Oliver Christensen—6: Didn’t face a shot on target and was fine if not good with his kicking. Got trucked by Sunday Adetunji after Pierozzi gave him a hospital pass. Whiffed on a cross that went right through his gloves but didn’t get punished for it.
Edoardo Pierozzi—6: That back pass to Christensen was an adventure, but Pierozzi looked solid, if a bit frantic. Did well going forward, particularly as a dribbler (nutmegged Ognjen Vranjes early on) but was a bit ragged with his passing and had a nervous moment or two on the back foot. Certainly has a future but may need one more year.
Nikola Milenković—7: Played smart and mistake-free, winning all his duels on the ground. Wasn’t as sharp in the air as we expect, but it was a good get-right game for the Mountain that Kicks.
Luca Ranieri—7: Whiffed on a tackle in space on Adetunji that led to Čukarički’s big (only) chance but was otherwise fantastic, bursting forward on the ball, throwing himself around, and being his usual enthusiastic and aggressive self. The perfect squad player.
Cristiano Biraghi—6: Showed some grinta with his takedown of Adetunji right after the striker kicked out at Ranieri’s legs, making sure the striker wouldn’t escape on the break. Wasn’t great on or off the ball other than that but did get the ball into the final third pretty consistently.
Maxime Lopez—6.5: Did a pretty good Arthur impression, leading Fiorentina in touches and keeping the possession ticking over, particularly when building from deep. Threw his tiny little self around fearlessly and took a couple of blows but kept on ticking.
Alfred Duncan—6.5: As reliable as ever. Don’t think Fiorentina’s had such a reliably good, versatile, and quiet midfielder since Milan Badelj, and I mean that as an enormous compliment. No matter who’s out there with him, Alfred makes the guys next to him look better.
Jonathan Ikoné—5.5: Didn’t get a lot of time on the ball and didn’t have a lot of space to attack. Minimized his #ChaosJonny moments, at least, and tracked back well, but was quieter than I’d have liked.
Giacomo Bonaventura—6.5: Constantly twisting and turning away from defenders and looked the likeliest source of a second goal. Had a couple nice passes and came close from range. A credit to the armband after Biraghi went off. Fully deserves his latest call-up for Italy.
Riccardo Sottil—5.5: Dusted his defender several times and even played in a couple of decent balls, particularly to the back post, but nobody gambled and made the run there. Still more theoretical threat than actual threat but one of these days, he’s going to put it together and be unplayable. I’ll be saying that until they put me in my coffin.
M’Bala Nzola—7: Won the penalty and buried it but didn’t really do much else, managing a total of 13 touches in 71 minutes. Unable to serve as an outlet for long passes. Hopefully the goal gives him some confidence but he still doesn’t look comfortable.
Josip Brekalo—5: Came close with a decent shot that got saved by the goalkeeper instead of the post, at least, but still lacks the athleticism to beat his man and remains prone to weirdly basic errors in possession.
Rolando Mandragora—5: Simultaneously invisible in both the good way and the bad way, which feels like a very Mandrake skill. Hopefully his knee’s okay.
Fabiano Parisi—5.5: Carried the ball forward well enough and helped steady the defense after the hosts looked a bit too feisty coming out of the break.
Christian Kouamé—5: Had 8 touches in his 19 minutes, so he was at least much more involved than Nzola.
Arthur Melo—n/a: 7 minutes to see the win through.
Three things we learned
1. It can’t always be pretty. We constantly talk about the importance of winning ugly, particularly away from home, and this was about as ugly a win as you could get. Fiorentina never got out of 2nd gear, rested a bunch of key players, operated on an inexplicably slick pitch, and still took home 3 points without any real drama. It’s not good to watch every week but it’s the kind of performance that every competent team needs sometimes. Scoring early and then managing things for a 0-1 away win isn’t something we associate with this edition of the Viola, so it’s nice to see that it’s possible.
2. Serbia does things differently. In the first half, a fan yelled some racist stuff at Ibrahima N’Diaye. German referee Robert Schröder stopped the game for a stadium announcement warning that the next incidence would result in a suspension of play. Security identified the offender, removed him, and police promptly arrested him outside the stadium. Sure would be nice if Italy could follow that lead.
Besides that, though, Čukarički’s stadium was eerily quiet. You’d think that a 1-goal deficit at home would spur the crowd onto vocal support, but the 500 traveling supporters were far more audible. Indeed, the noisiest thing the Brđani fans managed was one person blasting a trombone somewhere off screen. It was weird but also delightful and I wish someone would do the same at the Franchi.
3. The players kept their heads. Last time these two met, Čukarički clearly decided to play as rugged a style as possible in hopes of intimidating its more technically talented opponent. That’s a reasonable position to take as a massive underdog, and it resulted in 2 bookings in the first 10 minutes before the red card tackle that knocked KOed Michael Kayode. So yeah, the strategy backfired and forced the Serbians to play much more carefully for the rest of the way.
I was expecting another overtly physical contest here, and the hosts didn’t disappoint. They weren’t as blatant as they were in the reverse fixture but they weren’t afraid to stick a foot in late, as evidenced by their 4 cards. Instead of erupting, though, the Viola simply took the foul and restarted play. Ranieri, usually one of the more fiery guys out there, gave Adetunji a staredown after an unnecessary little swipe from behind, and Biraghi promptly planted the striker. It was a clear statement that no shenanigans would be tolerated. Again, for a team that’s often as tissue-soft as Fiorentina, that’s really nice to see.