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

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A new formation helps the Viola dominate en route to a deserved victory

ACF Fiorentina v Cagliari Calcio - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Player Grades

Bartłomiej Drągowski- 8

Bart’s a stud. While Joao Pedro’s penalty wasn’t anywhere close to the side netting, it was still hit on the ground with a lot of pace. How many times have we seen that type of shot slip underneath the goalkeeper? Not only did Bart save it, but he smothered it. Top class. There’s no chance Fiorentina would have won without that save, so Bart is now responsible for another two points. Also, how about that kick-save off a deflection in the 78th minute? Wow.

Igor- 5.5

I have to dock Thanos a point for the sloppy challenge which led to the penalty. It’s a good learning moment for him, especially because there were no consequences for it. Other than that he was solid, which has been the case for a month now. He’s established himself as a locked-in starter on the left side of the back three, and I’m really excited to see his development moving forwards. He’s quickly becoming my surprise of the season, as there aren’t many defenders his size who have his ability on the ball. Having an in-house replacement for Milenkovic is comforting.

Germán Pezzella- 6

Played well enough in his 35 minutes on the pitch, Cagliari hardly threatened with him out there. It’s not a coincidence that Igor conceded a penalty as soon as Pezzella was off. The header he missed in the 29th minute does sting, that has to be a goal from the captain. What’s most important is that he returns to full health shortly from the knock he suffered on his thigh.

Nikola Milenković- 6.5

At this point, the mountain is pretty damn consistent so there’s not much in particular for me to point out about his game today. What I found interesting was Prandelli giving him so much freedom to maraud forward and combine with Martin Caceres. Tito’s already pointed this out, but today was extreme. Excited to see more attacking Milenkovic this season.

Cristiano Biraghi- 6

That bridge dribble in the 56th minute was so nice. Biraghi was a constant threat down the left-hand side, highlighted by a great chance he should’ve put away in the second half after a great ball by Jack. He also shored up his defensive game compared to Lazio. A solid bounce-back performance.

Martin Caceres- 6

Caceres’ move from center-back to wing-back has revitalized his Fiorentina career. Prandelli has done a great job of putting players in their best position to succeed, and Caceres highlights that. Now, when he pings a cross-field pass directly to Riccardo Sottil, we have at least three defenders back to defend instead of two. Having defensive cover allows him to use his considerable talent on the ball and not have to worry about his inevitable gaffes. With Pol Lirola’s departure, one would assume that a replacement is necessary. However, I’d say I’m happy with him and Lorenzo Venuti holding down the fort the rest of the season.

Sofyan Amrabat- 6.5

Amrabat’s form has been parallel to Fiorentina’s this season, and that continued today as the Moroccan put in a very solid shift. I don’t understand some of the hate he gets around these parts, under Prandelli Amrabat works his socks off every game and has taken control of the midfield. It’s not his fault there isn’t a regista on the roster who can properly utilize his skill set, although as we saw today, Erick Pulgar may be the best option to play alongside him. I’m also going to highlight Amrabat catching up to Ricky Sottil in the 62nd minute with ease, stunting what looked like a promising attack.

Erick Pulgar- 6.5

Sometimes the correct answer is the most obvious. In terms of who Sofyan Amrabat’s ideal midfield partner should be, Pulgar is that. I was tempted by Borja Valero’s passing ability, but sadly his lack of athleticism at this point is too much of a liability for 90 minutes. Pulgar didn’t seem completely natural in what’s a new role for him with Fiorentina, but he played it extremely well, offering stability and giving Amrabat freedom to roam, which is exactly what this Fiorentina team needs to be at its best.

Giacomo Bonaventura- 6.5

Jack did a great job given Prandelli’s tactical instructions for him. Playing in the half-space between Diego Godin and Fabio Pisacane, Bonaventura maneuvered well, highlighted by a great pass to set up Christiano Biraghi in the 58th minute. Jack drew four fouls, had four shots, and three successful dribbles. What excites me most is to imagine what Gaetano Castrovilli could do in Jack’s role in this 3-4-2-1. I have a feeling we’ll be finding out later this week.

José Callejón- 7

As I said with Martin Caceres, Prandelli put Callejon in a position to succeed today and the Spaniard took full advantage of the opportunity. Finally, I saw the Callejon who’s terrorized Serie A left-backs for the better part of a decade, as he was relentless down the right-hand side, putting in cross after cross, topped off by an absolute beauty to Dusan Vlahovic for the match’s only goal. Fiorentina doesn't have another player on the roster with Callejon’s skillset, and when he’s playing like this he should be a locked-in starter. I’m hoping for a switch full-time to the 3-4-2-1, where Callejon can play opposite Castrovilli. However, Fiorentina would then desperately need another winger for cover.

Dusan Vlahovic- 7

Vlahovic has officially turned a corner in his game, and Serie A better watch out. It wasn’t even a month ago that I was begging you all to keep having faith in the young Serbian, and he has repaid it fully. Five goals in six matches may be slightly inflated due to penalties, but the hunger and spirit he’s shown recently are miles above the start of this season and last campaign, and did I mention he’s only twenty-years-old? A bad miss early on slightly hurts his rating, but Dusan is looking like the real deal. Great movement to evade Diego Godin on his goal.

Substitutes:

LMQ- 6.5

LMQ came into the game and had a couple of poor mistakes. A bad fall in the 48th minute and a poor clearance a few minutes later gifted Giovanni Simeone two half-chances, luckily Cholito’s never been much of a poacher. However, he made my day with a terrific takeaway off Razvan Marin to kickstart the counter-attack leading to Vlahovic’s goal. LMQ looked at home in the middle of the back three, showcasing his passing abilities with both feet. He looks like he’s starting to become more adjusted to the pace of the Italian game, and his set-piece marking has noticeably improved since his arrival. He’s an extremely talented player, and having him as a 4th center-back option shows how stacked Fiorentina are in that department.

Lorenzo Venuti- 6

Closed out the match just fine.

Christian Kouame- No Rating

Only in for eight minutes and stoppage time. A disappointing foul at the very end which will drive Prandelli crazy.

Borja Valero- No rating

What a nutmeg Borja had in the 85th minute. If he’d scored off that run, my goodness.

Three Things we learned:

1. Fiorentina can close out a game. One of the downfalls towards the end of the Beppe Iachini era was the squad’s inability to hold onto leads. Under Cesare Prandelli, Fiorentina has had little chance to do so. Seriously, the only other Serie A match where Fiorentina have led under Prandelli was the Christmas Miracle, which I don’t see repeating itself anytime soon. After Vlahovic’s goal in the 72nd minute, I was worried Fiorentina would revert to previous tactics of playing scared and desperately hanging on to the result. However, the Viola played out the last 18 minutes and stoppage time with relative ease, drawing many fouls to slow the tempo down, while continuing to press and not let Cagliari be comfortable taking the initiative. Bart had to make one great save off a deflection, but other than that there was no cause for concern that Fiorentina would drop two points. The mental strength the Viola showed this match can only be attributed to great work by Cesare Prandelli, who has transformed this team mentally. Nine points from a tough run of six matches speaks for itself.

2. The 3-4-2-1 works. Jose Callejon was my pick for the most disappointing player of the first half of the season. That wasn’t entirely his fault, as he was hardly played in his natural position on the right-wing. Today, Callejon showed that he still has it. That back-post ball to Vlahovic was reminiscent of his Napoli days, and that’s because of the 3-4-2-1 formation Fiorentina deployed. At the start of the season, I thought that Fiorentina’s strong midfield the Viola should always deploy three central midfielders. However, watching the midfield be consistently overrun and offer little going forward changed my tune. Bringing in a formation with wingers allows Prandelli to use Callejon to his full potential, while Giacomo Bonaventura was able to drift inside and act as a third midfielder when necessary. Against tougher opposition, it will be wise to stick with the security of the 3-5-2, but I expect to see this formation utilized more against the teams around Fiorentina in the table.

3. No Ribery and Castrovilli? No problem. Franck Ribery and Gaetano Castrovilli are Fiorentina’s two most creative players, so it would’ve made sense to not expect much in the way of chance-creation against Cagliari. Instead, the Viola notched 1.91 xG, their most since playing Genoa. This confirms what I and many others have been wondering the last few weeks- Ribery and Castrovilli together may hurt Fiorentina more than help. While both are individually talented, both tend to slow the game down, especially Ribery. Together, the game sometimes slows to a crawl, with both losing possession constantly, and the team lacking that burst to break a defense down. Today, Fiorentina played far more direct, with the lone goal coming on a counter-attack. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for one of them, as Giacomo Bonaventura was essentially playing the same role, having the most dribbles (3) and most unsuccessful touches (4) for the Viola. While I’d like to see either one of Ribery or Castrovilli in that role, both aren’t necessary. Cesare Prandelli’s going to have some tough lineup decisions to make.