After Douglas Costa went off early with an injury (and was replaced by Federico Bernardeschi). The real story, though, was the Juventus defense’s fecklessness in possession: Federico Chiesa charged down a Wojciech Szczęsny clearance and Franck Ribery nearly nipped in to steal a terrible Matthijs de Ligt backpass. The two attackers combined for a Ribery shot as well, and Chiesa and Gaetano Castrovilli had shots as well. But it was Dalbert who really should have opened the scoring, ghosting into the back post to meet a Ribery cross with his head, but making very scruffy contact and letting Szczęsny parry. At the other end, the visitors went close through a Blaise Matuidi blast that Bartłomiej Drągowski palmed away and a Miralem Pjanić try from distance that was fairly simple for the young Pole. The half ended scoreless but with Fiorentina obviously in the ascendancy due to their energy and unconventional formation.
The hosts picked up right where they’d left off, with Rivery turning de Ligt’s legs into jelly and Castrovilli whiffing on a brilliant chance to take the lead with a miskicked shot after some fine work by Fede. Ribery had the highlight of the day with a brilliant tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo (who didn’t really do anything in this one) to end a counterattack and leave the Portuguese forward on his butt, whining for a whistle that would never blow. The only real chance for the Juvenuts was on the break, but Germán Pezzella tracked back to clear it off the line. Nikola Milenković powerfully headed a corner straight at the Juve number one, but the visitors nearly stole a point at the end when substitute Federico Ceccherini’s disastrous backpass forced Drago off his line quickly to clear.
Drągowski—6.5: Made a couple of strong saves and was quick off his line. Kept his distribution pretty good and didn’t make any mistakes. Earning a clean sheet against Juve is no small matter for a goalkeeper, so good on him.
Milenković—7: Put Ronaldo in his pocket and zipped it shut, leaving the attacker silent for most of the match. Also moved the ball around pretty well, stepping forward from the back, and dominated his side of the pitch. Big improvement over the past couple of matches.
Pezzella—7: Marked a red-hot Gonzalo Higuaín out of the match, made a goal line clearance, and handled his job as weeper like the Argentina international he is. Again, a huge improvement over the past couple of appearances for the captain. Hard to understand why he was subbed off for another defender unless he was hurt, so hopefully there’s nothing worrisome there.
Cáceres—7: Put in some crunching tackles, displayed all the grinta you’d expect, and offered more going forward than we expected. Counting on such an injury-prone player may be a recipe for disaster, but he’s obviously still got the talent that’s earned him 95 caps for Uruguay.
Lirola—6: May be starting to settle in a bit. Went on a couple of decent runs and picked a couple of nice passes, but was generally more conservative with his positioning as compared to his previous outings. Definitely has another gear or two.
Pulgar—6.5: Battled the Juve midfield to a standstill. Attempted and made more tackles than anyone on the pitch. Didn’t do a whole lot in the final third, but absolutely dominated the center of the field. Also utterly dumptrucked Ronaldo at one point, which was fun.
Badelj—6.5: Did his usual Badelj stuff. Put himself in space for simple forward passes from the defense, kept the ball moving quickly, led the game in interceptions made, and generally faded into the background in the best possible way. Such a talented and understated player.
Castrovilli—7.5: Made Juve’s midfield look old and slow. Fearlessly drove forward in possession time and again, earning free kicks or bursting into space and laying the ball off. Should have scored, probably, but we’ll take a magnificent performance either way. Really starting to fulfill the promise that saw us rate him as one of Fiorentina’s best prospects these past two years and looks like the first playmaker in the middle since Borja Valero.
Dalbert—7: He’s probably still moving at a dead sprint; dude must have a truly mind-boggling level of fitness. Got forward well and showed more in attack than expected, but his primary threat is his sheer pace down the wing. Combined really well with Ribery. Was fine on the back foot. Really, really, really should have scored.
Chiesa—7: Jinked and juked his way around, finding space in the channels and out wide. Did naughty things to defenders with his dribbling, had a couple of excellent shots, and looked less selfish and irritable than we’ve seen this year. His connection with Ribery was very encouraging.
Ribery—7.5: Ran the show. Dropped deep to pick up the ball and thread it through for runners, won free kicks, put de Ligt in a blender, and gave CR7 bofa. Reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated. Hopefully the hamstring niggle he picked up isn’t anything serious.
Boateng—5.5: While he wasn’t able to replace Ribery’s contributions (they’re very different players, after all), he battled away with de Ligt and Leonardo Bonucci, providing a focal point and, more than anything, a decoy to free up space for Chiesa and Castrovilli. This sort of bench role is exactly what he seems best suited for.
Ceccherini—5: Nearly threw away the point with a boneheaded backpass but was fine otherwise.
Żurkowski—n/a: Made his Serie A debut mostly so Castrovilli could walk off and get a nice ovation.
Three things we learned
1. Franck Ribery is not in Florence to mess around. At 36 years old and with a series of accolades that set him equal with nearly anyone in the world, there was some question as to whether he was looking to boost a fascinating new project or just cash a check in the world’s most beautiful city. He definitely put paid to that debate, showing that the fire burns strong in his belly and that his mind and feet remain as sharp as you could possibly ask. While asking him to start every week probably isn’t realistic, he’s definitely a massive asset for this team.
2. This 3-5-2 is interesting but may not be sustainable. By opting not to field a real striker, Montella left the Juventus defense deeply confused, with Bonucci and especially de Ligt unsure of whom to mark and chasing shadows as Chiesa and Ribery jetted around into threatening spaces and attacked from surprising angles. More interesting to me, though, was the defense. By spreading 3 players across the back, the Viola had a lot more angles to work the ball forward into midfield from the defense, allowing them to build and maintain attacks much more impressively than against Napoli or Genoa. Again, this may only work against teams that play a high defensive line, which won’t be the case for many of Fiorentina’s opponents this year, but Montella at least has another arrow in his quiver.
3. Gaetano Castrovilli, yall. The 22-year-old has been one of our favorite starlets for awhile (evidence here and here), but not even we expected him to be one of Italy’s most impressive midfielders in this young season. We already mentioned it in this recap, but he’s already perhaps the best midfield playmaker this team has had since el Sindaco. He’s in line for a big extension very soon and should be hearing from Roberto Mancini this year. He is very, very good.