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

Guess who’s back, Dušan’s back, and Super Saponara shines in the Florence sun.

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

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—6: Pietro could almost have joined the Curva Fiesole today, never really troubled by a toothless Cagliari. When called upon in the opening half, responded as always, after the interval he had enough time to enjoy a coffee if he wanted.

Lorenzo Venuti—6: A welcome return to the side, and without needing to do anything spectacular. Never under pressure and stuck mainly to his defensive duties. Good to see he hasn’t been forgotten.

Nikola Milenković—6.5: Nikola is one of the few players almost guaranteed a place in Italiano’s ever-changing first eleven. The usual rock in the heart of our defence, after one early slip up, kept the Cagliari danger to a minimum. Pulled off a great tackle near the end, showing full concentration despite the scoreline.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—6.5: For me, this should be the central defensive pairing. After an early scare, no further mistakes at the back yesterday, and an attacking threat in the Cagliari area. Had an early header go just wide, always a danger from set pieces.

Cristiano Biraghi—7: Showed the personality of a captain when stepping up for the penalty under the Fiesole. On a day when Davide Astori was remembered by both sets of fans, Biraghi earned himself the respect of the Curva today, something which he has struggled with in the past. Didn’t have much to do at the back and still needs to improve his delivery from the wing, but with Saponara on fire, had an easier day of it than usual.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6.5: Solid in the middle of the park, while not as attacking as in previous games. When he’s on form, like today, Jack is an essential part of this team.

Lucas Torreira—6.5: Looks to be settling into the role of regista nicely, something this squad really needed. Composed on the ball, deserves a chance to grow into this midfield.

Youssef Maleh—6.5: Full of energy and never afraid to have a shot on goal. Linked up well with Saponara going forward. Could be more precise with his passing.

Nicolás González—7.5: Playing on the right Nico was a constant threat in attack. Had a couple of chances before Saponara served up the perfect assist for an easy finish. Had an early effort go just wide of the post, and a header from a corner went close before the goal came. Also earned the free kick which Vlahović fired home. A class act.

Dušan Vlahović—7.5: Looked like getting back to his old self, which is great news for a team with few other options in attack. While some will be quick to criticize his decision not to take the penalty, he worked hard for the team yesterday. His reward came from another dead ball situation, when he struck a superb free-kick, and it was clear to see how much that goal meant to him. Also created the second goal, with a beautiful lay off for Saponara. Put in a couple of dangerous crosses too, a solid performance.

Riccardo Saponara—8: From the very first minute, it was obvious that Ricky was up for this one. Went past his man, and after spotting Cragno off his line, tried a very cheeky lob which almost came off. Our busiest player in the opening half, a constant threat on the left and not afraid to try and go past his marker. He had it all in this game, shooting on target, effective crosses, back heels, a constant thorn in the Cagliari side, Cáceres may even have injured himself when trying to stop Ricky going any further. Deserved a goal for his performance, and almost had one when a beautiful curling strike came back off the post. Shortly after that came his assist for Nico; put through by Dušan, he made no mistake, including his unselfish pass for an easy finish. Earned himself a deserved standing ovation when replaced later on.

Aleksa Terzić—6: Replaced Biraghi with over twenty minutes still to play. Provided a good cross for Vlahović and made no mistakes, a good option to have on the bench.

Gaetano Castrovilli—6: This was a good opportunity to get some minutes in his legs after a long recovery. A player this squad will need this season.

José Callejón—6: Will be disappointed not to have done more with a headed opportunity. His usual self, which when compared to Saponara today, is just not enough for this team.

Sofyan Amrabat—n/a: Came on for Torreira, not much time to make a claim for a starting place.

Alfred Duncan—n/a: Replaced Jack with eight minutes to go.

Three things we learned

1. Saponara more than deserves his place in this squad. Ricky’s performance against Cagliari will have surprised many and caused a lot of others to have a rethink. At the start of the season, many of us questioned the strength of our bench. Players like Saponara and Benassi, who seemed to be eternally on loan from the club, were suddenly back in the squad. While it would be foolish to think that Saponara can play like that week in, week out, and especially against stronger opposition, he has certainly proved his worth, and showed just why Vincenzo Italiano has stuck with him.

2. Vlahović still cares, and a lot of people still care about Vlahović. I suspect there will be those who choose to use the fact that Dušan didn’t step up for the penalty against him. I see it as a mark of maturity and courage, being able to speak up when the pressure is on. It would have been easier, as our designated penalty taker, to put the ball on the spot and go through the usual routine. I’ve seen players and teams lately, such as Napoli and Lorenzo Insigne, and no matter how many times they miss, they just keep coming back for more. Now, some may see that as more courageous, but for my team, I want someone to be able to admit when they are not up for it, and to have someone step up who feels confident. Since the defeat at Venezia, there has been even more talk about Dušan’s commitment to the cause, and he answered the doubters yesterday. He worked hard for the team, he created chances for others, and he stepped up to fire home a beautiful free kick. The celebrations afterwards, also showed how much he still cares about this team and how much they are still behind him. There may have been doubts as to how his refusal to renew his contract would be received by his teammates, but the reaction to his goal, from everyone, both on the pitch and on the bench, would seem to suggest that he still very much has their support. It could be argued that Italiano doesn’t have much choice but to stick with his striker, but from his reaction to the goal, it’s quite clear that Vincenzo still believes in Dušan 100%. There was also a good reaction from the crowd to his goal, which suggests a lot of fans are willing to support him as long as he delivers for the team.

3. There may be other ‘Venezia’s’, but there will also be plenty of ‘Cagliari’s’. It’s part of being a Fiorentina fan, the dramatic reactions to both defeat and victory, to poor performances and stunning displays. Nine games into the season, and by now Italiano has shown that he has been able to completely turn this squad around. We’re not going to win every game, and there may well be another poor display like we witnessed in Venice. That doesn’t mean we need to be completely pessimistic, the same as a performance like yesterday doesn’t mean we start dreaming of a Scudetto win. This should be a season where we can finally enjoy ourselves, enjoy this team and what Italiano has done with it. He won’t always get it right, and some decisions will be questioned (Callejon for example), but he deserves our full support. He already has the whole squad on his side, and they are finally enjoying their football after the last few seasons, let’s all enjoy it too.

(4. Biraghi’s got balls)