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Fiorentina 0-0 Napoli: Player grades and 3 things we learned

Some really, really, really good performances remind us of just how good the Viola can be.

ACF Fiorentina v SSC Napoli - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Player grades

Pierluigi Gollini—5.5: Made one very good save on a long-range effort from Giacomo Raspadori and produced a couple of good punches on crosses. Had a dicey moment just before halftime, passing the ball straight to Piotr Zieliński from the back, and whiffed on the low cross that saw Oshimen scored from an offside position. Just needs to cut out a mistake or two and he’ll be fine.

Cristiano Biraghi—6.5: Teased in a couple of nice balls and got forward on the overlap, although Sottil largely ignored him. Defended very well against a tricky opponent in Chucky Lozano, only losing him once (albeit for a free header the Mexican should’ve scored) after a mix-up with LMQ. Wouldn’t have minded seeing him in get Livio Marinelli’s face a little bit after the referee’s astounding performance for the final 20 minutes, but in fairness, that probably wouldn’t have helped anything.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—6: Made some good tackles and threw himself around with his typical enthusiasm, but the mistakes are still in there. Made a couple of really bad passes in dangerous areas and miscommunicated with Biraghi about Lozano for Napoli’s best chance of the game. Still, this was a massive improvement over his recent outings and he suddenly looks like a professional again. Whew.

Nikola Milenković—8: Completely erased Osimhen, holding the superstar to more fouls (4) than shots (2). Stuck to the Nigerian like a burr and didn’t give him any space at all while still sweeping up behind. This might be the best individual centerback performance in recent Fiorentina history. The Mountain is a monster.

Dodô—7.5: Overplayed at times early on but settled in nicely and shackled Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, constantly stonewalling Serie A’s new sensation and preventing him from doing anything of interest. Didn’t add much going forward at first but started to venture up the pitch later on, which stretched the Napoli defense without actually doing much to threaten it. Starting to look like the long-term solution we wanted him to be.

Antonín Barák—6: It showed that he’d only trained with his new teammates for a day or two, as he missed some passes that they wanted him to make. Still, showed what he’s all about with his runs over the top and clever movement; once he’s settled in, you can see him being exactly the player this midfield needs.

Sofyan Amrabat—8: Man of the match. Dominated the center of the pitch with his physicality, preventing Napoli from building anything centrally by bullying anyone unfortunate enough to wander into his path, while spraying passes out to the wingers time and again. Also popped up at the back to make interventions and, to quote Viola98, must “have 4 lungs.” Here’s the guy Fiorentina bought from Hellas Verona.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6: A bit too willing to take on shots from distance and not involved enough in the buildup, although some of that felt like Fiorentina trying to attack exclusively down the left. Played as the de facto holding midfielder, allowing Amrabat to bowling ball his way around, and did it well. He won the ball again and again in a way that nobody really expected. Probably not his best use but certainly an interesting new wrinkle to his game.

Riccardo Sottil—6: Constantly beat Giovanni Di Lorenzo and cut inside into useful positions, but the end product was quite disappointing. Shot too frequently and never really caught one well while missing a few opportunities to play a simple pass into a teammate. Marinelli only called Napoli for a single foul on him; any other referee probably would’ve given 4 or 5, which would’ve resulted in a much more impressive individual performance.

Luka Jović—5: Started well, dropping deep and offering an option with his holdup play, but faded out of the game by the end. Didn’t receive anything resembling service and only had 22 touches all game, with just 2 in the area. That said, he didn’t really go looking for the ball and seemed sluggish at times, rarely making moves to shake himself open in the box or get in behind. It’s baffling that Italiano didn’t opt for Arthur Cabral at some point.

Jonathan Ikoné—3.5: Really poor game from the Frenchman. While Fiorentina tried to use him like Nicolás González, targeting him on long passes and expecting him to attack the back post, he’s a very different sort of player and isn’t remotely suited to that role. He was still bad, though, constantly losing the ball and never really beating his man or creating anything. Not sure what’s gone wrong for him, but he and Italiano need to figure it out soon.

Christian Kouamé—6: Offered a very different approach to Ikoné and helped the team immensely with his energy and directness. Has a knack for ghosting past opponents near the box despite his occasionally gangly and awkward appearance. Did have a head-scratching moment or two, but he’s definitely got a place on this team.

Igor—6.5: Came in after LMQ got booked and looked like his usual self. Had a couple of very tidy touches and one surprising burst forward, but otherwise did his job and kept the Partenopei at bay.

Youssef Maleh—6: Offered energy and renewed pressing which seemed to catch the visitors off guard, which might be his best role. Was much better on the ball than he’s shown this year, too, making a couple of neat passes and clever turns to keep attacks moving.

Riccardo Saponara—5: Painfully slow but still class. Didn’t really have the chance to do all that much.

Aleksa Terzić—5: Looked a bit nervous against Matteo Politano and seemed to earn Italiano’s ire once or twice in his brief stint on the field, but didn’t get anything too wrong.

Three things we learned

1. Fiorentina can actually defend. Last year, Fiorentina was a genuinely fun team because, while you never knew what they’d do, you knew there’d be goals. The Viola didn’t have a scoreless draw all season and only failed to score in 9 games; the attack, although it certainly bogged down at times, was never the concern. The concern was always at the other end, where Fiorentina felt desperately fragile, capable of leaking in 4 goals against, say, Torino. But after seeing these guys shut down Serie A’s most potent attack, perhaps Italiano can offer a new template, relying on his defense to keep his charges in the game and strike on the counterattack. He certainly won’t turn into Jose Mourinho overnight, but being able to add a new feature to the team’s approach can only be a good thing.

2. Amrabat has been unleashed. One of the things that made Lucas Torreira such a hit last year was that he was free to charge forward without the ball and press opposing centerbacks. This anarchic approach from the deepest midfielder—generally the one who’s supposed to play a calm and understated role—was very fun to watch and fits Amrabat’s skill set perfectly. Italiano finally gave him free reign to scuttle around and turn the middle of the pitch into his domain, and the Moroccan did exactly that, often sprinting at Napoli’s defenders and spooking them into bad decisions, then relying on his unbelievable athleticism to get back into position when necessary.

This approach worked because Jack sat back and did the dirty work, mopping up any loose balls through the middle. However, that’s far from Jack’s best use; maybe this is where Alfred Duncan comes into play, as he’s perfect for the job. Maybe it’s Gaetano Castrovilli, whose defensive prowess is constantly overlooked. But letting Sofyan go out and wreck shop allowed the Viola to do stuff they weren’t previously able to do, and Italiano has to replicate that environment. Barák’s creativity higher up is a big piece of that, but finding someone who can fill the unglamorous position behind those two is critical.

2. Don’t set expectations for new players too high. Remember when Christian Kouamé signed for Fiorentina in 2020? Even though he was coming off a major injury at Genoa, we expected him to pull on a purple shirt and immediately become the 15-goal striker to partner D***n V******ć up top. Instead, he struggled for fitness and form, becoming a favored scapegoat for disenchanted supporters. After taking a year away on loan, he’s back and looks like the star we expected 2.5 years ago, leading fans to despair that the club might send him away again.

It’s a similar trajectory to that of Szymon Żurkowski. And Sottil. And Igor. Heck, even Amrabat (everyone’s favorite whipping boy) might have turned a corner. What I’m saying is that sometimes it takes a player some time to find their feet. Remember when most of the fanbase wanted to sell Vlahović, only for him to become Serie A’s best number 9 later that year? Give these guys a bit of time before declaring them frauds or farmers or whatever the discourse is these days. Ikoné, who’s definitely played badly at times, has been a target for irate fans almost since he joined. Let’s all take a deep breath and be a bit sensible before we decide that someone’s a waste of space. There are very few players who fit that description, and the only one on this roster is Aleksandr Kokorin.