Bartłomiej Drągowski—7: Only credited with 3 saves on the day, but the first one was a simply unbelievable display of athleticism from the ursine Pole to get down quickly and claw a Joaquín Correa effort away from point blank range. Stonewalled Ciro Immobile 3 times in 1-v-1s as well, although the striker was offside every time. Never looked like being beaten. Simply magnificent.
Lorenzo Venuti—5.5: Had a few unsteady moments at the back. Seemed a bit hesitant at times, probably after he got booked for a pretty soft touch to Senad Lulić’s face early. Did keep the old Bosnian pretty quiet and helped out well on Correa and Luis Alberto when they came into his area too. Offered little going forward, but that was likely more by design than anything else.
Martín Cáceres—6.5: Man-marked Correa for 90 minutes and rarely let the Argentine get a sniff. Moved forward into midfield a few times to good effect and without overextending himself. When he’s mistake-free and dialed in, this is the sort of quality Martín still offers.
Germán Pezzella—6.5: Miles better from the captain. Stepped up brilliantly to catch Ciro Immobile and company offside over and over again, which was a big change from last week. Got himself booked for telling of referee Fabio Maresca, which displayed some of the fire you want from a captain. Reports of his demise may have been exaggerated.
Nikola Milenković—6.5: Bossed Immobile all day long and shut down Manuel Lazzari when the wingback got past Biraghi. Wasn’t very noticeable going forward or even going backward, but that’s exactly what you want from a defender sometimes.
Cristiano Biraghi—6.5: Still looks vulnerable in space, especially when asked to stay in front of quick or tricky dribblers, and Lazio focused on getting Lazarri up against him for much of the game. That said, did well going forward, getting a clever assist (by keeping the ball low, no less) and constantly overlapping to provide width. Even hit a couple of decent crosses.
Giacomo Bonaventura—6: Buzzed around as energetically as ever and made himself a nuisance but didn’t ever really stamp himself on the game. Nearly scored early on but couldn’t quite direct a header. His running from deep remains critical to the team’s balance even if he doesn’t actually impact the game much himself.
Erick Pulgar—7: Fantastic. Led the team in tackles, interceptions, and recoveries. Removed Luis Alberto from the game completely and made life tough for Sergej Milinković-Savić as well. Got an assist. After a rocky start to the year, he’s been superb, largely because he’s been playing within himself so well.
Gaetano Castrovilli—7: Looked much livelier than he has in a few weeks. Battered his way through a crowd to set up the first goal, popped off a decent shot, took a beating, and busted ass defensively, battling fearlessly against the much larger SMS. Drifted in and out in the second half but more because Fiorentina rarely had the ball than anything else.
Dušan Vlahović—8: This is the apotheosis. His movement on the first goal (a jab step back to throw Radu off his trail and make sure he was onside) exemplifies the intelligence he’s developed. The header was a nice reminder that he’s simply more athletic than 99% of the other guys out there. Held the ball up and ran in behind, fulfilling two roles and excelling in both. I can’t remember the last time a player blossomed so quickly into a star and it’s so much fun to watch.
Franck Ribery—6: Was an absolute demon without the ball, leading the team in pressures and constantly harrying the Aquile defense. Won 7 fouls and took an absolute beating. Showed a ton of heart and deserves so much respect for that. On the other hand, also made several bad decisions on the ball that could’ve ended terribly, like trying to dribble 4 opponents inside his own box.
Sofyan Amrabat—5: Had one brain fart where he tried to dribble too deep and lost the ball, but otherwise came on solidified things nicely.
Christian Kouamé—n/a: Can’t really grade him on 5 minutes, but he was energetic as ever.
Lucas Martínez Quarta—n/a: Really wanted to see him score while he played in midfield, but it didn’t happen.
Three things we learned
1. Fiorentina remains a tough opponent for bigger teams. This is what Giuseppe Iachini does so well: he can organize a team to sit back, suffer, hit on the break, and suffer some more. It’s led to some massive results this year and nobody can take that away from him. The problem, of course, is that his teams have no idea how to take the initiative against outfits of similar or smaller stature. It’s why the Viola have played Lazio, Juve, Inter Milan, and AC Milan so tough this year. It’s also why the Viola have dropped points against Spezia, Parma, Benevento, Genoa, and Torino, and why the midweek clash against Cagliari will likely whiplash the other direction.
2. Iachini’s instilled a strong bounce-back mentality. Again, full credit to Beppe here for creating this us-against-the-world ethos. That’s his specialty for years, of course, and works much better for an underdog team that’s going to defend and defend and defend. However, Fiorentina rebounded from a terrible showing at the back against Bologna and came out focused. Even when Lazio quit playing and just started kicking them, the players remained disciplined; indeed, they took advantage of the Romans’ frustration by slowing the game down and taking back the momentum after the visitors came out of the break and dominated. Instead of losing their heads, they didn’t waver and came away with a massive and deserved upset. They’re not “f***ing bunch of mentality monsters” yet, but they’ve stopped wilting in the face of the slightest adversity. That alone can take you places.
3. Dušan Vlahović is one of the three best strikers in Serie A. With this brace, the 21-year-old moved into a tie with Romelu Lukaku for second in the goalscoring chart. You could argue that the Belgian still has an edge on the former Very Large Teenager, and you could, unfortunately, do the same with C*******o R*****o. Everyone else, though, is at least a level below. Vlahović offers an outrageous combination of physical (maybe Lukaku offers the same size/strength/speed/quickness, but there’s not anyone else) and technical abilities. Combined with his recent jump in confidence and in-game intelligence, he’s become simply unplayable. The fact that he notched a brace while 2-time capocannoniere Immobile faded to nothing only highlighted that Dušan is among the best around already and still has room to grow.