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End-of-year grades: Central midfielders

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Pretty much every problem that Fiorentina experienced this year had its root in the center of the pitch.

ACF Fiorentina v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Jordan Veretout

What happened: Handed the keys to the midfield after Milan Badelj’s departure, Stefano Pioli shifted him to a deeper role in midfield from which he could control play, rather than the bustling mezzala brief he handled last year. Veretout struggled a bit at first, especially with the defensive responsibilities, but perked up considerably after a month or two and looked like a natural.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get much support in the middle from his teammates, who tended to drift wide and often left him holding down a 30 yard square of space in the middle. While Jordan scrapped as best he could, he was often overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Towards the end of the year, too, his performances fell off amidst rumors of a move away; we’ll find out soon if there’s any truth to them, but he earned the ire of some fans over the final couple months of the season.

Final stats: 37 appearances (37 starts), 5 goals, 4 assists, 13 yellow cards

Best moment: It’s tough to pick, honestly, as he had a number of strong performances that, with a bit of quality around him, might have been tremendous. I guess we can pick between the 1-1 at Sampdoria or the 1-4 at SPAL; in the former, he ran the show, and he notched a goal and a assist in the latter.

What’s next: It sure sounds like he’s moving to Napoli as soon as the transfer window opens. It’s a logical step for him, given his progress as a player, even if his lackadaisical performances since mid-March have rather soured the Viola fans on him. On the other hand, he’s likely to fetch a pretty good price, so maybe we can all get along after all.

Final grade: B- Would have been higher but for his doldrums at the end, but he showed a lot of toughness to adapt to a new position and keep his performances strong despite the maelstrom around him.

Marco Benassi

What happened: What a weird year for Marco. As the club’s leading scorer this season (with 9 goals), you could make an argument that he was as important as anyone for keeping them in Serie A. After all, that sort of goal return from a midfielder/wingback is quite impressive in any circumstances, but particularly when it accounts for 19% of the club’s Serie A scoring output.

On the other hand, though, he added almost nothing besides the goals. The running joke is that he doesn’t do anything but score, and that’s a bit of a weird spot for a guy who’s nominally a central midfielder. He doesn’t contribute much defensively or in possession and he’s not a great dribbler or playmaker either. Too, he showcased a knack for losing the ball in ways that led to opponent counters on a regular basis. Once the goals dried up for him (and the rest of the team, in fairness) after January—he didn’t score in the league after Chievo Verona—he was mostly a harmless passenger.

Final stats: 36 appearances (33 starts), 9 goals, 1 assist, 7 yellow cards, 1 red card

Best moment: Remember when he scored against Udinese and brought his season tally to 3 after just 2 games (albeit in Week 3, given that the season opener against Samp was postponed)? Yeah, Marco Benassi, Capocannoniere is a marvelous state of affairs that we’ll always hold dear.

What’s next: Who knows? While some of his struggles this year are certainly down to his boss’ instructions to effectively act as a decoy forward, he didn’t really impress too much. On the other hand, the goals mean that he could wind up being in demand. We have no idea if he’ll be back next year; under Montella, he’d be a decent fit in the Alberto Aquilani role, but he lacks Aquaman’s pure quality. If a good offer comes in, he’s likely gone. But it’s hard to imagine who’d pony up big money for him right now.

Final grade: C+ Probably the hardest player to grade on the team. I suppose you have to say that he was above average this year based solely on his goalscoring prowess, but his lack of any other output means he can’t be more than above average. Barely.

Gerson

What happened: Loaned to Fiorentina from AS Roma after a very underwhelming year in the capital (his only goals came against the Viola last year, in fact), he was supposed to add some versatility and dynamism to the Viola setup, given his ability to play in midfield or on the wing. He somewhat fulfilled that promise, although his final product was often lacking.

His ability to win fouls while dribbling was second to none on the team, and he was the only midfielder who was really capable of breaking forward with the ball at his feet. On the other hand, his passing wasn’t as incisive as we’d hoped, his defensive contribution was negligible, and he was oddly hesitant in the final third. While he certainly wasn’t the problem for Fiorentina this year, he wasn’t anything approaching the solution either.

Final stats: 40 appearances (29 starts), 3 goals, 4 assists, 8 yellow cards

Best moment: He got a goal and an assist in the season opener against Chievo, and for a moment looked like the missing piece. It didn’t last, but for those 90 minutes, we were so desperately in love.

What’s next: He’ll be back at Roma next year, as his loan didn’t offer an option for the Viola to buy him. Despite the criticism heaped on him by Lupi fans, it’s important to remember that he just turned 22 last week and still has a lot of football left in front of him. We wish him the best.

Final grade: C+ He showed some flashes of the player that Roma paid €17 million for 2 years ago, but he was just too diffident in the final third. Seemed to lack confidence in his teammates (fair) and himself (c’mon) all year, despite having no shortage of ability.

Bryan Dabo

What happened: With Badelj’s departure, we were all very excited to see Dabo unleashed in the holding role; his sheer physical presence, knack for driving the ball forward, and infectiously positive personality are all designed to create a fan favorite. Pioli instead shifted Veretout into the hole and kept Dabo locked to the bench for most of the year, although our Perestroika seemed to pass Edimilson Fernandes towards the end of the year.

While he didn’t get many chances to show his stuff, he usually impressed in his limited minutes. Generally picked as a late sub to preserve a lead or a draw, he demonstrated a knack for powering forward and for using his impressive strength to keep the ball. He also spent a lot of time in an unfamiliar wingback role, which probably suppressed his ability. Still, he was one of relatively few bright (or at least not as dark) spots in the Viola midfield this year, although he did manage to turn in a couple of clunkers too.

Final stats: 26 appearances (7 starts), 1 goal, 2 assists, 4 yellow cards

Best moment: Came on in the second half against Sampdoria to help reinforce a 10-man Fiorentina and did exactly that. Dominated a featherweight Blucerchiati midfield in defense and contributed to the eventual comeback with his bowling ball runs from deep and deceptively simple passing. The Tuscans wouldn’t have earned a point without him.

What’s next: It’s now been 2 years since he arrived in Florence, and he has yet to lay hands on a regular job despite the feeling around these parts that he deserves a lengthy run in the first team. Given his peripheral role, he’s almost certainly gone if a decent offer arrives this summer, which means that some lucky team is going to get a good player and genuinely cool person at discounted rate. How very Fiorentina.

Final grade: B- Certainly outperformed Edi Fernandes but remained stuck behind him for what seems like organizational reasons. Yes, he’s a limited player, but he’s very good at those things he does. A good team will bring the best out of similarly limited but functional players. We’d love to see him get another chance in Florence based on how he was this year.

Edimilson Fernandes

What happened: The West Ham loanee came in with an odd reputation, given his struggles at domestic level but rising reputation for the Swiss national side. Unfortunately, we saw more of the former than the latter. While he had a couple of brilliant goals and the odd masterful tackle in midfield, he was, on the balance of play, just bad.

He’s still just 23 and has plenty of room to grow, but he seems like the sort of player who has every physical tool but never puts it all together. No player for Fiorentina misplaced so many routine passes, lost the ball with thoughtless attempts to dribble out of trouble, or made as many awful tackles. Honestly, it feels like Pioli stuck with him for too long at the expense of Dabo.

Final stats: 33 appearances (25 starts), 2 goals, 2 assists, 9 yellow cards, 1 red card

Best moment: That platonic ideal of a strike at SPAL. He hit that thing so hard and so perfectly that it honestly looked like it was going to rip through the dang net.

What’s next: It’s hard to imagine that Fiorentina will pay €7 million for one of the year’s biggest flops, so he’s almost certainly heading back to the Hammers this summer. Given his struggles in East London, though, don’t be surprised if they offload him on loan or even permanently for pennies on the dollar.

Final grade: D 2 great goals, maybe 3 other good moments, and a whole season of despair. Perhaps he’d have done better on a better team, but he was just abysmal for Fiorentina this year.

Christian Nørgaard

What happened: Brought in as a low-risk replacement for Badelj, the Dane never found his footing in Florence. He seemed a bit hesitant to move the ball forward in the preseason, opting instead for lateral and backwards passes, and that reticence only intensified once the season began. His defensive instincts were sound, but he offered nothing in attack and ended up as an afterthought. On the other hand, he remains a highly-rated player, as evidenced by his first cap for Denmark; a change of scenery may be what he needs.

Final stats: 6 appearances (4 starts)

Best moment: Played 75 rock solid minutes in the 3-1 win over Empoli and looked like a perfectly fine defensive midfielder.

What’s next: He’s already been sold to English Championship side Brentford, although it won’t go official until the mercado officially opens in July.

Final grade: D+ While you can’t hold him fully accountable for his no-show, given the miserable team context, it doesn’t bode particularly well for a player who couldn’t surpass Edi Fernandes in the holding role.

Next up: wingers