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Genk 2-2 Fiorentina: Player grades and 3 things we learned

Plenty of things to overreact to in this one but only a couple that are actually worth a real freakout.

This tracksuit, though.
Photo by JOHAN EYCKENS/Belga/AFP via Getty Images

Player grades

Oliver Christensen—5.5: Made a couple of decent saves but flapped badly at a cross that he was lucky not to concede from. Put the team under pressure with a lot of lobbed passes that didn’t reach midfield.

Michael Kayode—5.5: Showcased his exuberant pace a couple of times but didn’t get much going forward. Solid enough on the back foot despite getting whistled for some dubious fouls that left him quite frustrated.

Nikola Milenković—7: Shut down Andi Zeqiri at one end and got an assist at the other. Won every header and rejected every Genk attack that came his way. Not at fault on either goal, but as the leader of the defense, he should be more involved organizing everyone at set pieces.

Luca Ranieri—9: Scored twice. Nutmegged someone in the box to set up a glorious opportunity for Milenković. Tied Sottil’s shoe at one point. Had his own boot ripped after getting stepped on. Defended pretty well, all things considered. Did literally everything in this game and did it with a smile on his face and violence in his heart. Might be my new favorite player on this team.

Cristiano Biraghi—6.5: Involved in both goals, notching an assist and a hockey assist from set pieces, and created a couple other opportunities from dead balls. Held up alright defensively but did have a couple dicey moments and had a running battle with Alieu Fadera and Daniel Muñoz that threatened to boil over, leading to his removal. Need a calmer head from the captain.

Alfred Duncan—6.5: All the usual criticisms persist, primarily about his occasional sloppiness in possession, but those misplaced passes are more than balanced by his line-breaking distribution and positional intelligence. Beaten by Mark McKenzie on the second equalizer, but never should’ve been marking the big centerback anyways.

Arthur Melo—5: Had some lovely touches and pinged a couple of nice passes but didn’t really influence the game like he should’ve. With Fiorentina losing the possession battle, was forced to do a lot more defensive work than is ideal and that’s just not where he’s at his best.

Rolando Mandragora—4.5: Failed to clear the ball on the first goal and didn’t really offer much of anything. With Duncan and Arthur in midfield, I expected to see him making a lot of those runs over the top, but instead he mostly stayed put in the middle.

Nicolás González—5.5: Full of intent but seemed off the pace, failing to register a shot, and didn’t do much with the ball besides lose it, completing just half his passes. To his credit, was remarkably dynamic defensively. Came off with an injury at the half and was probably exhausted after playing so many minutes already this year.

Lucas Beltrán—5.5: Pressed really well and created a few awkward moments for Genk’s defenders. Dropped into space and played a few neat passes and showed some skill on the ball. Didn’t manage a shot but was pretty well starved of service.

Riccardo Sottil—5: Won a team-leading 4 fouls and showed some of the explosiveness that made him one of Italy’s most coveted prospects, but still seems to be finding his feet after an injury-riddled couple years. Not losing the ball but also not at all positive in the final third. At least he’s cut some of the diving out of his game, which has made him look a much better player.

Christian Kouamé—5: Tracked back to help his defense and deserves praise for his diligence but didn’t get many opportunities going forward and failed to shake Gerardo Arteaga.

Maxime Lopez—5: A couple of nice touches but very flimsy defensively. May need some more time to get up to speed but his lack of physicality could be a real issue if Vincenzo Italiano can’t mitigate it with some tactical maneuvering.

Fabiano Parisi—6: Caused Genk trouble with the ball at his feet, driving the Viola up the field. Should’ve had an assist to put the game to bed but saw Nzola head over instead.

Josip Brekalo—4.5: Had a decent try from range but didn’t really do much, as has been standard for his career in Florence. Feels like the odd man out once Jonathan Ikoné is back to full health.

M’Bala Nzola—4.5: His holdup play and off-ball movement are commendable, but at a certain point, a striker needs to score, and he missed another very simple chance to do just that.

Three things we learned

1. The midfield just doesn’t have enough steel. Replacing Sofyan Amrabat with Arthur was always going to leave the engine room looking pretty slender, but it’s been worse than expected. Opponents have just bullied Fiorentina through the middle; last year, the Moroccan ensured that wasn’t an option worth exploring.

In particular, the area right in front of the defense has been a turnstile, as Arthur/Mandragora/Lopez don’t have the mobility or physicality to protect the back line, which in turn leaves the defenders alarmingly exposed. Italiano’s solution has been to pack extra bodies into the center, with the fullbacks often moving inside and, in this one, an extra midfielder instead of a number 10 to solidify things, but it wasn’t particularly successful.

He’ll doubtless be on the hunt for other solutions, but until he finds one, this is going to be Fiorentina’s primary weakness and one we should get used to seeing exploited by opponents every week, at least until Daniele Pradè and company can sort out a solution.

2. There’s no threat in behind. One of the reasons the Viola have looked so bad is that opponents have pressed them very high up. Against a team boasting the speed of González, Sottil, Kouamé, Nzola, and Beltrán, that should be suicidal. As we’ve seen, though, it isn’t at all.

The main problem is that none of those guys really like running in behind, preferring instead to get the ball to feet, turn, and drive at defenders, or body them up and roll off them. An intelligent coach will use that, pushing his defense higher and constricting the space in the middle, which in turns allows his team to press Fiorentina’s midfield more effectively (see the previous item).

Italiano may have to tell one of his attackers to operate as a decoy, a vertical threat to keep opponents honest; it’s what Vincenzo Montella did with Ryder Matos in the glory years. With Arthur and Lopez as the triggermen, the threat of someone roaring in behind should open space for everyone else.

3. This team isn’t broken. I’ve seen a lot of discourse recently (not necessarily here, but in the general Violasphere) about how this Fiorentina is a fundamentally flawed group of players with a fundamentally flawed coach, and I think that’s a pretty severe overreaction. This was a midweek game hundreds of miles from home and on the back of an international break, played in serious heat against a team that won its league last year. It was always going to be tough.

At this point last season, Fiorentina was in the midst of a 7-game winless stretch, including a 1-1 draw to RFS in the Conference League opener, sitting 10th in Serie A, and with its only league win a fluky 3-2 over Cremonese in the opener. That group clearly figured some things out; let’s give this one the grace to do the same before we dismiss it as hopeless and pile on every player and staff member as incompetent and lacking grinta.

There’s very little you can learn from a single game that is projectable over an entire season. You can see trends that occur in other games, but that’s about it. Despite a rather bungled outing here, this is the same Fiorentina that just knocked off Atalanta a few days earlier; we weren’t criticizing Italiano and his players for that one, so maybe let’s take it a little easy here.