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

The Viola weren’t good, but they were even less lucky. That’s just what it is sometimes.

Empoli FC v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A
The aliens got him with the tractor beam.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—4: Nearly had a howler coming way off his line to clear a ball and dribbling himself into pressure. Caught in no-man’s land for the first goal, missing his punch and allowing Empoli to equalize. He’s still the World’s Funnest Dad and we love him, but there’s a reason he’s the backup and Bartłomiej Drągowski is the starter.

Álvaro Odriozola—5.5: Was the only attacking force in the first half, constantly darting down the wing and stretching the defense. Unfortunately, he never got his delivery right. Did okay defensively but could’ve hustled a little more to get back on the winner. At the very least, though, he wasn’t the biggest problem out there.

Nikola Milenković—5: Dominated the first half, gobbling up Andrea Pinamonti and Patrick Cutrone, and missed two very good chances off corners, but did make a couple of fantastic, goal-saving tackles. Missed the initial ball in on Empoli’s first goal and rather lost Pinamonti on the second. Nobody’s perfect all the time.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—5: Dusted by Nedim Bajrami on the final goal but was pretty stout otherwise. Completely borked a simple finish in the first half but didn’t do too much else wrong, although his inability to win high balls let Pinamonti and Cutrone knock down a lot of passes for Federico di Francesco to attack.

Cristiano Biraghi—4: Played in a couple of good corners and one or two decent crosses while showing a good relationship with Saponara on the overlap, but didn’t do an awful lot in attack. It’s no coincidence that both Empoli goals came from his side of the pitch, either, as he’s still prone to getting caught too high up on turnovers.

Giacomo Bonaventura—5: Ran hard and played one or two excellent passes but seems a step slower than he was to start the season, particularly when he gets near the box. Missed a completely free header in the first half which sure would’ve been nice to score. Might be time to give him a day off.

Lucas Torreira—5: Was very good on the ball and sprayed several nice passes to the wings. Was as energetic as ever, although his desire to close down high up the pitch left an enormous void in front of the defense that di Francesco constantly exploited. Unclear if that was per Italiano’s instructions or not, so I’m not pinging him too hard. It is a bit odd that he still hasn’t lasted a full 90, though.

Alfred Duncan—4: He’s prone to a clunker every 6 or 7 games and this was it. Won the ball well enough but had just 17 touches in his 45 minutes and was obviously a passenger, allowing Saponara and Biraghi to operate in his space without even trying to show for the ball at times. Against an opponent like Empoli that was always going to cede the midfield, he may not be the best option.

José Callejón—5.5: Got the assist, although he really didn’t do too much for it, and showed some vague desire to help the team get in the goals. His legs are clearly shot, though, and he simply can’t beat his defender. That lack of pace and trickery means that he spends the majority of his time stationed on the touchline, recycling possession; given that his only shot (from an angle, but still only about 8 yards out) nearly hit the corner flag, maybe that’s for the best.

Dušan Vlahović—7: The goal was good and the pass to set up Callejón was even better. Starting to look like the sort of player who can bend the game to his will and score when he decides it’s time to score. Didn’t get any service in the first half but did much better after the break. With 11 goals, he’s the current capocannoniere and has scored more than anyone in Fiorentina history in a calendar year. Not bad for a guy everyone wanted sold this time last year.

Riccardo Saponara—5.5: Whipped in the cross for Jack’s missed header and had a couple of decent pops from distance but didn’t create a whole heck of a lot. If he’s not hitting on those long shots, he’s a bit too invisible in games like this, where his lack of pace means he has trouble shaking free of tight marking.

Gaetano Castrovilli—4.5: Produced a delightful run complete with a chapeau and a burst past various defenders but overcooked the pass to Vlahović the end of it. Sadly, that was about it for him. Seems a bit too anxious to impress and is overplaying at times, which leads to him losing the ball cheaply. Might need a few starts in a row to get right again.

Nicolás González—5: Had a couple of nice dribbles, including one searing burst that ended with Lorenzo Tonelli chopping him down, but wasn’t able to impact the game much near the box.

Youssef Maleh—4.5: Tidy enough in his 13 minutes but didn’t really do all that much.

Sofyan Amrabat—n/a: Only played 6 minutes and it’s more correlation than causation that Fiorentina conceded as soon as he came on, but oof. Probably way too high up the pitch on the second goal. The man needs a change of scenery.

Three things we learned

1. Italiano needs to figure out how to contain a trequarista behind two strikers. Empoli’s strategy for much of this game was simple: sit deep, invite the opposing fullbacks forward, then hit it long for one of the strikers to knock down to the 10 (di Francesco for most of the game) while the other striker runs in behind; it was, in a lot of ways, pretty similar to what Venezia did in possession. With each Viola centerback marking a striker and Torreira usually closing down very high up, it was too easy for the hosts to get quick breaks with numerical advantages. The most obvious solutions are to keep the regista deeper (although counting on Torreira to help on high balls is uh not a good idea) or pull one of the fullbacks deeper.

2. We’re still waiting for some maturity. Bonaventura (twice), Milenković (twice), LMQ, and Callejón all missed very good chances that could’ve put this one to bed. After taking the lead, the midfielders and even the defenders kept bombing forward. There weren’t any adjustments to how the team played. That so many veterans whiffed on goals and that Vincenzo Italiano didn’t adjust his scheme may not seem connected, but for me, it’s a matter of maturity. Players, especially experienced ones, have to score. The mister has to tweak his tactics to reflect the game state. We have to believe that one of those guys will score next time and that the mister will learn (this is just his fourth season coaching a fully professional team) if they’re going to take the next step. Otherwise, they’ll remain a fun but probably mid-table team. Which is still a massive improvement on the past three years.

3. The noise is the reason we do this. Nobody expected Fiorentina, down to a single central defender, to beat AC Milan last week. Nobody expected them, back at full strength, to lose to Empoli. While Fiorentina are pretty clearly a good team—they’re in 6th place for a reason—they’re not perfect and have all the quirks you’d expect. If the game were as simple as, “The better team always wins,” then there wouldn’t be any point in playing the games. But the Viola are showing improvement and are higher in the table than they’ve been at this point of the season in years. All that wild variance? That’s why this is fun, even if it doesn’t leave us happy.