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Inter Milan 4-3 Fiorentina: Player grades and 3 things we learned

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It still feels like a shot to the guts, but at least it’s a shot to the guts that has the potential to be a learning experience.

Internazionale v Fiorentina - Italian Serie A Photo by Mattia Ozbot/Soccrates/Getty Images

Player grades

Bartłomiej Drągowski—7.5: Not often that a goalkeeper concedes three and still looks like a star, but that’s our Bart. His kick-save on Romelu Lukaku was incredible. Ditto for the stop on Nicolò Barella’s piledriver. Has gotten much better with his distribution, but his pure shot-stopping remains as good as anyone’s in Serie A, despite the English commentators questioning his effort on the Martínez strike.

Nikola Milenković—6.5: Lost Lautaro Martínez for just an instant on the Argentine’s goal and was made to pay, but didn’t put a foot wrong otherwise. Held up well against Lukaku’s physicality and Martínez’ movement far better than his defensive colleagues.

Federico Ceccherini—4: This isn’t an attempt to pile on Cecche; there aren’t many defenders in the world who wouldn’t struggle against this Inter Milan duo. Lukaku was just too big for him several times and Martínez just too quick. Had trouble preventing either from getting to their spots. Was unlucky for the own goal but still could’ve done better. Still, though, credit him for his 5 interceptions and 10 (!) clearances. The man’s a gamer.

Martín Cáceres—4.5: Got absolutely bodied by Lukaku several times as the big Belgian held him off, opening space down his side for Inter to exploit. Again, there’s no shame in getting beaten by a player as good as Lukaku, but his failure to adjust his approach was a bit of a concern.

Federico Chiesa—7.5: The goal was a tremendous finish after a fantastic run, but Fede played a complete game. There was a sliding clearance off the goal line not long before that was perhaps even more impressive, and he eliminated Ivan Perišic from the proceedings. We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: as Fede goes, so goes this team.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6.5: A nifty little touch to assist Kouamé’s goal was pretty slick, but he wasn’t all that involved afterwards. Put in a decent shift defensively, making things tough for Christian Eriksen, but really didn’t offer all that much after the third minute.

Sofyan Amrabat—5.5: You can tell the Moroccan is still settling in, leading to a few miscues (a mixup with Milenković to put Martínez through on goal was particularly egregious), but that the quality is there. He spun out of trouble a few times and fired a couple of neat passes out to the wings while mostly shutting Eriksen down, but he didn’t look entirely comfortable as the sole holding player. Maybe sticking Alfred Duncan or Erick Pulgar next to him would help.

Gaetano Castrovilli—7.5: Did all the Tanino things you want and them some. Picked his spots to dribble instead of putting his head down too much. Played a lovely little through ball to Kouamé that the Ivorian probably should’ve buried. And his goal was a tremendous individual effort to spot the hole in Inter’s defense, play Ribey into it, then hustle forward to get the return pass and slot it home. Would have been nice if he’d gotten on the ball a bit more, but he’s starting to look like a natural in that 10 shirt.

Cristiano Biraghi—5: He and Ashley Young mostly canceled each other out, but holy smokes did he struggle to contain Achraf Hakimi. His trouble with the Moroccan wasn’t a surprise (he struggled last year when Borussia Dortmund bounced Inter) but was still worth keeping an eye on, even if he’s not likely to face many opponents with so much pace.

Christian Kouamé—7: Got his goal, even if it was just a little bit fluky, but it’s a relief to see him finish one off after being so unlucky last week. You felt he left a couple of chances on the table, though, getting a 1-v-1 saved by Samir Handanović (after a flawless touch to bring down a high ball) and then letting Young block him off after Castrovilli slid him through. Still, you get the feeling that he’s regaining his sharpness and should be lethal in another month or so.

Franck Ribery—7.5: Was perhaps the worst player in the first half. His giveaway in the Inter box led directly to the counter that leveled the scores at 1-1. Lost the ball a game-high 13 times. And yet was still arguably the most dangerous player out there. That pass through for Chiesa was maybe the best you’ll see in Serie A this year and his work to set up Castrovilli was also impressive. Even when he’s having an off day, he’s got the quality to change everything in an instant.

Borja Valero—5: This didn’t feel like the right situation for the Mayor, who was brought on to help control possession and instead ended up having to dig in and play some gritty defense, which isn’t his forte. Aside from one delightfully-measured clip forward for Lirola, he didn’t see enough of the ball to get much done, although he was as tidy as ever.

Dušan Vlahović—2: Poor Dušan. He’s trying so hard and it’s all going so wrong. Smashed a sitter well off-frame from 12 yards while completely unmarked that could have sealed the win and was beaten by the much smaller Danilo D’Ambrosio for the decisive header at the other end. Kept trying to dribble past opponents instead of laying the ball off to his teammates. Dude has the yips like you wouldn’t believe and needs to do something about it.

Pol Lirola—5.5: Aside from one ill-conceived attempt to skip out of trouble, the Catalan looked good on the right. Used his pace to get forward on the break and kept his passing good, even creating an excellent chance that Vlahović unfortunately wasted. It’s so clear that he’s way better on the right side than the left.

Patrick Cutrone—n/a: Had all of one touch in his 8 minutes as the Viola desperately bunkered back.

Three things we learned

1. Fiorentina is developing an identity. Every successful team knows what it does well and then does it. That seems simple, but it’s been years since that was the case in Florence. Giuseppe Iachini, though, is forging a very template for his charges to follow. It involves, of course, a reliance on the counter attack that fans may not welcome, but you can tell that the players know what to do. The plan is to get the ball to Ribery in the left half-space and then get runners over the top. If that doesn’t work, the midfielders will try to quickly switch play to a wingback high up the pitch. If that doesn’t work, the midfielders can try to drive forward in possession themselves. Every one of these approaches suits the personnel. While it may not be how we’d like to see the team play, it’s working; pushing a Scudetto contender to the brink is a positive sign for this group despite the despair of letting a win slip away. And be honest: nobody really expected a win here outside of the most optimistic of Viola fans. This was a heck of a performance.

2. Germán Pezzella is really, really good. Again, this isn’t a shot at Cecche, who’s the perfect guy to fill in against mid- to lower-table sides without rocking the boat with requests for a move to the first XI. But does anyone think that the Viola would have struggled as much to organize their defense towards the end with the captain out there? Not only is he as good a penalty box defender as you’ll find in Italy, but his leadership makes a big difference. A team of Fiorentina’s size and resources can’t have a player that good on the bench so it’s a good reminder of exactly how much of an impact just one player can make.

3. Depth makes a difference. This is related to the previous point, obviously, but let’s zoom out a little bit. The Viola brought on the wildly uneven Lirola, the enigmatic Cutrone, poor Dušan, and a 37-year-old Borja. Inter brought on Arturo Vidal, Radja Nainggolan, Alexis Sánchez, Stefano Sensi, and Achraf Hakimi. In this era of 5 substitutions, coaches can change so much more with their in-game decisions than they could at the start of last year. But it sure does help when you have guys like that Inter fivesome riding the pine. While Fiorentina has talent waiting in the wings, it’s mostly talent of the relatively unproven variety; that’s how a club like this one has to operate. For this year, though, a bigger squad and more squad depth could be the most important factors in where teams finish in the table.