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

Who doesn’t love a redemption story?

Spezia Calcio v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Cucco Ricucchi/LiveMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—5.5: Didn’t have to make a save but was quick off his line a couple of times. Did have a few nervy moments in possession but just about got away with them every time, although those decisions could prove to be a lot bigger against better opposition.

Álvaro Odriozola—7: Created the goal himself by winning the ball with a brilliant tackle high up and then dummying it for Piątek. Spent most of the game tearing down the wing like his hair was on fire and kept Daniele Verde pretty quiet.

Nikola Milenković—6.5: Almost one-upped himself from the Coppa by carrying the ball from his own half and into the Spezia box, but couldn’t quite get the shot away. Manhandled Rey Manaj and didn’t let him have a sight at goal, and bossed Mbala Nzola as well. This is what a world-class defender looks like.

Igor—6: Not quite as good as he was in the Coppa but still a solid showing for the Brazilian. Had a couple of missed passes that led to some minor heart palpitations but used his strength well and had a couple of nice little runs with the ball as well as keeping the offside line very neatly. Seems like the game’s starting to slow down for him a bit.

Cristiano Biraghi—5.5: Denied twice by the woodwork, although one was an Olimpico and the other should probably have been a pass. Neutralized Emmanuel Gyasi and mostly held Ebrima Colley in check too. Didn’t really impress with his set piece delivery and offered little influence in the final third, but the defensive solidity is a welcome change.

Gaetano Castrovilli—5: Signs that he’s snapping out of his funk. Hit a really nice pass to Maleh to set up the first goal and had that little scoop to Nico for another chance. Still holds the ball too long sometimes and looks tentative. Hacked remorselessly, especially in the second half, and probably should’ve seen about three of his assailants get booked.

Sofyan Amrabat—7: The mistake to let Kevin Agudelo in on goal was truly awful, as there were so many safer options than trying to dribble there, but the Moroccan was almost flawless otherwise and rescued the day with his first Fiorentina goal. Was a bit crisper moving the ball than we’re used to seeing and didn’t spend too much time dancing in circles. Also brought some blood and thunder to the defensive side.

Youssef Maleh—6.5: Got the assist on the first goal and was a bundle of energy, as we’ve come to expect. Still mostly just a runner and probably needs to add a bit more guile on the ball to take the next step, but he is, at worst, a useful Serie A player, even if he can drift in and out at times.

Nicolás González—7.5: Did everything but score and assist, which sounds like a jab but isn’t. Won the penalty and a host of other fouls, set up some good chances, and showcased the dynamism that dropped our jaws early in the season. Had a couple of good shots; when one of them goes in, it feels like it’ll open the floodgates. Even made some impressive defensive interventions.

Krzysztof Piątek—6.5: That penalty was quite bad and drops his accuracy from the spot to 33%, which is bad. Did get his goal with a poacher’s finish, at least, but didn’t impress too much, losing a lot of aerial battles to Martin Erlić and Dimitris Nikolau. Needs to sharpen up a bit if he wants to keep Cabral out of the XI.

Riccardo Sottil—5.5: Never quite got untracked, although he took such a beating that you can sort of understand why. Did have a couple of really nice moments, including a lovely late switch to Nico, but couldn’t shake Kevin Amian’s very tight marking. Shows how quickly he’s come on that a teasing performance feels like a letdown now.

Alfred Duncan—6: Solidified the midfield and almost finished a very nice team goal. Did Alfred Duncan things. Those things are mostly good things.

Riccardo Saponara—5.5: Slowed things down and offered a bit more cunning on the ball, which Fiorentina were lacking. Still not convinced he didn’t score the winner, cutting in from the left and twisting past a defender before unloading a curling shot, but life is full of uncertainty.

Arthur Cabral—5: Looked lively and offered a completely different dimension than Piątek, showing off mobility and a willingness to press that should endear him to Vincenzo Italiano sooner rather than later.

Jonathan Ikone—n/a: Only played 5 minutes but managed to miss an absolute sitter that Nico served up for him, reminding us that he is very left-footed.

Three things we learned

1. Italiano’s improving his in-game management. We can all agree that Vinnie’s been an incredible upgrade on the touchline; right now, he’s probably the best coach this team’s had since 2015. It’s easy to forget that this is just his second season in Serie A and that he’s far from the finished article as a manager. Some of the things that irritate us—the substitution patterns, the refusal to adjust to game state—are going to improve. We saw some evidence of it today: right after conceding, he changed the team’s shape. Nico moved to a central role and Castrovilli pulled wide, forming a loose 4-4-2. It didn’t make a huge impact, but seeing the mister stretch his tactical wings a little bit augurs well for the future. As he practices these sorts of mid-stream adjustments, he’s going to get better at making them, and that’ll make Fiorentina better too.

2. Penalties are tough. There’s this weird idea about penalty kicks that a lot of fans have: they’re easy. After all, it’s just shooting into a net from 12 yards out with nobody defending you. How hard can it be? Well, pretty dang hard. After all, if it was so easy, team’s wouldn’t need designated penalty takers. Anyone could do the job. In Serie A this year, there have been 94 penalty kicks awarded. 20 of them have been missed. That’s 21%, and these are the best penalty takers in the league. It’s a much more difficult skill than we imagine.

3. Even an improved Fiorentina brings extra drama. Since arriving in Florence, Amrabat has been one of the most divisive figures in the Viola squad. His brilliant year with Hellas Verona showed what he’s capable of, but he’s always been miscast for Fiorentina, asked to do things he’s not good at. Linked to a January move away, he ended up staying and was forced into action in this one because Lucas Torreira was suspended. He quieted our trepidation with a domineering midfield performance, bossing the middle with his physicality and skill. “Maybe,” we thought, “This is the player we were promised. Maybe he’s turned the corner and is going to be Serie A’s best midfielder again.”

Of course, this being Sofyan and this being Fiorentina, it all collapsed in an instant. He dawdled on the ball for no reason when he could have played it back to Terracciano and let Agudelo rob him and walk in an equalizer. All the previous frustration returned redoubled and fans called for his head. And so what did he do? Well, how about an 89th minute winner from outside the box? And suddenly we all like him again. That’s entertainment.