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Fiorentina 3-2 Braga: Player grades and 3 things we learned

Despite their best efforts, the Viola can’t dig themselves deep enough to avoid progressing to the Conference League Round of 16.

ACF Fiorentina v Sporting Braga: Knockout Round Play-Off Leg Two - UEFA Europa Conference League Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Player grades

Salvatore Sirigu—6.5: Made a few good saves, particularly on a quick free kick that he smothered in the second half. Maybe could’ve done a shade more on the goals but certainly wasn’t the problem. Didn’t allow 3 goals out of nothing so he’s at least a step up from poor Pierluigi Gollini.

Dodô—5.5: Not directly responsible for either goal but didn’t hold up particularly well on the back foot. Hd a couple of decent movements going forward and was involved in Mandragora’s goal but looks just a little too lightweight to really do the deed in defense.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—5: Pretty much responsible for the second goal and not great on the first one either. To his credit, hit a couple of really nice long passes and had some decent moments too. Feels like the kind of player who needs the confidence that an extended run in the team provides, and he’s just not getting that.

Luca Ranieri—5: I love Luca but he wasn’t great here. Some bad fouls, some bad work on both goals conceded, a slightly unmoored energy throughout. Like LMQ, he’d probably benefit from more regular minutes. I’m not knocking him despite the low grade. Just needs some stability.

Cristiano Biraghi—6: Beaten like a drum on the first goal (which, again, shouldn’t have counted) and had a couple other shaky moments at the back, but made up for it with his attacking output. Played in some good crosses and always looked a threat on the overlap.

Giacomo Bonaventura—8: Didn’t dominate the game or impose himself in the buildup, but I mean, 3 assists. 3 assists. Sometimes you need a moments player, and Jack is all about the big moments. Absolutely a crucial part of this team and provided a nice reminder of that fact.

Alessandro Bianco—5: Looked confused and overmatched for much of the game, although he was put in a tough place against a Braga side that was always going to come out with rocket fuel in the veins. What did interest me is that he held up physically quite well; to me, that indicates that all he needs is more experience over the next year or two.

Rolando Mandragora—7: Scored a goal and continued to highlight his brilliant positional sense by always popping up in the right place. His technique occasionally lets him down (a genuinely hilarious air kick while in on goal is the evidence) and he’s not the most athletic, but he’s as cerebral as they come and helps the team in ways that don’t always show up on the stat sheet.

Nicolás González—5.5: Had a couple of really good headers that forced Tiago Sá into uncomfortable saves but didn’t really do much in the buildup and should’ve offered more in the final third. Not worried about the card, as someone needed to get in Bastien’s face about the awful decisions.

Arthur Cabral—7.5: Despite what the idiotic refereeing claimed, he scored twice. Always looked like a threat and didn’t make many mistakes, aside from over-dribbling a counter in the first half. And that celebration, my goodness. King shit right there.

Riccardo Saponara—7.5: Had some very Cheesy touches and sometimes looked Fiorentina’s most dangerous player. Starting to think his technical prowess makes him the best natural finisher in the team, which is a strange thing to consider.

Aleksa Terzić—7: Should’ve had the assist on the Cabral goal that got ruled out and generally looked stout at the back and incisive going forward, especially on Arthur’s allowed goal. I still don’t like a left-footed rightback, but it’s all credit to Terzić that he’s managed to make it work.

Gaetano Castrovilli—5: Didn’t do a whole lot but that’s not really what we’re looking at here. He looked comfortable on the ball and he’s probably getting closer to being all the way fit. Of interest was his work as part of a double pivot; not sure if that was just a situational thing or if that’s how Vincenzo Italiano views his long-term fit.

Jonathan Ikoné—5: Had a couple of chances to make stuff happen on the break and didn’t. On the plus side, his miscues weren’t of the spectacular variety we’ve gotten a little too familiar with. They were just ideas that didn’t quite come off. Progress?

Josip Brekalo—5: Had a chance to score (albeit from a very offside position) that he really borked, which is concerning. With Riccardo Sottil approaching fitness, you wonder what his fit is going forward for the foreseeable future.

Sofyan Amrabat—6: His job was to solidify the team and he did just that.

Three things we learned

1. This team does in fact have at least some of that dog in it. With a 4-0 lead from the first leg, it would’ve been very easy for these guys to shrivel into a defensive shell, packing 10 behind the ball and trying to play exclusively on the counter. Instead, they played their game even when trailing, stuck to their principals, and, despite some refereeing shenanigans, recorded a win. It wasn’t the most elegant way to reach the destination, but the Viola showed some fire to get there and that’s exactly what we want.

2. The reserve defenders need more minutes. LMQ has been one of Italy’s most statistically notable defenders this year. Luca Ranieri is a limited but nonetheless promising prospect. Aleksa Terzić still doesn’t convince defensively but offers a combination of physicality and technique that ‘s tough to replicate.

Despite their natural talent, though, it’s really tough for a defender to slot in after an extended absence, especially if the rest of the back line isn’t very stable. While the Igor-Nikola Milenković pairing has generally looked alright, it’s important to get the backups some reps as well, especially for a team competing on 3 (okay, not in Serie A) fronts. This is all about Vincenzo Italiano learning on the job. And, for the record, I’ve been pretty pleased with his progress.

3. Destiny exists (until it doesn’t). Fiorentina is motoring into some fascinating spots in its cup competitions. While this outfit is 5 games away from winning the Conference League, it’s only 3 away from the Coppa Italia. If you combine those (and ignore the league), it feels like the Viola are entirely on track for their first trophy since 2001.

And while that sense of fatalism boost a team to unexpected heights, it only goes as far as the team’s play takes it. I still remember the 2013-2014 Coppa Italia, which—likely as a result of my own purple-tinted glasses and a generous application of the purple bong—I was certain Fiorentian would win. Instead, the team lost in the final to Napoli after some horrifying stuff before kickoff.

And that’s the thing. A sense of destiny can take a team pretty far, but at a certain point, the team has to seize that destiny and own it. Let’s all hope that this edition of la Viola can do just that.