JANUARY : WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS?!
Serie A (A) : Genoa 3 - Fiorentina 0
With a bunch of players back and a few new ones Fiorentina seemed to have been given new life. Opening the new year with a game against Genoa, currently sitting 19th in the league, seemed like a great way to let everyone get their bearings and get ready for the second half. Genoa playing a 4-1-2-3 was an indication of trouble, but nobody could have predicted this dumpster fire.
Michael Kouamé, a young Ivorian who hasn’t done all that much in his career yet, turned into Ronaldo and ripped Fiorentina apart all on his own. Pol Lirola and Nikola Milenković suddenly forgot how to defend and the left winger just completely had his way with them again and again, especially if he managed to get the ball while Lirola was in a forward position. His first goal at 38’ made Vincenzo Montella jump in the air and burst into a tirade, the passivity in defending was appalling. Kouamé received the ball out on the left near the edge of the box, ran toward the box, stopped and took a flat footed shot with Lirola staying well back. The shot dipped across the goal to the far corner and nestled in the side netting.
Kouamé wasn’t done making Fiorentina’s defenders look like immobile objects. He would score again at 50’ and 89’ in almost identical ways, making Milenković look like a fool for asking to be paid more. Coming from out wide, the time with Lirola in position, he would literally just run wide around Lirola and Milenković to get in close and score. Maybe this game wouldn’t have been as humiliating if Fiorentina hadn’t had the ball 66% of the time while piling up (34) shots to Genoa’s (12). Montella’s offense has rarely looked so impotent, and things would need to change fast with Juventus coming to Artemio Franchi for their next game.
Montella can only yell so much.
Serie A (H) : Fiorentina 1 - Juventus 4
Speaking of Juventus… Montella really didn’t need this after the Genoa game. Juventus isn’t running away with the league, but the level of quality between the two teams is evident just by looking at the roster. Maurizio Sarri left players on the bench that would be the best player on Fiorentina, Daniele Rugani and Douglas Costa to name a few, so it would be hard to say Fiorentina had much of a chance in this game. Milan Badelj would be out for two months with a torn thigh muscle, the purchase of Filip Jagiello now looked like a life saver. This would also be the first game Federico Chiesa would start at LW with Tòfol Montiel moving to the first squad at RW.
It only took 2’ for Juventus to assert themselves and put the frailty of Fiorentina’s back line on display. Emre Can would receive the ball just on the edge of Fiorentina’s third, make a move to lose Jagiello, and then blow past Germán Pezzella like he wasn’t even there to get in close and score. Over a nine minute span starting at 14’ Juventus completely destroyed Fiorentina, scoring three times to put the game well out of reach. Gonzalo Higuaín (twice) and Paulo Dybala would be able to walk right through the middle of the field and score. The best I Viola could do was kick Dybala in the ankle, earning Milenković a booking just before the half.
What happened after the half defied logic on a level hard to comprehend, perhaps it is ineffable. Just a few minutes into the second half Milenković kicked Dybala again, because he didn’t remember what happened the first time, and earned a sending off to leave Fiorentina down a man against a team that shredded them 4-0 in the first half. Pedro came off for Federico Ceccherini and Montella settled into a 4-2-3 that somehow managed to shut down Juventus. Montella didn’t even park the bus, they continued to play in the same way just without a striker, and they beat Juventus 1-0 in that half. Montiel would score at 82’ to save them from the embarrassment of being shut out before the game mercifully ended 4-1. The loss would knock Fiorentina down to 9th and with a trip to Milan next they could fall even farther.
Serie A (A) : AC Milan 2 - Fiorentina 1
Oh, what could have been? Montella desperately needed a win in the Coppa Italia, with pressure to reach the quarter finals, so he decided to rest his first squad and let the second squad handle a trip to the San Siro. On paper this looked like a really bad idea, but losing to Milan wouldn’t be nearly as bad as getting dumped out of the Coppa.
Perhaps the secret to success for Montella is to play with (10) men every game. This game couldn’t have been more boring for 35’ minutes if both teams decided to take a nap, it was like a catenaccio pissing contest between two parked buses. At 35’ Rachid Ghezzal absolutely wrecked Ricardo Rodríguez with a tackle more appropriate for an MMA bout, sending Rodríguez flying backwards and earning a straight red for his efforts. The daggers Montella had for Ghezzal has he walked down the tunnel may have been the highlight of the game, and now I Viola were back to a 4-2-3 for the second game in a row. For some reason, that was no barrier to Riccardo Sottil scoring at 43’ to stun the home crowd. A humorous Gilberto-Franck Ribéry-Sottil exchange with the ball zig-zagging across the box ended in an improbable 1-0 lead.
Fiorentina went on to dominate possession while barely taking any shots, and then at 86’ Milan seemed to remember they were Milan and Fiorentina wasn’t Juventus. Ante Rebic would blow past Fiorentina’s useless central defenders to bring the game level 1-1, and just a few minutes later Franck Kessié would saunter into the box late and get a pass to set up a long shot that banged into the right side of the goal to put the hosts up 2-1 for good.
Despite all the transfers and loan players returning, it turns out Montella needed better centerbacks. This would be the 5th game in a row without a win, a streak that included (4) losses. The run of fixtures coming up likely wouldn’t do much to improve that record with games against Atalanta and Napoli looming.
Coppa Italia - TIM Cup (A) : Atalanta 0 - Fiorentina 1
As Fiorentina struggles to stay in the top half of the league this game could mean Montella’s job. Making the Coppa Italia quarter finals is something ownership has demanded, so a win today might keep him in his job through the end of the year. As if the job security issue wasn’t enough Chiesa would inform the organization that he wanted to be sold with just a week left in the window, something that definitely wasn’t going to happen. He would take his argument about Fiorentina being too small of a club to the media, pissing off fans along with the organization.
After the Milan stinker, Gian Piero Gasperini said “hold my beer” on combining for a horribly boring game. Montella did his part as well, or at least Fiorentina did, in a game where they were only able to put a single shot on goal. Atalanta tried, taking the initiative all game, but for once I Viola’s defense was enough to hold them.
With the game literally one minute away from extra time, Ibañez managed to execute one of the weirdest own goals to hand the win to Fiorentina. Pierluigi Gollini would collect the ball after a sad shot by Ribéry that just rolled its way to the goal, and as Atalanta moved into position he would charge forward to kick the ball down field. Unfortunately Ibañez quickly changed position and the low kick hit him in the back of the head and bounded right back into goal. This was the perfect finish to a perfectly forgettable game, Ibañez would certainly like to forget about it. Fiorentina would draw Roma for the next round, definitely a team they wouldn’t be able to rely on a freakish own goal to beat.
Coppa Italia - TIM Cup (A) : Roma 3 - Fiorentina 1
Fiorentina’s recent form has been infuriating to say the least, on a weekly basis Montella is never sure what kind of performance he is going to get. The run up to this game was as bizarre as playing well against Juventus down a man, a 4-1 drubbing of Cagliari on the road was followed by a 3-2 win over Lecce that pushed them up to 7th. They followed those wins up with a disappointing 2-2 draw against Napoli where they led 2-1 late in the game. Few expected much from Fiorentina in this game, Roma has been in good form lately and hosting this game would push them to heavy favorites.
It only took Nicolò Zaniolo 2’ to put things firmly in Arsène Wenger’s favor, since taking over Roma has looked like a very different team. Improbably, Fiorentina would draw even when Ceccherini headed in a corner at 28’ to give Montella some hope. It’s unclear when the trouble started, but Zaniolo and Marco Benassi were going at each other all game. Benassi was being very physical with Zaniolo after his goal, trying to prevent him from having too much time on the ball, and it resulted in more than one incident where the two needed to be pulled apart. Things boiled over in the second half when Benassi finally got booked at 51’, and then just a few minutes later put an unnecessarily hard tackle on Zaniolo at the sidelines for his second.
Being down a man, unlike the last two times, turned the game in Roma’s favor and they started to pour it on. Eventually things broke down, Diego Perotti scored at 76’ with acres of space around him in the box. Fiorentina’s central defenders were being a serious letdown once again. Ceccherini joined Benassi at 88’ with a particularly stupid booking, Gaetano Castrovilli would send a rather heavy lofted back pass to Ceccherini who couldn’t get to the ball which was basically about to double as an excellent through ball for Zaniolo with nother between him and the goal. Ceccherini decided to smack the ball down with his hand to prevent Zaniolo a free run on goal and got booked very quickly. This just made Fiorentina’s giving the ball away even more infuriating, the 2-1 deficit might as well have been 100-1 with the way they took care of the ball. Zaniolo would add a second in stoppage time, pouring more salt in the wound. At least being out of the Coppa would free them up to focus on the league.