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Fiorentina season review 2019-2020: Forwards

We saw some good-ish things from this group this year. We also saw some less good-ish things from this group this year.

ACF Fiorentina v Bologna FC - Serie A
I love this photo.
Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Time for the final piece in our positional review of this messed up season, and it’s going to be the longest of them all. For the purposes of this piece, I’m treating Rachid Ghezzal and Riccardo Sottil as forwards, even though the former often dropped into midfield and the latter worked as a wingback at times.

Federico Chiesa

Despite certainty in the press that he’d be sold last summer, the winger stuck with Fiorentina and enjoyed his best statistical season, nearly doubling his output from 2018-2019. He started the season as a right winger but often floated around; once Vincenzo Montella switched to a 3-5-2, though, he was deployed mostly as a striker despite the obvious indications that he wasn’t especially comfortable in that role.

Giuseppe Iachini continued to use him there until a few utter stinkbombs after the restart, when he got benched and then redeployed as a wingback. Fede, to his credit, responded very well and played some of his best ball at season’s end, scoring his first Serie A hat trick in the final home fixture and then closing things out with an assist, a penalty won, and the armband. While it was another rocky, uneven season full of valid criticisms about his decision-making and selfishness, it was also a display of growth from the start of the year to the finish from a player who had to learn a new position, adapt to a new system and new teammates, and celebrate his 22nd birthday. Maybe let’s go a bit easier on him.

Final stats: 37 appearances (2820 minutes), 11 goals, 6 assists, 7 yellow cards

Final grade: B- Yes, he was so frustrating at times as to be unwatchable, but he was also the most obvious indicator of success for the team. When he was good, the team won. When he was bad, it lost. That shows his pure quality. When you factor in that he doubled his assists from last year and nearly doubled his goals, you have to give him at least a decent grade.

Best moment: A superbly well-taken hat trick is going to be anyone’s best moment, isn’t it? His first against Bologna was perhaps a bit fluky, but the second was good (if lucky) and the third was just pure class.

Worst moment: He had a few. For me, it was his performance in the 1-3 loss to Sassuolo, when he was barely involved and visibly frustrated, but he was miserable in the scoreless draw against Genoa too.

Goals for next year: The real question is whether or not he wants to sign a new contract. If not, the club’s best choice may be to sell him for big money. If he stays, the goal will be the same it’s been for the past few years, and that’s to become more clinical near the goal.

Dušan Vlahović

The former boy wonder started the year in a timeshare with Kevin-Prince Boateng up top but slowly took the spot as his own after a few impressive displays. He showed a real knack for dramatic goals—the late double against Monza in the Coppa, an unbelievable solo effort against Inter Milan, a lovely curler to salt away the win at Napoli—but then hit a wall. He didn’t score after the restart and clearly dropped behind Cutrone and Kouamé in the pecking order, often looking anxious and irritable when he did take the pitch.

While he’s got every tool you could ask for in a striker—size, quick feet, pace, technique—his movement in the box remains bad and he wastes so many chances that he ought to convert. His temper is a bit of an issue too; we’ve seen him yell at teammates, and the red card he got for an elbow on Patric was very bad. It’s worth remembering that he was a teenager for a lot of the season and is still figuring all this stuff out, so he’s going to be fine.

Final stats: 34 appearances (1799 minutes), 8 goals, 1 assist, 5 yellow cards, 1 red card

Final grade: C He pulled Fiorentina to some victories singlehandedly, but probably cost them more points than he won with his wayward shooting. That’s fine for a guy his age, but he clearly has some growing to do.

Best moment: The double against Monza was lovely, but c’mon. Monza’s not that good. His solo effort against Inter, though, was about as fantastic an effort as you’ll see.

Worst moment: The easy answer is all the misses, but the easier answer is the months he missed with coronavirus. Kid’s tough.

Goals for next year: Improve in the air, in the area, and learn how to put the biscuit in the basket. That requires lots of playing time, so a loan move away to a lower-half Serie A team or a top Serie B outfit makes sense. He’s still got all the potential in the world, so a year-long internship elsewhere may be just what he needs to earn the starring role in Florence he’s fully capable of filling if he develops.

Franck Ribery

It seemed like more of a publicity stunt when Fiorentina signed him this summer (I’ll own up to thinking it was a mistake) and, when he started from the bench, it seemed to confirm that he was in Florence for a paycheck and a Tuscan holiday. Once he took the pitch, though, he was utterly fantastic, schooling the Juventus defense and generally playing havoc with everyone using his peerless close control.

Had he not missed a considerable portion of the season due to an injury sustained after Lecce’s Panagiotis Tachtsidis tried to amputate his foot, he’d probably have been the player of the season. His intelligence with the ball is unmatched and it was mighty fun to see him try to coach the younger attackers on where to be. His counting stats weren’t as good as you might have expected, but he was simply the best player on the team when he was out there, to the point that the Viola over-relied on him at times.

Final stats: 21 appearances (1424 minutes), 3 goals, 3 assists, 3 yellow cards, 1 red card

Final grade: B+ His hesitance to shoot was a bit frustrating at times, but it’s clear that the control and vision that made him one of the world’s best are still there.

Best moment: He was unplayable in the 1-3 win over AC Milan. Just an absolute joy to watch. And that goal, my goodness, that goal.

Worst moment: He was pretty bad in the 1-1 against Hellas Verona at the end of the year, but that’s probably because he’s 37 and was playing 150 minutes a week. The real lowest moments had little to do with his work on the pitch; getting a red card for putting hands on a ref after the Juventus game is a bad look no matter how bad the officiating was, and having his house broken into during the win at Parma was understandably upsetting for him.

Goals for next year: It’d be nice to see him transition to a part-time player, a super-sub whose greatest influence is reserved for big matches and the dressing room. Expecting him to play 90 minutes for a whole season is asking for trouble.

Patrick Cutrone

Brought on an 18-month loan from Wolverhampton in January, the former AC Milan star took awhile to get on track; after opening his account against Atalanta in the Coppa Italia in his first Viola start, he didn’t get on the scoresheet again until the third game of the restart. But once he’d settled in, he was fantastic to close out the season, scoring 4 goals and assisting another in the final 10 games; a goal involvement every 96.5 minutes is, yes, quite good.

His skill set is a bit strange, as he’s an old school poacher who contributes nothing to the buildup with the ball but adds so much with his off-ball movement and his lung-busting defensive work. He is, at worst, a very good backup, and at best a very good starter. He’s another who overcame the coronavirus, which is deeply impressive. He also added a wonderful, easygoing presence to the squad; he’s always the first to celebrate with anyone who scores, and he stole Beppe’s hat to celebrate a goal. What else can you ask for?

Final stats: 21 appearances (944 minutes), 5 goals, 1 assist, 1 yellow card

Final grade: C+ He struggled to beat out Vlahović at first, but once Iachini put some faith in him, Cutrone repaid it.

Best moment: A goal and an assist against Lecce showed his class (even if he did miss a handful of other opportunities), but it’s got to be that hat celebration after he slotted home. His obvious friendship with Kouamé is a close second, as they’re like the happiest pair of puppies in the world and if you don’t feel joy watching them hug then you’re cold and dead in the ground.

Worst moment: Like Dušan, it’s got to be coronavirus.

Goals for next year: Prove to the club that he’s worth shelling out €18ish million. That means scoring more goals, improving his linkup play, and continuing to be cool. Since he’ll have a full offseason (hopefully without a life-threatening illness) to acclimate this time, we’re backing him to do so.

Rachid Ghezzal

After an absolute dud of a season at Leicester City, the Algerian winger hoped to kickstart his career on the continent. He made a few appearances in relief under Montella but never looked like doing anything useful, if we’re being honest, besides blocking Sottil from bigger minutes. Under Iachini, he looked like more of the same. Very one-footed, his tendency to start wide on the right and come inside made him predictable, and his lack of pace meant that he offered no real threat.

After the restart, he took over a mezzala role in midfield, although he often drifted to his usual spot on the right wing in possession (to repeat, that’s why I’m writing about him here rather than with the midfielders). To his credit, he battled like mad and put in some impressive shifts—his future may lie in a deeper, more central role than he’s previously played—but he was still below average outside of two really strong showings against Lazio and Lecce. On the whole, though, it was a pretty rough season for him.

Final stats: 21 appearances (904 minutes), 1 goal, 1 assist, 5 yellow cards

Final grade: D Despite two good games after the restart, he just wasn’t good.

Best moment: Won a penalty against Lecce early (that Erick Pulgar missed, but still) and then scored a very clever freekick while the defense was arguing with the referee. Hit a couple of lovely passes and battled away on the back foot quite well.

Worst moment: He was about as ineffective as any midfielder I’ve ever seen in the 2-1 loss at Torino. And that was closer to the norm than an outlier.

Goals for next year: Rumor has it that Iachini wants to keep him around, but it’s doubtful Daniele Pradè will trigger

Kevin-Prince Boateng

Of Fiorentina’s three Bosman signings last summer (Ribery, Martín Cáceres, and KPB), the Prince seemed like the oddest fit. He’d enjoyed a good half season at Sassuolo the previous campaign before an inexplicable move to Barcelona, where he wasn’t great. As a technically incredible attacking midfielder who’s lost most of his foot speed, it seemed like a strange move for a club that needed a goalscorer.

And so it was. The Prince scored an absolute banger in his league debut with the Viola against Napoli but didn’t add much else as he was expected to work as a center forward, where he simply didn’t convince. While his contributions to the buildup were good, he just didn’t have the legs to get forward and wasn’t clinical near the goal. He quickly dropped out of the rotation and moved to Beşiktaş in January; although his Viola contract runs until 2021, it sounds like he and the club may amicably part ways so he can rejoin Hertha Berlin, which would be in everyone’s best interests.

Final stats: 15 appearances (685 minutes), 1 goal, 2 yellow cards

Final grade: D- This isn’t an indictment of Boateng as a player; he can still contribute plenty to a top flight team. The problem was that Montella had no clue how to use him and that he didn’t fit Beppe’s hard-charging style. You could still his class at times, but he’s just miscast as a single striker.

Best moment: That goal against Napoli within minutes of taking the pitch was really, really cool.

Worst moment: Probably getting his marching orders from Iachini after just half a season. Again, more an indicator of how backwards Pradè’s transfer strategy was this past year than anything else.

Goals for next year: Really hope he gets back to Hertha as he’s reportedly hoping to do. Nothing but respect for the Prince, who was a model professional during his stay in Florence.

Riccardo Sottil

The young winger’s debut season in the top flight was deeply frustrating. Fiorentina rarely used a wide attacker, so Ricky was stuck as a striker (which is definitely not his jame) or a wingback (which is even more definitely not his jam) for most of his minutes, and never really convinced in either role. He also got stuck behind Rachid Ghezzal for a lot of time, which was frustrating for fans who wanted to see a much-hyped academy product rather than a 28-year-old loanee.

While Sottil’s final product remains, at best, elusive (and at worst nonexistent), he still adds a lot to any team because he’s an incredible dribbler. He succeeded in nearly 86% of his take-ons, which is just obscene, and won more fouls per 90 minutes than anyone in the league who played more than 65 minutes on the season. He’s clearly an incredibly dynamic player with the ball, even if neither Montella nor Iachini was able to figure out how to use him.

Final stats: 21 appearances (609 minutes), 1 assist, 4 yellow cards

Final grade: C- It really isn’t his fault that he didn’t fit any of the systems the team used this year. While he did provide a spark at times, his end product is unrefined and you could tell that he’d try too hard to impress on those rare occasions when he did see the field, leading him to overplay and stress himself out even more.

Best moment: He was outrageous against Cittadella in the Coppa, setting up Marco Benassi’s first goal and looking simply unstoppable throughout. Naturally, that ended with him getting the hook after Lorenzo Venuti’s sending off.

Worst moment: He really missed a few great opportunities, such as a completely airmailed shot against SPAL, but that happens to young players. Maybe the most irritating to me was when he won an obvious penalty against Sampdoria that Daniele Doveri inexplicably decided was a dive and booked him for. Typical Doveri. Poor Ricky.

Goals for next year: Fiorentina’s system doesn’t have room for a player like Sottil right now, so a temporary move away makes sense. If Domenico Berardi leaves Sassuolo, Ricky would be a fantastic short-term replacement. Wherever it is, though, he’ll still be so dang handsome. He’ll be fine.

Christian Kouamé

It feels like years ago, but the 22-year-old started the season on a tear with Genoa, scoring 5 goals and assisting 2 more in his first 11 games before a cruciate injury on international duty knocked him out. Fiorentina pounced on him in the January market, expecting to get him for next year, but the pandemic meant he made his debut this year.

He was obviously quite rusty and very talented. His strength and ability to hold up the ball were really impressive, and he also displayed an unexpected passing range and vision, particularly on the break. His finishing will return with more practice, but his intelligence and athleticism are unteachable.

Final stats: 7 appearances (298 minutes), 1 goal, 1 assist

Final grade: C+ He’s obviously not operating at full capacity but still added quite a bit to the team with his holdup play and creativity. Once the goals start coming again, look out world.

Best moment: Not many players get to score a debut goal twice, but Chris did. His strike against Torino was eventually changed to an own-goal, but he got to enjoy a late winner against SPAL on the final matchday. Both times, his exuberance was palpable through the screen.

Worst moment: Not at Fiorentina, but it has to be feeling the pop on international duty after enjoying the best season of your young career.

Goals for next year: Pick up where the injury cut him off. If he reach 15 goals while also setting some the table for his teammates and bringing his trademark dynamism on and off the ball, he’ll be one of the better forwards in Italy. And he’s just 22. 22!