Bologna boss Siniša Mihajlović brought Danilo back into the heart of the defense and shifted Takehiro Tomiyasu to fullback, but otherwise trotted out the XI we predicted. Giuseppe Iachini, in his first match in charge, picked Marco Benassi over Milan Badelj in midfield but otherwise maintained the same shape and personnel as Vincenzo Montella.
Things started cagily, with Bologna dominating the ball and Fiorentina looking for space to break into on the counter. Federico Chiesa nearly took the lead with the first shot of the match, forcing a save out of Łukasz Skorupski at 13’ with a beautiful curler. Just before the half hour mark, Benassi struck out of nowhere with a sensational volley from well outside the box that pinged off the upright; you won’t see a funner hit this year. The Felsinei pressed forward, forcing a save from Bartłomiej Drągowski via a late Tomiyasu run over the top, but despite controlling possession and territory, the half ended with the visitors holding a tenuous lead after 45 minutes that could charitably be described as scrappy.
Drągowski came to the rescue early, palming away a venomous effort from Nicola Sansone after the winger got in due to some bad defending. The hosts kept control of the match, creating a string of half-chances that kept Bart quite involved, but the best chance came at the other end: Gaetano Castrovilli set Chiesa away, and the winger’s shot was saved by Skorupski from close range with Kevin-Prince Boateng completely unmarked for a tap-in had Fede squared the ball. Erick Pulgar also came inches from doubling the lead with a free kick that whistled past the upright, and maybe deserved a chance at a spot kick too following a handball that referee Paolo Valeri somehow ignored. Dalbert also wasted a good chance, which hurt even more when, deep in stoppage time, Germán Pezzella needlessly clipped Federico Santander on the edge of the box, giving Riccardo Orsolini a chance for some magic of his own: a brilliant goal from a very narrow angle on the ensuing free kick gave the hosts a last-gasp draw.
Drągowski: 7—Made a bunch of very good saves and was the only reason Fiorentina had a lead. His positioning was definitely suspect on the goal, as he was well off his front post, but it was a marvelous strike from Orsolini too, so we’ll cut him some slack.
Milenković: 5—Rather anxious from the Mountain. Had trouble with tricky old man Rodrigo Palacio and frequently allowed runners to get in behind him as he ball-watched rather than marked his man. Seemed to have a bit of trouble figuring out when to pick up Sansone and when to cover for Lirola.
Pezzella: 5—Repelled everything that came his way for most of the match and kept Palacio pretty quiet in the box. The foul on Santander was very dumb, but doesn’t completely cancel out the other 93.9 minutes of steadiness. Still, he’s going to be very disappointed in himself over this one for a long time.
Cáceres: 5.5—Pretty solid from the Uruguayan today, as he dug into his own area and cleared everything that came his way after a sluggish start against the lively Orsolini.
Lirola: 6.5—Promising from the Spaniard, who was everywhere in the first half, showcasing the pace, footwork, and creativity that made him look so good at Sassuolo. Faded a bit after the break but was, on balance, one of Fiorentina’s better players on the pitch.
Benassi: 7—Had fewer touches than the invisible Dušan Vlahović despite spending nearly half an hour longer on the pitch. Was a bit more engaged defensively than we’re used to, at least, although that may be more because the Viola never had the ball anyways. But holy crow, that goal was a damn worldie and makes the rest more than worth it. In short, he had the most Marco day imaginable.
Pulgar: 6.5—An absolute terrier out there. Bustled around, using his tenacity to win the ball and break up play. Came within a whisker of a splendid goal and displayed a mastery of the shithouse (6 fouls, mostly deployed cleverly) that will surely endear him to Iachini.
Castrovilli: 5—Lost the ball so, so many times. Played a few decent passes, but that kind of selfishness simply isn’t going to get it done. Very frustrating day for 2019’s breakout star, but we’re sure he’ll be back to himself next week.
Dalbert: 5—Worked hard in defense and ran up and down the wing like crazy, but struggled to contain Orsolini with Cáceres and let Tomiyasu get behind him several times. Didn’t add much to the attack and squandered a glorious break with a terrible attempt to lob Skorupski that didn’t come anywhere close.
Chiesa: 6.5—Nearly produced some magic for a goal in the first half and should have scored (or, frankly, assisted) another. Could have won the match had he seen more of the ball, but the extremely negative tactics limited his impact.
Vlahović: 3—The worst he’s been all year. Invisible except when he was losing the ball or misfiring. You don’t have to be a doctor to diagnose him with a serious case of the yips.
Boateng: 4.5—A marked improvement on Vlahović, at least. Had a couple of neat moments and did well to find space, although his teammates let him down consistently. But his legs look shot at this point and he simply can’t make the lung-busting runs that Iachini’s setup requires.
Venuti: 4—He was fine in relief.
Ceccherini: n/a—Only brought on for stoppage time in an ultimately fruitless effort to shore up the defense.
Three things we learned
1. This Fiorentina won’t be fun to watch. Beppe Iachini has made his reputation as a tough-minded, defensively-capable coach whose teams win with physicality and grit. That’s about as far from the swashbuckling, romantic attacking that Fiorentina fans have been accustomed to; there’s a reason that the club has a parade of iconic attackers and very few notable defenders. Iachini’s going to go against that grain, though, with a very deep block, a reliance on counter-attacks and set pieces, and an impressive indifference to keeping the ball. For example, Bologna are a good team in possession (on average, their 52.7% is 7th-best in the league), but they saw a staggering 78% of the ball today, although they only managed to get 12 shots from that. Unless seeing defenders stick perfectly to their marks for 90 minutes is your thing, the rest of this season will be a trudge.
2. Vlahović isn’t ready. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the Very Large Teen is insanely talented but by no means up to the challenge of playing striker for a team with top-half aspirations. His physique is excellent, he’s got quick feet and good pace, and he’s excellent working the channels. However, his link-up play is several steps below where it needs to be, his decision-making remains immature, his finishing is wayward, and his movement in the box is bad. In 2 years, he’s going to be a monster, but expecting him to carry the load right now isn’t fair to anyone. He’d probably be best served by spending the rest of the year starting in Serie B while Fiorentina finds a dependable marksmen, then taking another year’s apprenticeship before re-assuming his current mantle of automatic starter.
3. It’s one game. Even the most cynical among us was hoping that Iachini would drill this defense into a fortress, unleash an attacking dimension heretofore unglimpsed in his work as a manager, and instill this squad with discipline and, more importantly, an identity. Instead, we saw something very similar to what we’ve been watching since Stefano Pioli’s second year, which is not very good. While we can extrapolate from these 90 (+4, dammit) minutes, nobody can assert that the rest of the season will go any one specific way. It’s hard to be patient when everything looks like garbage, but we have to be for two reasons. First, we don’t know the inner workings of the team. Second, no matter how much we shriek and complain and moan here, nobody on the team is going to care. May as well save ourselves the cost of that blood pressure medication.