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Fiorentina 0 (5)-0 (4) Bologna: Player grades and 3 things we learned

Tales from the grinta crypt, volume ii.

ACF Fiorentina v Bologna FC - Coppa Italia Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Player grades

Oliver Christensen—7.5: Made 5 saves, including a couple of huge ones late on against Lewis Ferguson and Riccardo Orsolini. Some iffy distribution in the first half, sure, and celebrated Stefan Posch’s missed penalty like he’d saved it himself, but that kind of lunacy is good and proper for a goalkeeper.

ACF Fiorentina v Bologna FC - Coppa Italia
Filed to “Photographs you can hear”
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Luca Ranieri—7: In his first appearance since becoming a father, was as reliable as ever. Made some big tackles on Orsolini and a couple of huge clearances. As ever, he’s more than just his actions, though, as his attitude and joy seem to drive everyone else on; look no farther than his laughing congratulations to Milenković after the big man squeaked a spot kick home.

Nikola Milenković—6.5: Lost track of the impressive Joshua Zirkzee a couple times and was lucky not to get punished in the first half, but his physicality eventually took the Dutchman out of the game. The PK wasn’t convincing but it went in, and that’s what counts.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—6: Had two excellent chances to win it and missed. Also made a very bad pass that resulted in Christensen stopping Ferguson 1-v-1. Pretty solid otherwise and did attempt a couple nutmegs.

Cristiano Biraghi—5: Unable to provide much inspiration going forward and really lost track of Orsolini and Posch in the second half, allowing Bologna to run rampant down his wing.

Alfred Duncan—6.5: Steady as ever. Swept the ball forward whenever possible and won it back when possible.

Maxime Lopez—6.5: Pesky performance, winning the ball really well in midfield and helping control the game, especially after the subs came on. Did his best Arthur Melo impression to set the tempo. Stepped up fearlessly for the winning penalty. Best game of his Fiorentina career.

ACF Fiorentina v Bologna FC - Coppa Italia
The massive balls on this tiny man.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Michael Kayode—6: Well off the pace in the first half, constantly missing passes, but settled in after the break and played in some decent crosses. Definitively won his battle with Alexis Saelemaekers. Missed two fantastic chances to win it, including a free header in extra time that he somehow missed by about 10 feet.

Antonín Barák—6: Playing as the 10 behind two mobile strikers suits him. More involved than usual, always showing for the pass, and linked up well with Beltrán and Ikoné. Needs to set the bar with performances like this.

Lucas Beltrán—6: Won a game-high 5 fouls and offered a constant release valve when the Viola were under pressure. Harried the defense well and dropped back to cover Biraghi, looking almost like a left winger. Made a couple weird decisions with the ball but linked well with Nzola. Busted his nose on a header and hopefully won’t have to miss any time.

ACF Fiorentina v Bologna FC - Coppa Italia
The only thing more metal than a viking is a viking with a face mask
Photo by Andrea Martini/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Jonathan Ikoné—6: The highest man out of possession and led the press really well, creating a lot of problems for Bologna’s defenders. Made some mystifying choices with the ball, of course, but deserves a lot of credit for his defensive performance in an unfamiliar role.

Giacomo Bonaventura—6: Helped Fiorentina establish a midfield presence by slowing the game down and twisting away from defenders. Didn’t actually create all that much but steadied the ship.

M’Bala Nzola—5: Slow to react and his touch is still a mess. Just doesn’t look confident at all, poor guy. Did set up a great chance with a header back across goal, but it feels like he’s just not working out.

Rolando Mandragora—6: Played in a lovely cross that Kayode somehow bungled and helped tighten the screws in midfield.

Fabiano Parisi—5: Offered his usual directness but didn’t produce very much and got caught too high up a couple of times.

Arthur—5: Forced into a role higher up than he likes but still kept things moving in possession. Also buried a very good penalty.

Yerry Mina—6: Legendary performance. Twisted Zirkzee’s nipple literally as soon as he came on. Scored a lovely penalty then danced while the shootout was still going. Absolute maniac.

Three things we learned

1. This ain’t no tippy-tappy finesse team. Vincenzo Italiano was seen as a breath of fresh air, tactically speaking, when he signed on. His system was predicated on quick passing and high pressing, leading him to be hailed as one of Italy’s brightest, most progressive young managers. Over the past couple months, though, he’s done his full heel turn, creating an XI full of bastards nobody wants to play against because they’ll grind you down over 90 minutes, shoving you into the lockers time and again until you give them your lunch money.

Don’t let the stats fool you (Fiorentina averages the 2nd-highest possession share in Serie A), because this isn’t a collection of technical wizards trying to overcome brute force with dazzling precision a la Vincenzo Montella circa 2014. No, this current group is happy to look you dead in the eyes, take a drag on an unfiltered cigarette, and wallop you with a 2x4. They’ve got a nastiness that makes them unpleasant to play against, and they revel in it.

2. Italiano’s pulling rabbits out of hats. For the first time in his Viola career, Italiano went to a 3-man defense, not out of choice but necessity. With only one real winger available (Josip Brekalo doesn’t count), he had to figure out an alternative system and rigged one up on the fly. Sure, Bologna tore through Fiorentina a couple of times, but the Viola managed to play an unfamiliar system the coach implemented with just a couple days to practice it and create some problems for Serie A’s biggest overachievers.

That wasn’t all, though, as Beltrán’s injury meant Cousin Vinnie had to chop and change even more, finishing with 4 central midfielders out there and just a single striker. And, after getting battered for the first hour or so, his changes worked so well that it was the Felsinei who were pushed back into their own half during extra time. That astute strategery, combined with some inspirational leadership, ought to make him a beloved figure in the city rather than an object of debate.

3. You can never predict who the penalty takers are. I hate penalties because they’re stressful and the vicarious horror I feel when seeing a miss is too much for me to process. That said, I’m fascinated by how you pick the order for a shootout. We naturally assume that the forwards and attacking players, as the ones shooting the ball most often in open play, are the best penalty takers. They’re supposed to have the composure and technique to finish moves in all kinds of circumstances, so putting it away from 12 yards should be child’s play.

Instead, Fiorentina’s takers were 3 holding midfielders and 2 centerbacks, and they all scored their spot kicks. There’s something about penalties that’s different from any other aspect of the game. The mentality to beat the goalkeeper in this individual contest is a weird one and you never know who has it. While Jack, as the most experienced attacking midfielder in the roster, seems like a natural, he’s 0 for 1 in his senior career. It’s a different set of skills and you never know who’s got them.