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

The Viola finished the Serie A campaign with a bang. In Nico’s case, a literal bang.

US Sassuolo v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Player grades

Michele Cerofolini—6.5: Looked really sharp. Made several saves that were eventually flagged for offside, so only one showed up in the stats, but he looks like he could become a Pietro Terracciano-type professional with a long career. While I’m sorry that Pierluigi Gollini and Salvatore Sirigu didn’t work out this year, it’s great to see Big Mikey grab his chance with both gloves and impress.

Aleksa Terzić—6.5: Booked for an early foul on Domenico Berardi and definitely got cooked once or twice by the Sassuolo captain, but hung tough and made some good plays at the back. Showed some good running to get forward but didn’t make much of his chances in the final third. His “assist” to the Cheese wasn’t really anything, but it’s nice to see him on the scoresheet.

Luca Ranieri—7: Got in Berardi’s head a little bit and will be happy to take the card it required. Did a nice job pressing high and sweeping behind Led the team in touches and was very proactive with his passing. Has shown remarkable growth to grow from unwanted to reliable squad player, and could be ready for a bigger role next year.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—6.5: Lost track of Andrea Pinamonti once or twice but was definitely a net positive at the back. Still a little too eager to make things happen sometimes but that’s not the worst shortcoming. Biffed a free header off a corner. Looked pretty natural in the armband.

Dodô—6: Shut down Emil Ceide but still looks lightweight sometimes and is prone to getting bounced off the ball. Got forward but didn’t influence the game much, although he should’ve won a penalty after Rogério elbowed him in the neck in the area. A bit more peripheral than usual, but probably just saving himself.

Alfred Duncan—6.5: Did all the Alfred Duncan things you’d expect, providing solidity and surprisingly penetrative passing. Teed up Cabral for the only interesting moment of the first half. Even took corners. Just a perfect squad player, even if he’s a little loose with his passing at times.

Sofyan Amrabat—6.5: Just fine without wowing anyone. Bodied a delicate Neroverdi midfield at every opportunity but was again a bit imprecise with his passing. Set the tempo well in possession at times without actually offering a lot of edge. Didn’t shield the back 4 as well as you’d like, but Sassuolo are a really tough matchup in that regard.

Gaetano Castrovilli—6: Did his defensive work well enough but didn’t provide much going forward. Might’ve been the whole team’s fault, as nobody really impressed, but he did sting Alessandro Russo’s palms with a nice free kick and looks ready for Wednesday.

Christian Kouamé—5.5: Put in a fantastic shift, as always, but didn’t do a lot in the attacking third. Seemed to be on a different page from his teammates at times. Picked up an unnecessary booking which means he’ll miss the the league opener next year.

Arthur Cabral—7: I’m not worried about the penalty, which was extraordinarily harsh. I’m more focused on a poacher’s goal, which is good, and a chance he created by shouldering past two defenders but fired straight at Russo. That takes him to 16 goals on the season in all competitions and 8 in the league, and gives him an excellent springboard for next year.

Jonathan Ikoné—5.5: Had a couple of tantalizing moments but couldn’t put take the final step. Remains the most confusing player in the squad. It’s like he rolls a D20 with every touch; when he crits, it’s the coolest thing in the world, but the other 95% of his rolls just don’t quite get there.

Nicolás González—7: Scored a magnificent goal, got Ruan Tressoldi a second yellow, and was sort of maybe somehow involved in Rogério getting angry enough for his red card, maybe. More importantly, sounds like his collision with the post left both of them relatively unscathed, and the winger’s ready for Wednesday.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6: Did Jack things, like you’d expect from Jack.

Riccardo Saponara—10: If this was his final game for Fiorentina, the Cheese just gave himself an unbelievable send-off. The goal was a classic Rickinara banger, the kind we’ve seen him score half a dozen times in the past couple of years. The assist was almost as good. If he doesn’t re-sign this summer, I’m going to miss his bald head and big smile so dang much.

Lorenzo Venuti—5: Didn’t have much to do.

Alessandro Bianco—n/a: Ditto.

Three things we learned

1. This is the red-cardiest fixture on the schedule. I have nothing against Sassuolo. Indeed, I admire them immensely: despite being based in the smallest city in Serie A (40,000 people), the Neroverdei have spent a decade in the top flight due to an unbelievable scouting and talent development setup. They’re basically Udinese but instead of sitting deep and being obnoxious, they pass the ball around and genuinely entertain. As far as I know, they get along fine with Fiorentina, as they’ve done plenty of business without rancor and the supporters don’t have any notable beef.

The numbers say otherwise: in 19 meetings since Sassuolo reached Serie A, they’ve combined for 8. That jumps up to 4 in the last 4, and 6 in the last 10. That’s a sending off every 2.4 games. The Serie A average this year was a sending off every 5.3 games. This fixture is more than twice as likely to see a red card than a random league game. I don’t know if it’s a random quirk (probable!) or a function of two teams playing high lines and risky styles (also probable!), but it’s a thing.

2. Italiano’s working on some new stuff. This was a dead rubber match, so I wasn’t expecting much of tactical interest. Something that really jumped out to me, though, was how the front three lined up. Cabral spent a lot of time pulled towards the right, sometimes in the channel between the centerback and the fullback, while Kouamé slid across to play between the centerbacks and Ikoné pulled very wide to the right. In the second half, Ikoné and Cabral swapped spots at times, with the striker all the way on the right and Ikoné dropping off as an actual false nine.

This was clearly a rehearsed tactic and, in the final dress rehearsal before taking on West Ham, it was a wrinkle that Vincenzo Italiano wanted to add. The Hammers under David Moyes sit deep and soak up pressure, so it’s a matter of figuring out how to break them down. Putting a lone striker up against burly centerbacks Kurt Zouma and Nayef Aguerd and crossing is a bad idea. Add in the aerial ability of defensive midfielders Tomáš Souček and Declan Rice, and you’ve got a no-fly zone in the middle. For a team that likes crossing as much as Fiorentina, it’s a tough nut to crack.

By moving Cabal (or Luka Jović) wider, though, he’ll get the opportunity to attack the much shorter leftback Aaron Cresswell at the back post, while González (still an aerial threat) can use his quickness to challenge those big boys in the middle, taking them out of their comfort zone. This also opens up the entire left wing for a rampaging Cristiano Biraghi, who’s a much better crosser than Terzić at this point. I doubt this is how Italiano will set the boys out, but I’m expecting to see this variation at some point if Plan A doesn’t work.

3. That was goddamn exhausting. This Serie A season felt like the longest I can remember. Part of that is that it did last for a really long time: throwing a World Cup in the middle of it stretched things out in a weird way, both temporally and emotionally. Competing on 3 fronts and playing twice a week only added to the impression. But dang. I’m so excited to take a little bit of a breath this summer and refocus, and I haven’t even been playing. It’s amazing that this team has kept its focus for so long, through so many different situations, and is still churning out wins.