With Franck Ribery and Germán Pezzella suspended and Martín Cáceres and Pol Lirola injured, Vincenzo Montella was forced to field a 4-3-3 with two young backups in defense, while Rachid Ghezzal made a debut start for Fiorentina.
Parma looked much the better side early, with Hernani squandering a chance from a tight angle in the first 10 minutes. Gervinho got in behind shortly after, but Bartłomiej Drągowski smothered the ball at the Ivorian’s feet before he could shoot. Lorenzo Venuti did a good job of staying with him step-for-step at one point too, highlighting the fullback’s pure pace. The Crociati finally got the goal a bit before the half, though, when Gervinho barely stayed onside before racing forward and dinking one over Bart. The Viola thought about responding, but never tested Luigi Sepe in the Parma goal.
Parma dropped even deeper in the second half and Fiorentina duly pushed forward. Kevin-Prince Boateng had several bright moments as the Viola kept the ball ticking around the visitors’ area, probing for creases. Gervinho got loose again, but this time Drągowski stopped him again. The goal came from a lovely Dalbert cross; KPB’s run drew the defenders and Gaetano Castrovilli lept and headed home at the back post for the second time in as many games. Dušan Vlahović had two good chances in quick succession, but Sepe saved one and the Very Large Teenager completely whiffed on the second, another wonderful Dalbert cross that he had to score. The only other real excitement in the match was a long-awaited debut for Pedro, who played the final 5 minutes.
Drągowski—8: Stonewalled Gervinho a couple of times on the break and generally looked calm and capable. Not at fault for the goal at all and prevented at least 2 more while getting off his line very quickly to sweep up behind his defense against the threat of Gervinho and Karamoh’s pace in behind. Also had a brilliant moment in which he chested down a long pass outside his area with an opponent sprinting at him before coolly gathering it; Manuel Neuer would have been proud.
Venuti—8: Did a brilliant job of sticking with Gervinho, twice stopping him cold when the Ivorian had gathered a full head of steam and generally making his life difficult. While the winger did score and had a few chances, that’s not entirely on Lollo. This was without a doubt his finest performance in a purple shirt to date. He clearly belongs.
Milenković—6: Not a bad outing for the big Serbian, but he clearly missed the composure of Pezzella next to him. Struggled to organize his defense and didn’t seem super thrilled to be playing on the turn the whole game while chasing some very quick Parma forwards. Again, he wasn’t bad. Just not comfortable.
Ranieri—6: Was a half-step slow to step up for the goal, leaving Gervinho onside, but was fairly solid otherwise. Held his own in the air against Juraj Kucka, which was Parma’s alternate attacking plan, and rarely put a foot wrong aside from one or two optimistic attempts to break the lines with his passing. Once he settles in, he’ll be fine.
Dalbert—7: A non-factor in the first half but outstanding in the second. Had one assist and would have had another had Vlahović not been possessed by ghosts at an inopportune moment. A bit loose with the ball at times, but did his defensive duties and was very good in the final third during the second half.
Pulgar—5.5: Misplaced a lot of passes in midfield and didn’t provide much going forward. His set piece delivery was subpar as well. Failed to influence the game much defensively as Parma simply bypassed the midfield at every opportunity, leaving him as a guard dog with nothing to guard.
Badelj—6: Troubled a bit by the slick conditions, which meant more loose passes than usual, but kept things humming along neatly deep in midfield. Orchestrated some nice passing sequences and even got forward to shoot a couple of times, reminding us why he rarely does so (it’s because he’s not very good at it).
Castrovilli—8: The bullet header for a goal seems to be his new trademark, which feels improbably for a slightly-built midfield dribbler, but we’re okay with it. Was very sloppy with the ball at times, misplacing simple passes and forcing difficult ones, but everyone in the stadium knew that he was the source of inspiration for the team. Also dedicated his goal to his grandmother for her birthday, which is really sweet.
Ghezzal—4.5: Completely anonymous going forward. Predictable and slow in possession and offered nothing in the final third. Had one neat passing sequence with Venuti early on and tracked back quite well, but that was it.
Boateng—6.5: He’s never going to be the prolific striker this team needs, but the Prince was good in this one. He orchestrated play well, winning free kicks and holding the ball up with his strength while playing in runners with clever flicks. Probably makes more sense as an impact sub than a starter, but you can’t complain about his work in this one.
Chiesa—5: Had a fever and played like it. Lost the ball, missed easy passes, and made poor decisions. Again, he was dealing with an illness, so we’re not reading anything else into it. Get this man some chicken soup and get him healthy.
Vlahović—4: At a certain point, you begin to worry about his inability to finish. He’s missed a hatful of good chances in Serie A these past two seasons and it’s fair to wonder if he’s ready for this level yet.
Pedro—n/a: He lives!
Three things we learned
1. Overlooked players at this level are still very, very good. Castrovilli was on loan in Serie B last year. Venuti spent a half decade getting loaned out to lower-tier sides before breaking through this season. Boateng was the butt of jokes from folks who saw him at Barcelona. Inter Milan has basically written of Dalbert. Drągowski was stuck on the bench for years. These were the best players for Fiorentina tonight. It’s a good reminder that just because a player has a bad outing or a bad season in a setting that doesn’t allow them to play to their strengths (or just because they’re having a rough year personally or professionally) doesn’t mean that the player is bad. Everyone at this level is an incredible athlete and, given the right situation, capable of important contributions. It’s just a matter of creating an environment that maximizes talent and minimizes shortcomings.
2. More creativity in the middle is a must. This is becoming a problem. Teams have figured out that defending deep and daring Fiorentina to play through them is a sound defensive policy. Especially against sides that don’t even try to play through the middle, having Erick Pulgar and Milan Badelj out there together is deeply redundant. Adding another dribbler who can beat his man and force the opposing defense to make quick adjustments (Szymon Żurkowski?) or a creative passer who can exploit the tiniest creases (there isn’t really one of those on the roster right now, it seems) is a must against teams that will counter Fiorentina’s style with a deep block, especially if Ribery is out.
3. Montella needs to be more aggressive with his substitutions. Why, Vinnie? Why wouldn’t you use all three subs against a lesser opponent at home? Why not give Riccardo Sottil a chance? Or Żurkowski? Or heck, Marco Benassi or Valentin Eysseric? As previously mentioned, there was no need to have Badelj and Pulgar in there together at the end, when Parma had clearly given up attacking with anything but punts to Gervinho. A winger opposite Chiesa with Pedro and Vlahović in the middle would have offered a lot more stress to this Crociati outfit. Too, waiting until so late to make any changes gave Roberto D’Aversa’s men a huge mental relief, as they didn’t have to adjust to anything new. Montella has to figure out how to use his bench as a weapon, rather than something to fill minutes while his starters are tired, or this team will wind up looking more and more stale with each passing week.