Vincenzo Montella’s starting XI came with a couple surprises, namely with the additions of Gaetano Castrovilli and Lorenzo Venuti to the opening day line-up. Otherwise, things were about as expected—though we’re still expecting a couple new faces before the transfer window closes for Serie A.
Fiorentina’s youthful side showed just how ambitious and energetic they were from the first whistle; they largely dominated possession and showed smooth link-up play in the first five minutes leading up to a potentially controversial penalty call against Piotr Zieliński, whose outstretched arm blocked a ball from Gaetano Castrovilli who was only inches away. New man Erick Pulgar stepped up and put in a professional effort to bury the penalty kick and send Fiorentina up 1-0.
With the game opened up, the boys in purple showed that their youth and inexperience wasn’t a disadvantage, continuing to press high and pressure Napoli’s star-studded defense in the final third. Napoli was visibly frustrated and received three yellow cards over a five-minute period, giving Fiorentina a significant advantage in their attack.
However, the game was turned on its head in the 37th minute when Dries Mertens—surrounded by six Fiorentina defenders—belted a curling ball from outside the box that went around Bartłomiej Drągowski and into the top right corner.
Things went from bad to worse for Fiorentina to round out the first half, with a ridiculous penalty call against Gaetano Castrovilli from what seemed an obvious dive by Dries Mertens. Lorenzo Insigne took the penalty kick with confidence and put his side up 2-1 to end the half.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side came out much stronger in the second half than the first, but were unable to convert on their early chances. Mário Rui conceded a corner kick in the 50th minute, which saw Nikola Milenković make great contact with his head from a cross by Erick Pulgar to bury an equalizer past Alex Meret.
Now 2-2, Fiorentina’s youthful legs seemed to give out a little bit, as José Callejón managed to make them pay in the 55th minute with a low shot from the right side of the box—which only just rolled past a diving Bartłomiej Drągowski.
Play began to stagnate a bit leading up to the first substitution of the night: Kevin-Prince Boateng for Dušan Vlahović. Vlahović had a much quieter night than his last outing in the Coppa Italia duel against Monza, so it was no surprise to see his evening cut short. Boateng made his presence known rather quickly, opening up space for the Viola trident and helping to maintain possession.
Then, from deep outside the box, Boateng smashed a right-footed shot which clattered against the right goalpost and rolled into the net, equalizing the game for the third time. Unfortunately, this scoreline would only last for two minutes, as a José Callejón run down the right side opened up an incredibly easy chance for Lorenzo Insigne to head the ball past Drągowski to make it 4-3.
Everyone in purple was visibly exhausted by this point, as they had been running endlessly for the previous 66 minutes. They never seemed to recapture the energy and positive ball movement that we saw in the first half, causing Montella to make a couple changes in an attempt to rejuvenate the side. Marco Benassi was brought on in place of a tired Milan Badelj, followed five minutes later by Franck Ribéry’s debut for the club, who came on for a very impressive Riccardo Sottil.
All attempts to feed Ribéry the ball in an attempt to create some last-minute magic were fizzled out, aside from an incredibly controversial no-call where Elseid Hysaj visibly pulled Ribéry down by the arm on the edge of the box. For the second time this game, referee Davide Massa refused to review the play himself on the sideline VAR monitor—a decision which leaves us scratching our heads considering how controversial the plays in question were.
Even though Fiorentina walks out of this game without a point, they can hold their heads high in the fact that they showed so much promise and resilience in a game they weren’t expected to keep close. Vincenzo Montella already looks more comfortable than he did last year, and expectations for his side are still positive—even with a loss here.
While some changes to the starting XI will inevitably be made over the next couple weeks, the players on the pitch today proved that they belong here. Considering this was one of the youngest starting line-ups in the European top-flight, this game gives us lots of hope for the rest of the campaign.
Drągowski: 5—Arguably could’ve done a better job with the goals outside the box from Mertens and Callejón. No inexcusable mistakes, but not a particularly impressive performance either.
Lirola: 5—Looked better and more comfortable than he did against Monza, but his weaknesses in defense opened up quite a few holes that Napoli were able to take advantage of.
Pezzella: 5.5—A relatively quiet performance from the captain, who wasn’t quite as commanding in the back as we’re used to. Like Drągowski, he didn’t quite make any fatal mistakes, but he wasn’t nearly intimidating enough to deter the Napoli attack.
Milenković: 6.5—A solid header from the corner kick by Pulgar as well as some decent clearance work in the box showed us why Milenković is so highly touted, but any defender that lets up 4 goals (as controversial as they are) can’t be too highly praised.
Venuti: 5—In a surprise appointment over Cristiano Biraghi and Aleksa Terzić, Venuti did an okay job on the left flank; he showed some promise going forward, but he wasn’t really able to contain José Callejón as much as he needed to.
Castrovilli: 7.5—In his Serie A debut, Castrovilli more than repaid Vincenzo Montella’s faith in the young midfielder. In addition to his assist on Kevin-Prince Boateng’s goal, he put in a full 90 minutes of impressive runs and passing, and was clearly more comfortable in a deeper role than the other positions he’s played in recent years.
Badelj: 5.5—Pretty quiet game from Badelj, which is familiar territory for the veteran. Quite frankly, he wasn’t really noticeable after the first half, and it was no surprise to see Benassi come on for him.
Pulgar: 7.5—Aside from a boneheaded back-pass to Drągowski early on, Pulgar looked like the real deal. He was class on free-kick duty as well as on the penalty kick, along with some good effort to shield the back line and participate in link-up play.
Sottil: 7.5—A commanding performance from the young winger who definitely earned the respect of Franck Ribéry today, who took some time to mentor the 20-year old on the sideline. Sottil managed to draw countless fouls against a talented Napoli defense, who he thoroughly outplayed. Was unfortunately unable to contribute to a goal, but will surely do so soon if he continues to play like he did today.
Vlahović: 4.5—Dušan couldn’t quite put it together today, which was a shame because he had decent service from his supporting cast. We still have full faith in the young striker, but it just wasn’t his day. Granted, not many people can manage to get one past Kalidou Koulibaly and Kostas Manolas.
Chiesa: 6.5—A very hot and cold day for Freddy Church, who seemed a bit more temperamental than we’re used to. Had a couple poor shot choices from outside the box when there were opportunities elsewhere, but his runs and skill are still top class and he showed that yet again.
Boateng: 6.5—Good goal and hold-up play up front. Unfortunately, nothing else really came after he scored.
Benassi: 6—Came on as a centre-forward/midfielder/utility player Frankenstein-esque conglomeration of positions, which is typical for the enigma that is Marco Benassi. Didn’t really do anything bad, but didn’t do anything great either. Wasn’t on for long enough to criticize him too much.
Ribéry: N/A—It’d be a bit of a disservice to give Ribéry a rating considering how little service he got after he came on. He really should’ve gotten a penalty, but the wind didn’t blow our way today. He didn’t look off the pace at all though, so that bodes well for his future in purple.
Davide Massa: 0—Do your job.