Fiorentina vs. AC Milan: Winners and Losers from Serie A Game

Sam LoprestiFeatured ColumnistAugust 23, 2015

Fiorentina vs. AC Milan: Winners and Losers from Serie A Game

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    Milan and Fiorentina kicked off the season at the Artemio Franchi on Sunday.
    Milan and Fiorentina kicked off the season at the Artemio Franchi on Sunday.Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

    Whoever made the choice to have AC Milan and Fiorentina kick off the Serie A season should be commended.

    It would—on paper, anyway—be a quick way to see how well two teams that underwent significant changes in the offseason could translate those alterations to on-field performance.

    In reality, the match didn't give us much to judge with—at least not in Fiorentina's case.  Milan, on the other hand, wasted much of the pre-match optimism of their fans by reverting to the team that drove them crazy a season ago.  

    Red cards, poor defending and sloppy play was the fare of the day.  All Fiorentina had to do was take advantage of the extra man.  There wasn't much excitement, but they killed the game off clinically to come away with the 2-0 victory.

    Who came out brightest in a pretty mundane game?  And who will have extra work to do as they look ahead to the rest of the season?  Let's look a the winners and losers of Sunday's curtain-raiser.

Winner: Marcos Alonso

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    Alonso fired in the opener with a fantastic free kick.
    Alonso fired in the opener with a fantastic free kick.Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

    Spanish left-back Marcos Alonso was the star of the game.

    The defender was absolutely everywhere.  He stepped up to take the 38th-minute free kick that opened the scoring and was a force in the back.  According to he made five tackles and six interceptions—both team highs—and completed 81.4 percent of his passes, including three of five long balls.

    It was a man-of-the-match performance.  The 24-year-old certainly made an impression on new coach Paulo Sousa, as well as the rest of the league.  Expect him to take more dead balls with his thunderbolt left foot and take a more authoritative role in a defense that is rebuilding after the sale of Stefan Savic.

Losers: Milan's Defense

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    Romagnoli (foreground) and Ely had a rough debut.
    Romagnoli (foreground) and Ely had a rough debut.Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

    Milan came into the season confident that the team's defensive problems had finally been solved.  The talented and young duo of Rodrigo Ely and Alessio Romagnoli was supposed to shore up a back line that had been a sieve over the last few years.

    One game does not a season make, but this was not the first impression the pairing wanted to make.

    Ely—who arrived with a reputation for accumulating cards in the lower leagues—looked visibly nervous early on and received an early yellow card for a tactical foul on Nikola Kalinic.  About 20 minutes later, a similar through ball found its way past him and another Fiorentina player hit the ground; referee Paolo Valeri immediately reached for his pocket.

    Red cards had been a massive issue for Milan last season.  Lo and behold, they again found themselves down a man nearly 40 minutes into the season.  

    It forced Sinisa Mihajlovic to sacrifice Keisuke Honda to shore up the defense with Cristian Zapata, depriving Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano of their critical link with the rest of the team.  The resulting free kick was buried by Alonso in emphatic fashion.

    Losing his partner seemed to fray Romagnoli's nerves as well.  He had made several good plays in the first half, deflecting a well-placed cross a minute before Ely's transgression that would have been real trouble.

    But as the game went on he started to lose it, and 10 minutes after the restart he gifted Fiorentina a way to put the game to bed by conceding a penalty.

    The merits of Valeri's call were debatable.  Subsequent replays showed Romagnoli's sliding challenge may have found the ball before it found Josip Ilicic.  But Ilicic was close to a dead end, and going to ground so close to the end line is insanely risky due to the difficult angle for the referees.  

    It was the wrong decision, and Milan paid for it.

    It remains to be seen who Mihajlovic decides to play in the center of defense next week, but Romagnoli and Ely should remain the first-choice partnership.  

    Milan's starting XI has been a revolving door in recent years, which has prevented players from developing chemistry and has hurt team morale.  

    One mistake does not merit drastic change—but the two youngsters need to do better when they are back together.

Winner: Diego Lopez

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    Lopez made a string of good saves to keep the scoreline close.
    Lopez made a string of good saves to keep the scoreline close.Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

    Diego Lopez deserves better.

    Milan's best player last season, Lopez was often tasked with simply ensuring that Milan lost by a scoreline that was respectable.  He was exposed far too often, and that was a theme that continued Sunday.

    Lopez again performed fantastically.  He was sure-handed and didn't let any ball get away from him.  

    He won a pair of one-on-one situations, denying Kalinic in the first half and Ilicic in the second.  Alonso's thunderbolt of a free kick was perfectly placed in the top corner—no goalkeeper in the world was getting to it.

    Lopez also guessed right on Ilicic's penalty, but the Slovenian had just enough power to get it past his fingertips.

    It was more of the same for the Spanish international, who can only hope that the future—and having 10 men in front of him instead of nine—will mean seeing fewer shots come his way.

Loser: Carlos Bacca

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    Bacca's debut in the league wasn't as good as his Coppa performance on Monday.
    Bacca's debut in the league wasn't as good as his Coppa performance on Monday.Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

    Carlos Bacca was signed to be the focal point of Milan's forward line, but he had a tepid league debut Sunday.

    He looked out of sorts early on.  He regularly failed to control the ball and was caught offside twice.  When he nicked the ball away from Alonso 15 minutes in, he charged forward, but with Luiz Adriano on his left and Honda on his right, he got selfish and fired a shot, slamming the ball well wide of the near post.

    He was deprived of a lot of his service after Honda was sacrificed in the wake of Ely's dismissal, but when the ball did come his way, he couldn't do much of anything with it.

    It's only one game, and with a player of his quality, the goals will come, but he clearly hasn't gotten back to full fitness after playing in the Copa America this summer.

Winner: Paulo Sousa

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    Sousa got the perfect start to keep the team's preseason momentum going.
    Sousa got the perfect start to keep the team's preseason momentum going.Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

    Paulo Sousa had big shoes to fill following the controversial departure of Vincenzo Montella.

    The departed manager had driven Fiorentina to three straight fourth-place finishes and played some of the most attractive football in Serie A.  All Sousa did to replace him was go on a tear in preseason, convincingly beating the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona.

    What Sousa needed more than anything was a performance that would continue that momentum, and he got it against Milan.  The Viola were in control before Milan lost a man, and they did well to capitalize on the extra man and see the game out.

    There weren't any major master strokes of coaching going on.  In fact, the Portuguese tactician may have missed a prime chance to let Giuseppe Rossi get in some easy game time and work his way into form.  

    But his team kept its nerve and didn't let Milan sneak back.  It was the kind of confident performance that can spur them on as the season goes forward.

Loser: Ciprian Tatarusanu

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    Tatarusanu looked shaky in goal.
    Tatarusanu looked shaky in goal.Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

    Not everything was a massive plus for Fiorentina.

    Ciprian Tatarusanu has been tasked with replacing Norberto Neto in goal for Fiorentina, and if Sunday's performance was any indication, it did not bode well.

    The Romanian was well protected by his back four, particularly after they went up a man.  But boy was he shaky when the ball did get to him.  He bobbled several balls that, if a Milan player had been a little bit closer, could have allowed the Rossoneri back into the game out of nowhere.

    The first incident, in first-half stoppage time, nearly put the ball right down Carlos Bacca's shirt.  The second came on a corner 10 minutes into the second period.  This time his teammates were there to bail him out, turning what could have been a disaster into a fairly good-looking counterattack.

    Tatarusanu is going to need to be more secure going forward, or Fiorentina will find itself in search of help between the sticks.