Vincenzo Montella returned to the club where he made his name as a player and where he started his coaching career in a caretaker spell. Fiorentina have put together a talented squad that has finished fourth twice under Montella, but those three clubs above them, including Roma, pulled away last season, leaving them thirteen points behind third-placed Napoli.
Roma have strengthened well over the summer -their only significant loss Mehdi Benatia to Bayern Munich – so this opening day clash could prove an early test of whether or not Fiorentina could put up more of a fight for the Champions League.
They lined up in a 4-1-3-2 with David Pizarro behind a narrow midfield band of Joshua Brillante, Borja Valero and Juan Vargas, while Roma went with a 4-3-3 as Gervinho and new signing Juan Iturbe switched flanks either side of Francesco Totti.
It would make for a tepid start to the teams’ domestic seasons. Fiorentina sat back and allowed Roma to have the ball, while the home side pressed very high up the pitch. This was an extremely effective defensive tactic for Roma, as Fiorentina were completely unable to keep the ball and mount attacks, but it also meant that Roma were constantly having to break down a heavily-covered defence as Fiorentina rarely had the opportunity to get forward and open themselves up. Gervinho is at his best when he has space to drive into, either with or without the ball, and Totti needed space to drop into between the defence and midfield that was already limited with Pizarro stationed behind the rest of the midfield.
With Fiorentina an attacking non-entity, the emphasis was on Roma in possession. Daniele de Rossi, presumably acting as an extra man against Fiorentina’s front two, was positioned very close to the centre-backs so Miralem Pjanic was having to come especially deep to move the ball forward, meaning Roma offered little creative influence in midfield early on. The narrowness of the Fiorentina midfield opened up space down the sides that meant it was Roma’s full-backs who had attacking freedom, but while they were brave in their positioning neither Ashley Cole or Vasileios Torosidis had much influence as Roma showed little cutting edge.
While pinning Fiorentina back had caused some problems, Roma’s pressing did prove its value when it led to the opening goal. With the ball spread wide to Nenad Tomovic after a Roma attack, Radja Nainggolan goes to close him down, clearly shouting and motioning to his teammates to support his pressing. Tomovic plays a simple ball into Brillante yet, with Cole getting close and the simple ball to Valero cut out by De Rossi stepping up to put him under pressure, he plays it straight to Nainggolan in an attempt to pass it back to Tomovic first time. Nainggolan turns and drives into the space ahead of him, sliding a pass through to Gervinho whose shot it saved. The ball falls back to the feet of Nainggolan to finish, ensuring he gets the credit for the goal won through his hard work.
Minutes later, Montella withdrew Brillante for the more attacking Josip Ilicic, switching to more of a 4-3-3. With the lead, Roma sat off more, allowing Fiorentina to come forward. Combined with adding an extra attacker at the expense of their midfield, Fiorentina’s midfield opened up for Roma on the counter and Totti had the freedom to move around wherever he pleased. Several driving runs through the middle or quick interchange of passes led to a number of chances for Roma to double their lead, but each was squandered and Fiorentina managed to turn the momentum back in their favour.
It started with a couple of chances from set-pieces, but failure to kill off Fiorentina and tiredness as the game wore on meant Roma were becoming more and more nervy. The addition of Joaquin in place of Khouma Babacar also gave Fiorentina greater footing in the game and Rudi Garcia was forced into introducing Seydou Keita into the middle to inject some energy as Roma obviously haven’t got their fitness levels up to speed yet. By the end of the game they were sat deep in two bands of four with Pjanic playing off of Gervinho up front, holding onto a result they should have ensured long before.
After wasting a number of opportunities either side of half-time, Gervinho finally got the second goal with ten seconds of injury time remaining. Given how the game played out, it was more of a kick in the teeth to Roma than Fiorentina.