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Fiorentina season review: Centerbacks

Gotta try and keep it together here.

ACF Fiorentina v Genoa CFC - Serie A
We miss you even more than that.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Davide Astori

Writing about the captain’s season on the pitch would be absurd, so we’ll confine ourselves to saying, “We love you, now and always.”

Germán Pezzella

Recap: Brought on as a replacement for Gonzalo Rodríguez, Pezzella arrived from Real Betis with some sizeable shoes to fill. To his credit, the Argentine immediately established himself as a no-brainer in Pioli’s team sheet, providing a physical, no-nonsense presence at the back and a threat at set pieces going forward. As we quickly learned, he’s a bit of a liability in possession, but does all the dirty work at the back and seems to relish marking his man out of the match. He also stepped into the void left by Astori’s death to serve as the vocal leader of the backline, and even wore the armband while Milan Badelj was hurt. He is prone to the odd bad month—he was particularly dire in December—and sometimes loses his concentration, but he’s capable of some pretty magnificent performances at the back, too (see: 0-2 win at AS Roma). Overall, he was probably one of the three or four best Viola players this year and probably deserved to get into Argentina’s World Cup squad.

Stats: 35 appearances, 1 goal, 1 assist, 12 yellow cards, 1.9 tackles per 90 minutes, 1.9 interceptions per 90 minutes, 5.4 clearances per 90 minutes

What’s next: He’s technically on loan, but there’s no question that Corvino will shell out the requisite 8 million to make the move permanent. Pezzella

Grade: B+ Stepped up well in adverse circumstances and had a very solid season; the one rough patch this winter is all that’s keeping him out of the As.

Vitor Hugo

Recap: When Corvino brought in a 26-year-old Brazilian who’d only played one season of top-flight football in Brazil for €8 million, we were all a bit skeptical. Sure enough, he was bad in the opener and was burned time and again by Mauro Icardi against Inter Milan. Stefano Pioli sent him to the bench in favor of Pezzella after that, and Vitor Hugo only returned to the starting XI after Astori died. The extra time to adjust clearly helped, though, and he was excellent after his return, with his work against AS Roma being the highlight. A late season hamstring injury knocked him out of the last few matches, but we can call it a decent, if uneven, debut. His style of play is rather similar to that of Pezzella’s, though, which is a concern: both are rugged, tough-tackling, aerially-inclined center halves who are, um, basic on the ball. Hugo is sometimes a bit slow to react to danger, doesn’t man-mark as well as Germán, and has a penchant for clearances that go in awkward directions, but looks like he’s a capable third centerback for a Serie A team of Fiorentina’s caliber.

Stats: 21 matches, 1 goal, 4 yellow cards, 2 tackles per 90 minutes, 3.2 interceptions per 90 minutes (most for Serie A centerbacks), 6.7 clearances per 90 minutes (7th among Serie A centerbacks)

What’s next: He’ll fight for a spot in the first XI with Pezzella and Milenković next year unless Corvino does something very unexpected

Grade: B- It took him longer to get up to speed than you’d like to see for such an expensive signing, but once he was ready, he was quite solid and seems like he’ll be a productive member of the squad for the foreseeable future

Nikola Milenković

Recap: Although he often played on the right, I’m calling him a centerback for the purposes of this exercise because 1) that’s his natural position and 2) that’s how he played, even when he was out wide. Anyways, we didn’t expect too much from the hulking young Serb when he arrived; as the fourth centerback in a team using a back four, it seemed that he’d make a handful of appearances, but mostly focus on getting settled in after making the switch from Partizan. He didn’t feature until late December, but seemed to surpass Vitor Hugo in the pecking order in January. However, in the reshuffle after the captain’s passing, young Nikola ended up at rightback more often than not. He took to it quite well, showing the occasional forward burst but making his mark with his aerial prowess, sure tackling, and frankly stunning athleticism for a man his size. His positioning was occasionally iffy, but that’s to be expected for a kid playing major minutes in his first Serie A season.

Stats: 17 appearances, 1 yellow card, 1 red card, 2.8 tackles per 90 minutes, 1.7 interceptions per 90 minutes, 4.9 clearances per 90 minutes

What’s next: The Mountain that Kicks certainly looks like the sort of player you build a defense around, and barring a mega-offer this summer, that’s what’ll happen in Florence; expect to see him feature prominently next summer and grow (figuratively) into a world-class defender sooner than later

Grade: B+ It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but the end results and the promise shown while achieving them have us very, very excited