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Fiorentina 1-0 Torino: Player grades and 3 things we learned

There’s a lot to learn from the first game of the season, so let’s get to it.

ACF Fiorentina v Torino FC - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Player grades

Bartłomiej Drągowski—7: Only faced two shots on target and one of them was a pretty weak effort from Simone Zaza. On the other hand, his stop on Álex Berenguer’s first-half volley from close range was sensational. Was also very quick off his line and competent with his passing. As an aside, looks thicker than he did last year, like if Seba Frey had eaten a set of dumbells instead of all the bread.

Nikola Milenković—6.5: Had some serious trouble with Andrea Belotti early on and got himself a pointless booking for a frustration foul on the striker, but settled in superbly in the second half; considering that il Gallo didn’t have a shot on target or even make a peep after halftime, we can call this a pretty solid showing from the Mountain.

Federico Ceccherini—5.5: Made a couple of reckless challenges and got himself rightly booked but was mostly did a fine impression of Germán Pezzella. Tried hitting a few 60-yard bombs early on that he missed rather badly and chilled a bit afterwards.

Martín Cáceres—7: Was really quite good. Came all the way across to the right side several times to sweep up behind and snuffed out anyone who came near him. Was also stronger in the air than expected against a couple of big strikers. Did a good job of stepping forward with the ball without putting his head down and getting out of control.

Federico Chiesa—7: Tale of two halves. Consistently lost the ball in promising spots, misplaced his passes, cut off his runs, and had his head hanging. After the break, though, perked up considerably, providing the assist with a lovely bit of athleticism and consistently wreaking havoc down the right. Also turned in a really impressive defensive performance, tracking all the way back and denying Christian Ansaldi any freedom to attack.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6: Just as advertised. Had a few incisive moments and popped up in the box several times. Had a couple of chances to score but couldn’t quite wrap them up. Didn’t have to do too much defending, given Torino’s desire to thump the ball upfield as quickly as possible. Offered promise but wasn’t quite as dangerous as we might’ve wanted.

Alfred Duncan—8: Man of the match for me. Used his low center of gravity to bounce off Granta defenders like a bowling ball coated in rubber. Constantly pushed the ball forward or to the wingbacks in space. Just absolutely ran the show in the middle. Cannot wait to see him, Castrovilli, and Amrabat together; they’re going to terrorize just about any midfield in the league.

Gaetano Castrovilli—7.5: Was a bit more reserved with his dribbling in the first half but opened things up a bit in the second and caused problems when running at tired defenders. Showed off the passing range he hinted at last season, especially when hitting low, diagonal balls across to Chiesa in space. Deserved his goal even if Armando Izzo didn’t mark him at all. Tracked back well when necessary and recovered possession frequently, even if he still committed 3 fouls. For the first time in what feels like 8 games, though, didn’t hack anyone down in or around his own penalty area, so that’s a pleasant improvement.

Cristiano Biraghi—7.5: Drank Izzo’s milkshake up all game. While he may not have Dalbert’s speed or agility, he was always in the right place and always got to his spot on time. His overlapping and superb delivery were Fiorentina’s only real attacking threat in the first half, firing in 3 crosses that Kouamé really should have headed home. Had a goal denied by an offside call but would’ve fully deserved it. Led the team in touches and was available as an outlet every time. Never really tested defensively but did have a bad giveaway that led to a shot on goal.

Christian Kouamé—5: Really rough outing for Chris. He clean missed two simple headers and saw Salvatore Sirigu miraculously save two more. On the plus side, his ability to rise head and shoulders over defenders means that Fiorentina have an aerial threat at striker that we haven’t seen since Luca Toni. Wasn’t too involved in the buildup play and never got in behind Torino’s very deep defense. Better days are ahead.

Franck Ribery—6.: Jinked and shimmied his way past defenders as per usual but didn’t quite get the final touch on his runs. Played a few good passes that his teammates (particularly Chiesa) misplayed. Certainly wasn’t a disgrace to the armband. Did very nearly give Torino a goal with a truly catastrophic quick free kick that played Zaza into a 2-v-1 against Cecche with Belotti in acres of space, but the cue ball missed the simplest of passes to let him off the hook.

Borja Valero—6: Besides the obvious emotional boost that everyone got from seeing him take the pitch, il Sindaco showed he’s still fantastic at keeping possession, baiting opponents into stepping forward, and then using that open space. He and Duncan were magnificent shutting down the final 10 minutes by pinging the ball around. What a luxury to have him on the bench when it’s time to shut up the shop.

Pol Lirola—5: Brought on to offer some defensive solidity and did that. Looked very comfortable on the right and even floated in a wonderful cross for Cutrone. Iachini moved him to the left after Venuti came on to predictable results, as Lirola lost possession 3 times in the next 5 minutes.

Dušan Vlahović—5: Only touched the ball 4 times and didn’t really offer anything like a goal threat but did provide energy, both charging forward to close down defenders and tracking very deep to help out his defense. Didn’t display any of the sulkiness we saw last year.

Patrick Cutrone—5: Despite coming in the 89th minute, he registered two shots. The first was from a lovely Lirola cross that he completely mishit alone on the back post and the second was a fantastic, twisting effort from the edge of the box requiring a fingertip save from Sirigu. Give him credit for knowing where to be, even if the finish doesn’t always arrive.

Lorenzo Venuti—n/a: Brought on in the 89th minute to waste time and didn’t really have a chance to do much during his cameo.

Three things we learned

1. This team can cross now. Last year, Fiorentina played almost exclusively down the wings, occasionally looking quite good while doing so. The problem, however, was that after getting the ball wide, there was no target in the middle. Ribery and Chiesa are wingers by nature and don’t attack high balls, and Vlahović simply doesn’t have that in his game right now. Cutrone showed glimpses occasionally, but this year is a whole different ball game. Biraghi’s delivery from the left and Chiesa’s from the right are both above-average, and Kouamé’s incredible leaping ability mean that there’s finally someone to aim for.

While the approach didn’t pay off this week, the Ivorian is going to get goals from headers this year. Even when he missed, the chaos he caused in the middle of the box meant that late runners had chances from the edge of the area; Castrovilli and Jack in particular should be able to take advantage. Having a threat like that means that the opposing defense can’t pack the center quite as much and opens so much space for everyone else, even when he doesn’t finish. And, if last season was any indication, he’ll start to finish those very soon.

2. Giuseppe Iachini’s still slow to use his bench. This has been a problem for Fiorentina for years now. On the one hand, it makes sense not to change up an approach that’s dominating an opponent, and Fiorentina were certainly in the driver’s seat for the entire match. However, it does rather behoove a manager to change something up after an hour or so when the team is in complete control at home, especially as the Torino defense had figured out the way Fiorentina were attacking: build play down one wing, then cut it inside for Castrovilli or Duncan to switch out to the far wingback to work in space.

Unlike last year, the lack of depth isn’t the problem here. Cutrone and Vlahvović are both fine options, especially with Kouamé misfiring, and Valero isn’t exactly a downgrade either. With both Sofyan Amrabat and Erick Pulgar unavailable, the midfield depth wasn’t great in this game, but it will be for most of this season. With so much quality on the bench and five subs, Beppe has to be quicker on the draw. Heck, with two of three defenders booked in the first half, Igor wouldn’t have been a bad shout either.

3. If this is Fiorentina’s new identity, it might be a good one. It’s hard to extrapolate too much from one game against a limited opponent with a new manager breaking in his tactics after a shortened offseason, but the Viola were a lot more proactive with the ball. Nobody will ever mistake them for Barcelona circa 2015, but the team showed a propensity for long, diagonal passes to the wingbacks that we didn’t see nearly enough of last year and are certainly a huge improvement on the hopeful punts into the channels for the strikers to chase. Adding Amrabat to the equation should only improve that, as he’s a brilliant long passer.

For that tactic to work, of course, the wingbacks have to have freedom to push higher up the field to provide that outlet rather than sitting deep. Last year, Fiorentina’s midfielders generally shuffled across to shut down opposing fullbacks as the wingbacks dropped level with the back line. In this game, though, both Chiesa and Biraghi frequently harried the Torino fullbacks, which in turn meant that they didn’t have to go too far to be open for that long switch of play. Iachini isn’t anyone’s idea of a brilliant tactician in the attacking phase, but this showed that he’s more flexible than we suspected. Whether that’s because Torino were so bad or because this is how he wants his charges to play is what we’ll learn over the coming season, but this template offered glimpses of genuinely exciting soccer.