Fiorentina came out hot and made a number of chances, with Giovanni Simeone guilty of several near misses and Bryan Dabo heading over the bar with the goal entirely at his mercy. The Viola tried to play very vertically in the opening stages, with Jordan Veretout and Germán Pezzella playing several excellent balls over the top. The goal came after some lovely play between the ever-impressive Federico Chiesa, Kevin Diks, and Marco Benassi gave the latter a chance to hit a low cross to Cholito on the back post, who sidefooted home for the lead. Hellas Verona showed some signs of life and finally hit on the break through Karamoko Cissé after ex-Viola Ryder Matos galloped way 35 yards unopposed. The Viola hit back with a long run from Diks, who squared it to Chiesa in the box 5 minutes later. The young Italian turned brilliantly and fired just inside the post to restore the lead. The Viola dominated the remaining minutes and made a few more half-chances, but the whistle ultimately blew it dead before they could add another.
Goals: Simeone 15 (ass. Benassi), Chiesa 35’ (ass. Diks), Cissè 30’ (ass. Ryder)
Neither side made any changes at the break. That might have been a mistake, as the familiarity bred contempt and also a lot of pretty dirty play, honestly. Had it not been a preseason match, there probably would have been half a dozen cards issued in the second period. Fiorentina had the better of the chances through Valentin Eysseric, Chiesa, Dabo, and Vitor Hugo, but nobody found the breakthrough and Stefano Pioli made the correct decision to change everyone but Dabo before the hour mark as tempers flared. Hellas made some changes shortly after, too, so the match became rather disjointed. Tòfol Montiel drove a shot that forced Marco Silvestri into a desperate save, and Dušan Vlahović rather whiffed on a David Hancko cross a bit after that, but there weren’t a whole lot of other Viola chances. Petko Hristov misplaced a pass deep in his own half required a serious intervention from Federico Ceccherini and Dabo, and Ryder nearly created the tying goal with another run up the wing—Hancko definitely doesn’t have the pace to run with opposing wingers as a fullback—but a sliding Lubomir Tupta couldn’t keep his finish on frame.
Three things we learned
1. Kevin Diks, huh? The young Dutchman with the titter-inducing name arrived in Florence with a big reputation back in 2016, but never really showed a whole lot and was shipped off to Feyenoord on loan last season. He was solid there but still made some mistakes, and a lot of people (me included) thought he wasn’t ready yet. Instead, he turned in a strong performance here. He got sucked inside on the goal, but was otherwise pretty solid defensively. He galloped forward whenever he got the chance and played some dangerous passes, and was very good in possession at playing through the press. Still not convinced he’s ready to be an everyday starter, but he’s probably ready to fill a hole on this roster.
2. Midfield reinforcements are a must. Last year, Fiorentina were already strained in possession with Milan Badelj. Without the Croatian’s steady passing, there’s clearly going to be a problem, as neither Marco Benassi nor Bryan Dabo are particularly adept at keeping the ball, much less dictating play. Riccardo Saponara seems to be on the way out, leaving Sebastian Cristoforo as the only real backup in the middle, and Seba, while a monster at winning the ball, is simply not a good passer. Marco Meli isn’t the solution either, despite his cameo in central midfield this evening. If Fiorentina ever want to break down a deep defense, they’ll need to pass the ball, and right now they’re not equipped to do that. Stopping them will be as easy as waiting for the midfield to lose the ball and breaking the other way, and we’ve seen way too much of that over the years. Hoping that a long ball to Chiesa or Simeone results in a goal might be Plan A, but Plan B (at minimum) needs to be creating chances from the midfield. This midfield ain’t creating squat.
3. The attacking depth is getting there. Valentin Eysseric probably doesn’t have the gravity to pull defenses away from Federico Chiesa, but he’s fine as a backup and occasional starter. It’s the youngsters, though, who are very exciting. Dušan Vlahović has the physical talents, movement, and personality to play big minutes this year; he just needs to improve his finishing a touch and he’ll be a perfect vice-Cholito. Riccardo Sottil is a shifty character who excels at running with the ball at pace and making solid, simple decisions; he looks like he’s ready to be the fourth winger and take on the Coppa Italia and the Europa League. Tòfol Montiel looks like the steal of the year, a quick-footed and quick-minded attacker who’s always in space and looking to involve his teammates; he’s simply too skinny to play in Serie A, but should have a banner year with the Primavera and a long-term future with the Viola.