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

This game demonstrated just how far the Viola have diverged from our preseason expectations.

ACF Fiorentina v Torino FC - Serie A TIM
Turns out the World’s Funnest Dad can play a little bit too.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—7.5: Not quite a perfect game, as he made a poor pass out in the first half that put him in a bad place indeed, but made two fantastic stops. First went full stretch to repel a Duván Zapata header, then got down to somehow repel a Valentino Lazaro effort. Feels like he’s really dialed in right now, making saves that he wouldn’t have made earlier in his Fiorentina career. He’s just going to be the starter until he retires, isn’t he?

Cristiano Biraghi—5: Got cooked by Raoul Bellanova several times as Torino clearly targeted him as the weak link in the Viola defense. Wasn’t able to provide his usual calming influence despite a couple of interesting moments, and provided little going forward.

Luca Ranieri—7.5: Man of the match even without the goal. Made a handful of huge interventions, particularly in the first half, and of course got the late winner. He’s a good player, but it’s his personality that’s turning him into something of a cult hero. From afterthought to star man, he’s had quite a trajectory over the past couple seasons, and he doesn’t look at all like slowing down. Indeed, fatherhood may make him utterly unstoppable.

Nikola Milenković—6.5: A titanic struggle with Zapata was quite fun to watch and he at least didn’t lose it. A good, old-fashioned, and very rugged performance from the Mountain that Kicks, just what he needed after an up-and-down year to date.

Michael Kayode—6.5: Handled Lazaro pretty well but struggled a little with Zapata’s sheer physicality. Pretty subdued going forward but played in a couple of good crosses, one of which gave him his first-ever Serie A assist. What an end to 2023 for a kid who’s been unbelievable this year.

Alfred Duncan—6: Took a little while for all the cylinders to fire, but was excellent out of possession, particularly covering for Biraghi, although he was a bit more scattershot in possession than usual. Even so, he was, as usual, the chewing gum holding this whole Viola assembly together.

Arthur—5.5: Unable to get a touch in the first half and allowed Torino to control the game. Improved a bit after the break but still gave away the ball a bit more than he ought to have, possibly due to a little knock in the first half. Don’t think it’s anything serious, and he’ll be back to his imperious self soon enough.

Jonathan Ikoné—4: Mostly invisible, aside from a moment when he picked off an errant Adrian Tameze backpass and wasn’t able to finish, although Vanja Milinković-Savić deserves credit for smothering him immediately. Didn’t offer himself as an outlet (just 22 touches in 88 minutes) and just didn’t do a whole lot of anything. Seems to have the yips.

Giacomo Bonaventura—5: Looked well off the pace in the first half, struggling to get on the ball and struggling even more to do anything with it. Was more involved after the break, winning a bunch fouls, but looks a ways from his tricky, twisting best, although he should play himself back into form pretty easily.

Christian Kouamé—6.5: Was the only positive attacker in the first half. Dropped deep, both to protect Biraghi and to pick up the ball and keep moves flowing, but also made a couple decent runs in behind, including one that he chose to pull back rather than try to stretch out and put in himself. Offered a good aerial outlet after the break and generally played fearlessly, even if he wasn’t as precise as we’d like. Such a good squad player and we’ll miss him.

Lucas Beltrán—5: Won a few free kicks but simply couldn’t operate as an out ball, losing most of his battles against Alessandro Buongiorno and Adrian Tameze. Started dropping too deep in hopes of finding a touch, leaving a vacuum farther up. That can work if Nico González is roaring over the top, but not otherwise.

ACF Fiorentina v Torino FC - Serie A TIM
Still pretty popular with some segments of the base despite an off day.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Rolando Mandragora—6: He was fine, honestly. Motored around and disrupted Torino’s moves. Made a couple of clever runs into the box. Didn’t make any huge errors. Clearly much more comfortable next to a more physical colleague.

M’Bala Nzola—4.5: Oddly passive, declining to challenge on a couple of high balls and generally looking sort of disinterested. Felt like he had a real chance to do some damage here on the break and just didn’t.

Fabiano Parisi—6: Changed the tempo significantly with his on-ball running. He’s not quite as reliable as Biraghi but the athletic gifts are impossible to ignore.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—n/a: Only got a couple minutes but still got into a couple of thunderous tackles. A little tough on him to drop to the bench because Ranieri’s been so good, but having some competition isn’t a terrible thing.

Riccardo Sottil—n/a: Pulled up with an off-ball soft hamstring injury, which is very bad news. If it’s serious, Fiorentina’s whole January transfer strategy may have to change. Just brutal news for a guy who seemed to be finding his feet after more physical issues.

Three things we learned

1. Italiano’s alchemy is working. One of my biggest concerns was that replacing Sofyan Amrabat with Arthur would complete Fiorentina’s evolution into a soft, all-finesse team that opponents could bully all too easily. Instead, Cousin Vinnie’s turned his side into a tough, gritty group that’s happy to take an opponent’s best punches, suffer, and then strike on the counterattack.

ACF Fiorentina v Torino FC - Serie A TIM
SuperPUNCH
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

It’s an unbelievable personality shift from a manager who’d been billed as a modern, high-possession, all-out-attacking maniac. Instead, he’s turned into Max Allegri. I have no idea how he’s done it, but the results are hard to argue with. Despite some underwhelming underlying numbers, Fiorentina’s got 10 more points than it did at this point last year. This evolution is quite a surprise from a tactician who’s been achieved of being a one-trick pony, and goes to show you that he’s clearly still growing.

2. This team is about 3.5 players away. Italiano’s move to DOGC BeppeBall has been a success, but a lot of this team seems designed to play a different way. Since he probably won’t change an approach that’s working, he needs his players to adapt or he needs new players. At a guess, I’d say that an athletic and physical midfielder, an off-ball goalscoring winger, and target man, a backup rightback, and a backup winger are all that are missing. If Daniele Pradè can do something about the majority of those positions, the back half of this campaign could be end up in a very fine place.

3. If the strikers ever figure it out, this team could be special. This may be the most remarkable thing to me. Fiorentina’s gotten just 4 of its 25 goals from the strikers. Bonaventura and González have picked up the slack (12 goals between them) but the defenders deserve even more love; they’ve scored 5 league goals already and consistently create chances. Some of that is Italiano scheming them into opportune moments, sure, and some of the strikers’ struggles are a lack of those opportune moments (just 3.5 xG per Opta).

What if a new winger unlocks Nzola and Beltrán, though? If they can combine for, say, 15 goals across the second half of the year, Fiorentina could shoot even high in the standings. The squad is full of likeable characters and it feels like they’re really gelling on an interpersonal level. We’re not quite at the magical levels they reached last year, but we’re not too far. This crew might be ready to do something really remarkable with a little more help. Can’t wait to see how they approach 2024.