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)