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Fiorentina 1-0 Atalanta: Player grades and 3 things we learned

It wasn’t pretty but it was just about enough, and that’s all you can really ask for.

SSC Napoli v ACF Fiorentina - Coppa Italia Photo by Franco Romano/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Player grades

Bartłomiej Drągowski—7: The first half save on Teun Koopmeiners was Vintage Bart. Didn’t focus on short passing like Pietro Terracciano does but was generally pretty accurate with his vertical looks. No real mistakes and surely a big boost in confidence for the embattled Polish international.

Álvaro Odriozola—7: Outstanding in the first half as the out-ball down the right, using his pace to cause Atalanta problems as González drifted around. Also put in a good shift defensively and never looked like getting beaten, including a couple of nice moments against Davide Zappacosta. Outings like this will only increase Fiorentina’s desire to make his move permanent.

Nikola Milenković—6.5: Hardly put a foot wrong all game aside from a careless challenge that got him in the book. Stonewalled Jeremie Boga in a way that we didn’t see in the Coppa game. Solid in possession, but it’s his work as an on- and off-ball defender that set him apart. Like the rest of the defense, lucky that referee Daniele Doveri waved off Malinovskiy’s goal, which sure looked clean.

Igor—6.5: The Viola meat wall was his usual self, bodying anyone who came near him and producing disconcertingly balletic moments on the ball as well as oddly delicate passes forward. His positioning and reading of the game seem to have improved tremendously over the past month and he may have passed LMQ in the pecking order.

Cristiano Biraghi—6.5: Didn’t do much in attack, although that was largely by design. Held his position and prevented la Dea from building much of anything down the left, keeping Hans Hateboer in check and contributing to the buildup with patient passing rather than his usual mashing of the cross button. A really disciplined performance in a specific tactical brief is what you want from the captain.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6.5: Looked the most creative midfielder in the side, as per usual. Had a couple of frisky little runs on the ball that resulted in defenders being booked. Didn’t manage to influence the game in the final third as much but did a nice job dropping deep to protect the defense. Giving him a bit of a rest seems to have paid off.

Lucas Torreira—6: Fine in his 38 minutes, although he seemed to be hampered by injury for his final half hour or so. Early reports are that he avoided a serious injury, which is great news.

Gaetano Castrovilli—6: Slowly relocating his best form. Had a couple of neat moments with the ball at his feet to win fouls and looked for a couple of nice passes. Pressed well enough. He’ll draw some criticism for his shot over the bar, but keep in mind that he played the initial 60-yard pass to put Nico through, then got on his horse to meet the return ball in the box. That’s the kind of desire we need to see from him.

Nicolás González—7.5: Man of the match. Led the outfield players in touches, won 5 fouls, and got the assist. Came close to scoring himself and set up another great chance. With the ball at his feet, he’s as unstoppable as any Fiorentina player I can recall since prime Juan Cuadrado. Just an outrageously talented player who can do anything asked of him.

Krzysztof Piątek—7.5: Scored the goal, albeit a bit scruffily, but the timing for that run was perfect. Mostly lost his battles against the Atalanta defenders, though, and didn’t produce much in the way of hold-up play despite being targeted on a lot of long passes. Looked pretty clunky with the ball at his feet, too. As long as he keeps scoring, though, none of those shortcoming will matter much.

Riccardo Sottil—6.5: Completed more dribbles than anyone on the pitch, as you’d expect, and won a bunch of free kicks. Set up a great chance for Nico and nearly scored with a lovely shot that Juan Musso juuuuust barely pushed wide. Definitely faded a bit later on, but he’s undeniably coming into his own as a genuinely dangerous Serie A winger. And he’s still hilariously handsome.

Sofyan Amrabat—6.5: Solid showing for the Morocco international. Threw his body around, mucked things up in the middle for Atalanta, and kept the ball ticking over. Didn’t make any mistakes and showed off some excellent positioning without the ball. Maybe he’s turning over a new leaf.

Alfred Duncan—5.5: Came in to solidify things and did just that with his usual repertoire of Alfred Duncan Things.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—6: Came up big with some headers in his own box and a few critical interventions on runners. If a player of his quality is third choice now, it really speaks to the strength in depth the Viola have at centerback.

Youssef Maleh—5: Ran around and made a nuisance of himself to help protect the lead, so you can definitely say he did his job.

Aleksa Terzić—5: Still doesn’t look as sound as Biraghi back there. Dunked on by Demiral for a header late on and seemed a step slow in keeping with Hateboer at times, but he saw things out just fine in the end.

Three things we learned

1. Vincenzo Italiano is learning. I was really nervous that, even without a striker available, a tactician as experienced and sharp as Gian Piero Gasperini would embarrass his younger counterpart after losing their previous two meetings this year. Instead, it was Cousin Vinnie who showed the adaptability to change his approach and leave la Dea’s attack completely toothless (aside from that one “offside” goal, which, c’mon, that was definitely a goal). By keeping Biraghi deeper, Fiorentina effectively played a back 3 for the first 75 minutes, and it clearly threw Atalanta off-balance. I’ll take a deeper dive on this later in the week, but the tactical adjustments, along with subbing off the yellow-carded Milenković for safety’s sake, show that Cousin Vinnie is growing quite rapidly as a coach.

2. Sometimes you need some luck. Beating Atalanta 3 times in a season is an unbelievable accomplishment for anyone. For a Fiorentina side that’s spent the past few years mired in relegation scraps, it’s one papal approbation away from a miracle. Like I said above, Gasperini’s a brilliant (albeit unlikeable) tactician; I don’t think he’s ever lost to the same team three times in a season. This is an incredible accomplishment, even if it did require Doveri to make an appallingly bad decision about that offside goal. I don’t think anyone would argue that Fiorentina weren’t the better side in this one, so a narrow win feels like a fair result. Sometimes to confirm those, you need an act of power from above (or below, given the nature of Italian referees). Every good team gets lucky bounces. Fiorentina did today. It doesn’t detract from the performance or the result, although you can understand the howls of frustration emanating from Bergamo.

3. The race for Europe might be back on. We’re about two-thirds through the season and, following today’s fixtures, Fiorentina are in 7th place with 42 points. They leapfrogged AS Roma and Hellas Verona, who played to a draw yesterday. The Viola also have a game in hand that could wind up being an automatic 3-pointer, depending on how the league office rules the Udinese postponement (a decision on that sooner rather than later would be fine).

Our heroes, then, are a point off Lazio for a Conference League berth, and 2 off Atalanta for the Europa League. A lot can change over these final dozen or so games—we’ve seen the Viola plummet at this time of year too many times to start celebrating—but the team’s overall performance in the league and positioning in the Coppa Italia means that, while a return to continental competition is still probably less than 50%, it’s well within the realm of possibility. Given the adversity Fiorentina have faced this year, that’s an unbelievable achievement and should set them up for an even bigger campaign next time around.