It feels a little bit crappy to be a Fiorentina fan right now, but there is still a bright spot that’s not named Federico Chiesa. It’s the defense, which has been the 4th-stingiest in Serie A. When you’ve only given up 8 goals through 10 matches and haven’t allowed anyone to put more than 2 past you in a match, you’re doing pretty well. While this commitment to defensive excellence is teamwide, it’s fair to single out the back line for special praise. And even within the back line, there’s one guy who’s been head and shoulders better than everyone else.
We’re talking, of course, about Germán Pezzella. The 27-year-old Argentine has quietly become one of Serie A’s best defenders. He leads the league with 26 ball recoveries and is 4th among defenders with 2.6 interceptions per 90 minutes (thanks, WhoScored). Soccer can be a tough game to quantify—we all remember Per Krøldrup, the 7th-best defender in Serie A—and defense is often the toughest thing to figure out by the numbers. Manchester United famously sold Jaap Stam when he didn’t make as many tackles per game as they wanted, but Sir Alex Ferguson belatedly realized that was because the Dutchman rarely had to tackle because he positioned himself in such a way that whoever he was marking simply wasn’t an option to receive the ball.
That’s kind of how the Viola captain has been all year. Much like Davide Astori, he’s not the type to charge up the pitch to close down an opponent. He doesn’t go in for thunderous challenges. Instead, he’s a more cerebral defender who prefers to let the action unfold in front of him before choosing the exact right moment to intervene and end an opposing attack. His wall-like presence has frustrated any number of big name strikers, and I can only think of one mistake he’s made all year: he was slow to step up against Napoli, allowing Lorenzo Insigne into the channel to score, which is not exactly a cardinal sin considering that the fun-sized forward’s movement is as good as anyone’s in Italy.
I’m not really here to talk about the numbers (they’re good) or the performances (they’re better), though. I’m here to talk about how wonderful Germán Pezzella has been since arriving in Florence. He’s certainly Pantaleo Corvino’s smartest investment so far, the sort of player you don’t have to think about or make plans for because he’s going to be superb no matter what. He’s been the glue that’s held this defense together as Nikola Milenković regresses and Vitor Hugo occasionally struggles, calmly picking up the slack and canceling out their mistakes. He’s a credit to the team, the city, and the armband, and we’re very lucky to have him, even if we don’t always notice.