Empoli have Serie A safety in their own hands after clambering out of the relegation zone and against Inter on Sunday will be looking to goalkeeper Bartlomiej Dragowski for another headline-grabbing performance.
Joining Empoli four months ago on loan from Fiorentina, 21-year-old Dragowski’s name has filled Italian newspaper columns as of late, burning brightly after an incredible clean sheet in mid-April. The shot-stopper set a new league record since Opta started keeping statistics in 2004, as he made 17 saves in a 0-0 draw against Atalanta, denying the likes of Papu Gomez, Josip Ilicic and Duvan Zapata.
Dragowski fanned the flames of his fiery reputation when the Azzurri met Fiorentina in the Derby Dell’Arno. As Empoli were fighting to keep their heads above water, the Viola were looking to regain balance, Vincenzo Montella was summoned for a second managerial stint in purple.
With just 22km separating the two Tuscan cities, the clubs often find themselves doing business with one another, which is how the Fiorentina-owned player arrived just a short drive away. What Fiorentina could not have expected though, was the show that their loaner was about to put on against his parent club.
With a burly beard seeming as if it belonged to a man of much wiser years, Number 69’s yin of calmed focus was matched by his yang of power and reflex. Perhaps Fiorentina’s best chance of the match came in the 81st minute, yet a save to change the projection of his blocking hand mid-flight seemed more the reflex of a jungle cat than anything human. Giovanni Simeone could do nothing but look down to the ground in disbelief, walking away from his former training partner.
The Man of the Match concluded his performance on the night with a celebratory salute towards the Azzurri faithful, punching his arm high in the air, gazing upon the Stadio Carlo Castellani’s supporting banners.
Such form from the youngster has drawn interest from the top clubs in Serie A, as well in England, knowing that Fiorentina could be persuaded to part with the Pole given La Viola’s surprising surplus of goalkeepers. This season’s newcomer Alban Lafont is having his own impressive season, yet the squad has suffered in the standings and the revenue from his sale would benefit all parties.
Much was made of Lafont being ‘the French Gianluigi Donnarumma,’ but what does that make Poland Under-21 international Dragowski? After all, he made his senior Jagiellonia debut at the age of 16 and in his first full season was voted Best Goalkeeper in the Ekstraklasa Polish League when only 17 years old.
Before the summer transfer season gets into full swing, Dragowski has one final and very large test on his hands. Inter need a victory to be sure of their Champions League qualification, while Empoli known only a win would guarantee their Serie A status for next season.
It’s easy to imagine this is the kind of game where Inter will lay siege to the minnows at San Siro, only to leave themselves at risk of conceding on the counter. This is the perfect stage and occasion for Dragowski to put on another show for Empoli, Fiorentina and any prospective buyers.