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Lazio 1-0 Fiorentina: Player grades and 3 things we learned

Another day, another heartbreak.

SS Lazio v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A TIM Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—6.5: Had 1 terrible pass out the back that didn’t get punished but made 1 quite good and 1 terrific save, so he was definitely a positive on balance. Becoming increasingly convinced that every time we grouse he’s not good enough, he’ll pull off just enough saves to re-establish himself as the first choice goalkeeper for the next decade.

Fabiano Parisi—7: Completely shut down Mattia Zaccagni and constantly drove Fiorentina up the pitch and into the attacking third. Led the team in both tackles and progressive passes, highlighting just how complete a performance this was. Looks like a bargain at €15 million.

Nikola Milenković—5: The penalty was unlucky but undoubtedly the correct call, as the Mountain reached out to get a hand on Matías Vecino and missed. Uncharacteristically indecisive at times, struggling with Taty Castellanos’ movement. Been a tough month for him but he should be fine.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—6: Caught out of position once or twice but that’s the sacrifice you pay for having, as Nolan KB put it, a “box-to-box CB.” Hit a couple of lovely passes and drove forward a couple of times well. Had one Hollywood tackle but looked beatable throughout.

Cristiano Biraghi—4: Definitely not entirely fit, as he lost the ball several times in places he’s usually excellent and delivered a succession of sub par set pieces. Probably wouldn’t have started if not for the injury crisis at fullback, so let’s take it easy on him.

Arthur—5: Never got in the game and looked vulnerable to physical play, getting outmuscled time and again without offering his usual metronomic buildup play to offset that weakness. Probably hindered more by the wet pitch than anyone else.

Alfred Duncan—6: Imprecise at times, including a bad packpass that got picked off, but hoovered up loose balls in the middle and, as always, played with fearless verticality. Beltrán headed his cross off the upright, for example. Such a perfect foil to Arthur but needs the Brazilian firing on all cylinders to really reach his best.

Jonathan Ikoné—6: Perhaps lucky not to be sent off after a dumb tackle, but also should have won a penalty just before halftime that Matteo Marcenaro refused to even look at in a shocking display of spinelessness. Did have a couple of nice passes and clever dribbles interspersed with his usual maddening mistakes; in short, typical #ChaosJonny.

Giacomo Bonaventura—5.5: Started out well and played that glorious ball over the top for Beltrán, but often dropped too deep instead of supporting the forwards. He didn’t have a single touch in Lazio’s penalty area and that’s just not enough for a player who relies more on moments than a steady, 90-minute contribution.

Nicolás González—6: Subdued from the talismanic winger, partly because he was on the left but partly because he just seemed off the pace. Was still the best dribbler on the pitch and won a bunch of free kicks but didn’t register a shot and wasn’t particularly creative. Also had that inexplicable error to keep a ball in play deep in his own half that let Matteo Gouendouzi in.

Lucas Beltrán—7: So unlucky not to score as he was denied by an incidental handball and the woodwork. Focused more on getting in behind rather than dropping deep to link up with teammates, which meant he wasn’t involved and relied more on service from his teammates; as you’d expect, that didn’t go well for him.

Rolando Mandragora—5: Fine with a capital F but weirdly uninspiring without being unimpressive. Has a truly weird propensity for striking the ball really well from distance and not quite coming close, like if Zdravko Kuzmanović didn’t balloon every shot 30 yards over the bar.

Antonín Barák—5.5: Slithered around in a visually pleasing way but, like Jack, dropped too deep and wasn’t much a threat in the area.

M’Bala Nzola—5: Snapped a lovely volley on frame and threw himself around gamely enough but didn’t really change the game much.

Maxime Lopez—5.5: Buzzed around gnattishly and even won the ball high up and fired a shot on target, although his tiny size remains a cause for concern.

Three things we learned

1. González can work on the left, but not with these players. Nico’s generally looked better on the right wing for Fiorentina, which fits the conventional wisdom: quick, dribbly left-footers that can cut in and shoot have been thick on the ground these past 10 years. That’s Nico’s prototype, so sticking him on the left, where he can’t cut in and shoot, takes him out of his most dangerous role.

I’d argue otherwise, honestly. For one thing, he tends to move inside almost as a second striker a lot, and with Biraghi and Parisi overlapping, there’s no loss of width on the left. For another, he’s not actually great at shooting: he’s scored from outside the box once since reaching Florence, with the vast majority of his goals being tap-ins or headers. Moving him to the left doesn’t remove his goal-scoring threat as he can still attack the back post and pounce on loose balls in the area, while also making it easier for him to cross for teammates.

To maximize Nico’s back post threat, though, he needs a good crosser on the other side. Josip Brekalo isn’t very useful but offers a decent deliver, and Biraghi’s one of Serie A’s best crossers. Even Riccardo Sottil puts in some decent passes. They all play from the left wing, so Nico should be on the other side. Ikoné’s not a great crosser and Parisi on the wrong side mean that there’s not a lot of crossing from that side. To unlock Nico on the left, it might behoove Vincenzo Italiano to use Sottil or Christian Kouamé on that side.

2. Statistics frequently lie by omission in the short term. This was about as tight a game as you’re going to see. Fiorentina won the first half and Lazio the second, but it was pretty even on the balance of play. The problem, of course, is that xG will tell you that the hosts dominated to the tune of 1.9 to .04, which doesn’t adequately reflect what happened. Fiorentina’s two best chances—Beltrán’s handball goal and Ikoné’s bizarrely uncalled penalty—don’t show up in the stats. Incidents like these tend to balance themselves out over the course of a season, but single game numbers are a poor way to explain what happened.

3. This is Fiorentina’s footballing heritage. I wrote about this after the Empoli game and this one’s only served to reinforce it. Fiorentina tends to play to the opposition’s level and then get undone by a terrible defensive error or an inexplicable refereeing decision. Today, it was the latter; I expect the FIGC will admit that Marcenaro messed up, which is cold comfort at this point, and everyone will forget all about it in the leadup to Juventus this week.

The best we can ask for is a Commisso explosion and maybe a makeup call down the road, as Serie A loves to iron out wrinkles that way rather than fixing systemic problems. Until the entire league starts changing how it operates, this kind of outcome is going to be Viola destiny: noble efforts ultimately doomed by personal shortcomings or divine interventions. It’s Euripedean tragedy. It’s what makes Fiorentina Fiorentina.