Pietro Terracciano—6.5: Another good, stable showing for the backup. No really impressive saves, but was, as always, very quick off his line to sweep up behind the defense. Nearly had a howler as he dallied on the ball but got away from Kevin Lasagna.
Martín Cáceres—6: A bit uneven from Martín, but without a doubt his best showing of the season. Did a good job on Fernando Forrestieri for the most part and occasionally offered a bit of thrust down the right at times. Because he is who he is, there were still a few mistakes in there, but none of them were catastrophic.
Nikola Milenković—6.5: Big improvement from the big Serb compared to his work against Benevento on Sunday. Assured in the air and soundly positioned for the most part, he even wore the armband after Pezze was subbed off. Never seemed too fussed by Lasagna.
Germán Pezzella—6.5: Quite good from the captain, who stonewalled everything that came near him and played mistake-free, offering a nice contrast to his last outing. Subbed off without any apparent injury, which was weird but probably just Prandelli trying to save his legs for Sunday.
Cristiano Biraghi—5: Struggled quite a bit to stay in front of Gerard Deulofeu and Nahuel Molina early on and clearly tired after 90 minutes, letting Jens Stryger Larsen find plenty of space down the wing. Didn’t offer too much going forward himself either and got a card for a petulant tackle.
Gaetano Castrovilli—5.5: Faded in and out of proceedings, although some of that felt like it was due to him trying to figure out his new role, which seemed to vary from the left of a midfield three to the left wing to trequartista. Made one or two excellent runs but also lost the ball a bit more often than you’d like to see. Not nearly creative enough with his passing for the role he played.
Erick Pulgar—6.5: Typical Pulgar performance, full of blood and thunder. Did a really nice job of sweeping up in front of (or occasionally behind) the defense and covered for the fullbacks when they went forward, which was often. As per usual, mostly kept his passing safe and short, but did have a couple of nice efforts to split the lines. Offers so much balance to the midfield.
Sofyan Amrabat—6.5: Had a few wobbles early on, as is customary for him, but showed off an incredible engine. Even deep into extra time, he was sprinting back and forth. Hit some nice switches, used his body to win the ball, and continually probed a well-drilled Udinese defense for weaknesses. Coming along nicely, especially paired with Pulgar.
Borja Valero—5.5: Offered a calming presence in possession but not an incisive one, which is perhaps what was needed with Pulgar and Amrabat keeping the ball pulsing around. Struggled a bit to contain Rodrigo de Paul and Roberto Pereyra.
Dušan Vlahović—3: Another crushing outing for the young man, lowlighted by his winning the ball high up the pitch and skying his shot when he was alone with Juan Musso and had Kouamé in support. Kept turning into defenders and lost the ball a lot. Had a few decent moments when he’d try to wall off his man and combine with the midfield, but not nearly enough to compensate for his overall showing. Also developing an unpleasant habit of going to ground very easily rather than using his largeness.
Christian Kouamé—6.5: Looked much more comfortable in a more central role than he did in the hybrid right-midfield/inside forward position he had against the Stregoni. Skipped away from a few challenges, showed some clever movement around the area, and combined well with his teammates. Received very little service.
Valentin Eysseric—4.5: He’s still alive, which is a positive. Was vaguely involved in the buildup to the goal but looked and played like a man who hasn’t been on the pitch in a competitive game for nearly 5 months. Didn’t show any explosiveness on the ball and was mostly absent from proceedings.
Igor—6.5: Replaced Pezzella and excelled, despite the maxims about how hard it is for a central defender to come on as a sub. Had a couple of charges forward in possession that were Castrovilli-esque and nonchalantly bounced Udinese’s forwards away whenever they got near him. Small sample size, but he seems to be taking well to Prandelli’s approach.
Pol Lirola—4.5: Originally introduced as a right winger but dropped to his more natural fullback spot once Montiel came on. That’s good, because he looked pretty lost as a winger.
Patrick Cutrone—6: Offered energy, surprisingly good holdup play, and clever movement, which clearly threw the Zebrette defense off by half a beat. Showed off his hustle and intelligence with the assist. Had a great chance to add another but shot poorly and from distance on the break despite having numbers with him. In fairness, though, seemed miles better than Vlahović.
Tòfol Montiel—7: Didn’t play for long but, just as he did in the Coppa last year, sparkled. Found little pockets of space and tried to hit quick passing combinations with his teammates, which was a novel approach, and even held up to some physical duels with the imposing Samir. Oh, and he scored a goddamn peach of a goal. With no other options on the wing, he could get some burn under Prandelli.
Three things we learned
1. This team remains a mess, structurally speaking. There was a back four and there was a front two, but the other four players were impossible to pin down. Pulgar was generally the holding midfielder, but Amrabat, Valero, and Castrovilli were all over the place, switching sides and taking it in turns to be the highest man up the pitch. Combined with the lack of width, particularly on the right, that flexibility led to quite a muddle in the center of the pitch. By the second half, Tanino had moved to a clear left-sided role (and eventually to the 10 after Eysseric and Montiel came on) and Amrabat had pretty clearly latched onto a central box-to-box brief. Both of those helped. Maybe once these guys are more familiar with each other and Prandelli’s system, that kind of fluidity will allow Fiorentina to attack from unexpected angles and positions. For now, though, it looks like four guys trying to occupy the same 10 square meters of grass and tripping all over each other.
2. Wide forwards are necessary. Prandelli’s best teams have always used wide attackers. Even the 4-3-1-2 he used with Italy in the Euros was based around Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli working the channels and wide areas more than staying central. A similar approach might work with the Viola; Cutrone and Kouamé, at least, both have some experience with this kind of job, and it would let that midfield four stay intact. That said, San Cesare clearly switched things up to a 4-2-3-1 with the introduction of Eysseric, and Fiorentina looked much better at that point. The 4-2-3-1 is the shape that everyone in Florence associates with Prandelli. The downside, of course, is that there aren’t any wingers on the roster. Eysseric isn’t registered for league games, and with Franck Ribery and José Callejón a combined 70 years old, you can’t really count on them for weekly contributions. Whether that means Montiel gets more chances or Giacomo Bonaventura and Riccardo Saponara get stuck into awkward wide positions, that could be the best option.
3. Prandelli’s trying to figure things out. While it’s a bit frustrating that there weren’t many changes to the XI, you’ve got to give Prandelli plenty of credit for switching up his approach. When his initial, narrow tactics failed, he went to the bench and switched things up within the hour. That kind of willingness to swap horses mid-stream is something we haven’t seen since I don’t know when. While there are still massive problems with this team—the midfield redundancies, the forwards’ unwillingness to combine with each other or anyone else, the lack of quick ball movement—this offers hope that Prandelli may be able to at least halt the rot that looked to be taking over this side, even if he may not be able to fix it entirely. At the very least, he’ll throw some new combinations at the wall and see what sticks.