Parma manager Roberto d’Aversa made just one change to his expected XI, with the speedy Yann Karamoh replacing the very large Andreas Cornelius up top. Fiorentina mister Giuseppe Iachini, on the other hand, made a statement with his team selection, sending stars Federico Chiesa, Gaetano Castrovilli, Bartłomiej Drągowski, and Pol Lirola to the bench in favor of Patrick Cutrone, Alfred Duncan, Marco Benassi, Lorenzo Venuti, and Pietro Terracciano.
After a nervy start, Fiorentina actually controlled the play pretty well through Duncan and Erick Pulgar. Venuti won a penalty after dusting Riccardo Gagliolo in the area and getting hacked down, and Pulgar slotted home confidently. Germán Pezzella won a second penalty 10 minutes later as he headed a free kick of Matteo Darmian’s outstretched arm; it was the correct decision to award the spot kick according to the rules, but it’s Exhibit 1A as to why the rule needs to change. Pulgar had no trouble with this one either, and the Viola kept it tight at the back to see things out with few exceptions, although Benassi did his ankle just before the break and had to come off.
Parma got a very soft penalty just after the restart as Pezzella and Juraj Kucka (who is as dirty a player as you’ll find) scrapped for a header; referee Antonio Damato decided that the captain had struck his opponent in the face despite both players clawing at each other, and Kucka slotted it home. The game deteriorated to a contest of who could kick whom harder after that, with Franck Ribery limping off hurt as well, but the Viola had several excellent chances to put the game away through substitutes Federico Chiesa, Castrovilli, and Riccardo Sottil. When the whistle finally went, though, the result felt about fair considering the run of play, and Fiorentina walked out with their first win since 16 February against Sampdoria.
Terracciano—6.5: Rock solid in the back. Made a couple of decent stops and did well to claim crosses. Not really tested all that much, to be honest, but played mistake free and showed that he’s perfectly competent. Bart should return next time out, though.
Milenković—7: Shut the always-dangerous Gervinho down completely and did a nice job striding forward on the ball to open up the play, particularly in the first half. Did get a really stupid yellow card but was otherwise spotless.
Pezzella—6.5: Not sure he deserved to give away the penalty, much less get booked for it; really felt like Damato was trying to make up for the second spot kick on the other end (which was according to the rules, so...). The card means he’ll miss the Cagliari clash, too. Anyways, he was solid otherwise.
Igor—6: Had a bit of trouble wrangling Kulusevski and Karamoh early on, but settled in well and added some good tackles and calmness in possession. Starting to look like the obvious complement to Pezzella and Milenković in a back three.
Venuti—7.5: Hit the bar with an audacious long range strike, won the penalty, abused Gagliolo for 45 minutes. Just give him the Ballon d’Or and be done with it.
Benassi—4: Another rough day at the office for Marco. Lots of misplaced passes and poor touches. Shame he had to come off, though, as this is exactly the sort of game that he usually pops up with a goal in. Hope it’s nothing serious for him.
Pulgar—8: 3/3 on tackles with 2 interceptions, 4 clearances, and 2 blocks. Simply impassable in the middle all game long. Was good in possession, too, frequently moving the ball to the wingbacks in space to attack (although Parma didn’t pressure him much, which helped). Two perfect penalties were the icing on top and make him 6 for 6 on the year.
Duncan—7: Ran the midfield. Put in a shift defensively but shone on the ball, alternately surging past defenders and hitting clever passes through the lines to the forwards. Dude simply has to start whenever he can.
Dalbert—6: Stayed farther back to help Igor with Kulusevski, who’s as dangerous as any winger in Italy right now, and did a pretty good job. Avoided a stupid booking or even any fouls in his own half, which was a pleasant departure, but didn’t offer too much going forward. Did seem quite useful in possession, though, which was interesting.
Ribery—7.5: Tormented the Gialloblu midfield by dropping deep to pick up the ball and dribble forward. 4 successful dribbles and 4 fouls won highlights just how dangerous he is running at defenders. Took an absolute hammering and probably needs a game off to recover.
Cutrone—5.5: Had one good chance that he should have buried in the second half that forced Luigi Sepe into a good save, but didn’t offer too much in the box otherwise despite his excellent off-ball movement. Battled with Parma’s defenders well but to no avail and wasn’t great with his passing. Did track back brilliantly, though, hounding opposing midfielders to the edge of the Viola box, and deserves some credit for that.
Castrovilli—5: If the game were played only in the middle third, he’d be the best in the world. Smart on the ball, consistently dangerous on the dribble, and competent with his passing. Once again gave away a pointless free kick in a dangerous area, and once again missed a 1-v-1 on the other end. Feels like mental exhaustion more than anything.
Lirola—5.5: Tried to dribble once or twice when he shouldn’t have, but was otherwise quite solid. Had a couple key clearances and really dug in to display some grinta,
Chiesa—5.5: Completely changed the game by offering pace in behind the defense and generated at least 3 good chances. Barely missed one and set up a couple others while really trying to involve his teammates more than finding his own shot. Looked re-energized by his brief exile to the bench, which could be critical if Ribery misses any time.
Ceccherini—5.5: Brought on to close the game down and did just that.
Sottil—5: Ricky, buddy. Had two highlight-reel runs with the ball at his feet that started in his own half. Shot very weakly after a 1-2 with Chiesa to let Sepe save and borked a 3-v-1 that kept Fiorentina from even getting a shot away that would have salted the game away. He’s so close to breaking through; just needs a bit more time on the pitch.
Three things we learned
1. There’s some real talent on the bench. Who could’ve guessed, eh? After calls from fans for Iachini to use his subs, he finally relented after his starters laid an egg against Sassuolo and it worked a treat. Venuti and Duncan were absolutely superb while Igor and Terracciano were perfectly competent. Sottil showed that he can create problems for a defense, particularly on the break, and needs to be utilized as more than a sub in the last 5 minutes. The depth is doubly welcome since it means that Beppe hopefully won’t have to rely on the same 12 players every week, especially with Benassi and Ribery limping off. Now, if we can get some minutes for Kevin Agudelo, we’ll be almost satisfied.
2. The handball rule is really flawed. Yes, Fiorentina were the beneficiaries of this one, but FIFA has to do something about the handball rule. This newest round of legislation was an attempt to take the interpretative aspect out, but Darmian never deserved to be pinged for that. It’s inherently impossible to judge intent sometimes, but this application of the laws of the game is simply absurd.
3. Relegation looks less likely now. Fiorentina has 34 points after winning today. That’s 9 more than Lecce in 18th with Sampdoria, Udinese, Torino, and Genoa between them. With 8 games left in this accursed season, it’s hard to see even this banana peel-prone Viola outfit dropping themselves that far and that fast. That effectively securing Serie A survival feels worth celebrating is a different and important discussion, but we can save that for later.