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2020-2021 End of year grades: Wingbacks

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It wasn’t all bad, but it definitely wasn’t all good.

Italy Training Session & Press Conference
Have you ever seen a human look so resolute?
Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Cristiano Biraghi

What happened: After Inter Milan decided against making his loan permanent, there was some talk that he’d leave Fiorentina again. Instead, he came in and did his usual thing, spamming high crosses and not doing much else. He seemed to fall off a bit as the season wore on—just 2 assists in 2021—and got into a few exchanges with Franck Ribery. Of greater concern was his defensive vulnerability; he looked very cumbersome on the turn and was frequently a weak link out wide. To his credit, though, he always went out and did his thing no matter what. That sort of reliability deserves a lot more credit from the fans.

Final stats: 38 appearances (33 starts), 3360 minutes, 1 goal, 6 assists, 9 yellow cards, 163 crosses (1st)

Best moment: Has to be that 0-3 win over Juventus. He set up one goal with a teasing cross that Alex Sandro turned into his own net, then assisted Cáceres for the third while at least vaguely slowing Federico Chiesa down. And of course he put in 8 crosses, 3 more than the rest of the team combined.

What’s next: He’s 28 and his contract runs until 2024, so he’s probably not going anywhere. Despite being a fringe international, though, there’s been a lot of chatter about upgrading him, largely because he’s not all that exciting. Too, his style may not mesh as well with Gennaro Gattuso’s plans. However, he’s far from the biggest problem on the team and is almost certain to reprise his role next year.

Final grade: C- The defensive struggles were worrying but he was better than we remember going forward, considering that he rarely had more than one target to aim for.

Martín Cáceres

What happened: It was tough to figure if he was more of a defender or a wingback, but he spent more time as the latter so I'm putting him here. The move actually worked quite well, as his occasional howlers happened farther away from goal and thus weren’t as catastrophic. While he offers almost nothing on the ball, his persistent runs towards the back post caused problems for opponents sometimes, and he was largely a plus defensively. As an obvious stopgap measure, he was more than adequate, and he deserves a lot of credit for his work in about 6 different roles this year.

Final stats: 31 appearances (28 starts), 2401 minutes, 2 goals, 1 assist, 5 yellow cards

Best moment: Like Biraghi, it’s the Juve game. His bursts infield caused Alex Sandro plenty of trouble, especially late on, and he gave C*******o R*****o all he could handle on the other end. And, of course, it’s hard not to love a guy who scores against the Notts County cosplayers.

What’s next: He’s out of contract now but there’s been some chatter about his desire to re-up for another season. That’ll largely depend on Ringhio, but having a veteran who can do a job anywhere in the backline isn’t a terrible idea.

Final grade: B Did pretty much everything that was asked of him and didn’t ruin anything, which feels like a step up from last year.

Lorenzo Venuti

What happened: Started the year behind Lirola but passed the Spaniard under Prandelli and never looked back. Might have been Fiorentina’s steadiest player of the year, rarely doing anything brilliantly but rarely getting anything wrong. Showed a knack for winning the ball up the pitch and winning free kicks as he zipped by opponents, indicating that there may be some untapped potential as an attacker there. Did have the odd wobble but made it clear that he belongs at this level. Also led the team in smiles for the second straight year and seems like one of the funnest guys in the squad.

Final stats: 30 appearances (22 starts), 1919 minutes, 1 goal, 1 assist, 3 yellow cards

Best moment: He scored his first-ever senior goal for Fiorentina against Padova in the Coppa Italia with a brilliant glanced header, and you could feel the joy radiating off him.

What’s next: He’ll compete for a starting role next year, but is likely to wind up as a top bench option again; he’s the sort of capable player good teams can rotate in without missing a beat, which almost feels like a luxury at this point.

Final grade: B+ Definitively answered the questions about whether he belongs at this level. The real question now is whether he’s pencilled in as the starter next year or not.

Pol Lirola

What happened: After coming on strong under Giuseppe Iachini last year, expectations were high for the Catalan. He looked badly out of step at the start of the season, though, and Prandelli pretty well dropped him after a series of underwhelming performances, particularly on the back foot. A January loan to Marseille brought him minutes, but L’OM didn’t exercise his option.

Final stats: 13 appearances (4 starts), 537 minutes, 1 assist, 3 yellow cards

Best moment: His assist came against Spezia, but he was probably at his best in the 3-2 win over Udinese, showcasing his pace, technique, and linkup play.

What’s next: Everyone assumed he’d be loaned or sold outright, but it sounds like his Viola career may yet have some life. Watching what happens with him will be one of the more interesting storylines of the summer.

Final grade: D Fell behind Venuti and Cáceres so badly that he was sent packing; still a class player, though, so hopefully Gattuso can turn it around for him in Florence.