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How can Bartłomiej Drągowski take the next step?

The Viola number one is right on the cusp of becoming world-class.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-FIORENTINA-JUVENTUS Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images

Fiorentina has a number of young players who are talented but haven’t quite pulled it all together yet. In this series, we’re going to look at what one or two things they need to do to take that next step.

Bartłomiej Drągowski is already one of Serie A’s better goalkeepers. Before Dušan Vlahović’s aposeosis last December, the Poland international was, without a doubt, Fiorentina’s best player. Without him wins against Udinese, against Cagliari, at Hellas Verona, and against Lazio would’ve been draws or worse; draws against Genoa and Bologna would’ve been losses; and losses at AS Roma, against Benevento, at AC Milan, and at Atalanta would’ve looked much, much worse.

We’ve only seen him for a full 90 twice this season, as he earned a (rather soft) straight red at Roma and then sat out due to his participation in Poland’s World Cup qualifiers, but there’s no question that, as a shot stopper, he’s as good as anyone in Serie A. While some of his goalkeeping numbers indicate that he could improve, the eyeball test confirms that the problem last year was a defense that constantly hung him out to dry, particularly on set pieces. He wasn’t the problem.

Maybe you could argue that Bart could be better against long shots, but that’s a minor concern compared to his distribution. FBref defines a “launch” as a pass from the goalkeeper that travels 40 or more yards. In open play last year, Bart had the 2nd-highest launch rate in the league, behind just Verona’s Marco Silvestri and Genoa’s Mattia Perin. His average passing distance was the 2nd-highest in the league. From goal kicks, he was a bit more reserved, clocking in with the 7th-highest launch rate.

A lot of that, of course, is tactical. Giuseppe Iachini really, really didn’t want this team playing out from the back and preferred his goalkeeper to thump it long, even though Vlahović was usually the only target (Franck Ribery would’ve had the lowest aerial success rate in Serie A but didn’t even try to win enough headers to qualify). Beppe clearly wanted the man wearing 69 (nice) to boom the ball as far away from the goal as he could.

Vincenzo Italiano, on the other hand, really wants to build from the back. At Spezia last year, Ivan Provedel made more passes per 90 than any goalkeeper in the league at 43.8; Bart, on the other hand, clocked in at at 31st with 29.4. In two games under Italiano this season that haven’t involved a red card, Pietro Terracciano has averaged 58 passing attempts per game, which is literally double what Bart averaged last year.

I can’t really find any data that says Bart’s bad with his feet, largely because he’s never played for a coach who’s used him as a passer. However, I can recall several instances of poor distribution that led to chances the other way, including two against Inter Milan on Tuesday. Maybe, with some practice, he’ll get better; after all, we are talking about a professional athlete who is more physically capable of learning a skill than 99.999999999999% of the world’s population.

To really take that next step, though, I think that’s what Bart needs to do. He needs to become a reliable outlet for his teammates and increase his composure on the ball. We’ve already seen Terracciano look pretty good in possession, which was definitely not the case last year, so there’s plenty of reason to hope that Drągowski can add this new wrinkle. After all, he’s still just 23 and has at least another decade as a top-level goalkeeper.