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Lecce 1-1 Fiorentina: Player ratings and 3 things we learned

And no, it’s not just that the third kit is stunningly gorgeous.

US Lecce v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maricchiolo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—6: Didn’t have a chance on the goal and only made one other save, which was pretty routine. Did get himself booked for coming out to clear a ball ahead of Gabriel Strefezza and not giving it back after tapping it over the sideline rather than thumping it; that sort of adventurousness felt a little too par.

Dodô—5: Beat like a drum by Iván González on the goal and had a bit of trouble with Lameck Banda at times. Didn’t add much going forward. Did provide one of the funniest moments of the game when he shushed Lecce boss Marco Baroni. Definitely looked rusty, but hopefully will play himself back into form fairly soon.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—6.5: Made a couple of very good tackles and nearly scored a 40-yard screamer. Sound enough at the back except for a couple of whiffs on Assan Ceesay and Strefezza. Certainly not the problem back there.

Igor—3: He’s just not good at tracking crosses or high balls and those were both on display here. Let Ceesay get in front of him twice, once for the goal and again for a header that the Gambian somehow glanced wide. Whiffed on a header to let Strefezza in that resulted in another missed chance for Ceesay, too. Not sure what’s eating the big guy, but he’s taken several steps backwards after his magnificent campaign last year.

Cristiano Biraghi—5: Hit a few nice passes forward, including the one that put Kouamé in before Samuel Umtiti hacked him down and somehow escaped with just a yellow, but really struggled against Strefezza defensively and didn’t offer much with his dead ball delivery either.

Giacomo Bonaventura—5: Completely invisible in the first half but reasonably active after the break, although he didn’t seem to accomplish all that much in the final third. His penchant for shooting from 23 yards with his left is really starting to grate. Probably needs another more functional player in midfield with him.

Rolando Mandragora—4: Leveled a blast at Wladimiro Falcone that the Lecce goalkeeper parried away, but that was the extent of his positive involvement, aside from a couple of decent tackles. Seemed invisible in possession and a step behind without the ball. Has looked much better as a runner higher up the pitch than as the holding midfielder.

Antonín Barák—4: Went on a couple of meandering runs forward but wasn’t nearly involved enough. A lot of what he does is tough to pick up with statistics, since his off-ball movement is usually really intelligent and helps open space for others, but that wasn’t the case here. He was sluggish in and out of possession; might be better suited to a slightly more attacking role, like the one he occupied against Hellas Verona.

Christian Kouamé—8: Man of the match. Essentially played as an auxiliary leftback and defended brilliantly, making a couple of interventions in his own box, but still got forward to press the Lecce defense. Even when his decisions or touches weren’t good, he kept charging into the right positions. And that goal was magnificent, a reminder of just how dynamic he can be. His rebirth as an automatic starter for Fiorentina this year has been so cool to watch.

Luka Jović—n/a: Pulled up limping and stepped out after 7 minutes. These kinds of non-contact injuries always make you a little anxious, so hopefully it’s nothing bad.

Nicolás González—5.5: Threw himself around with his typical reckless abandon, including winning a high pass for Cabral on the goal, but never really got untracked. Never got the ball in space on the wing and didn’t threaten outside of one really gorgeous shot from distance in the second half.

Arthur Cabral—7: Certainly has his limitations (nobody’s going to describe his buildup play as silky) but he’s still a relatively effective battering ram. Desperately unlucky to see not 1 but 2 goals (correctly) ruled out, but still got the assist and battled away well. If nothing else, proved that he deserves the minutes as much as Jović.

Alfred Duncan—6.5: Part of this was that Lecce tired themselves out, but Fiorentina suddenly took control as soon as he came on. Duncan’s vertical, line-breaking passing is a skill that no other midfielder on the roster possesses, and it changes games. If nothing else, he looks miles more effective as the regista than Mandragora.

Nikola Milenković—6: Solidified the defense in a huge way, shutting down Ceesay and Banda with ease. Used his strength and intelligence to put out fires before they started. It was a nice reminder of just how good the Mountain actually is.

Jonathan Ikoné—5: Got Antonino Gallo sent off after beating the fullback, but didn’t show much else in his 7 minutes.

Three things we learned

1. Vincenzo Italiano may not have the answers. Reading too much into body language can definitely lead one astray, but the mister looks frustrated as hell right now. He barked at his own players constantly, including at Kouamé as the Ivorian came off. He got himself booked for charging way out of his area to yell at the referee after Gallo’s red card. He trudged down the tunnel immediately after full time. He relied on the usual platitudes in the post-match press conference. These are not the actions of a confident manager.

It’s worth pointing out that Cousin Vinnie’s a very young coach, so he’s going to make mistakes. Part of his appeal, I think, is watching him figure them out and correct them. He’s shown signs of adjusting his system for specific opponents at times (Biraghi forming a back 3 against Atalanta last year, switching to a 4-4-2 against Verona this year) but he hasn’t gone back to the well for any of those. Looking at this mess of a roster, the injuries, and the packed schedule, it’s way too early to contemplate sacking him, but it might be time to insist that he change something fundamental.

2. Jack and Barák shouldn’t play together. We all spent a lot of time last year trying to figure out why Bonaventura and Gaetano Castrovilli looked like a such a bad pairing in midfield last year. For my money, it boiled down to both of them wanting to do more or less the same thing: drift wide to create overloads on the wings. When they both did so, they left the middle wide open and forcing Fiorentina to play exclusively down the wings.

This year, we’ve seen a similar issue with Jack and Barák. While the Czech is a slightly different player—languid on the ball and inventive with his movement off it, he’s more of a number 10 or even a winger than a central midfielder—the pairing with Jack is amplified even further, as he doesn’t get through nearly the amount of defensive work as Castrovilli (one of Tanino’s most underrated qualities). It’s no coincidence that his best performance for the Viola came against Verona, when he was deployed as a 10 with Mandragora and Sofyan Amrabat in a double pivot behind him.

Jack is a wonderful player and game as a terrier but needs a bit more solidity behind him as well. Ditto for Castrovilli when he returns. Using 2 of those 3 basically means conceding the midfield; while that can work in certain systems, it’s tough to make it go for a team that wants to control possession and territory. More double pivots with Amrabat, Mandragora, and Duncan (please, please, please more Duncan) could fix a lot of problems, especially with such creative wingers.

3. There aren’t bad players at this level. Remember a couple seasons ago when Valentin Eysseric turned into the best player on earth for 45 minutes against Italiano’s Spezia? Here’s what I concluded at the time:

Even in the age of analytics and increasingly esoteric algebra, nobody can predict when Michele Camporese is going to pocket prime Zlatan Ibrahimović for 45 minutes, or when Marcelo Larrondo is going to score a peach of a goal, or when Nenad Tomović is going to slalom through three defenders before slotting home. These are all outlier results, yes, but that’s the point.

The guy Eysseric replaced at halftime? Why, it was Christian Kouamé, of course. It was clear that the forward was badly miscast as a target man at the time, and that the misuse (and residual effects of a serious knee injury) had utterly sapped his confidence, leaving him a shell of his explosive Genoa self. That he’s suddenly become Fiorentina’s most reliable attacker after being an afterthought for years is inspirational and demonstrates just how mentally tough he is, but also demonstrates that even the worst player on a Serie A roster can look brilliant in the right context.