Montella sends out the exact same lineup as last week, perhaps hoping to replicate the team’s performance against Juventus. 3-5-2 is the preferred formation, with Federico Chiesa and Franck Ribery forming an atypical strike partnership up top.
The match starts as the rain pours down in Stadio Ennio Tardini, early signs point to a lively match. Fiorentina mostly cede possession and look to play on the counter, with occasional moments where the team attempts to pass through Atalanta’s press. At 24 minutes in, Fiorentina win a corner that bounces back out to Chiesa’s foot. It takes a deflection off of José Luis Palomino and ends up in the corner of the net. Shortly after the goal, Atalanta’s players start to feel the heat and things become more physical on the field. At around 30 minutes in, bozos in the stands hurl racial abuse at Dalbert; this prompts referee Daniele Orsato to suspend the game indefinitely until the fans stop chanting. When play resumes after 3 minutes, it remains scrappy and disorganized – announcers on ESPN referred to it as a “mud fight”. The remaining ten minutes are filled with chances and half chances at both ends.
The second half begins with Fiorentina locking down defensively. The combination of Pulgar and Badelj ensured that Atalanta had nothing to work with down the middle, while Martín Cáceres and Nikola Milenković partnered well with their respective wingbacks to keep things controlled closer to the touchline. Gian Piero Gasperini sees the way the match is headed and opts to sub-in both Papu Gómez and Josip Illičić at 57 minutes. With Atalanta’s starting attack now on field, Fiorentina suddenly has something to contend with – Germán Pezzella immediately comes close to a second yellow. After a fretful few moments, Fiorentina suddenly push forward. The team dazzles with pin-point passing and energetic movement until they all collectively realize: no one is playing striker. Ribery is on the left touchline; the furthest guy up the field is Pol Lirola. The team does a few more beautiful dribbling moves until Milenković decides to, just, sort of, run the ball out of bounds.
Atalanta continue to threaten and push Fiorentina back until Cáceres clears the ball to Atalanta’s backline. Chiesa, who has been tenaciously pressing all day, steals the ball from Palomino and takes off down the field. He looks up, fires a magnificent cross into the box where Franck Ribery slides to volley it into the net for his first goal in Italy.
Ribery almost immediately comes off for Kevin-Prince Boateng and the team continues to play with confidence in attack while also doing well to fend off the probing the Atalanta forwards. Gaetano Castrovilli, incredibly, intercepts a deadly through ball to Illičić in order to keep the score at 0-2. At 77 minutes in, Chiesa comes off for Dušan Vlahović. Seven minutes later, Papu Gomez sends in a cross from the left that reaches Illičić, who now has gone unmarked by Castrovilli; Illičić finishes his chance and puts Atalanta back into the game. Dalbert goes down with a slight injury and is replaced by Lorenzo Venuti. Soon after, another cross comes in and is met by Venuti, who isn’t ready for it. He clumsily heads it across goal and Mario Pašilić puts it in the back of the net to tie the game.
The drama isn’t finished, however, as Orsato consults VAR and determines that there was an accidental handball by Marten de Roon in the build-up. The incident was controversial enough for ESPN’s Matteo Bonetti to chime in with this, totally not ridiculous, sentiment: “What is a defender or attacker supposed to do with his arm, other than cut it straight off?”
With the team hoping the worst was over, the game culminated in a final corner for Atalanta. 11 Fiorentina players packed themselves tightly in their own box in order to deal with the presence of Pierluigi Gollini, who had abandoned his own net. Somehow the ball lands at the feet of Timothy Castagne, who volleys it past Bartłomeij Dragowski to legitimately tie it up.
Dragowski – 6.5 – Wasn’t at fault for either of the goals, and other than those moments, wasn’t tested for most of the day.
Milenković – 6.5 – For the most part was very solid. Works so well in a three man defense. Had one absolute flub of a pass.
Pezzella – 6 – Early yellow card, and very nearly earned a second. That said, I still think he did well for the vast majority of the match. Although, he did miss two offensive headers. Those would have been nice to have.
Cáceres – 6.5 – Had some nice tackles, interceptions, etc. Wasn’t at fault for either goal.
Lirola – 6.5 – He really likes to run far up field, and he’s pretty darn good at it, too! Doesn’t have much of a defensive presence yet, however.
Pulgar – 7.5 – Pressed relentlessly and shut down the middle of the park with Badelj for much of the game.
Badelj – 7.5 – See above. Had a truly great Badelj game. I don’t even know if I saw him do anything, but he certainly was doing something.
Castrovilli – 6.5 – Had some really great moments going forward, and only really looked out-muscled when he was being triple-teamed. Forgot to mark Josip Illicic once and saved the day. Forgot to mark him again and let in a goal. That said, it’s tough to judge him for that.
Dalbert – 7.5 – Locked down his side of the field with constant hard, precise tackling. Often sped forward in attack and really surprised the Atalanta defense.
Chiesa – 8.5 – Pressed all day and all night and was responsible for a truly, truly beautiful goal. Showed up in the right place for the first goal, too. His dribbling and pace are integral pieces of the transition from defense to offense and his presence was missed the moment he was taken off.
Ribery – 7.5 – What a finish. Calms down the entire team when he is in possession.
Boateng – 5.5 – I don’t know that he did much.
Vlahović – N/A – Wasn’t on the field long enough to evaluate.
Venuti – N/A – Wasn’t on the field long enough to evaluate.
Sam’s Hot Take of the Game: Don’t Sub Chiesa Out!
I like this 3-5-2 formation that Montella has started using. There are moments where our attacking play looks fluid and energetic, and for long stretches of this game, we were solid defensively.
But I think that a big part of its success is due to Ribery and Chiesa’s ability to weave attacking runs forward and then recycle the ball back to other players once they have opened up space. Vlahović, while great in his own way, doesn’t have the ability to do that. As a result, the final moments of the game were much more tumultuous because it was much more difficult for us to keep the ball.
Plus, I feel like it’s a good psychological move to keep him on. But, what do I know? I’m just a guy, sitting here in my apartment, typing away.