After the Vincenzo Montella era and his Three Tenors, Paulo Sousa has a different looking midfield indeed, with Borja Valero the only real holdover. As with the defense, the lack of depth in this department turned out to be problematic, as Valero, Milan Badelj, and Matías Vecino were forced to play nearly every minute in the middle. Part of the problem was an injury-riddled year for Mati Fernández, but even with the inexplicable arrival of Panagiotis Kone, the middle was often stretched thin. On the bright side, winger Federico Bernardeschi blossomed into a full international, and Cristian Tello had some bright moments as well.
The iconic midfielder was, once again, probably Fiorentina's player of the season. There is no one in Italy as adept at quickly and unfussily shifting the ball into the final third. Although some people (me) worried that he wouldn't fit in a higher-tempo Sousa system as well as he did in Montella's languid tactics, he immediately became the Portuguese mister's leader on the pitch. After starting the year as more of a number 10, Borja eventually moved farther back to resume his usual deeper role in a attempt to prevent the team from getting too predictable in its buildup. Although he doesn't pile up counting stats, his unquestioned role as the primary playmaker makes him a star. Laughably mentioned in various rumors as an AS Roma target, the Spaniard and his agent have both reiterated that he's going to retire in Florence, then probably take a job with the club.
Final stats: 42 appearances, 4 goals, 6 assists, 6 yellow cards
Grade: B+. Occasionally frustrated by opposition fouling, but still the single most important Viola player on the pitch every time he's on it.
After David Pizarro returned to Chile, Badelj earned the deep midfield spot by default. He responded by turning in a brilliant season, proving himself one of the best holding midfielders in Serie A and earning a starting berth in a talent-packed Croatian midfield for the Euros. He's almost unnoticeable on the pitch, but his quiet competence is critical to the Gigliati in attack and defense. His positional sense allows him to break up opposing attacks, and his steady passing keeps things moving. His mid-season injury was hugely problematic and probably helped cause Fiorentina's second-half nosedive. With an agent noisily angling for a move away, though, it's a coin flip whether he'll be back next season.
Final stats: 35 appearances, 1 goal, 2 assists, 10 yellow cards, 1 red card
Grade: B. Really the glue that holds everything together. Would be a difficult player to replace if he left.
After spending the past several seasons away on loan, the young Uruguayan established himself as a force to be reckoned with in Serie A. He's a classic box-to-box runner, but also possesses the passing technique to match his stamina. While he's not yet unable to unlock a defense by himself, he's an extremely useful player, always showing to the ball to quickly recycle possession. His shooting is, er, simply awful, but other than that, he's a complete player. Despite some unabashed ogling from Napoli, he's committed himself to the Viola for the foreseeable future, signing and extension and flatly stating that he doesn't want to leave.
Final stats: 38 appearances, 2 goals, 3 assists, 8 yellow cards
Grade: B-. Would be higher, but needs to stop wasting possession with awful shots. Other than that, though, looks like a key member of the squad.
Fresh off a blindingly good year with Fiorentina and a Copa América with Chile, Matigol looked likely to be one of the most important members of the squad. His energy and ability to surge past his marker and slip in a striker looked a perfect match for Sousa's high tempo game. Instead, residual exhaustion from his international commitment and a slew of injuries (he's always had that reputation), including a tooth problem, kept him off the pitch for most of the first half of the season. Even once he got healthy, he never looked comfortable, as Sousa frequently stationed him in an unfamiliar role behind the striker. He also picked up a knee injury with Chile ahead of the Copa América Centenario which kept him from picking up a second medal and has complicated the matter for anyone looking to pick him up on a cheap transfer. He'll probably stick in Florence due to the injury, and could bounce back in a big way.
Final stats: 27 appearances, 1 goal, 6 assists, 3 yellow cards, 1 red card
Grade: C-. Seriously regressed after being the best Viola player last season, but maybe he'll get it back next year.
Brought in on loan in January from Genoa (Spartak Moscow owns his card but seems eager to farm him out wherever they can), he was meant to be a depth signing to cover for an injured Badelj. More of a passer than a tackler, he didn't ever seem on the same page as his new teammates, and will Fiorentina have declined to purchase him outright. He wasn't a bad bet as a panicked last-minute flyer, but that's the problem with making a bet: sometimes it doesn't work out.
Final stats: 8 appearances, 3 yellow cards
Grade: D+. Not Jasmin Kurtić level bad, but not much better.
Ugh. Was hurt when he joined up, then played all of 8 minutes after joining in the winter mercato. Hardly surprising that he's returning to Udinese, who are on the verge of shipping him back to PAOK.
Final stats: 1 appearance
Nobody imagined that a gawky 21 year old who was in Serie B 2 years ago and who missed most of last season with a knee injury would become one of the most sought-after young players in Italy this year. While his touch is still a bit unreliable and he can be guilty of trying to do to much, Berna's energy, vision, and dribbling are all top-notch already. While he spent most of the first half of the year at wingback, looking to cut in onto his stronger left foot, he eventually moved to more of an out-and-out winger with the advent of Tello. Despite interest from some of the biggest clubs in the world, he's kept himself grounded and seems to genuinely love Florence. Selected for the Euro squad with just 4 caps to his name, he's only going to get better, especially as he gets to play more in his natural attacking role.
Final stats: 41 appearances, 6 goals, 6 assists, 6 yellow cards
Grade: B. The future is now.
Brought in from Dortmund as a last-second replacement for noted chair-puncher Joaquín, the Polish international looked a perfect fit for Sousa's system. His experience in Klopp's full-throttle teams and overall quality were an impressive find for so late in the window, and he'd had enough time to recover from the cruciate injury that torpedoed him last year. Despite a promising volleyed goal against Bologna in his first Viola start, he never looked comfortable as a wingback. He did the requisite running, but just couldn't get into the match like he did for Dortmund, and eventually fell down the pecking order. To his credit, he was utterly professional and didn't make himself a problem, but he'll return to Dortmund next season. His scintillating form for Poland in the Euros makes it all the more frustrating that it never clicked for him in Florence, but we all wish him the best.
Final stats: 20 appearances, 2 goals, 4 assists, 1 yellow card
Grade: C+. A couple of bright moments and lots of running between them, but not much else. Could have been so much more.
After not quite making the grade at Barcelona, the la Masia graduate was on loan at Porto when Fiorentina managed to convince the Blaugranas to send him instead to Florence for the remainder of the season. Tello's pace and directness were a breath of fresh air in a Viola attack that had stagnated as opponents figured out Sousa's tactics. While his end product is still somewhat uneven, it may well be that a full season of working with the same team will improve that. And, more importantly, his blazing pace in behind opens up a lot of space for everyone else. Fiorentina and Barcelona are inches away from finalizing a deal that will keep in Florence on loan for another year, with a fee around €7.5 to bring him on permanently.
Final stats: 15 appearances, 2 goal, 5 assists, 1 yellow card
Grade: B-. Drifts in and out of games, but is positively lethal in space and should only improve when he's not forced to play wingback.