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RFS 0-3 Fiorentina: Player grades and 3 things we learned

The Viola finally follow the script and come away with a fairly routine, controlled win.

ACF Fiorentina v FC Internazionale - Serie A
It’s not from this game, but everyone should see this photo of Arthur.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—7: Had nothing to do in the first half, then made a string of fantastic saves in the second. Unless he gets tired, there’s no reason to bench him for the rest of the year. The World’s Funnest Dad is dialed in right now like it’s a toddler’s birthday party.

Lorenzo Venuti—6.5: Wearing the armband, Lollo was perfectly solid. Picked up a pretty soft yellow (he and Emerson were grappling each other and it was barely a foul, much less a booking) but didn’t get beaten at the back and offered some smart running and passing going forward, albeit without any influence in the final third.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—6: Picked up a booking and lost Andrej Ilić on a cross, forcing Terracciano into an insane save. Mostly solid but got a bit too ambitious in possession a couple of times, resulting in misplaced passes that a better opponent would’ve punished. Only took one shot even though I was expecting at least three.

Igor—6.5: Stout at the back and mistake-free for a change. Stuck to Ilić and Deniss Rakeļs like a burr and never gave them any space. Went on a couple of surges forward like a refrigerator on rocket skates. If he can bring that imperiousness back to Serie A, he’ll be right where he left off last year.

Aleksa Terzić—5.5: Didn’t really add much of anything. Got forward energetically enough but none of his crosses really caused problems, and he had a couple of nervy moments at the back too. Also ceded set piece duties to Mandragora and Venuti, which is a bit odd considering that he was taking them for the club as early as 2019.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6: Slightly uneven half for Jack, as his invention and quick feet kept Fiorentina in the final third, but he seemed to lack that little edge to find the final ball.

Rolando Mandragora—5.5: Stayed pretty deep to allow the fullbacks to press on and constantly looked to pick up possession from the centerbacks. Kept the ball ticking along nicely enough but didn’t offer much penetration. Landed hard after an aerial challenge before the break and looked pretty ginger, so hopefully it’s nothing serious.

Antonín Barák—7.5: Such an odd player. Scored a (slightly fluky) goal and notched a (really excellent) assist, but was sort of anonymous otherwise. I’ve said it before, but his off-ball movement seems to be his primary attribute, so a lot of his effectiveness relies on his teammates finding him. In some ways, he also reminds me of Alberto Aquilani circa 2015, in that he’s obviously talented but needs another couple of midfielders to control play and allow him to be a moments player rather than a dominant one.

Jonathan Ikoné—5.5: Had the beating of his defender all night but never got the end product right. Stayed very high and wide as the outlet whenever Fiorentina won possession back and went on a couple of lovely runs, but his crosses, passes, and shots all seemed to be just a hair off target. Slightly frustrating that he didn’t get on the scoresheet, as he could’ve used that confidence boost.

Arthur Cabral—7: Was quite isolated for most of the game, laboring against 3 big, rugged defenders holding a very deep and narrow block. Had a couple of neat moments of link-up play with Ikoné in particular but they never quite came off. Took his goal well, showing off typically predatory instincts. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a player who ends up on his backside so often after shooting, which somehow makes him even more endearing.

Riccardo Saponara—7.5: Looked like the star all night, notching a goal and an assist. The goal was vintage Cheese, a majestic tiragirro from 25 yards out; the assist was less impressive but still counts. Ricky was active and involved, even throwing his body around a bit, and looked too silky for the RFS defenders to ever really get a handle on him. He’s too skillful for this type of opponent and too slow for top-notch Serie A sides. What a strange player he is, but an undeniably charismatic one.

Alessandro Bianco—5: It’s no coincidence that his introduction helped allow RFS back in the game, as his instincts for how to shield his defense and his forward passing aren’t on Mandragora’s level yet. Still, there was a lot of promise in his longest-ever appearance for the senior side, especially with the swagger and fire he brought. He’s not ready for a regular role, but he’s probably only a year or two out.

Szymon Żurkowski—5.5: Went on a couple of powerful runs and offered some muscle in the middle, but didn’t seem to be on the same page as his teammates, which perhaps isn’t surprising as this is his first game in months. It’s unlikely that this cameo was enough to change his mind about turning down an extension this week.

Filippo Distefano—5: Not his debut (he got a minute against Sampdoria last year) but his first extended run with the first team. Nearly scored a goal ghosting in at the back post and showed some energy and drive, but, like Bianco, probably isn’t quite ready yet despite some encouraging moments.

Luka Jović—5: A bit sluggish, all things considered, and missed a pretty good chance. Still not sure how he’s a better option than Cabral.

Youssef Maleh—5: Ran around without accomplishing very much, as per usual.

Three things we learned

1. Fiorentina can follow the script. The Viola have produced some weird performances in the Conference League this year. The home game against RFS, in which Pāvels Šteinbors singlehandedly kept his side in the game, and Gollini’s horror show against Başakşehir both spring to mind. Even the big wins against Heart of Midlothian felt weird, considering how abject Fiorentina had been in previous matches. In this one, though, they went on the road against an obviously inferior opponent, scored early, dominated the game, went into the break up by 3, and then coasted the rest of the way while resting some key players. You know, the way a competent team would.

2. The defense is still extraordinarily vulnerable to a front two. One of the things that everyone in Italy has realized is that Fiorentina push a lot of players up the pitch, leaving their centerbacks all alone. They don’t change that approach regardless of playing against one striker or two. If it’s a single forward, that’s fine: two defenders can usually handle one striker. If it’s a partnership up there, though, there’s no spare defender; the slightest mistake means that someone’s through on goal. We saw that in the first half with Ilić’s header that zipped just over, and we saw it for much of the second half as well (although that was probably more about the Viola taking their foot off the gas than anything). Still, if RFS can pick up on that and exploit it—they usually play a 4-2-3-1 and changed to a front two specifically for this reason—you’d better believe that every manager in Serie A is very aware of this weakness.

3. It’s easier to coach an underdog to an upset than to maintain excellence. It’s a weird thing to say about a coach whose team just lost 0-3, but I was super impressed with how Viktor Morozs set his team up. They largely frustrated Fiorentina, conceding from a fluke, a set piece, and a bolt from the blue. They largely frustrated Fiorentina other than that, forcing them wide and not allowing many touches in the penalty area or clean looks from the outside. They also offered a threat on the break in the first half and were unlucky not to pull a goal or two back after the break.

Morozs got everything right, altering his usual formation and playing much more defensively than usual, despite losing a player within the first minute. It’s a good reminder that there are really sharp soccer minds even in places we don’t think of as hotbeds of sporting intellectualism, and a good reminder that, as clever a manager as Vincenzo Italiano is, there are equally clever managers who are just as motivated as he is. It’s much easier to spring an upset on a superior opponent, or even just give them a scare, than it is to constantly be the stronger team.

Fiorentina took advantage of the former last year, but the next step is proving difficult. That’s no surprise: going from good to great is much harder than going from mediocre to good. Italiano dragged this club from woeful to competent last year, but maintaining that, much less improving on it, is a different animal entirely. If Morozs can set up a team this well, you’d better believe that every Serie A manager can do the same. It’s a tough league and a tough job. Maybe we should be a little more patient.