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Lech Poznań 1-4 Fiorentina: Player grades and 3 things we learned

13 straight unbeaten and a pretty clear path into the semifinals. The Viola keep on rolling.


Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—6.5: Didn’t have all that much to do. No chance on the goal as his defense put down the controller and walked away. Did a nice job claiming crosses and maintaining possession.

Cristiano Biraghi—6.5: Weird game for the captain. Really shaky defensively in the first half; everything Lech Poznań created came from his side. Locked it down much better after the half and added an assist to go with a few decent balls in. Maybe just needed those first 45 minutes to wake all the way up.

Luca Ranieri—6: Looked a step behind, especially in the first half. Confused on the goal and struggled to track Mikael Ishak at times. Had a couple of poor decisions on the ball, too. Did provide a couple of moments that could’ve been on the highlight reel, including an acrobatic scissor kick cross and a damn laser off a Castrovilli pass in open play. Not going to jump Igor or Lucas Martínez Quarta in the pecking order, but he’s competent and fun.

Nikola Milenković—6: Probably lucky not to concede a penalty and earn a red card after leaning into Ishak’s back early on after the Swede had jetted past him. Had a couple other hiccups, especially early, but improved as the game wore on.

Dodô—6.5: Has figured out his role and embraced it. Constantly popped up in weird, narrow positions but kept the ball ticking over and looked to drive forward whenever possible. Held up well defensively, but it’s his newfound confidence in possession that really stands out.

Rolando Mandragora—6.5: Heavily involved in two of the goals and did what he needed to do, although he had some trouble figuring out his positioning in the first half. More and more, feels like would happen if Milan Badelj was a moments player rather than an invisibly excellent contributor for 90 minutes.

Sofyan Amrabat—7: Sloppy with his passing at times, but his presence allowed Fiorentina to dominate the center of the park. Mauled anyone who had the misfortune to venture near him and won the ball time and again. What a player.

Josip Brekalo—7: Tidy and clever rather than dynamic. Looked decent breaking into space, mostly as a passer rather than a dribbler. May never be the sort of winger who can make things happen, but looks a very useful complementary piece as a wide playmaker.

Giacomo Bonaventura—7.5: Took his goal so well and contributed effectively throughout. His twisting, cunning turns around the area forced the Lech Poznań defense to react time and again as he beat his man, forcing another defender to shuffle across and leave space elsewhere. Still has It, whatever It is.

Nicolás González—8: Man of the match despite being forced off early after a knee-to-knee collision. Created the first goal and scored the second. Constant thorn in the hosts’ side with his athleticism, dribbling, and intelligent movement. What a goddamn player. What a goddamn player.

Arthur Cabral—7.5: Scored the kind of poacher’s goal that Jović was supposed to specialize in. Pressed superbly and helped prevent Lech from building anything in deep positions as he brought his bizarre brand of localized chaos to every action. Missed a really good chance but was, on the balance, absolutely superb.

Jonathan Ikoné—7.5: A very Jonny game. Had a couple of scintillating moments that concluded with irritatingly bad decisions, but then scored a world-class goal. Remains the most mystifying player on the roster but can do stuff that nobody else can.

Gaetano Castrovilli—6: Looked eager enough and created a couple of chances while also firing a decent one wide of the goal. Really starting to look like he’s figuring out his job within this setup.

Luka Jović—5: Didn’t do much, although it felt like both teams had pretty much folded it up by the time he came on, so don’t judge him to harshly.

Antonín Barák—n/a: A couple of tidy touches but didn’t really have time to stamp his mark on proceedings.

Riccardo Sottil—n/a: Our handsome boy produced a couple of NSFW turns but couldn’t quite get the end product.

Three things we learned

1. The high press is an incredible weapon. Lech Poznań technically won the possession battle (51% to 49%) but it sure didn’t feel that way. They mostly kept the ball deep and shuffled it laterally until a Viola player got too close, then pumped it long. The Kolejorz probably weren’t expecting to build much through the middle, but aside from a 20-minute stretch in the first half, they were completely unable to work the ball forward in any way except via thumps for the strikers to chase.

That’s down to Fiorentina’s superb defensive shape and pressing structure. Cabral’s work was particularly outstanding, but everyone did a good job of herding the hosts into a corner and then forcing them to give the ball away. By the second half, you could feel that Lech had pretty well capitulated, acknowledging that they simply couldn’t get the ball forward on the ground. That’s a testament to Vincenzo Italiano’s work with these players and to their ability to make his ideas a reality.

2. Nico González is on another level. He falls prey to niggles. His finishing can frustrate. He lets the ball run under his foot sometimes. Nobody knows his best position. But make no mistake: Nico is the best attacker on this team. His ability to beat his man, win a header, find space, and just generally make things happen is unique. Sure, Ikoné, Sottil, Bonaventura, and Castrovilli can occasionally replicate his impact, but nobody can consistently offer as much of a threat. González è un fuoriclasse.

3. Italiano is very smart. Remember earlier this year when the narrative about Fiorentina was that Cousin Vinnie was a one-trick pony? That all he knew was pressing? That he couldn’t figure out how to beat a deep block? That he’d never get this team past a vaguely enjoyable also-ran? That he was basically Gegenpress Iachini?

About that. I’m going to need to re-watch this one to figure out what changed at the half, but Fiorentina came out and dominated, creating so many opportunities and conceding none. The fullbacks’ roles changed, I felt, and the result was second half dominance. When you combine that intelligence with his leadership qualities—it seems like this team will follow him to the gates of hell without even blinking—and you’ve got one of Europe’s most underrated managers.