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Fiorentina 1-2 Inter Milan: Player grades and 3 things we learned

Despite another late defeat at the hands of the Nerazzurri, the Viola can leave the Coppa with their heads held high.

ACF Fiorentina v FC Internazionale - Coppa Italia
I swear that like half of my friends’ dads looked exactly like this when I was about 8.
Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—6.5: Made a couple of really fantastic saves, particularly a late (and ultimately futile) one on a Romelu Lukaku header. Had one early miscommunication with Cáceres that they got away with. Thrilled that he just signed his contract extension, as he’s one of the better backup goalkeepers in Serie A.

Nikola Milenković—6: Unusually wayward with his forward passing, hooking about four straight into touch rather than down the line. Did a pretty solid job on Lautaro Martínez and Alexis Sánchez and bottled up Ivan Perišić when necessary as well. Solid from the man with the armband.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—6: Completely switched off for Lukaku’s winner and had one or two iffy moments tracking Lautaro, but mostly looked pretty solid. Very comfortable on the ball and hit a couple of imperious passes out to the wings. Seems clear that he’s still getting used to the speed of Serie A, but that he should fully catch up by season’s end and be, at worst, an adequate defender. Also deserves credit for an overhead kick in the buildup to the goal that he put on target; dude is an athlete.

Igor—6.5: Brickwalled Sánchez all evening and did a nice job of containing Martínez and Lukaku when they came his way. A bit more reserved going forward but still offered an option. Continues to look like a future (and maybe present) star. His line-breaking passing could be such a weapon with two mobile forwards ahead of him.

Martín Cáceres—5.5: Had a few wobbles early on and occasionally struggled with Perišić and Martínez but was mostly pretty solid. Didn’t offer anything going forward, although that may have been by design more than anything else.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6.5: Not great in the first half but made up for it afterwards. Drove the team forward, threaded some clever passes, and generally buzzed around the middle and attacking thirds. Showed his legs still have some life with a really impressive run from his own half to the edge of the Inter Milan box late on. Arguably his best performance in a Viola shirt.

Sofyan Amrabat—7.5: Man of the match for me. Completely dominated the midfield, bossing Arturo Vidal within an inch of his life. Won possession and spread play to the flanks brilliantly. Dropped deep to retrieve possession at times to change the team’s rhythm in possession. Steamrolled anyone who came near him. Still probably needs a more disciplined player next to him but is starting to round into the player he was with Hellas Verona last year.

Gaetano Castrovilli—7: After a quiet first half, started finding space through the middle and on the left and used it very well. Consistently beat one defender, drove into space, and laid it off to an open teammate. Did a superb job getting back as well. Still a bit anonymous around the area but was miles better than he’s been of late.

Cristiano Biraghi—5: Had a couple of poor giveaways and struggled to track Ashley Young early on, but settled in until Achraf Hakimi entered the game and, once again, had trouble with the rapid Moroccan. Didn’t do much on the other end and underwhelmed with his set piece delivery.

Valentin Eysseric—3: As a player who naturally looks for space between the lines, it made sense to use him to test Eriksen’s defensive nous. In practice, though, he was a disaster. Completely unable to link up with the midfielders or Kouamé, his only contributions were a couple of bad fouls and some really poor giveaways. Unconscionable that he’s getting minutes ahead of Tòfol Montiel, who needs to develop but is already able to impact the game way more.

Christian Kouamé—7: Completely isolated until Eysseric left and didn’t get a chance to do much of anything. Flipped the script as soon as Vlahović arrived, showing a good understanding of how to link up with the Serbian and battling away with Inter’s centerbacks. Nearly got the highly-touted Milan Škriniar sent off for consistently fouling him, displaying quickness and a good first touch. Worked the channels well. Oh, and the goal? Holy smokes. Just an outrageously good hit.

Dušan Vlahović—6: Changed the game with his presence. Pressed the defenders and battled away with them while occasionally connecting quite well with Kouamé. Didn’t go to ground as easily as usual (the sequence where Aleksandr Kolarov fouled him 3 times in 10 seconds was great) and focused on bringing his teammates into play. Looks very good as part of a front two.

Lorenzo Venuti—6: Offered more going forward than Cáceres, including a couple of decent shots with his left while cutting in; he’s going to score one of those this year and we’re all going to lose our minds. Still doesn’t offer a great delivery from the wide areas but won some freekicks and held up fine defensively.

José Callejón—5: Deployed as more of a center forward than a winger and once again proved that he looks way better by the touchline. Not very involved for the final 20 minutes.

Three things we learned

1. The team is best without Franck Ribery. The French maestro is an unbelievably talented player even at 37 years old, but his style of play doesn’t mesh with the rest of the squad’s tendencies. He holds the ball for interminable lengths of time, waiting for teammates to make the sort of runs that they rarely make, and it leads to a static and predictable attack. His lack of goal threat (still hasn’t scored at the Franchi) puts an enormous burden on the striker to score all the goals. We’ve seen that Fiorentina tend to play a much quicker, more vertical style without him, even if Castrovilli and Amrabat can still be guilty of holding the ball too long. Cesare Prandelli needs to take Ribery aside and explain that he’s going to be a supersub and player-coach from here on out rather than the central figure. It might be awkward for everyone involved, but the team simply can’t rotate around a guy who’s 37 and on an expiring contract. It’s best to start weaning the guys off their Ribery reliance now.

2. Strikers play best with close support. This isn’t exactly something we’ve learned, but it feels like something the Viola are just now remembering. Every great striker in team history has had a partner, or at least a 10 just behind him. While Vlahović (and Kouamé, and Patrick Cutrone) hasn’t been perfect by any standard, there are only a handful of center forwards who can contribute when left completely alone up front. Having someone to play quick one-twos with or to knock the ball down for takes a huge burden off the striker, as it means he doesn’t have to do everything. It also discomfits opposing defenses, which have to account for two goal threats rather than just one. Vlahović has said that he enjoys playing with Kouamé up top and we saw the beginnings of a really good partnership; there were a few moments where they almost demonstrated that telekinesis that defines great pairings. Given a chance to grow together for the rest of the year, these two should only improve. It’s clear, too, that the Viola need another center forward to spell them occasionally, as the whole setup changes when one isn’t there. But yeah, it’s easier when you don’t have to go it alone.

3. This group is improving, context be damned. Antonio Conte mostly played his backups. Eriksen was very bad defensively in defensive midfield. The Nerazzurri missed some very good chances to run away with this one and probably deserved the win, all things considered. However, Fiorentina took 16 shots and put 6 on target, which feels very unexpected. They drew an unbelievable 31 fouls and got 7 opponents booked. They won 8 corners. They generally looked competent for the fifth or sixth game in a row. We haven’t seen that since the restart last season. If Prandelli can replicate that form, Fiorentina will finish comfortably midtable and should prove a fairly appealing job to whoever comes next. There are still holes throughout the roster and there are still lots of problems within the organization, but you don’t have to squint too hard to see the makings of a very good and fun team in Florence right now, and that’s nice.