Riccardo Saponara (Sampdoria)
The 26-year-old attacking midfielder has had a very Cheese sort of season: he’s missed more than half of the games Samp have played, making just 5 appearances due to a hamstring injury. And in those 5 appearances, he’s scored twice and added an assist, including a masterclass against AC Milan two weeks ago.
He’s started the past 2 matches for the Blucerchiati, possibly supplanting Gastón Ramírez as the trequartista and key man in manager Marco Giampaolo’s 4-3-1-2, even as the side has slumped to a pair of tough defeats in those fixtures. If he can continue his current form, there’s no question that Samp are going to redeem him at season’s end for a below-market fee reported to be €7 million. Heck, if he can continue his current form, he could well earn a spot Roberto Mancini’s new-look Italy side. As ever with Saponara, it’s all about whether or not he can stay healthy, because his talent’s never been in question. If you’ll permit me some cynicism, another lengthy injury layoff could result in Samp sending him back to Florence, where he’s exactly the sort of player that’s utterly lacking in the side right now. But I desperately want him to stay safe and sound and reach the heights that he’s undeniably capable of reaching, whether that’s with the Viola or elsewhere.
Jaime Báez (Cosenza)
The 23-year-old Uruguayan attacker is unexpectedly showing signs of life with the Lupi. He’s now made 3 appearances on the season, including his first start against Pescara last week (in which he should have won a penalty), and even got his debut goal with an unbelievably dramatic (and completely accidental) late equalizer at Carpi.
His contract doesn’t run out until 2020, but there’s almost no chance that Fiorentina will extend his contract past then. While it’s too late for him to save his future with the Viola, some good performances, or even just some steady performances, should be enough to earn him another chance in Italy, or elsewhere if he so desires. He’s still young and still has all the athletic gifts that a top-notch winger could want; it’d be great to see him blossom somewhere, even if it’s not Florence.
Gaetano Castrovilli (Cremonese)
The 21-year-old midfielder has endured a bit of a rough patch of late, stringing together some subpar performances for the Tigri. In fairness to him, he’s been played out of position on the wing rather than in the center of the pitch, where he’s clearly more comfortable. If the team’s form—winless in 5—doesn’t improve soon, manager Massimo Rastelli, faced with a disastrous run that’s seen his charges crash from 4th to 13th, may well make some changes to his side, and that could well involve Castrovilli getting some more run in his more natural spot. We’d be thrilled for the player if that happened, as we’re convinced that his future is in the middle, using his dazzlingly quick feet and fantastic appreciation of space to drive the action forward at every opportunity. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, even though it’s certainly not fair to saddle such a young player with these kinds of expectations: he’s the closest thing to Borja Valero currently on the books at Fiorentina and could provide a more creative option in the middle of the pitch as early as next year. Fingers crossed that his form bucks up a bit and that Pioli ropes him in for next season.
Michele Cerofolini (Cosenza)
The 19-year-old goalkeeper has finally gotten a couple of chances, although he’s clearly still second choice to Umberto Saracco. He was fine at Cremonese, where he made one neat save against Castrovilli, in his debut even though the Lupi lost 0-2, but was pretty decent against Pescara; the goal he allowed sure didn’t look like it crossed the line. Either way, he’s coming along nicely. After all, any goalkeeper who’s in contention for a spot at the age of 19 is fine. With a contract running out in 2021, we wouldn’t be surprised if Pantaleo Corvino tried to get him an extension in the next year or so, as Cerofolini looks like he could well be Serie A material at some point.
Gabriele Gori (Foggia)
The 19-year-old hitman’s difficult first season with the Satanelli has seen him drop from first choice to unused substitute in just a couple of months, although a start last week against Cittadella could indicate that he’s working his way back into Gianluca Grassadonia’s good graces, despite his lack of a single league goal this year. Against Cittadella, he showcased all the skills that earned him such a big reputation: strength, pace, and a knack for finding space. The problem was that, even though he got himself into the right spots at the right times, his finishing is just a bit off; he missed two pretty decent chances, which is perhaps why he found himself back on the bench most recently against Brescia. While it’s hardly the optimal start to a professional career, we remain convinced that he’s going to be a productive striker for a long time. Whether that manifests itself this year or next, he’s got the talent and the character to make himself a force on the peninsula for the next decade-plus. And even if we’re wrong, he could easily have a future in film because my goodness is he a handsome young man.
Luca Ranieri (Foggia)
The 19-year-old leftback is settling in with the Satanelli. He’s now made 6 appearances, including 3 straight starts, although he hasn’t managed to grab a spot on the wing in Grassadonia’s 3-5-2. Rather, he’s been operating on the right of the back three, which has obviously been an adjustment. Full credit to Ranieri, though, who’s been quite good for the most part, using his natural athleticism to make up for any mental lapses. The only real shortcoming he’s exhibited has been a vulnerability in the air, and that’s hardly surprising for a guy who’s 178 cm (5’10) and playing a role that requires a lot more leaping than he’s ever done. The presence of David Hancko muddles his future with Fiorentina, but he looks like he could wind up being a steady Serie A contributor sooner rather than later and we’re thrilled for him.
Andrés Schetino (Cosenza)
The 24-year-old Uruguayan midfield enforcer has been out with an ankle injury since the end of August, with no timetable given for his return. Given Cosenza’s scrappy league form, you get the sense that he’d at least have a chance to play if he were healthy, but it’s yet another bad break for a player whose luck has simply been awful since moving to Europe. With a contract that runs out at the end of next season, he needs to get healthy and show a spark if he wants to keep the dream alive on this side of the Atlantic.
Mattia Trovato (Cosenza)
The 20-year-old winger, who we think is rather miscast in manager Piero Braglia’s 3-5-2, suffered a knee ligament injury in training last month and will be on the shelf until mid-March. It’s a serious disappointment for a guy who’s obviously earned Fiorentina’s confidence—Corvino handed him a contract extension last year—despite a lack of playing time going into his second year on loan with the Lupi. We’re wishing him every success in his recovery and a quick return to the form that saw him earn a cap with the Italy U18s a couple of years ago.
Lorenzo Venuti (Lecce)
The 23-year-old defender has come on like gangbusters for the Giallorossi, rocketing past Riccardo Fiamozzi for the rightback job, although he was most recently recast as a centerback for this week’s 4-2 loss at league-leading Pescara, which must have been an unpleasant reminder of last year’s miserable season with Benevento (Lollo is NOT a central defender, we learned). He did score his first goal of the year the week before that, though, with what turned out to be the winner against Crotone; even though the goal itself was, erm, not exactly conventional, it showed what Venuti’s all about: energy, attitude, and a bit of unexpected skill (also, note that the assist came from ex-Viola prospect Jack Petriccione, who’s been brilliant for Lecce all year).
Basically, things are going swimmingly for the Montevarchi-born man. He’s clawed his way to a starting berth in his preferred role and is quickly becoming indispensable to manager (and ex-Viola star) Fabio Liverani. With Kevin Diks already on the roster and Fiorentina permanently linked to one rightback or another, Venuti’s future may lie outside of Florence, but he’s going to have a long career as a solid professional; honestly, we’re worried he’ll join the ranks of Petriccione, Leonardo Capezzi, Gianluca Mancini, and countless other talented players who’ve been tossed aside by the Viola only to rise to prominence elsewhere soon after.