Pietro Terracciano—6.5: Not at fault for any of the goals and was pretty good with the ball at his feet, although he did make a couple of hospital passes. Made up for those with a couple of very good stops on Rafael Leão.
Álvaro Odriozola—6: Got forward well and created some havoc, although his most notable contribution on that end was getting positively bodied by Franck Kessié. Struggled to contain Leão, who was AC Milan’s only real attacking outlet.
Lorenzo Venuti—6: Despite giving up half a foot to Zlatan Ibrahimović, Lollo battled away game as hell and mostly kept the Swede in check. Fantastic stepping up as the deepest defender to catch Milan offside and made some key interventions. The own goal was completely not his fault and his reaction to it (a laughing look at the heavens) only cements his place as a fan favorite.
Igor—7: Stuck tight to Ibrahimović and didn’t let him do much in open play except for his second goal and one absurd backheel that nobody could’ve stopped. Had a couple of fantastic tackles and some typically excellent touches on the ball. Not bad for a guy who might not even be a central defender.
Cristiano Biraghi—6: Lost Alexis Saelemaekers once or twice but usually stuck tight to the Belgian. Passed the ball pretty well, made some good runs to fill space when Saponara wandered away from the wing, and didn’t make any huge mistakes. Also pulled off corner kick duty, which was interesting.
Giacomo Bonaventura—4: That pass to Zlatan was unbelievably bad, but the rest of his game wasn’t great either. He dawdled on the ball, misplaced simple passes, and wasn’t his usual pesky self, although the sheer physical dominance of Kessié and Sandro Tonali might’ve had something to do with his struggles.
Lucas Torreira—7: Controlled the tempo and guarded the space in front of his defense like a junkyard dog, erasing Brahim Díaz from the proceedings. Added a swagger and a spikiness that this team badly needs. How Arsenal couldn’t find a use for him is beyond me, but it’s their loss.
Alfred Duncan—7.5: Reacted quickly to score the opener and then did Duncan things, pressing and breaking up play and generally making himself a nuisance for the Rossonero midfield. Did have a couple of mistakes with the ball, as is the norm, but was a big time net positive. Loved the effortlessly cool toss of the shirt into the crowd as he walked off, too. You can’t teach style.
José Callejón—5.5: Didn’t do a whole lot right but didn’t do a whole lot wrong, either, and looked like he at least wanted to contribute; given his history with Fiorentina, that’s a big improvement, even if watching him try to outpace Theo Hernández feels like watching dadaist theater.
Dušan Vlahović—8: Despite constant fouling from Simon Kjær (who somehow didn’t get booked), the big man was at his best. Set up Saponara’s goal with a delightful little touch and took both of his own brilliantly. Brought down numerous long balls with a defender draped all over him and showed his pace by leaving Matteo Gabbia for dead. But yeah, player avatar Twitter insists he only scores penalties against bad teams. Idiots.
Riccardo Saponara—7.5: Oh my Cheese what a goal. You’re not going to see a better one this year. Was busy otherwise without being particularly effective, although his knack for popping up on the opposite wing to create overloads is sort of fun at times, especially since it leaves acres of space for Biraghi and Castrovilli to exploit.
Gaetano Castrovilli—5: Got himself booked for a rough challenge on Theo, although it looked like retaliation for one on Nico that went uncalled seconds before. If Tanino’s bringing that kind of smoke, you can’t not like it
Nicolás González—6: Looked rusty, which you’d expect after 18 days spent in quarantine, but he still has this sparkle to him that makes you think he’ll make something happen no matter what. And sure enough, he did, hunting down Theo and poking the ball loose for Dušan to imperiously finish. What a player.
Youssef Maleh—n/a: Came on in stoppage time to burn a few more seconds off the clock.
Three things we learned
1. Fiorentina’s not afraid of anyone. Can you imagine how this team would’ve played this fixture last year? Giuseppe Iachini would’ve ordered them to stack 9 players on the 6 yard line and thump it up to the striker for 90 minutes. Instead, facing the joint league leaders, Vincenzo Italiano ordered his guys to stick to the plan despite only having a single central defender. Milan have made things work through their sheer physicality this year: Kessié, Tonali, Ibrahimović, Giroud, and Leão are all big and strong and want to run right over you. Instead of hiding, the Viola stepped up and traded punches, leaving their visitors stunned enough to take advantage. You have to admire the players’ mental strength and the coach who’s instilled it.
2. There’s still room for a winger. I’m pretty sure I’ve made my feelings about Ricky Saponara well known, but for those who need a refresher, I unabashedly adore him and could not be happier that he’s thriving. That goal was just stupid good. The tribute to Davide Astori after scoring it was just as good. I love me some Cheese.
But he’s still not quite cut out for this level. Aside from the goal, he wasn’t able to influence play too often, mostly because he couldn’t get away from the more athletic Milan defenders. So much of Italiano’s plan depends on guys being able to beat the man in front of them and Ricky can do that, but he lacks the speed to really make defenses pay for leaving him alone. Most opponents won’t mind letting him try those gorgeous curlers if it means they can stick an extra marker on Vlahović and González.
3. ACF Reclamation is still a thing. The first time Daniele Pradè took over at Fiorentina, he signed a host of veterans who, for one reason or another, needed a change of scenery: Borja Valero, David Pizarro, Alberto Aquilani, Gonzálo Rodríguez, Mati Fernandez, Giuseppe Rossi, Mário Gómez. This time around, it’s looking like he’s hit with some similar signings: Lucas Torreira, Giacomo Bonaventura, and Álvaro Odriozola have all been at least average if not better. It’s a good reminder that, even though we all want Fiorentina to grab every FM wonderkind, these boring guys in their mid-twenties and early thirties know how to play.