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Atalanta 2-1 Fiorentina: Recap and player ratings

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And it was all going oh so well.

Atalanta BC v ACF Fiorentina - TIM Cup Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Pre-match

Gian Piero Gasperini made a couple of minor changes, bringing goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini and defender Berat Djimisti into the side. Vincenzo Montella made some bigger decisions, shifting his shape to a fluid but discernible 4-3-3 with Kevin Mirallas wide on the right and Marco Benassi back in the midfield along with Gerson.

The real pre-game interest, though, came from outside the Stadio Atleti d’Azzurri, where Fiorentina fans clashed with stewards and police before being subdued. Especially after the reports of violence from Florentine law enforcement against Atalanta supporters in the reverse leg, it’s a discouraging trend from a fanbase that’s normally pretty chill.

First half

Fiorentina bolted out the gate, pushing their hosts back and sparkling. After just 3 minutes, Benassi played a lovely first-time pass in to Federico Chiesa, who’d drifted into the middle, and Fede threaded his pass through to Luis Muriel, who timed his run perfectly to beat la Dea’s backline, meet the ball, and roll it under Gollini for the opener. Just like that, Fiorentina were 87 minutes away from the final. Chiesa nearly doubled the lead 2 minutes later, but couldn’t get his balance under pressure from two defenders and poked his shot just wide with Gollini beaten. That was the tone for the first 10 minutes, with the Viola battering a shocked-looking Atalanta defense and coming close, most notably through Jordan Veretout, who burst 60 yards with the ball, beating 4 defenders, but ran out of steam on the shot and fired it straight at the goalkeeper when through 1-v-1. Had he finished the chance, the Viola would have held a 0-2 lead and looked likely to see the matter through.

But he didn’t, and after 11 minutes, Federico Ceccherini stuck a leg out and hacked Papu Gómez in the area, handing the hosts a lifeline. Josip Iličić duly slotted it home, and just like that, Atalanta had retaken the momentum. The next 20 minutes or so saw a shellshocked Fiorentina (who, again, should have been at least 2 goals to the good) flail about as their hosts showed themselves perfectly happy to let the game devolve into a choppy midfield affair, aided by a couple of weird calls from referee Gianpaolo Calvarese.

At 38’, though, Atalanta missed a gilt-edged chance to take the lead after some nice work by Lurch down the left freed up Timmy Castagne to cross for Robin Gosens, who’d lost Mirallas at the back post; the German wingback’s header flashed back across goal when he really should have put it on frame. 3 minutes later, a slick Muriel backheel sent Chiesa through on a 2-v-2 break with Mirallas, but Fede’s first touch was uncharacteristically heavy and handed a relieved Atalanta defense a reprieve. The hosts nearly doubled their lead just before the whistle with a counterattack of surpassing loveliness only to see an unmarked Iličić sky his shot from 15 yards out. The half ended with a deservedly even scoreline, although the Viola must have been wondering about what might have been.

Second half

Fiorentina came out hot again, as Muriel fed Benassi just 2 minutes after the restart. The midfielder’s sliding shot forced Gollini out and into a good save, and Mirallas fizzed in a teasing cross moments later that nobody could quite reach. Aside from a strong save by Alban Lafont on Gómez, Fiorentina were keeping the ball in the Atalanta half and looking dangerous, highlighted by an incredible bit of skill by Chiesa to turn on the counter—he missed the simple pass to Muriel which would have seen the Colombian free on goal—and a Mirallas volley from a corner with Gollini MIA that a desperate defense cleared for another corner off the line.

At the hour mark, though, Atalanta tightened their grip, clearly feeling they’d weathered the storm as the Viola, exhausted by their fruitless efforts, sagged. First, Duván Zapata turned against Nikola Milenković in the area and fired a low shot which the Serbian deflected just wide of the post. The knockout punch came a few minutes later, though, after Cristiano Biraghi and Bryan Dabo sandwiched Iličić on the wing. The ball squirted back out to Lurch, who flicked it to Gómez, and the little Argentine smacked a low drive through the crowded box that hit Lafont in the gloves but somehow skipped over him and into the back of the net for a deeply unlikely winner.

Now needing 2 goals in 20 minutes to advance, Fiorentina began throwing numbers forward, which left them alarmingly open on the break. Chiesa had a wild shot that was nowhere near goal, but the real tension was when Montella would bring on another striker, which he left until 79’, with Giovanni Simeone replacing Benassi. Germán Pezzella did well to turn a corner kick on goal with his head, but it was a tame effort that didn’t trouble Gollini. Lafont made a strong 1-v-1 save on Zapata and Muriel fired a free kick off the wall, but the end result was never really in doubt for the final half hour, and Fiorentina bowed out of the Coppa with a mere whimper.

Post-match

Montella obviously doesn’t have the type of squad which can execute his vision. He hasn’t had the time to implement anything new, really, given that he’s been in charge for less than two weeks. Perhaps that’s why this game seemed like such a Stefano Pioli effort: a bright start with lots of pressure, an early goal, an inability to hang onto a lead, and a team utterly bereft of any way forward except for attacking space. The failure to introduce another striker immediately after conceding the second sure reads like a capitulation, too, which is hardly encouraging.

That said, Vinnie did at least innovate a little bit: in attack, Benassi pushed up to play as a target for crosses while Chiesa and Muriel dropped deep to orchestrate play. That’s small consolation, though, for fans of a team that was tipped to make some noise in Serie A this year and has done nothing but crash and burn. This match was the last chance for the season to mean anything, and it ended just like so many before it. We can definitely shut the book on this year’s edition of Fiorentina as a complete and utter bust, and there aren’t any easy fixes for next year. All that’s left now is the crying.

Player grades

Lafont: 4.5—Made one or two decent stops and launched a brilliant counter with a throw that landed halfway in the Atalanta half, but made an extremely basic error to give the hosts the lead. It’s been a learning season for the youngster, who’s obviously talented, but he shows his inexperience more often than you’d like for such a highly-touted player.

Milenković: 6.5—Stonewalled Zapata a few times in gratifying style and coped well with Gómez. Probably the best defender on the pitch for the Viola, using his athleticism and reading of the game to put out fires all over the place.

Pezzella: 5—Made a couple of excellent interventions, but also went on a couple of runs up the pitch and lost the ball to let Atalanta go galloping the other way. Too, as the captain, hs needed to keep the team together better; the players clearly lost their mentality and that’s partly on him.

Ceccherini: 4—Oof. Conceded a boneheaded penalty and was tortured by Lurch throughout. Lacks the quick feet to keep up with a quick attacker like Gómez or a tricky one like Iličić and can’t cope with the power of a guy like Zapata. Atalanta identified him as the weak link at the back and picked on him all night long. Again, he’s a useful player, but not in this kind of setting.

Biraghi: 5—Notably absent in attack and wasn’t especially strong in defense; had trouble with the Iličić-Castagne combination and let them find space out wide. Wasn’t disastrous by any means and clearly needed some help, so the grade isn’t lower, but it wasn’t his strongest outing.

Benassi: 5—Involved in the goal and occasionally popped up to do something, but was mostly as invisible as he was under Pioli. In fairness to him, that was partly by design, as he was pushed forward to serve as a decoy rather than to use the ball. Still, it’s telling that Montella thinks that’s the best way to use him: as a decoy rather than as a piece of the team.

Veretout: 5—Would have been a higher grade and a different game had he finished his chance. But he was not sharp in this one, shooting when he should have passed and generally looking a bit slower on the ball than we’ve come to expect. If the rumors are to be believed, maybe his head’s already with Napoli or Arsenal, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season.

Gerson: 5.5—Did very Gerson Things© while he was out there, driving forward in possession and winning fouls with his physicality. Held the ball well and moved it around fine, but never looked particularly incisive and seemed hesitant to shoot or make the killer pass, usually opting to recycle possession instead.

Mirallas: 6—Kept his width really well and forced Atalanta to defend wider than they’d like, which is a positive right off the bat. Also played in a few decent passes and got back to defend well. Showed some fire, too, when the rest of the team seemed flat. Had a few counters gone better, he was in position to do a lot more, too.

Muriel: 7—A glorious goal, a few magical touches (the backheel to put Chiesa through and one where he somehow nutmegged de Roon while in midair), and some much-needed fantasia. Drifted in and out a bit, but that’s his modus operandi and we can’t really expect anything different at this point.

Chiesa: 6—That assist was flawless and his turn (somehow lifting the ball up, twisting around, and taking it in stride down the pitch) was stunning, but you could tell he felt the pressure as he tried to do too much, often shooting when he could have passed. You have to feel for him, as his team didn’t help him a whole lot, but this wasn’t his best performance.

Dabo: 5—Was his usual industrious self, although he never really stamped his authority on the game.

Simeone: 4—Didn’t really do much of note, but the real question is why Montella waited for so long to bring him on.

Ferandes: n/a—lolwut