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End-of-year grades: Central defenders

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It was a weird year for the heart of the Viola defense.

Atalanta BC v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Note: I’m not including Nikola Milenković in this grouping as he spent more time playing as a fullback and got forward quite a bit even when he was on the right of a back three—you know, like a fullback.

Germán Pezzella

What happened: Named as the captain at the start of the year, Pezzella responded with a strong and steady season that saw him cement his place in the Argentina setup. While he had a few mistakes and made one incredibly bone-headed decision (which he at least apologized for), he was much better at the start of the year, but as the rest of the team fell off, so did he. Still, he was certainly the most impressive defender in the side, even if he did begin slipping up a bit towards the end of the year. He did show some real dedication in returning from a broken face to show well in the finale against Genoa while wearing a protective mask.

Final stats: 35 appearances (35 starts), 2 goals, 2 assists, 8 yellow cards

Best moment: Has to be the stoppage time equalizer against Sampdoria back in January, although his refusal to come off against Napoli after suffering a knee injury—with all the substitutes used up, Fiorentina would have been left with 10 men—was inspirational, even if he was barely able to move out there.

What’s next: With lots of changes likely in the backline, Pezze should be relatively assured of his spot in the heart of the defense; if he stays, he’ll buck the dispiriting trend of captains leaving right after taking the armband. At 27 years old, he should have at least another half decade left of his prime, and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if he spent it in Florence.

Final grade: B- Would have been a B, but has to get dinged a bit for letting the team fall off so badly; as the captain, that’s on him. On the pitch, though, he was one of the best defenders in the league and has quietly staked a claim as a top-notch centerback.

Vitor Hugo

What happened: In his second year with Fiorentina, the Brazilian didn’t really improve and eventually lost his starting spot to Federico Ceccherini. While he’s got all the physical attributes you could ask for in a centerback and even a little bit of the dog in his attitude, he’s got a penchant for making mistakes that change matches. The most obvious ones were his missed tackle and later red card at Parma, his boneheaded handball against Sampdoria, and his hopeless pursuit of Josip Iličić in the Coppa Italia. He’s not as disastrous as, say, Nenad Tomović, but his propensity for mental lapses and skewed clearances always hovers in the back of your mind when he’s on the pitch.

Final stats: 33 appearances (30 starts), 2 assists, 7 yellow cards, 1 red card

Best moment: Erasing Fabio Quagliarella from the match at Sampdoria has to be the pick. Kept the capocannoniere in his pocket for the full 90 minutes and didn’t give him even a sniff of goal.

What’s next: Having just turned 28 (auguri, ragazzo) and seemingly behind Federico Ceccherini in the hierarchy, he’s a decent candidate to be sold this summer. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine the Viola recouping the €8 million they spent on him, so unless a big offer comes (there’s been interest reported from Brazil), he’ll probably stay put and try to win his spot back next year.

Final grade: C- Started out okay, but really fell off in the second half of the season and threw his Viola future into question.

Federico Ceccherini

What happened: Snapped up for a bargain bin €3 million from Crotone this summer, Cecche took a few months to settle in, but eventually surpassed Vitor Hugo in the pecking order. He’s a very different player from the rugged, gung-ho Brazilian, so the switch really changed the defense. He should fit well under Vincenzo Montella, as he’s an excellent passer of the ball and willing to drive forward occasionally. However, he’s not particularly strong in the tackle or in the air and was frequently picked on by bigger strikers to their profit. Fits well in a 3-man defense, but may not really be suited to play in the middle of a back 4.

Final stats: 17 appearances (13 starts), 4 yellow cards

Best moment: The first half hour of the eventual 3-3 draw against Inter Milan. He was magisterial in possession, dropping very deep to control play like a regista and keeping everything moving at the back.

What’s next: Having turned 27 this month (auguri, ragazzo), he’s in his prime and should stick around. While he’s a bit vulnerable to big or quick forwards, he’s a fantastic depth player, capable of stepping in to cover a few matches with competence. While he may not be ready as a full-time starter, he’s a perfect bench option and should stick around.

Final grade: C+ Better than advertised and surpassed the man ahead of him on the depth chart. You can’t ask for much more out of a cheap signing.

Next up: the fullbacks (and Milenković)