Pierluigi Gollini—4.5: Not a perfect introduction, given that the second goal was entirely his fault, but was okay otherwise. Decent with the ball at his feet aside from one or two missed passes. Not really called on for any other big saves but seemed confident enough smothering the odd ball that came his way.
Marco Benassi—5: Actually looked decent going forward and pinged in a couple of decent crosses while offering a decent threat on the overlap. Remains a real problem defending and still prone to poor touches, misplaced passes, and perplexing decisions; the corner for the second goal originated with his attempt to dribble past 3 Cremonese players in his own half. Still, looked better than he usually does in central midfield.
Nikola Milenković—6: Solid enough day for the Mountain. Got turned once by Cyriel Dessers but was otherwise rock solid. Came close to the winner twice on the other end as well near the end. Being sandwiched between Benassi and LMQ is going to be really tough on any defender, though.
Lucas Martínez Quarta—3: The worst defensive performance I can recall for the past couple years from a Fiorentina player. Completely lost David Okereke for Cremonese’s first goal in a shocking lack of awareness and was lucky not to be punished for some other mistakes as he let Dessers beat him far too easily twice in the second half. If this is who he is now, the club desperately needs to add another central defender if it wants to compete on one front this year, much less three.
Cristiano Biraghi—6: Not a great game from the captain but not a bad one either. Put in some good crosses (as well as a few bad ones) and offered a threat from set pieces, both shooting and delivering them. Showed some good chemistry with Sottil down the left. The problem, as usual, was on the other end, where he allowed Paolo Ghiglione too much room to cross for Okereke’s goal and was beaten too easily a few other times. Still, a serviceable night from the captain.
Giacomo Bonaventura—7.5: Looked lively on the ball and produced a few neat moments in the buildup. Took his goal brilliantly and had several other shots, all of which seemed to clatter off a Cremonese defender’s shin. With Gaetano Castrovilli unavailable, he remains the only midfielder on the roster capable of making an impact in the final third, and he provided that impact throughout this one.
Sofyan Amrabat—5.5: The Moroccan was mostly invisible, but that seemed by design as Fiorentina attacked exclusively down the wings. Set the tempo well and hit a few neat passes to the wide players to start attacks. Bustled around the middle but seemed a bit more lightweight than usual, struggling a tad in his defensive duties. Still, a Milan Badeljesque performance isn’t a terrible thing.
Youssef Maleh—4: Got through a lot of running but didn’t accomplish much with it. Offered little forward thrust, didn’t get ahead of the forwards, and wasn’t great off the ball in or out of possession. It’s tough to see how he’s better than Alfred Duncan right now, so this may be evidence that he’s part of the bench mob that starred in this one.
Riccardo Sottil—7.5: Looked like a whole new player compared to last year, when he was tentative and anxious. Put his head down and backed himself to dribble anyone, and with reason. Carried the ball into the final third time and again, nearly doubling the progressive dribbling distance of anyone else on the team, and got the assist for Jović’s goal. He’s still not perfect, but he’s being imperfect with authority, and that makes him twice the player he was last year. Maybe this is the season he finally puts it together.
Luka Jović—7.5: A bit sluggish at times and missed a couple of chances to put this one to bed, but did open his account brilliantly and showed a willingness to contribute to the buildup and lead the press. It’s a good reminder that he’s the sort of striker who’ll often look to be on the fringes before springing into action. In short, a solid debut for the big poacher.
Christian Kouamé—7.5: Clearly needed his year in Belgium because he looked like the superstar we saw at Genoa years ago. Cremonese had no answer for his pace, off-ball running, and physicality on the wing, and he also showed some guile on the ball, winning a string of free kicks. His assist for the opener was magnificent. If he can maintain this level, he’ll have a part to play for the Viola this season.
Dodô—5: His first action was losing the ball in his own half just like Benassi had moments before, so that wasn’t fun, but the Brazilian ran hard and demonstrated plenty of vinegar. Once he’s fully settled in, he should take hold of a starting berth.
Szymon Żurkowski—5: Seemed a bit too eager to make something happen at times, overplaying and losing the ball too easily, but his motor was exemplary and you can see him being a useful rotational option; he was, at the very worst, an improvement on Maleh, at least in this game.
Rolando Mandragora—5: Didn’t get his debut goal and certainly didn’t deserve it, but showed some surprising mobility and a willingness to control the tempo. Will be interesting to see if he can displace Amrabat in the XI, as the Mandrake showed glimpses of real class.
Riccardo Saponara—5: Pulled a couple of nifty turns and clever dribbles but didn’t really do all that much. The change from Kouamé to him must be a monstrously difficult adjustment for an opposing fullback.
Nicolás González—n/a: Played 5 minutes after facing questions about his fitness following a preseason knock. Still had a chance to score the winner but couldn’t get it on frame.
Three things we learned
1. Fiorentina’s best midfield isn’t on the roster. Until further notice, Jack is one of Fiorentina’s three best midfielders. Castrovilli was showing that he was as well last year before the injury. After those two, though, it’s tough to figure out who’s the third member of the engine room. Amrabat is probably the best fit as the defensive midfielder, although Mandragora might be a better alternative, and even Alfred Duncan has played the role in the past. Still, it feels like this midfield is missing a piece. There’s a glaring need for someone who can thread those passes through to this exciting attack, and that someone isn’t on the team. Daniele Pradè definitely has work left to do in the next two weeks.
2. Milenković can’t do it on his own. Big Nicky signed an extension, signalling the faith he had in the Viola brass to put a good team around him and make some noise. Playing between a misfiring LMQ and Benassi isn’t a great way to start the new year. Sure, the return of Igor and Dodô’s imminent move to the XI will help, but this serves as a reminder that, should either of those two or Biraghi miss any time, the backup options are, at best, quite frightening. Another central defender and a backup leftback are, along with a creative central midfielder, the three biggest needs in the squad. Milenković is an amazing player but he can’t man the entire back line by himself. He needs help. Otherwise, he’ll be like a 10-foot wide brick wall stuck in the middle of a beach, trying to hold back the sea as it surges all around him.
3. Fiorentina remains the stupidest and most beautiful team in Italy. Cremonese probably had four or five decent chances to score in this game. While that’s certainly too many, considering the circumstances, Fiorentina had at least three times that. They outshot their opponents by 28 to 13 (9 to 4 on target), held 74% possession, had an obvious penalty ignored, and conceded two extraordinarily stupid goals. The fact that the players weren’t sure whether to slow it down after halftime to keep the lead or put the pedal down and go for a third was a real problem, and the defending is going to be an adventure all year, but the attack looks like it’s going to be very good and the team’s mentality should lead to a lot of wild results. Buckle up for an entire season’s worth of this sort of madness.