Seeking their first win away from home in Serie A since 10 April, 2022—a 2-3 triumph at Napoli (and yes, that’s 203 days)—Fiorentina didn’t make any huge surprises. Giacomo Bonaventura, Luca Martínez Quarta, and Jonathan Ikoné all popped up in the XI, but none of those were surprises.
For Spezia, ex-Viola players Bartłomiej Drągowski and Kevin Agudelo both got the nod; with former Aquilotti boss Vincenzo Italiano on the Viola bench, alongside Riccardo Saponara, and former Viola prospect Petko Hristov on the other side, it felt like there was a fair amount of tension.
Spezia came out the gates hot, forcing Pietro Terracciano into a very good save in just the 2nd minute. Ethan Ampadu hoofed one downfield, Agudelo broke in beyond the backline to meet it, and Emmanuel Gyasi’s shot cannoned off the Fun Dad from close range. That was the hosts’ template: boot it, look for Gyasi or Agudelo breaking behind, and then shoot or square. It worked too well, with Terracciano forced into 4 superb stops before the break, with Spezia having several more opportunities ruled out for offside. Fiorentina, meanwhile, were pretty well pinned back. It was against the run of play that Nikola Milenković scored an excellent front post header off a corner to hand the visitors a rather undeserved lead.
They nearly doubled it moments later as Ikoné brought down a high ball and neatly clipped it into Luka Jović’s path, but the Serb sidefooted off the woodwork with Drągowski beaten. He’d rue that chance as Luca Gotti’s men kept charging forward and eventually found paydirt from a set piece: Arkadiusz Reca swung in a cross and M’bala Nzola prodded home after Christian Kouamé kept him onside.
[ed. note: there’s apparently no video evidence of this goal happening anywhere on the internet, so maybe I hallucinated and Fiorentina actually kept a clean sheet? On the whole, unlikely.]
Things settled down a bit after that as the visitors began to get a bit of a handle on things, getting more numbers forward and occasionally threatening the goal without forcing Bart into any saves, but when the halftime whistle went, it certainly felt like Spezia had been much the better side, creating far more chances, and the Viola were lucky to be level.
Alfred Duncan replaced Sofyan Amrabat, who’d been booked, at the break, and the Ghanaian helped Fiorentina settle things down a bit: Jović missed the target from several apparently simple opportunities, while Ikoné and Kouamé were also profligate. The game opened up as Italiano introduced Riccardo Saponara in place of Bonaventura, heralding a switch to more of a 4-4-2 shape, while David Strelec came on for the visitors, pushing Gyasi to wingback as both teams went for the win. The decisive moment didn’t come from any these attackers, though. Instead, it was Dimitris Nikolaou who put an awful challenge on Arthur Cabral, earning a straight red (he’d already been booked anyways).
Fiorentina, as you’d expect, pushed numbers forward, and although David Strelec forced yet another superb save out of Terracciano, the Viola intent finally paid off with a lovely ball out from Rolando Mandragora to Ikoné; a neat interchange with Kouamé later, the ball was rolling across the area for Saponara to hit. The ball ricocheted around and Drągowski made a miracle save, but Cabral eventually latched onto the bouncing ball and powered it through David Kiwior’s legs and into the back of the net.
While you might think that being up both a player and a goal would mean that Fiorentina were home free, it sure didn’t feel that way. The defense lost a runner and Youssef Maleh, returning from injury, was forced to haul down ex-Viola player Petko Hristov just outside the box. Maleh had a chance to put it away at the end, too, but completely whiffed on a wide-open shot. When the triple blast sounded, it felt like the visitors had slightly stolen one, despite being the better team in the second half.
Goals: Nzola 35’ (ass. Edkal); Milenković 14’ (ass. Biraghi), Cabral 90’
Cards: Nikolaou 7’ red card 82’, Gyasi 24’, Ekdal 61’, Amian 69’, Nzola 90’+4; Ikoné 20’, Amrabat 21’, Maleh 90’+5
The win—Fiorentina’s first in the league away from home in 203 days—boosts the good guys up to 13th with 13 points, even with Bologna. With their next two league matches against moribund Sampdoria and overachieving Salernitana before a trip to AC Milan to cap off 2022 for the World Cup break (a thing which still feels monumentally stupid to type out), the Viola could actually build up a bit of momentum.
More immediately, though, the final match of the Conference League group stage looms. While Italiano and company have already punched their ticket to the next round, it’d be nice to see them take some measure of revenge against RFS, especially since a big win would see them take first in the group if Heart of Midlothian can beat up on Başakşehir in Istanbul. It’d be nice to avoid the Europa League teams dropping down, after all, but we’ll see how that all shakes out in January. For now, let’s enjoy a hard fought win away from home.