As we approach the midpoint of the Serie A season, we now have a fairly good idea of how most of the players brought in over the Summer window fit into the first team. This article will discuss how the 11 new players who’ve started at least one game for Fiorentina this season have played so far, and what their role in the squad should be moving forward, if Pioli is to bring success back to Tuscany.
Cristiano Biraghi - 5/10
Biraghi is not entirely undeserving of the criticism he gets from Fiorentina fans, he’s had some really bad games. That said, he’s also played very well on occasion, in particular when the team are on the front foot, and that should not be disregarded. Whilst he hasn’t always looked up to task defensively, Biraghi’s forward runs and delivery are an asset, in particular with an aerial threat like Simeone leading the line. He shouldn’t be Pioli’s first choice in the long term, but there’s a role for him to play in Florence.
Bruno Gaspar - 4/10
Though the Portugese full back has shown promise going forward, in particular when linking up with Chiesa or Dias, he’s been truly awful defensively so far. Gaspar is constantly out of position, and seems to have struggled to build an understanding with his fellow defenders. He does look a lot better against weaker opposition who’re less capable of dealing with the pressure he provides or exploiting the space he leaves, and also when playing behind Dias who does a better job of tracking back and covering than Chiesa, but Fiorentina don’t have the quality to support a luxury player - especially not at right back. Like Biraghi, Gaspar’s good enough going forward to be a useful second option, but it’d probably be in his interest to find a club, and in truth a league, where his deficiencies are less easily exploited.
Vitor Hugo - 5/10
It’s hard to have an informed opinion on a centre back who’s only started one game, especially when they were alongside Tomovic. Hugo’s role in Pioli’s squad seems to be to help close out games in the final 20 minutes, which to the Brazilian’s credit he has done. Given that he cost the club €8,000,000, many would’ve expected Hugo to feature more prominently for Fiorentina, and had Pezzella not become available he almost certainly would have. As things are, he’s been a so-so rotation player.
Vincent Laurini - 7/10
Laurini is probably the best right back Fiorentina have had in the last five years. The Frenchman is a Serie A-quality player with no glaring weaknesses, and whilst that may not seem to be the highest praise, that’s all the squad needs him to be. The team have conceded just 5 goals in the 774 minutes that Laurini has been on the pitch (compared to 11 in 646 with Gaspar playing). Whilst it’s unrealistic to think that the two right backs are the only variables influencing that disparity, Laurini has been an underappreciated part of the Fiorentina back line, and he’s an acceptable place holder until one of the club’s young right backs comes to usurp his place.
German Pezzella - 8.5/10
Pezzella has enjoyed a fine start to life in Florence. The team have conceded just 16 goals in 16 games with him on the pitch, the fifth best record in Serie A. Pezzella’s more orthodox approach to the role of a centre back mitigates the dangers of Astori’s tendency to push forward and support the midfield, and when il capitano isn’t moonlighting as a mezzala the two have quickly developed one of the better partnerships in Serie A. If, as it seems, Pioli’s plan for the future is to build around defensive solidity then keeping Pezzella after his loan deal expires should be near the top of the club’s priorities next Summer.
Marco Benassi - 7/10
After struggling to influence games early in the season, Benassi has been the greatest benefactor of Pioli’s switch from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3. Obviously far more comfortable as part of a midfield three than he is further up the pitch, Benassi has put in some impressive performances, creating chances for others as well as finding space to shoot himself. That said, he’s also shown a habit of drifting out of games, and has struggled to make an impact against teams with a strong defensive shape. If he can make the leap from bullying the weaker sides in the league to consistently producing against opposition who are as talented as he is, Benassi has the potential to develop into one of the best midfielders in Serie A, but it’s a big if.
Valentin Eysseric - 5/10
Valentin Eysseric would probably have expected to start more often than not for Fiorentina, but so far the winger has been kept on the bench by Thereau. Stymied though he has been by his compatriot’s success, Eysseric has had opportunities, and has failed to impress so far. Having been a first team player in France for some time, Eysseric has understandably become discontent in Florence, and he’s likely to move on to pastures new in January.
Jordan Veretout - 8.5/10
Regarded by many, myself included, as an underwhelming-at-best signing, Veretout has proven the skeptics wrong so far this season. The Frenchman’s intelligence on and off the ball and willingness to stretch the pitch have been key parts of Fiorentina’s offense, whilst his ability to read the opposition allows him in conjunction with Badelj to cut off passing lanes and kill opposition attacks before they can happen. As the season has progressed, so has Veretout, and at this point he’s probably the best player in Florence. The Valero comparisons are premature, but the 24-year old has plenty of time to build his own legacy.
Gil Dias - 7/10
Dias is a good player, who would probably feature heavily for any of the bottom ten teams in Serie A. Unfortunately for him, having a potentially generational talent ahead of him in the pecking order (as well as the production of Cyril Thereau) has meant that Dias hasn’t had too many opportunities to impress so far. To his credit, Dias has taken the chances he’s been given, putting in solid performances in all four of his starts in Serie A, in particular in the Roma game. His decision making can be frustrating, and it’s questionable whether or not he has the final product needed to become a top class winger, but the 21-year old has shown the potential to be a quality player.
Giovanni Simeone - 7.5/10
Of all the players la Viola bought this Summer, Simeone has likely conformed to fans’ expectations more so than anyone else. Cholito hasn’t been overly impressive in front of goal, but he harries defenders and links up with his teammates in a manner that means even when he’s not scoring goals he contributes to the team. Despite having something of a humdrum scoring tally (5 in 17) Simeone hasn’t struggled to find chances, registering 56 attempts on goal so far, good for seventh in the league. Obviously, a 1 in 10 conversion rate is indicative of a player who’s a little too trigger happy, and Simeone’s decision making certainly lets him down at times, but 22-year old strikers with polished skillsets are few and far between. If his goal scoring record doesn’t improve, the calls for Khouma Babacar to start over him may start to grow in volume, but for now Giovanni’s performing at a level that makes us confident he’ll be worth the €15,000,000 la Viola paid for him.
Cyril Thereau - 8/10
I doubt there were many people six months ago who’d have believed Cyril Thereau would be amongst the first names on Pioli’s team sheet. Whilst many at the time assumed Thereau would at best be a back up for Simeone and Babacar, the Frenchman has instead been deployed either as a number 10 or a left winger, and has contributed heavily to the team so far with four goals and four assists in 12 appearances. For a team that’s primarily looking to rebuild and consolidate itself, relying on a 34-year old quite as heavily as Fiorentina have Thereau is an uncomfortable situation, but that takes nothing away from great season he’s had so far. Until someone better comes along, Thereau will do just fine.