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

The Viola keep setting up obstacles for themselves and then knocking them right back down.

FC Basel v ACF Fiorentina: Semi-Final Second Leg - UEFA Europa Conference League Photo by Luigi Rizzo/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—6: Made 2 very easy saves and didn’t have much else to do. Fine with his kicking. Did flap at a late cross in a way that lifted the heart into the mouth, but got it right. Probably couldn’t have done much on the goal.

Dodô—6.5: His cross created the second goal and he was a constant threat down the right with his crossing. Motored forward tirelessly and won a fair number of fouls, although his penchant for going over dramatically means that he’s way out of position when he loses the ball, which he did a bit too often by either dribbling into dead ends or missing passes infield.

Nikola Milenković—6.5: Rocky at the start, like everyone else, but grew into the game tremendously. Erased Jean-Kévin Augustin and made some key interventions. Came close with a header on the other end. Like a weighted blanket.

Igor—4: Had a bit of a nightmare, slipping over to allow Zeki Amdouni in on goal, earning a cheap card after hacking down Dan Ndoye after the winger dusted him, and giving away possession in comically bad ways a couple of times. Seems more accident-prone than he was last year and it’s hard to figure out why.

Cristiano Biraghi—7: Struggled against Ndoye’s sheer speed, especially through the opening 20 minutes, but found his feet afterwards and even made a couple of good tackles on the flying Swiss international. At the other end, though, he was immense, as his crossing and passing created a litany of chances, particularly for Jack. Captain Cris gets so much abuse from some fans, but games like this are a reminder that he’s a stud.

Giacomo Bonaventura—7: Seemed like the only Fiorentina player with fire in his belly for much of the first half. Wriggled through and past defenders with quick feet and clever feints while also popping up in the box as a supplementary runner. Forced several saves out of Marwin Hitz and, on another day, could’ve easily scored at least twice.

Sofyan Amrabat—5: Rough day at the office for the Morocco superstar. Made some uncharacteristically loose passes and got tackled a couple of times to send Basel sprinting the other way. Did play in a couple of gorgeous passes that could’ve been assists with better finishing, and his ability to motor forward late in the game remains awe-inspiring.

Gaetano Castrovilli—6.5: Misplaced a pass leading the a counterattack that should’ve been a chance, but was quite good otherwise. Pulled very wide to allow Nico to drift infield and teased in some nice crosses while also dropping deep to drive forward on the ball at times. Starting to recapture the form that made him every Serie A fan’s darling a few years ago.

Nicolás González—8: Man of the match. Took the game by the scruff of the neck and dragged it to Fiorentina’s corner, scoring a brace that would’ve made Alberto Gilardino proud. His aerial ability is wildly underrated, but his dribbling, athleticism, and sheer desire to make the difference are just astounding. What a player.

Arthur Cabral—5: Barely saw the ball as he battled 3 big Basel centerbacks playing very deep and narrow, but did a decent job occupying multiple defenders to open space for his teammates. It’s a thankless task that won’t earn a lot of praise, but he did it well enough. Gets a slight boost for working so hard against his former club.

Josip Brekalo—4: Completely off the pace in his 45 minutes. Lost the ball on the rare occasions it reached him, or passed it harmlessly backwards or sideways. Seemed to struggle with Basel’s physicality.

Jonathan Ikoné—4.5: Didn’t accomplish much more than Brekalo, but his pace and directness at least made the RotBlau think about him a little bit, even if he had several Chaos Jonny moments, including a dive in the box that got him booked (albeit harshly) for simulation.

Luca Ranieri—6.5: Booked 90 seconds after entering the fray for a late tackle but didn’t make another mistake; indeed, put in a couple of monster tackles and got through a decent amount of defensive work. Thrilled for him, although it’s odd that he seems to have leapfrogged Lucas Martínez Quarta in the pecking order.

Luka Jović—4: Involved in the buildup for the winner with a looping header back across goal, but had 3 absolutely golden chances to score and couldn’t convert any of them. Also borked a simple pass that sent Basel sprinting the other way for their only chance in extra time. Just a maddening player when he doesn’t score, and that’s all too often.

Antonín Barák—10: A perfect angel.

Rolando Mandragora—n/a: Came on very late to see out the win.

Three things we learned

1. This squad is tough as old boots. I can’t think of the last time I watched a Fiorentina team play this badly for the first 20ish minutes and then turn it around, but that’s what happened. Normally when the Viola struggle early, they just keep flailing, but this bunch got its head on right and got back to work.

It’s hard not to be excited about a group with that kind of attitude and self-belief, and it’s taken these guys to the brink of a trophy (or two). Inter Milan and West Ham United are both really good teams and are likely both favorites in their respective finals, but I’ll ride with this Fiorentina side to the end of the line. They’re not fussed about the odds. They’re just doing the thing, no matter what happens around them.

2. Fiorentina has a lot of avenues to scoring. Whenever Fiorentina’s good, there’s always been a pretty basic way to beat them: sit deep, make them play intricate passes in front of you, and then hit them on the break and watch them shatter. This remained a constant throughout the Cesare Prandelli and Vincenzo Montella eras and continued into Italiano’s. The team felt too specialized, too reliant on a single way of manufacturing chances, and when that way was shut, there wasn’t a counter.

Credit to Italiano (and Daniele Pradè), though, because Fiorentina isn’t just going to tippy-tap the ball around the edge of the area without ever breaking through. While Cabral and Jović are average aerial threats, Nico’s leaping ability means that he’s very dangerous from crossing situations, especially with Biraghi setting him up at the back post. Add in Barák’s height and Jack’s late-arriving runs and you’ve got a team that has a bit more unpredictability and adaptability than some previous editions.

3. The team and the fans are closer than I can ever remember. The traveling fans at the St. Jakob-Park were unbelievable, frequently drowning out the home support with their constant singing. That’s no surprise, as Fiorentina’s fans have been Serie A’s most underrated for the past couple of seasons. Florentines go all out to support their team in every game, and although we celebrate it, we’ve also come to expect it.

The players seem extra-close with the fans these days, though. It was most obvious in this one when a fan suffered a medical emergency, resulting in a lengthy stoppage in play while EMTs tried to sort things out. Most of the Viola squad gathered in front of the away stands and were visibly discussing the situation with their supporters with a familiarity that, in any other situation, would have been heartwarming.

It’s not just during emergencies that this connection has been apparent this year, though. Take a look at Jack’s goal celebration last week, embracing the fans and geeing them up. In seasons past, that closeness would’ve felt remarkable. Now, though, it’s entirely expected. It may not mean anything, but it’s hard not to see this as the mantle of destiny descending on this team. If nothing else, it makes the players and the team even more likeable.