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AC Milan 2-0 Fiorentina: Player grades and 3 things we learned

Prandelli’s second Serie A game in charge didn’t answer any questions, other than “Will Fiorentina still play badly?”

AC Milan v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A
The most accurate facial expression imaginable.
Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Player grades

Bartłomiej Drągowski—8: As usual, Bart was the team’s only impressive performer. The penalty save will and should get the headlines, but he was quick off his line to punch the ball clear and commanding in the hurly burly of the box. As Fiorentina’s top performer this season by miles, give the man a raise.

Martín Cáceres—2.5: And as usual, it was the Uruguayan who put Bart’s goal at risk all evening. The penalty was a terrible one to concede and there were plenty of other miscues, none more glaring than a failure to deal with the corner that led to Alessio Romagnoli’s goal. You can tell that the spirit is willing, but the flesh definitely needs a break.

Nikola Milenković—6: The only member of the defense to look remotely stable. Mostly pocketed Ante Rebić. Was a bit slow to step up once or twice but won 9 aerial duels, timed his interventions nicely, and didn’t give the ball away.

Germán Pezzella—4: A rough outing for the captain, who gave away a pretty poor penalty with a sliding challenge from behind on Alexis Saelemaekers with the Belgian clean through on goal. He was decent sweeping up, but had a couple of shaky moments besides the penalty, including a jaunt forward on which he lost the ball high up the pitch and hung his colleagues out to dry a bit. Doesn’t look entirely fit to me.

Cristiano Biraghi—4: Mostly a non-factor. Beaten like a drum by Saelemaekers and was nowhere to be seen when the winger broke into space. Had Biraghi been a factor at the other end, this might be excusable. However, he completed just 1 of 10 crosses, delivered some poor set pieces, and generally vanished at that end as well. Booked late on for a frustration foul.

Sofyan Amrabat—5.5: Standout performer in the first half, throwing his body around, winning the ball, and starting moves with long diagonals or quick shimmies past his marker. Faded in the second half and appeared to lose his focus, missing on a number of relatively straightforward passes and dribbling into dead ends. Something just isn’t clicking.

Erick Pulgar—4.5: Shut off completely on the opening goal, letting Romagnoli stroll alone to the back post to nod home. Bustled around and won the ball quite effectively otherwise but failed to deal with Hakan Çalhanoglu, who often operated in the half spaces. Offered very little going forward and probably should have been pulled to provide a more positive midfield presence.

Gaetano Castrovilli—4.5: Once again, too peripheral to the action. Drifted out to the left but never seemed to find any space. Seems much more hesitant to dribble through the middle these days and seems content to wait for the ball to meander to him rather than seeking it out. If he’s not going to drop deep and offer that ball-carrying aspect, needs to offer some runs in behind. Was quite engaged defensively but remains so passive in possession.

José Callejón—4.5: Barely even there. Probably not entirely fit and played like it. On the positive side, offered width on the right for the first time this year and had a couple of good moments, particularly when pressing. Clearly needs time to settle in and get on the same page as everyone else.

Dušan Vlahović—4: Rattled the woodwork with a fierce shot that had Gianluigi Donnarumma beaten but was fairly disastrous otherwise. Not very involved in the buildup, unable to hold off his man or win fouls, and quite static off the ball. Did have a few nice moments working the channels but insists on playing as a holdup man rather than a more dynamic forward. Still seems to be trying to force things rather than letting them come to him, which means he’s got the exact opposite problem as Castrovilli.

Franck Ribery—3: Probably not fit but holy smokes was he bad. Completely unable to wriggle past Davide Calabria or anyone else, consistently failed to track Calabria back (which left Biraghi in several awkward situations), lost the ball more than anyone else, gummed up the attack by putting his foot on the ball too often, missed a 1-v-1, and generally looked every day of his 37 years. He’s an outrageous player and is much better than he showed, but maybe it’s time to give him a week or two off.

Giacomo Bonaventura—5: Had a couple of clever runs into the box from deep positions that confused the AC Milan defense, highlighting what Castrovilli should’ve been doing all along. Not particularly useful with the ball, but quite intelligent without it.

Patrick Cutrone—4: Registered 6 touches in his 24 minutes. With another little bit of vertical leaping, could’ve turned home a good Lirola cross, but instead headed it straight upwards. That was his only real contribution, aside from some darting runs in behind that his teammates missed.

Pol Lirola—6: Immediately started asking questions the Rossoneri weren’t entirely able to answer. Fizzed in a couple of decent crosses. More importantly, offered a target for switching play, and used that space to burst forward. Still a bit shaky defensively, but that’s less a concern for a team that hasn’t scored in 409 minutes in Serie A.

Borja Valero—5: Did all the Borja things you’d expect him to do. Kept the ball ticking over nicely, but the team needed more incision than he could offer.

Christian Kouamé—4: Didn’t have the time to make an impact and didn’t get the ball near the area, so it’s tough to be angry at him.

Three things we learned

1. It’s time for Cesare Prandelli to turn the bench mob loose. Through 3 games in 7 days, we’ve seen 6 of 10 outfield players start every match. While there’s certainly an argument to be made for sticking with Castrovilli, Amrabat, and Milenković, guys like Vlahović, Germán , and Biraghi could all drop to the bench so we can get a look at how the likes of Igor, Lucas Martínez Quarta, Lorenzo Venuti, Antonio Barreca, and Alfred Duncan look under Prandelli. This group of starters clearly isn’t getting it. While there were a couple of moves that showed some progress compared to the Benevento match, the fact remains that Fiorentina summoned forth 5 shots today and put just 3 on frame, bringing their total under Prandelli to 17 and 9, respectively. Prandelli’s been great at trying new tactics to shake things up, but it’s time to rotate in some fresh faces. If nothing else, it’ll force the “starters” to earn their places back.

2. The backline needs to be reshuffled. Prandelli’s basic defensive scheme is apparent: two central defenders, a rightback who sits back, and a leftback who stays high up to add width to the attack. In theory, that’s a good use of the roster. In practice, it’s been the opposite. Using Pezzella (who, again, still seems to be carrying an ankle injury) as the left-sided central defender means he has to cover a lot more ground behind Biraghi, which the pacier Milenković would probably do better. The real problem is at rightback, though. While Milenković and Cáceres have both played that role before, they offer little going forward and Cáceres in particular is prone to losing his man in space, which is bad in those wide areas. While bringing Igor or LMQ in and pushing Milenković wide again could work (and would add another set piece option), the lack of width and pace going forward, especially on the right, calls for a different solution. While fielding two attack-minded fullbacks means that the midfield structure would need substantial rejiggering to offer sufficient cover, this team desperately needs some dynamism in the final third with Ribery and Callejón simply not able to offer that fleetness of foot anymore.

3. There aren’t any immediate solutions. This isn’t really something we just learned, but the product on the pitch proves the point. This team just isn’t put together logically. It’s vaguely suited to various approaches, but a lot of the players overlap in terms of their attributes so much as to render each other redundant; meanwhile, there are some very important and obvious attributes entirely absent from the squad that force a manager to either shoehorn some hapless dude into a role that doesn’t fit him at all, or to simply ignore an entire area of the game. Sure, getting everyone to understand basic passing moves will make a difference, but unless and until this roster gets turned over quite a bit, the current group of players don’t have the right mix of talents to help themselves or each other. That’s not a problem you fix over a single January transfer window and it’s not one for which we should pillory Prandelli, either. It’s going to be another long year, folks. Buckle in.