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Udinese 1-0 Fiorentina: Player grades and 3 things we learned

It’s not always easy to draw conclusions from yet another abject failure, but we’re going to do our best.

ACF Fiorentina v Spezia Calcio - Serie A
Closest Dušan’s ever been to looking like George Michael Bluth.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Player grades

Bartłomiej Drągowski—6: Made a good kick save on Jens Stryger Larsen in the first half and didn’t have too much else to do. Not at all at fault for the goal but did slightly flail at a cross and had a slight bobble on a fairly routine shot.

Nikola Milenković—5: Seemed a bit off the pace, struggling to stick with the mediocre Ilija Nestorovski and losing him completely on the goal. Rather unfocused in possession, too, with a few decent charges forward offset by a few misplaced passes. With the whole team looking confused, hard to blame him all that much.

Germán Pezzella—6: Pretty steady work from the captain. Kept Fernando Llorente under control, repelled anything that came near him, and made a fine tackle on young speedster Jayden Braaf late on. Did have a couple of minor hiccups but nothing too awful. I dinged him half a point for letting the team look so listless; as the man with the armband, it’s partly on him to get everyone geed up.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—6.5: All action, all the time. Led the team in touches, aerial duels, and fouls. Let Rodrigo de Paul know he was there and often seemed like the only one putting in any real effort. Constantly looked to break the lines with his passing. Nearly brought down the house with a 40-yard strike that rattled the bar just before halftime.

Kévin Malcuit—4.5: Had a couple of nice moments, particularly going forward, but looked as rusty as you’d expect from a guy who’s played all of 134 minutes this season. With Martín Cáceres fit and Lorenzo Venuti playing his usual mistake-free ball, this is may be the last significant burn he gets this year.

Valentin Eysseric—5: Won a free kick in a decent spot. Had a decent shot blocked before it reached Juan Musso. Played a decent ball in for Malcuit to chase. Didn’t lose possession much. But holy smokes was he anonymous going forward and absent in defense. If Cesare Prandelli was hoping to recast him as a playmaking central midfielder, we can safely scrap that idea.

Erick Pulgar—4.5: Was pretty steady screening the defense and working as a terrier in front of the back line, especially as he was often the only Fiorentina player in that zone. Woeful going forward, though, with a litany of missed passes in open play (including a few that were Sebastian Cristoforo-level whiffs) and some pretty poor set piece deliveries. Clearly needs a lot more quality next to him, as opponents have figured out that pressing him means he’s pretty well incapable of making a forward pass.

Gaetano Castrovilli—5.5: Tried a few things and occasionally got something to come off, but was profligate in possession and never seemed to find space to operate in as he and Ribery bumbled into each other’s orbits time and again. Often drifted wide, as per usual, which left Pulgar isolated in the middle like he was Jordan Veretout circa 2018. If he’s going to play this almost positionless role, he needs to demand the ball a lot more, as he had just 39 touches.

Cristiano Biraghi—5: Abject with his deliveries from the wing and from set pieces. Mostly kept the underrated Nahuel Molina quiet, though, and bustled up and down the touchline until his cheeks turned red, so you can’t call it a total failure, even if he didn’t actually accomplish all that much.

Dušan Vlahović—5: Really should’ve scored after Ribery slipped him through after an hour or so and wasted another chance at the edge of the area, but you can’t blame the guy for not producing when his team was utterly incapable of working the ball into him in decent areas. Does need to improve his technique when receiving a ball while holding off a defender, as those seem to clank off his feet and back the way it came all too often.

Franck Ribery—5: Whistled for 2 fouls in the first 3 minutes and never seemed to get all the way into the proceedings. Did provide a good chance for Vlahović but didn’t do much of anything else. His penchant for putting his foot on the ball or going backwards to avoid pressure while the rest of the defense gets set is maddening, and his lack of off-ball running isn’t much better. I’d say he’ll improve once he’s fully fit again, but the man is 37 years old and is very much the player he’s going to be.

Aleksandr Kokorin—4.5: Starved of service, as you’d expect, but didn’t really do anything to mitigate that. No signs of the dynamic athleticism that Fabio Capello and Roberto Mancini praised, but the Russian may still be working his way back to full health. His only meaningful contribution was a frustration foul that resulted in a stoppage time booking.

Martín Cáceres—5: Perfectly adequate, I suppose, but didn’t provide much of a spark in attack. Not that you’d expect him to, so it’s hard to be disappointed in him as a player.

Sofyan Amrabat—5: A bit ragged as he tried to adjust to the game for his 10 minute cameo, but it’s his absence from the start that really raised some eyebrows.

Borja Valero—n/a: Came on at the 88 minute mark.

Tòfol Montiel—n/a: Ditto. Despite his winner against the Friulians in the Coppa and the obvious need for some pace and trickery.

Three things we learned

1. Fiorentina don’t have the luxury of experimenting. The 7-point cushion between the Viola and the trapdoor is likely enough to prevent anything more than heightened anxiety for the rest of the year, but that’s only if Prandelli sticks with the formula that kind of halfway works. Tossing new players into the XI or trying journeymen out in unfamiliar roles, though, is going to make that a lot more complicated. As an academic debate, seeing if Eysseric can replicate Rachid Ghezzal’s role from last year is interesting, insomuch as watching someone try to recreate a 1977 AMC Pacer is interesting, but also throws off whatever rhythm Fiorentina have managed to create. The same goes for starting Malcuit over Lorenzo Venuti and Cáceres. I’m still fairly confident that this season isn’t going to end in relegation, but any more mad scientist stuff will change my mind very quickly.

2. Sofyan Amrabat is undroppable. Let’s be honest about our favorite Moroccan: he’s far from a perfect player. He races out of position to make low-percentage challenges up the pitch, leaving gaps in behind him. He’s prone to somewhat petulant fouls. He’s the opposite of a goal threat. And yet, he’s as important to this team now than anyone else in the XI. His ability to drop deep, collect the ball, and move it quickly through midfield is unique in the current squad. He’s got an unmatched passing range. He’s as difficult to knock off the ball as any midfielder in Serie A. He bowls through opponents in the middle and breaks up play superbly. He’s the only player at the club who can get the ball through the middle third and to the attackers. Fiorentina are barely watchable when he’s off his game; when he’s absent, they’re hopeless. You can read this as an indictment of the rest of the engine room if you want (and that’s not a bad reading), but the Viola proved that Amrabat is currently irreplaceable.

3. The current situation isn’t Prandelli’s fault, but he’s not helping. Two years of personnel mismanagement have left Fiorentina as a fundamentally broken team that’s capable of playing a good 90 minutes but more likely to flail around helplessly. While Prandelli has done some good stuff—ask Vlahović who’s responsible for all his goals—he’s also mismanaged a number of in-game situations to the club’s detriment. Starting Eysseric in midfield and refusing to replace him at the half is pretty obvious here, but the list of transgressions is lengthy. Whether it’s miscasting Christian Kouamé as a target man, insisting on a barrage of crosses despite a dearth of targets in the box, or refusing to make subs until the 75th minute, Prandelli isn’t helping the team or himself. I fully understand that, as a Serie A veteran, he’s forgotten a hundred times more about the game than I’ll ever know. He’s also around the players every day and better understands who should be playing. But results like this make it very clear that his current plan isn’t working, that he needs to return to the basics, that he hasn’t found an answer to all the questions this team has raised over the past half decade.