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

The Viola showed no shortage of grinta in the kind of win that’s routine for good teams.

Udinese Calcio v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Player grades

Bartłomiej Drągowski—6.5: Mistake-free and made some really good saves, especially a one-handed stop on Beto at 55’ and on Gerardo Deulofeu at 84’. Fine with his distribution. Even when Udinese put him under siege, never seemed all that anxious. Exactly what he needed after a shaky couple of outings.

Álvaro Odriozola—7: Looked very good. Constantly offered a threat down the right, playing in a couple of balls that created some chaos in the hosts’ area and could’ve easily been assists while keeping possession tidily farther back. Relatively sturdy on the back foot, although his penchant for picking up cheap cards is a slight concern. Definitely suited to a possession-based approach that doesn’t force him to defend as much and prioritizes his fitness on the overlap.

Nikola Milenković—6: Made a really bad mistake in letting Deulofeu get by him in the first half and struggled against Beto (who looks like a star in the making) at times, but dug in and kept Udinese at bay, highlighted by a headed block on a Deulofeu shot in stoppage time that looked goalbound.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—5.5: Looked a bit frantic at times and picked up a card for a poor sliding challenge for the second game running. His penchant for fouls is also a bit concerning; he looked likely enough to earn a second booking that Vincenzo Italiano had to replace him. Didn’t motor forward in this one but did produce a magnificent block on Beto that just about cannoned the striker into next week.

Cristiano Biraghi—5.5: Hit a couple of nice passes into the channel for Vlahović and showed some range with several switches of play out to the right wing but didn’t offer much influence in the final third. Struggled against nippy teenager Brandon Soppy in defense, although that might’ve been partly due to an early knock that eventually forced him off.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6.5: Didn’t do a whole lot other than win the (very soft) penalty but wasn’t terrible. Pressed pretty well without actually winning the ball much and was conservative with his passing. Didn’t get forward as much to support Vlahović, instead looking to maintain the team’s shape; maybe it was Italiano’s orders or maybe he just needs a day off.

Lucas Torreira—7: This is the guy we were hoping for. Constantly progressed the ball through the lines while screening the defense. Showed an ability to switch the play and control the tempo better than anyone since prime Milan Badelj while also offering considerably more mobility. Even won a couple of headers, which seemed to surprise him as much as everyone else.

Alfred Duncan—5.5: Played well early but flagged late on as Udinese pushed forward. Did the usual Alfred things of finding spaces, getting the ball in them, and then doing useful things with it, but also had a few more giveaways than we’re used to seeing. Spent a lot of time near the left touchline to balance Saponara’s drifts infield, which felt almost Marco Benassi-esque.

José Callejón—4.5: Somehow led the team in touches without doing a thing with them. Still has the technical ability but the legs are so obviously gone that he’s not very helpful. Lost the ball a couple of times, but it was more frustrating that he always passed backwards, even on the break, much like Ricky Sottil did against Inter Milan. Worst of all, though, he let Beto, Deulofeu, and anyone else who wandered into his zone go right by him without any real effort. When it’s late in a tight game, that kind of attitude won’t cut it.

Dušan Vlahović—7: Notched the penalty to make it 10 straight without a miss in the league and bring his tally this year to 4 (3 from the spot). Struggled to get anything going against the very physical play of Bram Nuytinck and especially Rodrigo Becão, although referee Davide Ghersini probably let them get away with quite a bit more than he should have. Only managed 3 touches in the box and never really threatened in open play, although that’s at least partly because he was very isolated.

Riccardo Saponara—5: Found space decently well and encouraged his teammates forward with his typically understated passing, but seemed a bit off the pace. Missed a couple of relatively simple decisions you’d expect him to get right. Like Callejón, the technique is there, but the pace isn’t.

Aleksa Terzić—5.5: Looked competent in his 30 minutes (the most he’s ever played in Serie A), doing a solid Biraghi impression as he surged forward when possible to support Saponara. Held up pretty well defensively. Probably not ready to be an every-week starter but may have earned a slightly larger role against lower-half opposition in the future.

Sofyan Amrabat—6.5: Where’s this guy been? Slotted in as the regista and seemed to be the only thing keeping Fiorentina in this one at times. Barreled around the middle of the park, winning the ball and body checking Udinese’s midfielders. His ability to hold opponents off before releasing a pass relieved a lot of pressure. Much improved.

Youssef Maleh—6: Showed impressive drive to get forward whenever possible, especially late on when Fiorentina played exclusively on the break. Probably needs to refine his positioning out of possession and calm down a bit when he gets near the box, but he already looks like a perfect Jack replacement.

Matija Nastasić—5.5: Brought in to grind out the win and did just that. Kept himself in the right positions and didn’t make any mistakes.

Igor—n/a: Played the final 7 minutes and stoppages as Fiorentina reverted to a 5-3-2 that would’ve made Beppe Iachini proud.

Three things we learned

1. Nicolás González or Riccardo Sottil has to play. Nico’s been Fiorentina’s best player through these first 6 games and Ricky’s been perhaps the most frustrating, but it’s very obvious that Fiorentina needs at least one of them on the pitch at all times because they’re the only attackers who offer pace, both with and without the ball. Udinese realized that they could collapse their back 3 on Vlahović without worrying that Saponara or Callejón would blaze down the touchline and essentially double-teamed him for the full 90 minutes, daring one of the wingers to make them pay. Without someone fast to stretch the defense, everything gets stodgy and predictable.

2. January is critical. This is a solid team, but it’s got obvious flaws, none larger than the attack. There’s nobody besides Vlahović or González that opponents have to respect. While Italiano can scheme Jack or the Rickies into the occasional goal, he needs one more player who can consistently win individual battles and create opportunities for himself or for teammates in the final third. With an overstocked midfield and a hole on the left wing, someone like Domenico Berardi is the obvious solution, but perhaps Callejón’s massive contract will prevent Daniele Pradè from making the move this winter. If so, he’d better hope that neither of his stars get injured, because otherwise we’re going to see a lot more games like this, with Fiorentina flailing as their only good attacker gets marked out of the game. And if that sounds awfully familiar, well, it is.

3. This may have been the maturity we wanted. Despite decades of mid-table finishes, Udinese have always been one of the tougher defenses in Serie A. They sit deep, rotate fantastically well, and play to their strengths while constricting opponents. In response, Italiano decided not to maniacally press them, but to sit off as well, conserving energy and grinding out the sort of 0-1 win on the road that Europe-bound sides collect by the dozen. He even changed shape to a 3-5-2 late on in a successful bid to solidify things. While it’s considerably less romantic—every other Fiorentina game this season has featured a minimum of 3 goals—he’s probably setting his team up to harvest more points and suffer less exhaustion. Being able to shift gears from Mad Max: Fury Road to Stranger than Paradise makes Fiorentina much more difficult to play against.