This week’s round of Serie A games wasn’t exactly full of outstanding team performances. Napoli scored four but still managed to concede twice to relegation-threatened Lecce, Juventus and Milan recorded routine victories against struggling opposition and Bologna took three valuable points from Siena. On paper, Fiorentina’s 3-0 win over Roma seems the weekend’s most notable performance, but there was more to this game than met the eye.
Both teams were in need of a win. New Viola coach Delio Rossi was looking for his first three points in the Fiorentina hotseat, while Udinese beat Luis Enrique’s Giallorossi 2-0 the previous week. Stevan Jovetic returned for the home side but returning talisman Francesco Totti was only fit enough to make the Roma bench.
The Stadio Franchi partook a minute’s silence to honour the memory of former Fiorentina midfielder Socrates, who passed away on Saturday. Soon the game was underway, though, with Fernando Gago and Jovetic threatening in the early stages.
It took just 15 minutes for the game’s first talking point to emerge. Jovetic beat Juan with a sublime flick inside the box, and the Brazilian defender’s response was to yank the Montenegran’s shirt. A penalty was rightly awarded, Juan was sent-off and Jovetic converted from the spot. Not even a quarter of the match had elapsed and Roman backs were already against the wall.
The Giallorossi, to their credit, refused to capitulate. Gilt-edged chances failed to materialise, but Roma forced four corners and a powerful Daniele De Rossi strike flew just wide as Enrique’s men turned the screw. They continued to dominate possession, even with a man down, but soon found themselves 2-0 down from a powerful Alessandro Gamberini header on the stroke of half time.
A scolded Roma were mostly restricted to long-range efforts in the second half. Fiorentina, on the other hand, were starting to make their numerical advantage count. Only braveheart defending from De Rossi and Gabriel Heinze prevented the Viola from adding a third.
But the resistance wasn’t to last. Roma found themselves another man down after 76 minutes, when Gago’s late tackle on Jovetic earned him a second yellow card. As if being reduced to nine men wasn’t farcical enough, Roma lost yet another player eight minutes later. Bojan channelled his inner Luis Suárez after deliberately a goal-bound Matija Nastasic effort on the line, and Santiago Silva was happy to oblige from the penalty spot.
A night Roma will want to forget in more ways than one. Not only did they lose 3-0 to a struggling Viola, but they displayed a shocking lack of discipline in the process. This was the last thing the Giallorossi needed after Pablo Daniel Osvaldo and Erik Lamela’s alleged brawl (and the former’s subsequent €50,000 fine and suspension), and talk of dressing room unrest will only grow with this latest controversy.
The Viola, on the other hand, now have some breathing space. The result leaves them 10th in Serie A with a six-point cushion separating them and the relegation zone. Roma shot themselves in the foot and their indiscipline certainly cost them the game, but this win is as valuable as any Fiorentina will gain all season.
Rossi has tough season ahead, but now, at least, he has a platform to build from. He must unite a disgruntled dressing room and push the Viola towards a European place, all while satisfying the supporters’ hunger for entertaining football. A daunting to-do list for one of the flakiest sides in Serie A, but let’s remember that Rossi has spent the last couple of years working under Maurizio Zamparini. He’s used to being challenged.
Sinisa Mihajlovic left the squad divided and unsettled, but signs of progress were evident even in Sunday’s game. The Viola looked cagey in the first half, even with Roma down to ten men, but grew in stature as the game progressed and started to dominate play. Sure, Fiorentina <I>should</I> have dominated with their numerical advantage, but this was the most confident they’ve looked in weeks.
The returning Jovetic was as superb as he’s been all season, the oft-maligned Santiago Silva finally scored his first goal and even Riccardo Montolivo turned in a good performance. The midfielder will continue to be the subject of plenty speculation until his future’s sorted out, but he provided his first assist of the season on Sunday and completed 90% of his 58 passes. Montolivo has blown hot and cold all season, but Rossi’s arrival could yet save his Viola career and spur him on to better form.
Montolivo, however, isn’t the only one with room for improvement. Alberto Gilardino has scored just one goal this season and looked largely ineffectual on Sunday. He’s missed games through injury, but Fiorentina’s #11 must sharpen-up if his team’s long-term fortunes are to improve. The Viola have scored just 13 goals in as many fixtures his season and their slackness in front of goal has cost them points.
Their defence, statistically speaking, has been solid. Only high-flyers Juventus, Lazio and Udinese have conceded less than Fiorentina, so it’s clear where the problems lie. As erratic as Artur Boruc can be, the solid performances of Gamberini, Cesare Natali, Manuel Pasqual and Lorenzo Di Silvestri have seen the Viola ship just 11 goals this term.
Fiorentina have the players to turn their season around, it’s just a case of Rossi coaxing good performances from them. Jovetic and Gilardino are two of the most talented attackers in Europe while the inconsistent Montolivo and Juan Vargas have much more to offer. Alessio Cerci is starting to show some form, while the curiously marginalised Adem Ljajic is full of potential. The squad is thin, but Rossi has most of the tools he needs.
The Viola are deeply mediocre at the moment. They’re certainly not in crisis, and their side is now in the hands of a very talented manager. Delio Rossi guided Palermo through one of the most successful periods in the club’s history and even accomplished the rare feat of reigning under Zamparini for longer than a year. He was, without question, the best manager Fiorentina could’ve realistically appointment, and his positive approach to management should help fans forget Mihajlovic’s bland football.
Fiorentina won’t have an easier win all season and they were far from convincing at times. They travel to beleaguered Inter next week hopefully of stringing two wins together for the first time all-season, and they’re in a good position to do just that. A positive reaction to the Roma game and a spirited display at the Giuseppe Meazza will do wonders for their season. Provided Rossi does the best job he can, Fiorentina will be back up the table in no time.