Bartłomiej Drągowski—6: Didn’t really have all that much to do. Not at fault for either goal and didn’t face any other shots on frame. Punched a cross wide and controlled his area decently well. Fine with his distribution. Not the issue here.
Nikola Milenkovic—6.5: Controlled his side of the pitch pretty well. Mostly erased Bright Gyamfi from the proceedings and checked Diego Farias well in open play. Had a couple of nervous moments, particularly when he was shifted into the middle of the three, but was also not the issue here.
Germán Pezzella—7: Picked quite a way to announce his return to the squad with a thumping header, but seemed a step off at times, highlighted by the moment when he let M’Bala Nzola charge him down and race off the other way unopposed. Picked up some kind of injury but made it off the field under his own power. Here’s hoping it’s nothing serious despite the long face.
Martín Cáceres—4: You could argue that both goals were his fault. He put a touch on Terzi’s simple pass, although referee Gianluca Manganiello probably should’ve whistled it dead, as Daniele Verde was way offside and profited from it. The Uruguayan also got in Igor’s way as he tried to clear a cross, leading to a skew right to Farias to equalize. He’s had at least one major mistake in each of the last three games and looks like he needs a break.
Pol Lirola—6.5: Showed what he offers with the run to assist Biraghi, flashing pace and perfect cross, but lost the ball cheaply and struggled to contain Simone Bastoni on the overlap. That said, he was 4/4 on tackles, made 2 interceptions, 3 clearances, and 2 blocks, so you can’t fault his defensive work too much. Would love to see him with a bit more freedom to get forward.
Giacomo Bonaventura—4.5: Tried to make things happen but failed. Didn’t see nearly enough of the ball and gave it away too easily when he did. Tacked on 6 fouls as well. Simply cannot start ahead of Alfred Duncan.
Sofyan Amrabat—4.5: Another iffy day for the Moroccan. Misplaced simple passes far too often and complicated things for himself at times by trying to dribble out of pressure. Clearly wants the responsibility to run the game (he led the team in touches and always dropped deep to offer a passing option) but this setup doesn’t seem to maximize his talents.
Gaetano Castrovilli—4.5: Completely peripheral going forward (37 touches in 78 minutes) and didn’t do anything to help the attack. Was reasonably engaged defensively, but the man wearing the 10 shirt needs to do a lot more; if that means dropping into the defense to start possession and get himself moving forward with the ball, so be it. His current brief of waiting in space for someone to find him isn’t working.
Cristiano Biraghi—7.5: You have to make him the man of the match, seeing as how he got an assist and a goal, but he was quiet otherwise. Particularly struggled against Salvador Ferrer in the second half and didn’t offer any real threat from open play. While he was involved in possession, he offered almost no penetration and didn’t seem to be on the same page going forward as everyone else.
Dušan Vlahović—4: His decoy run off the corner cleared everyone out of Pezze’s way and his holdup play created the space for Lirola to cross for the second, but it all went south after that. Missed another sitter in almost comical fashion, heading a simple chance at the back post straight down and back up into his own face. Feels like that’s a pretty good summation.
Franck Ribery—6.5: Jinked his way around as usual, drawing fouls and pulling defenders out of shape, but didn’t ever take advantage of the mayhem he created. Had an unbelievable 60-yard run that petered out in the Spezia area when his 37 year old legs just gave up; had he finished it, it would’ve been the goal of the season. Obviously needs a little bit of help out there.
Igor—4: Hate to say it, but he showed why he’s been on the bench all these months. Whiffed on two clearances leading up to the goal and nearly let Nzola in to win it at the end with another at the end. He’s obviously got incredible talent but needs to be somewhere he’ll play regularly to develop. Sitting him on the bench and then dropping him to replace Pezzella isn’t in anyone’s best interest.
Patrick Cutrone—5: Looked lively enough. Showed nice timing on his runs to get into space behind, but didn’t make the right decision once he was there. Probably deserves a start at some point to see if he can get on another hot streak like he did to close out last year; that’s a lot harder to do for a guy who’s coming off the bench for 10 minutes a night.
Erick Pulgar—5: Made a highlight reel tackle on Gennaro Acampora right as the Aquilotto was about to pull the trigger, likely preventing a really dangerous shot. More than anything, it’s good to see that he’s healthy enough to play. After his recent travails, that’s more important than anything else.
José Callejón—n/a: Had 8 touches as a discombobulated Fiorentina were unable to get him the ball anywhere remotely useful. Showed a bit of pace and had a shot, so he should settle in pretty quickly.
Christian Kouamé—n/a: 4 minutes plus stoppage. That was it.
Three things we learned
1. This midfield isn’t working. On paper, this Fiorentina midfield is as good as any in Italy. Gaetano Castrovilli, Sofyan Amrabat, Erick Pulgar, Alfred Duncan, Giacomo Bonaventura, and Borja Valero are all vastly capable players with qualities that should complement each other perfectly. What we’ve seen on the pitch, however, has been disastrous. This group has lost the possession battle in all but one game, consistently loses the ball in dangerous positions, and constantly gets in its own way. Using Amrabat as the single holder has failed; he needs a partner (Pulgar or Duncan) in those deeper spots. If that means that Jack drops to the bench, so be it. Maybe that will begin to fix what’s wrong, but that won’t be the entire solution. It’s not just the selection. It’s the entire approach that’s letting this team down.
2. Iachini’s substitution patterns are actively hurting this team. Spezia’s first goal was a freak occurrence but fit the narrative of the game. The hosts had been growing into proceedings and were starting to ask questions that Fiorentina couldn’t convincingly answer. Bringing in some fresh legs to query the Aquilotti right back would’ve been the natural choice. With Amrabat and Vlahović in particular struggling, Duncan, Pulgar, Kouamé, and Cutrone were all waiting to be deployed. Instead, the mister stood pat while Spezia took control. While there’s something to be said for trusting your players enough to let them figure it out themselves, that wasn’t happening. If Beppe can’t use the big money signings riding the pine, it’s just that much wasted cash. We can have the chicken/egg debate forever about whether it’s Iachini’s fault for not using the squad or Daniele Pradè’s for bringing in the wrong types of players, but the manager has to work with what he has and get the best from his charges. Beppe ain’t.
3. This is just a game. Yall know that I can write 2000 words about boring minutiae at the drop of a hat. I’m not going to do that right now because that’s way less important than what’s going on around here right now. Instead, I’m going to remind everyone that, as frustrated as we all are, we need to put down the torches and pitchforks. Name calling and insults don’t accomplish anything other than getting us even more riled up. At the end of the day, we’re upset about a bunch of strangers running around on a nice lawn. Let’s all take a few deep breaths, exhale together, and try to calm down. Call a family member or a friend. Have a nap. Read a book. Go for a walk. Relax. This is your hobby, remember?