Fiorentina welcomed Galatasaray as visitors for the first game played at the Franchi this season. It was a hot night in Florence, and the cameras made sure we knew this panning to numerous shots of beer-bellied men fanning themselves with tickets. The real highlight of the pre-match affair was ya boy Joe Barone (whose name sounds more like a Pizza Hut Deep Dish Special than that of a Media Mogul) taking selfies with the Florentine faithful. Vincenzo Montella lined his team up with a 4-3-3 fielding a mixture of youth and experience. There was no Federico Chiesa, but Milan Badelj (mark 2) made his debut. It was also nice to welcome back Fatih Terim, who coached the Viola during the Cecchi Gori era, a time which made the last few years of the Della Valle’s feel like chocolate boxes and roses in comparison.
It didn’t take long for Fiorentina to find their rhythm with Gaetano Castrovilli firing a fierce shot wide of the target from outside the box within the first minute. Fiorentina looked strong, especially on the left with Cristiano Biraghi and young Riccardo Sottil linking up well. Although Bartlomiej Dragowski was not tested much, it was Terim’s men who nearly took the lead just before the half-hour mark. Marco Benassi forgetting how to pass lost the ball in the middle of the park allowing Jimmy Durmaz to race through. Luckily, he did remember how to track back and tackle redeeming himself with an excellent block. A game that before felt closer to watching paint dry sprung into life after the Durmaz chance. Again excellent link up on the left led to Kevin-Prince Boateng dragging his shot wide from a good position a few moments later. The boys from Istanbul held themselves well at the back; Marcao and Luyindama not allowing our attackers to get many shots away. Benassi managed to find himself in a good position after terrific play from Tofol Montiel and Pol Lirola. His shot was strong but former Lazio keeper Fernando Muslera denied him from point-blank range. It was ultimately those two on the left that gave Fiorentina the lead after Sottil was brought down in the box for a penalty. New boy Boateng stepped up to take the spot-kick caressing it into the bottom right corner as it kissed the post. Very classy indeed. The goal gave Montella’s boys newfound confidence and they continued to push for a goal before half time. Benassi, again after delicious play from Lirola and Castrovilli, blasted a shot higher than Baggio’s penalty. Just as it seemed the half would finish 1-0, some tidy play from Badelj fed Boateng to float in a ball for Sottil who smashed the ball on the half volley into the back of the net. A goal which merited his excellent first half.
Fiorentina started the second half as they ended the first, playing with swagger and confidence. A ball from Boateng to Sottil was so good that if it hadn’t been narrowly flagged for offside, gifs of it would have been circulating Twitter for months. However, it was Galatasaray against the run of play who struck next. Substitute Emre Mor unleashed a swerving shot from outside the box which Dragowski palmed into the back of the net. From then it was the Turkish team that was having more delight (*Ba dum tss*) in the final third with that man Mor causing Luca Ranieri and Nikola Milenkovic problems. Castrovilli lost his cool and produced a cynical and silly tackle on Donk. Luckily, Fiorentina weathered the storm and began to find their rhythm again. Sottil fired wide and Benassi had a shot well saved by Muslera. Eventually, a third goal was scored. A clever Montiel ball found Benassi who chipped it over the head of Muslera. Shortly after he was taken off with new signing Erick Pulgar making his debut in purple. Yet it was another substitute, Dusan Vlahovic, who nearly made the immediate impact only for Muselra to produce a ‘miracle save’ following a Biraghi cross. The Serb could have had another following brilliant build-up play from Sottil only for him to drag the ball wide in a moment that someone less kind would say ‘my granny could have scored that’. Montella made a series of substitutes late in the game and two of those, Giovanni Simeone and Chiesa, combined exceptionally for the Argentine to slot in Fiorentina’s fourth of the night. Credit should also go to Terzic who started the attack following a blistering run down the left. Vlahovic finally got the ball in the back of the net, but sadly the linesman had his flag up. The full-time whistle went and it was smiles all round the Franchi. Next up, Monza in the Coppa Italia on Sunday.
Drągowski - Will have to take the blame for the goal. Should have done better but will be the first to admit it. Redeemed himself somewhat by never letting his head drop and starting play nicely from the back. 5/10
Lirola - Was a little sloppy in possession at the start of the game but gradually grew in confidence and linked up nicely with Montiel on the right. Nice to finally have an exciting right back again (sorry Tomovic fanboys) 7/10
Milenković - Not a lot to say about the big Serb. Solid as always and looked dangerous when up for set pieces. 7/10
Ranieri - Really promising young player. Never seemed fazed by any of the Galatasary attacks and looked comfortable on the ball. Also looks a bit like Gilardino, so that’s something. 7/10
Biraghi - I want to start an appreciation club for Biraghi. A silly tackle aside, the real Cristiano had a great game causing all kinds of havoc alongside Sottil. Hopefully, all this talk of him leaving for Inter is poppycock. 8/10
Badelj - Tank. Man of the Match. So glad to have this beautiful human being back at the Franchi. If 70% of the Earth is covered by water, the rest is covered by Milan Badelj. He’s so good when he lost his virginity, he won it back…. You get the idea. Welcome back, buddy. 9/10
Castrovilli - An interesting performance from an interesting young player. Is he good enough to start? No. Is he good enough to come off the bench and cause problems? Yeah, I think so. 6/10
Benassi - When I was making notes I just had the shrug emoji next to his name. Lost the ball a few times, could have scored a hat-trick. Was going to slate him and then he goes and lobs one of the most experienced keepers in the game. Football is weird sometimes. 7/10
Montiel - Was a little predictable on the ball and sometimes went for the ‘sensational’ option rather than the sensible option. But hey, the lad is 19 and isn’t that what summer football is for? 6/10
Sottil - This kid is exciting. Linked up brilliantly with Biraghi and caused real issues to Linnes in the Galatasaray defence. Took his goal really well and you could see from his celebration what it meant to him and the crowd. 8/10
Boateng - I’ve been a little unsure as to whether or not this is a good signing. On the basis of today, I’m now erring more towards the side of good. Big, strong, imposing and will hold the ball up nicely for our arguably more talented wing players. Took his penalty very well too. 7/10
Pulgar - Looked comfortable on the ball and in his half-hour managed to show everyone why he was so highly rated in Bologna. Our midfield is starting to take shape. 7/10
Vlahović - Ah man, poor Dusan. The big boy up front was making the Galatasary centre backs at times look like they had legs made of Play-Doh. Then he squandered a terrific chance. Still, time to learn but that certainly will not cut it in Serie A young man. 6/10
Chiesa - Came on to the biggest applause of the night and didn’t look like he was being held hostage! Provided the assist for Cholito. All positives. Let’s hope this Juventus nonsense is over. 7/10
Simeone - Simeone scoring is now like a lunar eclipse. Rare and beautiful. Hopefully, this will give him some newfound confidence heading into the season. 7/10
Terzić - Liked the look of Terzic. Had big shoes to fill after Biraghi was taken off but his terrific run was what lead to Simeone’s goal. Be great to see him get some playing time this season. 7/10
Cristoforo - Didn’t do much apart from losing the ball. Better like next time Sebastian. 5/10
Żurkowski - Managed to make a good impression even in his brief spell on the pitch. Another good option from the bench. 6/10
Pezzella - Came on and was professional as always. 6/10
Venuti - I’ll be honest, I hardly noticed him. Sure he’s nice and pays his taxes on time. N/A
Three Things We Learned
- The Americans have brought enthusiasm: In Britain, we often mock our TransAtlantic cousins for being overly enthusiastic. But the enthusiasm that Rocco and Joe have brought to Florence is fantastic news. We saw it today with the selfies and with a decent turn out at for a summer friendly. A positive atmosphere was sorely lacking towards the end of last season (looking at the results it is easy to see why) but there is a sense that from all the turmoil we are coming to something a lot brighter. Thank you guys.
- Our youth have no fear and Montella isn’t afraid to play them: Plenty of the players on display today were under the age of 22. Yes, at times it showed but the youngsters gave a very solid account of themselves and will leave Montella scratching his head when it comes to picking his starting XI. Riccardo Sottil looks like the real deal and we should cherish that.
- Our midfield is coming together: You can’t underestimate the influence Badelj had on that game. The other players were stronger because of him. One of our many downfalls last year was the lack of identity in the middle of the park. Now with our new signings (and more potentially coming) and promising young players, there is a sense that this could be our strongest midfield since the first Montella era. Ok, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself but either way, there are reasons for optimism.