Paulo Sousa went with a mix of usual starters and rotation players, giving Nenad Tomovic, Mario Suárez, Matías Fernández, and Ante Rebic the start. This would prove to be key for a determined Empoli side that has an underrated amount of skill.
Although Fiorentina had the bulk of possession, Empoli was clearly the superior team. They exploited the lack of Milan Badelj, as Suárez proved unable to dictate tempo or even keep possession. Empoli had the majority of chances and exploited a weak defense. Marko Livaja opened scoring for Empoli 18 minutes in on what appeared to be an offsides goal that Banti counted. Lucky goal or not, Empoli showed they deserved the lead as Marcel Büchel doubled it 10 minutes later. Fiorentina had no composure and both Suárez and Rebic could have gotten themselves sent off. The latter had an especially rough outing. Rebic's determination had been useful to the team but today it worked against him.
Sousa immediately tried to mitigate damage by correctly subbing off Suárez and Rebic for Nikola Kalinic and Federico Bernardeschi. This would lead to an immediate improvement as the two would combine with Khouma Babacar to create the bulk of Fiorentina's chances in the second half. Kalinic would once again prove to be key, scoring 56 minutes in with a header off a Marcos Alonso cross, followed by the equalzier a few minutes later. Kalinic and Bernardeschi would continue to create the bulk of chances, however Fiorentina continued to lack composure in the box. Empoli for their part were content to fustrate and waste time. Giuseppe Rossi was subbed on for Babacar just before the 80 minute mark but was ineffective. Fiorentina kept it exciting in stoppage time but Empoli managed to hold on for the draw.
Fiorentina showed character to steal a point after what may have been the worst half of football of the season, but nevertheless this feels like a wasted opportunity after Roma's draw yesterday. Empoli is a side that deserves respect but it's beating the smaller clubs that has driven Sousa's Fiorentina into first place. Fiorentina remain in first for now, tied with Napoli on points, but Inter has the chance to take sole first place later today.
Fiorentina (3-4-2-1): Tatarusanu; Tomovic, Gonzalo, Astori; Rebic (Bernardeschi 45'), Suarez (Kalinic 45'), Vecino, Alonso; Fernandez, Valero; Babacar (Rossi 79')
Empoli (4-3-2-1): Skorupski; Laurini, Tonelli, Costa, Buchel (Bittante 83'); Zielinski, Ronaldo, Paredes; Saponara (Krunic 73'); Maccarone (Pucciarelli 65'), Livaja