Next up in our look back at this season is the wingbacks. For the purposes of this article, I’m not including Igor (who played one game at wingback), Marco Benassi (who filled in once or twice out wide), Alexa Terzić (8 senior minutes in the league), or Maxi Olivera (I mean, c’mon). That leaves just three players who played this spot, really highlighting the importance of adding at least one more competent option, particularly on the left.
The Spaniard cost €11 million from Sassuolo over the summer, which is more than Fiorentina’s ever spent on a fullback. Under Vincenzo Montella, though, he looked perhaps more lost than any other player on the roster, perhaps because his brief as a wingback was to stay up the pitch and stretch play rather than overlap into space, which he’d done so well for the Neroverdi. Giuseppe Iachini’s hiring and his decision to push the wingbacks deeper seemed to bring the best out of Lirola, who offered a lot more from his deeper position.
After the restart, though, Lirola frequently played on the left as Beppe tried to rotate his squad. In this role, the Spaniard was, if anything, even worse than he was early in the year. His extreme right-footedness kept him from whipping in crosses and meant that he usually ran straight at goal on the break, often choosing to shoot himself rather than lay it off. That, uh, didn’t work at all. Combined with his occasional lapses in focus, which usually manifested themselves as him completely losing his mark, and you’ve got a year that wasn’t disastrous but wasn’t much less.
Final stats: 39 appearances (2933 minutes), 1 goal, 2 assists, 4 yellow cards
Final grade: D+ While there were flashes of the player we saw at Sassuolo, the rough start and rough finish to the year mean that you can’t rate him anywhere but below average, even though it wasn’t entirely his fault as he tried to learn new positions.
Best moment: Had a run of games in January through February in which he looked like maybe the best player in the squad. Skipped past challenges, put in good crosses, defended well, and hardly put a foot wrong. Both his assists and his goal came in that 5-week stretch. Any of those games would work, but I’ll say either the 2-1 Coppa win over Atalanta or the 0-2 triumph over Napoli at the San Potato.
Worst moment: Choose your yikes. He was maybe the worst player on the pitch in the 5-2 loss at Cagliari (which took a whole lot of work, because there were lots of bad players on that pitch), but to me he was even worse in the 1-3 loss to Sassuolo and 2-1 loss at AS Roma; in both, he made awful defensive decisions, lost the ball constantly, and offered nothing resembling an end product.
Goal for next year: Get better in pretty much every department in the defensive and attacking thirds. Also, play on the right side exclusively.
The Inter Milan loanee arrived in a swap for Cristiano Biraghi to little fanfare; in fact, considering his struggles with the Nerazzurri over the past couple of years, some fans were pretty mad. The Brazilian quickly formed a nexus with Franck Ribery and Gaetano Castrovilli, though, using his pace and constant overlapping to stretch play down the left, both as a decoy runner and as a decent crossing option.
Under Iachini, though, he was ordered to sit deeper, which didn’t suit him quite as much. His defensive instincts seem a bit iffy and he often relies on his pace to bail him out rather than getting to the right spots to start with. He’s also got a rash tackle in his locker that puts him at constant risk of bookings. Still, he managed 6 assists on the year and would have had quite a few more had Fiorentina fielded a striker who could finish crosses for most of the year.
Final stats: 34 appearances (2751 minutes), 6 assists, 10 yellow cards, 1 red card
Final grade: C+ He didn’t come out of the restart very well, but he was one of the club’s most important players for much of the season.
Best moment: Had a little run at the end of September when he was really clicking with Ribery and Tanino, but impressed me the most in the 2-1 loss at Inter Milan. Kept his focus for the full 90 minutes, made some spectacular plays in his own half defensively, and created chances (which Vlahović wasted) more than anyone else on the team.
Worst moment: While his straight red for a really dumb foul against AC Milan was bad, I’d argue that his performance against Sassuolo in that 1-3 loss was even worse. Never in the right place, never made the right decision, never used the ball well. Pretty much displayed all of his negative qualities and none of his positive ones.
Goal for next year: Sounds like he’ll be returning on loan again, so building on his successes this year while tightening up his marking will be the priority.
Currently the longest-serving Viola player, Lollo made his first team debut earlier this year after half a decade of loan moves elsewhere. He didn’t start the season too well, largely because he was used as a utility player (and often as a late sub to close out games) and on the left of a back three, both fullback spots, and both wingback spots, but at least didn’t seem like a hopeless cause; rather, he looked like an average bench player who can play against bottom half opponents without looking wholly out of his depth.
Final stats: 18 appearances (895 minutes), 1 assist, 4 yellow cards, 1 red card
Final grade: B A little shaky early on and struggled under Montella and at the beginning of Iachini’s tenure, but looked like one of the better fullbacks in the league after the restart.
Best moment: His best game was in the 4-0 win over Bologna, when he didn’t make a single mistake aside from a mishit shot; stonewalled his opponent, dribbled past him, hit accurate crosses, and opened up space for his teammates with his canny movement. But in the first half against Parma, he looked like a Ballon d’Or winner, hitting the bar with a long-range curler, winning a penalty, and generally playing with a swagger you’d never associate with him.
Worst moment: Getting sent off against Cittadella for a needless foul was pretty bad.
Goal for next year: Given Lirola’s price tag, usurping his spot may not be possible. But Lollo can and should serve in a 50-50 time share while remaining the smiliest, nicest-seeming guy at the club. He had to wait for it, but he had a heck of a debut for the Viola and you can’t help but be really happy for him.