Serie A 21/22: Empoli 1-2 Venezia

September 12, 2021

Looking to rebound from a humbling first two weeks of the 2021/22 Serie A season, Venezia headed to Tuscany to face Empoli at Stadio Carlo Castellani on Saturday afternoon. The hosts — fellow Serie A newcomers, winning Serie B outright last season — played to attack and largely controlled possession, but it was Venezia who took their chances, scoring on either side of half-time and holding on to win, 1-2. The result marked the club’s first Serie A away win since Filippo Maniero scored a stoppage-time winner at Torino in December 2001.

Empoli’s lineup was unchanged from their impressive 0-1 win at Juventus last time out, while Venezia manager Paolo Zanetti would make four changes to the team that lost 3-0 at Udinese in Giornata 2, as last season’s leading assist man Mattia Aramu got his first start of the season, Luca Fiordilino was recalled into midfield, and A.J. Vacca and David Schnegg were handed their full Serie A debuts.

The match began as an open contest, and Venezia winger Dennis Johnsen was particularly threatening. In the third minute, Gianluca Busio played Johnsen down the left flank, and the speedy young Norwegian cut inside on his right foot with a good look at goal, but he blasted his shot over the bar. An opening salvo, with more of the same to come.

Johnsen remained lively, and his pace, energy, and industry would create the opportunity for Venezia’s first goal of the season. In the 13th minute, Johnsen’s deep pressing forced an errant pass to Busio in the final third. With quick awareness, Busio slipped in Aramu, who played a sharp cross around Empoli’s backline for Thomas Henry to apply a sliding finish.

The goal caused Empoli to tighten up in possession and press higher up the pitch, but without finding a path to goal. Instead, Venezia would eventually create another golden opportunity on the counter. In the 32nd minute, Henry neatly held up a clearance for Aramu, who released Johnsen down the left wing and one-on-one with Empoli ‘keeper Guglielmo Vicario. But Johnsen took too many touches, and his close-range shot was stuffed by Vicario.

In the 33rd minute, Aramu came off injured and Zanetti sent on young Belgian midfielder Daan Heymans, creating more stability in midfield but losing a creative spark in attack. By half-time, Venezia had just 36 percent of the ball, so an extra body in midfield had its advantages.

Coming out of half-time, there would be more changes, with Niki Mäenpää coming on for an injured Luca Lezzerini in goal and veteran Cristian Molinaro replacing Schnegg at left-back. Early into the second half, the injuries would continue to pile up for Venezia. In the 54th minute, Fiordilino fell hard on his shoulder and was forced off, with Domen Črnigoj taking his place.

Still in the lead, but sensing a need to regain a foothold in the match with more of an attacking threat, Zanetti made a decision to swap Vacca for Nigerian forward David Okereke in the 67th minute — and the move was rewarded with a goal just one minute later. When a clearance fell to Henry, the French striker held up the ball for Okereke, who received it in his own half and set off on a slalom run, weaving through four defenders on his way to goal before striking with his left foot past Vicario. Okereke’s stunning solo effort gave Venezia the cushion they needed to see out the match. But it would be nervy to the end.

In the 88th minute, Mäenpää took down Liam Henderson in the box, who had just come on as an attacking substitute. Empoli midfielder Nedim Bajrami dispatched the ensuing penalty, and with seven minutes of time added on, it was all-hands-on-deck to protect the result. But despite 22 shots and overwhelming 68 percent possession, Empoli would not manage to find an equalizer, and Venezia came away with the victory, 1-2.

After three consecutive away matches to start their 2021/22 Serie A campaign, Venezia are finally set to return home next week, playing host to Spezia at a refreshed Stadio Penzo on Sunday 19 September.

Empoli 1-2 Venezia

Scorers: Henry 13’, Okereke 68’, Bajrami 89’ (P).

Empoli (4-1-3-2): Vicario, Stojanović (Henderson 83’), Ismajli (Tonelli 46’), Luperto, Marchizza, Ricci (Štulac 62’), Haas, Bajrami, Bandinelli (Di Francesco 46’), Mancuso (Pinamonti 62’), Cutrone
Subs not used: Ujkani, Romagnoli, La Mantia, Furlan, Żurkowski, Viti
Coach: Aurelio Andreazzoli

Venezia (4-3-3): Lezzerini (Mäenpää 46’), Mazzocchi, Caldara, Ceccaroni, Schnegg (Molinaro 46’), Busio, Vacca (Okereke 67’), Fiordilino (Črnigoj 54’), Johnsen, Aramu (Heymans 33’), Henry
Subs not used: Tessmann, Forte, Modolo, Ebuehi, Kiyine, Svoboda, Haps
Coach: Paolo Zanetti