Remember when, under Vincenzo Montella, Fiorentina were the silkiest team in Serie A? When they teased the ball along the carpet, carving defenses apart and creating gaps that simply didn’t exist against other opponents? Because you should forget about those days, as the Viola are now the most cross-heavy team in Serie A. Indeed, it seems that getting the ball wide and thumping it towards the center is pretty much all they do, and much of it comes down to one man: Cristiano Biraghi, take a bow.
First, the team context. As mentioned, Fiorentina cross the ball more than anyone; their 311 attempts this year average out to 14.1 per contest. Inter Milan (298 and 13.5 per game) and Napoli (298 and 13.8) round out the top three, but it makes sense that those squads would put in the mixer, boasting as they do the hulking pair of Romelu Lukaku and Andrea Petagna, respectively. Fiorentina, with the tall but somewhat aerially hapless Dušan Vlahović leading the line, have scored the 3 headed goals this season, which is the second-lowest total in the division. It’s, well, a head-scratcher.
It’s not entirely a team effort, though, to spam crosses into the box at a rate that would make Manuel Pasqual blush. Really, it’s just one man behind the barrage, and that’s Biraghi. He’s fired in an absurd 113 crosses this year (5.7 per 90); that means he accounts for 36% of his team’s crosses. The next Viola player on the list is Lorenzo Venuti, who’s fired in 30. Yes, you read that correctly. Biraghi has more than four times as many attempted crosses as anyone else on this team.
To put that into a league-wide context, the player with the second-most crosses in the league this year—Federico Dimarco of Hellas Verona—has tried 77. Biraghi has tried 36 more, which adds up to a 47% increase over his closest competitor. There is not another statistic on Fbref that has one player so far ahead of everyone else. Every other metric—shooting, passing, defending—has a small group of players around clustered around the top. Except for crossing, where Biraghi reigns supreme.
This isn’t just a matter of him being a guy who likes to cross but also takes set pieces and corners. He’s also taken the 4th-most corner kicks in Serie A (66) and the 3rd-most free kicks (57) of any outfield player. Combine those with his open play numbers and you’ve got an even more hilariously one-dimensional outline than before.
And before anyone criticizes this piece for only looking at Serie A (and take your farmer’s league bullshit elsewhere, please), rest assured that I checked the rest of Europe. And guess what? The player who’s put in the most crosses in the Big Five leagues? Yep, go ahead and mark “Biraghi leading Trent Alexander-Arnold in any statistic” on your bingo card: the Fiorentina man has 4 more crosses than his English counterpart.
It’s not that he’s particularly accurate or inaccurate, either. He’s completed 23 of his crosses from open play, which is good for a 20% connection rate. That’s pretty good. It’s certainly not bad, especially since he doesn’t have a lot of good targets to aim for; again, Vlahović isn’t great in the air, and Franck Ribery is the opposite of an aerial presence. Maybe the emergence of Christian Kouamé will help boost that number. Who knows? Who cares?
We’re not here to celebrate accuracy. We’re here to celebrate sheer, comical volume. If Lippo Brunelleschi had built the Duomo’s peak at the same rate at which Biraghi attempts crosses, it’d be 177 feet (54 m) taller. The world record for non-stop pushups is 10,507. If someone did them at the same rate at which Biraghi out-crosses the second-place crosser in the league, that person would do 15,445 pushups. Ted DiBiase is the Million Dollar man; Biraghi’s equivalent would be the $1.47 Million Dollar Man. I could go on.
What I most love about Biraghi in this regard is that, no matter what happened last time, each cross is its own moment, unfettered by past or future. He charges down the wing, overlapping Franck Ribery or Gaetano Castrovilli, and gets the ball. He looks up to see where to aim, but it doesn’t really matter, does it? We all know what’s coming next. He’s going to loft the ball towards the back post. Maybe someone’s there. Maybe no one is. It doesn’t matter to Cristiano, because he’s done it before (so many times) and he’ll do it again (so many times).
Like Wile E. Coyote or prime JR Smith, each cross is a perfect sacrifice to the gods of random determination. As the ball leaves his left peg, Biraghi’s job is done. It doesn’t matter whether or not his pass reaches anyone; that’s in the hands of a higher power that doesn’t concern the Viola number 3. He doesn’t have any more idea than the rest of us whether or not a cross will find someone wearing the same colored shirt. But he’ll lob it in there anyways, jog back, and then do it again. And again. And again.
You can argue what you want about the strategic impact of spamming in crosses. You can argue about Biraghi’s effectiveness as a player. But you cannot, under any circumstances, argue that he isn’t out there every game, doing the exact same thing at a rate that would make anyone else’s leg fall off. You know exactly what you’re going to get, even if you don’t know the outcome. And there’s a sort of comfort in that.