Vincenzo Italiano handed a Fiorentina debut to midfielder Alessandro Bianco due to the unavailability of Sofyan Amrabat and Rolando Mandragora. The much-maligned Arthur Cabral got the nod up front and Dodô was healthy enough to start after an injury scare earlier in the week, but the real eyebrow-raiser was the absence of Nikola Milenković. In short, it was a very odd XI.
Have to say, too, that the fans were as magnificent as ever. Despite having Serie A resume on a random Wednesday instead of the traditional January 6th holiday, the Stadio Artemio Franchi was fairly close to capacity and the Curva Fiesole was in full voice.
The Viola came out and dominated from the word go, pushing Monza back into their own half and not letting them out. They had several nice passing combinations in and around the box but couldn’t quite get the final touch right. Cristiano Biraghi nearly opened the scoring directly from an inswinging corner, with Brianzoli goalkeeper Michele Di Gregorio completely beaten, but the ball pinged off the upright.
When Antonín Barák pounced on a loose ball in the area and went down sandwiched between two defenders, it felt like it was going to be one of those days for the Viola: lots of opportunities that nobody could convert, then a late concession to sink everyone into despair. Then Cabral latched onto a Lucas Martínez Quarta pass and absolutely smashed it home alla Batistuta.
That goal seemed to take a weight off the good guys, and they kept on going. Bianco nearly doubled the lead with a blast that Di Gregorio could only parry. The visitors, realizing that they couldn’t pass through the press, started going long, and it nearly paid off when Andrea Colpani reached a Dany Mota cross, but the midfielder inexplicably put it over from 6 yards out. That was really their only chance, though. Jonathan Ikoné had some lovely dribbling moves but couldn’t get his shooting boots sorted (an all too familiar refrain) and Saponara was a bit wasteful as well, but Cabral remained the standout, causing all sorts of problems to the Monza defense. When the break arrived, Fiorentina probably deserved a bigger lead.
Fiorentina started out just as they’d left off. Cabral in particular looked lively as he outmuscled and outpaced the Monza rearguard time and again, only to get the final ball wrong, whether it was misplaying a square pass across goal or poking his shot straight at the goalkeeper. LMQ was, if anything, even more profligate, missing with a hatful of headers off set pieces. Monza, though were slowly gaining confidence as the Viola time and again failed to land the knockout blow. Andrea Petagna whistled a warning wide before the hour mark after a nice run by Carlos Alberto, and the Brazilian equalized after ghosting away from everyone to turn home a Patrick Ciurria cross unopposed. It was exactly the kind of defensive switching off that Fiorentina couldn’t afford but always do.
The Viola seemed rattled by the Monza goal and visibly dropped off for the next 20 or so minutes; their only threat came from Ikoné dancing past defenders before shooting miles off target. Indeed, the hosts nearly conceded another one with a quarter hour left, as Pietro Terracciano made a desperate kick save on Dany Mota only to see the rebound drop right to Petagna, who somehow airmailed his shot from close range.
The Viola eventually pulled it together and besieged the Monza goal, with Martínez Quarta missing another couple of headers (including one Van Persie-esque effort from open play). Luka Jović had a pretty good penalty shout late on as Armando Izzo wrapped him up and dragged him down off a corner, but the only real consolation for the home support was the return of Gaetano Castrovilli after a long injury layoff. Even Tanino’s reappearance, however, couldn’t stop this team from doing what it always does: choking away a vital 3 points.
Goals: Cabral 19’ (ass. Martínez Quarta); Carlos Augusto 61’ (ass. Ciurria)
Cards: Igor 57’; Birindelli 86’, Machín 88’, Petagna 90’+2
The result leaves Fiorentina in 10th place and 10 points behind AS Roma in the Conference League qualifying spot; a win would’ve done wonders to keep them in touching distance. Instead, they’ll host a dangerous Sassuolo side on Saturday, hoping to build some momentum against an opponent that beat them earlier this year while ruing the woeful finishing that’s cost them time and again, as they do after every match, it seems.