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Roma 3-1 Fiorentina: Player grades and 3 things we learned

Despite the result, there’s plenty to build on here.

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Awkward conversation.
Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images

Player grades

Bartłomiej Drągowski—3: Wasn’t very busy in his 17 minutes and probably didn’t deserve a red for his challenge on Tammy Abraham, as the striker was moving away from goal and the defense was in a covering position. That said, charging out like he did was a really bad idea and he paid the price. The only positive is that he looked pretty sharp in possession.

Lorenzo Venuti—5.5: Was mostly steady, as per usual. Had a few hiccups against Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but the Armenian’s a very good player so it’s forgivable. Did have some uncharacteristically sloppy passes that put the team on the back foot, but also played in a gorgeous ball that led to the corner that led to the goal.

Nikola Milenković—7: Celebrated his contract extension with the smoothest goal you’ll see from a centerback this year but had a bit of trouble otherwise, particularly with the offside line. Also had a couple of nervy moments on the ball, but he wasn’t the problem out there.

Igor—5: Looked solid in the first half, particularly when cruising forward on the ball, but his positioning was frequently suspect and he seemed to get more and more anxious as the match wore on. Those positioning issues have been in his game for a while, perhaps because he’s been used as a wingback so much, so he may need another year to fully learn this new role before he can reach his immense potential there.

Cristiano Biraghi—6: Very uneven from the captain. Had some bright moments going forward, including a brilliant nutmeg on Rick Karsdorp, and created some chances with his overlapping, but struggled defensively as well, failing to stay in front of runners and getting caught too high up the pitch. Very interested to see how he and Nico get on.

Giacomo Bonaventura—7: Possibly the man of the match for Fiorentina, although he could’ve done more. Badly misplayed a potential equalizer in the first half and drew Dušan’s ire, but was involved in everything the Viola got right in the second period. Not the best birthday for him but clearly has plenty left in the tank.

Erick Pulgar—6.5: Superb in the first half and got an assist in the second, but also got robbed (albeit with a foul) in the leadup to AS Roma’s second. Showed off a forward-thinking style that he never unleashed under Giuseppe Iachini and constantly looked to spray passes out to the flanks. Made life very tough for Jordan Veretout and Bryan Cristante until he got tired with about a quarter hour left, after which he was clearly gassed.

Youssef Maleh—5: Not a bad Serie A debut, but not a great one. Showed off good energy and got himself into the right places, but his touch looked a bit heavy at times and he borked one or two fairly simple passages of play. He certainly belongs at this level but it may take a little while for him to get over the nerves of his first Fiorentina game.

José Callejón—5: Much more involved than he ever was last year, largely because he was playing a familiar position out on the right. Nearly latched onto a lovely González ball over the top but was a bit slow getting there. Kept the ball ticking along nicely but he’s very much still the weakest prong in the tridente.

Dušan Vlahović—5: Showed the beginnings of a great understanding with González, which is the most exciting takeaway, and clearly wanted the ball, but didn’t actually cause as many problems for the Giallorossi defense as he’d have wanted. In fairness, his teammates missed him on a few promising moves. He’s still a monster.

Nicolás González—6.5: Better than advertised. Very quick, tidy on the ball, and surprisingly useful in the air. Showed creativity with his passing and trickiness with his dribbling. Linked up well with Vlahović and looked every inch the Argentina international winger. The only way Roma could stop him was fouling him. If he stays healthy, he’s going to be so fun.

Gaetano Castrovilli—4.5: Clearly not on the same page as his teammates after missing the preseason and it showed. Always seemed to threaten something without ever actually stressing the defense. He’ll be fine once he’s caught up with everyone.

Marco Benassi—4: Popped a shot or two that weren’t anywhere near goal and didn’t do much else. Impressed that he came on and gave it his all after a really tough campaign last year, but (and I say this with the respect due a guy who’s led the team in scoring before) he’s just not up to snuff for what this club wants to be.

Riccardo Saponara—n/a: Only came on for 5 minutes and didn’t really have time to influence the game. Did show his usual understanding of space, constantly moving into open areas of the pitch to compensate for his teammates’ runs elsewhere.

Riccardo Sottil—n/a: Entered alongside the Cheese and was nominally stationed at rightback, although he was clearly playing as a winger. Whatever. He’s still so handsome.

Three things we learned

1. Serie A refs gonna Serie A ref. Luca Pairetto hadn’t refereed a Fiorentina game in 2 years, but quickly made it clear why we didn’t miss him. Didn’t check VAR on Bart’s red card even though Abraham was veering away from goal. He let Nicolò Zaniolo get away with a blatant shirt pull after the former Viola player had already been booked. He let Nico get kicked all over the pitch without offering much protection. I’m not blaming him for Roma’s first two goals, as our old nemesis Paolo Mazzoleni was on VAR duty, but the overall standard of refereeing, both on the field and in the booth, was shocking.

It wasn’t just this one, either. There were 7 red cards in the opening round of Serie A, many of which were just as dumb as Bart’s. This league needs to sort itself out if it wants to keep pace with its rebounding reputation.

2. It’s tough to draw too many tactical conclusions. Having to play 73 minutes in a 4-3-2 means that Vincenzo Italiano’s carefully-laid plans were thrown into the bin almost from the start. The team adapted well, although some of that might be that Vlahović and González are top notch forwards and figured out what to do on their own. With the fullbacks forced to provide more attacking width, though, the defense was pulled very thin, so I don’t see any real reason to extrapolate very far based on this result. It’s very frustrating, but we’ll have to wait for next week’s clash against Torino to really get a sense of what this edition of Fiorentina will look like for a full game.

3. There’s a whole new mentality in this group. Tactically, it’s a bit of a wash, but you have to give Italiano a ton of credit for how his players responded to going down a man. Instead of ordering González to drop deep and Maleh to move wide, forming a 4-4-1 and hoping Dušan could get something on his own, he left the Argentine up top, infomring his charges and everyone else that, even though the Viola were down, they still believed they could get something from the match. They ended the first half with more possession, more shots, and more shots on goal than their hosts.

It unraveled after the equalizer, obviously, but that mindset of constantly looking to move the ball forward aggressively and get bodies into the box is one hundred and eighty degrees from what we’ve seen from this club over the past couple of years (bar a few moments under Cesare Prandelli). For that, if for nothing else, the new mister deserves some plaudits and some patience as he tries to rebuild Fiorentina into some approximation of its former glory.