Fiorentina 2 Everton 0. For Viola fans, that’s what you call ‘being on a good run’. After their historic victory against Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico of Turin, the Viola have extended their excellent moment of form and brought an end to Everton’s 7 consecutive victories in Europe. Tonight’s 90 minutes have ended with a two-goal advantage for Cesare Prandelli’s team (courtesy of strikes by Kuzmanovic and Montolivo), but quite honestly it could have been a lot worse, had it not been for a man-of-the-match performance by Toffee keeper Tim Howard. David Moyes will have his work cut out for him when Fiorentina travels to Goodison Park next Wednesday.
Tactically, Fiorentina manager Cesare Prandelli had to deal with the absences of Fabio Liverani, Franco Semioli, and more importantly Adrian Mutu. The Romanian ex-Chelsea striker has been pivotal in La Viola’s successes this season, and his absence will undoubtedly leave a mark in the team’s technical level. However, Christian ‘Bobo’ Vieri returned to the starting line-up after his exclusion from the match vs. Juve, and was supported by Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, match-winner at the Olimpico last Sunday. On the other end, David Moyes was dealing with not-fully-fit Mikel Arteta, and preferred to leave the Spaniard on the sidelines for the time being. Goalscoring duties were left in the capable hands of Aiyegbeni Yakubu, supported by Aussie playmaker Tim Cahill.
The first few minutes of the match immediately set the pace for things to come, with the home team rapidly setting up their playing style of fast combinations and runs down the wings. Manuel Pasqual in particular was being very active on the left side, ably combining with Osvaldo or immediately looking for a cross inside the box, an approach which forced the Everton defense to remain very vigilant. On the opposite side, Yakubu was feeling rather isolated as the lone Everton striker, and despite his best skills could only mildly endanger La Viola’s center backline, who often dispossessed him of the ball before he could even get near Frey’s goal.
As a result, most of the chances from the first period were to the benefit of Fiorentina, lead by a very motivated Christian Vieri who was always supporting his teammates, and shielding the ball well to allow his attacking partners to find space. Osvaldo, Jorgensen, and Bobo himself attempted a few shots on net, not really nail-biting stuff for Everton fans until minute 43, when an excellent flick by Osvaldo set up the ex-Inter forward in perfect position to strike. Tim Howard was there to deflect the ball with his foot, and denied La Viola’s first big chance of the game. The half ended 0-0.
After the break Fiorentina continued to push forward, supported by the 10,000 odd fans which had dared the icy temperature and had come to support their team. Vieri continued to be the main target man for passes and crosses, forcing the Toffees’ backline to be extra careful on him, and thereby allowing his teammates to get free for the shot. Riccardo Montolivo tried one of his in minute 48, then Everton finally produced a shot on target when Mikel Arteta (on for Leon Osman) attempted to surprise Frey with a lobbed header. The Viola keeper was vigilant.
Immediately following Arteta’s effort, Fiorentina really put Howard to work when a double opportunity (first Vieri, then Kuzmanovic) forced the American keeper to earn his pay for the night. The visitors were suffering, and Moyes instructed his men to slow down the pace of the game (Howard went a little bit overboard, earning a booking for timewasting on a goal-kick), but Fiorentina were going to have none of it. In fact, in minute 67 Prandelli decided to take off a tired Vieri and insert young speedy talent Gianpaolo Pazzini. Two minutes later, La Viola took the lead: Montolivo attempted a long-range shot from the left (deflected by the defense) and as the ball rebounded to Tomas Ujfalusi, the Czech right-back spotted Zdravko Kuzmanovic on the edge of the box, ready for a powerful but accurate instep finish. This time Howard could only watch (his view probably obstructed by his defenders), and the ball entered the goal inside his right post. 1-0 Fiorentina.
With one goal down, Moyes tried to revitalize his team’s offensive efforts by inserting Andrew Johson for Tony Hibbert, a striker for a defender. It did little to Everton’s benefit though, as Fiorentina continued to press forward on their attacks. Santana and Pazzini both missed good chances from inside the box, as they attempted speculative volleys from excellent crosses of Pasqual, then in minute 81 La Viola really sent Stadio Artemio Franchi into rapture, with an amazing piece of technical skill & finish, for goal nº2 of the match. Some good footwork by Jonathan Santana on the right wing created space for a low cross towards Martin Jorgensen who, without looking, delightfully flicked the ball upwards and back for the arriving Riccardo Montolivo. Taking the ball on the volley, the Fiorentina midfielder sent a low powerful shot precisely inside the right post (once again!) where Howard could not reach. Brilliant stuff from Prandelli’s men, and 2-0 Fiorentina.
With that, the game was effectively over. Santana could have increased the lead to 3-0 in the 87th minute (exploiting another excellent pass by Jorgensen), but his outswinging right-footed effort was only inches away of Howard’s left post. The 2-0 Fiorentina final score still keeps a small door open for Everton, but they will have to give a much better performance at Goodison Park next Wednesday than they did in Florence tonight. It Prandelli’s men play this well, it will be a very difficult task indeed.
|GOALSCORERS: 70’ Kuzmanovic (F), 81’ Montolivo (F)|
|FIORENTINA (4-3-3): Frey – Ujfalusi, Gamberini, Dainelli, Pasqual – Kuzmanovic (76’ Gobbi), Donadel, Montolivo – Jorgensen, Vieri (68’ Pazzini), Osvaldo (74’ Santana). (bench: Avramov, Kroldrup, Potenza, Cacia). Coach: Prandelli.|
|EVERTON (4-4-1-1): Howard – Hibbert (73’ A.Johnson), Yobo, Jagielka, Lescott – Osman (55’ Arteta), P.Neville, Carsley, Pienaar – Cahill – Yakubu. (bench: Wessels, Baines, Gravesen, Anichebe, Gosling). Coach: Moyes.|