Bartłomiej Drągowski—7: Not a whole lot to do for the Polish messiah. Had nothing to do with the penalty. Did make a 1-v-1 save on Darko Lazović that was funny because, as he came off his line, it never crossed my mind that he wouldn’t stop the Serbian speedster. That kind of unthinking confidence says all you need to know about Saint Bartholomew. Also, his beard was extra good today.
Nikola Milenković—6.5: Should’ve won it with a header that bounced agonizingly wide late on, but never seemed all that troubled. Stayed in front of the tricky Mattia Zaccagni and didn’t seem to struggle with the pacy duo of Eddie Salcedo and Embrima Colley. Did lose track of Lazović but had Drągowski there to save his blushes.
Germán Pezzella—6.5: Pretty much faultless except for the Lazović chance. Had a few wobbles while tracking Hellas Verona’s stable of rapid young attackers but held it together pretty well.
Igor—6.5: Was superb for most of the game, erasing Salcedo from the proceedings entirely. Landed badly on his ankle after a second half header (feet aren’t supposed to bend that way) and subsequently struggled to track substitute Kevin Rüegg, but between his physical presence, his absurd quickness, and his comfort in possession, he’s surely surpassed Martín Cáceres in the pecking order.
Lorenzo Venuti—6.5: Another solid showing for Lollo. Kept the dangerous Lazović quiet for the most part (the chance the Serbian had wasn’t on him at all) and occasionally drove forward to support the attack, although he was more energetic than effective. For the second straight game, airmailed a shot from distance with his left, although it’s not fair to judge him all that harshly for it.
Giacomo Bonaventura—4: Should’ve been sent off for elbowing Federico Ceccherini in the face twice in 10 minutes while competing for headers. Had a few decent moments but was largely ineffective. Spent most of the second half playing as more of a winger than a central midfielder but accomplished little. Adds a threat running into the box from midfield, but that theoretical benefit is all he offered here.
Sofyan Amrabat—7: Played like a bully against his former side and it was great. Threw his body around, bowled people over, won the ball in promising spots, and passed well. His positional discipline is barely there, but against a team that doesn’t try to pass through the middle (like Verona), his energy and brute force are unstoppable.
Gaetano Castrovilli—6: Had a pretty bad first half and then a pretty good second half. Tried to do too much early on, constantly taking one or two too many touches, but started playing more quickly after the break and kept the attack ticking along effectively. He’s still a bit loose with the ball at times and still has a penchant for pointless fouls, but the concerns about his demise are probably overblown, in large part due to his defensive contributions. Even on an off day, he remains somewhat effective.
Antonio Barecca—3.5: In his first Serie A start for Fiorentina, he introduced himself about as poorly as you possibly can. Probably didn’t catch Salcedo enough to give away the penalty but went in recklessly and for no reason. Most of Verona’s attacks seemed to come down his side as well. Was quite poor going forward as well, connecting on 1 of his 9 crosses and consistently failing to beat the first defender with his set pieces. He’s probably better than he showed, but Biraghi’d better stay healthy.
Franck Ribery—4.5: Not a strong showing from the veteran. Tied for the team lead in possession loss despite having just 33 touches. Didn’t create anything and actively killed several chances due to his desire to slow things down. Remains curiously afraid to shoot. Might just be tired after playing nearly two full games in 3 days at the age of 37. Give the man a break, please.
Dušan Vlahović—7.5: Showcasing immense improvement. Competing for aerial balls and holding play up much better. Drew 5 fouls and finally played with the physicality you’d expect from a big man. Drew the penalty and showed some fire before and after converting it. Took an absolute beating from a mean Verona defense and never stopped working. His movement off the ball could improve and he still tries to do too much at times, but he’s been miles better these past 2 matches and it’s very encouraging.
Cristiano Biraghi—6: Added a lot more on the left flank and even put in a couple of decent free kicks, which forged a chance or two. Was very impressive in defense, though, shutting down his side of the pitch; after his introduction, the visitors ran everything down the Viola right after Biraghi put in some crunching tackles on Faraoni. Did have a couple awkward moments dealing with the impressive Rüegg, but still a big improvement.
Pol Lirola—5: Played in one ball that could’ve been a lot better and was otherwise quiet. Nothing catastrophic but nothing to write home about either. Clearly behind Venuti on the team sheet right now.
José Callejón—4: Barely registered. Almost got to an excellent Vlahović cross but didn’t reach it; when your most visible contribution is not touching the ball, it’s not your evening. Did spend some time playing in central midfield, which is definitely not his jam, so I’m not blaming him entirely.
Borja Valero—n/a: 6 minutes aren’t enough time to show much of anything.
Patrick Cutrone—n/a: 4 minutes aren’t enough time to show much of anything either.
Three things we learned
1. Growth isn’t linear. It’s nice to imagine players steadily improving into the best versions of themselves, but that’s not at all how this thing works. Vlahović, after a full season spent looking lost, petulant, and generally hopeless, has suddenly reinvented himself as a fiery holdup player over the past week. He’s dribbling less, passing more, and now looks like he could be a functional Serie A striker. Gaetano Castrovilli, on the other hand, has fallen off from his impressive debut last year. He doesn’t carry the ball forward and loses the ball more than all but 4 players in the league (Ribery tops this stat with Vlahović 2 spots behind him). However, Tanino’s become a defensive whiz, constantly harassing opponents and winning the ball. He’s not the dynamic dribbler he was last year, but he may well rediscover that soon. Basically, Vlahović and Castrovilli show how much our idea of growth as a constant and steady process differs from reality, when guys seem to stagnate for weeks or months before making a leap forward.
2. It’s time to embrace the youth movement. Fiorentina has a good core of players under 24: Drągowski, Amrabat, Castrovilli, Vlahović, Kouamé, Igor, Lirola, and Lucas Martínez Quarta are all talented and could wind up being much better than they are now. To allow them room to do so, Cesare Prandelli needs to identify their collective strengths and weaknesses and use the rest of the squad to emphasize the former and mitigate the latter. Since that’s an athletic group, a style of play that relies on running and quick movement makes the most sense to me. Unfortunately, that means that older, slower players who want to hold the ball—Ribery and Valero—should be phased out. By emphasizing the young talent currently on the roster, the Viola will make their pending coaching vacancy a lot more interesting to good tacticians and should be better able to attract young talent. It’s a bit risky, as ditching some of the more proven guys in the team will likely lead to more volatile short-term results in a year when the margins are already pretty slim, but it’s the right long-term decision. Daniele Pradè, Joe Barone, and Prandelli need to get on the same page and make it happen.
3. Bart’s beard is the league’s best and may be the best in the world. Now that Davide Moscardelli has retired, I can’t think of another beard in world soccer that can hold a candle to Drągowski’s. He’s surpassed Mile Jedinak and nobody else comes close. Let’s all just celebrate the fact that Fiorentina have the best of something. Anything. Thank you, Bart.