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Empoli 0-0 Fiorentina: Player grades and three-ish things we learned

Fiorentina draw to a 9 man Empoli team will get the headline but the amazing chorus of 2,000 traveling fans is what we should focus on

Empoli FC v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A
Best fans in the game!
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Player grades

Pierluigi Gollini—6: The guy had the best seat in the house. He was called to do very little, which is always a good sign for your team... right?

Dodo—5.5: Dodo has pace, no doubt about it. He is also chippy, there were many signs of him willing to getting into scraps throughout the game, that is for sure. He also had a couple moments of lapse and lacks precession on his passes (at times). He is still the most exciting signing, but needs more time on the pitch, which he hasnt seen much of with Italiano’s overrating.

Nikola Milenković—6: He had a decent game. His defense gave up no goals and allowed very few opportunities. Some may argue that he is our best scoring threat since most of our opportunities come by a cross from the corner. Did I say most? I meant all.

LMQ—6: He had a few moment early often that started to worry me again. That said, he did settle into the game quite well. He wasnt asked to do much though, but when he was asked to intervene he did so much better than his recent form.

Aleksa Terzic—6: Aleksa flashed some pace at times, beating Empoli to the ball. Provided some good service, especially to Ikone. I just dont see him being one who can add enough in this or any game to impact enough goals, which are certainly missing. Today was a good game by Aleksa though.

Jack Bonaventura—5.5: He is the most threatening player on the pitch considering everyone knows we will play through the wings and shoot crosses in. Jack is the only one WILLING to open up the game from the middle of the pitch. He didnt have much to offer today. I do wonder why our oldest field player is also the only one who is playing full minutes game in and game out?

Youssef Maleh—5: Is he active? Yes. Is he fast? Yes. Does he impact a game yet? No. There was a time where i forgot he started until i saw a close up of him. He didnt do anything wrong, he just isnt impacting the game in the way Fiorentina NEEDS its midfield to impact a game. I do wonder why we are willing to sell a proven Serie A entity and young player in Zurkowski while keeping Maleh in Firenze when he clearly looks like he still needs time on loan elsewhere to develop. Still a good future player, but not enough of what we need today.

Rolando Mandragora—6: He no doubt has a leg on him. He tried to support Jack in drives that do not originate from our corner. It was a beauty, but it was too little and too late. He also did nothing wrong, but his impact just wasnt felt in the game. We need a midfield that is willing to stamp it’s signature on a game, which we havent seen for years.

Jonathan Ikone—5: Maybe I am too harsh on him because I personally thought Kouame was much better suited for this game, but I will continue anyway. Ikone can dribble. He has great control of those long balls and can stop them dropping in from the heavens on a dime. That said, all his dribbling goes nowhere. It creates very little goalscoring for others and he lacks the finishing product himself, which he showed again today.

Luka Jovic—5: I find myself asking one and only one question about Jovic in this Fiorentian squad - Is he not as good as hoped or is the meer fact that we only play through the wings and launch cross after hopeless cross into the box his biggest issue? He had good control of the ball in the box once, which he settled and played a pass back. There is no structure or plan to get Jovic any semblance of the ball on the run in motion or at his feet where he can make a play. He is constantly marked and double marked because we are very predictable.

Riccardo Saponara—4.5: I am not a fan of this huge, overration that Italiano deploys. It feels very Little League to me when every kid had to play at least two innings in a 7 inning game. Why when we have a host of exciting, excited and excitable players on the wings (Sottil and Kouame) do we play Saponara? I know Cheese if beloved for what he has done over the years, but that is history. Kouame and Sottil should be our future. In our third game of the year both of those players should not be on the bench while Saponara plays, ineffectively.

Alfred Duncan —6: Improvement from Maleh. Controls the ball more, still covers plenty of ground, just in a more controlled way.

Riccardo Sottil—5.5: He arguably had a penalty, until replay showed he had a handball just before. He was all over the pitch, just not enough of an impact.

Nicolas Gonzalez—N/A: He leaves it on the pitch, there is no doubt about that. I personally wanted to see Kouame come in.

Christiano Biraghi—n/a: Why is Biraghi one of the final subs when we needed goals? Where was Cabral coming in while Empoli was down to 9 men?

Cabral—n/a: Cabral did come in, but for Jovic. We did not change our game plan once Empoli when down to 10, nor when they went down to 9. Disappointed, not in Cabral, just the scenario in which he was brought in.

Italiano-4: When I saw the starting lineup I typed to those I am in chat groups with “even if we find a way to win this game this isnt a starting lineup I feel good about playing with.” There is no doubt that Italiano is a genius and has galvanized this club, however, is there a point that someone may buy into their own genius too much? Is he overrotating to the detriment of his best players getting the opportunity to gel together? There is also more of the pitch to play through than just the wings. Just saying...

Three things we learned

1. Midfield. Are you surprised? Jack is the only dynamic player we have. Unfortunately, while he still can get the job done, he is past his prime and should not be depended upon to get the job done each and every game. He just isnt capable of that. It is great to hear we have finally targeted the right profile player in Barak. If he comes in and he cannot transform this team then we have to look at the tactics.

2. Wings are great, if they arent the only plan for attack. We have tremendous speed on the wings (when Saponara isnt playing) and it should be maximized. That said, how great woudl it be to see one of them cut in from the outside and lead an attack through the middle? I feel we have become far too predictable at this point. The only unpredictable aspect of our game is the fact that we may start anyone in a viola jersey that day.

3. Are we overrating? Admittedly I have never played soccer. Well that is a lie. I did as a 6 year old for a year, long enough to know I preferred a football that included huddles to get some rest and much needed oxygen. That said, in any sport I have played practice was crucial (AI says hello). Practice on your skillset but also your ability to play with your teammates and within a system. What happened to the days where players got to gel with each other, know each others tendancies and preferances? I get it, last year it was a novel idea to change starting lineups completely, each and EVERY game. This year we may want to rethink it though. Every top flight team has their best players, ones they build around. We are at a point where we are playing on three plains, so a rotation is going to be necessary, but is it so necessary to have Saponara starting while both Sottil and Kouame sit? Is the rotation the reason why our scoring opportunities lack any clinical finishes?

Bonus time:

DON’T SELL KOUAME AND ZURKOWSKI! - As you look around the social media on all platforms you may have seen the public outpoor of support and admiration for the way that Kouame and Zurkowski have both played in the minutes they have been given. I’d argue that Kouame has shown the deserve the starting minutes on the wing while presenting another goal scoring option if Jovic and Cabral dont quickly score goals. He has been very exciting, bouncing all over the place, chasing down balls. When he isnt playing he is the first out there during water breaks to coach the players up. I love what I have seen from him. He wants this and deserves it. Tito was right!

At this point Big Z has outperformed Maleh. The Polish midfielder is in limbo, which perplexes me. When he has entered the game he has chased down the ball, created goal scoring opportunities and even put a few on target himself. His combination of size, pace, endurance and skill is exactly what this team needs, especially given how young he still is.

We need a new midfielder and Barak is the perfect fit. To get him we shouldnt move Kouame nor Zurkowski. There are plenty of other players who should. Kokorin is easy to start with. We should look to sell or loan Benassi, Nastasic, Maleh and Saponara and keep these two young and very exciting players in Firenze.