Antonio Cincotta has had to deal with plenty of injury problems over the past few months, and his team lost another player when Alice Tortelli was ruled out of this game. This saw Fiorentina start with a rare back three.
Stephanie Breitner and Martina Piemonte have just returned to the squad after a long absence due to Covid, but were never going to be fit enough to take part here. Tessel Middag, who didn’t play in our clashes with Slavia Prague, was in the starting lineup to face her former club.
When you find yourself up against a side that can leave the likes of Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle on the bench, you know you’re facing a club on another level.
Manchester City: Roebuck; Bronze, Dahlkemper (Morgan 63’), Houghton (c), Greenwood; Weir (Mewis 63’), Stanway, Coombs, Hemp (Lavelle 63’); Kelly, White.
Fiorentina: Schroffenegger; Adami (c), Quinn, Cordia; Zanoli (Monnecchi 76’), Middag, Neto, Vigilucci, Thøgersen; Baldi (Clelland 46’), Sabatino.
In a match like this, you may go into it hoping to frustrate the opposition for as long as possible-try to keep it scoreless, settle into the game. When you find yourself 2-0 down after less than five minutes, you know it’s going to be a very long 90 minutes.
Fiorentina barely had time to take in their surroundings here and City had already taken the lead. With just over a minute on the clock, Lucy Bronze played a ball up the right wing to Chloe Kelly. Up against Greta Adami, Kelly got her cross in and Lauren Hemp was there to send a powerful header to the back of the net.
Fiorentina weren’t even given the time to take in that early goal and regroup, when City had already doubled their lead. Two minutes after the opener, this time the home side went up the left wing. It was Hemp who turned provider here when her cross saw Ellen White get her foot to the ball before Louise Quinn.
This game looked like turning into a disaster for the Viola. It would have been easy at this stage for heads to drop. Instead Fiorentina held firm against a team that at the start looked like scoring every time they attacked.
Katja Schrofenegger made a number of important saves in the remainder of the opening half. First a double save, keeping out a Kelly shot and then a header from Caroline Weir. Hemp then had another great chance but Katja got back across her goal to block her shot.
City went closest to adding a third goal midway though the half, but Schroffenegger again somehow kept the ball out of the net. At one stage the ball bounced off her chest to the feet of White but our keeper blocked it again before Hemp shot into the side netting.
Five minutes later, and Kelly put in another dangerous cross but this time it was cut out by Quinn.
Just before the break, and more trouble for the Viola. Sara Baldi, who had been one of our best players of the opening half, went to challenge Steph Houghton for a header. Both players stayed down, but it was Baldi who came off the worst. Her ankle injury meant she would not return for the second half.
Lana Clelland came on as Baldi’s replacement after the break. Six minutes later and it was her ball that set Frederikke Thøgersen free to run from her own half into the City area. With the home side’s defenders unable to keep pace, the Dane’s shot went just wide of the far post.
After how the game had started, it would have been an incredible turnaround if Fiorentina could have grabbed an away goal.
In reality that was our only real chance of the game, but the team also managed to keep City scoreless for 85 minutes. While City had plenty of the ball, they never really created many proper openings in the second half.
Another player who will miss the return leg is Cláudia Neto. Having only recently returned from injury, the Portuguese midfielder earned herself a yellow card from the Polish referee for a challenge on Sam Mewis just outside the Fiorentina area.
Mewis, along with Lavelle and Beth Morgan, came on as a second-half replacement. Fiorentina later sent on Margherita Monnecchi for Martina Zanoli.
With only a minute left in normal time, and it was heartbreak at the end for the Viola. Just when it looked like they were going to come away with conceding only those two early goals, City struck at the death.
As with the opening goal, it was Kelly who whipped in the cross, which found the head of Mewis all alone at the back post. Schroffenegger could do nothing this time around, and City finally found the third goal which had eluded them for so long.
Goals: Hemp 2’, White 4’, Mewis 89’
Yellow Cards: Dahlkemper 41’, Neto 69’
Fiorentina will welcome Manchester City to the Stadio Artemio Franchi next Thursday, March 11th. The return leg has a kick-off time of 2pm CET.
Manchester City will probably see the second leg as a mere formality, although that certainly doesn’t mean they won’t come out with all guns blazing again.
For our team, it’s another chance to test themselves against the very best. After the worst possible start here at the Academy Stadium, Fiorentina did extremely well to steady the ship.
The team deserves nothing less than our applause and thanks, for a tremendous effort and performance. Keeping a team like Manchester City scoreless for 85 minutes is no mean feat, and the players yet again showed their fighting spirit.
They also managed to create a good enough chance to almost give us an away goal to take back home.
Before the second leg, Fiorentina will need to travel again on Sunday. Sassuolo are our opponents, as the Viola look to bounce back from not only this defeat, but also the most recent league loss at Florentia.