Vincenzo Italiano tilted his midfield triangle, opting for Rolando Mandragora next to Sofyan Amrabat and Antonín Barák higher up. The defense also shifted into something sort of resembling a back 3 at times, with Aleksa Terzić staying home and Dodô pushing up. The real fear, though, was the presence of Pierluigi Gollini in goal: after all, his hat trick of errors handed the Boz Baykuşlar (Grey Owls) the win in the away leg.
It was a bit scrappy and hesitant to start with, but Fiorentina eventually settled down and began to take control as Başakşehir, as expected, sat deep and looked to hit long balls up to Stefano Okaka or Mounir Chouiar. Christian Kouamé missed a good early chance after a Riccardo Saponara cross somehow bounced through to him, but he volleyed over. The goal came, of course, at the other end. Goalkeeper Muhammed Şengezer thumped the ball long and Danijel Aleksić was allowed to run onto it. The defense was bad and the linesman was worse—Aleksić was certainly offside, but with no VAR, there wasn’t a review—but Gollini was once again the villain, charging off his line to get caught in no man’s land and allow the Serb the simplest of finishes into an empty net.
The Viola responded well, at least, with Kouamé forcing Şengezer into a fingertip save with a 50-yard lob. The Ivorian got the assist, too, for Luka Jović’s equalizer: a lovely low ball across the face of goal which the striker met at the back post for the simplest of finishes.
The excitement wasn’t over, though. Jović lifted another tap-in over the bar somehow from a lovely Saponara cross. When the halftime whistle came, it felt like the hosts had created all the chances and conceded none; Italiano’s talk in the dressing room was likely along the lines of, “Just keep doing what you’re doing and the result will come.”
Sure enough, the Viola pushed up and dominated the early stages. Jović wasted another lovely Saponara ball, turning away from a shooting opportunity (albeit from a tight angle) when it was right there, but missed an even more egregious chance when Kouamé headed down a Saponara cross; the big Serb somehow put his header off target with nobody near him and must have been relieved to see the flag go up, even though he looked onside.
Kouamé and Saponara did the work on the equalizer, too, although neither will get credit on the scoresheet. The latter crossed to the former, whose improvised shot sent Şengezer sprawling and allowed Jović yet another point blank shot, which he didn’t miss again.
Jović wasn’t involved for much longer, although he did manage to collide with Terzić and eventually force his countryman off as well. Arthur Cabral made an immediate impact, timing a run perfectly and laying off a gorgeous cutback for a wide open Jonathan Ikoné to somehow scuff from 6 yards out, allowing a defender to clear his effort off the line; Giacomo Bonaventura’s follow-up was just wide. The Viola, clearly dominant and wanting revenge, kept pushing, controlling possession and territory and constantly asking questions. Indeed, it was Cabral who wasted the next chance after a nice ball in by Biraghi; the Brazilian’s attempted dink over the goalkeeper wasn’t quite good enough. The one-way traffic finally ended, but the Viola will feel unlucky to have scored just twice from so many wonderful opportunities.
Goals: Jović 26’ (ass. Kouamé) 62’; Aleksić 15’ (ass. Şengezer)
Cards: Milenković 32’, Mandragora 86’; Okaka 34’, Chouiar 39’, Türüç 67’
Fiorentina have officially qualified for the next round of the Conference League. Had they converted some of those chances, they’d have taken the overall lead in the group, too, leaving themselves in good position to clinch the top spot with next week’s clash at RFS. Now, though, they’ll need some help from Heart of Midlothian if they want the top spot. Still, getting out of the group is a good accomplishment, even if it wasn’t very fun to watch sometimes.
Zooming out, it was good to see the Viola dominate the game and create so many opportunities for themselves, especially against a competent defensive outfit like Başakşehir. As has been the case all year, though, individual mistakes at crucial moments left this one looking much closer than it actually was. If this team can figure out how to turn those periods of dominance into wins, the season may not be as lost as it currently looks.