2021-22 SECOND HALF : REGNO VIOLA!
After what happened at the end of last season most fans are a little wary of getting emotionally invested in a team in the pole position. Fiorentina’s history is not on their side, even with the incredible first half there would always be room for a meltdown thanks to poor play or injuries. This team isn't Juventus, there isn’t an expectation of excellence, Ronaldo is probably being paid as much as the entire Fiorentina roster. Even with a substantial lead in the league, and a surprising Champions League run, anything could happen.
MATCH(ES) OF THE SECOND HALF
Champions League (H) : Fiorentina 2(2) - Liverpool 1(2)a
As Fiorentina ripped through everyone, a purple buzz saw nobody had an answer to, a three game stretch would end up defining their season. There is an argument that Fiorentina’s 1-0 loss at Anfield in the first leg of the Semi-Final was impressive, facing off against a Jürgen Klopp led team in a hostile environment and walking out with a decent 1-0 loss was quite an accomplishment. Liverpool opened this series as very heavy favorites, most assumed this was where Fiorentina’s bubble would burst but they could have won or drawn that game.
“We played well, but the score was not in our favor” said Montella about their loss “we can’t win on good feelings and moral victories, we must score. We must win.”
Liverpool remained favorites, but I Viola had dismantled Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund at Artemio Franchi so anything was possible. Montella had absolutely no reason to back down, they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Just getting this far was impressive, but they believed they could go farther. That approach was obvious from the very start of the game as Fiorentina played a little more aggressively and managed to keep the ball from Liverpool, even under their pressing Fiorentina was better at retaining and getting the ball back. A corner at 31’ opened the door for I Viola when Danilo Pereira elbowed Armando Izzo in the face, putting Pedro on the penalty spot. Pedro put it in and pulled Fiorentina level, but they would need to win by (2) in order to avoid penalties.
Klopp was clearly not happy with the way his team played, even before they went in at the half his body language was telling the whole story. Liverpool found that next gear in the second half, but Fiorentina continued to put up a serious fight. Things got significantly more difficult at 56’ when Mohamed Salah scored a killer goal that had Lyanco crying foul. A throw in to Andrew Robertson led to a cross into the middle of the box, Salah was already a few steps beyond Lyanco and Fiorentina’s back line as he guided it into the net. The Brazilian CB had a few words for the refs, along with Montella, but they were waived off as Liverpool took a 2-1 aggregate lead. At 56’ Fiorentina got their miracle of a wonderful exchange of field changing passes. A throw in to Filip Jagiello on the right would be sent across the field to Talles Magno out wide, who would send the ball back over to the right to catch Riccardo Orsolini one-on-one with Robertson. His header couldn’t have been more perfectly timed, catching Alisson setting up to the right side of the net his header threaded between Robertson and Joe Gomez just beyond Alisson’s dive to tuck inside the opposite post right at the base. A hair in either direction would have found Alisson’s glove or bounced off the post. Momentum was on Fiorentina’s side, but Salah’s goal was killing them. Liverpool would be able to weather the assault and hold on to take the series on away goals.
The win would be impressive, but they would lose on away goals and have to watch Liverpool celebrate on their field. It was a tight game, tighter than anyone could have imagined, but Liverpool showed their quality by scoring a critical goal when it mattered. Klopp would go on to beat Barcelona in the final for their third straight Champions League title, losing to the eventual champion took some of the sting out of the loss but it's hard to think about how close they were to the title themselves.
Coppa Italia (N) : Fiorentina 3p - Juventus 3
Normally a Coppa Italia final wouldn’t rank as the most important game in a season involving a deep Champions League run and Fiorentina’s first Scudetto, but this involved Juventus. It wasn’t enough to be playing Juventus in this game, they just beat Juventus 2-0 in Serie A, this was Juventus’ chance to spoil Fiorentina’s run at a domestic double. While Fiorentina isn’t truly a rival to the Turin club in the sense that the two aren’t on the same level, it would be too much fun to spoil things for Montella. The fact that the second squad would be given the opportunity to finish what they started made a double seem even more unlikely, but that wouldn’t stop them.
This game would be elevated in I Viola lore not for winning, but for winning in just about the ugliest way possible. Montella took a risk by coming into this game with a single healthy RB, Pol Lirola, with Federico Marino and Smoke Monday injured Lirola being knocked out would be a disaster. Lirola was knocked out very early in the game, Montella’s only option was to dust off CB Matteo Gabbia and send him out.
Statistically, the two sides were almost identical. Fiorentina would enjoy possession as usual, but they struggled to make much of it with Gabbia blanking out one side of the attack. The first half basically consisted of both side trying to kick each other to the ground, both side racked up double digit fouls while failing to score. It wasn’t until 56’ when Marco Benassi broke the deadlock, and then the flood gates opened. Gonzalo Higuaín pulled Juventus level, and then Degnand Wilfried Gnonto put Fiorentina back up 2-1. Higuaín came back late at 89’ with a clutch goal to keep Juventus alive. Abdou Fall appeared to seal it for I Viola in extra time, but then Rodrigo Bentancur found enough energy to make it 3-3.
Improbably, Fiorentina was able to turn the game into a toss up by hanging on long enough to go to penalties. An exhausted Juventus had managed to fend off Fiorentina’s second squad, but in penalties it could be anyone’s game. Ironically, the heroes of the game became goats in penalties as Higuaín and Fall both missed on their attempts. Leonardo Bonucci was turned away by a solid Alban Lafont block before late sub Eugenio Barzini hammered it past Wojciech Szczesny to seal the victory. Just like that, Fiorentina completed their domestic double, elevating Montella to an I Viola legend and putting the rest of the league on notice.
IL DOPPIO VIOLA
Improbably, the second half of the season was more of a rampage than a challenge. Fans were understandably nervous after the second half collapse last year, but there would be little need to worry this time around. From January through the end of the season, Fiorentina didn’t lose a single game and drew only once in a 0-0 game against Lazio when the title was basically already theirs. They would lose twice in the Champions League, once to Arsenal and once to Liverpool, but outside of that they made quick work of everyone no matter who took the field. Even when they had the title in hand, they just kept going.
Earning a coccarda to go along with their scudetto was like a cherry on top of a magical season, the fact that they blew away Juventus by (21) points made it seem even more special. Even if the club fell apart next year, nobody would forget what Montella and the team had managed to accomplish.
The secret of Fiorentina’s success might just be their injury record, it definitely helped Montella manage his two-squad approach and avoid leaning on U-20 players to fill in.
Unsurprisingly the wing backs were the most problematic area, Montella’s wing backs work hard and it can add up over a season. Pol Lirola was out for (2) weeks with an ankle injury, Luca Pellegrini was out twice with the longest absence (4) weeks after twisting his ankle in early February. Smoke Monday would also suffer a foot injury late in the season, costing him (2) weeks and basically ending his season. Roberto Cannata was ruled out for (4) weeks with a groin strain in a 3-1 win over Cagliari to open April, but that was it for the major injuries. A few player (Martin Terrier, Abdou Fall, and Degnand Wilfriend Gnonto) were knocked out for a few days with various knocks, but they rarely had much impact on team performance. After being decimated in his first season, it looks like Montella’s upgrades to the medical staff have really helped keep the team on the field.