Fiorentina – Internazionale: Fiorentina Rescue Draw Amid VAR Controversy (3-3)
What a hectic game this was! Two goals in the first five minutes, after which Fiorentina looked accomplished but lacked cutting edge, as Matteo Politano’s strike left them 2-1 down at half time. In the second half, the Video Assistant Referee had a very decisive impact, ruling out a Fiorentina goal and awarding Inter a penalty. Luis Muriel’s wonder strike pulled the score back to 3-2 before another VAR intervention deep into stoppage time helped Fiorentina to rescue a draw.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
Inter went into this game as the third team in Serie A’s league table, trying to extend their lead over competitors AC Milan and AS Roma. Despite doing well in the league points-wise, Inter have struggled all season to improve their on-field level of play, meaning they have been grinding out results more than outplaying their opponents. Manager Luciano Spalletti made just one change from Inter’s previous Serie A game against Sampdoria, bringing in Matías Vecino instead of Roberto Gagliardini, in their customary 4-2-3-1 formation.
Fiorentina, led by former Inter coach Stefano Pioli, also made one change, with Vincent Laurini coming in at right back in a 4-4-2 diamond shape, replacing only Nikola Milenković. All season long, Pioli has been experimenting with asymmetrical formations, this 4-4-2 diamond being no exception, as the positional freedom was so big, one could easily call this a 4-2-3-1 formation, or a 4-2-2-2.
Fiorentina’s shape in possession. Hard to point a numerical formation on it. A 4-4-2 diamond probably comes closest to describing it.
Fiorentina on top after fast start
It took less than a minute for Fiorentina to open the scoring in this game, as a long ball over the top almost immediately after kick-off was latched onto by Federico Chiesa, who squared it to Giovanni Simeone. The ball found its way into the net from a deflection off Inter’s central defender Stefan de Vrij, and Fiorentina were 1-0 up, easy as you like.
It did not take long for Inter to reply. Following a botched clearance from an Inter corner by Jordan Veretout, Radja Nainggolan was able to lob the ball back a crowded penalty box into the path of Vecino, who volleyed home for 1-1, as Fiorentina showed again they are a mid-table team at best when it comes to defending set-pieces.
After all this early scoring violence, it took a little while for the game to settle down into a consistent rhythm, but once it did, Fiorentina found themselves a couple of decent spell of possession in which they were able to progress the ball past Inter’s midfield, but lacked cutting edge to create breakthroughs.
Fiorentina started nominally from a diamond structure, with Edimilson Fernandes as the defensive midfielder, flanked by Veretout and Marco Benassi, with Gerson as a number ten. As explained before, their structure was quite flexible throughout the match, and ended up evolving into something like a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2-2 shape due to the movements of the players on each side of the diamond, as well as the free roaming of Chiesa across the front line.
In possession, Veretout would very much dictate play for Fiorentina. He would often drop deep alongside Fernandes to get the ball from the defense. Fernandes could aid this by drifting to the right slightly to help open up the ‘number six space’.
While Veretout would usually drop deep, with only occasional forward runs, Benassi on the other side had freedom to position himself higher up, behind Inter’s midfield line, and sometimes floating into wider areas.
In the entire first half, the trio of Chiesa, Gerson and Benassi picked up some very good positions between the defense and midfield line of Inter, and were able to be found with line-breaking passes. Aside from their good positioning, this was also partly because of the relatively poor positioning of Inter’s midfield, not covering these passing lanes, which has been a problem all season long for Spalletti’s team. Time and time again, Fiorentina were not able to find a cutting edge to take advantage of the good positions they found.
Fiorentina’s shot locations reflect their overall troubles in creating chances.
Inter’s problems in building up from the back
Meanwhile, Inter were struggling somewhat in their own build-up against Fiorentina’s press. Fiorentina’s strikers pressured quite aggressively and straight away made it difficult for Inter to build through the center.
Inter would often stagger their central midfielders slightly in buildup, so holding midfielder Marcelo Brozović would drop deeper and central in front of the center-backs, with Vecino to his right slightly higher. In response, Veretout would step up to mark Vecino, while Brozović was naturally picked up by Gerson.
When the ball went to Inter’s fullbacks, Fiorentina in the first half did a good job of shifting when pressing high to tighten the space in wide areas. The nearest central midfielders would usually close the fullback down, supported by his own fullback to block the forward option. Inter struggled to find solutions to consistently break the Fiorentina press in the first half. Despite this, they went in 2-1 up at half time thanks to Politano’s wonderful curled effort from the edge of the box.
Heavy VAR influence in second half
The start of the second half saw the first, but not the last, of incidents involving the Video Assistant Referee in this match. First, a penalty for Inter was awarded for a handball in the box by Fernandes. The offence was initially missed by the referee, only for it to be brought to his attention as the play continued. Ivan Perišić converted the penalty to make it 3-1 to Inter.
A few minutes after that, the cruel nature of the VAR was on display once more. Fiorentina thought they had equalized a few minutes later, only for the man behind the screen to intervene again. Biraghi’s goal from the edge of the box was ruled out after VAR found a foul by Muriel on Danilo D’Ambrosio which resulted in the loose ball that Cristiano Biraghi had slotted away.
For a short spell after going 3-1 down, Fiorentina seemed to lose some intensity, perhaps due to fatigue, against the ball. As a result, Inter found their life much easier in possession and larger spaces began to open up. Still though, Fiorentina managed to get back into the game with around twenty minutes left due to a stunning Luis Muriel free-kick, making it 3-2.
Inter sat deeper and deeper in their own half defending their lead as Fiorentina threw bodies forward looking for their equalizer before finally being awarded a penalty late in stoppage time. Again because of a decision made by VAR, again for a controversial handball. The VAR review took over five minutes, meaning that there were over 100 minutes on the clock by the time Veretout tucked away the penalty to end the game 3-3.
After watching a game like this, a couple of questions about VAR use in Italy and in the game of football in general must be asked. Isn’t the handball rule extremely hard to assess correct from behind a screen, because all handballs look deliberate in slow motion? Why does it take so long in Italy to take decisions, whereas in other countries decisions are taken a lot quicker. If the game is stopped so often, will the viewers persist in watching the games?
The use of VAR is still in the phase of infancy, meaning that mistakes are being made, and maybe we should accept that as viewers. Let’s just hope the process is examined thoroughly and lessons will be learned throughout Europe, but in Italy especially.
Back to the actual game of football. Dropping points in the final minutes in this game means increased pressure on Inter from the teams chasing them in their battle to consolidate a top four spot in Serie A. As for Fiorentina, they arguably deserved their point despite the controversial circumstances they equalized under. They had some nice play in and out of possession, although perhaps lacking cutting edge to create chances at times.
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