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Season review: Attacking midfield

Smashes, crashes, and near misses.

ACF Fiorentina v Udinese Calcio - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

At the start of the year, this wasn’t a category I thought I’d be writing about. Vincenzo Italiano had molded this team into a 4-3-3 with a regista—Lucas Torreira or Sofyan Amrabat—and a couple of mezzale ahead of them, players who’d drift into wider areas and stay farther forward.

When Fiorentina began to struggle, though, the mister switched things up, bringing in a 4-2-3-1 formation that allowed a number 10 to stay higher up in support of the striker. It felt like a more natural position for Giacomo Bonaventura and especially Antonín Barák. That little tweak was enough to propel Fiorentina to a couple of cup finals, and now feels like the template for next year.

Giacomo Bonaventura

The oldest player on the team was his usual excellent self. Despite a frustrating start to the campaign—so many shots from distance with his off foot—he grew into his role really well. His quick feet and ability to squirm past defenders are qualities that always seemed better suited to a 10, and moving him there unlocked everything as he was allowed to stay higher up and focus on attacking. His experience shined through in the biggest moments and he showed no signs of physical decline, even though he turns 34 two days after next season starts; the team will continue to rely on him for at least another year.

ACF Fiorentina Training Session And Press Conference - UEFA Europa Conference League Final 2022/23
Is it just me or does Jack look like the cool youth pastor?
Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Stats: 49 appearances ( starts), 7 goals, 5 assists, 5 yellow cards, 1 red card

What’s next: He signed a 1-year extension a few months ago so he’ll once again provide the skill and leadership Fiorentina relies on him for, although he may play fewer minutes with both Barák and the incoming Abdelhamid Sabiri vying for his spot.

Grade: B His ability and passion remain undimmed and he saved his best for the brightest lights, although the start to the year wasn’t great.

Antonín Barák

Initially loaned from Hellas Verona, the Czech felt like an odd fit in a 4-3-3 and struggled to make an impact until the switch to a 4-2-3-1. He did most of his damage in the Conference League as Jack remained the regular starter, but Barák offered an entirely different approach, often looking more like a second striker than a number 10. His appreciation for space and obvious class made him a fun and interesting player to watch, but he always seemed a bit peripheral to the action, letting things come to him rather than grabbing control of the game.

FC Basel v ACF Fiorentina: Semi-Final Second Leg - UEFA Europa Conference League
Maybe a moments player, but damn was this a moment.
Photo by Sebastian Widmann - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Stats: 47 appearances (30 starts), 8 goals, 1 assist, 5 yellow cards

What’s next: Fiorentina picked up his €8.5 million option in January, indicating that the brass was very pleased with him, so he’ll be back next year. How he rotates with Bonaventura and Sabiri will be very interesting indeed.

Grade: C+ Had some highlight moments but those moments of class left us wondering why he didn’t do more.

Gaetano Castrovilli

It was a weird season for Tanino, who missed the first 4 months as he recovered from a cruciate injury. It took him some time to ease back in, but once he was comfortable again he picked up right where he left off. What was most interesting is that Italiano deployed him as a box-to-box midfielder rather than a true 10, using his ability to carry the ball and his always-overlooked defensive work to provide some more creativity in the middle. It worked really well, too, and it feels like a player who’d lost his way may have been reinvented, especially if the goalscoring form can stick. He’s back, baby.

ACF Fiorentina v FC Internazionale - Coppa Italia Final
This feels like a meme template waiting to happen.
Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Stats: 26 appearances (11 starts), 4 goals, 1 assist, 3 yellow cards

What’s next: It really depends on the mercato. A pairing with Rolando Mandragora feels too lightweight, but if Fiorentina buys a real Sofyan Amrabat replacement, Castrovilli could very well be back in the starting XI.

Grade: B+ Once he got his feet under him, he was really good in a more functional role than we’d originally thought he could play. If he can play like that over a full season, he might rocket back into national team consideration.

We’ve already graded the goalkeepers, centerbacks, fullbacks, and defensive midfielders. Up next are the wingers.