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Fiorentina season review: Midfielders

The center of the park was a busy spot for the Viola this year.

ACF Fiorentina v SS Lazio - Serie A
Get ‘em.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Milan Badelj

Recap: Despite expectations last summer that he was on his way out, the 29-year-old Croat stuck around and even ended up with the captain’s armband after Davide Astori passed on. On the pitch, he did his usual Badelj stuff: maintained fantastic positional discipline, broke up play, and moved the ball around quickly and unfussily. Perhaps due to his seniority in the side, he was entrusted with a much more creative role than in years past. He took more shots this year than he did in the past and was more vertical with his passing, although neither resulted in more goals or assists than usual. As always, he was good for a blunder or two every match, but was probably the steadiest player in the team, the unfussy axle around which everything rotates.

Stats: 27 appearances (27 starts), 2 goals, 1 assist, 7 yellow cards, 1 red card, 2.7 tackles per 90 minutes, 2.7 interceptions per 90 minutes (2nd among Serie A midfielders), 1.3 shots per 90 minutes, 86% passing

What’s next: Badelj will be in contention to start for Croatia at the World Cup, but the Viola want to get his contract situation sorted first. He has an option to add another year, and word is that Corvino has offered him a 4-year deal with €2+ million salary. Badelj is keeping his options open, though, and has attracted interest from Italy and England. Nobody knows if he’ll be back next year.

Grade: B+ Just another Badelj season, boring until you realize how much he does and how good he actually is.

Jordan Veretout

Recap: The 25-year-old Frenchman joined Fiorentina when Aston Villa sold him to help with their finances upon relegation. As he’d previously flamed out in Birmingham, the English press was unimpressed, but he was pretty solid last year at Nantes. He quickly established himself in the Viola midfield and announced himself to Serie A with a screamer in the second week against Hellas Verona. While he did sometimes drift out of matches a bit, his industry in both attack and defense caught a lot of eyes. He nearly won the Lazio match singlehandedly and had a bunch of other brilliant matches. He ended his season pretty terribly, which was evidence of the temper that he normally keeps just barely in check, but overall looks like a foundational piece in the middle.

Stats: 38 appearances (38 starts), 10 goals, 2 assists, 10 yellow cards, 1 red card, 1.8 tackles per 90 minutes, 1.1 interceptions per 90 minutes, 1.7 shots per 90 minutes, 87% passing

What’s next: We’ve heard some rather unlikely rumors that other clubs, particularly AC Milan and Inter Milan, are interested, but we honestly don’t buy it. We think he’ll take at least another year with Fiorentina to enjoy his automatic starting berth and establish himself as a bona fide star. If Badelj leaves, he’ll be the most important man in the midfield.

Grade: B+ Keep the emotions in check, serve the suspension, and pick up where you left off.

Marco Benassi

Recap: The €8 million man from Torino was just 22 when he signed for Fiorentina, but carried a lot of expectation, given his 27 appearances and 6 goals with the Italy U21s. He’d fallen out of favor in Torino, but we assumed it was more on Siniša Mihajlović’s rigid system than the player. Early signs were puzzling, to say the least, as Stefano Pioli stationed him as a right winger in the preseason and then as a number 10 in the first few matches. While Marco did manage to shoot at goal a few times, he was clearly uncomfortable in both roles, and the team seemed to work a lot better when the mister moved him deeper. However, Benassi still struggled. Part of it seemed to be that his instructions were to stay wide on the right to compensate for the lack of width from a fullback, but he rarely influenced the play and seemed content to be a passenger, even when moved to a more central position. His most notable contributions were often rather negative, as he killed a number of decent attacks with weak shots or poor touches. Although there were some bright moments—the opener against Hellas and the one at AS Roma spring to mind—it’s hard to see his first season in purple as anything but a flop.

Stats: 37 appearances (37 starts), 5 goals, 2 assists, 6 yellow cards, 1.7 tackles per 90 minutes, 0.9 interceptions per 90 minutes, 2.3 shots per 90 minutes (3rd among Serie A midfielders), 81% passing

What’s next: He’ll certainly be back in Florence next year, and he may wind up looking much better if allowed more of a central box-to-box role, which could easily happen if Badelj leaves and Pioli decides to switch to a 4-2-3-1. On the other hand, Bryan Dabo handily outplayed him despite vastly fewer minutes, so he’s got plenty to prove over the summer.

Grade: C- Rescued by the surprising goal tally, but he was really unimpressive, especially for such an expensive signing.

Bryan Dabo

Recap: Corvino signed the 26-year-old Burkinabé from Saint-Étienne for €4 million to replace la Roca. Although he seems like a genuinely lovely guy, nobody really expected much from him. He demonstrated some strength and pace against Atalanta and Chievo Verona, so we were reasonably certain that he could be a decent backup, but some powerful displays against Udinese and Roma, as well as a dramatic winner against Genoa, got a number of fans wondering if he wasn’t the long-term solution at the base of midfield. At worst, he’s a well above-average backup, but we wouldn’t be surprised if he became a lot more than that, especially if he sorts out his discipline; he’s sometimes a bit optimistic about going into tackles that he should really avoid—hence the sending off against Sassuolo—and he’s had a few other challenges in the past that were pretty dang bad, but he’s also shown surprising guile on the ball and an unexpected propensity for bursting forward.

Stats: 10 appearances (6 starts), 1 goal, 2 yellow cards, 1 red card, 2.6 tackles per 90 minutes, 2.3 interceptions per 90 minutes, 0.5 shots per 90 minutes, 82% passing

What’s next: Hopefully, a full offseason to get acclimated will improve his play even further. Depending on what reinforcements get brought in, we wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up starting over Benassi at some point next year.

Grade: B The red card stung, but the promise is very much there.

Sebastian Cristoforo

Recap: The Uruguayan is something of a forgotten man these days, but he’s under contract until 2021 and is still just 24. His first start of the season—against Chievo Verona in February—was really impressive, as he won the ball 12 times in just 70 minutes of burn. Even in that impressive performance, though, he was rather hopeless going forward, which has always been a theme for him. If he ever learns how to pass with any consistency, he could be an absolute terror. As is, his deficiencies in attack overshadow his capabilities in defense, especially if the opposing midfield is outplaying him; just have a look at his performance against Milan. No, seriously, see if you can find him: he played all 90 minutes and I genuinely don’t recall him touching the ball once. There still could be a worthwhile player in there somewhere, but he needs to go somewhere he can play regularly to ever unearth him.

Stats: 7 appearances (3 starts), 1 yellow card, 5.4 tackles per 90 minutes, 1.4 interceptions per 90 minutes, 0.7 shots per 90 minutes, 86% passing (this is where stats are serious liars)

What’s next: He doesn’t really seem to figure in Pioli’s plans and is solidly behind Badelj, Veretout, Benassi, and Dabo in the pecking order, and could drop behind the returning Roca as well. Thus, it’s hard to see a way forward for him at Fiorentina, and he could be loaned or sold on the cheap this summer.

Grade: C- Would be lower, but he was really something against Chievo. Otherwise, though, he’s such a liability with the ball that keeping possession with him on the pitch always feels like playing a man down.

Carlos Sánchez

Recap: La Roca joined Espanyol in January to ensure he’d get more minutes ahead of the World Cup, where he’ll take his usual place at the base of Colombia’s midfield. Much like Badelj, you know exactly what you’re getting with him: positional discipline, ball-winning in the middle, safe sideways and backwards passes, the odd miscue that he nearly always rescues with his surprising skill on the ball, and all the pace of a heavily-sedated hippopotamus meandering uphill. He scored a nice header against Sampdoria in his final match at the club, but also got brutally nutmegged by Felipe Anderson in the Coppa Italia loss to Lazio.

Stats: 11 appearances (5 starts), 1 goal, 2 yellow cards, 1.7 tackles per 90 minutes, 2 interceptions per 90 minutes, 1.2 shots per 90 minutes, 85% passing

What’s next: Espanyol have turned down the option to sign him, so he’s set to return to Florence next year. Now 32 years old, though, and coming off a grueling summer with the national team, Pioli may deem him surplus to requirements, in which case he could be sold on the cheap, especially with his contract running out in 2019.

Grade: C Exactly what we expected, and that’s not always a bad thing.