through. Earned numerous free kicks and basically made himself a headache for the opposition. The goal was perhaps a bit fluky but entirely deserved.
Simeone: 6.5—Didn’t really do much damage in the Roma box, but did everything else. Caused several uncomfortable moments for Roma by attacking the channels and pulling the opposition centerbacks out of shape, and also tracked back magnificently. Just didn’t get a lot of service to work with.
Muriel: 5.5—Had his spectacular shot that rattled the woodwork bounced intot the net, this number would be higher. But it didn’t, and he wasn’t especially threatening otherwise. Spent too much time dropping deep rather than attacking defenders in space.
Chiesa: 5—Off the pace and rusty and we don’t care because the Viola talisman is back.
Mirallas: 5—Huh. Guess he was out there for a bit.