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Fiorentina 0-0 Bologna: Player grades and 3 things we learned

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Turns out that a new year doesn’t mean we get a new Viola.

ACF Fiorentina v Bologna FC - Serie A
I really like to imagine Nikola whispering, “Shh. No words. It’s not your fault,” to Soriano here.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Player grades

Bartłomiej Drągowski—7.5: As has been the case all too often this year, the Pole was unquestionably the man of the match. While he had one little hiccup (a clearance that he blasted about 40 yards into the air and maybe 8 yards forward), he made 3 superb saves in the first half to earn consecutive clean sheets for the first time this year. What a man.

Nikola Milenković—7: Was rock solid as ever against some very tricky opponents. Kept the dangerous Musa Barrow quiet and coped well with Emmanuel Vignato and Rodrigo Palacio when they strayed into his area too. Did take a couple of jaunts up field late in the game that left some space, but was quite good overall.

Germán Pezzella—6: Had a couple of blunders in the first half, including a clean miss on a fairly simple ball that put Palacio clean through on goal, but came up big with superb tackles on the wannabe Padawan and on Barrow in space. On balance, we’ll say he was right around average. Nice that he managed to steady himself after it seemed like he was about to enter his usual month-long funk.

Igor—6.5: Pretty much spotless except for one really bad giveaway, although that one was really, really bad. However, he often looked like Fiorentina’s most creative passer, threading passes through the lines to the forwards. Mostly erased Riccardo Orsolini from the proceedings. It boggles the mind that Giuseppe Iachini didn’t trust him, because he’s been well above average since seizing a starting berth.

Martín Cáceres—5: Offered nothing in the final third and got beaten by Barrow (no shame there) and Mitchell Dijks (bit of shame there). Charged up and down gamely enough but doesn’t have the technique to beat his man or put in a cross, so Bologna’s defenders largely ignored him and collapsed into the middle.

Sofyan Amrabat—5: Never got anything going and didn’t influence the game very much outside a few isolated moments. Often seemed completely alone in the middle when Castrovilli went forward. Seemed overwhelmed against an athletic and disciplined Rossoblù midfield.

Borja Valero—4.5: Had a couple of good chances to score but couldn’t put either on target, because Borja. Got bossed by Soriano otherwise, exerting almost no influence on the game and looking like a turnstile at transitions and in defense. He’s the mayor and our love for him will never diminish, but this wasn’t a great day for him.

Gaetano Castrovilli—6: Looked like the brightest player in the first half but lapsed into some bad habits later on. Was very active showing for passes, moved the ball around, and ghosted past his defender once or twice. Was as engaged as ever defensively. Later on, began to put his head down and try to force the action, which didn’t work out very well.

Lorenzo Venuti—5: Did a good job on the ever-dangerous Orsolini but seemed very uncomfortable on the left, where Fiorentina primarily focused play. Definitely prefers making those blind side runs in space rather than working through the congestion with Castrovilli and Ribery, although he did show a knack for little balls through for Tanino on the underlap. For what seems like the fifth consecutive game, suffered a bad foul that went uncalled; the refs need to protect our lovely Lollo, dammit.

Dušan Vlahović—5: Nearly scored with a lovely bit of skill on the turn after 30 seconds and was close a minute later, but didn’t really get much going after that. Battled away with some rugged defenders but seemed a little too willing to go to ground in hopes of a whistle rather than trying to hold off his man. Got almost no service, though, so this one isn’t entirely on him.

Franck Ribery—6.5: The layoff sure seemed to help him, as he appeared fit enough to twist his way past various challenges all game long. Never quite got the final ball right but was clearly the danger man, especially as the Viola went for it in the last 10 minutes. His refusal to shoot is really starting to become a problem, though. At some point, he just has to drop a shoulder and let if fly.

Pol Lirola—5: Had a few nervy moments tracking Dijks back but coped fine, largely due to Milenković sweeping up behind him. Offered pace and another angle of attack going the other way but never found the right pass around the box. You get the sense that he wants to play quick passes back and forth and then make the third man run, but nobody else seems to be on the same page.

Christian Kouamé—5: Not involved enough, although his 13 touches are more a result of the poor service from the midfield. Offered a target for the mostly wayward crosses but didn’t seem to link up very well with the rest of the team. Seems anxious, as if he knows that any mistake will see him consigned to the bench, and no players look good under that circumstance.

Giacomo Bonaventura—3.5: The highlight was him shoving a defender over in the box late in the game after a previous off-ball collision went uncalled. It torpedoed a promising attack. You expect a lot more from a veteran. Besides that brain fart, he was pretty unimpressive, staying wide on the right and not really doing anything.

Three things we learned

1. Borja isn’t the answer. Fiorentina won at Juventus in spite of Valero rather than because of him. He was lucky not to be sent off early in the second half, and his effectiveness in quickly shifting the ball around midfield before that was because the Viola had a man advantage and Juve weren’t able to press him very well. When opponents get in his face, he simply doesn’t have the legs to escape them anymore. Maybe Erick Pulgar’s the answer; he looked bad next to Amrabat earlier in the year, but now that Sofyan’s settled in a bit, perhaps they can kindle a working relationship. Alfred Duncan is the people’s choice but remains inexplicably glued to the bench despite looking like a perfect fit. There probably aren’t any easy solutions in the January mercato, so Cesare Prandelli needs to figure out how to fix this engine room with the pieces he’s already got or it’ll continue to leave this team a broken mess.

2. Shooting on target is better than shooting off target. Fiorentina didn’t register an attempt on target in this one. That’s the 11th time this season that their opponent has put more shots on frame. That’s bad. I know that the xG tallies say that Fiorentina are much better in attack than their anemic goal scoring output; per Understat, only Hellas Verona, Udinese, and AS Roma have been unluckier at finishing, while Fbref has the Viola as the unluckiest team in the league. But at a certain point, the nerd numbers don’t cut it: if you can’t shoot on target, it’s very hard to score. Fiorentina needs to shoot more and shoot more accurately. I have no idea how to fix that, but it has to be the primary focus for this team. They’ve averaged fewer shots per game since San Cesare took the reins and have averaged fewer on target. That doesn’t include penalties, so it’s slightly skewed, but relying on the referees to hand out spot kicks in Serie A is a bad strategy.

3. There’s still no plan for breaking up a deep block. Everyone knows that Prandelli teams like to control the ball, so it makes sense to defend deep and narrow against them. That’s particularly true with Dušan Vlahović and Franck Ribery up front: the former has yet to notch one with his head this year despite some newfound competence in the air, and the latter has never scored with his noggin in a competitive fixture. Shifting the ball wide and lobbing it in plays right into opponents’ hands. None of the midfielders are threats to shoot from distance: Castrovilli has yet to strike from outside the box in his Fiorentina career, Jack’s never hit more than two in a season from range, Amrabat’s got all of 4 goals as a professional, Borja’s famous for his wayward shooting, Pulgar and Duncan don’t play. With crossing and long-range shooting out, the only other way to generate offense is through the middle. That means dribbling (Fiorentina average the most unsuccessful dribbles per game, so blech) or movement off the ball. Getting runners moving at goal from deep positions is probably the best option, but nobody seems willing to get ahead of the forwards except for Bonaventura. It’s a problem.