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

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There was plenty of useful, interesting stuff in this one as long as you ignore the scoreline.

UC Sampdoria v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Player grades

Bartłomiej Drągowski—5: Not a great day for Saint Bartholomew, honestly. Whiffed on the first goal (although Vlahović and Venuti also could’ve done better) and was a bit late reacting to the second (although the Pezzella didn’t make it easy on him). A mere blip, you have to think, as he’s been, without a doubt, the team MVP this year.

Nikola Milenković—6: Solid without ever looking invincible. Did a good job of slowing down Keita Baldé and the loathsome Gastón Ramírez and occasionally stepped forward on the ball, but overextended with his jaunts upfield at times, exposing the entire flank. Could’ve snatched a point at the death but bulleted his header wide of the post.

Germán Pezzella—5: The poor marking at the first goal has to rest partly on his shoulders, as the man with the armband in the heart of defense has to get everyone in the right place. Also blocked Drągowski’s view on the second and maybe deflected a bit, making it very difficult for the goalkeeper. Aside from that, got burned by Baldé a few times in the open field. Did have one lovely ball over the top for Vlahović, which I didn’t think he had in his locker.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—6.5: Pretty good work from the Argentina international. Was as proactive as ever, constantly trying to nip in front of his man and charge off the other way on the ball. Stuffed the stat sheet and made one of the best defensive plays of the year, breaking a late 3-v-1 with a perfectly timed lunge. Every week, looks more and more like a long-term building block and a worthy stylistic successor to Gonzalo Rodríguez. Should’ve scored off a corner and smacked the upright instead, but we’ll forgive him that.

Lorenzo Venuti—6: Never the star man but never the problem, either. Did a very good job of shutting down Tommaso Augello. Probably could’ve done better to stick with Baldé on that corner, but probably didn’t expect Vlahović and Bart to both miss the ball at the front post. Other than that, displayed his usual knack for pressing high up and causing confusion in the opposing defense and beamed in a couple of nice passes.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6.5: His vertical running definitely made a difference for the team and he was continually positive with the ball. Probably shot too often, only putting 1 of his 5 attempts on frame, but at least tried his luck and came close once or twice. Also dug in defensively. Matches what this team needs to do without Franck Ribery, which is get midfield runners into the box.

Erick Pulgar—6.5: Had a very Pulgar game, consistently delivering decent set pieces (including the one that led to the goal) and breaking up play quite nicely. Showed that he’s able to play forward passes when he’s not pressured, feeding a few into attackers’ feet on the edge of the area, but remains rather clunky with a defender in his face. Good reminder that he is, at worst, a good and functional player.

Gaetano Castrovilli—4: Subdued, quiet, and generally bad. Lost the ball a lot, didn’t move it forward, offered little in attack, and completely lost Fabio Quagliarella for the winner (he was on him at first and then switched off, letting the old man jog a step or two in front of him). Maybe he was trying to learn how to play without Ribery as a reference point, but Tanino’d better figure it out quickly; you can’t wear the 10 and turn in a performance like that without opening yourself up to criticism.

Cristiano Biraghi—4: Not his best effort. Unable to shake Bartosz Bereszyński going forward and really struggled to keep up with Mikkel Damsgaard and Ramírez. AWOL on the second goal and never event into the picture frame. Did have one very good curling shot and played in that last cross for Milenković but was quite quiet otherwise. Don’t think he’s washed, but he definitely needs a game or two off to regather himself.

Dušan Vlahović—7: Probably more at fault on the first goal than anyone else for ducking out of the way at the near post, but made up for it with a brilliant poacher’s finish at the other end to equalize. Didn’t get much service and missed some passes and shots that could’ve led to much better things, but bustled around as well as you’d like.

Christian Kouamé—5: Battled really well in the air and constantly jetted into space behind the defense to provide Vlahović an option, although they never quite connected. Looked awkward with the ball, though, and lost out too easily. You can squint and see the start of a really good partnership between him and the young Serbian, but Chris definitely needs more time on the field (this was the first time all year he’s gotten 90 minutes) to get back in the groove. Remember how good he was with Genoa if you think he’s a talentless hack; it just takes some time, particularly after an awful injury, to get that back.

Kévin Malcuit—n/a: Played 8 minutes and looked perfectly cromulent. Played very high up and let Sampdoria break behind him, but that’s likely a function of Fiorentina chasing the game and a specific set of instructions. Still don’t have a good read on him.

José Callejón—3: I don’t like being harsh on subs, particularly when they barely play; it’s difficult to get into the flow of a game off the bench, after all. Callejón, however, was really bad. He took a bad corner, took a throw-in that set Samp off the other way, lost another ball to put LMQ into a 3-v-1, and generally looked bored and slow. There is undoubtedly a world in which he’s a useful piece for a decent team, but it isn’t this one. It’s time to give his minutes to Tófol Montiel. Heck, even Valentin Eysseric looks livelier.

Three things we learned

1. Sometimes you’re just unlucky. Fbref had Samp’s xG at 0.9 and Fiorentina’s at 1.8. The eyeball test backs that up, as the Viola had a glut of good chances, particularly midway through the second half, to put this one away. Some good goalkeeping from Emil Audero, a couple of goal line clearances, and a couple of shots that fizzed inches wide were all that kept the visitors from pulling ahead. On another day, you’d expect them to finish one of those shots, take the lead, and then spend the rest of the match defending deeper and breaking into space. Instead, the hosts got a slightly fluky goal off a poorly-defended corner (and maybe it’s time to take Dušan off post-marking duty) and another one from basically nothing. Sure, Quags has earned his “Mister Bullshit Goals” monicker and then some, but this felt like an outlier result more than the norm. The result is deeply frustrating, sure, but we can’t pretend the Viola got played off the field. They were better, and usually that means anywhere between 1 and 3 points.

2. This squad has zero depth. Cesare Prandelli used just 2 of his 5 subs, and used them in the 83rd minute. While he didn’t exactly have a bunch of world-beaters on the bench, Borja Valero could’ve replaced Pulgar (Biraghi was taking the corners anyways); Sasha Kokorin could’ve come on instead of Callejón; Montiel or Eysseric could’ve replaced Castrovilli and played higher up. That none of them stepped in indicates that they haven’t won Prandelli’s confidence yet, and that’s an indication of just how slim the mister thinks this roster is. I feel like we’ve been having this chicken-or-egg debate about DS Daniele Pradè’s recruitment versus how the managers use the players, but it’s pretty clear that this remains the central problem at the club.

3. Fiorentina can play through the middle. Ribery has utterly dominated what Fiorentina do in the final third all year. He demands the ball at his feet and demands runners moving into the precise spaces he wants. While nominally a striker, he’s almost always found in a deep, inside-left position, probing for space between the lines. He often pulls the opposing rightback to him, which opens a lot of space for Biraghi to overlap and cross. The Viola have tried more crosses than any team in Serie A, and Biraghi has hit more crosses than anyone (37 more than second place Federico Dimarco). That pretty much pushes all of their attacks down the left.

Without Ribery’s gravity today, though, the team was much more balanced, often using the middle of the pitch and leading Biraghi into just 3 crosses. Kouamé’s aerial ability means that he can either hold up the ball and bring midfielders into play or flick it on for Vlahović. Alternatively, the forward pair’s pace offered the option to play balls in behind so that the receiver would have support, rather than being completely isolated as usual. While this sort of transition-based approach rarely wins prizes for aesthetics, it’s quite effective and suits the proactive defending favored by key players (Igor, LMQ, Amrabat, Castrovilli, Venuti). Again, losing a very winnable game against a rather unlikeable Samp side is infuriating, but the visitors’ 18 shots and 7 on frame are well over their season averages of 11 and 3.5. A faster, more direct approach created good chances (the +0.9 xG is their 3rd best this season) even if the result didn’t follow. This should be a huge part of the sales pitch to potential coaches.