clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Fiorentina 2 (4)-2 (1) Parma: Player grades and 3 things we learned

Finding the middle ground between horrifying and inspirational.

ACF Fiorentina v Parma Calcio - Coppa Italia
The Mentalist.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Player grades

Oliver Christensen—7.5: Man of the match. Made 6 saves, including 3 fantastic ones, and didn’t make any mistakes in possession. The only player to do anything right in the first half, and also made a massive stop on Dennis Man during extra time to keep Fiorentina in the running. Also, his furious yelling at the Parma penalty takers certainly looked like it put at least Idrissa Camara off. Love to see it.

Michael Kayode—5: Wasn’t directly responsible for any of the goals but didn’t impress. Struggled to stay in front of Valentin Mihăilă, getting dusted a few times. Didn’t do anything going forward. He’s a teenager. He’ll have games like this. Doesn’t mean he isn’t a star in the making.

Yerry Mina—3: Woof. A bad clearance on the first goal allowed Ange-Yoan Bonny to smash one off the post (the rebound dropped to Adrian Bernabé to finish) and his empty-headed pass from the restart was picked off and led to Bonny’s second. Seemed uncomfortable in possession and slow on the turn. Might be this year’s Matija Nastasić.

Nikola Milenković—5: Not as disastrous as Mina but didn’t cover himself in glory, particularly in the first half. Solid in the air as always, but struggled to stick with runners, although most of the blame lies with the midfield. Improved considerably in the second half, even spraying a couple of excellent passes to the wings, but that overall performance reflects poorly on the guy wearing the armband.

Fabiano Parisi—4.5: Adrian Benedyzcak cooked him several times and he didn’t do a lot going forward. He’s been in a funk for the past month, but maybe a return to the left side exclusively will help him get back on track. We’ve seen him be better and he’ll get back there at some point.

Mazime Lopez—4.5: Disastrous in the first half, providing no resistance as Parma broke time and again through the center while not creating anything going forward. Missed passes and generally looked too lightweight to impact play. Improved after the break, but that was largely down to Arthur’s introduction.

Rolando Mandragora—4: Didn’t do anything on or off the ball. Drifted wide, lost the ball, and was in no position to shield the defense at any point. As responsible as anyone outside Mina for the deficit. Can be a useful player but needs a lot of support in the engine room to avoid being a complete liability.

Josip Brekalo—3.5: Won a foul, which was the only positive thing he did. Lost the ball every time he tried to dribble, missed every forward pass he tried, and shifted the ball backwards more than anything. Looked more like Fiorentina-era José Callejón, which is about as damning a description as I can provide. It’s just not happening for him and a divorce feels like the best option for everyone.

Antonín Barák—4.5: Did create the best (only) chance in the first half but was very uninvolved otherwise, just like everyone else. Missed a good chance early in the second half. He’s still getting his fitness back after a serious illness over the summer so it’s not fair to be hard on him, but Fiorentina needs more from that spot when Giacomo Bonaventura’s resting.

ACF Fiorentina v KRC Genk: Group F - UEFA Europa Conference League 2023/24
Spiritual twins.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Riccardo Sottil—7.5: Was the only outfield player to even try anything in the first half but was undone by his teammate’s fecklessness. Created that chance that Nzola had blocked, but kept working, didn’t dive, and was rewarded with an assist and a goal.

M’Bala Nzola—7: Missed that chance in the first half and was utterly AWOL for the first hour, but came alive later on. Won numerous aerial duels and used his physicality really well to trouble Parma’s defenders, as well as scoring a really good goal. Definitely his best performance for the Viola; if he can bring that mindset from the second half to bear, he’s got the chance to be a very good player for this team.

ACF Fiorentina v Parma Calcio - Coppa Italia
Dusting himself back off and picking himself back up.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Cristiano Biraghi—6: Didn’t have too much defending to do as Parma retreated into a deep block, but was consistent on the ball and played in some good crosses. Also took his penalty with a lot of confidence and showed some leadership throughout, which was clearly lacking in the first half.

Gino Infantino—4: Used in an unfamiliar right wing position and looked way behind the pace. You can see the rough outline of a good player there but he really needs to fill in the details before he’s ready for this level. We need to temper expectations for the rest of the season.

Arthur Melo—7: As usual, his introduction gave Fiorentina the control it had been lacking. Kept the ball ticking over, made sure his teammates got touches to find a rhythm, and generally conducted the choir of death. Also made a huge defensive intervention in extra time to save a goal and showed a bit more needle than usual.

Luca Ranieri—6.5: If nothing else, looked miles better than Mina. Comfortable bringing the ball out of defense and even played a lovely cross to Beltrán in extra time as he overlapped down the wing (!). Also brings such a good attitude, which feels particularly important for this Viola outfit that can feel a bit fragile at times.

Lucas Beltrán—6: Everyone’s going to talk about his winning penalty (which Edoardo Corvi nearly saved), but his energy and positioning helped pin Parma deeper. Looks so much better with a prima punta he can play off of. Bonus points for a really odd celebration.

ACF Fiorentina v Parma Calcio - Coppa Italia Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Three things we learned

1. 4-4-2 may be a thing. Italiano mentioned in his post-game comments that “two strikers is a solution that could be useful again,” echoing what I wrote after the Genk game. Putting an extra body up front makes it a lot easier to go long, which Fiorentina does quite a bit (nearly 200 more long passes than any other team in Serie A). As Italiano focuses more on direct attacks than short passing through the middle, a third midfielder becomes redundant, especially against an opponent sitting deep.

It also allows for easier rotations across the front 4, as the Viola have lots of attackers—González, Beltrán, Kouamé, Ikoné, Sottil—who are comfortable on either wing or through the middle. When these players are able to fluidly interchange positions, it makes marking them a lot more difficult; think of that glorious bit of buildup in the Genk game that led to the penalty. When there’s a trequartista permanently stationed in that area, nobody else can really drift into that space, which in turn results in the forwards being more static. When they’ve all got the freedom to move into and out of space, they’re more likely to find crevices to exploit in the defense.

2. January reinforcements aren’t a luxury. Fiorentina can give anyone a game with its best players on the pitch. The problem is that, while competing on 3 fronts, that just doesn’t happen too often. Italiano has tried to scheme ways to rest his top guys, but some of the backups just can’t fill those shoes.

Brekalo, Mina, and Mandragora are probably the most obvious examples. Brekalo simply lacks the necessary dynamism to make anything happen. Mandragora needs a holding midfielder next to him, as his primary contribution is late runs into the box. Mina’s lumbering gait and technical limitations make him a liability in all phases, although maybe a bit more time back from injury will help in both regards.

Daniele Pradè has done an outstanding job at selling players for big profits these past few years, and he’s made a few good purchases too. However, if Fiorentina’s going to keep competing for European qualification next year, much less silverware this year, he’ll need to improve the squad depth. Another winger, another defensive midfielder, and possibly another rightback aren’t nice bonuses. They’re necessary.

3. This game proved every take you have about Italiano. We got to see the best and worst of Fiorentina in this game. The first half was the latter: insipid passing between the defenders, static attackers, and a negligible midfield presence meant that the team created nothing while being torn open on the counterattack time and again. That’s been the criticism of Italiano all year: his tactics are predictable and lead to the same outcomes every game.

The second half, on the other hand, was the Viola vastly improved. Direct running, clever passing, and tight marking across the pitch meant Parma couldn’t get out of its own half and eventually capitulated. That focus and aggression are what make Italiano’s teams fun and successful.

You can look this game and say that barely beating a Serie B team is a disgrace and proves that Italiano is clueless fraud bailed out by moments of magic by his players. You can also look at this game and say that Italiano instilled in his guys the toughness to come back from adverse circumstances and secure a win despite missing his two most important attackers. Either way, you’re right, and either way, you’re definitely not buying the other camp’s opinion.