Pietro Terracciano—6.5: Made some good saves to keep Fiorentina in this one early and late, was quick off his line to sweep up behind the high defense, and was pretty good with his distribution. Maybe could have done a bit more on both goals, especially the second, but was generally as steady as you could ask for.
Álvaro Odriozola—5.5: Ran like a madman up and down the wing and occasionally created some havoc, but his inability to beat his man hamstrung his ability to create a lot down the wing. Adequate defensively but both Sassuolo goals came originated in his area of the pitch, which didn’t feel like an accident.
Nikola Milenković—5: Unbeatable in physical clashes, swallowing up Gianluca Scamacca and then Grégoire Defrel, but his positioning was iffy at times and he had a couple of mixups with his colleagues to let the Neroverdi in a bit too easily. Saw Andrea Consigli save a certain goal on a header.
Lucas Martínez Quarta—5: Offered some surging runs forward from the back and had a couple of nice moments on the ball but, like Milenković, suffered a few miscommunications and didn’t stick as tight to his man as he could’ve at times, particularly on Scamacca’s goal (although it was, in fairness, a really really good strike).
Cristiano Biraghi—3: Put in a couple of decent balls from set pieces but and was okay against Domenico Berardi at times, but was sent off for the same foul twice. Yeah, they were both harsh calls, but you have to keep your elbows low and that’s about as obvious as anything.
Youssef Maleh—5: Charged up and down well enough but didn’t really contribute much. Switched off going back once or twice and maybe could have done better on Davide Frattesi’s goal. This was a good reminder that, while he’s a promising player, he hasn’t fulfilled that promise yet.
Lucas Torreira—8: Got the goal, got the assist, and played the first full 90 of the season. Was a bit quiet in the first half but stepped up in a big way in the second, winning the ball and playing the terrier in the center of the park. Looks like an absolute steal for €15 million and the best holding midfielder this club has seen since David Pizarro.
Giacomo Bonaventura—6: Twisted and turned his way through the middle of the park, winning fouls and carrying the ball forward well, and did enough on the back foot too. Constantly found himself in good spots in the box but somehow missed, had blocked, or passed out of every open look he received. Astounding that he didn’t bury one of them.
José Callejón—4.5: Lost possession a bit too cheaply at times but did spray a couple of nice switches of play. Played in a couple of decent balls but also wasted a couple of good shots, although one effort that was flying miles off target nearly got deflected in for a goal.
Dušan Vlahović—7.5: Missed a couple of chances in the first half but struck the equalizer with typical predatory instinct. Didn’t add as much to the buildup as you might’ve liked, especially before the break, but was definitely one of the best players out there.
Nicolás González—4: Just looked off the pace. Missed a hatful of chances and biffed a couple of late opportunities to motor away from the defense and get the winner. Visibly frustrated with himself and with good reason, but he’ll be fine. Everyone has that day in which everything goes wrong, and this was Nico’s.
Riccardo Saponara—5: Only played 30 minutes after replacing Callejón at the half and getting the hook in favor of Terzić, which he wasn’t happy about. Had a couple of neat touches but didn’t really create much of anything.
Alfred Duncan—6: No surprise that his addition allowed Fiorentina to dominate the middle until Biraghi’s dismissal. Solidified the center and shut down everything that came near him while offering a few good passes forward that carved the visitors open. Even spent 20 minutes filling in at leftback.
Sofyan Amrabat—5.5: Brought on to help shield the defense and did just that. Particularly impressed sticking in front of the ever tricky Jeremie Boga.
Aleksa Terzić—4: A bit nervous from the Serbian. Got caught too high up once or twice to earn Italiano’s ire and was beaten by Berardi a couple of times. Like Maleh, reminded us that all his promise is just that until he can string together good performances against Serie A teams.
Igor—n/a: Came on for the final 3 minutes to see the game out and did was he was supposed to do.
Three things we learned
1. The team is growing up. Be honest: as soon as Biraghi was sent off, you expected Fiorentina to fall apart, concede a string of chances, and eventually let Sassuolo finish them off in the final 5 minutes. Instead, they maintained their composure and their discipline, frustrating the Neroverdi at every turn and barely conceding a chance. Even before the red card, coming back from 0-2 down after missing a host of opportunities showed character; it would’ve been easy to shrug, admit that it wasn’t their day, and play out the string before getting ready for Hellas Verona on Wednesday. Seeing them emerge focused, energized, and hungry from the break to tie the game up in 15 minutes is the exact maturity we’ve been hoping to see and could translate to points if the team can learn how to hang on, turning late draws into wins and late losses into draws.
2. Vincenzo Italiano is learning. The halftime adjustments were spot on as Saponara took over on the left, allowing González to cut in on the right and Biraghi to overlap, providing the width, while Duncan dropped in at leftback. Even more impressive was his reaction to the red card: he almost pulled Saponara (the Viola 8 managed to talk his way into staying out there) but used Duncan as the full-time fullback with Vlahović up top and Nico floating around just behind him. Late on, he even moved to a back three when Igor came on. The team dropped deeper, stayed compact, and looked discipline going both ways. It can be easy to forget that he’s still very early in his career and is going to change and improve as a tactician, and that’s exactly what we saw today.
3. Sometimes the ball just bounces wrong. Fiorentina had two good chances in the first 5 minutes and steadily managed opportunities throughout; only woeful finishing from Nico and Jack kept them from taking the early lead. On a different day, the Viola would have been up 2-0 after half an hour and cruised to a victory. It’s a nice reminder that it’s the unpredictability of the game that makes it so much fun, even when the result is a little disappointing. The best tactical planning and analysis can only do so much because the chaos inherent to 22 players and a ball and a referee and a stadium full of howling fans means there’s so much that happen that nobody could predict. You can call it luck or fate or whatever you want, but at the end of the day, it’s the imperfections that create a compelling experience.