Pietro Terracciano—6: Didn’t have any chance on the goal and didn’t have to make any saves.
Cristiano Biraghi—6.5: The captain will come in for his usual criticism, but he played in some good crosses and, more importantly, shut down Domenico Berardi; if you’d told me that Cris won that battle before the game, I would’ve assumed Fiorentina won comfortably.
Lucas Martínez Quarta—6: Had one very bad tackle and didn’t track Andrea Pinamonti very well on the goal, although you can’t blame him too much there. Charged around and offered a presence in the box. Unlucky not to score but he was definitely offside.
Nikola Milenković—7: Really good showing from the Mountain. Dominant in the air, proactive in sweeping up behind, made some good tackles, won the header that led to the penalty, and nearly scored another too but for an outrageous Andrea Consigli save. He did his part.
Michael Kayode—5: Switched off for Sassuolo’s goal, but that’s the kind of mistake you’re okay with a youngster making for educational purposes. Did pretty well against the tricky Armand Laurienté, but his crossing still needs a lot of work. Feels like most of them clang off the first defender. That’s fine. He’s 19.
Rolando Mandragora—4: Didn’t move the ball particularly well and offered the defense no protection. Failed to provide those trademark late runs from deep. It’s not that he’s a bad player. It’s that he doesn’t do the gritty defending or silky passing Vincenzo Italiano demands of his midfielders. He’s neither fish nor foul, but Mandrake.
Arthur—5: Slippery in possession but couldn’t unlock the Neroverdi defense and didn’t screen the back line all that well. Missed Duncan something fierce.
Josip Brekalo—3: Every ball went backwards or straight to Sassuolo. Can’t blame him for being unmotivated, given that he’s on his way out, but this was pretty embarrassing.
Giacomo Bonaventura—4: Played in one good cross but was guilty of trying to do too much, which usually resulted in him slowing down moves and letting the defense drop into its shape, leading to the classic problems with stale possession. And he just has to bury that penalty. Has to.
Jonathan Ikoné—5: Had a couple of very dumb moments but that’s par for the course. Did come close with a couple of rips from distance, which is a good sign. Feels like he’s overthinking things and toggling between hesitation and hurrying.
M’Bala Nzola—4: Had some decent sniffs and some good moments holding up play, but none of his fellow attackers ran beyond him to make that work worthwhile. Had at least two chances to shoot that he passed up. Like Ikoné, he’s just low on confidence and needs a couple good breaks, but they didn’t come here.
Lucas Beltrán—5: Threw himself around and created enough mayhem that Alessio Dionisi felt he needed another defender, but it was mostly sound and fury rather than anything dangerous.
Alfred Duncan—7: Played some absolutely gorgeous passes that belie his reputation as a water-carrier. Skipped out of pressure and controlled the middle singlehandedly, albeit when Sassuolo had retreated very deep. Are we sure that Arthur’s better?
Fabiano Parisi—5.5: Offered some direct running and a couple teasing crosses but seemed a little unsure of how to interpret an unfamiliar role as a winger. Not going to blame him for that.
Antonín Barák—5: Won a couple of high balls, offered a body in the box, and did an admirable job of hustling back when necessary, but the world’s most peripheral man isn’t who you need in this situation.
Three things we learned
1. Fiorentina can’t play more than 45 good minutes. During Fiorentina’s recent run, the team has been grinding out results la Grande Inter. This is the 10th straight Serie A game with a margin of 1 or 0 goals, and those scorelines reflect what’s happening on the pitch: Fiorentina, for the first time since Beppe Iachini, has grown comfortable sitting deep and suffering. It feels like a full 180° shift from Italiano’s approach the past couple of years, so you’re forgiven if you feel some whiplash.
Unlike BeppeBall, though, this new Italiano tactic is calculated to preserve energy. He clearly wants his teams to soak up pressure in the first half and stay solid, letting opponents wear themselves out, and then pounce after the break. It’s worked pretty well—the table doesn’t lie—but it’s a gamble of fine margins. With a squad this flawed, of course, he had to throw the dice here, and they came up snake eyes, but the gamble itself is no coincidence. It’s the whole plan.
2. This is the most important winter mercato in recent memory. Brekalo is not now and has never been a reasonable solution on the wing. He’s Riccardo Saponara without the cheesy parts. He’s José Callejón on the other wing. He’s on his way back to Croatia because there’s just no place for him in Florence. And Italiano had to start him in this game because there were no other options.
You can’t pillory Daniele Pradè here. Not many teams are going to look great with 3 of their 4 best wingers unavailable. Nico González is back at training and should return soon, but he and Sottil are both injury prone, while Kouamé could be gone for months. Combine the shortfall on the wings with the obvious lack of quality in central midfield—the team doesn’t work without Duncan despite Mandragora and Maxime Lopez—and you have the need for at least 2 and probably 3 starter-level players if the plan is to qualify for the Champions League and the enormous riches it provides. The Viola brain trust needs to get things right this month.
3. Nobody even knows the rules anymore. I don’t take anti-Fiorentina positions very often, but Sassuolo absolutely deserved a second goal. Kristian Thorstvedt’s goal was fine. Yes, Matheus Henrique was in an offside position and in front of Terracciano when the first shot was hit, but he didn’t impact the play enough to rule out the goal. If that had been given against the Viola, I’d lose my mind, so it’s only fair to call out how bad that decision was.
And it wasn’t even the worst in Serie A today. Inter Milan squeaked past Hellas Verona with a last gasp goal, but Alessandro Bastoni blatantly closed in on Ondrej Duda with an elbow directly before the winner. Referee Michael Fabbri and VAR Luigi Nasca have already been suspended for failing to act on the extremely obvious incident, especially since they seemed to acknowledge their error by handing the Gialloblu a late penalty for nothing.
It’s moments like this that make writing about this sport nigh on impossible sometimes. I can watch the game, take notes, analyze individual plays and game-wide trends, and it means nothing if the refs make mysterious rulings that change games. All I can do is throw my hands up in disgust and walk away from my laptop for a few hours, because trying to sift meaning out of a game as chaotic is soccer is difficult enough without the officials magnifying the mayhem beyond any quantification.