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Sampdoria 0-2 Fiorentina: Player grades and 3 things we learned

Even in a win, the long shadow of refereeing incompetence looms over the result.

UC Sampdoria v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Simone Arveda/Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—5: Didn’t really have much of anything to do. Saved 2 shots but they were both quite routine. Did that Pietro thing where he forgets where the 18-yard box is sometimes and very nearly handled the ball outside it, but a VAR check determined he was right on the line (although I’m frankly still not certain). Moments after the penalty that Marinelli inexplicably denied, it would’ve been quite the gut punch to see the keeper sent off.

Dodô—6.5: Notched his first Serie A assist in style, absolutely booking it down the right and cutting back for Bonaventura to finish. Had a couple other nice moments going forward as well but wasn’t nearly as incisive. Struggled to contain the impressive Tomasso Augello; it’s no coincidence that everything Sampdoria did well came down his wing.

Nikola Milenković—7.5: Marshaled Francesco Caputo very effectively, not letting the veteran find any space in the box for shots. Scored a carbon copy of his goal against RFS. Massive in every sense of the word. Good to have him back to his best, which is as good as anyone in Italy.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—6: Active as ever at the back, flying around like his shorts were on fire. Took youngster Daniele Montevago out of the game completely. Slowed down a bit after absorbing a stomp from Mehdi Léris which may well have been a red card under another ref and had to come off at the half, so hopefully there’s no serious damage.

Cristiano Biraghi—7: Another assist from a corner is always a good thing, but he was a bit more reserved going forward otherwise, largely to allow Kouamé more room to attack. Did have a few good moments in possession (his 97 touches on the day were 29 more than Dodô, who had the second-most) and was pretty sound at the other end, aside from a missed tackle in the second half.

Giacomo Bonaventura—8: Opened the scoring by rounding off the best team move of the season and had 3 other good chances too. Also had an astounding run, leaving 3 defenders for dead, and tied for the team lead in tackles with 4. By getting into the box as a late runner rather than lurking outside it and looking for pot shots, he completely changed the aspect of this attack. Need to see a lot more of this from him.

Rolando Mandragora—6.5: Made 4 tackles and kept the ball rolling along, most notably with his pass ahead for Kouamé on the first goal. Occasionally drifted out to the left to combine with Biraghi and create overloads out there. Still seems very anonymous a lot of the time, but looks like a very solid depth piece for this squad.

Alfred Duncan—5.5: Had a few nice moments on the ball and added some physicality in the middle, but also misplaced a couple too many passes. He’s prone to the odd game like this, where his imprecision outweighs his vision; the only real concern is that Vincenzo Italiano may continue to leave him on the bench too often as a result.

Jonathan Ikoné—6.5: Got the hockey assist on the first goal and looked really sharp, constantly beating his defender. Seems more comfortable as more of a languid playmaker than a speedy winger sometimes, looking to help his team control possession rather than drive at goal, which makes his occasional direct runs even harder for the defense to track. Had a golden opportunity to score after rounding Emil Audero, but chose to square it to Kouamé rather than shoot himself, which feels a bit worrisome in terms of confidence, but he’s definitely improving.

Luka Jović—6: Had two standout moments that both came to nothing, although neither was his fault at all. His dink over the top for Ikoné to chase and eventually square to Kouamé was more hopeful than anything, but the Serbian absolutely deserved a penalty after getting barged over by Audero and Gonzálo Villar from behind. Didn’t do much of anything else. Bit strange to see him subbed off at the half.

Christian Kouamé—7: Covered about 70 yards on the opening goal, bursting past multiple defenders and leaving Bartosz Bereszyński in a heap behind him, but also saw his shot from Ikoné’s pass blocked with the goal gaping. Chris is the duality of man, although his non-stop running and defensive effort (tied for the team lead in tackles) mean that, even when he’s off-target, he’s still a useful contributor at worst.

Arthur Cabral—6: Was active as ever and caused some problems for the Sampdoria defense with his quick feet and physicality. Went on a brilliant run down the left but had his cutback blocked, then had another one in which he missed the chance to pull the trigger after beating his man. Need to see him be a bit greedier there rather than looking for the pass, but the chungus seems to be ramping up nicely.

Igor—6.5: Not even remotely troubled. Just a quiet day mopping up everything that came his way.

Sofyan Amrabat—7: Completely changed the game, handing Fiorentina total control of the match as soon as he entered; they had 47% possession before his introduction and 59% after, allowing them to keep the ball and kill off the game with barely a Blucerchiati whimper. A nice little reminder of just how good he is.

Antonín Barák—n/a: Played 6 minutes and didn’t do all that much in them, although that was more because the Viola were playing keepaway than anything else.

Riccardo Saponara—n/a: Ibidem.

Three things we learned

1. Italian refereeing remains fucking shambolic. I haven’t seen a more obvious penalty in quite some time, and that if Marinelli and VAR official Valerio Marini spent several minutes thinking about it before deciding that two players shoving a striker in the back after he’s taken a touch isn’t a spot kick, then we may as well call the whole thing quits.

It’s not just the one decision. LMQ got stomped by Léris and it was probably worth a check to see if it was worth a red. Terracciano’s little walkabout still looks mighty suspicious. We can talk about Federico Dimarco cleating Jack above the knee against Inter Milan a couple weeks ago and escaping without a card despite VAR giving the penalty. Or, hey, how about this fun little side-by-side involving that same match?

Refereeing is an inherently difficult job that’s always going to make a large portion of viewers angry. But the lack of consistency, both in how the rules are interpreted and how VAR is applied, simply destroys the game. It feels bad to moan about the officiating, especially after a win, but this has become an all-too-regular occurrence. When former referee Luca Marelli comes out in support of Marinelli’s decision in this match, things are broken.

2. The double pivot is working. A couple months into this season, Italiano tilted his midfield triangle from a single holding player to a pivot, allowing the third guy to play as more of a 10. After a few hiccups as the team got acclimated, it’s clearly paid massive dividends. The extra holder means that the defense has a bit more protection, which has been a problem since Cousin Vinnie took over. This solution is clearly helping on that end.

It’s helped going forward, too, as the shift of a midfielder—usually Jack or Barák, although you’d think that Gaetano Castrovilli will be in the mix too—has also made a huge difference, as that midfielder is closer to the striker and able to offer an extra outlet, linking up with the wingers or the center forward. As I mentioned earlier, it takes Jack and Barák from loafing around the edge of the box and waiting for a spot to shoot from distance. All of Jack’s shots today came from 8 yards or closer, and Barák’s goal against RFS was a close range header of the type he wouldn’t have scored if he was still purely a box-to-box type. This kind of adaptability is exactly what good coaches do when their teams hit a wall, so all credit to Italiano for the adjustment.

3. Momentum makes a difference. There’s no way to quantify momentum, but it’s still a force that has as much of an impact as anything on a team’s performance. Confident players who are secure in their roles, know what they’re supposed to do, and trust their teammates play faster and smarter and better, and that’s what we’re seeing. A lot of that comes down to Italiano making some tactical tweaks—the midfield triangle, a more vertical passing style—but a lot of it is down to him getting the players to believe, just as he did last year.

The guys clearly never gave up on him, even when things looked to be heading towards rock bottom, and that’s another good indication that the mister is doing his job well. Winning a few in a row makes it more obvious, of course, so let’s hope that he, and they, can keep it up.