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Fiorentina 2-1 Salernitana: Player grades and 3 things we learned

The Viola seem to be graduating from fragile basket case to glass cannon, and that is, at worst, a lot of fun.

ACF Fiorentina v US Salernitana - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—5.5: Didn’t do anything wrong, but didn’t do anything right. Really didn’t do anything, as Salernitana scored with their only shot on goal, although he couldn’t have done much after his defense let him down.

Dodô—5.5: Pretty sound for the most part at the back, which was a good improvement after a couple of shaky outings. Made a few really nice overlapping runs but consistently got the final ball wrong, wasting a few promising attacks.

Nikola Milenković—4.5: Weird game for the Mountain. Federico La Penna let him get away with a number of fouls and he was lucky not to be booked. Completely switched off on the goal, failing to track a very basic Boulaye Dia run, and had a couple other somnambulent moments. Whatever. Everyone has a bad day occasionally, and he’s too good to let it bother him.

Igor—6.5: Imperious in the tackle, manhandling Krzysztof Piątek and Federico Bonazzoli for 90 minutes and going on a couple of trademark strolls forward, leaving would-be tacklers on their asses in his wake. Did slightly lose track of Piątek on the equalizer, making it easy for the Pole to find Dia, but it definitely wasn’t his mistake that led to the goal.

Cristiano Biraghi—5.5: Perfectly adequate. Did a solid job on the underrated Pasquale Mazzochi and got forward decently well on the other end, although he did balloon a couple of crosses that he should’ve done better with, although that may not always be as much his fault as it looks at times.

Rolando Mandragora—6.5: I’m starting to think he might be Blasphemous Milan Badelj, as I never seem to notice him but the statistics show that he led Fiorentina in progressive passes (7) while doing some decent defensive work. He does occasionally make the wrong decision on the edge of the box but he’s clearly doing something right; might be worth rewatching this one to really get a handle on what he was up to.

Sofyan Amrabat—7: Did very Sofyan things all game, throwing his body around and physically dominating the middle while also setting the tempo by coming deep to get the ball and progress it forward. Even added a lovely little pass through for Dodô; if he can become more influential in the final third, he might have a genuine shot at being the best midfielder in Serie A.

Jonathan Ikoné—7.5: Starting to look like the guy we thought we were getting. Showcased everything he does well, from sheer speed to superb dribbling to clever passing to a maddening inability to shoot. The latter ain’t ideal, sure, but his creativity means that he’s quickly becoming undroppable. Amazing how much the switch to a 4-2-3-1 has helped him, as he can now serve as a wide playmaker more than a direct goal threat.

Giacomo Bonaventura—7.5: Slightly odd game from Jack. Took his goal brilliantly well, almost in a direct repeat of the one he scored against Sampdoria, but was a bit invisible afterwards, although he still contributed. His reinvention as a 10 means that he’s breaking directly into the box rather than lurking outside of it, and that clearly plays to his and everyone else’s strengths.

Christian Kouamé—4.5: Looked a bit leggy in this one, which is no surprise considering how many minutes he’s played over the past few weeks. Lost the ball too easily, made some bad choices in the final third, and generally fell well short of his usual standard. The fact that the bar is so high for him now tells you just how good he is, and there’s no doubt he’ll be back at that level as soon as he can get a little bit of a rest; the dude never stops running and that’s bound to take a toll at some point.

Arthur Cabral—4.5: Felt like he had a chance to solidify a starting role here and rather fell flat instead. Misplaced passes, took bad touches, and never seemed to find space in the box. In fairness, did showcase some clever off-ball movement to open up space for his teammates, but Fiorentina need a striker who can do more than just the dirty work.

Riccardo Saponara—7: Brought an entirely different dimension to the attack, oozing past defenders at will and combining wonderfully with his teammates. The assist was brilliant, as he found Jović through a crowd. Came close with a classic Cheese curler too. This is exactly the kind of game he thrives in.

Antonín Barák—6: Looks much more natural deployed a bit higher up. Showed some lovely touches, including a couple of nifty backheels and clever spins on the counter. Still a bit too peripheral for my taste but seems to be settling in a little bit more every match.

Luka Jović—7.5: Showed excellent composure on the goal and fantastic decision-making on the celebration, running to celebrate under the Curva. Looked active and hungry, getting involved with the buildup and running on the break. Much, much better than we’ve seen over the past couple outings.

Aleksa Terzić—6.5: Came through the left wing like a dang freight train a couple of times. Granted, it was against a very tired Salernitana side, but it’d be wonderful to see him maintain this level so that Biraghi can have a few more days off.

Alfred Duncan—6.5: I don’t usually grade players who were on the pitch for less than 10 minutes, but Alfred was an absolute wrecking ball. His energy pretty allowed Fiorentina to pin their visitors back for the final minutes. Also had the funniest moment of the game, staring stonefaced at Giulio Maggiore as the Salernitana player shoved the ball into his chest to make him take a late throw in.

Three things we learned

1. The substitutes completely changed the game. For the first time in I don’t know how long, Vincenzo Italiano’s subs all had a massive positive impact. Saponara and Jović combined on the winner, Barák and Terzić drove the team forward rather than sitting back to defend the lead, and Duncan almost singlehandedly killed off the game.

I’ve been as critical as anyone about the lack of depth on this roster and I still think it’s a huge problem for a team competing on three fronts, but this was a nice reminder that Fiorentina has about 17 guys who can consistently be, at worst, above-average Serie A players, and that’s not counting the injured trio of Gaetano Castrovilli, Nicolás González, and Riccardo Sottil. Credit to Italiano for getting his changes exactly right, and credit to the subs for imposing themselves.

2. Fiorentina still can’t defend against two strikers. I’ve been harping on this for months and I’m sorry to bring it back up, but this has been the biggest defensive weakness I’ve seen from the Viola this year. The lack of cover when the fullbacks push high up and the centerbacks are stuck 2-v-2 with strikers has consistently bit this team in the buns. I’m planning a deeper dive into this in the coming weeks, so I’ll leave it here, but I’m convinced that every opponent has cottoned onto this weakness and is exploiting it. Italiano and his brain trust have to figure out a solution.

3. Everyone is starting to contribute. It feels weird to say this, given that Jack scored for the second game in a row and Jović added another to tie the veteran with 3 goals apiece for the team lead, but Fiorentina look less like a one-man team than they have at any point since Italiano arrived. The fact that this group can survive weirdly sub-par performances from Milenković and Kouamé—probably 2 of the 3 best players for this club this season—demonstrates just how much this group has improved since the first couple months of the season.

Ikoné is the obvious standout, as he’s suddenly surged into form over the past couple of weeks, but Jack, Igor, Mandragora, Duncan, Jović, and Saponara—all previously poor or overlooked or both—were critical performers in this one. For a team that’s relied almost entirely on a single player over the past couple of years (i.e. Federico Chiesa, Franck Ribery, Dušan Vlahović), a more collective approach is a fantastic improvement and augurs well for the future.