Absent his best defender in Germán Pezzella and his best attacker in Federico Chiesa (who’s officially injured and not just sitting out), Fiorentina boss Vincenzo Montella turned to Federico Ceccherini in the middle of the back three and Dušan Vlahović up top, with Gaetano Castrovilli and Erick Pulgar resuming their usual places in midfield. Lecce manager Fabio Liverani, meanwhile, lines up the exact XI we predicted, with Viola academy graduate Jacopo Petriccione in midfield.
Fiorentina dominated the early going by keeping the ball in Lecce’s half, passing around and looking for space that they found in the wide areas of the pitch. Pol Lirola had some decent moments on the right and Dalbert combined well with Franck Ribery and Gaetano Castrovilli on the left. Nikola Milenković and Dušan Vlahović both came close from distance, Lirola whipped a ball that skipped wide of the back post and was a bit too far ahead of Vlahović, Lirola scooped up a delicious cross for Dalbert to head inches wide. In short, everything went the Viola’s way except for getting the ball in the back of the net. The visitors, meanwhile, scarcely crossed midfield. Panagiotis Tachtsidis, however, managed to knock Ribery out of the match with a brutal sliding tackle a moment before the halftime break.
Montella brought on Kevin-Prince Boateng to replace the injured Ribery, and Fiorentina duly fell apart. Lecce took the initiative, with Diego Farias firing a warning shot before the Giallorossi struck through a diving Andrea La Mantia header. It was a good goal, but Fiorentina’s defense made it easy: a bad giveaway up the pitch, two defenders badly out of position, and loose marking at the back. The Viola fought back decently—Vlahović missed a couple of great chances from Dalbert crosses and had Gabriel save another good effort, Milenković came close with a header from a corner—and had at least three good shouts for penalties that went ignored, but Lecce came closest through a pair of comical Bartłomiej Drągowski blunders which substitute Khouma Babacar (who clearly still loves Fiorentina) declined to punish out of the bigness of his heart.
Drągowski: 4.5—Helpless on the goal and pretty much untested otherwise, but one missed clearance from outside his own box and another that he skewed straight into the air are problematic. Probably just a blip, and we’re not worried.
Milenković: 6—Pretty secure on the right. Stepped forward well to provide another passing option and nearly scored twice, adding an appreciable dimension to the attack. Looked a bit lost on the goal, but he wasn’t the only one.
Ceccherini: 5—Rough day at the office for Cecche. Had a couple of mental lapses that led to chances, may have gotten away with handling the ball in the area, and generally struggled. Luca Ranieri may get a lchance next time out in the league.
Cáceres: 5—Looked a bit ragged all day, particularly on the goal when Rispoli skinned him in the buildup. Spent too much time up the pitch and seemed to miss Pezzella’s steadiness next to him.
Lirola: 6—Probably his finest performance thus far. Created a couple of good chances with his dribbling down the right. Wasn’t tested much defensively but wasn’t around at all on the goal, although we’re not going to ping him too hard on that given that the giveaway was bad and he didn’t have time to get back.
Pulgar: 6—Hit some good balls over the top for the attackers and did a nice job of circulating possession. Faded towards the end of the match.
Badelj: 6—Helped keep the ball moving in the first half and keyed several decent moves. Sacrificed for an extra striker.
Castrovilli: 6.5—Made several runs forward, but also made some poor choices with the ball and lost possession too easily at times. Seemed like he was trying to do too much after Ribery went out and often charged into corners.
Dalbert: 7—Probably the best attacking player on the day. Played at least two crosses in that should have resulted in Vlahović goals and consistently provided width and height to the attack. Also beat his man off the dribble a few times, including a nutmeg on Rispoli. Adequate defensively.
Ribery: 6—Not quite as inspirational as usual, but did win some free kicks with his quick feet. You really have to think that the ref is responsible for the injury, as he allowed Franck to get beat up quite a bit without blowing the whistle.
Vlahović: 4.5—Missed several very good chances that he really, really should have buried. While he’s shown flashes of promise, his finishing continues to let him down at crucial moments.
Boateng: 5—Wasn’t catastrophic as a Ribery replacement. Kept moves flowing, put his body on the line, and tried to involve his teammates instead of going it alone. Didn’t influence the match that much, but he certainly wasn’t the problem.
Ghezzal: 3—Killed off three or four promising moves by holding the ball too long or failing at the final pass. His lack of pace and tendency to come central killed off the team’s width on the right and made Lecce’s job much easier. Simply inexplicable that he’s jumped above Riccardo Sottil on the depth chart.
Pedro: 5—Got himself into decent spots and showed a willingness to pull the trigger that nobody else on the team possesses. Deserves a chance to start.
Three things we learned
1. Fede’s the best player on the team and there isn’t any question. Ribery’s got an absurd amount of class in his quick feet and passing vision. Castrovilli can pirouette away from just about anyone. Pezzella remains the most underrated central defender in Serie A. And none of them hold a candle to Chiesa. His pace and power simply deform an opposing defense in ways that can’t be replicated in this system. Without him, Montella desperately needs to change his approach.
2. Dušan isn’t ready for this level. We love the Very Large Teen for all the right reasons. He’s enormous, blessed with incongruously quick feet and astonishing pace, possesses a good first touch and the technique to curl free kicks or shots from outside the box, and an understanding of how to get himself in space. However, he doesn’t use his size and strength well enough to hold up the ball or make himself an aerial target and, more importantly, he just doesn’t finish well enough right now. KPB and Pedro are fine as striking options, and Bobby Duncan’s probably ready to work as the third-string, particularly if Rachid Ghezzal and Riccardo Sottil are also backing up Chiesa and Ribery. Vlahović needs some time out of the spotlight—preferably in the lower reaches of Serie A or a promotion-chasing Serie B team—to get his finishing right and work on improving somewhere he can start every week. He’s still a top-tier prospect, but he’s not a top-tier striker yet.
3. The honeymoon period may be ending. Towards the end of the match, the Stadio Artemio Franchi started to get pretty fed up with the Viola performance. Ghezzal in particular started to hear the boo birds, but the entire team caught a little bit of it. While the Curva Fiesole sang throughout without any change, this feels a little bit too close to the end of the Della Valle era right now for fans who suffered through some pretty lean years. While support for Rocco Commisso and company still seems pretty high, the boss may have to make some changes to avoid losing a lot of the goodwill he’s built up.