Vincenzo Montella rolled out the same XI that earned the world’s most disappointing point at Atalanta despite having just 3 days rest, including 36-year-old Franck Ribery. Eusebio di Francesco, in contrast, rested his aged superstar Fabio Quagliarella, meaning that Gianluca Caprari and Gastón Ramírez started in the attack.
Fiorentina were terrible for the first 20 minutes, showing a frightening inability to keep the ball or win it back. Caprari nearly pounced after 90 seconds, forcing an impressive save from Bartłomiej Drągowski, but the Blucerchiati weren’t able to construct anything else threatening. Federico Chiesa and Ribery finally got untracked, with the former firing some dangerous shots in and the latter winning fouls. Just after the half hour mark, it was the Frenchman who turned provider, scooping in a ball from the left after a corner that Germán Pezzella rose over Nicola Murru to authoritatively head home. The Viola remained hungry, with Fede having a couple of good shots and Dalbert nearly reaching a Ribery cross, only to collide with Emil Audero and leave the goalkeeper in need of medical attention. The half finished 1-0 to the hosts, with the margin feeling fair on the balance of play.
The Viola again looked a bit shaky out the gate, with Emiliano Rigoni torching the bar with a brilliant curling effort after some Benny Hill shenanigans at the back, but the momentum swung firmly away from Sampdoria in the 54th minute, when Daniele Doveri gave Jeison Murillo a (rather soft) second yellow. That was all Chiesa needed, as he pounced on a ball that Dalbert poked into his path and emphatically slammed it home past Audero. Ribery came very close moments later with a shot through a jumble of legs, then turned provider with a brilliant cutback to Milan Badelj and a cross which Chiesa skied on the volley.
Fede and Pol Lirola nearly combined for the third, but it was Samp who scored next; the defense left Emiliano Bonazzoli completely unmarked on a corner and he slotted home at the second time of asking, setting up a nervy final 10 minutes despite the man advantage. However, substitute Riccardo Sottil was the controversial man late: first he nearly scored a tremendous effort past Audero and then, chasing a Chiesa through ball, touched it beyond the keeper and was unable to hurdle him cleanly. Doveri whistled for a penalty, but overturned it on replay and inexplicably booked the winger for a “dive,” which was really an attempt to get out of Audero’s way. Fiorentina hung on, though, to earn its first win since February, a run of 18 straight league matches.
Drągowski: 6.5—Not at fault on the goal at all and made a strong stop early on Caprari. Not too much else to do, but kept his distribution sharp enough; in fact, it was his long ball forward that Dalbert got a touch to for Chiesa’s goal, so chalk it up as a hockey assist to Bart.
Milenković: 7—Completely shut down his side of the pitch with not just his overwhelming physicality and pace but also some clever reading of the game. Fully recovered his form from two years ago when he was routinely attracting rumors valuing him at €60+ million. Looks like a perfect fit on the right of the back three.
Pezzella: 7.5—Great game for the captain. The goal was wonderful, but he was always in the right place at the right time. Steadied the ship well and showed some fire when he scored. Still have to ask some questions about how he’s organizing his defense, but his work was exemplary today.
Cáceres: 6—Not quite as sharp today as in recent outings. Switched off on a throw-in for that early Caprari chance and seemed to be the weakest link in the back line, as the right side of Samp’s attack was the only one that was really firing.
Lirola: 6.5—This was his best performance in a Viola shirt thus far. Showed pace and dynamism on and off the ball, combining well with Chiesa a couple of times, fizzing in some good crosses, and nearly scoring a brilliant chip. It’s hard to tell on replay for someone who’s not aware of the marking schemes, but he sure looked like the man who was supposed to be marking Bonazzoli on the corner. On the other hand, that was his only defensive lapse, as he kept Murru silent as a mouse.
Pulgar: 6.5—Combative as ever in the middle, succeeding in 4 of 7 tackles and adding some steel to the engine room. His set pieces were iffy, though, with a couple of weak attempts and one that nearly killed Gaetano Castrovilli as the Italian tried to duck out of the way. Still, the Chilean is definitely a big upgrade over last year’s midfielders.
Badelj: 6.5—Led the midfield in touches, kept the balling rolling along the pitch, made interceptions and stops when necessary, and served as the greaseman for players further up the pitch while providing an option for the defenders. Had a couple of bad touches and lost possession too easily once or twice, but he’s so important to this team.
Castrovilli: 7—He’s just magical. His twisting, spinning bursts from midfield provide a lot of dynamism in the middle and make opponents very nervous. Draws fouls like a seasoned pro, runs into dangerous positions, and generally wreaks havoc. If he ever develops a shot, he’s going to be unstoppable.
Dalbert: 7.5—Struggled early with some heavy touches and miscues but brought it back in a big way. Got the assist for Chiesa’s goal and made himself a nuisance on the wing. Shows a knack for timing his runs to meet Ribery crosses which will pay dividends soon and is starting to demonstrate some creative passing, too. Proving to be a very pleasant surprise.
Chiesa: 8—Just unplayable. Too fast, too clever on the ball, too strong. Bulldozed his way into space numerous times and took a bunch of very good shots, but also showed a new understanding of when to push and when to pull it back and bring the rest of the team into play. A mature and committed Chiesa is a weapon that almost no other team in Italy can equal, and we get a full season of him.
Ribery: 7.5—Wriggles around on the ball until defenders have no choice but to foul him in dangerous spots. Started pretty badly but turned it around in a big way. His vision and crossing more than offset the lack of burst in his legs at this point, and his ability to involve his teammates has mitigated the lack of a striker in the lineup. What a steal.
Sottil: 7—It was definitely a penalty, so we’re taking that into account, but he was unstoppable in his brief cameo. He won 3 fouls, ripped a lovely shot on goal (even if squaring it to Chiesa may have been wiser), and generally looked hungry. Perfect sub for Ribery.
Benassi: n/a—Didn’t do a whole lot, which isn’t a knock on Marco so much as it is a reflection on the limited amount of time he was on the pitch.
Vlahović: n/a—Came on in stoppage to waste some time.
Three things we learned
1. Vinnie doesn’t trust the depth. Despite having 3 games in 10 days, Montella didn’t rotate his side at all for this one, despite having promising youngsters like Riccardo Sottil, Dušan Vlahović, Luca Ranieri, Szymon Żurkowski, and Aleksa Terzić available. Perhaps it was a matter of the manager seeing Samp as the best opportunity to get a confidence-building win until after the international break, so he rolled the dice, but it’s telling that he was willing to risk Ribery from the start again on short rest. Maybe we’ll see some changes on Sunday against AC Milan, but there’s a possibility that the strength in numbers we thought this squad boasted isn’t as impressive as we’d believed.
2. Federico Chiesa is fine as a striker. We were all worried about Fede’s deployment as a center forward, but he’s clearly okay with it. While he lacks any aerial threat, his intelligence means he can move defenders into uncomfortable areas with his off-ball runs, and his pace in behind opens space up around him. He showed some good shooting instincts today, too; given that profligacy in front of goal has been his main weakness thus far, a stint as an out-and-out striker could be exactly what he needs to cure it. While he’s definitely still a winger, it’s not as crazy as we thought to see him through the center.
3. There’s still something off about his team. Yeah, the first win in 19 tries is nice and all, but it’s time to wonder what’s going on with Fiorentina’s mindset. For the second week in a row, the team went up 2-0 and allowed a late goal from a cross. This team has to be the least secure with a lead in recent memory; over that 18-game winless stretch, the Viola failed to take points from 8 different matches in which they had a lead. Holding on against a 10-man Samp missing Quagliarella doesn’t quite feel like exorcising the demons.