2020-21 SEPTEMBER : THIS IS... NOT GOOD
Serie A (A) : Empoli 2- Fiorentina 1
If Fiorentina fans thought the opening 3-3 draw against Juventus was a sign of good things to come, the Europa League draw should have told them otherwise. If they were still optimistic, the Derby Arno would really set everyone straight. The first boot to drop was Lyanco injuring his achilles tendon, literally the day after the transfer window closed, ruling him out for (4) months. As if losing one of your most important defenders wasn’t bad enough, Evander (hernia, 2-3 weeks) and Martin Terrier (knee ligament, 2-3 weeks) would join him for a chunk of time. Vincenzo Montella picked the second squad for this game, leaving the first fresh for a visit to Tottenham, and they were already looking sad with Matteo Gabbia forced into the starting lineup.
Right out of the gate I Viola looked flat, by all accounts Empoli were the inferior team but Fiorentina wasn’t asserting themselves. They managed to possess the ball more, but most of it happened in their own third or with the midfielders passing back and trying to restart the attack. It only took 22’, and a span of two minutes, for this game to turn into a trainwreck for Montella. Johnathan Goiano brought the ball up the right side, lost the ball in the box to a Federico Ceccherini slide tackle, and had Cristian Espinoza sweep up the right sideline and send the ball right back into the box for Goiano to knock it in. Montella’s fury that a player who was just relieved of the ball was allowed to run free and score was quickly erased by the shock of watching Alberto Brignoli, the goalkeeper, notch an assist on the second goal at 24’. Brignoli booted the ball from inside his own box, sending it over Gabbia’s head as he took a terrible position for the ball, and found Leonardo Mancuso streaking into Fiorentina’s box. Bartłomiej Drągowski was caught in no-man’s land, a step from the penalty spot, and Mancuso easily lobbed it over him for a stunning 2-0 lead.
Fiorentina was playing so poorly that Montella pulled Riccardo Sottil at 40’ for Talles Magno, they desperately needed some semblage of an attack. By the time they went into the tunnel they had allowed only three shots by Empoli and two of them went in, they couldn’t have looked more destined for relegation. A number of playering posted on social media that Montella didn’t even yell at them at the half, he just stood there silently until it was time to go back out. If that’s true, it’s likely a tactic he won’t be using again in the future as the team played as flatly in the second half as they did in the first. Tòfol Montiel managed to salvage some respectability by scoring at 78’, but it never really seemed like Fiorentina was going to come back from this one. This was a terrible way to head into a trip to London, Spurs would love to see a repeat of this performance.
Europa League (A) : Tottenham 4 - Fiorentina 2
This fixture couldn’t have come at a worse time, maybe another trip to Juventus would have been worse, and few expected much from Montella’s side in this one. The media and fans were not at all happy about losing the Derby Arno and the mood carried over into this game. Despite having a mostly full strength first squad, the goal seemed to be to manage the loss and try to stay alive in the group with a good goal differential.
“This will be a good test, we have been poor lately” said Montella prior to the game. “If we can’t show up against a team like this, we have no chance of winning [Serie A].”
Montella probably wanted to take that quote back, going down 1-0 after just 12’. Tanguy Ndombele would score by somehow finding some daylight in a pile of players off a corner. The ball would glance of Harry Kane’s head after a sad attempt on goal, sending the ball out to Ndombele at the top of the arc. Drągowski couldn’t pick up the ball with so many bodies around and had to stand and watch it fly into the back of the net. Kyle Walker-Peters would make it 2-0 by picking out Dele Alli with a smart cross from the end line, Roberto Martinez’s men barely needed to possess the ball to own this game. Not long after that it looked like Fiorentina had scored, Talles Magno ran in close for a shot that was deflected by Hugo Lloris and a crowd of bodies obscured the ball. While Fiorentina though it had gone in Eric Dier was smart enough to clear it, leaving the hosts up 2-0. As if God were punishing Fiorentina, the clearance ended up starting a build up that released Kane on goal for an easy score and a 3-0 lead. Montella was furious, the level of apathy at the back and going from allowing a goal to almost scoring and back to allowing a goal in the span of a minute was enough to make any manager furious. Just a few minutes after that mess, Pedro would show why he’s the King Of Bad Backpasses when a bad back pass by earlier villain Dier would gift a goal to the sneaky striker. Lloris went from being utterly surprised that Dier was even passing him the ball to unloading on him right in his face.
Down 3-1 heading into the half, in what should have been a 3-2 game in Montella’s mind, it didn’t look like Fiorentina was going to climb out of this hole. Much like his first goal, Pedro would surprise with a 43’ minute goal on a very nice Magno pass from the endline. Heading into the tunnel down 3-2, in that should have been a 3-3 game, now things didn’t seem quite as dire as they had just a few minutes ago. All the momentum built up just before the half quickly evaporated upon returning to the field. Luca Pellegrini would go down at 55’ with a pulled thigh and all the air rushed out of Fiorentina. Florentino Firenze came on for Pellegrini, but he had a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face the moment Pellegrini went down. Spurs locked things up and kept Fiorentina from doing much of anything in the second half, they let them have the ball all they wanted in their half and calmly kept them from turning that possession into anything. Lucas Moura would score a killer goal at 89’, catching Fiorentina rushing back on defense, and the final nail was in their coffin.
Ndombele was pulling the strings all game.
Ndombele and Kane deserved the PoM award, especially Ndombele who had a great game, but Pedro’s double earned him the award. It was a small consolation in a game that would leave Fiorentina frustrated. A big win against Videoton FC in their next group game might help turn things around.
Serie A (A) : Sassuolo 0 - Fiorentina 2
The mood in Florence had certainly dropped since the opening draw with Juventus. The beating in London was followed by a 2-0 win over Cittadella, but that win would cost Montella the services of Pelayo Morilla. Morilla would twist his ankle during an innocuous tackle and be ruled out for three weeks, to make things even worse Pellegrini would still be out with the thigh injury he suffered against Spurs. Montella would be forced to give fresh faced youngster Florentino Firenze his first senior start and remind fans of how bad things were in his first season when he had to dip into the U-20/U-18 rosters.
While a matchup with Sassuolo would normally excite fans, this game was sandwiched between Europa League games and seemed a little less important than usual. For the fans that did show up, they may have seen an exciting window into the future of the club and the birth of a local legend. On a more practical level, Fiorentina was finally able to grind out a win in a game it only managed to dominate in possession while having roughly the same level of chances as Sassuolo.
After looking like a scared child against Spurs Firenze looked like a future star in his first career start. It did help that Sassuolo used a midfield diamond, making it hard for Pedro Obiang to get out wide and slow him down, but when he did Firenze blew by him with ease. As the game rolled on in a sort of stalemate, neither team managed to do much with the chances they had, it was Firenze who broke the deadlock at 56’. Erick Pulgar received the ball to the left of the arc and quickly put the ball in Firenze’s path, unmarked out on the wing, and he hammered a shot across the goal and into the far netting for his first senior goal. Rogério would take down Marco Benassi in the box to give Fiorentina a penalty at 69’, which Pedro converted, and the win was in the bag. Usually Fiorentina manages to lose these kinds of games, often to Genoa, so seeing them grind out a win was a great sign. Firenze would walk off with the PoM award, a storybook beginning for a player who looked to be out of his element just a few games ago.