A nearly full Artemio Franchi saw Fiorentina boss Vincenzo Montella send out his expected XI with two exceptions: Aleksa Terzić stepped in at leftback and Marco Benassi started in midfield over Gaetano Castrovilli. Monza mister Cristian Brocchi selected the exact lineup everyone predicted. Also, it was a soggily hot day, which may have affected the proceedings considerably.
The hosts came out firing, with Kevin-Prince Boateng, Federico Chiesa, and Benassi all having good chances early, while Terzić and Pol Lirola provided a serious threat on the overlap for the first 20 minutes. Monza absorbed the pressure and began threatening on the break, finally taking the lead through Andrea Brighenti, left unmarked in the middle of the box by Lirola, to turn home a cross from Franco Lepore. The Viola scuffled after that, never really mounting a serious threat, and the half ended with the Biancorossi looking the better side.
Lirola, shaken up by a terrible Giuseppe Bellusci challenge, had to come off, so Lorenzo Venuti made his senior-side debut. Nothing really changed, though, as the Viola looked out of ideas and open on the counter, although Monza weren’t ever really able to pull anything together. With 10 minutes left, though, substitutes Dušan Vlahović and Tòfol Montiel combined to put the former through on goal twice in 6 minutes, and the Large Teen converted both opportunities cool as you like for his first 2 goals as a Viola professional. He then turned provider for Chiesa, who curled home a guided missile a minute from full time to put the result beyond doubt.
Drągowski—6.5: Made one very good save in the first half and wasn’t really tested otherwise. Not at fault at all on the goal. Showed some decent composure in distribution too.
Lirola—5: Had a couple of bright moments going forward but never seemed to get on the same page as Chiesa, probably because they haven’t played together much. Sure looked like he lost Brighenti on the goal. Hopefully his injury is just an impact issue and won’t keep him out long.
Milenković—6.5: Did well running the defense in Pezzella’s absence. Made some lovely passes through the lines along the carpet and physically dominated Monza’s strikers. Just too big and strong and fast for anyone to really trouble.
Ranieri—6: Very calm performance. Rarely out of position and rarely made a wrong decision. Times his tackles to perfection and can stick to a man. Still needs to get stronger, but he’s got every tool you could want in a central defender making his senior team debut.
Terzić—6: Looked dominant in the early going as he overlapped, showing pace and creative crossing and running. Nowhere to be seen on the Monza goal, though, and fell apart a bit afterwards; lots of crosses to nobody and fruitless sprints up the pitch. Definitely still a step or two below Biraghi.
Pulgar—6: Looks like a solid midfield terrier. Won the ball well and kept his distribution simple and safe. Not as impressive in the attacking third, where a couple of ill-advised decisions killed promising moves. His set piece delivery was also sub-par, although that should improve with more time on the training ground.
Badelj—6.5: Had a very Badelj game, which is always a good thing. Consistently positioned himself in the right place in every phase of the game, switched the ball around unfussily, and made good choices. This team missed him so, so much.
Benassi—4.5: Had a couple of decent chances that he fired off target, but wasn’t really involved otherwise. Continues to drift out wide rather than providing an option through the middle; when he does move central, he’s usually playing as a striker more than a midfielder.
Chiesa—7: Rather quiet early on, but started to find space in the second half. His shooting seemed rushed, as he took a number of pot shots from distance, but he came close more often than not so you can’t criticize too much, especially when he converted the dagger. After sitting out most of the preseason, still not in sync with the rest of the squad, perhaps.
Boateng—5: Got the ball in the net once but was rightly ruled offside. Won some duels and laid the ball off a few times, but didn’t get involved the way you’d like. Might be better suited to a slightly deeper role playing off a main striker.
Sottil—6.5: Brilliant in the early going, bamboozling his marker several times and getting Scaglia booked. Got to the touchline and fizzed in a couple of nice passes and combined well with Terzić. Faded in the second half.
Venuti—6: Competed well without ever really being tested. Tends to pinch in, allowing a big switch to find his man in space, but never really got beaten when that happened. Contributed little going forward, but that may have been by design as he dropped stayed deep to form more of a back 3 with Terzić pushing forward on the other side.
Montiel—7.5: Just a delight, isn’t he? Two wonderful through passes for assists to Vlahović showed his vision and the relationship they’ve formed over a year spent together with the Primavera. Drifts all over the pitch rather than staying wide. Looks like a fantastic supersub for this year, but probably not a great option as a starter. Still, he’s going to be a monster.
Vlahović—8.5: In 15 minutes, scored 2 goals and got an assist. Showcased his fantastic sense of timing and space with his runs through the channels (he missed another chance before he scored) and finally got his goals. You can’t do anything but be thrilled for him to score an equalizer and a winner on his competitive debut.
Three things we learned
1. If this is it, Napoli is going to blow the Viola out of the water next week. The lack of creativity in the middle and the openness on the break were mighty reminiscent of last season; as you may recall, that was a group that didn’t win a game in the league from February on. Unless they want to make it 15 straight in Serie A without a win, they need to tighten up all over the pitch, and do so in a hurry.
2. There’s still no balance. With both fullbacks bombing on and Erick Pulgar motoring forward as well, the Viola were very open at the back with just the central defenders and Milan Badelj back there. If both fullbacks have license to attack, Pulgar probably needs to stay deeper to put out fires on the break, especially since he had trouble influencing things further forward. Conversely, making sure at least one fullback stays back if Pulgar blasts forward needs to be a set-in-stone rule for this club. Fortunately, more time on the training ground and at the tactics board should help clear this up.
3. There are so many talented young players here. Lirola just turned 22. Chiesa, Milenković, and Drągowski are 21. Ranieri, Sottil, and Terzić are 20. Vlahović and Montiel are just 19. Of the 12 players who featured today, 75% are 22 or younger. Yes, a scrappy win against Monza doesn’t presage greatness, but this team is bursting with gifted young footballers and watching them grow together will be a pleasure all year, even if there are some bumps along the way.