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Fiorentina 1-1 Atalanta: Player grades and 3 things we learned

A fascinating tactical battle that occasionally descended into chaos. This is peak Serie A.

ACF Fiorentina v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—6.5: Not at fault for the goal, which took a slight deflection off Milenković. Quick off his line a couple of times to sweep up potentially dangerous situations. Didn’t make a save.

Dodô—6.5: His 97 touches were 27 more than anyone else, and there were some very good ones. Skipped away from challenges to get Fiorentina moving forward, frequently jetting infield rather than staying wide. Played narrow defensively as well and was excellent; 4 tackles, including several big ones, were the highlight. Caught napping on the goal (and it was his bad pass that started Atalanta’s move) but quite good otherwise.

Nikola Milenković—6.5: Struggled a bit in the first half tracking the pacy Rasmus Højlund but steadied himself and really excelled in the second half, particularly against the pace of Luis Muriel and Jeremie Boga. Made a couple of huge interventions as the game opened up in the final minutes. Stepped into midfield a lot in the first half, then dropped deeper in the second.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—7: Nearly scored after 90 seconds and generally acquitted himself well. Atalanta clearly targeted him by putting the hulking Duván Zapata on him and bombarding him with long balls, but he kept the Colombian quiet with his cleverness and quickness. Had a couple of little hiccups but nothing egregious.

Aleksa Terzić—5.5: Had one brilliant run and cross just before the half that showcased his athleticism, but his defensive positioning is always worrisome and he didn’t really do all that much in the final third either. Very slow to react on the goal, allowing Joakim Mæhle to get in way too easily.

Antonín Barák—6: At his silky, understated best, finding space between the lines and linking play in the first half before going quiet in the second. Had a nice shot in the first half and a few nifty bits of play but still seems peripheral to the action too often; would be nice if he tried to grab the game by the scruff of the neck sometimes.

Rolando Mandragora—6.5: Definitely not Sofyan Amrabat but held down the fort well enough. Mostly kept Teun Koopmeiners quiet and kept the ball ticking over. Becoming more and more convinced that he’s Italian Milan Badelj, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.

Gaetano Castrovilli—6.5: A bit peripheral in the first half but turned it on after the break. His movement off the ball was crisp, his passing was clever, and he drew fouls time and again. Played in some good balls and showed some swagger while getting through a solid amount of defensive work too.

Jonathan Ikoné—5.5: Had a couple of good runs forward but didn’t make them pay out. Tidy with his passing without being incisive. Still always looked dangerous even without ever actually threatening.

Arthur Cabral—8.5: Took his penalty brilliantly and had a couple other nice shots too, including the kind of turn-and-fire that we haven’t seen from him. Held the ball up very well and led the pressing superbly. Genuinely starting to think this is who he is, rather than this being just a passing moment of sparkling form.

Nicolás González—8.5: Man of the match. Created havoc every time he touched the ball; the only way la Dea could stop him was to foul him, which they did 5 times. Desperately unlucky not to score, either with a curler or a point blank header that Marco Sportiello saved almost by mistake. What a goddamn player.

Josip Brekalo—n/a: Really bad that he was allowed to continue after being visible knocked unconscious. Fiorentina needs to take a long, hard look at itself; you’d think a team that saw one of its doctors jailed a few years ago for neglecting basic procedures wouldn’t allow this to happen.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6.5: Buzzed around and produced a couple of very neat turns to make space for himself. Would’ve scored the winner with a perfect header but Sportiello’s soul left his body and was replaced by, I dunno, some goalkeeping elemental.

Ricardo Sottil—6: He’s back to lacking the end product, which was a problem that he’d fixed earlier this year; pretty sure that means he just needs to play himself back into shape. Did nutmeg Rafael Tolói into the abyss, though, which was pretty cool.

Cristiano Biraghi—6: Hit the post with a free kick that was literally his first touch after coming on (that’s the 3rd game in a row the Viola have hit the woodwork, by the way). Such an intelligent passer of the ball and helped move things along, even if he had a shaky moment or two on the back foot.

Alessandro Bianco—n/a: Nice of Vincenzo Italiano to get him a few minutes.

Three things we learned

1. This is the most underrated rivalry in Serie A. My notes for this game were about twice as long as usual, as there were so many fascinating tactical wrinkles. Vincenzo Italiano did his weird centerback-as-midfielder thing, played wildly narrow fullbacks, and occasionally had his wingers swap sides. Gian Piero Gasperini, on the other hand, played his wingbacks on their opposite sides, used Koopmeiners as a 10, let Rafael Tolói drive way forward at times, and generally did Atalanta stuff. This was must-watch soccer for the nerds.

Beyond that, though, there’s some real needle here. Gasperini famously despises Fiorentina and has for years. He reportedly blew his top in the tunnel, getting into a fracas with Daniele Pradè, while Joe Barone and opposite Tony D’Amico also had to be separated. Marten de Roon remorselessly hacked down González multiple times, then stood over him screaming. LMQ and Zapata had a very physical running battle, as did Dodô and Zappacosta. And, in case this feels too one-sided, Fiorentina refused to return possession after Atalanta put the ball out for an injured player. These teams seem to genuinely dislike each other.

Atalanta is the unlikeliest success story in Europe over the past 7 years. I have nothing against Bergamo. Every Atalanta fan I interact with online is lovely. Gian Piero Gasperini is a really smart and innovative tactician. We should like this team, or at least not mind them. Instead, this fixture feels personal now. And, to me, that’s cinema.

2. These guys are really starting to play for each other. I generally leave the celebration analysis to experts like wolfpackallday, but the moment between González and Cabral was so wonderful. After the penalty was awarded, Nico took the ball and brought it to Arthur, insisting that the striker take it. When the Brazilian duly buried the spot kick, he pointed to his Argentinean teammate and they shared a massive embrace.

That’s the kind of selflessness you get from a team that’s really in the zone. The players want to support each other and are willing to give that little bit extra. Whether it’s something that obvious, or just a little incident like LMQ leaving one in on Zapata after the Colombian flattened him, these are the vignettes that demonstrate togetherness and toughness. You want the players to stick up for themselves, but when they stick up for each other, there’s a little extra magic.

3. Italiano’s figuring out his rotations. At the start of the year, Italiano was regularly bringing 9 new starters into midweek games, with predictably chaotic results. Over the past few months, though, it seems that he’s making a genuine effort not to change more than 3 players per match, unless it’s a dead rubber like Sivasspor. That continuity has allowed the team to build on strong relationships and keep the ball rolling while still allowing key starters some rest.

With Lech Poznań 3 goals behind, expect a heavily-rotated XI on Thursday, but also expect some of the usual suspects to feature. Cousin Vinnie seems to have decided that the momentum generated by giving his starters lots of minutes outweighs the risk of injury, and so far, that decision has proven to be exactly correct. It’s a good reminder that he’s constantly improving as a coach, and he’s only going to get better. Fiorentina is lucky to have him.