Giuseppe Iachini had Pietro Terracciano in goal again while Bartłomiej Drągowski gets his back right. Rachid Ghezzal returned to central midfield with Lorenzo Venuti and Dalbert as the wingbacks. Up front, it was Federico Chiesa and Patrick Cutrone, with Franck Ribery given the day off. Siniša Mihajlović picked the exact Bologna side we expected except that 20-year-old Gabriele Corbo stepped into central defense.
Pretty boring, truth be told. Fiorentina dominated early but faded a bit and the Felsinei should have opened the scoring after Dalbert lost the ball and Musa Barrow skinned Martín Cáceres, but Riccardo Orsolini somehow scuffed the cutback just wide of the post and Roberto Soriano arrived to late to turn it home. On the other end, a lovely 1-2 between Chiesa and Cutone saw the former send Corbo for a hot dog before shooting, but Danilo somehow hoofed it off the line. Other than that, it was a rather grubby, physical affair; the Viola looked slightly stronger but individual errors in possession, particularly from Ghezzal and Dalbert, meant that the hosts were quite uneven.
Chiesa struck quickly off a nice pass from Dalbert, although he was perhaps a bit lucky that his shot took a touch off Danilo to wrongfoot Łukas Skorupski. His second not long after was also a bit scruffy, although watching him beat three defenders before shooting was fun; Skorupski stopped the first effort but put it right back into Fede’s path, and the forward made no mistake with his second effort. Nikola Milenković added another with an acrobatic volley following a Germán Pezzella flick from a corner, but Chiesa wrenched the spotlight back his direction with a superb effort, curling his shot in after cutting past two defenders. Christian Kouamé should’ve had a penalty as well, but referee Marco di Bello somehow ignored it, probably out of pity. Either way, a four-goal second half is worth celebrating.
Terracciano—6.5: Made a couple of decent saves and was, as usual, very commanding in his area on high crosses and balls in behind, but didn’t really face anything that troubled him all that much.
Milenković—7.5: Shakier than usual in possession early on, giving the ball away cheaply, but was excellent in defense against Sansone and Soriano. Magnificent in the second half in all phases and man, that goal just emphasizes what a freakish athlete he is. Guys that size aren’t supposed to do that.
Pezzella—7: Did a nice job on the explosively tricky Barrow and was good sweeping up behind. Only made a couple of minor mistakes and was a big net positive. Got an assist as the cherry on top.
Cáceres—6.5: Done dirty by Barrow once or twice, but did a really nice job on Orsolini. Another above-average performance from the veteran.
Venuti—7.5: Best player on the pitch in the first half. Locked down Sansone and showcased some unexpected dribbling ability, consistently carrying the ball forward. Made smart passes and hit a few decent crosses. Set up Chiesa’s second with his excellent movement. Perfect squad player, even if he’s not exactly a shooter.
Ghezzal—4.5: Hit a few neat long passes, but was disastrous in defense (didn’t make a tackle or an interception and was effectively more of a traffic cone than anything else) and consistently lost the ball in deep positions with ill-advised attempts to dribble. Picked up a yellow for a dive (which was very much a dive) and wasted a good counter because he’s so one-footed. He’s suspended for SPAL, so that’s likely the last we’ve seen of him.
Pulgar—7: Really good job in the middle. Controlled play nicely, especially in the first half, and kept things ticking with smart passes through the lines or to the wings. Kept Bologna from creating anything through the middle. He’s really come into his own since the restart and looks much more comfortable in the holding role, especially with the ball at his feet.
Castrovilli—6.5: Another weirdly uneven performance, but there was more good than bad. Continues to commit stupid fouls in dangerous areas (add two more) and still can’t shoot on target to save his life. Did have a couple of twinkly little turns, though, and made a game-high 7 tackles, which is impressive. Also showed a bit more composure in the area, hitting one clever switch of play and holding the ball up well for Dalbert to cross on the opener.
Dalbert—6: As uneven as Castrovilli but the highs weren’t quite as high. The assist was good, but he gave the ball away too often with poor passes, both going forward and going sideways. Still, though, he did knock in a couple of decent crosses and his pace remains a useful tool, so we’ll give him a middling grade and call it good.
Chiesa—9: Simply unplayable. Went past defenders like they were wearing cement shoes, completing 5/6 dribbles, and floated around to little pockets of space in which he could receive the ball, turn, and accelerate. Fully deserved his hat trick, but the moment where he was in space on the break (he’d scored twice and was waiting for a third) and laid it off to Alfred Duncan instead of forcing it really stands out. This is the prince that was promised.
Cutrone—6.5: Showed a good understanding with Chiesa, combining well with him several times to set one or the other loose. Did a nice job of chasing down balls in the channels and then holding up play to bring his teammates in. Didn’t register a shot, but his movement to free up space for teammates in the area reminds me a bit of Alberto Gilardino and means he makes a bigger impact than the stats can count.
Duncan—5: Not all that involved going forward besides missing that chance that Fede gave him, but looked a lot more engaged defensively than he did last time out; made 3 tackles in his 35 minutes, which is a good return.
Lirola—5: Did a decent job in relief of Venuti and skipped away nicely from a couple of challenges, carrying the ball through the lines on the counter. His decision making close to the goal remains suspect, though.
Kouamé—6: Got the assist and should’ve won a penalty as Skorupski very obviously whacked him across the shins after the ball had gone by. Would have been nice to see him bury the spot kick and open his account, but oh well.
Brancolini—n/a: Kept a clean sheet on his senior team debut. What more can you want?
Terzić—n/a: HE LIVES
Three things we learned
1. Fede is still the truth. We’ve all piled onto Chiesa this year (at times too much). It’s easy to forget that he’s just 22 and has spent most of his career being played in roles that don’t really suit him, and that, since being used as a rotational option at wingback, he’s kept his head down and worked hard. Bologna are hardly world class, but seeing Chiesa show off his touch, his pace, his work rate, and his technique in games like this reminds you of how good he can be. Even if it just adds another couple million onto his price tag at season’s end, we need to enjoy this dude while we can. He’s fantastic.
2. This team is made for quick transitions. Feel like I’ve been on about this a lot recently, but the difference in this attack without Franck Ribery is fascinating. He’s the most creative passer and dribbler on the team without a doubt, but he usually likes to slow the tempo and pull the strings. Without him, the rest of the team seems a little more able to breathe and focus on putting the ball into space quickly. Anyone watching (EdF, perhaps?) has to be taking notes, as this club is just a couple players away from being able to play the sort of quick, vertical football that’s based on clever movement and good passing more than hopeful thumps up the pitch. That moment when the ball turns over, when defense becomes attack, is where this team ought to shine.
3. Next year’s midfield is no joke. With another fantastic performance from Pulgar, it’s worth considering how he’ll mesh with Sofyan Amrabat. The Chilean’s been one of the best players in the team since the restart and looks way more comfortable in that holding role. If he’s fielded with the same brief alongside Amrabat, they’ll dominate the engine room both with and without the ball. Adding Castrovilli to the mix, along with Duncan and maybe one more creative player (Marco Benassi? Kevin Agudelo? Someone else?), means that the Viola will be a nightmare to slow down in the middle. That group should be the heart of the team’s mid-term plan, and the coaching search should take that into account. Until then, dream sweet dreams of Erick and Sofyan directing play with Tanino adding the fantasia.