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

Losing to Atalanta in Bergamo isn’t a bad result in and of itself. But what it says about the club and its mentality aren’t great, Bob.

Atalanta BC v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—6.5: Bit of an up and down day for the World’s Funnest Dad. Made a couple of really good saves on Teun Koopmeiners and Joakim Mæhle, but also made an enormous blunder in coming for a header way outside the area, with only a timely intervention from LMQ sparing him the ignominy of perhaps the worst goalkeeper error of the season thus far.

Lorenzo Venuti—4: Completely switched off on the goal, neglecting to mark Luis Muriel on a throw-in and letting the Colombian eventually bundle through for the assist. Was fairly anonymous otherwise, although he did offer a bit more forward thrust than usual, fizzing in a nice cross for Kouamé to knock down for that Saponara chance that he tripped over.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—7: Gave us the full experience, providing a couple of boneheaded mistakes on the ball along with a succession of stupendous tackles, notably on Ademola Lookman late on. Offered a little bit of spikiness, too, which this team too often lacks. Can’t blame him too much or the goal, which saw him beaten by a lucky bounce more than any skill on Muriel’s part.

Igor—5: Was a bit too casual on the ball once or twice but got himself out of trouble, hit a few nice passes through the lines, dribbled forward or out of trouble when necessary, and shut down Lookman, except for the part where he utterly lost the Nigerian, who popped up from behind him to score. That lack of awareness and/or communication between him and Biraghi has been a theme now for a bit too long and bears monitoring.

Cristiano Biraghi—5: The defensive miscues with Igor are, as noted, an ongoing concern, but Cris was otherwise okay. He played in a few decent crosses and consistently offered width on the left while pretty well neutralizing Hans Hateboer, which isn’t an easy job.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6.5: Kept his shooting in check and focused instead on carrying the ball into the final third. Defended pretty well, especially considering the early (and soft) card he picked up. Atalanta, perhaps in response, hacked him remorselessly throughout.

Rolando Mandragora—5: Anonymous in the extreme. Didn’t really dictate tempo or provide a lot of ball-winning in the middle. You could maybe argue he was impersonating prime Milan Badelj, who did all the dirty work behind the scenes, but I didn’t really see it. Not the problem but also a very clear downgrade compared to Amrabat.

Antonín Barák—5: He’s tough to grade because so much of his impact is based around his off-ball movement, but he also didn’t get involved enough. His only notable moment was following up a Saponara shot that Marco Sportiello spilled and nearly poking it home, but that’s not enough for a player of his quality.

Jonathan Ikoné—5: Had a couple of nice moments but took too long to get going as Giorgio Scalvini largely bossed him early on. Did let fly with a decent shot from range that skipped wide, but too often seemed peripheral to the action and lost the ball too easily to make up for his impact going forward.

Christian Kouamé—6.5: Lucky not to have kicked Marten de Roon in the face given that he didn’t check where the Dutchman was, but certainly didn’t deserve a sending off. While he wasn’t as sharp as he was against Hellas Verona, his movement and effort meant he was a constant worry for la Dea’s defense. Still looks the best striker in the team by a country mile.

Riccardo Saponara—5: Tripped over the ball while he was unmarked in the box and winding up the certain equalizer, so that was bad. Had some gorgeous touches but didn’t create very much. When his long-range shot isn’t connecting, his utility is very limited, and that was the case today. Against an opponent as athletic as Atalanta, he just lacks the dynamism to impact proceedings.

Sofyan Amrabat—6: Hustled around as per usual and took the game by the scruff of the neck, helping solidify the back and keep Fiorentina parked in the final third. Dropped into defense late on so Vincenzo Italiano could bring another attacker on. Without Nikola Milenković, Nicolás González, Riccardo Sottil, or Gaetano Castrovilli, he’s far and away the best player on the team.

Aleksa Terzić—5.5: Played on the right, which was very strange, and looked pretty frisky. Made a couple of nice tackles and a couple of nice surges forward. Comically airmailed a stoppage time shot after cutting inside, which was irritating, but you can’t really blame him for having a go.

Luka Jović—5: Forced a good save from Sportiello and generally looked much livelier than usual. Feels like he’s much, much better when he doesn’t have to do much besides lurk in the penalty area.

Arthur Cabral—n/a: Came on for the final 6 minutes and didn’t really do much through no fault of his own.

Alfred Duncan—n/a: As usual, looked like Fiorentina’s best midfielder in a brief cameo. His knack for levering passes through the lines and into a forward’s feet is unique in this squad and feels like one that Italiano should utilize much, much more.

Three things we learned

1. The defense is getting close. It’s cold comfort, obviously, but Italiano deserves credit for his defensive gameplan. Atalanta created nothing a 0-0 and their only chances were from Fiorentina mistakes; with Milenković and Dodô returning soon, those mistakes should decrease quite soon. Every underlying metric says that the Viola have defended better than their record shows, so hopefully the luck will turn around soon, but it’s good to see that the rearguard is slowly sorting itself out after a nightmare start to the season.

2. Alfred Duncan is the missing piece. We’ve all been pounding the table for more Alfred since at least last year, and this 6-minute cameo demonstrated why. In those 6 minutes, the Ghanaian completed 3 passes into the final third and 1 into the box; the other starting midfielders had either the same number or 1 more in considerably more minutes. Duncan can be clunky at times. He can misplace passes. He doesn’t do anything that shows up on the highlight reel. He’s easy to overlook.

But his ability to play those passes through the middle and into a striker’s feet is unparalleled on this team. With players as dynamic as Kouamé and González up there, having a midfielder who’ll shovel the ball to them and let them make something happen is crucial. Furthermore, Duncan’s equally comfortable in a midfield 3 or a double pivot, which gives Italiano the option to switch between his usual 4-3-3 and the 4-2-3-1 that he trotted out against Verona. Duncan’s combination of work rate, passing, pressing, and physicality mean he should be part of every midfield that Italiano puts together.

3. Our expectations for this team are still too high. On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with losing 0-1 to Atalanta in Bergamo. After all, la Dea tops the table (alongside Napoli) and boasts the division’s stingiest defense. While they’ve got a bunch of injuries to deal with, Fiorentina have just as many absences. This was never a game that the Viola were going to win without a massive amount of luck.

We’re fans, though. We’re always going to assume that the luck will come, that the players are better than they are, and that the team deserves to win everything. The difference between our mindset and the club management, though, couldn’t be more different. Joe Barone has repeatedly stated that he’s targeting a top half finish rather than consistent European qualification.

That’s embarrassing for a club with Fiorentina’s history and one of the richest owners in Serie A, but at this point, it’s pretty clear that Barone is being very honest with us in this regard. A team aiming for the top half can always miss by a bit and wind up around 14th; that’s well within the range of realistic outcomes, no matter how much it infuriates us. We need to demand more from the club and its management, but we shouldn’t expect miracles from the players and coach if the management doesn’t seem to care all that much.

Man, I hate this.