Giuseppe Iachini trotted out a weird-looking 3-5-2 with Pietro Terracciano in goal again, while Christian Kouamé started up top with Federico Chiesa and Pol Lirola (on the left) playing wingback with Rachid Ghezzal in the midfield. Moreno Longo didn’t do anything unexpected with his team as Fiorentina tried to win at the Stadio Artemio Franchi for the first time since beating SPAL in January and Torino aimed for their first league win in Florence since 1976.
Things started perfectly for the hosts with Franck Ribery feeding Kouamé through in just the second minute. The Ivorian beat one man and shot weakly, but the ball ricocheted off Salvatore Sirigu and then Lyanco and into the net, resulting in an own goal. That wasn’t all, though, as Fiorentina utterly dominated the opening half hour, applying pressure and creating chances against a deep defense through Chiesa, Gaetano Castrovilli, and Lirola. While Torino eventually improved and pushed higher up, they didn’t have a shot until Alex Berenguer pounced on a loose pass out the back and fired slightly over from distance. On the balance of play, though, the hosts fully deserved their lead.
After Kouamé nearly doubled it after the restart (is that his thing now?), Fiorentina settled back into controlling things, finding space as the visitors pushed on in search of an equalizer and going close through Chiesa and Ribery. Patrick Cutrone nearly scored the goal of the year with a perfect first touch off a Terracciano punt and a shot from 40 yards out, and then Vincenzo Milico plowed into Saša Lukić when the latter had a free shot in the box, which was just comical. After Andrea Belotti headed a cross off the post, the Viola seemed to regain focus and doubled the lead almost immediately after: Soualiho Meïte (who was otherwise excellent) completely biffed a touch right in front of his own defense and Ribery pounced, playing in a just-onside Cutrone to finish past Sirigu in space. Aside from Dušan Vlahović borking not one, not two, but three good chances, that was pretty much the ball game.
Terracciano—7: Didn’t face a shot on target, but shot off his line like a flash several times to sweep up behind the defense and claimed several high balls in traffic with authority. Given how Torino play, this is the exact kind of game that he excels in. Just a good, competent backup goalie. Forgot what a luxury that is.
Milenković—6.5: Did a really good job on Belotti, erasing him entirely from the first half. Had a couple of uncharacteristically clumsy moments in possession but remained sturdy on the back foot throughout.
Pezzella—7.5: Heck of a job by the big man. Always in the right place, always on hand to make a block or a clearance. Also showing a heretofore unseen propensity for hitting looping passes to the wings, which helps keep attacks moving forward. Hope he remembers to take Belotti and Zaza out of his pocket before he washes his shorts.
Cáceres—6: Stayed pretty quiet but did surge forward once or twice quite nicely. Perfectly cromulent at the back, making no major mistakes but not particularly standing out either. That’s plenty good enough.
Chiesa—7.5: Really impressive from the youngster. Moving him to wingback means he has more space in front of him to build up speed when he gets the ball and he constantly burst forward. Led the press a few times in inspirational fashion and came close to scoring or assisting a handful of times. Just a star.
Ghezzal—5.5: Showed good determination on his shift but didn’t influence the game going forward. Lost the ball too much and his lack of dynamism while dribbling was quite apparent. Remains a good squad player but not more than that. His tendency to drift wide does mean that he can hold the width on either side when Fede or Pol underlap from their spots, which was perhaps his main role today.
Pulgar—5.5: Quiet day for the midfield terrier. Only had 44 touches and didn’t win the ball back much, but that’s mostly because Torino ceded the center and attacked exclusively down the wings.
Castrovilli—7: Looks to be recovered from whatever niggle was affecting him. Danced forward on the ball several times and played one or two lovely passes. Still a bit slow in his decision-making at the crucial moment, but that’ll come with time. Still perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing player in the side.
Lirola—7: Won his battle with a tough opponent in de Silvestri and then with Aina, shutting down his side of the pitch fantastically. Skipped inside with the ball to good effect several times and set up a couple of great shooting chances. Still think he’s better on the right, but he’s settled in quite well, and his pace and stamina are a real weapon late in games when he’s allowed to break forward.
Kouamé—7: Shame that it was marked an own goal, but he did everything you could want in a striker. Battled well for the ball, put his body on the line, and tracked back. Also showcased some tremendous passing range, which makes him even more fun on the break. Infectious enthusiasm seems to make him a real leader in this team already.
Ribery—8: Despite looking a bit grouchy with his teammates at times, he was the best player on the pitch. Found both passes that led to the goals and continually created problems for the defense. Took an absolute beating out there as Mariani let Torino get a few cheap shots on him.
Cutrone—8: What a run he’s on. Dispatched his goal flawlessly and showed a couple of Ronaldinho touches to settle high passes to him. Played off his teammates perfectly led the line well. Like Kouamé, seems to have that joy in playing that rubs off on everyone else. If he keeps this up, he might get back into the Azzurri setup.
Venuti—5.5: Brought on to shut up shop and did precisely that.
Duncan—5.5: Pretty reserved from Alfred, although he did have a couple of very neat touches to take himself away from pressure and keep the ball moving.
Ceccherini—n/a: See Venuti.
Vlahović—3: As Cutrone’s found form, Vlahović has lost it. Completely whiffed on several opportunities to score himself or set up a teammate. Starting to look like he may need a year on loan as a full-time starter for a recently promoted team, as his focus just doesn’t seem to match his physique and technique.
Three things we learned
1. The shape right now has to be 3-5-2. It only took 7 months, but Beppe’s finally figured out how to get the most from this team. Moving Chiesa to wingback from striker has allowed Cutrone/Kouamé to work up top as a real center forward threat while giving Fede more space to run into. The midfield three means that Castrovilli has cover for when he bursts forward. Ribery can still drop deep in search of the ball with a reference point available up front, while Ghezzal can float to the wide areas to make up for the wingbacks coming inside. Getting the players into the right roles may seem easy, but it’s probably not a simple matter to convince a full international like Fede to accept his more defensive role, so credit to Iachini for finally getting it right.
2. The defense in possession has been really different. Under Vincenzo Montella, the centerbacks were happy to pass the ball around to each other. Over the past few weeks, though, Milenković and especially Pezzella have clearly been tasked with moving the ball forward more quickly. Germán still isn’t always a comfortable passer, but he’s willing to switch the play more now. He’s also stepping forward sometimes when an outside back has the ball, which forces an opposing striker to go with him and opens a corridor to switch play quickly. Again, Iachini deserves all the credit in the world for this, as it’s made Fiorentina’s attacks much quicker and leads to opponents’ pressing being way less successful.
3. It’s the safety dance, oh well it’s the safety dance. With Lecce losing to Genoa earlier in the day and Fiorentina taking all 3 points here, the Viola are mathematically assured of staying in the league even if they lose out. That could mean that the players will lose focus and we’ll see some halfhearted stuff from here on out, but this should be a chance for Iachini and his charges to put on a show so that Daniele Pradè can evaluate who stays and who goes at the end of the season. There’s no better time to take some long looks at guys like Riccardo Sottil and Kevin Agudelo than when the games don’t really matter, and here’s hoping we get to see them for extended stretches while preserving Ribery’s body.