Young deep-lying forward Stevan Jovetic scored a brace as Fiorentina stunned Liverpool 2-0 in UEFA Champions League Group E at the Stadio Artemio Franchi on Tuesday. The Montenegro international twice found the net in a mesmerising first 45 minutes for the hosts before the Viola backline held firm during a nail-biting second half. The victory moved Fiorentina level on three points with Liverpool and three points behind group leaders Lyon.
"Nothing went to plan," said Liverpool back Jamie Carragher. "It was a massive game for them, and a massive game for us, but they seemed to be more ready for it from the start, for whatever reason. It is something we have got to sort out but fortunately in the Champions League we have still got four games to put that right."
If Fiorentina started this match as the underdogs, someone had failed to tell them and there followed 45 minutes of near domination from the Tuscans, with Jovetic at the centre of almost everything. On 16 minutes Martin Skrtel blocked his shot away for a corner before the Montenegro star shot wide from distance and then narrowly missed connecting with a driven Adrian Mutu cross-cum-shot.
But on 28 minutes the rampaging hosts deservedly took the lead as Cristiano Zanetti's pass split a hesitating defence, which seemed to have stopped as Mutu lurked in an offside position, but the Romania captain left the ball and Jovetic ran through to slide home low past Pepe Reina.
With Alberto Gilardino - sent-off against Lyon two weeks ago - suspended, Fiorentina were playing without a recognisable target man but their fluid interplay between Mutu, Jovetic, Juan Vargas and Marco Marchionni in a 4-2-3-1 formation was leading hapless Liverpool a merry dance. On 31 minutes a Riccardo Montolivo pass out to the left found Vargas behind the exposed Glen Johnson, but with no support he had to shoot from a tight angle and Reina saved.
Moments later Johnson made amends, coming to the rescue to cut out Gianluca Comotto's cross before it found Jovetic. But eight minutes before the break Fiorentina added a second as Vargas thrashed a low cross into the box from the left and Jovetic stuck out a leg to divert it past Reina.
Fiorentina goalkeeper Sebastien Frey was a spectator in that first period but Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez must have dished out the hair-dryer treatment in the changing room because the Merseysiders were a team transformed at the restart. Frey was soon into the action as Yossi Benayoun got in behind Comotto and forced the Frenchman to save at his near post.
Brazilian midfielder Lucas then headed the resulting corner inches over and Dirk Kuyt forced Frey into a low save with a deflected shot. The 2005 champions were gradually turning the screw and Massimo Gobbi had to slide in and block a Steven Gerrard volley on 62 minutes.
Fiorentina were holding firm, though, and Liverpool started finding it increasingly difficult to break them down until Skrtel surged forward and crossed for the until then anonymous Fernando Torres, but the Spain striker snatched at his first chance of the game and volleyed over. Late on Gerrard headed wide from substitute Ryan Babel's right-wing cross but Fiorentina held on for the win their first-half performance deserved.