Sampdoria boss Claudio Ranieri opted for Andrea Bertolacci to replace the suspended Albin Ekdal. Fiorentina mister Giuseppe Iachini gave Alfred Duncan his debut in midfield next to Milan Badelj, while Martín Cáceres replaced Igor. Rocco Commisso was on hand at the Marassi to greet the traveling support and watch his team in person.
Much against the run of play, Fiorentina opened the scoring through a Morten Thorsby own goal. Next time they ventured forward, they earned a penalty through a boneheaded Gastón Ramírez handball that Dušan Vlahović powered home. Next, it was Nicola Murru getting sent off for a second cardable offense—driving your elbow into Germán Pezzella’s face isn’t cool—and this time it was Federico Chiesa who slotted home the resulting spot kick. As if that weren’t enough, Badelj also got his marching orders for his second (rather soft) bookable offense in 10 minutes. Bartłomiej Drągowski made an absolutely incredible stop on an Omar Colley header before the half; the defender fluffed an easy one before and after, so it was a bit of a pattern. If that all sounds crazy, well, yeah. It was crazy.
Drągowski made another sensational stop on Fabio Quagliarella early on, handing the hosts a ray of hope, but Vlahović snatched it away moments later with a tap-in after Emil Audero saved a Dalbert shot on the break. Bart made another strong stop on a Ramírez free kick, but it was Fiorentina looking more dangerous, with Pol Lirola making the chimichangas and Chiesa driving one off the post. Fede got his second, though, with a brilliant shot from distance at the second time of asking to make it 0-5. The clean sheet wasn’t meant to be, though, as Manolo Gabbiadini snapped home a header from a Colley cross at the depth, and the whistle went without any stoppage time.
Drągowski—8: Might have been man of the match in a game where Fiorentina scored 5. The save on Colley’s header right before the break defies physics and faith, and he had at least two others that were top-notch. Not sure there’s a Serie A goalkeeper in better form right now.
Milenković—6: Did a nice job of keeping Quagliarella and Gabbiadini quiet for the most part, although he did let them slither through once or twice.
Pezzella—5.5: Gave up a handful of free kicks in dangerous spots and was lucky that the Viola didn’t concede from any of them. Fine aside from that and won a penalty; very glad that his face didn’t get busted for the second time this year.
Cáceres—6: Mostly solid, although he had a few lapses towards the end. Useful in possession as well.
Lirola—7.5: Magnificent. Consistently got forward on the right and provided dangerous passes in, skipped past his defender on numerous occasions to either maintain possession or further the attack, and generally looked like a future Spanish international.
Duncan—7: Very strong debut for the ex-Sassuolo man. Rarely fancy but usually spot on. Solidified the midfield, didn’t let Samp exploit a numerical advantage in the middle, kept the ball rolling forward to the danger men, and showed an ability to skip past a defender and play the killer pass. Hugely promising.
Badelj—4: Looked slow and off the pace before getting booked twice (albeit a bit harshly) in 10 minutes). Gave Ramírez way too much time and space in front of the defense. This is clearly Erick Pulgar’s job now.
Castrovilli—7: Amazing how quickly we become inured to his magic. At least twice a match, he makes a grown man look like a confused child. His decision making in the final third can still be a bit uneven, but he’s learning how to pull the string farther back and that’s every bit as important.
Dalbert—5.5: Didn’t get forward as much as he’d have liked at first, but started to come out of his shell a bit in the second half. Hasn’t been nearly as impressive in the back end of this season as he was at the start, but may still be adjusting to a new role under Iachini.
Chiesa—8: Did everything right. Scored twice. Rarely held the ball too long. Made the right runs. Involved his teammates. Looked handsome. Rescued a litter of kittens from a burning building.
Vlahović—7.5: Perhaps lucky on his PK and honestly should have had his hat trick but had a Cholito moment alone in front of goal. Still, though, consistently looked to rampage forward, made much better decisions, and didn’t lose the ball as often as we’ve seen, even if he’s still a bit looser with it than you’d like. Oh, and he’s 20.
Pulgar—6: Brought in to shut up shop and did exactly that. After his introduction, Samp suddenly couldn’t find space in front of the Viola defense any more.
Benassi—5: Didn’t do anything horribly wrong. Didn’t do anything impressively right. With Duncan in the fold, clearly a bench option now, which is a great role for him given his ability to conjure a goal from nowhere sometimes.
Ghezzal—4: I don’t get it. Had a chance to score, but held the ball up instead of shooting or passing and eventually lost possession. Feels like he does that roughly every 10 minutes and doesn’t really do much else.
Three things we learned
1. Serie A is still the wildest league and Fiorentina is still the wildest team. Every match in the league today was pretty weird. VAR, red cards, own goals, long-range belters, flares on the pitch, fans in costumes, and general weirdness were the order of the day. And even in this augustly bizarre company, Fiorentina always finds a way to stand out. This is a team that can go down without a whimper to Lecce, fail to score against Genoa or Brescia, and struggle against lower division sides in the Coppa Italia. This is also a team that can beat AC Milan 1-3 at the San Siro and Napoli 0-2 at the San Potato, hold Juventus scoreless, and explode for whatever the heck this was. We’re not here to argue which league is the best, but in terms of sheer unpredictability, it’s hard to say how you’d pick any but Serie A. And the reigning kings of the inexplicable in Serie A have to be the Viola.
2. Alfred Duncan may have been the missing piece. Given, this isn’t the kind of match that makes it easy to evaluate a player, but from what we could tell, Alfred Duncan looks like he brings exactly what was missing from this Viola engine room. Smart enough to know when to sit deep and hold his position in front of the defense, he also knows when to hit a long pass forward or even muscle his way past a defender when necessary. He nearly scored a worldie and had a few mistakes, but seeing him grow alongside Castrovilli and Pulgar is going to be really fun for the rest of the year.
3. Wait a minute, what’s next year’s team? The rest of the year will have its moments, yeah, but it’s also going to end with Fiorentina resting solidly in the mid-table. Let’s peek forward, though, at the team next year. Look at this list of players who are 23 or younger right now: Chiesa, Drągowski, Castrovilli, Milenković, Lirola, Vlahović, Amrabat, Kouamé, Igor, Cutrone, Sottil, Agudelo, Ranieri, Żurkowski, and Montiel make for as exciting a young core as any you’ll find anywhere on the peninsula. That’s going to be a fun squad for FIFA or PES players, for FM heads, and for any fan who likes watching a young team come together. This may be the most excited I’ve been about a squad since the Prandelli days.