With Rocco Commisso in attendance, Giuseppe Iachini welcomed Gaetano Castrovilli back to the starting lineup. Igor continued in place of Martín Cáceres and Patrick Cutrone got the nod ahead of Duśan Vlahović up top. Gian Piero Gasperini picked Duván Zapata up top with Papu Gómez and Josip Iličić in support.
Atalanta dominated territory and possession from the start, forcing Bartłomiej Drągowski into action early with Gómez and Iličić as the architects before Mario Pasalić missed an absolute sitter (just as he did in the Coppa matchup last month). After 20 minutes, Fiorentina finally emerged, with Cutrone forcing a save from Pierluigi Gollini and then ruining a good counterattack with a wayward pass. It took a moment of brilliance from Federico Chiesa to open the scoring; the winger hit a half volley from well outside the area perfectly, sending it swerving and dipping just inside the near post. La Dea, apparently shocked, offered no real threat for the rest of the half; the only real moments in the Viola box were a hilariously obvious Zapata dive that went unpunished (he was already on a yellow) and a brilliant challenge by Igor to deny Pasalić from close range. Fiorentina, on the other hand, sporadically threatened on the break.
It took all of 4 minutes from kickoff for the visitors to even the scores. Gómez timed his run perfectly to meet a through ball, the dinked it over Drągowski rather than shooting. A brief scramble ensued, but Zapata eventually turned it home. Castrovilli was very lucky to avoid a second yellow for a very bad sliding challenge on Jose Luis Palomino. Substitute Vlahović had a good chance which we blasted straight at Gollini, but the momentum was squarely with Atalanta. Ruslan Malinovskiy made it count with a long-range strike of his own, although Drągowski probably could have done better. The game rather degenerated at this point, though, into a chippy, foul-heavy affair, and the Viola seemed to run out of gas for the final 10 minutes without ever looking like they had a chance to equalize.
Drągowski—6: Could have done much better on Malinovskiy’s strike, but made an absurd double save in the first half to keep it scoreless, so we’ll forgive him this time. Remains excellent at dealing with the hurly burly in the area but is occasionally suspect on longer distance efforts.
Milenković—5: Not sure what he was thinking when he neglected to close down Malinovskiy on the goal, and he seemed a bit shaky throughout while dealing with the ever-tricky Gómez. Can’t be too harsh on him for a below-average showing against the best attack in Europe, though.
Pezzella—5.5: Shut down Zapata really well (the goal was a bit fluky) and looked much stronger than he has in recent weeks. Lucky to escape a booking for a very bad foul in the second half.
Igor—6.5: Best defender on the day. Did a good job of sticking with Lurch and popped up with excellent interventions regularly. Dude is basically a refrigerator with rocket skates and a GPS targeting system; Cáceres may find it hard to get his place back.
Lirola—5.5: He and Robin Gosens pretty much canceled each other out for the entire match; neither was able to get anything going on the front foot or even got involved.
Benassi—3: Uninvolved even by his own standards. His 28 touches on the ball were fewer than any starter’s except for Cutrone, who only played the first half. Unless he’s scoring a goal, he’s just not helpful.
Pulgar—5: Got through a lot of work winning the ball, but often seemed overrun in the hole as Iličić and Gómez found spaces to each side of him. Didn’t add a whole lot going forward and consistently failed to beat the first man with his set piece deliveries.
Castrovilli—5: Very lucky not to be sent off for that second foul, but was looked awfully rusty otherwise. Lost the ball several times in circumstances that are usually his bread and butter. A full week of training should be enough to get him back up to speed, and this team desperately needs a full speed Tanino to compete.
Dalbert—5: A bit like Lirola on the other side in that he and Hateboer mostly nullified each other. Did lose out to Lurch several times, though, and didn’t seem as sturdy defensively.
Chiesa—7.5: Everyone’s going to be talking about the goal, as well they should, but this was a pretty complete performance from Fede. Whether it was having Castrovilli back or just a better day, he wasn’t as selfish and did a good job of trying to bring his teammates in as well. Had he not been utterly starved of service, he might have won this one.
Cutrone—5: His movement over the top was good and often opened spaces for Castrovilli to attack in front of the defense, but he’s just not very involved in the buildup. While he’s a willing battler on long balls forward, he’s not the strongest. That means that unless he’s getting consistent service, he just doesn’t offer much. Failing to convert a tough chance and ruining a very promising counter were his only real contributions.
Vlahović—5.5: Not short on confidence, is he? Came in and threw his body around like a schoolyard bully, causing problems for the Atalanta defense throughout. Had a chance to score after a nice pass from Chiesa but shot straight at Gollini instead.
Sottil—n/a: Had all of 2 touches as Fiorentina switched to a 3-4-3 and never looked anything but badly disjointed.
Badelj—n/a: Not his fault that he was picked to come on for the last 5 minutes and the team desperate for a goal.
Three things we learned
1. Alfred Duncan can’t be healthy soon enough. It sounds like the Ghanaian midfielder will be ready to go against Sampdoria this week, and assuming that he settles in—given his familiarity with Iachini’s setup and general skillset, we like his odds—he’s going to be such a boost. Marco Benassi and Milan Badelj simply don’t offer the mix of defensive solidity, verticality, and consistency to round out the midfield. When Castrovilli isn’t firing on all cylinders, the midfield disintegrates completely. While Duncan’s not at Tanino’s level, he’s a Serie A veteran whose intelligence and athleticism will take a lot of the burden off his colleague, and that will ripple throughout the squad.
2. Atalanta is very, very good. La Dea have scored more goals per match than any team in the top 4 leagues in Europe. They average 2.65 per, so holding them below the average is no shame, particularly with an understaffed midfield. Say what you want about Iachini’s decision to park the bus after scoring, but let’s not kid ourselves here: in a wide-open match, Atalanta would run circles around this edition of the Viola. Locking it up and keeping things tight, while ultimately unsuccessful here, was the correct decision after Fiorentina had the lead. The execution was wrong, but the thinking was probably sound.
3. We’re all as dramatic as ever. Judging from the doom and gloom around the Fiorentina internet, you’d think that they hadn’t won in 2 months (oh right, that was earlier this season); losing competitively against Inter Milan, Juventus, and Atalanta is no shame. While we may not like the product on the pitch, let’s not pretend like this is a much more solid Viola outfit than it was under Vincenzo Montella, and let’s not pretend that, once Duncan and Franck Ribery are ready, they won’t improve. There’s still plenty of talent in the side, and Iachini’s tactics, while not exactly easy on the eyes, will keep this group solidly out of the relegation places. Just as when Fiorentina won 3 in a row under Montella, everyone needs to stop, breathe, and stop falling victim to recency bias.