MAY : SCHADENFREUDE, ITALIAN STYLE
Serie A (A) : Lazio 3 - Fiorentina 2
When it rains, it pours, at least it does when talking about injuries in Florence. Vincenzo Montella would add to his wingback problems with the loss of Lorenzo Venuti for 5-6 weeks with a sprained knee, essentially ending his season. Add that to the way they finished last month and the last thing anyone wanted was a trip to Lazio. On paper this game was going to be a train wreck for Montella, the only good news was that Sergej Milinkovic-Savic would not be starting, hardly news that would turn the game in Fiorentina’s favor.
Turns out things would have worked out better for Fiorentina if Joaquín Correa had sat out. Just 2’ into the game he would be released right up the middle on a long ball from Marco Parolo, running right by Nikola Milenković and Federico Ceccherini for a demoralizing 1-0 lead. Correa’s name would pop up again at 12’ when he would score again off a corner, this time the ball bounced around in the box and went in off his shin. Great goals count as much as accidental ones, so Montella would already be looking at a 2-0 hole to climb out of. The only player Montella can really rely on stepped up at 18’ with a crazy goal fans have come to expect from him. Pedro would be on the end of a long ball, beating an offsides trap that left him free and clear, but the pass was a little too much as it landed in the goal area and looked to be headed for the endline wide left of the goal. Thomas Strakosha vaguely escorted it to the endline, hands up to show nobody from Lazio had touched it, but Pedro hustled to it and managed to make a left footed shot just as it hit the line. The ball squeaked between Strakosha and the near post, at what appeared to be an impossible angle, and find the far side netting.
As Pedro seems to do, his goal turned things around for Fiorentina and it looked like they could fell their hosts. Things got even more encouraging at 28’ when Ciro Immobile pulled up limping and had to be taken off, with their two best players off the field Montella might have a chance. Montella didn’t need to wait long for his fortunes to change once again, at 34’ a free kick into the box banged around and struck Jony in the knee as he moved to get out of the way and an own goal would make it 2-2. Then, just as quickly as things changed in Montella’s favor, things went firmly against Fiorentina. Dalbert would be booked for shoving Felipe Caicedo, who made the most of it, on a corner and putting Parolo on the spot for a penalty he would not miss.
That was it. After (5) first half goals Simone Inzaghi and Montella could only stalk up and down the sidelines and watch a very Italian game play out. The teams would finish with almost identical statistics with Lazio putting more of their shots on goal, in the end it was a shove and a dramatic fall that decided the game. With Genoa, Juventus, and AC Milan left to finish the season Montella could only really hope for a win in one of those and Atalanta would love it if Fiorentina lost all of them.
Serie A (H) : Fiorentina 1 - Genoa 2
David Nicola must know some secret that nobody else knows, or at least Inter would like to know. The best guess is the 4-1-2-3 which gives Montella’s 4-2-3-1 approach issues, specifically the midfield destroyer which seems to stop them deep and help turn counter attacks against their weak back line. Whatever the reason, Gian Piero Gasperini would be very happy after today as it looked like Fiorentina might not get another point this season.
As usual Fiorentina came out controlling the ball and shooting quite a bit more than their opponent, ticking up over 60% possession made it look like I Viola would take revenge on Genoa for beating them earlier this year. Lasse Schöne was playing well, but he wasn’t quite destroying the Fiorentina attack as expected. Genoa was barely getting any shots off until they broke through at 32’ when Andrea Pinamonti broke through on a deep ball and put the visitors up 1-0. The return of Germán Pezzella didn’t seem to do any good, but Pedro did his thing and duplicated Genoa’s goal with a deep ball from Pezzalla that put him behind the back line.
The second half continued much like the first, Fiorentina owning the ball and putting many more shots forward than Genoa who seemed comfortable sitting back. At 63’ Pinamonti would put an exclamation point on a humiliating evening when Ionut Radu, the goalkeeper, would tally an assist from a textbook example of Route One football. Radu would boot the ball all the way over Fiorentina’s back line and find Pinamonti for his second goal, it looked too easy. Fiorentina, despite the dominance in possession was giving up excellent scoring chances to Genoa. Until 70’ Genoa was 5/5 on shots on goal, a horrifying defensive lapse. Genoa came into this game 16th in the league, the loss would drop Fiorentina to 7th with no chance of dropping lower as they were (8) points ahead with (2) games left. Perhaps it was coincidental, but Franck Ribéry would announce his intention to retire after the game.
Montella’s season is rapidly slipping away.
Serie A (A) : Juventus 1 - Fiorentina 1
The trip to Turin to face THAT team from Turin was finally upon Fiorentina, expectations couldn’t have been much lower for Montella. After losing to Genoa it was looking like Maurizio Sarri would barely need to lift a finger to take the points he needed to jump Inter for 1st. The fact that Sarri would trot out a 4-1-2-3 didn’t seem to matter, it only enhanced the massive advantage he already had in man power. Pezzalla would be injured during practice and be ruled out for the rest of the season, perhaps this was a good thing based on the problems he had been having.
“We are not giving up!” said Montella before the game. “Of all the teams, we won’t go easy on them.”
There were reports of fans fighting before the game, most assumed the I Viola faithful would put up more of a fight than the players and after 8’ it looked like they were right. Juventus would turn back a Fiorentina attack with Rodrigo Bentancur booting the ball forward only to have Ceccherini head it back, but his header found Paulo Dybala and inadvertently created a 3-on-1 at midfield. Mario Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuaín were both on their side of the half, Dybala would hit Mandzukic who would lay the ball forward to Higuaín. Nobody could catch Higuaín and he scored easily on the isolated Drągowski, things looked rather bleak down 1-0 so early but it didn’t take long for that goal to look like an anomaly.
Despite the lesser players, Fiorentina managed to play their game and held the ball more than Juventus. Montella’s balanced approach was paying off, after the goal Fiorentina managed to play Juventus fairly evenly with Milenković having a very solid game at the back for one. Refusing to get caught out again on the attack worked so well that Fiorentina managed to draw even in stoppage time of the first half with Milenković heading one in off a corner. Juventus still had the quality to come back, but being played evenly like this at home wasn’t a good sign. Sarri even lit a cigarette for the first time all game right after the equalizer, a loss or a draw would deal a severe blow to their title hopes.
Whatever adjustments Sarri made did not work, or at least didn’t work by helping Juventus take over the game as expected. If anything both teams managed to suppress the other more effectively and the game seemed to slow down a bit and take on a more familiar look for Serie A fans. After some excitement in the first half, the second half was fairly dull and played mostly in the midfield with neither team able to form a persistent attack in their opponent’s third. It wasn’t until 70’ that the game, and Allianz Stadium, exploded with what could have been the goal of the season. Tòfol Montiel would score an absolutely stunning goal to put I Viola up 2-1 and stun the hosts. Dalbert would bring the ball up the wing and pass it back across the middle just as he got to the left corner of the box, Juventus’ back line formed up quickly and left a wide area for Filip Jagielo to receive the ball. He would lob the ball into the far side of the box where an unmarked Montiel would rush in and one-time the ball out of the air for a cracking goal. Fiorentina would mob the young RW in celebration, but things turned sour just as quickly as they had tipped in I Viola’s favor. Montella blew his lid when the refs indicated a VAR review, and after a long conference they would disallow the goal for offsides. There was cheering and whistling in equal parts at that call, and Montella looked like he might burst into flames. If he had Sarri wouldn’t have needed a lighter for the cigarette he started just after the announcement.
The game continued on much like it had before the disallowed goal and Juventus became more and more desperate for the winner. Their aggression played into Montella’s hands a bit and they were able to control the ball a little more in Juventus’ end after a failed attack. The whistle blew and Fiorentina’s spirits soared, the draw would hurt Juventus as they would now be (2) back of Inter with a game left. Things got even more exciting for I Viola when Atalanta would draw 1-1 with Sassuolo, putting Fiorentina just (2) points behind them, the point gained would also clinch at least a Europa League playoff spot. How a team that was basically thrashed by 16th place Genoa could stand toe-to-toe with Juventus cannot be explained, maybe the heated nature of the fixture inspired the players. Whatever the reason, it set up a thrilling final day of the season.
Montiel was impressive under pressure, his future seems bright.
Serie A (H) : Fiorentina 2 - AC Milan 1
Yet another game in the “How Did We Lose To Genoa” saga, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Pedro would enter this game with a decent (2) goal lead on Juventus’ Dybala for Serie A lead scorer, so many hoped he would pad his lead in the event Dybala had a big game. No matter what either one did Fiorentina would need a win to have any chance at moving from the Europe League playoff slot to an automatic bid. One would have expected more vitriol in this matchup with Montella, a former Milan manager, facing former Fiorentina manager Stephano Pioli. In reality it turned out that Milan regarded this game with apathy, locked into 4th place in the league I Rossoneri had little motivation to put in much effort outside of sticking it to Montella.
Apparently the feeling of animosity toward Montella wasn’t enough and Milan folded almost immediately. Just 5’ into the game Fiorentina would open the scoring 1-0 after Federico Chiesa scored what might be his last goal for I Viola on a Pol Lirola cross. The fact that the ball even made it to Chiesa, passing through (5) defenders, was a bad sign for the visitors. I Rossoneri put up a surprisingly listless performance for the remainder of the first half and most of the second, finishing the game with only (5) shots and a paltry 37% possession. Montiel would make it 2-0 at 77’ on a goal that would make Pedro proud. Aleksa Terzić, back from injury, would boot the ball downfield from the left wing deep onto the right side of Milan’s third well away from pretty much anyone. Gianluigi Donnarumma came out of his area and left the box to collect the ball before it went out of bounds, but he didn’t notice Montiel bearing down on him and when he kicked the ball backwards to turn and pass the ball downfield he fed the ball right to Montiel who quickly shot it in from a tight angle, doesn’t get much easier than a one-on-zero.
Rade Krunic would score at 89’ on a terrible defensive lapse by Fiorentina, but all it did was save Milan the embarrassment of being shut out. The loss to Genoa continues to be a mystery, but Montella wasn’t about to give back the points handed to them by Milan. After the final whistle the team would get the news that Atalanta drew 0-0 with Roma and Fiorentina would pass them by a single point for 6th and automatic Europa League qualification. To make things even better Inter would beat Napoli 1-0 to win Serie A over Juventus, a cherry on top of a season that exceeded expectations while also being a bit disappointing.
Suck it Juventus. Suck it long, suck it hard.