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Atalanta 2-3 Fiorentina: Player grades and 3 things we learned

A game that wild gives you plenty to think about.

Atalanta BC v ACF Fiorentina - Italian Cup Photo by Francesco Scaccianoce/LiveMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—5.5: Not at fault on either goal and didn’t have all that much to do otherwise. The only saves he made were pretty routine and his distribution was mostly okay, although there were a couple of slightly dicey clearances.

Álvaro Odriozola—5.5: Both goals came from his side of the pitch, and although he wasn’t directly responsible for either, it’s clear that opponents target him. In fairness to him, Jeremie Boga’s about as tricky an opponent as you’ll find. Going forward, he ran and ran and ran but didn’t really influence all that much in the final third beyond a couple of decent crosses, although one of them resulted in Koopmeiners booting Maleh for the second penalty.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—4: A cheap early yellow is the worst thing that can happen to such a full-throated defender. The second foul was stupid but not egregiously so, as he may have decided to risk a red rather than let Luis Muriel in behind. Did quite poorly on the second goal, getting nutmegged by Boga, and had a few gaffs in possession as well. After a lengthy layoff, we expected some hiccups, but this wasn’t great.

Igor—7: One of the best performances I can recall from the Brazilian. Never beaten in his individual battles and was always in the right position, which has been his weakness. His card was a smart one to take, as Teun Koopmeiners was through after some lackluster defending farther up. Was as good as ever with the ball at his feet, and had the obligatory challenge where he shouldered some poor schmuck down through the crust of the earth.

Cristiano Biraghi—5.5: Quiet night from the captain, and that’s not all a bad thing. His set pieces and crossing weren’t quite fantastic, but he defended pretty well and didn’t get caught flat-footed as often as we’ve grown accustomed to. Mostly stuck with Hans Hateboer and Ruslan Malinovskiy without getting burned; solid at the back but inconsequential going forward is some Bizarro World Biraghi stuff.

Gaetano Castrovilli—4.5: Clearly lacking confidence right now, as he’s often afraid to pass the ball for fear of getting it cut out. Killed several attacks by just meandering into the defense. Played the pass that led to the first PK, I suppose, but that was his only real contribution. Got megged by Remo Freuler to set up the first goal and let Boga slip by him far too easily on the second. Not the jump-start performance he needed.

Lucas Torreira—6: Made some good tackles, moved the ball around decently, and wound up Atalanta as much as possible, which are all his usual calling cards. However, he also managed a few shocking decisions on the ball that gave la Dea some short fields to attack, which is a concern. Hopefully he’ll break that habit right now and return to his form over the previous month or so.

Youssef Maleh—5.5: Won the second penalty, although that was more on Koopmeiners being a doofus than anything else. Ran like the dickens, as we’ve come to expect, but didn’t create anything going forward and wasn’t particularly influential in the middle either. Helped Saponara and Biraghi well in the wide areas on defense, at least.

Nicolás González—6.5: Another weird game from him. Won the opening PK (albeit just barely) and suffered some very rough treatment from the Atalanta defense while still managing a couple of decent shots, but left some opportunities on the table, none more egregious than attempting to square to Saponara while clear through on goal. Still, might be snapping out of his funk; if nothing else, he gave José Palomino nightmares before the defender’s early departure.

Krzysztof Piątek—7: Scored twice, although one was a penalty and the other a rebound from his own missed penalty, so eh. Missed a really good chance on a free kick as well. Battled away with Merih Demiral especially but probably ended it as a split decision. Showed some decent holdup play at times but faded out of play at others. Won a few good headers in his own box at set pieces, too, which is a nice bonus.

Riccardo Saponara—5: Completely bottled up in the first half and only a little better in the second. Just couldn’t find the space to do anything against Atalanta’s crazily athletic defense, which pressed him any time he even considered touching the ball. Still a wonderful option to have, but games like this illustrate why he’s not a superstar.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6: Got the assist for the winner and battled well enough, helping Fiorentina win back a bit of momentum after the second goal. I know it’s cliched, but you can tell that he just knows what to do on the ball more than any other midfielder on the roster and it makes him useful at worst.

Riccardo Sottil—5: Had some trademark bursts away from defenders but couldn’t get the final decision correct, although referee Michael Fabbri probably could’ve helped him out a bit more. Still visibly hesitant to try the killer pass, often choosing to dribble sideways or backwards instead. He’s getting so close to breaking out in a huge way and it’s going to be so emotionally fulfilling when he does.

Jonathan Ikone—5: Came on for the final 15 minutes but ended up playing almost as a central midfield after LMQ’s red card. Showed a willingness to drop in and defend. Still want to see him get 90 out on the wing, but Italiano is obviously easing him in slowly.

Nikola Milenković—10 million: Came on and immediately got burned by Muriel on the turn, which is a thing that happens to defenders who get subbed on late and haven’t had time to settle in. I don’t care, though, because OH MY GOD WHAT A HIT NICKY WHAT A HIT.

Three things we learned

1. The red cards are a feature, not a bug. One of the main criticisms we’ve had for Vincenzo Italiano this year is how high he positions his defense, regardless of game state. The conventional wisdom is that when you’re winning or have a draw away, you drop deeper and deny space in behind. Fiorentina, however, stay just as high when nursing a 1-goal lead in the 90th minute as they do when chasing a deficit. Italiano’s too smart not to have noticed this, so it’s clearly a thing he’s doing on purpose.

My guess is that it is, in part, a mindset thing: he wants to instill in his charges a desire to control the game at all times. Since so many of these guys have been stuck in Giuseppe Iachini’s more passive system for years, this is an effort to reshape his players’ psyche. By empowering them to play this way and ignoring the negative results while emphasizing the positive ones, he’s turning Fiorentina into the sort of team that will always try to play on the front foot. The tactical tweaks—dropping deeper, defending narrower, reacting to the situation—can come later. Getting these guys to play the way he needs them to play is of paramount importance, and this is part of how they get there.

2. Italian refereeing remains deeply uneven. This sounds petty as hell considering that Fiorentina won this game thanks to two penalties, but Michael Fabbri and his ilk have no place working top tier games. Literally from the opening whistle, when Hateboer went crashing arm-first into Biraghi’s head chasing a high ball, the officiating here was wacky as hell. Both sides got away with some, ahem, rugged challenges, although I think la Dea probably did better on that end. I also think a lot of that was because Fabbri awarded the Viola that early penalty despite the Real Football Men furiously decrying the decision. Yes, it was right on the edge of the box, but Marten de Roon absolutely stomped González’ ankle inside the penalty area. The knock-on effect, though, was that Fabbri seemed to decide that he wouldn’t give the visitors, and Nico in particular, a foul for the rest of the day if he could manage it; have a look at some of the tackles Fiorentina’s 22 received and tell me those aren’t some CONCACAF-level muggings. The refs are human and prone to human errors, but that kind of refereeing—making a decision, then trying to correct it the other way—leads to games that leave both sides fuming. Fabbri’s history with Fiorentina (and Gonzále

3. We’re heading for a big midfield shakeup this summer. Again, this is a weird thing to jump on after a win at Atalanta, but it’s increasingly clear that the midfielders on the Viola roster don’t quite fit what Italiano wants; he only subbed on one of them in a midweek game and it was one of his regular starters. You’d expect that Sofyan Amrabat would’ve gotten the nod at some point here, but the mister preferred to pull Ikone into a deeper role rather than introduce the Moroccan. Same goes for Alfred Duncan. While I believe that Amrabat, Duncan, Maleh, and Castrovilli could all shine in the right system, Italiano doesn’t seem to think that system is the one he’s using.

As much as we rag on Pradè around here, you have to give him some credit for finding pieces for the attack and defense over the past few years. However, his misfires in the middle are really hurting this team right now and indicate that we could see wholesale changes there in the summer. Jack and Torreira (if he’s redeemed) are likely the only midfielders safe from the chopping block. Get ready for a whole lot of movement in that area in a few months so Italiano can call on guys he trusts for next year.