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In defense of Fede

The young attacker’s had a torrid time since the restart, yes. But let’s not pretend he isn’t still an unbelievable player.

ACF Fiorentina v US Sassuolo - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Federico Chiesa hasn’t played well since the restart. He’s taking the 14th-most shots per 90 minutes in the league (more than Lorenzo Insigne) and hasn’t scored once, which is fairly damning, but it’s been worse than that for him. He’s consistently overdribbled, missed passes, and lost the ball. More than that, he’s looked petulant and frustrated rather than focused and hungry.

Supporters and pundits haven’t missed this, piling on the young attacker over the past week or so for his poor performances. Indeed, the rhetoric has grown so swollen that some sectors of the fanbase are welcoming Newcastle’s reported interest in him. Even in the comments here, I’ve seen some folks calling for him to be sold for half of the €60 million we’d expected he’d cost at the start of the season. If I’m being honest, it’s gone a bit far at this point.

While Federico Chiesa has had a rough month on the pitch, let’s not forget who he is. This is a kid who’s singlehandedly kept the club afloat over the past couple of years. This is a player who’s never uttered a peep about leaving despite very public interest from Juventus and Inter Milan and Napoli. This is a winger who’s tallied 6 goals and 5 assists this year despite shuffling through managers, tactical systems, and positions, not to mention the strangest circumstances anyone’s ever seen in a season. And he’s still just 22 years old.

Players go through patches of good form and bad form and there’s frequently no way to tell when one or the other will happen. Young players are more prone to these highs and lows than veterans, and it’s easy to forget how young Chiesa is. He’s the age most people graduate from college. Expecting him to be flawless every week is simply ridiculous, especially given the current circumstances.

Those circumstances are unlike anything any player has ever seen. It’s not fair to hammer guys for struggling a bit after the layoff and during this flurry of matches. Between the physical and the mental fitness levels, this situation is basically laboratory-designed to throw a player off his stride. Chiesa isn’t the only young star to struggle since calcio resumed; Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martínez and Bologna’s Riccardo Orsolini, for example, have both been quite uneven.

The frequency of matches also amplifies the negative quality of performances for a player. Instead of having a full week of training to focus on his shortcomings, Fede gets tossed right back into the fray three days later. While sometimes playing through a rough stretch is the best way out, the badness can compound through games, which seems to be what’s happening here. The fact that we’re seeing him struggle more often only adds fuel to the supporters’ disgust.

I’m not here to say that Fede hasn’t been bad. He has. That said, his presence is still critical to this team. Take a look at what happened when he came off against Cagliari: after Fiorentina dominated the first half, the Isolani controlled the second. That’s not a coincidence. Walter Zenga and the Cagliari players know that Fede is a threat to create a goal at any moment due to his pace and ability to beat his man. When Rachid Ghezzal replaced him, Cagliari’s defense could step higher up the pitch and shift its attention to the other flank, compressing the midfield and throttling Franck Ribery. The amount of respect that opponents still show Chiesa demonstrates what people who work in the game think of him.

Federico Chiesa is a talented young attacker. Federico Chiesa has played quite poorly over the past weeks. Federico Chiesa is being used in too many roles and positions. Federico Chiesa is part of why Fiorentina is struggling right now. Federico Chiesa might be Fiorentina’s most important player. It’s very possible for all of these to be true simultaneously. Just because he hasn’t dazzled since the restart, let’s not pretend that Federico Chiesa isn’t a tremendous talent. He’ll snap out of it at some point fairly soon and remind us. Until then, let’s tone down the rage just a bit.