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Where the heck is Saponara?

The talented playmaker has been outrageously productive during his limited stay in Florence. So why isn’t he playing more?

ACF Fiorentina v Bologna FC - Serie A
Yeah, Ricky, that’s how we feel, too.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Okay, let’s get this out of the way quickly. Riccardo Saponara is very good. The evidence is there if you watch him play. The evidence is equally apparent in the statistics: since moving to Fiorentina, he’s been responsible for a goal (either as the set-up man or the finisher) every 74 minutes, or 1.2 goals every 90 minutes. That’s more than Dries Mertens, Andrea Belotti, or Mauro Icardi.

Yes, it’s a very limited sample size, but it’s surely one that deserves a bigger role with the team. Pretty much nobody will argue that he ought not to be starting over Josip Iličić, who’s been, well, not very good this season. Again, actually watching the big Slovenian week in and week out is sufficient evidence, but let’s briefly dive into the numbers again. Lurch is producing a goal every 187.8 minutes, which translates to 0.48 goals per 90 minutes. Basically, the Cheese has been twice as productive.

Paulo Sousa, however, has shown himself to be rather slow to adapt to new faces in the squad, especially when it comes to replacing one his preferred starters, which Josip undoubtedly is. However, it’s starting to get a little bit silly. Saponara, along with Federico Bernardeschi and Federico Chiesa, forms what is now the obvious core of the team for the long-term future. Unless there’s some hitherto unknown bonus clause in the deal with Empoli that will force a significantly larger price if he plays x number of matches with the Viola, it makes sense to spend the remainder of this lost season getting him acclimated with his new mates.

Instead, though, we’ve been watching poor old Lurch lumber around the pitch and performing his usual routine: beating one, two, three defenders before losing the ball on the edge of the area or shooting in the least-threatening manner possible; killing promising breaks with his astonishingly bad decision-making; lunging in for the odd shin-splintering tackle. I remain a Josip fan, but we know exactly who and what he is. It’s obviously time to take Saponara out for a spin, especially with a fixture against former club Empoli approaching, but Sousa refuses. And now we have yet another reason to eagerly anticipate the end of the season.