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Lecce 1-3 Fiorentina: Player grades and 3 things we learned

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3 points on the road is a wonderful thing, but let’s not get too carried away. It’s Lecce, yall.

US Lecce v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A
Figural pyramid.
Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

Pre-match

Giuseppe Iachini fielded a rather odd 3-5-2 featuring Pietro Terracciano in goal, Rachid Ghezzal in midfield, Federico Chiesa and Pol Lirola (who replaced Dalbert on the left after a late scratch for the Brazilian) at the wingback spots, and Franck Ribery—evidently recovered from a gastrointestinal complaint from that morning—and Patrick Cutrone up top. Lecce boss Fabio Liverani picked Khouma Babacar and Jacopo Petriccione in the XI with Riccardo Saponara on the bench.

First half

Fiorentina opened the scoring very quickly, with Ribery nicking the ball and playing it to Cutrone, who in turn slipped one through for Chiesa. Fede made no mistake with his first time finish to notch his 6th goal in the league this year. Ribery next slid one through for Ghezzal and Gabriel tripped up the Algerian, earning a card, but he saved Erick Pulgar’s weak penalty to redeem himself. Things got a bit too open, with Cutrone missing an easy header from a Ribery cross and the hosts having a couple of decent chances on the other end, but it was Ghezzal who hit a lovely free kick that fooled everyone to double the scoring for the Viola. 3 minutes later, Chiesa hit a bomb over the top for Cutrone to run under and neatly dispatch past Gabriel, and just like that, the route was on despite Martín Cáceres literally passing the ball straight from a goal kick to Diego Farias inside the box; the Brazilian’s shot clipped the crossbar on the way over, indicating exactly how lucky the Viola were.

Second half

The second half wasn’t nearly as fun as the first, but the visitors continued to threaten. Cutrone missed a handful of excellent chances and Lirola had a 1-v-1 saved after a lovely switch of play from Ghezzal, while Alfred Duncan and Ribery switched off at the end of a couple of counterattacks. Dušan Vlahović also came close with another free kick, but the goal came on the other end via Evgen Shakhov, who met a cutback from 10 yards out and slotted home after the entire Viola defense had clearly lost focus and was thinking about the lampredotto on the bus ride home. The only other highlight was a cameo for Kevin Agudelo, who looked a whole dang lot like a professional soccer player.

Player grades

Terracciano—6.5: Barely tested and couldn’t have done anything about the goal. Made a nice save on an Antonin Barak piledriver but wasn’t called on much otherwise. Remains a bit iffy with the ball at his feet, but proved once again that he’s a perfect backup, capable of filling in for a bit when Bart’s feeling under the weather.

Milenković—6: Struggled a little bit keeping his wing quiet as Chiesa and Ghezzal offered him zero protection, but mostly stuck to his man and erased anyone who came near him. Did a very good job of moving the ball forward to the midfielders and attackers. Probably at fault for leaving Shakhov in space for the goal.

Pezzella—6.5: Perfectly adequate against an underrated Lecce attack. Battled well with Babacar and, aside from an early hiccup or two, kept his defense reasonably well organized. After a slightly sub-par month, he really needed this one as a gimme and handled it just fine.

Cáceres—5: Was adequate except for the part where he got the ball short on a goal kick and passed across the box to Farias. I’ve watched it a dozen times and still have no idea what he was trying to do. Against pretty much any other team in the league, that’s an automatic goal.

Chiesa—8: Scored, assisted, and won the free kick for the other goal. Ran his lungs out. Combined well with the midfield. Didn’t hold the ball too long. Tried to track back. Adapted to a new role. Rescued an old lady’s cat from a tree. Ate all his broccoli without being asked. Remained unspeakably handsome.

Ghezzal—7.5: Won a penalty and scored a wonderful free kick for his first goal since September 2018. Also hit one of the prettiest crossfield balls you’ll ever see in your life. Battled well enough on defense but still isn’t very convincing on the back foot. Did pick up a silly card.

Pulgar—5.5: The saved penalty was his most obvious contribution but he did make a couple of fantastic defensive plays. Those don’t quite offset the miss and a couple of whiffed tackles, though, so we’ll say that he was a bit worse than he might have hoped.

Duncan—7: Offered creativity and, more than anything, drive from deeper positions. Seems to be coming into his own and is more than happy to pick up the ball and carry it from his own half to the final third. Rarely missed passes and kept his distribution simple but positive. Can’t believe he’s not a bigger star in the league.

Lirola—5: Still doesn’t look especially good at stretching play down the left, but has shown an ability to sneak in behind the defense in that role. Should’ve scored a pretty basic 1-v-1 and kept the ball too long several times, resulting in his losing it needlessly.

Cutrone—7.5: Scored one and assisted another, so you can’t be mad at him in the slightest, but he missed at least 4 other good chances, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Still, his movement was very crisp and he was much more involved in the buildup than usual, so it’s fair to proclaim this as his best Viola performance. Also deserves credit for his celebration with Iachini’s hat.

Ribery—7: Created the first goal, played a lovely pass to split the defense when Ghezzal won the penalty, and remained his usual sparkling self in open play. Was hands-on-knees exhausted by the hour mark and probably could’ve been brought off sooner, but he’s still class on the field.

Ceccherini—6: Replaced Pezzella and held down the fort for the most part. His distribution from deep remains an underutilized asset for this team, and his new freedom to track forwards up the pitch has really brought out his best. Maybe could’ve done better on the goal, but it seemed like Nikola’s man rather than his.

Venuti—5.5: Brought on to solidify the defense and did just that. 3 tackles and an interception in 25 minutes shows his level of defensive involvement. Let Vera run by him in the buildup to the goal but probably expected a little help, so it’s hard to ping him too much for it.

Vlahović—5: Nearly scored with a free kick but didn’t do much else. Seems a bit anxious at times that he’s fallen behind Cutrone and Kouamé in the pecking order and is maybe trying to do too much to make up for it.

Castrovilli—5: Had a couple of neat moments in possession but wasn’t really called on to do very much. May still be carrying a slight knock, which remains a bit worrying.

Agudelo—n/a: He lives!

Three things we learned

1. Lecce is absolutely terrible. The Salentini have now conceded 74 goals through 33 matches. That 2.24 goals against record means that they’re on pace to have the worst defense Serie A has seen since moving to 20 teams and 38 games in 2003, worse than Pescara in 2012-2013 and Benevento in 2017-2018 (both wound up leaking 84 goals). Lecce has been, in terms of goals conceded per game, even worse. Had Fiorentina not scored, it would have been a good reason to fire Iachini and every single player on the team immediately. The result feels good for the soul but doesn’t really prove anything, given that Liverani’s guys are simply atrocious at keeping the ball out of their own net. Any further conclusions are almost impossible because of that, especially since the hosts were missing several regular starters. Ick.

2. Fiorentina aren’t going down. It’s a 10 point lead with 5 games left. While trips to Inter Milan and AS Roma aren’t likely to produce dividends, the Viola get Torino and Bologna at home before closing the season at last-place SPAL. While it’s not quite mathematically impossible for them to be relgated, it’s mighty close: 5 points from these 5 games would do the trick (the Viola hold the tie-breaker on head-to-head results) and keep Lecce from catching them. It’s fun to joke about jinxes, but Fiorentina is safe. Whether that’s really worth celebrating—this team was in Europe 3 years ago, and to rejoice over staying in the top flight is quite a fall—is another question entirely.

3. Patrick Cutrone seems like a good dude to have in the squad. Given his recent peformances—3 goals and an assist in his past 5 appearances, good for a goal involvement every 62.5 minutes—he’s doing his best to prove that he’s at worst a solid rotational option who can score against mid- to lower-table side. More than that, though, he seems like he’s got a really good personality. After Christian Kouamé snapped a header on frame in his debut, Cutrone ran over and gave him a huge hug. The ex-AC Milan man then stole Beppe’s hat in his goal celebration against Lecce, leading to hilarity among the players, Ribery in particular. You’ve got to have guys who can keep everyone loose in the dressing room, and having one who’s productive as well is an extra bonus. Patrick seems to fit that description quite nicely right now, and that’s not nothing.