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Fiorentina 3-0 Spezia: Player grades and 3 things we learned

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It’s fun, remember? The game is supposed to be fun.

ACF Fiorentina v Spezia Calcio - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Player grades

Bartłomiej Drągowski—6.5: Didn’t really have all that much to do but still made a couple of quite good saves. Had one or two mixups with the defense as he came off his line but nothing to worry about. After a slightly iffy outing last week, it’s clear that he’s back.

Nikola Milenković—6: Like the rest of the team, spent the first half in a funk and had a bit of trouble tracking Riccardo Saponara of all people. Played his way out of it, though, and kept the dangerous Emmanuel Gyasi under wraps when the Ghanaian switched wings. Didn’t have to do anything too crazy but was, on the whole, solid.

Germán Pezzella—6.5: When the team was under siege early on and later in the second half, he was immense. 2/2 tackles, 11 clearances, 7/7 aerial duels, a block; that’s a heck of a performance. Seemed a bit uncomfortable tracking Kevin Agudelo up and down the pitch, fouling the Colombian 3 times, but never seemed at risk. He really needed a performance like this.

Lucas Quarta Martínez—7.5: You could argue that he was MotM and nobody would fight you. The highlight was a perfect tackle in space on Agudelo, but LMQ constantly harassed Gyasi and then Dani Verde, shutting down his side of the pitch and sweeping up behind Biraghi. Almost put the icing on it with a late goal, but Eysseric’s pass was juuuuust to far ahead of him. Remember when some folks were saying he was a bust? Pretty sure he’s responded.

Lorenzo Venuti—5.5: Put in a typical Venuti shift, which means that he was steady without ever threatening too much. Made a couple of great interventions in his own box but didn’t get forward much and was pretty reserved in the second half. His struggles with the ball are more down to his teammates’ inability to find him in space than anything else. Still probably the best option on the right.

Sofyan Amrabat—5: Seemed uncomfortable in a more forward-thinking role on the right of midfield than he is at the base. Racked up the touches but didn’t do a whole lot of good stuff and lost the ball dangerously a few times as well. Removed to make sure he wouldn’t pick up a second yellow (the first was a really dumb foul) and seemed steamed about it, but a break probably isn’t a bad thing for him either. Should be fine.

Erick Pulgar—5: Indescribably awful for the first 45 minutes. Constantly lost the ball, missed long and short passes, and generally played with all the grace of a baby giraffe on a frozen pond. Improved after the break and played a key role in the opener, but this wasn’t a great showing from the Chilean. Some of that was likely the tactics, as Cesare Prandelli wanted nothing but long balls early on, but yikes. We all know that Erick’s much better than this.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6: The pick of the starters in midfield by a good distance. Started as slow as his colleagues but began driving the team forward after the first 25 minutes or so. Naturally, as soon as he was hitting his stride, he rolled an ankle. Hopefully it’s nothing serious, as he’s quickly becoming one of the more important players in the team.

Cristiano Biraghi—6.5: Involved in the first two goals, playing a nice ball to the back post for Tanino and a rare low cross for Eysseric. Had a lot of trouble containing Luca Vignali on the back foot and faded as the game wore on, but offered a lot more going forward than he has the past few weeks.

Dušan Vlahović—7.5: Starved of service in the first half, getting just 13 touches as the team focused on thumping balls at Kouamé. When the emphasis changed to playing through the defense and along the ground, he snapped into the game. A 9th goal on the season, a brilliant dummy to create the second, a selfless assist for the third, and a constant threat to the Spezia defense (he could’ve had another goal with a slightly more composed finish) demonstrate exactly how much he means to Fiorentina right now.

Christian Kouamé—4.5: Not so much an indictment of the player as of the tactics. While he was clunky on the ball early on and lost it too easily, he was also deployed purely as a target man. He battled away admirably, winning 4 aerial duels, but that’s simply not his strength as a player and it showed. Might’ve been quite useful after the break but you can also fully understand why Prandelli gave him the hook.

Gaetano Castrovilli—7.5: Nearly created a goal out of nothing within moments of coming on and was the catalyst for every scoring action on the night. Focused less on dribbling in traffic and more on bustling over the top, counting on his teammates to find him in dangerous spaces. Maybe he just needed a little time off after playing so much this season to remind him of exactly how unnaturally talented he is.

Valentin Eysseric—7.5: I’m honestly stunned by the whole thing. Involved in all 3 goals and, despite looking like he’s running through molasses at all times, seemed pretty useful. “Sprinted” to close down or get in behind, used the ball neatly, and got his first Viola goal since 2018. This is probably an outlier and he’s probably not the answer to Fiorentina’s problems, but forget that. Let’s just bask in the glow of a Valentin masterclass.

Borja Valero—6: Came on in place of Amrabat to help keep the ball ticking along and did just that. Had a couple of wonderful little turns through traffic but also missed a couple of passes and got himself booked for being too old to keep up with these speedy kids. Still has a bit of life in those legs, but not a whole lot.

Igor—n/a: Late replacement for Biraghi to kill time.

Martín Cáceres—n/a: Ditto but for Venuti. Did look fairly fit, though, so Lollo may be looking over his shoulder.

Three things we learned

1. Keep it on the ground, dummies. We’ve touched on this elsewhere, but Fiorentina are not especially good in the air. Kouamé’s so athletic that he can jump and fight for high balls, but that’s far from his best application. Dušan, meanwhile, is weirdly bad at headers despite being very large. Perhaps Prandelli saw a weakness in the Spezia defense that an aerial bombardment could exploit, but it sure didn’t work out that way in practice. Instead, the Viola never won the second ball and just left the midfield open for the Aquilotti to break the other way. Maybe with Kouamé in for Franck Ribery, they swung too far the other way and invested too much into the Ivorian’s leaping ability, as Franck isn’t ever going to win passes like that. However, it seems obvious to me that with guys like Vlahović, Castrovilli, and Valero (to say nothing of Ribery, Amrabat, and uh Eysseric), the focus should always be keeping the ball on the ground and winning with intelligence rather than brute force.

2. Subs are a good thing. Jack had to leave early due to injury, but the midfield was so broken even before then that nobody would’ve been surprised by a Castrovilli-Pulgar switch either. Still, Prandelli making a halftime sub is a rare occurrence: he’s only made 5 in 16 league games, and has let the opposition make the first change in 10 of those games as well. A more proactive approach to the bench is always good and useful, even when your key attacking option there is Eysseric. If nothing else, this result demonstrates how a simple change in personnel can completely turn a game on its head. Let’s hope that San Cesare takes the lesson to heart.

3. Professional athletes aren’t bad at their sports. It’s easy to laugh at guys on the fringes of the squad for being bad or useless players. Especially with the rise of the banter era (which is awful and I hate), it’s probably too easy to clown on the end-of-the-bench guys. What we’re forgetting here is that a guy barely hanging onto a spot in Serie A is still probably one of the best 6,000 or so players in the world, and that, in the right circumstances, any of them can suddenly look amazing. Guys like Valentin Eysseric work insanely hard every day at their craft, so we shouldn’t be shocked when they do cool stuff. It’s a good reminder that players are rarely bad so much as shoehorned into roles that don’t suit their abilities as well. Cyril Théréau can still go kick rocks, though.