Empoli made the trip east to face league leaders Fiorentina at the Artemio Franchi. There was extra security on hand as every person who entered the stadium was patted down extensively. I entered the stadium two hours before the 3:00pm kickoff.
The traveling Empoli supporters let their voices be heard as they constantly antagonized Fiorentina fans before kickoff. They even jeered as the stadium sang the Inno Fiorentina. As the teams lined up with the French flag, La Marseillaise was played to commemorate the terrorist attacks in Paris last week.
I was a bit surprised with Paulo Sousa's starting lineup considering Kalinic, Rossi, Illicic and Bernardeschi were all left out. I'm not sure if it was the lineup or how Sousa prepared them but La Viola were dreadful in the first half. The match started with both sides playing a little sloppy as they both looked to get settled. Empoli started to have the better of the play and after some half chances, the guests would find the breakthrough in the 18th minute. A through ball over the top found Marko Livaja inside the box who fired home at the near post to give Empoli a 1-0 lead. Although upon replay, Livaja was clearly offside. Nonetheless, Fiorentina really struggled to find any rhythm and were playing poorly. Empoli eventually doubled their lead in the 27th minute through Marcel Buchel. A blocked free kick landed at the Austrian’s feet, he took a touch and hit a beautiful strike into the bottom corner from 22 yards out. Riccardo Saponara was at the heart of his side's attack and the Italian has had a hand in 4 of Empoli’s last 5 goals. The home side seemed to be in shambles and the whole stadium jeered loudly as if to send a wake up call to their team. Fiorentina went into halftime down two goals after their worst performance of this season.
Paulo Sousa made two halftime substitutions. Federico Bernardeschi and Nikola Kalinic came on, replacing Ante Rebic and Mario Suarez. Fiorentina started the second half much better as they looked to get back into the match. Empoli seemed to be happy with their two goals since they were already employing time-wasting tactics just minutes after the restart. In the 56th minute, Borja Valero picked up the ball and sprayed it out wide to Marcos Alonso, who whipped in a cross and Kalinic rose up to head the ball home. La Viola found their lifeline and the crowd gave them a real push. They found an equalizer only five minutes later as a through ball found Babacar inside the box, who slid the ball across goal for a tap-in from Kalinic at the far post. Fiorentina had completed the comeback after their terrible first half. With 30 minutes left to play, Sousa urged his side to keep attacking and look for the winner. Despite some good chances and even hitting the crossbar, Fiorentina couldn’t find a third goal and had to settle for a draw.
Considering their awful first half display, Fiorentina will be happy to have earned the draw but also disappointed in not picking up three points. Credit Paulo Sousa for not waiting and bringing on two subs at halftime. Bernardeschi and Kalinic both played well and the Croatian striker’s brace earned La Viola a point. After Inter’s victory against Frosinone, Fiorentina are now tied in second place with Napoli. Fiorentina will travel to Switzerland to face Basel in Europa League play on Thursday.
Post Match Comments
Paulo Sousa: “We are very satisfied with the comeback and the character shown by the team in the second half, the desire to win this game. Would I make the same decisions again? Absolutely not, which is why we rectified it over the break and indeed we did well in the second half. I believe in the quality of all my players and today many of the star figures struggled, which often happens after a break for international duty.”
When asked whether he saw similarities between this Fiorentina side and the Juventus team he played in during the 1990s: “When I chose this line of work, I promised myself I wouldn’t look to the past. My job is to analyse the players at my disposal, their tactical intelligence, and understand where I can improve them within my idea of football. Arriving at a new club I always try to understand the culture of the country, the city, the fans and aim to reflect those on the field. The determination and hunger we showed in the second half, mixed with the quality of football, reflects the culture that creates an ever clearer bond between us and the fans.”
Federico Bernardeschi: “I think the real Fiorentina were shown in the second half against Empoli. We slipped a little in the first half, but in the second half we had the right reaction demonstrated through our value and quality. We have to start by remembering the good things we have done today, without forgetting our mistakes.”
Marcos Alonso when asked about the Scudetto race: “Well we don’t want to think about that yet, we are thinking of every game and are trying to do our best. Now we have to think of Europa League on Thursday and we’re happy to be where we are in Serie A.” (Video: https://twitter.com/LadsOffThePitch/status/668477347167928320)
The things we do for the love of the game.
After not receiving a press accreditation to the Juventus-Milan game, I decided to buy a ticket to Bologna-Roma. I figured it's only a 30- minute train ride from Florence and it'd be a good time. Perhaps I should havechecked the weather forecast first though.
Arriving in Bologna around 11:30am, Iwalked to the center of the city. After having a great lunch, the rain started. I decided to start walking to the stadium even though it was 3 hours before kickoff. The rain was bearable and I made 2 stops for coffees. Of course I got a little lost and that meant anextra 20 minutes of walking. By the time I arrive at the stadium, a little under 2 hours before kickoff, I'm already soaking wet. I go into the stadium and made my way to my section. Since it was raining and sitting in my seat would be useless, I waited near the concession stand area to stay dry. I whipped out my phone and played some Football Manager for at least 45 minutes. To be honest, I was a bit surprised this game was even played. The pitch was very bad and was at the point were its condition had a negative impact on the match. Both teams attempted to actually play football and pass the ball but it was practically a slugfest in the mud. Anyway let's get to the match.
45 minutes before kickoff, the referee was on the field inspecting the pitch. After a few moments, he decided the pitch was playable. Both sides came out to warm up and you could tell right away the waterlogged field was going to be a major factor. When the teams were lined up before kickoff, the French National Anthem was played in commemoration of the Paris attacks last week.
Bologna started brightly and even found the back of the net in the 10th minute but the goal was disallowed for an offside call. I couldn't tell live but after watching the replay, it was very close, perhaps a fraction offside. The hosts eventually did take the lead just 4 minutes later when Adam Masinapounced on the ball after a sloppy mess following a corner kick. As Bologna took the lead into halftime, I almost knew they would get a result from this match. I spent the whole first half standing in the corridor to try and avoid being totally wet but by halftime I felt the water seeping through my pants and running down my legs. Not the best conditions to play or watch a match.
So the second half begins and the pitch is still a swamp. Bologna find themselves on a break and Giaccherini releases a pass to send Destro on a breakaway. Everyone at the Renato Dall'Ara thinks this is when he gets his revenge against his former club. But no.Destro strikes a slow roller right into Szczesny's hands. And of course that would come back to bite Bologna in the ass. Shortly after Destro's miss, Florenzi sent in a cross and a Bologna defender jumped to block it but had his hand flying in the air. Penalty. Pjanic stepped up and slid the penalty right under Antonio Mirante's body. As they were looking for the go-ahead goal, Roma finally started creating some chances in front of goal. In the 72th minute Rudi Garcia's side would get another penalty. After a flick on from Dzeko, Juan Iturbedribbled into the box and was tripped up by Luca Rossettini. This time it was EdinDzeko to step up to the spot. The Bosnian striker fired into the side netting and Roma took a 2-1 lead with 18 minutes to go. Roberto Donadoni urged his side on as they now looked for an equalizer and it would come in dramatic fashion. Giaccherini was taken down by Torosidis in the box and Bologna were awarded a penalty in the 87th minute. It had to be Mattia Destro to step up. The ex-Roma striker sent Szczesny the wrong way and slotted the ball into the right corner. Destro took off his jersey and celebrated as if that was the most important goal in his career. A great moment and I was happy for him. (Watch my video: https://twitter.com/ladsoffthepitch/status/668182103020974080)
Bologna hung on for a hard-earned point. Roberto Donadoni has picked up 7 points in his first three matches in charge and you can already see this is a different team. They're a bit more organizing and play much better football going forward. Bologna has some good talent in Masina, Diawara, Giaccherini, Mounier and Destro. For me, with Donadoniin charge, they are a lock to avoid relegation.
Roma will definitely be disappointed with dropping points. Gervinho and Salah will both be out for a few weeks so Iago Falqueand Iturbe will need to step up. Torosidis is a liability defensively for them. Roma will travel to Spain on Tuesday to face Barcelona in the Champions League.
All in all, I believe the draw was a fair result. Bologna played well under the circumstances and Roma weren't that impressive. So the match ended a little before 8 and I had a 8:53 train back to Florence. I walked and found a bar to call a taxi but it never showed up. I waited for over an hour and they called four times but nothing. Keep in mind I was absolutely drenched. Being wet and cold is one of the worst feelings in the world. Luckily there was a nice guy at the bar who kindly told methere was a bus to Florence leaving at 11:55pm. I found my way to the bus station and waited for an hour and half before getting on the bus. I didn't get home until 2:30am but these are the things we do for the love of the game.
The build up to this Derby della Capitale wasn't quite the same as usual due to a protest from the Ultras regarding security measures. Gazzetta dello Sport dubbed it "The Silent Derby" as both Curva's would practically be empty. Of course, this would happen probably the only time in my life that I was in Rome for a derby. Yet anyway after two days of exploring Rome, which I know isn't enough, I headed to the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.
Roma and Lazio were both coming off mid-week wins in European competition. Roma were looking to keep up pace at the top of the table, only one point behind Fiorentina and Inter. At the other end of the spectrum, Lazio have struggled to balance Serie A and the Europa League. After a great season last year, Stefano Pioli's side haven't looked as good and their lack of depth seems evident.
I walked about 20-25 minutes to the stadium from my hotel and arrived about 2 hours before kickoff. Since Roma was the home side there was no Lazio gear to be bought near the stadium. I was hoping to find a scarf with both teams to commemorate the derby but I don't think they put Roma and Lazio together on anything in Rome. Fans were already waiting at the gates to get in before they opened 2 hours prior to kickoff. Because of the protest, it was relatively calm around the stadium before the match. I went through the gates when they opened and got some food to eat. Then I went to my seat in the Tribuna Tevere, where I had a nice view of the field near the midfield line. The stadium started filling up but still it just didn’t feel right without the ultras. With De Rossi & Totti not available and Florenzi on the bench, Roma did not have one Italian in their starting lineup, which is the first time Roma have ever started 11 foreigners in this derby. Despite the Curva's being empty you could sense this game meant the world to the Romanisti and they wanted nothing more than a victory. Before kickoff, all the Romanisti joined in singing ‘Roma Roma Roma’, which was wonderful.
Roma controlled play from the start and found an early controversial goal. Edin Dzeko was tripped near the edge of the box and the referee pointed to the spot right away. After the match I saw the replay, which clearly showed the foul was outside the box. Nevertheless, Dzeko slotted the penalty down the middle of the net to give the home side the early lead. Although Rome enjoyed the better of the play, Lazio almost found an equalizer. Felipe Anderson unleashed a rocket from about 25 yards out, which hit the underside of the crossbar but did not cross the line. Roma were also denied by the woodwork five minutes before halftime as Radja Nainngolan’s low strike hit the post.
Like any derby there were some strong tackles and late fouls. On a late challenge, Senad Lulic stepped right on Mohamed Salah’s ankle and the Egyptian winger will be out injured for 4-6 weeks. Just as Lazio were starting to play their best on the day, Roma doubled their lead. Nainngolan played a perfect ball over the top to split the Lazio defense, which found the feet of Gervinho and the Ivorian finished at the near post. All the Romanisti celebrated with pure joy, including De Rossi in the stands. Kieta and Klose both had good chances to find a consolation goal for Lazio but Roma would hang on to keep their first clean sheet since September 12th.
Roma were the better of the sides and did deserve the 3 points. The win kept Roma unbeaten at home this season and kept them just 1 point behind the top of the table. Lazio, meanwhile, lost for the third straight time in Serie A and dropped to 9th place heading into the international break. It was a true shame that there wasn’t a true Derby della Capitale atmosphere but the Roma fans that were there still made the game enjoyable for me.
Watch my videos from the game here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fegvxo_xvm0
Post match comments
Rudi Garcia: “I just want to thank those who came to the stadium and cheered us on. And I want to thank the Curva Sud for coming to support us at the hotel. I hope the situation can be resolved.”
Alessandro Florenzi: "We'd like to dedicate today's match to the fans, even those who weren't there. In terms of atmosphere, the derby wasn't the same and I'm talking about both sets of fans because they are both great supporters. We hope this situation will be resolved soon. This win is for our supporters in the stadium, who wanted to be there with us, and for those who came to the hotel this morning. It's also for all Romanisti, like Daniele De Rossi and Francesco Totti who weren't out there on the pitch but were with us in spirit."
As I returned to Italy, I made my way to Bergamo to meet up with my father's cousin, Ciro. His friend is the doctor for the Inter youth team and got us tickets to the match. I stayed at Ciro’s house on Friday night and on Saturday we went to Milan to meet up with our uncle who lives in the city. We spent a few hours walking around in the center of the city. We stopped at Panzerotti Luini, near the Duomo, for some panini and dolci and I would definitely recommend going there. Around 7:00pm we took the Metro to San Siro. The newest line is the #5 and it takes you right to the stadium.
We arrived at the stadium around 7:30 and the atmosphere was already in full swing. There are many stands selling food, jerseys and scarves around the stadium. The riot police were there with their shields and batons protecting the Roma fans. Fans were already singing and chanting as we headed into the stadium. Walking into the stadium and seeing how big the Giuseppe Meazza is, was amazing. There was a copy of La Gazzetta dello Sport on each seat, which I thought was a nice gesture. Our seats were in section K02 on the first level in a corner under the Inter ultras. We were right by the tunnel to the locker rooms and we had a nice view of the field. During warm-ups, fans were all standing up in the first row snapping pictures and shouting out to the players. Before the teams came out for kickoff the whole stadium sung “Pazza Inter Amala”, which was impressive.
Roma controlled most of the possession in the early going of the match. The Giallorossi’s first chance came in the 15th minute when Lucas Digne played in a cross to find the head of EdinDzeko but Samir Handanovic got down well to make a good save. Roma had another great chance just a few minutes later as Handanovic made a good save on Maicon’s shot and DaniloD’Ambrosio made a goal-saving tackle on the rebound (Watch: https://twitter.com/LadsOffThePitch/status/660815777990332416). The visitors pressed with a high line of confrontation in the first half, which made it difficult for Inter to build up play from their back line but as the match went on, Inter found their way into the game.
Stevan Jovetic picked up the ball with his back to goal and laid the ball off for Gary Medel, whose low strike from 25 yards found the bottom corner of the net. The whole stadium erupted to celebrate the 1-0 lead. In the final minutes of the first half, Roma were dominating play and were threatening for the equalizer but Inter hung on to their lead.
Gary Medel was the first Inter player on the field for the secondhalf and he received a standing ovation when Geoffrey Kondogbia replaced him only 6 minutes after the restart. The game opened up in the second half and the action was end-to-end. There was a hectic sequence when Handanovic made 4 saves in 4 seconds! The goalkeeper got down to save Florenzi’sshot from distance, made a kick save with his feet on the rebound from Salah, got up to save the ball bouncing off his own defender and then caught Salah’s header. From my seat, I thought the ball went into the net two times in that sequence! Handanovic did brilliantly to keep the ball out of the net. In the 73rd minute Miralem Pjanic received his second yellow card and was sent off. The Inter fans heckled and cursed at him as he made his way off the field and down the tunnel. Despite going down to 10 men, Roma still had more possession but couldn’t create any real threats on goal. Inter had a few counter attack opportunities but they weren’t clinical enough to double their lead. Inter hung on for a huge three points, leapfrogging Roma in the standings.
While Roma actually played well, Inter were better organized in defense and Handanovic was absolutely superb. The atmosphere for big games at the Giuseppe Meazza is spectacular. 59,213 fans screamed and howled at every bad call and applauded loudly for every tackle or good play. When Roma’s Nainggolan pulled a shot wide right before halftime, the fans behind the goal were screaming and giving the middle finger to him. After watching so many games at the San Siro on TV, to be there for a big match was a really special and memorable experience.
Some Player Notes:
Samir Handanovic – Fantastic game from the goalkeeper. Made some great saves and was the Man of the Match.
Danilo D’Ambrosio – Had a good game including the goal saving tackle on Dzeko in the first half.
Freddy Guarin – This may already be established but he’s the most inconsistent player in the world. At times he looks great and then there’s times when he looks just awful.
Stevan Jovetic – Played well and looked very good. Had the assist to Medel. I was surprised when Mancini took him off for Palacio.
Wojciech Szczesny – From the angle in the crowd I thought he could’ve done better on the goal. He seemed to get down a bit slow but it was still a very good shot from Medel.
Lucas Digne – Roma have done well to fill their hole at left back. Technically sound on the ball and crosses very well.
Miralem Pjanic – Despite his two stupid yellow cards, he’s a world-class talent. He has great touch and vision and plays with his head on a swivel.
Mohamed Salah and Gervinho – They both have great speed and looked dangerous on many occasions but they were both a little too one-footed which made it easier to defend them.
Edin Dzeko – I thought he was a bit lazy on the night. Didn’t get the best service but the striker had some chances just couldn’t convert.
Nicola Rizzoli – Not one of his better-officiated games. Missed a few handballs and was a bit lenient in my opinion.
I owe a huge thank you to Ciro Bianchino and Zio Rino Rotondi for this incredible experience.