Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—6.5: Made a string of saves in the first half to keep Fiorentina in it, with stops on Olivier Giroud, Samuel Chukwueze, Tijjani Reijnders, and Christian Pulisic standing out. Did end up looking like a traffic cone on Rafael Leão’s goal, which wasn’t great, but saved more than he let in.

Dodô—6: Let Leão by him a couple times but that’ll happen to any fullback in the world, so it’s hardly a disaster. Stayed in front of the winger well and even beat him in the air a couple of times. Wasn’t influential in possession or productive going forward.

Nikola Milenković—5: Let in the first goal when he slipped and fell, but it feels harsh to penalize him too much for that. Lost track of Giroud time and again, though, and generally looked uncomfortable.

Lucas Martínez Quarta—5: Booked for an early reducer on Chukwueze and had to be careful afterwards. Lost to Giroud in the air several times and seemed off the pace a bit.

Cristiano Biraghi—5: Struggled to stay in front of Chukwueze, losing him several times and getting dusted a couple others. Didn’t affect the game much going forward, and his set piece delivery was underwhelming.

Rolando Mandragora—5: Put in a big tackle in the first minute and had a decent shot off a Kayode throw in in the second half but was otherwise pretty invisible. Didn’t track Reijnders very well, allowing the midfielder to pop up all over the defensive third and pick out his passes.

Alfred Duncan—7: Hit an absolute thunderbastard of a goal but didn’t do much else. He’s not a controller like Arthur and didn’t screen the defense very well from Reijnders and Ruben Loftus-Cheek bursting through, leaving the back line constantly overloaded.

Jonathan Ikoné—6: Played in Belotti for a 1-v-1 chance that il Gallo whiffed and came close with his own effort moments later. Drifted in and out as his teammates failed to find him very often but was more direct than usual, providing at least the illusion of a threat. Not the problem.

Lucas Beltrán—6.5: Couldn’t get on the ball in the first half but was central to everything the team created after the break. Buzzed around linking play and finding little pockets of space. Best attacker by miles in this one.

Christian Kouamé—5: Won some headers, tracked back well, and attacked space when he could, but looked about as rusty as you’d expect from a guy making his first appearance for the club in 3 months.

Andrea Belotti—5: Whiffed a 1-v-1 by shooting straight into Mike Maignan and saw the Frenchman save a better effort. Bustled around as per, but at some point he simply has to put the ball into the back of the net.

Nico González—6.5: Didn’t do a whole lot, aside from making Davide Calabria look very silly, but his presence clearly scared AC Milan and opened space for everyone else.

Michael Kayode—6: Yeeted a throw over everyone’s heads for Mandragora; someone’s going to score one of those at some point and it’ll be sick.

M’Bala Nzola—5: A typically uninspiring 10-minute cameo.

Antonín Barák—n/a: Came on at the dath in a desperation ploy.

Riccardo Sottil—n/a: Ibidem.

Three things we learned

1. The midfield isn’t good enough. Okay, we’ve known it for awhile, but the options in the engine room just aren’t sufficient to the demands Vincenzo Italiano places them under. Arthur’s obviously fantastic and Duncan’s rock solid, but the drop-off when one or both are absent is precipitous. Italiano must feel like he has to spread his 2 competent midfielders’ minutes to fill twice weekly games, which is an unconquerable logistical problem. For a team competing on 3 fronts, there just aren’t enough bodies.

Italiano’s obviously aware of this and has tried solutions (e.g. Giacomo Bonaventura in the double pivot) but it’s not really worked. Mandragora’s a fine player, but he’s more of a moments guy than a control things for 90 minutes; Maxime Lopez is technically excellent but too easy to bully. There’s a reason both are in the bottom half of the squad’s +/- rankings on fbref, which indicates that the team tends to play worse when they’re on the pitch relative to everyone else.

There’s plenty of blame to go around and I’m not interested in legislating it, but it’s clear that the current options are insufficient. Expect a big shakeup in the middle next year, as Mandragora’s the only guy under contract past July. The current group doesn’t set up the forwards or protect the defense well enough; finding a balance that fits with the new manager has to be a priority for the brass.

2. If the games were 45 minutes, Fiorentina would be fantastic. I’ve been noticing this trend over the past few months and need to dive deeper, but it feels like Fiorentina’s only got 45 good minutes in it per game, whether that’s an entire half or a couple of good stretches either side of halftime. I haven’t been able to figure out a way to measure it yet but I’ve got a few ideas, so this is very much vibes-based more than evidence-based.

My working theory is that Italiano’s tactics require so much energy that he’s accepted his team can’t perform them at a high level for an entire match. He’s therefore ordered his guys to mostly just stand around for half the game, usually the first period, and try to keep it close, then open up the throttle and really get after it in the second half. It’s an interesting solution to a tricky problem but one that doesn’t offer consistent solutions and leaves the Viola prone to starting out well behind the 8 ball. Again, I need to figure out a way to metrically look at this, but it’s definitely a theory worth investigating.

3. There aren’t any easy games for this team. That may sound like a harsh conclusion after losing to Serie A’s 2nd-best outfit but it’s the first thing I thought of when the triple blast sounded. Like I mentioned earlier, Fiorentina doesn’t have the talent to field a competent XI twice a week without running its best players into the ground. That means Italiano will have to rotate the side heavily, and the differences between the starters and the backups is glaringly obvious.

What that means is that the Viola, while frequently the stronger side on paper, won’t be able to use their full resources. Instead of blowing away a relegation straggler on sheer player ability, Italiano will have to find a way to rest tired legs without ceding too much advantage to the underdogs. It’s a delicate balancing act and another reminder that this squad simply isn’t built to compete on 3 fronts. If Cousin Vinnie can continue to drag the club forward, he deserves a ton of credit.

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