Feature Photo: AFP / Monteforte
“This is not your average football game,” the speaker of the Artemio Franchi Stadium announced last night as he introduced the Viola starting lineup. He was right: Fiorentina-Juventus is a game like no other for both clubs, as we showed earlier this week on The Cult of Calcio. The Bianconeri left Florence with a key win to strengthen their Scudetto hopes, propitiated by an agonizing goal dell’ex scored by Federico Bernardeschi. The former Viola thus wrote a new chapter in one of the most bitter feuds in Italian football.
Bernardeschi is not the first one to trade a purple jersey for a black and white one, the most famous example being calcio legend Roberto Baggio. But he chose to punish his former side in the most stinging way, a perfect free kick in the 55th minute that silenced the whole Artemio Franchi and their screaming supporters – who had been lavishing boos and insults at him (and his mother…) up to that point.
Juventus managed to unravel the knot of a match which was trending bad for Massimiliano Allegri’s side, thanks to what seems to be their added value in this season’s key games: Goals scored by new Juventini against their former teams, with Gonzalo Higuain sinking down Napoli, Mehdi Benatia scoring the decisive goal against Roma, and now the Nazionale’s winger leading his side to a fundamental victory.
Cynical as usual, Madama made the best out of a game where their opponents dominated for large traits, putting the pressure all on Napoli, which will face Lazio tonight with no other choice but winning to maintain their leadership. Oh, and by the way, it also took a monumental save by 40-year-old Gianluigi Buffon to keep the score uneven, when Fiorentina was still alive and pushing, and before Gonzalo Higuain could write the end of the match with a surgical shot for Juve’s final 2-0.
Fiorentina’s unexpected pressure produced a few chances in the first half that would have indeed deserved a better outcome. Twenty minutes into the game, a key episode that could have turned the tables took place in the Bianconeri’s box, as a cross by Marco Benassi was deflected by Giorgio Chiellini with his arm. A controversial situation indeed, with Chiellini’s arm being very close to his body.
Referee Marco Guida initially awarded a penalty kick, but then, just to confirm that in a Fiorentina-Juventus nothing is to be taken for granted, he called for VAR assistance. Jordan Veretout spent three full minutes nervously adjusting the ball on the penalty kick spot, as Guida waited for the video assistance support. Finally, the oracle’s response: Penalty kick cancelled, as Benassi was in offside position when receiving a pass from Giovanni Simeone!
A correct decision as per the football’s rulebook, but should it really take three minutes to cast some light on such occurrences?
If truth be told, the missed chance didn’t bring the home team down at all, as the Viola kept pushing and went again close to score when Gil Dias concluded a counterattack with a sensational shot that made Buffon’s right post rattle. It did however contribute to set the match on fire, with Gil Dias himself and Alex Sandro being booked, and Nikola Milenkovic going head-to-head with Gonzalo Higuain – and we are not talking about a close competition.
Bernardeschi’s lobbed free kick, with the former Viola obtaining the foul himself, and on which Fiorentina’s goalkeeper Marco Sportiello could indeed do something more, was Juventus’ only dangerous chance up to the point.
An indomitable Federico Chiesa, who left the pitch bruised and battered due to the special attention reserved to him by the Bianconeri defenders, put his foot into Fiorentina’s new clear scoring chance in the 72nd minute, when Gianluigi Buffon saved the day avalanching to stop substitute Cyril Thereau’s incursion, the ending point of an action built in cooperation with Simeone as well.
Massimiliano Allegri pulled out the match winner five minutes later, offering Fiorentina fans a new chance to boo at him, and his new supporters the possibility for a well-deserved ovation. With the home side not having it anymore, Gonzalo Higuain closed the match as he caught a perfect vertical pass by Giorgio Chiellini, which cut through the Viola defense, and put it past Sportiello for the second time.
The ball is now into Napoli’s field, the Partenopei having just received the bad news of an additional injury occurred to Faouzi Ghoulam. For Maurizio Sarri and his troops, it’s time to prove to be stronger than adversities, or tonight Serie A will have a “new” capolista – the same as in the last six years.
February 9, 2018 – Serie A 2017-18 Round 24
SCORERS: 56′ Bernardeschi; 86′ Higuain
|FIORENTINA (4-3-3): Sportiello; Milenkovic, Pezzella, Astori, Biraghi; Benassi (77′ Eysseric), Badelj, Veretout; Gil Dias (67′ Thereau), Simeone, Chiesa. (Dragowski, Cerofolini, Olivera, Vitor Hugo, Gaspar, Dabo, Cristoforo, Saponara, Falcinelli, Lo Faso) Coach: Pioli|
|JUVENTUS (4-3-3): Buffon; Lichtsteiner (61′ Barzagli), Benatia, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Khedira, Pjanic, Marchisio (77′ Douglas Costa), Bernardeschi (77′ Bentancur), Higuain, Mandzukic (Szczesny, Pinsoglio, De Sciglio, Rugani, Asamoah, Sturaro) Coach: Allegri|
REFEREE: Mr. Guida from Pompei
NOTES: Yellow cards: Lichtsteiner, Alex Sandro, Benatia (J), Gil Dias, Veretout, Thereau, Biraghi (F); Extra Time: 4′ 1st Half, 4′ 2nd Half.