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

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Can’t really just write “team’s broken” anymore, because that’s a lesson we learned months ago; we’re diving a little deeper now.

Atalanta BC v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Player grades

Bartłomiej Drągowski—8: Made 3 showstopping saves in the first half to keep it level. Not at fault for any of the goals. As he has been for the majority of his games this year, was the only possible choice for man of the match.

Lorenzo Venuti—5.5: Mostly adequate defensively and certainly not the biggest problem. Struggled a bit to mark Atalanta’s players on the edge of the box, but so does everyone. Offered little going forward, at least until Lirola came off, but that’s more of a systemic issue. At bare minimum a big improvement on Martín Cáceres.

Nikola Milenković—4.5: Played a flawless first half and then turned in a remarkably bad second half. Fouled needlessly, didn’t jump on the Malinovskiy free kick that whistled right over his head, got bossed by Duván Zapata, switched off at set pieces, and generally looked disinterested. Can’t blame him there, but it wasn’t a good performance.

Germán Pezzella—4.5: Bodied by Zapata on the first goal and rather ineffectual throughout. Failure to organize the defense at set pieces isn’t entirely on him, but when you’re the leader at the back, you’ve got to do better. Also hit some really poor passes to lose possession and give la Dea a running start on counterattacks.

Cristiano Biraghi—4.5: Big oof from the fullback. Nearly scored with a cross so bad that it baffled Pierluigi Gollini and made one nice sliding challenge on Hans Hateboer, but missed all his crosses at the other end and struggled to contain Ruslan Malinovskiy and Hans Hateboer, who continually exposed his lack of lateral quickness. Went off with what looked like a calf or ankle injury.

Erick Pulgar—5: Actually did an okay job of shutting Matteo Pessina out of the game, but offered nothing going forward and was invisible at set pieces. Not his best outing.

Sofyan Amrabat—3.5: Really poor from the Moroccan. Constantly made absentminded passes that Atalanta picked off, gave up needless fouls, switched off on a couple of runs to allow la Dea in on goal, slowed the tempo when Fiorentina needed to push it. There’s obviously a talented player in there but it seems like Ivan Jurić is the only one able to coax him out.

Giacomo Bonaventura—5: Not great, but understood that he needed to run over the top sometimes to offer the attack some verticality and did so. No end product and no real highlights to speak of but at least seemed to be on the right track mentally. Compared to the rest of the team, that’s a step up.

Pol Lirola—4: Looked lost playing on the right of an attacking band of three. Had a couple of nice moments when he got the ball in space and could use his athleticism but still doesn’t seem to like playing high up the pitch.

Valentin Eysseric—5: Aside from the surreality of seeing him start for Fiorentina in 2020, was probably the most competent attacker for stretches. Looked to move the ball forward rather than backwards, which was a welcome change, and had one or two nice dribbles to win free kicks. Didn’t really do anything to open up Atalanta’s defense but wasn’t actively detracting from his side’s efforts, which feels like the lowest of bars and also a positive.

Dušan Vlahović—4: Nearly scored an absolute belter that was just a Gollini fintertip from rippling the net, but that was the only positive. Continues to go to ground far too easily, shows an inability to hold up play, misses simple passes to link up with his teammates, and makes awful decisions on the ball. You can see glimpses of the player he could become, but they’re largely obscured by the player he is now.

Gaetano Castrovilli—5: Had a couple of neat little runs and set up Barreca’s chance. Held the ball a bit too much, but you can’t blame him for trying to go it alone when you look at what the rest of the team had manufactured.

Franck Ribery—5: Pretty much the exact same thing as Tanino. Did offer a slight change of pace off the bench, so hopefully this will be his permanent role, but a club-high salary and his obvious influence in the dressing room likely augur a return to the XI on Wednesday.

José Callejón—3.5: Stayed high and wide. Won a free kick and didn’t really do much else besides gum things up. Didn’t make many efforts to get in behind and didn’t do a lot of running.

Christian Kouamé—5: Looked active drifting into the channels and trying to connect with teammates but never really threatened. As per usual, starved of service and had a couple of clunky moments with the ball at his feet, but the good certainly outweighed the bad.

Antonio Barreca—4: Forced a rare save from Gollini with a powerful volley off a Castrovilli cross and ran up and down perfectly well but never really made an impact.

Three things we learned

1. There’s no tempo. Fiorentina started out decently for the first five or so minutes, winning the ball high and finding Vlahović in the channels. Once Atalanta worked that out, though, there was no Plan B. Cesare Prandelli spoke about the need to change the pace of the game when he took over, but so far he’s been unable to make it happen. The team’s still prone to knocking the ball aimlessly across the back, working it into the midfield, recycling it backwards, and repeating that until someone gets bored and thumps it long. Then the players jog back into position until they win the ball back and do it again. The press rarely kicks in until the ball gets halfway to their own 18. Being able to suddenly roar into a high press or snap passes in for the striker to knock down for supporting players running on would keep opponents on their toes. As is, they’re so very predictable and it makes them very easy to play against. Rather than asking new questions of the defense, they simply ask the same one over and over again.

2. Biraghi’s role doesn’t make sense. Biraghi’s favored style of play is to get forward, stay high up, and fire in crosses. He’s done this under various Viola coaches and you can see why: on a good day, he’s one of the best crossers in Italy. The problem is that, excepting Kouamé, Fiorentina don’t really have anyone to win high balls in the box. If crossing is going to be the strategy, fizzing in hard low balls and hoping that a well-timed runner from deep can meet it is probably better. That means getting to the byline and hammering it back towards the penalty spot. Biraghi, however, likes to hit lifted, curling crosses in. Without that aerial presence, there’s no real point to having him on the wing, as most defenses are happy to pack the middle and thump everything away. If Prandelli wants to get the most out of his Italy international, he needs to either add Kouamé to the starting lineup or order Biraghi to cross differently.

3. The set piece defense is a massive problem. I don’t recall which Proper Football Man decried zonal marking from set pieces with the immortally dunderheaded, “I’ve never seen a zone score a goal,” but he would’ve had a field day with Fiorentina’s performance in that department. While a zonal system can work just fine if everyone’s on the same page, it was glaringly obvious that everyone was not only on different pages but reading entirely different books. Atalanta scored twice from dead balls and would’ve had at least two more if not for Drągowski’s excellence. Milenković’s refusal to jump despite Bonaventura lying down behind the wall was punished by the ball sailing over him and into the net, while Rafael Toloi’s goal was just a comedy of errors from start to finish. A team as bad as the Viola can’t afford to leak in cheap goals like this. Whether that means scrapping the current system or simply drilling it relentlessly, something needs to change in a massive way.