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Rapid Wien 1-0 Fiorentina: Player grades and 3 things we learned

A mighty bad day at the office means the Viola will need to work overtime to stay in Europe.

ACF Fiorentina v Newcastle United - Sela Cup Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—5: The only shot on target he faced was the penalty, but had a lot of trouble in possession, constantly booming backpasses out to touch and preventing his side from getting in a rhythm. Even so, it’s ludicrous to blame him alone for this loss.

Dodô—6.5: Not surprising that the most energetic player in the XI was the only one who didn’t start on Thursday. Buzzed around as per usual and had some bright moments jetting forward and infield, but his final product was lacking.

Nikola Milenković—6.5: Kept Guido Burgstaller quiet and generally looked unfussed by anything Rapid Wien threw at him, aside from that ugly flurry in the first half when every Fiorentina player turned into a cubist painting. Hit a couple of gorgeous, 60-yard diagonals that could be a very interesting tool.

Luca Ranieri—6: Solid enough at the back but a bit loose with the ball at times. His penchant for cramps is becoming a mild concern, as that knocked him out of the Conference League final as well.

Cristiano Biraghi—5: Rough day for the captain. Banged two free kicks in a row into the wall, missed crosses and passes, whiffed a shot, and generally looked off the pace. Strange not to see Fabiano Parisi.

Arthur Melo—7: Man of the match. Smooth as warm butter on the ball, both dribbling and passing. Constantly found passes through the lines and, failing that, carried it forward himself. Adds a tempo to the attack we haven’t seen for Fiorentina since David Pizarro.

Rolando Mandragora—4.5: Gave away a boneheaded penalty but also offered very little on or off the ball. Didn’t seem up for Rapid Wien’s physicality. Normally he’s invisible in a good way; today, he was invisible in the worst way.

Nicolás González—6.5: A step slow, a day late, a dollar short, and still far and away the best attacker. Won fouls, beat his man, and nearly created a goal from nothing at the death with his furious pressing. Just a monster of a player, even when he’s not at his peak.

Giacomo Bonaventura—4.5: Ran himself into culs-de-sac multiple times, failed to spark the attack, and even got himself booked for spiking the ball after Nzola was called for a phantom foul. The most experienced guy on the pitch needs to do a lot better.

Josip Brekalo—4: Not in it at all. Unable to beat his man, lacked the physicality to beat the tight marking, and pouted when he got subbed off despite accomplishing nothing. Doesn’t seem suited to matches in which athleticism is crucial, a bit like a less charismatic Riccardo Saponara.

M’Bala Nzola—4.5: Received very little service, but did nothing at all with what he got. Took some heavy touches and failed to get his teammates involved at all, although he was mostly left on an island and stuck sending messages in bottles to the other guys wearing purple shirts.

Riccardo Sottil—6.5: Made an enormous impact, using his sheer athleticism to drive Fiorentina up the pitch and keep Rapid pinned back. Beat his marker time and again, played in some decent balls, and kept his head up. Most importantly, stayed on his feet and even bodied some poor sucker into the turf. When he’s not looking for fouls, he’s an entirely different sort of critter.

Gino Infantino—5.5: Got himself in the right places, which is encouraging. Didn’t quite do the right things when he arrived in those places, which isn’t quite as encouraging but is okay in the long run, even when it’s a bit irritating on a game to game basis.

Lucas Beltrán—6: His off-ball movement seems really good and it’s not hard to imagine him and Nico forming a very frightening partnership in the next few months. Almost nicked a goal late on.

Alfred Duncan—6: Did all the cool Alfred stuff you’d expect and was even pretty tidy, not losing any balls he shouldn’t have lost. Such an underrated player, even if he’s a bit unreliable.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—5.5: Almost scored the greatest centerback goal of all time, rumbling and bumbling and stumbling from his own half into the opposing area, but ran out of gas right at the end.

Three things we learned

1. It takes a little while to get into the groove. This result was always possible, largely because Rapid Wien is a month into its season, while Fiorentina’s been playing competitive fixtures for under a week. Italiano clearly recognized this and tried to keep his XI from Saturday’s win over Genoa together, but the weather meant his plan backfired. Even so, let’s all remember that a poor result at the start of the season doesn’t mean that the season is doomed.

2. The centerbacks need help building out from the back. Rapid were very good out of possession. Zoran Barisic had his players mark the defenders and midfielders very tightly whenever Fiorentina tried to pass out from deep, pinching the far-side winger and fullback very narrow to eliminate gaps. As a result, there wasn’t any space to play through, which disrupted the usual buildup patterns the Viola use. While the visitors quickly figured out what was happening, they weren’t good enough to hit those long switches and break quickly into space.

Rapid were unable to continue that approach for 90 minutes in the extreme heat, and began sitting deeper in the second half, allowing Fiorentina to advance the ball more easily. Italiano needs to develop a counter to this fantastically-executed pressing approach. It might be dropping Nico deeper so he can simply dribble the ball forward. It might be moving Arthur between the centerbacks to hit those long balls instead of Milenković (who nailed a couple like prime Pirlo) and Ranieri. Whatever the solution, though, it was clear that Barisic got the better of the tactical matchup, at least in the first half.

3. It’s really hard to play when the temperature is that high. Conditions like these always favor the underdog. It’s easier to do the out-of-possession stuff since it doesn’t require the combination of thinking and fine motor control that in-possession stuff does. Even when you’re on the verge of heat exhaustion, you can flog your carcass into another sprint to close someone down through sheer willpower. Making a run and then controlling a high pass adds another dimension of difficulty.

I’d guess it was a big part of why Jack kept putting his head down and dribbling into corners, or Biraghi kept hitting crosses and shots into the first defender, and why everyone else seemed to be off the pace. It’s also why the subs all looked so much better: it’s easier to make that difference when you aren’t as overheated as the guy replacing. Hopefully it’ll cool down a bit for next week and let these guys play their game a bit more, because otherwise Italiano needs to figure out a solution there as well.