Davide Ballardini moved to a 3-5-2 from his usual 3-4-3, indicating a desire to back the middle and muck things up. Marco Benassi, on loan from Fiorentina, started in the midfield. Vincenzo Italiano rotated his side ahead of a trip to central Turkey in 4 days, although there weren’t any really weird appearances, although Salvatore Sirigu replaced Pietro Terracciano, who picked up a late knock.
Cyriel Dessers had a chance in the first 90 seconds but headed over, and that was the tone for the next 25 minutes: Fiorentina would make a mistake at the back and Cremonese would hurl numbers forward but never quite get it right, despite the shakiness from the Viola. Still, there were chances on both ends, most notably a Rolando Mandragora laser that zipped just wide. The Mandrake made it count, though, after a lovely cross-field pass from Antonín Barák found Riccardo Saponara, who cut it back for Mandragora. The midfielder played in Ikoné and charged in to lash home what Jonny will doubtless call a layoff but that looked more like a bungled touch. Nobody’s complaining, though, least of all the Mandrake.
The goal seemed to settle Fiorentina’s nerves a bit and they took control, pushing Cremonese back and relegating them to a couple of chances on the break. Arthur Cabral came close with a diving header off a Barák cross and Ikoné had some sparkling moments followed by head-scratching decisions, but the halftime whistle ended things about as they’d stood after the goal. It felt like the only way the Viola could lose was to shoot their own feet, which naturally left everyone feeling very nervous indeed.
Fiorentina took very little time to double the lead with an absolutely gorgeous team goal. Biraghi —> Brekalo —> Mandragora —> Barák —> Mandragora —> Cabral. It was a lovely glimpse of just how good this team can be.
That seemed to pretty well put the game to bed. Fiorentina sat off a bit and looked to kill the game, although Josip Brekalo and Luka Jović both had some chances they should’ve done better with. Cremonese brought on David Okereke and Daniele Ciofani, who created a few awkward moments; the former forced Sirigu into his only real save of the game, and the latter offered a hulking presence to aim long balls at, but in the end, the Viola looked comfortable enough, managing the lead well and finishing as deserved winners.
Goals: Mandragora 27’ (ass. Ikoné), Cabral 50’ (ass. Mandragora)
Cards: Ferrari 51’; Mandragora 55’, Brekalo 60’
5 straight wins. 7 straight without a loss. It’s pretty clear that Fiorentina is finally getting its act together through this final leg of the season, earning just its 4th Serie A away win of the season. Mandragora notched his 2nd league goal of the year—and this time it didn’t require the goalkeeper carrying it over the line for him—and Cabral added his 6th in the league and 11th total.
More importantly, some of the key players got some rest ahead of the long trip to Sivas in the central Turkish highlands for Thursday’s return leg against Sivasspor. The Sivas 4 Eylül Stadyumu is apparently a nasty place to play, so keeping these guys fresh could be crucial.
The 3 points mean that Fiorentina leapfrogs Monza into 11th with 34, just 3 behind 7th place Torino with a dozen games to go. While European qualification is probably out of reach (6th place Atalanta’s got 42), the league feels like it’s basically an opportunity to keep everyone fit and firing on all cylinders for the cup competitions. Performances like this indicate that it’s working.