Bartłomiej Drągowski—6: Solid as ever from the hirsute Pole. Made his usual highlight reel save on an angled drive from Jeremie Boga and gobbled up everything that came his way. Maybe a bit too eager to come out on Domenico Berardi on the first penalty as the winger was moving away from goal, but there was a shooting angle so you can’t blame him for being proactive. The Maxime Lopez goal came through a crowd that left him unsighted until too late so it’s hard to ding him there either.
Lorenzo Venuti—5.5: Shut down Boga, Rogério, and Giorgos Kyriakopolous and played mistake-free, albeit anonymously. Offered nothing going forward, but hard to penalize him too much as that was probably by design rather than anything on him.
Nikola Milenković—6: Kept Boga in check and made things tough for Filip Đuričić and Giacomo Raspadori when they strayed into his airspace. Not at fault for any of the goals. Did earn himself a pointless yellow for a high arm into Pedro Obiang which will keep him out against Hellas Verona.
Germán Pezzella—3: Really bad day for the captain. Completely lost Domenico Berardi ahead of the first penalty and went in clumsily on Raspadori for the second. Has looked increasingly forlorn over the past few months. Seems to have lost a step and knows it.
Martín Cáceres—5: Did a decent job against Hamed Junior Traoré in the first half but struggled against Berardi in the second. Wasn’t at fault for any of the goals but seemed very uncertain. Definitely fallen behind Lucas Martínez Quarta and Igor.
Cristiano Biraghi—5: Struggled defensively, especially in the second half. Had a couple of decent chances at the other end but couldn’t get the final ball right. Seemed to be on a completely different wavelength from Ribery all evening, leading to a bit of a confrontation at one point.
Giacomo Bonaventura—7: Did all the work on the goal, cutting out a pass deep in his own half and hustling forward before finishing it magnificently. Scuttled around energetically enough otherwise, showing that he’s got the grinta be an effective component of BeppeBall.
Erick Pulgar—5: Worked hard but had little to show for it. Didn’t succeed in breaking up play or protecting his defense very well as Sassuolo consistently found space between the lines, especially after halftime. Remains clunky in possession if he’s even remotely pressed on the ball.
Gaetano Castrovilli—6.5: For the first 45 minutes, looked like the Tanino we know he can be. Rampaged forward to lead the counter, skipped away from tacklers, created some chances, and was only denied a goal by the woodwork. Faded after the break like everyone else but surely had more to offer than Eysseric or Callejón.
Dušan Vlahović—6.5: Worked extremely hard, dropping deep to help defend and often battling two or three defenders by himself. Set up a chance by bodying Obiang into the ground deep in his own half and charging forward to release Biraghi. With a bit of support, could’ve made a big difference, but didn’t have any help up front.
Franck Ribery—5.5: Got the assist, (although Jack did all the work) and played a nice wall pass with Castrovilli, but that was just about it. Constantly dribbled backwards, sometimes all the way to his own defense, to get away from Sassuolo’s press. Left Vlahović on an island. Looks more petulant every week.
José Callejón—3: Completely invisible aside from a couple of missed passes.
Valentin Eysseric—4: A liability on the back foot and ineffectual going forward. To his credit, he at least seems to be trying.
Kévin Malcuit—n/a: Played 12 minutes, but the rest of the team had obviously given up by this point so it’s sort of pointless to try and grade his performance in that context. For the record, though, it wasn’t impressive.
Christian Kouamé—n/a: Played 7 minutes and looked energetic, at least.
Three things we learned
1. Time is circular. Fiorentina, under Giuseppe Iachini, came out against Sassuolo and got embarrassed in a 3-1 loss. The players, particularly the “stars,” didn’t seem to care in a late season slid towards the relegation places. Unfortunately, I’m talking about last year’s defeat against the Neroverdi as well. The positive is that, after that performance, Iachini benched several of his starters, lit a fire under the team, and got them playing as well as they had in years the rest of the way en route to a 10th place finish. Maybe that’ll happen here as well, although spirits are even lower now then they were then.
2. The players don’t seem to care. There was a palpable ennui among the Viola after the break, an acceptance that Sassuolo were going to come back and beat them. There was no effort to bounce back from conceding. Instead, they just huddled even deeper into their own half. Playing with that kind of fear doesn’t work. There has to be some sort of response to adversity, and there wasn’t. You can blame Beppe to some extent but it’s definitely not all on him: this team has quit on several coaches in the past couple years. That’s not acceptable from professionals, and these players need to show some dignity, in their own labor and for the shirt they wear. More than anything, such an attitude is the symptom of a truly toxic culture all the way through the team.
3. Beppe is not a solution. Plenty of people ripped on Cesare Prandelli this year for his decision. Some of that was warranted, but a lot of what went wrong under his watch wasn’t really his fault, and the team had started to sporadically show an identity under his tutelage. While the regression to a grimly structured defensive approach under Iachini was expected, seeing the players roll over and show their bellies in just his third game back should disabuse anyone who thought that that BeppeBall was the team’s best bet for short-term salvation that no, it’s really not. His inability to adjust to in-game situations, either tactically or with the bench, has made it very clear that we’re in for a bumpy ride the rest of the way. Buckle up.