What happens when two Italian teams forget about sitting back and defending, and instead focus on playing football that marries the existing tactics with technical freedom?
You get a poster game for Serie A football.
And that was exactly what happened on Sunday night. Fiorentina-Juventus had everything — two goals disallowed for offside, three actual goals, a penalty kick, a shot off the crossbar in the dying minutes and more.
Juventus started with a 3-5-2 with Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Daniele Rugani protecting Gigi Buffon. The midfield had the Swiss Express and Pateice Evra on the flanks, with Sami Khedira, Mario Lemina and Paul Pogba in the middle. Leading the forward line, Max Allegri put Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala. The Old Lady took on a Viola side playing a 4-2-3-1. This formation really put a lot of pressure on Juve's defense and was a little reminiscent of the first leg against Bayern Munich, with Viola players pressuring our backline quite high, but also double, triple and in some instances quadruple teaming Pogba to kill his runs with the ball.
In the first half, Juventus really suffered. They had a hard time playing from the back, and also struggled getting the midfield involved. Nevertheless, Fiorentina didn't really trouble Buffon, and it was the Bianconeri who put the ball in the back of the net with a Khedira effort that was disallowed for offside (rightly so). A few minutes later, Fiorentina started to move back on to their half and Juventus moved their defensive line up the pitch. Suddenly, a quick counter attack left Federico Bernardeschi in front of Buffon and the Viola player put it in the back of the net. However, his goal was also disallowed for offside, truth be told, that was a bad call.
On the 38th minute, Juventus will finally change the scoreline. Dybala found Khedira at the edge of the box and the German placed a pin point cross to Pogba. The Frenchman used his height to put a clinical pass to Mandzukic, who didn't hesitate to put it in the back of the net. 1-0 Juventus, probably underserved, but who cares. The Viola players seemed a little frustrated and I thought they would throw in the towel, but they held on until the halftime whistle.
In the second half, things seemed to be going well for the Old Lady. Fiorentina had most of the possession, but they didn't seem to be doing anything meaningful with it. Honestly, I thought Juve were cruising to their billionth 1-0 win of the season. But Leonardo Bonucci had other ideas. The defender received the ball at the edge of the area, and instead of doing just about anything else, he tried to turn and dribble past a Fiorentina player. He ended up losing the ball and leaving Nikola Kalinic in front of Buffon to score the tying goal at the 81-minute mark.
The Old Lady, however, is allergic to losing, and decided to press on.
Two minutes after Kalinic's goal, Álvaro Morata found himself with the ball at his feet in front of the Fiorentina goal and didn't hesitate to make it 2-1 for the visitors. The scoreline stayed the same for the rest of the match, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention Buffon's contribution to the match. At the 90th minute, Kalinic went down from a Juan Cuadrado foul in the box — it wasn't a foul — and the ref pointed to the spot and blew the whistle. It but all pointed to a draw, but Buffon had not one but TWO massive saves before the ball was cleared. Fiorentina continued to try for the next four minutes, they even hit the crossbar, but it wasn't to be.
In the end, Juventus got three more massive points from Firenze and rightly celebrated with the fans in Tuscany.
Buffon 10 Another one of those matches in which Buffon gets Juventus two points without scoring a goal. I don't know what else to say, because he was spotless all match.
Barzagli 6.0 I don't really know what to say here but I thought he really struggled today. He placed a back pass to Buffon that caused a lot of trouble to clear. Didn't have an easy time with Bernardeschi. He gets a 6 because the expectations on him are immense, and today we was below his usual level.
Bonucci 5.0 He had NINE CLEARANCES, sure, but he also allowed the goal in what should have been a routine play. He has been amazing all season, but he reminded me of when he just joined the club in 2010.
Rugani 7.0 If you were watching at about the 72 minutes, you would have seen history in the making: Daniele Rugani got his first yellow card in Serie A (he is such a rebel). He completed five tackles (game high) and two interceptions.
Lichtsteiner 6.5 He got into some good positions, but his crosses left lots to be desired. Defensively he was sound throughout the night.
Khedira 6.5 Good game for the German, although he was dispossessed a couple of times. His accurate cross got our first goal started.
Lemina 7.5 It may seem a little high (I did consider a 7), but he is young and the bar is not as high as for some of his teammates. He finished the game with four dribbles, three tackles, and four interceptions (highest number of Interceptions among his teammates).
Pogba 8.0 He continues to have impressive matches. He attempted 14 dribbles all match and was successful eight times. Although this frustrates Allegri, I think he is trying these moves in less dangerous positions and when he is well covered.
Evra 6.0 His crosses were dreadful, sure he earned us many corners, but he could have done more with the service he was getting from Pogba.
Dybala 7.0 As usual, a delight to watch, but I think he tracked back a little too much to help out recover the ball. This might have been a tactical instruction by Allegri, but I think it really harmed his offensive capabilities.
Mandzukic 7.5 Run the whole match and scored the opening goal in the one chance Juventus got.
Morata 7.5 Before I get criticized for "forgetting" Morata, I thought I will oblige (Kaushik, I am looking at you!!). The Spaniard came on to the pitch and for the third time in a row he changed the game. Lately he has been getting too little playing time for how much he has contributed.
Allegri 6.5 When the team gets overrun like what happened today you need to blame the coach. Maybe the tactical setup wasn't right, maybe motivation was lacking, who knows! and most importantly, who cares! Individual talent got Allegri the win in Florence.
Things I think I think
- Buy Lemina right now. We know with absolute certainty that Juventus will need a midfielder next season because of Marchisio's injury. Lemina can walk into the team and have a starting spot in Serie A. He is tactically not as intelligent as Marchisio, but then again, few players are. However, he is very good technically and seems to be willing to train and improve. No need to wait.
- Paul Pogba is loving his football, and the Old Lady is loving it back.
- Morata deserves to start more matches. Allegri could try a 4-3-2-1 with Morata and Dybala supporting Mandzukic.
- Hats off to Fiorentina for playing football instead of sitting back and defending. What does Serie A need? more teams that are willing to challenge the top teams instead of trying to sneak a draw from time to time.
- Napoli will put themselves out of their misery and will lose tomorrow. Gonzalo Higuain will score once — maybe even twice — but Totti & Co. will prevail. You heard it here first.