Rolando Maran naturally started Fiorentina loanee Giovanni Simeone up top, while Luca Cigarini made a rare appearance in midfield. Lacking only Franck Ribery, Vincenzo Montella decided to run back his standard XI.
Fiorentina improved in the second half a bit, particularly with a half hour left, but it’s impossible to feel like that improvement didn’t come because Cagliari decided they’d scored enough. The only bright spot was Dušan Vlahović bagging his first and second Serie A goals, although Cholito’s tearful, Davide Astori-inspired goal celebration was deeply touching.
Badelj—4: Very bad.
Castrovilli—4: Very bad.
Vlahović—7: Not bad.
Benassi—4.5: Not good.
Ghezzal—3.5: Very bad.
Three things we learned
1. Sometimes, your day is just terrible. Okay, this isn’t exactly a new occurrence for Fiorentina; this outfit has turned in any number of stink bomb performances over the past couple of years. It’s a reminder, though, that sometimes you get an outlier result. The Viola have wavered between excellent, mediocre, and scruffy all year long, so it’s hard to believe that the team we just saw is the one we’ll keep watching for the remaining fixtures. While this result does throw some pretty obvious problems into stark relief, it doesn’t indicate a tautologically broken team. For whatever reason, sometimes one set of players comes out flat and the other set comes out firing; it’s an any-given-Sunday sort of situation. I’m not going to panic about the result.
2. Montella doesn't seem to be reaching the players. This is what I am worried about. The squad looked deeply disinterested in being on the pitch on Sunday. While that’s clearly unacceptable from a bunch of professionals—after all, part of the job description is to give your all—nobody can bring 100% intensity every time. The problem is that Cousin Vinnie doesn’t seem like the kind of tactician to really work his charges into a frenzy. He’s obviously smart with the Xs and Os and knows how to put together a match plan, but he’s not a motivator at all. With a veteran team led by the likes Gonzalo Rodríguez and Borja Valero in Florence for his first go-round, he didn’t need to spend much time getting the players geed up. With this much younger, less-experienced edition of the Viola, that’s not as much the case. We gave him a pass last year since the squad was clearly upset about Stefano Pioli’s dismissal and in a death spiral anyways, but he hasn’t shown a whole lot of fire that can spread to his players. Not everyone can bring the terrifying enthusiasm of Antonio Conte or Jürgen Klopp, but Vinnie needs to work a little harder to bring out the best in his players.
3. There isn’t a leader on this team right now. Perhaps related to the previous item, this club lacks leadership. Rocco Commisso and Joe Barone are providing plenty of vision and execution at the top of the org chart right now, but that has yet to trickle down a whole lot. Montella hasn’t shown anywhere that he’s the guy around whom others rally; at every stop, his teams have been finesse outfits that can get rattled by tough-minded opponents. Germán Pezzella is the captain but seems to be a quiet, lead-by-example kind of guy rather than an in-your-face guy. Federico Chiesa works like a dog but isn’t the type to drag his teammates to glory with him at this stage. Kevin-Prince Boateng is a veteran and has proven that he’s not afraid to stick his neck out—anyone who’s gone after racism in soccer like he has isn’t shrinking from a challenge—but he doesn’t seem to be the man to lead the charge week in and week out. Franck Ribery has that quality, yes, but you don’t want to count on an injury prone guy older than I am to carry your team both in terms of emotion and output on the pitch. Until some leaders really emerge and the side develops a personality, it’ll be tough for this team to avoid results like this.