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Fiorentina 1-2 Inter Milan: Player grades and 3 things we learned

You can’t fault the effort. You can barely fault the result.

ACF Fiorentina v FC Internazionale - Coppa Italia Final Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—10: Made a huge play on Edin Džeko early on in which he seemed to terrify the striker into missing and made a couple of solid saves otherwise. Not at fault for either goal. Fine with the ball at his feet and fine sweeping off his line.

Dodô—10: Vital at both ends, creating a few good chances with his raiding runs forward and blocking a Robin Goesens effort at the other end that would have killed the game. Too eager to do too much at times and ended up losing the ball cheaply in the process, but definitely a net positive.

Nikola Milenković—10: Not a good day for the big man. Slow to step up on Inter Milan’s first goal (although LMQ was also at fault) and failed to track Lautaro Martínez on the second. Had a couple other tough moments as well. To his credit, shutting down the Nerazzurri forwards 1-v-1 for 90 minutes is essentially an impossible task.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—10: Slipped on Martínez’ first goal, allowing the striker to get through untouched, and was caught way too high up on Džeko’s chance. Struggled a bit with Romelu Lukaku as well. His desire to shoulder all the responsibility is admirable but too ambitious and often makes him look more frantic than controlled.

Cristiano Biraghi—10: Struggled early with Denzel Dumfries’ pace but really improved as the game wore on. Twice came close to equalizing, once with a free kick that fizzed wide and once with a volley that fizzed over. Answered those who’ve accused him of not really caring, because this is one of the most heart-wrenching Fiorentina photos you’ll ever see.

Gaetano Castrovilli—10: Made 2 huge tackles in the opening 20 minutes to prevent Federico Dimarco from getting down the wing and looked very comfortable in a deeper role than usual. Progressed the ball well, kept things tidy, and helped crowd Inter out of the midfield, forcing them down the wings or long. May not be the superstar we thought he was when he burst onto the scene, but looks a much more complete player than expected.

Sofyan Amrabat—10: Threw himself around admirably and went on a few trademark lung-busting runs to track opposing runners deep into the Viola half. A bit imprecise with his passing at times but showed a bit more guile in the final third, which is an interesting development in his profile.

Giacomo Bonaventura—10: Helped make the first goal and looked active as ever wriggling through and past would-be tacklers, running Marcelo Brozović ragged in particular. Did miss a couple of opportunities to play in Cabral or Nico, electing to shoot or take a few extra touches, but clearly worked his socks off and made the team better.

Nicolás González—10: What an opening goal and what a player. Won fouls and looked a constant menace to the Inter defense. You always got the feeling that any breakthrough would involve him. Just needed a little more help.

ACF Fiorentina v FC Internazionale - Coppa Italia Final Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Arthur Cabral—10: Struggled to find space as the lone striker up against 3 defenders. Gave Francesco Acerbi and Matteo Darmian some difficult moments but just wasn’t involved enough. Unlucky to be called for a phantom foul on Samir Handanović that looked, at least to me, like a fair challenge that made the goalkeeper spill the ball into his own net.

Jonathan Ikoné—10: The assist is what makes him such a tantalizing player; he can do every little thing a world-class winger can do, just not as often. Didn’t manage much aside from the assist and seemed a bit lost on the left rather than his usual right, but clearly had the Inter defense very nervous.

Rolando Mandragora—10: Tried to solidify the middle a bit and allow the forwards to push even higher up. Did fine but was fairly anonymous.

Riccardo Sottil—10: Unable to shake free of Dumfries and Darmian for the most part.

Luka Jović—10: If you saw his inconsolable state after the triple blast, you know that at least it matters to him. His consistent inability to finish chances, though, makes him a maddening striker to watch.

Luca Ranieri—10: Looked quite solid. His personal storyline this year, from rejected by Vincenzo Italiano to possibly the 2nd-best centerback on the roster, is a real credit to his character and ability.

Aleksa Terzić—10: Teased in a couple of decent crosses playing on the right.

Three things we learned

1. It’s hard for one striker to impact a game against 3 defenders. We’ve seen this time and again this year and it makes perfect sense. It’s hard enough for a forward to beat a defender with another covering; beating a defender with 2 more covering is even more difficult. The channels tend to get narrower, which makes it harder for Cabral in particular to get in behind, especially against an opponent playing a deep line, and he can’t drop too deep because then there’s simply no threat over the top.

This may be intentional on Italiano’s part: if the opponent uses 3 defenders to mark 1 attacker, there will be numerical advantages elsewhere, making it much easier to possess and progress the ball. If the desire is to get more out of the strikers, though, there needs to be another solution.

Francesco Acerbi of Fc Internazionale and Arthur Cabral of...
Even if he brings this ball down, there’s 2 more defenders ready to swarm him on his touch.
Photo by Andrea Staccioli/Insidefoto/LightRocket via Getty Images

Maybe it’s isolating Cabral against a smaller defender like Darmian and letting him try to roll him. Maybe it’s pushing him wider and letting him combine with the wingers more while a midfielder breaks in behind. Whatever the solution, though, it’s notable that Fiorentina’s attack looked much better with another center forward out there, as Inter’s rearguard lost its 2-man advantage and suddenly only had 1 covering defender. Figuring out how to tweak the approach for these circumstances is likely high on Italiano’s to-do list for the summer.

2. The weaker team has to gamble. The mister faced criticism for his naivety in pushing forward and playing a high line after taking the lead in this one, much like he has all year. The traditional approach after taking an early lead is to drop deeper and play on the break, forcing the opposition to venture higher and thus leave more space to break into. Fiorentina never do that and, in this game like in many others, it cost them dearly.

I’m going to defend Cousin Vinnie here. First, Inter is simply too good a team to drop off and let them batter you. Martínez, Džeko, and Lukaku are all strong, all clever with their movement, and all excellent at attacking crosses. Dimarco, Brozović, Nicolò Barella, and Hakan Çalhanoglu are all excellent crossers of the ball and capable of unlocking a defense. There was no way that parking the bus would’ve resulted in a clean sheet; Inter have scored the 2nd-most goals in Serie A this year and hit more crosses than anyone. A deep block against them just doesn’t work.

The psychological side matters here to. Fiorentina were never likely to keep a clean sheet, so staying on the front foot made more sense that scoring early and retreating into a shell that requires a reactive mindset; Inter would’ve scored eventually and the players would’ve had to shift their focus and approach completely, leading to further disorganization. By maintaining a consistent approach, Italiano made it easier on his players to know what their jobs were. It didn’t work in practice, but the theory was sound.

And now I’ll return to those bolded words at the top of this section. Inter were always the more likely side to win. Just look at the league table. Or the teams’ respective financial situations. Or the fact that one of these two is in the Champions League final and the other is in the Conference League. When you’re the underdog, you have to take bigger risks to come away with the win than the favorite, who has the luxury of relying on sheer quality to get through. That’s what happened here.

Playing the high line and hoping that the defenders could cope 1-v-1 with world-class strikers was risky, yes. But was it riskier than pulling everyone farther away from Inter’s goal and getting shelled for 87 minutes? I really don’t think so. The execution may not have been perfect, from either the players or the manager, but the mindset wasn’t necessarily wrong, especially without the benefit of hindsight.

3. I love this team more than ever. I really thought that, when Massimiliano Irrati (who reffed a pretty dang good game) blew this one dead, I’d be furious with the Viola. “How could you take the lead and lose? How could you fail to muster more of a threat? How could you let them score like that? There was a trophy RIGHT THERE and you let it slip through your fingers.”

Instead, I saw these guys weeping uncontrollably—Biraghi, Jović, Cabral—or stonefacedly staring into the distance—Castrovilli, Milenković, Martínez Quarta—as they tried to process their emotions. They reached deep inside of themselves and left every bit of their souls out on the grass of the Olimpico. As a Fiorentina fan, I’ve come to expect heartbreak more than anything else; take a look at the pinned tweet on our account.

And that’s okay. I didn’t get to see them win in 2001, so this would have been my first Fiorentina trophy as a fan. I’m sad they didn’t and I’m desperate for a Conference League win now. Maybe it’s that I’m solidly into my mid-30s and things don’t sting like they did when I was a teenager. Maybe I’ve learned to control my emotions better, to not lash out when I’m hurting. But my first reaction at the end of the game was, “I love this team. I love these players. I wouldn’t change them for anything.”