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

Brushing aside a newly-promoted side feels pretty dang good.

ACF Fiorentina v Cagliari Calcio - Serie A TIM Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—6: His 3 saves were all of the routine variety, and you can’t blame him for getting beaten 1-v-1 by Nahitan Nández, as he at least pushed the Uruguayan wide enough for Kayode to come save the day.

Michael Kayode—7.5: Saved a goal on one end and created one at the other. Played with fire and precision, showcasing his athleticism as much as his intelligence. Led the team in touches and constantly looked to drive them forward, including a few Dodôesque jaunts infield. Hard to believe that he’s just 19; he already looks like he’s spent half a decade in Serie A.

Nikola Milenković—5.5: Made the boneheaded backpass to let Nández in and had a nervy moment or two otherwise, but was still obviously too much for Andrea Petagna, Eldor Shomurodov, and Leonardo Pavoletti. A minor wobble for the rock of Fiorentina’s defense.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—6.5: Wasn’t as notable up the pitch as he’s been in recent weeks, especially in the second half, but played a good, solid game. His battle with Petagna in particular was quite enjoyable, as LMQ harried him like a wolf chasing a bison.

Fabiano Parisi—6: Had a couple of decent bursts forward but was pretty subdued for the most part, possibly due to catching a Shomurodov knee to the back of the noggin early on. Vincenzo Italiano really lit into him after the final whistle, so it’s safe to say that the mister wants more.

Arthur Melo—7: Dominated the game in the first and second thirds, keeping the ball moving quickly and always putting it in space for a teammate. 7/7 long passes, 3/3 tackles, and the cleverness to evade any Cagliari player who tried to press him. Really starting to look like the best regista we’ve seen since David Pizarro.

Alfred Duncan—7: Might be the most complete midfielder on the roster. Created the first goal with a good dead ball delivery and always tried to push the ball forward as quickly as possible, contrasting nicely with Arthur’s more measured tempo. A bit scattershot at times but looks the most complete midfielder on the roster.

Nicolás González—7.5: Scored a real poacher’s goal and caused Cagliari no end of headaches with his dribbling, and also looked very sharp with his passing. Came close with a couple of shots after cutting in; if he starts hitting those regularly, there’ll be no stopping him. Just a monster.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6.5: Showed off his quick feet in the final third, tormenting the Sardinians with his ability to keep the ball. His relationship with Beltrán was really good with a couple of lovely moves between them, and that should only improve as they get acclimated to each other.

Josip Brekalo—5.5: Won the foul that led to the opener but didn’t really accomplish much else. Very one-dimensional, always cutting inside, but doesn’t have the pace or the wiggle to really get away from defenders. Not bad so much as anonymous.

Lucas Beltrán—6: Pressed very well and showcased some tenacious holdup play, as well as a few creative passes to get his teammates involved, but still doesn’t look comfortable finishing moves off; both his shots were blocked and he didn’t any clean looks at goal, although this kind of game probably doesn’t suit him.

Gino Infantino—5: Had a couple of decent moments but did earn a needless booking as he tries to work his way back to fitness.

Jonathan Ikoné—5: Gave us the full #ChaosJonny experience, complete with dribbles straight into touch, inexplicable decisions, and get-out-of-your-seat excitement. Good to have him back.

Christian Kouamé—5: Did his usual thing but was more focused on his defensive work than anything going forward.

M’Bala Nzola—7: The relief in his face and the delight in his teammates’ was a joy. Felt like the whole stadium could finally exhale.

Rolando Mandragora—n/a: Got an assist with literally his only touch and remains one of the more mystifying players on the roster.

Three things we learned

1. We won’t figure out the strikers. Last year, whichever of Arthur Cabral or Luka Jović started always looked worse in comparison to the other coming off the bench. This year, Nzola and Beltrán are replicating that dynamic, much to everyone’s frustration. I have no idea how to sort out this mess and I’m not sure Italiano does either, so I’m not even going to waste my time trying to figure out which is the better option in any given game. Going to devote that energy to finding more fennel plants, or adapting Adrian Mutu’s Genoa hat trick for the stage, or literally anything else. I’m bored of trying to ascertain the unknowable.

2. Nico-dependence can only go so far. González took Fiorentina’s first 5 shots as the team ran everything through him early on. Nico on the rampage is a lot of fun but isn’t sustainable, as he’ll need to rest at times and will simply be off song at others. Fiorentina needs to figure out how to score without him; he’s got 6 of the club’s 18 goals so far. Of the other attackers, Jack has 3, with Nzola and Kouamé each chipping in 1.

It’s a bit alarming that the attackers have scored as many goals as the defenders this year (2 each for LMQ and Luca Ranieri and 1 for Cristiano Biraghi). Nzola and Beltrán are the obvious culprits but Riccardo Sottil, Brekalo, and Ikoné all need to do more. Getting Antonín Barák back ought to help, but this team needs to find an attack outside of Nico. Relying on a single pair of shoulders to carry the entire goalscoring load will only lead to tears.

3. Italiano’s found his midfield. Arthur was always going to be a starter in Florence for obvious reasons. He’s an outrageously classy player who controls games in the first two thirds better than anyone since Pek. The question was finding someone to fill the Sofyan Amrabat-shaped hole next to him, as Arthur isn’t particularly physical and doesn’t have the mobility or skill set for the dirty work.

Mandragora was sporadically useful but just isn’t that kind of player, while Maxime Lopez is more of an Arthur clone than a complement. Instead, it’s the oft-forgotten Duncan who’s stepped up and become indispensable. I’m really happy for him as he seems like a wonderful guy, but I’m even more excited because he’s such a perfect fit next to Arthur, complementing the Brazilian’s guile with his straight-ahead approach.

There were murmurs that Fiorentina wanted to shuffle Duncan out of Florence this summer, as he’s got a relatively large salary and hasn’t ever really settled into the XI, but thank goodness he stuck around. Italiano has already reclaimed former rejects like Riccardo Saponara and Luca Ranieri and Duncan looks like the next in that line. It’s a nice reminder of how quickly the narrative around a player can shift, and further evidence that we should probably take it easy on some of the criticism we level against these guys.