Fiorentina outclassed Chivas Guadalajara by a score of 2-1 yesterday in the opening match of the International Champions Cup, dominating most of the game and carving out a number of good chances despite the absences of stars like Federico Chiesa, Germán Pezzella, and Nikola Milenković.
While a big deflection off of Federico Ceccherini handed Javier Eduardo López (better known as Chofis) the opening goal after Bartłomiej Drągowski was caught on the wrong foot after 25 minutes, the Viola equalized 3 minutes later after debutante Aleksa Terzić fizzed in a free kick from the right wing that Giovanni Simeone headed home. Drągowski saved a hilariously weak penalty attempt from Alan Pulido after a Terzić handball to keep it level before halftime.
In the second half, Riccardo Sottil turned his man in the box and placed an absolutely flawless finish into the far corner for the winner. After that, both Vincenzo Montella and Tomás Boy emptied their benches, and the game, not surprisingly, stuttered as a result, although Dušan Vlahović came close several times, including one drive from which the crossbar is probably still vibrating.
First half lineups (4-3-3): Drągowski; Venuti, Ceccherini, Ranieri, Terzić; Castrovilli, Cristoforo, Benassi; Sottil, Simeone, Eysseric
Second half lineups (4-3-3): Drągowski; Venuti, Ceccherini (Hristov 73’), Ranieri, Hancko; Benassi (Żurkowski 62’), Cristoforo (Lakti 73’), Saponara; Sottil (Montiel 62’, Koffi 90’+2), Simeone (Vlahović 63’), Báez
Goals: López 25’ (ass. Pulido), Pulido PK miss 36’, Simeone 28’ (ass. Terzić), Sottil 52’
Cards: Terzić 34’, Ranieri 45’, Simeone 49’, Ceccherini 70’, Lakti 78’; Sánchez 26’, Huerta 88’
Drągowski—7.5: Perhaps a bit slow on the goal, but it did take a big deflection so you can’t be too mad. Could have saved the penalty by rolling over in his sleep, but it’s still a stop on a spot kick. Had little else to do, but showed some unexpected class with the ball at his feet, including a rainbow chip over a pressing striker to put Ranieri in space at one point.
Venuti—6: Showed his trademark energy down the right flank and put in a couple of decent crosses, but made a couple of clumsy tackle attempts and got burned once or twice. Should be fine as a bench option, especially since he showed some promise going forward, but probably not the solution as the starter for next year.
Ceccherini—5.5: The goal came off of him and he had a few badly misplaced passes. Kept himself in the right place at the right time for the most part, although definitely looked like he’s still getting himself back to full speed a couple of times, most notably when he tripped up an attacker to earn a booking.
Ranieri—5: Looked nervous early on, especially against an experienced striker in Oribe Peralta, but we’re not mad about it as he’s not really a centerback by trade. If that’s the plan for the long-term, he needs to get a lot stronger. On the plus side, showed the quickness to turn and run with pacier attackers that you’d expect from a guy who’s a fullback by training.
Terzić—5.5: Bit of a mixed bag from the 19-year-old Serbian on his debut. Showed some excellent instincts going forward and played in some lovely balls, particularly from set pieces; his assist for Cholito was a fantastic driven ball in and he nearly scored with a later attempt. Spent too much time too high up the pitch and was thus frequently out of position; the handball was dumb, as he stuck an arm out in the box. Still has a lot to learn, but promising.
Castrovilli—6: Showed a few moments of class, but didn’t grab this one with both hands as we would have liked. Tended to find space between the lines and wait for the ball instead of actively looking for it. When he did get it, though, he linked up pretty well. Tantalizing, but we need to see more that that.
Cristoforo—6.5: While he’s still prone to loose passes, heavy touches, and overly physical play that puts him at risk of bookings, he mopped up the middle well. Won the ball, held his position, and launched a few probing passes out to the wings. If it’s true that he’s still in the sale window, put up a decent advertisement for himself.
Benassi—7: Most involved he’s ever been in a Viola shirt. Spent lots of time out on the left wing, but showed some clever passing, a couple of really nice touches to evade defenders, and his usual knack for bursting into space over the top; the latter was what created Sottil’s goal, as the winger picked up the rebound from a Benassi volley. Marco also dropped back and helped with possession. Picked up a pretty serious-looking knock to the knee, but hopefully it’s just impact and nothing serious.
Sottil—7.5: Gave veteran fullback Jesús Sánchez all kinds of trouble, both running in behind and dropping deep and playing on the turn. Teased in some clever crosses, drifted into central spaces occasionally, and generally looked class. The goal was unbelievably precise, too. While he’s miles from Chiesa’s level, looks like he could be a decent bench option this year.
Simeone—7.5: Starting to look like the Cholito of 2017. Scored a scrappy header, harassed the opposing defense incessantly, used his strength to hold up play, and generally did everything irritating that an opponent hates. His touch is still a concern, though, as he had at least two scoring opportunities vanish after the ball bounced off his boot too hard.
Eysseric—6: Often interchanged with Benassi, so he spent a lot of time dropping deep and central between the lines, looking to thread balls through for the front three and succeeding more often than not. Too slow on his feet to dribble his man or contribute much defensively, but a quietly useful part of any attack.
Saponara—6.5: While his profligacy in possession still holds him back, nobody can argue that he sees the field as well as anyone out there. Didn’t contribute much defensively, but played some lovely passes forward. He’s so good at that, but he’s not especially good at anything else. Just a weird player, albeit a very fun one, but we knew that.
Báez—4.5: Really had a chance to show his stuff today, but instead was completely anonymous. Never took anyone on, never tried a shot, never really registered. Still doesn’t look ready for the first team.
Żurkowski—7: Showcased the box-to-box attributes that excited us to start with. Took some nice shots, showed the ability to carry the ball past defenders, and dug in defensively. Not on the same page as everyone yet, but should be a key component for Montella this year. Also, when he defends, he crouches and puts his hands out for balance and shuffles back and forth like a crab and it’s really good.
Montiel—6.5: Darted around making trouble for the defense and helping in possession, but always seemed a half-step away from delivering the final product. Still held up well against some experienced and physical top-flight defenders before rolling his ankle pretty badly while jumping away from a challenge. Hope he’s okay too.
Vlahović—7: Caused an unholy mess for the Chivas defense by running through the channels. Had at least 3 shots (including one off the bar) that could have been goals and did a decent job linking play. Once he figures out how to use his size better and cleans up his first touch with his back to goal, he’s going to be a problem.
Hristov—5.5: Had very little to do other than pass the ball sideways.
Lakti—5.5: See above. Still looks a year or two away from readiness for the top flight.
Koffi—n/a: Came on after Montiel went out injured in stoppage time.
Three things we learned
- This is the same team as last year, but also different. How many times last year did Fiorentina dominate a match, then concede a goal on the break and go into shock? (A lot.) They did the former two in this one, and it seemed like we were in for a repeat performance. Instead of hanging their heads, though, the players focused, got an equalizer, got a winner, and made sure they were the better side throughout. That’s a big change. Not sure if that’s on Montella or just on a new season wiping away the sins of the last one, but wow does it feel good to see.
- Benassi is still a weirdo. As we mentioned above, Marco was quite good today. He still doesn’t have a real position, though: he spent as much time on the left wing as in central midfield in the first half. After Báez came in, he switched to the right side and played a more traditional role, with the Cheese then working as the more attack-minded midfielder. If two completely dissimilar coaches in Stefano Pioli and Montella both see Benassi as this weird, positionless, floating presence, maybe that’s his best role and figuring out how to use his energy and appreciation for space is the key to unlocking his best. Cousin Vinnie sure looked like he’s cottoning on here.
- The defensive shape was so different. When Chivas had the ball in defense and Fiorentina wanted to press, they did something very new to them. Rather than just having everyone charge at the defense, the wingers and midfielders would drop into a bank of five. When an opposing centerback got the ball, the striker would initiate the press. If the ball moved to a fullback, the winger would step up. If the ball went to the other centerback, a central midfielder would roar forward to close him down while the wingers stayed back to form a bank of four. While it’s unclear if this tactic is in use just because it’s easy to coach (keep in mind these guys haven’t trained under Montella very long) or because it’s the primary plan, it’s worth keeping an eye on as it forces the ball wide or back, minimizing space between the lines. If an opposing midfielder had dropped deep and wide, though, he probably would have broken the press pretty easily. Just something to keep an eye on.
What other thoughts do you have on this one?