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Parma 0-0 Fiorentina: Player grades and 3 things we learned

Increasing possession statistics: good. Playing like a Paulo Sousa team: bad.

Sofyan Amrabat of ACF Fiorentina in action during the Serie... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Player grades

Bartłomiej Drągowski—6: Never really did a thing. Punched a couple of shots and crosses out, but they were the type that you’d expect any professional goalkeeper to handle with a minimum of fuss.

Martín Cáceres—4.5: As usual, his side of the field seemed to be the one that caused problems. There were also a couple of bad giveaways in possession; the one that stands out was an attempt to dummy a pass to Venuti on the wing that was picked off, leaving both out of position. Once Germán Pezzella and Lucas Martínez Quarta are available, it’s time to put him on the shelf for awhile.

Nikola Milenković—6: Didn’t have to defend very much as Parma rarely ventured forward, but looked good with the ball at his feet and hit a couple of nice passes to the wings. Did commit a couple of fouls in dangerous areas that the hosts couldn’t do anything with. You could tell that he got frustrated at times with the slowness of the passing, though, as he’d charge forward with the ball instead of leaving it for a midfielder to recycle for the thousandth time.

Igor—6.5: Really good game for the Brazilian. Hit a couple of low passes through the lines for Ribery that you’d expect from a regista more than a Thanos cosplayer in defense. Adds some dynamism to drive forward in possession as well. Had one or two minor stumbles in defense but mostly erased everyone who came his way.

Lorenzo Venuti—6: Had a good duel going with Giuseppe Pezzella; the Parma man was probably stronger in the first half, but Lollo was consistently getting the better of him in the second before pulling up injured and having to leave. I’m not going to penalize his lack of attacking output because his brief was obviously to stay very deep rather than pushing on and offering width high up the pitch.

Sofyan Amrabat—6.5: Far and away the Moroccan’s best showing for Fiorentina. Freed from his defensive duties, he ran the show in possession, collecting 102 touches and demanding the ball from the defense. Rarely looked to dribble forward but did hit some nice long passes to switch play. You could tell he was frustrated at times with the lack of movement from his teammates, but this is certainly a performance to build on for him.

Erick Pulgar—7: Man of the match. Led the all players in touches with 103 and ball recoveries with 13. Every time Parma tried to build through the middle, he snuffed it out. Made a couple of vital interventions to end the few threatening Gialloblu attacks. More than anything, though, his disciplined presence allowed Amrabat freedom to roam and boss the game, and that made all the difference.

Gaetano Castrovilli—5: Peripheral to the action. Rarely looked to take on an opponent. Passed sideways exclusively. Did a good job of pressing to regain the ball but that was it. Also conceded possession way too often. Needed to be either running in behind or dribbling straight at defenders and did neither. Some of that’s on Beppe but some of it’s on him too.

Cristiano Biraghi—6: Stung Luigi Sepe’s palms with a nice free kick and put in a nice cross that Kouamé headed over. Pretty reserved going forward, although (and I’m sure you’re tired of hearing this refrain) that was probably a function of his instructions more than anything else. Mostly canceled out Alberto Grassi but didn’t provide too much otherwise.

Christian Kouamé—4.5: Stayed high up the pitch and tried to hold up play, but because everyone else stayed so deep, he was completely isolated for the entire game. Battled well enough but only got one chance, which was a tough header he missed. Battled away with some big, strong defenders and looked decent enough; the grade is more about the lack of support than anything else.

Franck Ribery—5: Often dropped level with the defenders to retrieve the ball, which torpedoed any forward thrust and left Kouamé isolated. Lost the ball too often and failed to create anything, although a lot of that was because he got kicked every time he got near someone wearing a white shirt. Another one irritated by the lack of forward movement from his teammates. Completely out of gas by the sixtieth minute.

Patrick Cutrone—5: Made a Hollywood tackle to set a counterattack the other way that Ribery ruined, but that was his highlight for the day. Showed an eagerness to get in behind that at least stressed the Parma defense a little more than Kouamé’s more static approach but didn’t ever really look like scoring.

Pol Lirola—5: Had a couple of pretty dynamic runs down the right and nearly created a late winner by dusting Pezzella but couldn’t pick the right pass. He’s clearly not the problem here.

Giacomo Bonaventura—4: Only played 10 minutes but didn’t do anything constructive.

Three things we learned

1. Fiorentina can keep the ball, albeit not in the right way. For the first time in I don’t know how long, the Viola absolutely dominated possession, seeing about 65% of the ball. That’s really nice. The problem, of course, is that it was Paulo Sousa-style possession, which means it was mostly passing across the back three until working it to a midfielder or wingback who quickly recycled it backwards. That sort of riskless, sterile passing never stresses the opposing defense, especially with everyone so static. With both Pulgar, Amrabat, and Ribery all dropping deep to pick up the ball, the wingbacks and Gaetano Castrovilli needed to be flying forward to offer progressive options. Instead, they remained reserved, leaving Kouamé and then Cutrone all alone up front. While Giuseppe Iachini undoubtedly altered his typical approach, his team looked more like they were practicing possession on the training ground than trying to create chances. That’s just as bad.

2. Pulgar is the key. I mentioned it already, but part of fixing the midfield is using a real holding midfielder next to Amrabat. Pulgar, who’s as disciplined as they come, fits the bill perfectly. He screened the defense really well, allowing Amrabat a lot more freedom to roam—the Moroccan occasionally closed down Parma’s defenders, which was a stark contrast to his previous deployment. With creative players in Amrabat, Castrovilli, and Ribery around him, Pulgar’s creative limitations should be completely mitigated. Letting him get the ball and play a simple pass to one of those guys should keep things flowing really nicely while letting Amrabat in particular drift around and spray the ball to the flanks. The caveat, of course, is that Parma were so negative that they never really pressed him, which means we have no idea how this trio will hold up against a team that actually wants to play ball. But in theory, this is the balance that should unlock everyone.

3. Beppe’s probably losing the dressing room. How many times did Ribery, Amrabat, and Milenković throw up their hands in frustration as they got on the ball, scanned for a forward option, and instead had to pass sideways or backwards because nobody was getting forward. Those are three of the team’s most important players and likely have a big say in the squad’s interpersonal dynamics. If they’re fed up, a full-scale rebellion could be brewing. We all know that Iachini’s a lame duck coach, and the players are more aware of that than anyone. It’s a deeply awkward situation for everyone involved and there’s probably no graceful way to resolve it, especially if management doesn’t want to appoint an interim manager this early in the season (which is a very sound position), so things might just stay bad for another few months. Or years.