Fiorentina boss Giuseppe Iachini returned to a 3-5-2/3-4-3 shape with Rachid Ghezzal shuttling between midfield and the right wing. Sassuolo boss Roberto de Zerbi left Domenico Berardi and Francesco Caputo on the bench to rest them, with Grégoire Defrel and Hamed Junior Traoré replacing them.
After Federico Chiesa failed to finish a 1-v-1 in the first 3 minutes, Fiorentina began to fall apart. Bartłomiej Drągowski made a pair of excellent saves on Rogério and Jeremie Boga, but was helpless after Gaetano Castrovilli hacked down Filip Đuričić in the box after the Neroverdi countered following a Viola corner (which sure looked like it saw Germán Pezzella pulled down by the shirt). Defrel slotted home. Following another corner, Sassuolo broke quickly and, after Boga beat half the defense and slipped Defrel through a massive hole, the Frenchman finished easily from close range. Castrovilli and Chiesa both wasted great chances created by Franck Ribery, but it always felt like the visitors could score again as Fiorentina heedlessly threw numbers forward, leaving themselves wide open.
Iachini made no changes at the break, much to everyone’s disgust, but admitted his mistake by bringing on Patrick Cutrone at 51’. After Germán Pezzella headed off the upright from a corner, Castrovilli had a shocking brain fart and let Mert Müldür nick the ball of his feet almost in the 6 yard box and fire home. Now up 0-3, Sassuolo sat back and pretty much stopped trying, but Fiorentina couldn’t really generate any chances—aside from another couple of Pezzella misses from set pieces—until substitutes Alfred Duncan and Cutrone hooked up in stoppage time for a textbook deep cross and headed finish. But make no mistake, it was the least consolatory of consolation goals and didn’t do anything to detract from the fact that Fiorentina were simply atrocious.
Drągowski—7: Top saves on Rogério and Boga early on. Claimed crosses effectively. Not at fault for any of the goals. Deserved so much better.
Milenković—4.5: Seemed off the pace all day. Gave the ball away, missed tackles, and generally lost track of what was going on. Everyone has off days, and this was definitely Nikola’s.
Pezzella—5: Really should have scored on 3 separate occasions but was denied by the post. That’s all that’s saving his grade, as he struggled quite a bit otherwise. Let Defrel find a lot of space through the middle.
Ceccherini—5: Not all that bad, honestly, until his massive mistake that led up to the goal. Dropping to hands and knees so you can chest down a cross rather than leathering it out is a really poor choice. Did show a knack for closing down high up the pitch, and even had a run into the box that nearly got him a goal.
Lirola—4: Oof. Simply woeful positioning for the second goal, for which he was largely responsible. Boga drank his milkshake up. Offered very little going forward.
Ghezzal—4: Last time out sure looks like a flash in the pan. Constantly ran himself into cul-de-sacs, offered little creativity and less goal threat, and was a turnstile in midfield. Also worth noting that the first two goals came from corners he took; Pulgar, who leads Serie A in assists from corners, is still here. Why?
Pulgar—4: Looked like he was chasing ghosts in the middle. To be fair, he didn’t have any help until Duncan came on. That’s more an indictment of his teammates than him.
Castrovilli—2: Not sure what happened here. Might be exhaustion (he’s played a lot in the past two weeks), might be that he’s not suited to working in a midfield two. Offered nothing going forward, gave away two easy goals, and generally looked like a Serie C player. Bizarre.
Dalbert—3: 9 crosses. 1 accurate. That kind of day.
Chiesa—2: Did a brilliant job of shutting the door on anyone who thinks he can play as a striker. In fairness, was very isolated up top at times and didn’t get the ball in his preferred areas. But missed two shriekingly good opportunities and didn’t link up with anyone else. Yike.
Ribery—6: Carved out a few decent chances but was largely overrun by a determined and intelligent Sassuolo defense. Probably needed to start this one on the bench to preserve those ancient legs.
Cutrone—7: Got his first Serie A goal for Fiorentina, which was very exciting and largely papered over the fact that he was glaringly ineffective otherwise. But hey, we’re not going to say anything negative in this space.
Sottil—5.5: Once again deployed as a Ribery substitute, dropping deep and staying central. Won some free kicks and had his shirt ripped off his body at one point (be still, my heart), but clearly not suited to that role. Let him cook out wide, please and thank you.
Igor—6: Perfectly adequate in relief of Ceccherini, not that it mattered. Maybe he’ll get a start against Parma. More likely, though, he’ll be stuck behind Cáceres again.
Duncan—6.5: Showed a calm, confident skillset on the ball. Moved things vertically, found space, hit some good passes, and played an absolutely lovely assist. But yeah, no way he’s better than Ghezzal.
Benassi—4: HI, MARCO
Three things we learned
1. Castrovilli can’t play in a midfield two. Gaetano’s been perhaps the biggest revelation of the Serie A season. His ability to carry the ball past defenders and through the lines is already as good as anyone in Italy, and he’s added a bit more creativity to his game as the season’s worn on. He’s even occasionally chipped in on the defensive end. But putting him in a double pivot is pointless, as it forces him to sit deep, thus negating his vertical dribbling, which is his greatest asset. Too, his instincts on the back foot are simply not good. Lining him up next to Erick Pulgar meant that Tanino was shackled to a role that emphasized his worst qualities rather than his best ones and left the Chilean in a 3-v-1 situation for most of the game, and that pretty well crocked everything.
2. There’s no Plan B. This was like watching Fiorentina under Montella circa November 2019. The only creative axis was the Ribery-Castrovilli-Dalbert triangle on the left. Castrovilli was unable to pull as wide in support due to the setup previously discussed, but Sassuolo were still ready. The decision to field central midfielder Traoré on the right meant that they were very ready to crowd that space, forcing Fiorentina to find another way through. Nobody else wearing purple ever looked like they had any idea how to do so. It’s so obvious that the Viola want to play in the left half-space; flooding that zone with defenders means that you’re 90% of the way to shutting down their attack entirely. And that’s been the case all year long.
3. This is a coaching issue. Iachini was adequate for a bit there, but he’s clearly been found out, and now his team is struggling with the basics. To be fair, having two games a week for a month and a half is tough on anyone. But there are so many simple things that this team gets wrong. Viola corner kicks were almost uniformly invitations for Sassuolo to break the other way; after conceding once in that situation, there wasn’t any adjustment. Despite the obvious shortfall in midfield and the obvious need for a striker, there weren’t any subs at the half. By the 50th minute, the players had their heads down and had clearly given up. There’s nothing wrong with getting beaten, but getting beaten like this is a huge problem, especially when so much of the issue looked like it was down to fatigue. That’s squarely on Beppe’s shoulders for not rotating his squad, not reacting to the Neroverdi, and not getting his players’ heads right.