For the first time in 106 days, Fiorentina suited up and played a game, albeit in an empty, ghostly Artemio Franchi. Giuseppe Iachini unleashed a completely unexpected 4-3-3 with Franck Ribery on the left, while Federico Ceccherini came into the heart of the defense and Martín Cáceres took over at rightback. Brescia only started one regular in defense—Aleš Matějů, Andrea Papetti, and Alessandro Semprini all slotted in—and Simon Skrabb started up top along with Alfredo Donnarumma.
It took a long time for Fiorentina to grow into the game as they players misplaced passes all over the pitch and never really threatened. Indeed, they gave the visitors—who’d scarcely ventured from their own half—a freebie when Cáceres dragged down Daniele Dessena after forgetting to mark him in the box, and Donnarumma buried the spot kick. The Viola dominated territory and possession and finally got the breakthrough via a thunderous Pezzella header from a corner and spent the rest of the half passing around the Leonessa penalty box without generating any real chances, then sprinting backwards and fouling to end counterattacks; 75% of the Viola defenders were in the book after 32 minutes. When the whistle went, 1-1 felt a bit harsh on the hosts but not too unfair.
This is where the unfair feelings began. Fiorentina got the ball in the net twice in the space of 5 minutes and saw both disallowed. The first was Ribery scrambling one home (Vlahović was marginally offside in the buildup) and the second was Dušan finishing a lovely Chiesa cutback after the ball rolled millimeters over the endline. Ribery had another lovely dribbling move cleared off the line after he’d rounded goalkeeper Jesse Joronen. Pezzella had another chance from a corner and Chiesa nicked the ball from Joronen but missed the open net. Right on cue, Cáceres got himself sent off for a really stupid and pointless tackle. Even down a man (and a manager, as Iachini was sent to the stands for dissent), Fiorentina were much better, with Vlahović forcing a strong save from Joronen while Chiesa, Gaetano Castrovilli, and Pol Lirola each fired wide. The Viola nearly threw the point away, but Drągowski tipped over Dessena’s header at the death.
Drągowski: 7—Didn’t have too much to do. Can’t fault him for not saving a penalty. Made a good stop on Skrabb and had that miracle to deny Dessena at the end. Distribution was fine. Did nearly bobble a ball into Brescia’s path off a free kick but recovered just in time.
Cáceres: 2—Must have had too much mate before kickoff because he was very bad. Completely switched off to let Dessena in behind him, got booked for it to give up the penalty, and then made a truly idiotic tackle way up the pitch. Missed with numerous passes and generally looked way, way off.
Pezzella: 7.5—Kept his cool and kept his defense pretty well impenetrable in open play. Scored once off a corner and had a couple other chances, including a header that rattled the crossbar. His missed pass to Dalbert, though, while under no pressure, was what set the move in motion that led to the penalty, but he was quite good otherwise.
Ceccherini: 6.5—Hung in pretty well. Kept Donnarumma and Skrabb quiet except for one time when he missed a run and let Skrabb get a shot off. Definitely not the main problem at the back.
Dalbert: 6.5—Got booked for one bad tackle and had a couple more iffy ones before he was subbed, but kept himself in the right places. Was positive going forward; his crossing didn’t work at all, but his constant vertical running opened a lot of space for Ribery and Castrovilli to work in.
Duncan: 6—Quietly competent but nothing more. Didn’t see much of the ball and seemed to pull wide to the right a lot, a little bit like Marco Benassi. In fairness, he did use the ball pretty intelligently when he got it, but has to be more involved.
Pulgar: 7.5—Man of the match for me. Got the assist and consistently delivered excellent set pieces. In open play, kept the ball ticking along brilliantly, completing 92% of his passes and occasionally hitting accurate long balls. Didn’t do a lot of ball-winning because Brescia rarely had the ball long enough for him to take it.
Castrovilli: 7—Consistently got to the right places and consistently wriggled past his defender just as we’ve come to expect. His shooting was woeful, though, as he had at least two chances to put the team ahead with pretty simple finishes. Still has his chemistry with Ribery, which was nice to see.
Chiesa: 7—Just one of those days for Fede. His shots whistled just wide or too close to Joronen. His passes either weren’t finished off or barely missed. He also got booked (in fairness, not for anything bookable) so he’s out at Lazio on Saturday. The chance where Pulgar completely mishit a shot and skewed it towards him summed up his evening perfectly: quick enough to react and shoot but not to shoot on target. It’ll get better.
Vlahović: 6.5—Looked lost in the first half, never sorting out where he was meant to be and rarely connecting with his teammates. Improved dramatically after the break, creating a few excellent chances for himself and his teammates. Very unlucky not to have scored.
Ribery: 6.5—Definitely had some rust to shake off, as evidenced by two handballs while he tried to control simple passes, but the class remains. Skipped past defenders at will and manufactured several glowing opportunities from his inside left position, including one that forced Papetti to clear a chip off the line. Definitely looked gassed after an hour or so. Seemed hesitant to shoot at times as well.
Lirola: 6—Definitely not as natural on the left as he is on the right, but did a nice job of providing the same burst on the left as Dalbert did. Was solid in defense but didn’t add too much in attack, largely because he was on his weaker foot. Did botch a 3-v-2 break, sadly, but so it goes.
Ghezzal: n/a—Subbed on for Duncan, played 7 anonymous minutes, and was subbed off for Milenković after Cáceres was sent off. Perhaps the weirdest Viola appearance I’ve ever seen.
Milenković: 6.5—Looked sharp. Won the ball, stonewalled opponents, and burst forward a couple of times to spark the attack.
Cutrone: n/a—Came on in stoppage time so not enough to grade him on.
Sottil: n/a—See above. Didn’t even get a touch.
Three things we learned
1. This team needs to practice shooting. Losing to the last place team is really embarrassing, yeah, but we’ll give the Viola the benefit of the doubt considering that these are extraordinary circumstances that lead to insane amounts of randomness. But losing like this while missing at least 8 clear-cut, how-did-he-not-score chances is just ridiculous. That they carved open Brescia so imperiously bodes well and you have to think the goals will come, but this is simply absurd. I cannot explain it.
2. Iachini’s trying but it may not be enough. Beppe’s coming in for a lot of blame thus far but let’s not get too carried away. He changed to the 4-3-3 that we wanted to see with Ribery back and had his team create a multitude of opportunities. But the lack of identity going forward remains a serious concern, especially when the plan seems to exclusively be to get the ball to Ribery and Castrovilli in the inside left zone and hope that they can do something cool, or, failing that, punt it long for Chiesa. That’s still more variation than we saw under, say, Stefano Pioli, but with guys like Alfred Duncan clearly not working well in the setup, things need to change. Beppe’s had a lot of time to think about it and this clearly isn’t the solution.
3. It’s still the same old Fiorentina. You can analyze everything you want—and believe me, I’ll be rewatching this one to comb for further conclusions—but, at the end of the day, you have to know that this is Fiorentina, and that something’s always going to go haywire at the critical moment. Team’s cursed, man.