Serie A: Fiorentina spice up Italian top-flight
You could see that it hurt. Andrea Stramaccioni, natty as ever in a white shirt and black suit, was peering down at the grass of the Stadio Artemio Franchi. Inter were playing in white, in the jersey they use in their away matches. Stramaccioni, however, was wearing a black and blue tie, which seemed to complement both his grim mood and the manner in which they had been beaten.
And Inter had just scored.
It came too late in the day to salvage the match, however, for the scoreline read 4-1 to Fiorentina with less than four minutes to go.
It could have been worse.
"Inter were too ugly to be true," said a contrite Stramaccioni when recalling the match.
Anyone who watched of the second half of Sunday's encounter between Inter and Fiorentina would have agreed with Stramaccioni. But the second half was actually the better half of the match for Inter.
Fiorentina had led 2-0 by halftime on Sunday, but it could have been 5-0. The Viola's fluid, flexible shape left Inter's midfield and defense in a haze. Fiorentina's Eastern European attacking duo of Stevan Jovetic and Adam Ljajic swapped flanks often and menacingly, getting behind Inter's backline with stunning ease. The pair ended the night with a brace each.
"I don't know if it was our best performance," was the modest reaction of Vincenzo Montella, the Fiorentina coach.
"Our opponents were notable and we were consistent throughout the game. The only regret is conceding that goal, but it was a step forward compared to our last match".
That "last match" was a defeat to Juventus the previous week, a comprehensive 0-2 loss that had led to worries over the competitiveness of this young, emerging team against teams of championship calibre. Sunday's performance will allay some of those concerns. After victory over Inter, Fiorentina sit sixth in the Italian Serie A, one point off Europa League qualification and two points off Champions League qualification.
Fiorentina are an exciting mixture of the young and the experienced, one of the many minor powers that have threatened Serie A's traditional power base this season. With Milan and Inter in a transitional phase and Roma at sixes and sevens once again after firing their coach Zdenek Zeman, the time was right for other teams to step into the void.
Napoli are at the vanguard of this new development, emerging as the only meaningful challenger to Juventus for the Scudetto this season. They are followed by a resurgent Lazio, led by Bosnian-born Vladimir Petkovic, and tiny Catania, a Sicilian club coached by Rolando Maran, in his first spell as a manager in Serie A.
Catania hired Maran after Montella left them to join Fiorentina. When Montella, a former Italian international striker known for his prolific left foot, joined the Viola last summer, the club needed a significant infusion of funds to challenge for European qualification. The club was bought in the early years of this century by the Della Valle brothers, Italian billionaires who specialize in leather goods, and Fiorentina had achieved Champions League qualification in 2009, during Cesare Prandelli's reign as coach. After Prandelli's departure to manage the Italian national team, however, the team had struggled to find consistency.
With Montella in charge, the Della Valle brothers reached into the depths of the transfer market and brought in a gaggle playmakers -- Borja Valero (Spanish), Matias Fernandez and David Pizarro (both Chilean) and Alberto Aquilani (Italian). Even with no European fixtures to contend with, Montella has managed to distribute the workload of his playmakers without provoking much bellyache, often starting three of them in a flexible 4-3-3 formation.
Montella has also been able to count on a dependable Eastern European axis in his team -- led by Montenegrin attacking sensation Stevan Jovetic and followed by compatriot Stefan Savic (defender) and Serbians Adam Ljajic (attacking midfielder) and Nenad Tomovic (defender).
Together, these seven players have made Fiorentina one of the most attacking sides in Italy, and the Viola's scoring record (45 goals) is second only to Juventus and Napoli in the league. They also have an extraordinary scoring record at home, averaging more than three goals per game in their nine Serie A games played at the Stadio Artemio Franchi so far.
However, they have won only three of their 12 away games so far, and Montella acknowledged that his side need to improve that record if they are to keep up their challenge for a place in Europe next season. "There is a big difference between our home record and away, more in terms of results than performances, so we have to improve on that," he said.
As for Inter, defeat cranked up the pressure on Stramaccioni, who sought to blame his side's Europa League fixtures -- and Fiorentina's lack of the same -- as a possible reason for the fatigue of his players. However, cramped fixtures are part and parcel of being a big club, and Stramaccioni, a former youth team coach at Inter who was promoted to the top job last season after Claudio Ranieri was sacked, will have the chance to make amends when his side meet cross-town rivals AC Milan next week in the Derby Della Madonnina.
Despite sharing the same stadium, Inter will be the 'home' side this weekend and their players will be wearing their traditional black and blue jerseys against Milan. Stramaccioni will hope the black and blue stops with the jerseys.
More about Arun Pradeep
Arun Pradeep is a sports journalist who has covered international cricket and tennis events. A keen follower of European football and enthusiastic blogger, he has written extensively on the sport for the New Indian Express. His biggest dream is to see AC Milan play Newcastle United in the Champions League final with both teams sharing the trophy. Against better judgement and despite nebulous prospects, Arun firmly believes a writer's life is the best there is, even if his mom ends up footing the bills, as she often does.
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