This time last year, we were saying goodbye to Vincenzo Montella, having managed to collect just 17 points from 17 games, Rocco Commisso decided enough was enough. It may have seemed like an Ebenezer Scrooge move, to dismiss a man from his job right before Christmas, but let’s not forget that Montella would continue to collect his salary.
It’s not like Christmas at all..
There wasn’t too much sympathy in supply from Fiorentina fans, after a 4-1 defeat at home to Roma on December 21st, it was a dismal end to what had been a very disappointing return to the Viola bench for Montella. Rocco decided to go with a former Fiorentina player in Giuseppe Iachini to steady the ship and take the club away from the relegation zone. A job well done by Beppe, and although things didn’t work out this season, we will always be grateful and hold a place in our hearts for the work he did.
It’s been a long hard year..
This year will never be forgotten, for all the wrong reasons. It’s been tough on all of us, in so many ways. I for one am grateful to have found Viola Nation, and that they allow me to write here, it has been a light in the dark. And yes I have at times been critical of this team, the club, the managers, but it’s been hard not to be, right? The only reason we complain and get things off our chests is because we care, because we know this club can do so much better. That’s been the hardest part for me watching this team, these players, and knowing that this is not the best they can do. While not perfect, this squad has a lot of talent, and there is no way that they should be battling for survival near the bottom of the table.
Since Cesare Prandelli came in, we’ve been wondering when we would see a change. Nobody expected miracles, but at the very least I imagined some fresh energy and enthusiasm in the players. A change of manager usually brings some initial spark, but we didn’t see any of this in Prandelli’s first few games in charge.
The club reacted and decided to send the squad in ritiro, and we saw the results. Two home draws with Sassuolo and Verona followed, and while the team still failed to score from play, there was definitely an improvement in their performances. Dušan Vlahović put away both penalties to save us, and these were goals he badly needed for his self confidence. A striker lives off goals, and whether it’s an accidental ball off the knee that finds the net or from the penalty spot, a goal is a goal. He probably wouldn’t have even had the chance if Erick Pulgar had been on the pitch, but Dušan stepped up when it mattered.
But now it’s Christmas..
And so we came to the final game of the year, just before the Christmas break, and as luck would have it, away to Juventus. Most saw this as an impossible task, some wondered how many goals we would lose by. Our track record there certainly didn’t give cause for hope. When the lineup was announced, and Prandelli had gone with quite a defensive team, we prepared ourselves for a long ninety minutes of trying to fend off attacks from the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and even worse, Federico Chiesa.
We’ve sadly had to become accustomed to no fans at the stadiums this year, and for some it’s not like football at all. Silence would certainly be preferable to having to listen to the Juventus anthem, and you certainly wouldn’t catch any Fiorentina player singing along merrily like a certain Atalanta outcast recently. The Turin nights silence was broken by the referee’s whistle to start the game and we readied ourselves for the oncoming storm.
Do you see what I see..
When an early Juventus attack was stopped by Nikola Milenković, we could breathe a sigh of relief. That quickly turned to hope when he found Franck Ribéry, a player with the experience, talent and vision to play a ball that set Vlahović free. His first touch was good, knocking it on so he continue his run and get away from the chasing defenders, but then it seemed like his touch had let him down again. It looked like he’d hit it too far this time, that he was headed too wide to be able to get a scoring chance in, but this time he surprised us all. He kept his nerve and flicked it beautifully over Wojciech Szczęsny.
Bentancur tenta acelerar o mais rápido possível, defesa da Fiorentina se recompõe bem. Ramsey já recebe sendo pressionado. Perde-pressiona não tão bem executado. Ribery domina já agilizando para a próxima ação. Vlahovic ataca os espaço entre os dois zagueiros. pic.twitter.com/xYeny0yPV0— Cálcio Vídeos (@VideosCalcio) December 23, 2020
As a Fiorentina fan, doubt creeps in, was he offside? And of course these days we need to wait for the VAR check, but when it showed that the goal was good, we could properly celebrate. Then you realize that we now have 87 minutes plus stoppages still to play, so a full game to try and defend this lead. We knew this was far from over, but we had a dream start that nobody could have imagined.
Just a couple of minutes had passed when Álvaro Morata played a cross into the box meant for the waiting Ronaldo, but Martín Cáceres showed that he was on form tonight with a great header to avert the danger. Another Fiorentina counter attack saw Vlahović free again but this time he played a poor ball with both Ribéry and Amrabat arriving.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good..
Well luckily VAR knows. The technology hasn’t always worked in our favour, but when another ex Viola, Juan Cuadrado, made a shocking challenge on Gaetano Castrovilli, luckily the referee was told to go and take another look at it. Federico La Penna had already booked Cuadrado but once he saw the replay he had no choice but to present him with a beautiful red card.
Suddenly, with only sixteen minutes on the clock, Fiorentina found themselves not only one goal up but now they had an extra man. Did we dare to dream at this stage?
After twenty five minutes and it could have been 2-0. Vlahović on the edge of the box played a great ball out to Cáceres, who could have opted to go for glory. Instead he played the ball across the box in front of goal, just ahead of Ribéry and just behind Vlahović but it ended up at the feet of Castrovilli, who’s snap shot was just tipped behind the post by their Polish keeper.
Ronaldo hit one shot into the side netting and a poor Milenković back pass almost let him through on goal but for the quick thinking and fast feet of Bartłomiej Drągowski. Ronaldo had another long range effort which was parried away by our Polish keeper and Igor was there to chest it back to Drągowski and end the danger.
Biraghi then played a great ball into the box which Vlahović just couldn’t get to and almost reached Cáceres on the back post. Just before the break and after what looked like a decent challenge from Milenković on Alex Sandro was judged to be a foul but the resulting free kick was wasted by Ronaldo as he smashed it into the wall. At half-time then Fiorentina still held that 1-0 lead, but it could have been more, and even though Juventus were down to 10 men, it would make for another even more nervy 45 minutes after the break.
Merry Christmas, I don’t want to fight tonight
What about Chiesa? I think most of us will have enjoyed seeing his former team-mates show no Christmas spirit towards him. Biraghi took a yellow card for the team when he took him down on the wing. There was an early tackle from Milenković which left Chiesa without his boot, and both Igor and Ribéry certainly did not hold back either. Chiesa for his part put in a terrible challenge, with Castrovilli again on the receiving end.
Another former Fiorentina player appeared in the Juventus side for the second half, with Federico Bernardeschi coming on to replace Morata. Less than five minutes after the break and Juventus were claiming Borja Valero should have been shown a second yellow card and sent off. Two minutes earlier he had gone into the book for a challenge on Danilo and when he caught Bentancur shortly afterwards, for a moment it looked like the referee was going to take the card out again, but as Borja quickly left the scene of the crime the referee upset Juventus even more by just awarding the free-kick.
Just a few minutes had passed when Prandelli made the wise decision to send Erick Pulgar on in Borja Valero’s place. Another five minutes had passed and it looked like heartbreak for Fiorentina when after a Danilo cross was headed into the net by an unmarked Ronaldo. There was some hope as he looked to be much too isolated to be onside, and in fact the replays showed that he was well offside when the cross was played.
A couple of minutes later and it wasn’t a surprise to see Ronaldo fall over just inside the area after a challenge from Castrovilli. Despite the Juventus complaints, the referee decided against a penalty and opted not to go and take a second look. With less than fifteen minutes to play and Fiorentina doubled their lead. Christian Kouamé had just replaced Vlahović, when a Biraghi cross saw him waiting on the back post, but when Bonucci’s attempt at a clearance doesn’t connect, the ball instead finds Sandro’s foot and it’s in the net for an own goal.
At this stage I was probably more nervous than at 1-0 up. With just a one goal advantage, there is always the chance that we would get caught out, but with a two goal cushion, it would be even more heart breaking if we didn’t hold on to the lead. From the restart after the goal Juventus were looking for another penalty. Drągowski seemed to slip and Milenković had to step in to clear the danger before Bernardeschi tried to bundle his way between both players. Being a Juventus player he of course goes looking for the penalty but again the referee stands his ground.
Walking in a winter wonderland
We were then treated to the beautiful sight of Pavel Nedvěd leaving his place in the stand and storming off while muttering to himself and waving his hands, like some deranged Christmas shopper who has decided enough is enough. He wasn’t the only member of the Juventus staff to abandon his post as towards the end it looked like Paulo Dybala was the only one left on the bench.
Pirlo, Juventus’u darmadağın etti.— Tribun Dergi (@tribundergi) December 23, 2020
Evdeki hesap çarşıya uymadı
Domino taşları devriliyor...
Kulüp içi karışıyor...
Juventus da olsan dağılabiliyorsun... pic.twitter.com/IiJp4u5ql5
Fist though, Fiorentina decided to make the result safe and give us all some more joy this Christmas. With ten minutes left to play, we had the icing on the cake. A Biraghi cross was stepped over by Castrovilli which causes Matthijs de Ligt to also let it through his legs, and of all people to find waiting in the middle it’s Cáceres who rounds off a great performance to knock it home and send Fiorentina into delirium.
A minute later and Prandelli sent on Lorenzo Venuti and Giacomo Bonaventura in place of Cristiano Biraghi and Ribéry, which led to e beautiful embrace between Franck and his manager. Venuti had enough time on the pitch to get booked for a foul on Danilo, who in turn got himself a yellow card for lashing out at Lorenzo in frustration after losing the ball.
All that was left to wonder now was how much added time would be awarded, because we are Fiorentina fans and we know that anything can happen, and we can never celebrate until the final whistle has actually blown. And just to add insult to injury for Juventus, the referee decided to spare them any further humiliation by not adding on one single second to this game.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
This win means so much to Fiorentina, to the fans, the players and the club. It’s not just that we won against Juventus, away from home, which is itself a rare event. This means so much because this team had been written off by so many people, the players looked like they just couldn’t get it together, no matter which manager was in charge. The Fiorentina fans have been suffering a lot in recent times, since before Rocco Commisso took over, and although the arrival of a new owner brought fresh optimism, this soon faded away as the performances on the pitch went from bad to worse.
Nobody is saying that this one result will change everything, but surely when we return after the Christmas break this team will play with the confidence that has been missing so much of late. This is a result and a performance which gives everyone a boost, the team, Rocco, and us as fans can now have a more enjoyable Christmas. This was the most unexpected but welcome gift we could have received from our team, and we can now put this awful year behind us and hopefully look forward to the year to come with a little more optimism than we might have thought possible. Merry Christmas everybody!