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Benevento 1-4 Fiorentina: Player grades and 3 things we learned

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Why yes, a certain very large young Serbian man gets pretty high marks.

Benevento Calcio v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by MB Media/Getty Images

Player grades

Bartłomiej Drągowski: 6.5—Was a bit slow getting down on the goal but obviously didn’t want to give Artur Ioniță the chance to head it back across him, so you can’t blame Bart all that much. Did make a good save on Gianluca Caprari’s shot at the hour mark and got the stop on Adolfo Gaich’s backheel, although that one was a bit more standard for him. Not too much else to do, honestly. Have to laugh a bit that he got an assist, too.

Nikola Milenković: 6—Had a couple of shaky moments, including late on when he let a cutback run right between his legs, and had a bit of trouble containing Gianluca Caprari at times, but stood tall when it mattered (figuratively and literally, as he won all 6 of his aerial duels). Loved his willingness to get in Kamil Glik’s face after the Pole blundered into Vlahović and kept playing for awhile. Seemed more comfortable after Prandelli switched to a back four, which is something his various suitors will certainly be monitoring.

Germán Pezzella: 6.5—Really strong performance from the captain. Kept Gaich in his pocket except for that one backheeled chance and a first half corner when the CSKA loanee came free. Could’ve given away a penalty by pulling Gaich back at one point but it would’ve been very harsh. Made 13 clearances and a couple of really good tackles in space. Seemed to be the only thing holding together a very nervous and fragile defense for much of the second half, which is just about exactly what you want from the man with the armband.

Lucas Martínez Quarta: 5—Was as enthusiastic as ever charging around but seemed to make a bunch of mistakes, too. The worst ones were when he didn’t pinch in and help Pezzella on the aforementioned Gaich chance, a very bad giveaway in his own half that Pezze had to rescue, and losing Gaich completely on a Roberto Insigne cross that should have ended up in the back of the net. Also whiffed on a simple finish early on that would’ve doubled the lead. Needs to take a couple of deep breaths and focus.

Lorenzo Venuti: 6.5—Did a pretty good job of sticking with the dangerous Riccardo Improta. Played in the cross that LMQ whiffed on, won some fouls (including a punch in the face from Pasquale Schiattarella), and set up Ribery to deliver the assist to Eysseric. Had a couple of neat moments with the ball at his feet as well. Showed off his intelligence by playing at left wingback, left midfield, and rightback. Always one of the first two players to hug the goalscorer; combined with his versatility, he’s just a perfect squad player.

Giacomo Bonaventura: 6—Constantly looked to drive forward without the ball and was often the closest support that Vlahović had. Great flicked header for the first goal and did a good job in the first half of pulling wide to offer width on the right, fizzing in a couple of really good crosses. Was adequate defending but clearly isn’t suited to playing extended periods on the back foot, having a couple of missed assignments to let runners in, and probably isn’t ideally suited to work in a double pivot.

Erick Pulgar: 6.5—The usual complaints about his passing, particularly under pressure, went unanswered as he completed just 76% of his passes and was unable to help Fiorentina relieve pressure in the second half. That said, hoovered up loose balls in the middle third as usual, played in a few nice dead balls, and, most importantly, constantly dropped into the back line to compensate for Milenković and especially LMQ’s forays forward. That sort of discipline cannot be underrated in this team, which has a bunch of players who want to chase the ball or drift around.

Valentin Eysseric: 7—Scored a delightful goal and set up two more with crosses to the back post after a short corner routine. Was reasonably active going forward as well, often drifting wide to the right in the first half to allow LMQ to underlap to great effect. That said, he’s clearly a defensive liability despite his best efforts (and to his credit, he put in a shift), as he doesn’t have quick enough feet to stay in front of dribblers and tends to lose track of runners, such as when he didn’t close down Perparim Hetemaj on a first half cross or when Caprari dusted him several times. Still, credit to him for doing his best in central midfield.

Martín Cáceres: 6.5—Played mostly mistake-free and offered some needed physicality out wide. Really sharp first half, often looking to underlap into the box to offer another target for crosses. Maybe could’ve marked Ioniță tighter for the goal and did have a couple of whiffs to allow Caprari in, but he was definitely a net positive. Showed his experience when switching to the left side after about an hour and not missing a beat. His size also offered a new dimension at set pieces, and he technically got an assist for the second goal. Might hear some criticism about the “handball” but as per the laws, there was no offense there.

Dušan Vlahović: 9—Just about as brilliant a performance up front as you’ll see this year. Got the best of his matchup with Poland international Glik (no mean feat). Held up play quite well without being slow to release the ball. Looked to bring other players into the game rather than just putting his head down. Scored two fantastic poacher’s goals (the technique to keep that first one low instead of looping it over while leaning back is a heck of a skill) and then an absolute worldie to wrap up his first professional hat trick in the first half. Showed some attitude with a revenge foul on Improta after the wide man put Ribery in a headlock. Better jump on the Dušan train now, because it’s leaving the station.

Franck Ribery: 6.5—Led the team in touches and seemed much more willing to play quicker combinations rather than keeping his foot on the ball. Stayed higher up and waited for service more instead of dropping all the way in, which meant he was better able to support Vlahović. His willingness to press the Benevento defense led to Eysseric’s goal. Still displayed some of the petulance that makes him a bit hard to like at times but definitely got himself back on track here.

Christian Kouamé: 5.5—Showed a few neat touches with the ball at his feet, playing it quickly back to support instead of trying to body up defenders and turn. Didn’t really have any looks at goal as Fiorentina tried to play keep-away rather than create more chances.

Borja Valero: 5.5—Came in to settle the tempo and ping the ball around and did exactly that, frustrating the hosts in their quest to start the comeback. His lack of mobility still means that he’s a bit risky in these situations because he can’t cover ground and defend much, but with a big lead against a team like Benevento, that’s not a huge risk.

José Callejón: 4.5—Got a solid 17 touches in his 11 minutes, but most of them were unpressured exchanges with Borja. Still found time to give away a sloppy pass to send Benevento galloping the other way and to position himself incorrectly to allow Caprari in behind to cross, but at least played his usual position on the right wing.

Tòfol Montiel: n/a—Ruined his goal/assist per minute ratio but got Improta booked, so he’s still doing cool stuff.

Maxi Olivera: n/a—Human victory cigar, but you’ve got to respect him for showing up and getting a cameo. Must be balling out in training and earning the love of his teammates to get this chance.

Three things we learned

1. Maybe the attack isn’t broken. With 11 goals from their past 5 games, it’s fair to wonder if Cesare Prandelli has finally unlocked this team, at least to some extent. Of course, getting a couple of own goals and a couple more from defenders isn’t super sustainable, but the results are encouraging enough. Having an outrageously in-form Vlahović is the most important ingredient, but there are some clear indications of Prandelli’s intentions here. Most interesting are the wingbacks: on the right, Cáceres constantly ran straight in at goal without the ball instead of staying wide, which allowed Jack to drift to the touchline and whip in crosses. On the left, Venuti mostly stayed deep, which let Eysseric move to the left wing and LMQ to charge forward into midfield. It’s a somewhat odd system but one that could prove sustainable for the rest of the year, especially with Gaetano Castrovilli replacing Eysseric.

2. Maybe the defense is. With slightly more composed finishing, Benevento could have made this a lot less enjoyable. They mostly found space out wide and fired in low crosses, especially from Fiorentina’s right. More concerning, though, was the lack of organization. With Cáceres making his first start in more than a month and Venuti on the left, the team seemed very uncertain, especially with Martínez Quarta flying all over the place and leaving gaps. Even with a 3-1 lead, Prandelli changed to a 4-4-1-1 after an hour, with Cáceres going to leftback with Venuti on the wing to double up Improta and LMQ at rightback, where his charges forward didn’t leave such a vacuum. This unfamiliar system worked fine, but it’s worrisome that the team’s standard defensive shape looked so fragile against the Stregoni (with the second-fewest Serie A goals this season) that Prandelli felt he had to switch things around entirely. That said, getting Sofyan Amrabat in there could offer a lot more protection to the defense going forward, so perhaps it’s not as dire as it seems.

3. There are still so many surprises in store this season. With 11 games left, Fiorentina look reasonably safe from the drop, barring them playing like Fiorentina. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep watching, though, because there are untold pleasures remaining. Watching Vlahović bag goals (4 more and he’ll pull even with Giuseppe Rossi on 16, the most Fiorentina has seen since 2013-2014) is probably the biggest pull, but don’t sleep on the little stuff, like the Viola bench after Gianluca Caprari bought a foul right in front of them.

Look at Pietro and Borja and José providing an example for young Tòfol and tell me you don’t love this team.

Maybe we’ll have to find our own fun, but if the players can, we can follow their lead.