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Fiorentina 2-1 Sassuolo: Player grades and 3 things we learned

This edition of the Viola can never make it easy on itself, but sometimes that’s still good enough.

ACF Fiorentina v US Sassuolo - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—7: Had a couple of dicey moments with the ball at his feet but more than made up for them with good saves on Davide Frattesi and Andrea Pinamonti. Took a knock in the second half and almost had to come off, but soldiered on bravely; hopefully he won’t miss any subsequent time.

Lorenzo Venuti—7: The best of the defenders on the day. Got forward well, won some fouls, and stayed in front of the extraordinarily tricky Armand Laurienté. Played mistake-free and reminded everyone that, when he’s in a good place mentally, he’s a competent Serie A fullback.

Nikola Milenković—5: Maybe his head’s still at the World Cup, because it didn’t seem to be in the game. Received a very soft early booking and never seemed to recover mentally, making a few bad passes and missing a couple of pretty simple reads. If Fiorentina is going to improve at the back, it has to start with Nihola. On the plus side, ran in beyond the striker to shoot on goal in the first few minutes from open play, which was fun and terrifying.

Igor—5.5: Had some lovely moments on the ball, showcasing his unnatural athleticism, but also had some mental lapses, particularly losing track of Pinamonti a couple of times. Also needlessly conceded possession once or twice. Feels like every high ball in behind is a bit of an adventure with him and always has been.

Cristiano Biraghi—5: On another day, Domenico Berardi would’ve made him pay, but the Sassuolo talisman airmailed all his shots (except the one, that is). Biraghi did have some good moments going forward, helping to create the first goal, but struggled on the back foot. Suffered a knock that eventually forced him off late, so let’s hope he’s okay.

Alessandro Bianco—5: Still looks up for it, but also looks like a 20-year-old making just his second senior start. Lost the ball too often and offered no control in the center of the park, although he did have a couple of good moments and snapped into tackles like a terrier. The future is still bright for him, even if the present may be a little rocky.

Alfred Duncan—2: Oof. As the president of the Alfred Duncan Fan Club, I feel comfortable in saying that he drops an absolute stinker about once a year, and this was it. Got caught dawdling on the ball, misplayed pass after pass, and barely even served as a speed bump as Frattesi barreled by him. The only positive is that our beloved Alfred got it out of his system and he should be fine for the rest of the season.

Jonathan Ikoné—4.5: Didn’t do much of anything, honestly. Felt like he was almost used as a decoy at times, and once Rogério figured that out, the Neroverdi leftback was left to charge forward unchecked. Feels like Good Jonny, whom we saw just before the break, has been replaced by Bad Jonny again. Gonna need them to trade places again, and soon.

Giacomo Bonaventura—7.5: Man of the match. Every time Fiorentina built something, it came from Jack’s nimble feet and deft movements into pockets of space between the lines. Played some lovely passes, produced some mesmerizing turns, and should’ve had an assist to Kouamé but for the Ivorian forgetting how to shoot. Heavily involved in the opener, too. On his day, he’s still a baller.

Christian Kouamé—5: Was as energetic as ever and really impressed with his defensive contribution, which will doubtless have pleased Vincenzo Italiano. However, he didn’t offer as much on the ball as a winger. Looked better when moved to a central role and gave the Sassuolo defenders a lot to deal with, exemplified by his bustling effort to set up the goal, but he’s just not a natural finisher; had at least one and maybe two chances to seal the deal and couldn’t do it.

Arthur Cabral—4.5: Motored around in a threatening manner without ever actually threatening the goal. Looked to drift to the wings at times and combine with the wide players but still seems weirdly hesitant to shoot sometimes when he’s in the area. Rolled his ankle pretty hard in the first half and had to come off at the break; if it’s serious, the Viola have a serious problem with Luka Jović also dinged up.

Gaetano Castrovilli—5: Involved in the buildup to the penalty incident and had a few moments where he looked like the old Tanino, particularly one late where he won the ball and raced away to almost get on the end of a return pass, but you get the sense that he’s still testing his limits.

Riccardo Saponara—7: Instant impact from the Cheese. Took his goal very well and caused Jeremy Toljan some headaches with his skill and cunning. Really should’ve scored again late on but got caught in two minds between shooting and passing, resulting in neither quite occurring. He’s a great change-of-pace option off the bench.

Dodô—4.5: More unlucky than anything on the PK, but it’s pretty damning when you concede one within 3 minutes of being subbed on. Struggled with Laurienté a bit and lost out to Rogério a few times too. Gets bodies by bigger players (which is pretty much everyone) too often and needs to figure out how to adapt.

Nicolás González—7: It was great to see him back, as he’s probably Fiorentina’s best attacker and maybe the best player, but it felt like the rust would be too much after he borked a pretty simple header that would’ve taken the lead. In a testament to his mental strength, buried the penalty without any problems a little later. Thank goodness he’s back.

Aleksa Terzić—6: Won the penalty, although I seriously doubt he was trying to. Looked decent on the ball and relentlessly got forward even after the Viola had taken their late lead, which was courageous since they won and would’ve been reckless if they hadn’t.

Three things we learned

1. Good players are good, regardless of how they’ve played recently. Seeing Nico bury his penalty was a perfect reminder of just how talented he is, not just physically and technically but also mentally: it’s not easy to come back from a long injury layoff, miss a simple chance, and then take a PK with everything on the line, but Nico didn’t shrink from the responsibility. He’s just pure class.

Castrovilli didn’t have quite the same impact, but even while he’s going at maybe 75%, you can tell that there’s a player in there. Part of it is how opponents get a little alarmed whenever he’s on the ball in space and rush to close him down. When the guys he’s playing against are that nervous about him, you know he’s good. It’s the same with Duncan looking like a semi-pro player today, or Milenković getting lost over and over. They’ll be fine.

2. Italiano is starting to trust his bench. Fiorentina finished in a 4-4-2ish shape with a central midfield comprised of Castrovilli and Bonaventura. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, but they actually killed off the game really well. More interesting to me is that he hooked Bianco and Cabral at the half; since neither of them had played very well, it felt like maybe the first time he’s been that proactive about subbing off under-performers. To make those changes, he had to rely on Kouamé to work at striker and Castrovilli to do a lot more defensive work than usual, and they repaid his faith marvelously; that might tempt him into being quicker to pull the trigger when he needs a change.

3. This team needs Sofyan Amrabat. I wrote earlier that González might be Fiorentina’s best player. I’d like to conclude that statement by saying while he might (might) be the most talented, he’s not the most important. That would be Amrabat. Without him, Fiorentina can’t control anything with or without the ball, which leaves the high-pressing, energetic style of play dead in the water, as it disconnects the front 4 from the back 4.

While it’s a good sign that he’s fit enough for the bench, let’s also remember that Sofyan had to take painkilling injections before every World Cup game and that he might need another couple of weeks to get right. That means it’s on Italiano to figure out how to work without him, and on his teammates to pick up the slack for a little while.