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

Nobody’s interested in rants about refereeing, but sometimes they’re justified.

Antonin Barak of AFC Fiorentina applauds during the Serie A... Photo by Mairo Cinquetti/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—5: Couldn’t have done anything better on the first goal and made a great save on Olivier Giroud after halftime when AC Milan had their best stretch of the game, but completely whiffed on his punch right at the end; even with Ante Rebić maybe getting a piece of him, a goalkeeper has to make contact with the ball after coming for it like that. A reminder that the Fun Dad isn’t perfect.

Dodô—n/a: Did a pretty good job on Rafael Leāo (the winger wasn’t his man on the first goal) and got forward decently well, but it’s tough to rate a guy based on 14ish minutes of work. Definitely concerning that he’s picked up another soft tissue injury, although he should be fine to go by January.

Nikola Milenković—4: Beaten by a pretty simple 1-2 for the second time in as many games and scored an own goal. While the first can be explained by the fact that Leāo might be the division’s best winger and the second was pure misfortune, it seems like he’s just accruing mistakes over the past week. Hopefully it’s just a little bout of pre-World Cup jitters and he’ll be fine when he returns.

Igor—6: Very solid against Giroud (aside from letting him play the return pass on the opener) and Brahim Díaz, including one hilarious moment when the latter tried to body him off the ball; it ended exactly how you’d expect. Was a bit loose with his passing, but most of the misses were ambitious attempts to get the team going forward, so I’m willing to forgive him.

Cristiano Biraghi—6: Hit the post in the first half and maybe could’ve won a penalty after taking a Pierre Kalulu boot to the shin while doing a decent job slowing down Díaz, but struggled to influence the game in the final third and let Sergiño run by him several times. A slightly odd performance, but on the whole not a terrible one by any means.

Sofyan Amrabat—8: Man of the match. Bossed the middle of the pitch, constantly winning the ball and moving it forward through the lines or out to the wings. Made a couple of highlight tackles, including one in the area on Leāo, and even came close with a shot. The only way Milan could slow him down was to foul him, and they got away with several on him. Just a tank out there and without him, Fiorentina would be sunk.

Rolando Mandragora—5.5: Like Milan Badelj, it’s easy to overlook Mandragora’s contributions sometimes. Unlike Badelj, he doesn’t ever seem that involved, even when the numbers show that he is. I can’t get a handle on him as a player, but he seems to lose the ball a bit too often without accomplishing much else for my taste, but I’m still trying to figure out what exactly his function is; until I’ve got that, I just don’t know how to rate him.

Jonathan Ikoné—7: Brilliant and unlucky, which is about as Fiorentina as you can get. Won a penalty that some atrocious VAR work didn’t give and had a shot cleared off the line, so he could or should have been the key performer, but got the assist on Barák’s goal and gave Malick Thiaw and Fikayo Tomori fits with his dribbling. Made a couple of bad choices later on when Fiorentina were breaking forward, but was overall quite good. Also helped pin Theo Hernandez much deeper than the Frenchman would’ve wanted.

Antonín Barák—7.5: Fantastic, especially since he wasn’t supposed to start. Scored his first Serie A goal for the Viola and was involved in everything his team did well going forward. His movement was fantastic as he alternated drifting to the wings to help overload the opposing fullbacks with making late runs into the box, and showed off some of the deceptive dribbling we loved at Hellas Verona. This is definitely the role he belongs in.

Riccardo Saponara—6: Had some tidy moments and often looked to be on the verge of unlocking the Rossonero defense, but never quite pulled it off. Seemed a little bit hungrier than his usual languid self, as evidenced by his willingness to boot Díaz up in the air on a counterattack; he must have really wanted to beat his old team.

Arthur Cabral—4.5: Had one decent shot that Ciprian Tătărușanu saved in the first half but had a lot of trouble shaking free from Tomori and Thiaw. Couldn’t find any space and didn’t really affect the game much. He’s working very hard and you can’t fault the effort, but he may need a little longer to really settle in.

Lorenzo Venuti—7: Came in cold against Leāo and every Fiorentina fan’s heart plummeted, but our plucky Lollo produced a magnificent performance, highlighted by a stunning goal line clearance on Díaz (that shouldn’t have ever happened because Amrabat was fouled in the buildup, but whatever). Was also involved in Barák’s goal and did pretty well staying in front of Leāo, blocking most of his shots and nudging him into bad touches. Hopefully this performance will build up his confidence, because the team needs him.

Alfred Duncan—6: Came in and threw himself around as usual, adding some energy and combativeness to the mix. Wasn’t super involved in the attack but his positioning allowed others to get forward more. Absolutely fouled in the buildup to the second goal, which should’ve been waved off, but the real ones know what really happened.

Luka Jović—6: Came in looking hungry and really flung himself into the game. Combined well with Barák and Terzić on the break but had a couple of miscommunications on counterattacks where he could’ve been in on goal as well. Still, this is a huge improvement from his previous sluggishness.

Christian Kouamé—5: Never got a feel for the game, boofing a couple of really good chances on the counter, but still worked his tail off as per usual and made himself an effective contributor, even if you feel like he left a lot of meat on the bone.

Aleksa Terzić—4.5: Brought on as a left winger in a 4-4-2 but really didn’t do well. His decision making in the final third was very bad, including a shot with his weaker right foot from outside the box when leading a 4-v-3 break. It’s always tough to be thrown into a game in a new position (although Terzić was an attacker until a few years ago) but he really wasn’t good here.

Three things we learned

1. Serie A refereeing is a joke. No team has ever had a fair shake from the officials in any game, at least according to its own fans, but Fiorentina’s on quite a run of getting worked by the referees. Simone Sozza ignored fouls in midfield 3 times to let Milan break at goal, and the last one proved decisive. There was also the obvious penalty on Ikoné that VAR official Michael Fabbri looked at but decided was fine, despite Tomori blatantly sweeping Jonny’s leg (how the tables have turned).

It’s been a multi-week thing, too. Last week at Sampdoria, Emil Audero and Gonzálo Villar bulldozed through Luka Jović’s back, leading to another VAR check and another penalty denied. Terracciano may have gotten away with a handball as well, so maybe that was the makeup call, but it’s still better to make the right decision once than the wrong decision twice. A week earlier, Federico Dimarco somehow avoided a red card for nearly amputating Giacomo Bonaventura’s leg at the knee, even though VAR eventually handed the Viola a penalty.

It’s not just Fiorentina, either. There have been some mighty odd decisions about handball and fouls around the league and it seems like every other game has some incident that sends former referee and current Serie A toady Luca Marelli digging himself deeper to explain why the refs were correct, even when it’s glaringly obvious that such isn’t the case. If Serie A wants to be considered a serious league—and it often seems like it doesn’t—the officiating has to improve. Nobody wants the calciopoli whispers to start back up, but this is how you convince fans that their paranoia is well founded.

2. González’ and Sottil’s absences really hurt. At the start of the season, Nicolás González and Riccardo Sottil looked like Fiorentina’s two best players by a wide margin. They’ve both been missing for months, and while Kouamé and Ikoné have both stepped up beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, while Saponara seems to have rediscovered some of his class as well, none of them offer the directness of the missing pair. Against a Milan defense that frequently looked at sixes and sevens, having another attacker available could’ve been the difference; relying on Terzić to lead the break didn’t really pay dividends, but Nico and/or Ricky would’ve relished that opportunity. Crazy how, despite having 5 solid to excellent wingers, the Viola are still relying on just 3 guys and maybe a converted fullback out there.

3. This team looks so much more resilient now. When the season started, it felt like Fiorentina didn’t really get into things. There were long stretches of players looking confused or disinterested. The team never looked like mounting a comeback after going behind. Everything was flat and stale and bad.

Despite the result here, though, these players showed immense toughness. They lost 2 starters during the pre-game warmup and another after just 15 minutes. They’re already down their two best attackers. They conceded in the first 90 seconds. If there was ever a game to just fold it up and go home, this was it.

Instead, the guys battled away, got themselves back into the game, and probably deserved to win it. That sort of fortitude should stand them in good stead going forward, even if it’s awfully cold comfort for them and for us right now.