Pietro Terracciano—7: Saved the only shot on target he faced, but made it a spectacular one, denying Kevin Lasagna in a 1-v-1. Also deserves credit for creating the goal with a spectacular punt upfield to put Ikone in space. Authoritative in claiming crosses but was perhaps a bit too eager to go long with his distribution.
Lorenzo Venuti—4.5: Clearly targeted by Gianluca Caprari and Darko Lazović as the weak link, he endured a torrid first half, constantly letting Hellas Verona’s attackers by him (all of the best Mastini chances came from crosses from his side) and seeming tentative on the ball. Improved considerably after the break but was only average in the second half. In fairness, he’s probably still a bit rattled from that Juventus game.
Nikola Milenković—5.5: Played quite well for all but one moment. Kept Giovanni Simeone quiet and put up a wall around the area. Unfortunately, that one moment he switched off was costly and avoidable as he kicked the heck out of Lasagna while trying to clear a cross. It was a pretty bad mistake.
Igor—5.5: Lost track of Cholito once or twice and had a few nervy moments at the back, none more so than the sequence that put Lasagna through on goal. Tightened up well after the break.
Cristiano Biraghi—6: Solid enough defensively except for a moment when the ever-tricky Marco Faraoni ghosted past him, but mostly did pretty well on the back foot. Put in a couple of very good crosses that, had Piątek and Torreira been a bit more clinical, could have easily resulted in goals. Continues to draw ire for his set pieces, although that’s maybe unfair, given the lack of targets he has to aim for.
Gaetano Castrovilli—6.5: Don’t look now, but he’s rediscovering his dynamic, effervescent form from years past. Danced away from tacklers and got three opponents booked for having to cynically foul him. Defended pretty well and even hit a few neat, quick passes forward. Still not quite as involved as we’d like but he’s on the right trajectory.
Lucas Torreira—5: Barely woke up for the first half, allowing Caprari way too much space between the lines, but was much better in the second. The problem, of course, was his finishing. Never known as a prolific scorer, the diminutive Uruguayan missed three fantastic chances from within 6 yards to win it in the second half.
Youssef Maleh—5: Bustled around like a maniac but didn’t really offer much besides fouling (4 in 45 minutes). Barely involved in possession and lost the ball too easily. Hard to see how he’s ahead of Duncan in the pecking order right now, as work rate is really all he provides.
Jonathan Ikone—6: It was his blocked shot that dropped for Piątek’s goal, but that was really his only contribution. Didn’t drop deep to help when Venuti was getting overwhelmed and lost the ball a couple of times by failing to control basic passes. After a superb, hard-running performance on Wednesday, may not have had much left in the tank.
Krzysztof Piątek—7: The goal was delightful and a lot more difficult than it looked, but, aside from lashing a Biraghi cross wide, that was all he offered. Roundly beaten by the Verona defense whenever he tried to hold the ball up, he was unable to provide an outlet for long passes out the back when the Gialloblu pressed the Viola defense. To his credit, ran his socks off without the ball.
Riccardo Saponara—5: Absorbed a punishing tackle from Koray Günter to earn the German a card but didn’t do much else. Struggled to cope with the Verona’s physical defending and made little impact aside from a couple of neat switches of play.
José Callejón—5: Still about as mobile as a wet cardboard box, but did play in a cross that Torreira absolutely should’ve scored and cranked a free kick on frame that, had anyone followed it up, could’ve been a goal too. As much as we make fun of him here, he’s clearly got some utility as long as he’s not expected to expend much physical effort, although that’s a tough sell on a Vincenzo Italiano team.
Alfred Duncan—7: Man of the match despite only playing the second half. Buzzed around creating havoc out of possession and offered vertical running and passing. May not have Maleh’s incredible stamina but his craftiness and industry more than make up for it. Needs to play more.
Riccardo Sottil—5.5: Like Callejón, fizzed in a cross that Torreira should’ve put on frame. Unlike Callejón, had a couple of excellent runs with and without the ball, emphasizing his pace and athleticism. Still lacking that incision that we want, but he was better than last time out.
Nicolás González—4.5: Recovering from an illness and unable to play more than 20 minutes, the Argentine was used as the lone striker and really didn’t perform. His only notable contribution was a dust-up with the usually genial Federico Ceccherini, and his penchant for diving is becoming a bit of an issue.
Sofyan Amrabat—5: Fine but not outstanding in his 15 minutes in relief of Torreira.
Three things we learned
1. There’s no alternate goal threat. Most teams need a few goal threats, because if there’s just one guy who can score, the defense can double-team him and pretty well freeze out the opponent. Dušan Vlahović’s sheer talent meant that he could still frequently score despite that extra attention; Piątek, with respect, just isn’t at that level. While he’s scoring at a good rate, he clearly needs help. Here’s the problem: there isn’t any out there. Italiano mentioned after the Juve game that he needs his wingers to score, and this game just made it more obvious. When Lucas Torreira leads your team in shots and is the man consistently getting on crosses inside the 6-yard box, your team has some problems.
2. Nico can’t play as the lone striker. I can sort of follow Italiano’s thinking here. Piątek is, in theory, a big and strong number nine and, aside from a poacher’s goal, hadn’t done anything in the game, particularly in the buildup play. Arthur Cabral is more dynamic, yes, but Nico González is one of Serie A’s best dribblers, a decent aerial threat, and comfortable playing through the middle. Why not ask the Hellas Verona defense a completely different question by using the Argentine as a mobile center forward to drag them around, opening space for others to exploit?
Well, we just saw why not. Nico never seemed to be in positions to influence the game. He didn’t make runs into the box, put his head down when he got the ball instead of shifting it around, and generally underwhelmed, allowing the Mastini defense to mostly sit off and maintain their shape. He’s capable of playing as a center forward but clearly needs a reference point to play off of. It was worth a try but let’s hope we never see this particular experiment again.
3. Italiano’s got the team’s full respect. The first half was about as bad a 45 minutes as Fiorentina have played this year. Aside from the goal—brought about by a lucky bounce—they created nothing and probably could’ve conceded 2 or 3 more than they did. The passing was wayward, the movement off the ball nonexistent, and the energy flat. Going in at 1-1 felt like a small miracle.
We’ve seen these situations over the past few years plenty of times. Under Giuseppe Iachini, for example, the Viola would emerge from the break, hunker down, and try to weather the storm, which usually meant they’d concede at least one more and wind up with another dispiriting loss. Here, though, the players came out and dominated the second half, creating chances (although they missed them all) and controlling the play with good passing. That doesn’t happen if the squad doesn’t buy into the manager. For the first time in I don’t know how long, this squad obviously does. And that is very, very encouraging.