If anything was left unclear about Fiorentina’s approach following their 3-0 demolition of SPAL on Saturday, Coach Stefano Pioli duly cleared things up in his post-match press conference. Continue reading
Fantasy Football News
There is something about welcoming Chelsea to the London Stadium that seems to bring out the best in West Ham United. The Hammers’ rivals from across the capital lost 1-0 at this ground last season and also came unstuck in the League Cup the year before, going down 2-1 in the fourth round. Chelsea managed to avoid defeat on their latest visit on Sunday afternoon, but their failure to emerge victorious means Liverpool are now the only Premier League team with a 100 per cent winning record after six matches.
It had been a year of back and forth with Manchester United desperately trying to tie down Marouane Fellaini to a new contract as he entered into his final year. Even when January approached and the Belgian was free to sign a pre-contract with a European club of his choosing and move away for free, José Mourinho pleaded with the United board in order to get this over the line.
It is no secret that Manchester United fans have had a rollercoaster of a relationship with Fellaini over the years. After being David Moyes’ only signing the summer he took over from Sir Alex Ferguson, fans were never going to take to him well without others being brought through the door with him.
Given he is also an unorthodox United player that is full of technical ability, it only worsened matters when they found out the club had overpaid for Fellaini due to his buy-out clause expiring earlier in the summer.
Fellaini left it until late in the day – and while with Belgium on international duty – to announce that he had signed a new and improved two-year deal that will keep him at the club until he’s 32-years-old. While there was uproar from certain corners of supporters given the embarrassment over handling this contract extension, others greeted it with optimism and thought if Mourinho wanted him so badly to extend, there must be a reason for that.
And that reason has been shown in the opening handful of games into the new season. Mourinho, quite clearly, sees Fellaini as his enforcer. As the player who is going to do his dirty work on the pitch, break the opposition’s play up and distribute the ball in order for the team to move forward and attack the space. At too many times in Fellaini’s United career has he been used as a number 10, trying to dictate play, when that is not where his strengths lie.
While United have not had the easiest starts possible in terms of their results and performances on the pitch, Fellaini has been a key cog at times when Mourinho has called on him. The Belgian, especially in the remaining 30 minutes of matches, acts as a player who offers protection and security in front of his defence – a defence that has been under fire and on shaky legs so far.
Fellaini is not the most eye-pleasing player in a United jersey, but it’s not his job to be that. You simply cannot – or expect – a team to be filled with flair players that take your breath away at every moment. In most elite clubs, they have players who carry out instructions diligently and can be trusted to sacrifice themselves for the team’s cause. Mourinho has said on countless ocassions that Fellaini is one of his most trusted players and can rely on him.
While United’s overall performance against Wolves at the weekend was dire, Fellaini’s performance stood out. For the first 50 minutes, the Belgian was organised in carrying out his role in front of United’s back four, mopping up any danger that would come his way from Wolves’ sharp break aways. Acting in a more defensive role, Fellaini looked comfortable when tasked with thwarting any danger.
When Wolves eventually did find a breakthrough in Joao Moutinho’s wonderful strike, Fellaini’s role changed somewhat. Instead of occupying the space just in front of his two central defenders, he was given the freedom to move forward and cause chaos in an attacking sense. Having a focal point, in addition to Romelu Lukaku, who was incredibly poor, helped United move up the pitch efficiently. The transition in United’s play from defence into attack was eased and the Red Devils found themselves dominating more of possession in the final 30 minutes.
As soon as Andreas Pereira came onto the field with 15 minutes to play, Fellaini made the permanent move up front, where United’s creators had an easier job in finding possession in the final third. While, in the end, their hard labour failed to bring home the three points, it did highlight the many uses of Fellaini under Mourinho and why the Portuguese manager is so keen on having him on the pitch.
He quite possibly might never be truly accepted by fans inside Old Trafford, but Fellaini has been one of United’s better players so far this season and looks to be more comfortable at the start of this campaign than in previous years. His position, at the base of midfield, is one where he excels in and has seen the most praise in. With such a long and tiring season ahead, there will always be a time for Fellaini’s presence.
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If you cast your mind back to how Luciano Spalletti’s team started last season, you realize that Inter Milan have been less productive this season. Before their one zero win over Sampdoria last Saturday, the Nerazzurri had amassed just four points from four games and sat 15th position on the league rung. That is nine points short of what they achieved after match day four in the previous campaign.
There are a couple of factors that have accounted for this bad start, and one of them could be laid right at the doorstep of the manager Luciano Spalletti. Spalletti has been doing a lot of tinkering with his team selection and system, which hasn’t helped them much. It’s quite understandable that the Italian tactician wants to his new recruits to bed into his method and assimilate his ideas very early in the season, but the lack of consistency in his approach has been problematic.
Now let’s photograph some of Luciano Spalletti’s confusion with clear illustrations.
In Inter’s opening fixture against Sassuolo at the MAPEI Stadium, the manger played a back four which comprised of João Miranda and Stefan de Vrij as center back pair, whiles Dalbert Chagas and Danilo D’Ambrosio played as laterals. In the midfield, Luciano Spalletti opted for Matías Vecino alongside Marcelo Brozović with new signing Lautaro Martínez playing behind Mauro Icardi. The captain had Kwadwo Asamoah supporting him from the left wing and Matteo Politano on the other side. Inter dominated possession but was on par with Sassuolo on the number of shots on targets and corners. In the end, the home side held onto Domenico Berardi’s 27th minute penalty kick.
At home to Torino at San Siro, Luciano Spalletti altered his starting line-up and changed the system to a back three. Miranda was pulled out for M. Škriniar alongside S. De Vrij and Danilo D’Ambrosio to form a trio at the back. Š. Vrsaljko and Asamoah played as wing backs whiles Perisic and Politano attacked the flanks with Icardi as the target man. He maintained the midfield duo of Brozovic and Vecino. Inter squandered their two goal lead before the interval as Torino rallied in the second half to level the score.
Against Bologna, Spalletti returned to a back to four and made three chances to the previous line- up. M. Škriniar and S. de Vrij continued their centreback partnership. D. D’Ambrosio and Asamoah played as lateral defenders. Roberto Gagliardini took the place of Vecino with Radja Nianggolan playing behind Keita Balde Diao. Inter produced an assured performance in the second period of that game, scoring three goals through Nainggolan, Perisic and substitute Antonio Candreva.
It’s normal for coaches to rest players in a league game ahead of a Champions League fixture, and given Inter’s absence in the European Competition for the past seven years, it was imperative that they started with a win on home soil. And before that, was a home game against promoted side Parma who are proving to be tough customers for the established teams in the league. Spalletti maintained a chunk of the players in the previous game but still made two changes with Dalbert Henrique taking the place of Asamoah and Candreva coming in for Politano.
The change of players and systems means the manager is not wedded to one particular approach, but it sends the message that Luciano Spalletti is yet to find the right permutation for the team. Nainngolan is a huge character in midfield, dominant and very demanding. The Belgian is all about strength, passion, technique and athleticism. Playing him behind Icardi or Keita doesn’t seem to be the ideal fit. Nainggolan has proven to be a threat from A distance with his long range shots, but he is not a reliable creative player. He can function better in tandem with Brozovic in the middle of the pitch.
In Kwadwo Asamoah, Spelletti has got a versatile player capable of operating both as a left back and a winger, but Asamoah’s favorite position, the role he revels in, is playing behind the attack. Inter’s midfield is currently oversubscribed with the manager having to rotate between Borja Valero, Vecino and Gagliardini. However, the Ghanaian will be a vital component in the Nerrazurris charge for a successful league campaign.
It would have been ideal for inter to have approached the Tuesday’s Champion league game against Totteham Hotspurs in a much healthier position. The Nerazzurri didn’t look like a team prior to the 2-1 win over the English side. They looked disjointed and uninspiring, with their defending a bit abject this season. Luciano Spalletti’s comments after overcoming Spurs was quite significant about his team’s performance “We weren’t at the level, in a couple of areas, which we had prepared to be. Some phases of the game could have been managed better. “A victory like this, after having come from behind, gives us a lot of enthusiasm and allows us to believe more about the future’’
We can’t say how far Inter will go into the Champions League, but after showing determined spirit to come from behind to secure a very important victory they could go far. The win over Spurs proved to be a shot in the arm for Spalletti’s men as they continued with another victory away to Sampdoria on Saturday. Hopefully Inter will make up for their early stutters to close the gap on their opponents in the league.
Support for the manager was beginning to sag after a year, but winning two games on the trot should blow the doubt and lift confidence around the team. Talent wise, Inter are the best of the chasing pack, but Spalletti’s team need to be a real title threat by churning out consistent performances. The manager’s lack of clarity of how to deploy his players in the right system is what contributed to their poor start.
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The recent two matches against Poland and Portugal certainly didn’t do much to inspire hope that the Azzurri can rapidly turn things around failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.
But the start of the Serie A season has given even a cynical person like myself at least some reasons to believe Roberto Mancini (or whoever could potentially replace him after the Euro) will be able to field a competent squad in Qatar should the Azzurri make it that far.
There have been some Italian players young enough to be in their prime in four years who have been able to shine in the first few weeks of the season including…
Nicolo’ Barella the 21 year old Cagliari midfielder was the man of the match in the recent showdown against Milan. The Sardinian native has shown his versatility so far this season, he packs a strong punch with his shot to go with good positioning and above average tacking ability. Barella has all the tools to slot nicely next to Jorginho, a player who so far has struggled to shine on the Azzurri the same he does at the club, likely because the system isn’t set up for him to shine and also because the drop off in talent when he plays for the Italian national team is significant to what he experienced at Napoli and now at Chelsea. Barella’s teammate Alessio Cragno has continued to build on the strong performances from last season, and could become Donnarumma’s backup on the Azzurri (or main competitor) should Mattia Perin continue to struggle to find playing time at Juventus.
Speaking of Juventus, Federico Bernardeschi has been arguably Allegri’s best player so far this season. During the summer there was talk the former Fiorentina player would move to the midfield to help overcome the lack of depth after Claudio Marchisio’s departure and because he wasn’t expected to play much in an attack featuring players like Douglas Costa, Paulo Dybala, Juan Cuadrado and Mario Mandzukic. But so far Bernardeschi has shown the maturity that he lacked during his time in Tuscany and in the process made it really hard to bench him.
While Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are still certainly well above average players at their positions, it’s hard to imagine that either of them will be still viable options during the next World Cup. But luckily Italy will be able to count on Alessio Romagnoli, who recently inherited Milan’s captain’s arm band- the former Roma defender is in the verge of becoming an elite player at the international level after shining in Serie A. Romagnoli’s teammate Davide Calabria still hasn’t convinced most of his critics, but considering his young age and experience in Serie A and with Italy’s Under 21 where he appeared in 15 matches, there’s reason to believe he’ll at least be a potential backup wing back on the Azzurri.
Mancini must have have told himself “if you want something done right, you might as well do it yourself“ when he recently selected Nicolo’ Zaniolo to the Azzurri’s senior squad right after complaining Serie A teams weren’t fielding enough young Italians. Mancini’s bold decision inspired Eusebio Di Francesco to give Zaniolo his debut for Roma at the Santiago Bernabeu, the former Inter youth team player was a key member of Italy’s Under 19 that made it to the European finals and could single handedly change the way the Nainggolan deal has been evaluated.
Just like in Barella’s case, there’s no doubt that Federico Chiesa will benefit from at least another full season at his current club in a system where he’s comfortable. The Fiorentina winger is going from being rated as one of the beta prospects in Serie A to being considered one of the league’s best players outright with his performances to start the season.
Chiesa’s teammate, Marco Benassi is entering his prime now and his first few matches were so convincing that Mancini selected him for the two recent matches. Benassi has appeared in 27 matches with the Azzurri’s Under 21 team where he also scored six goals.
For most strikers, failing to score in three consecutive games wouldn’t be a cause for concern. For £56 million Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, however, it had a visible effect on his confidence.
In Arsenal’s first three Premier League games of the season — the defeats to Chelsea and Manchester City and win against 17th-placed West Ham United — he looked isolated, with his involvement limited. For the most part, he couldn’t be blamed for his lack of active contribution, though, with the new managed Unai Emery then figuring his best formation and lineup out. Continue reading
This time last week, Inter were a team in disgrace and the players presumably spent Saturday night licking their wounds after a miserable 1-0 defeat at home to newly-promoted Parma. Now, having secured stoppage time victories against Tottenham Hotspur and Sampdoria, the start made by the Nerazzurri to the new campaign takes an entirely new complexion. Indeed, it was clear to everyone who watched tonight’s match at the Marassi that Luciano Spalletti’s side absolutely deserved to win, and that they did. Continue reading
Roy Hodgson was keen to take the positives from his Crystal Palace side’s performance in Saturday’s scoreless stalemate with Newcastle United.
“They were very well organised and disciplined and it wasn’t easy to get through them,” the former England manager told Sky Sports after the match. “But I did think we did enough to get the goal that would have won the game, but the thing that pleased me was that games like that can often go against you.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is hardly the man expected to take a decision from his heart. The 71-year-old enjoys a reputation of being extremely cold-hearted and emotionally detached when it comes to taking decisions catering to the interests of the club. Some of the finest managers in football history like Carlo Ancelloti, Jose Mourinho, Vicente del Bosque, Rafael Benitez will willingly testify to the fact that dealing with a shrewd tactician like Perez is no mean feat in itself.
Massimiliano Allegri touched on several players in the usual pre-game presser: “Cristiano Ronaldo is big added value for Juventus, like his performances show. But the team does not depend only upon. There are always high expectations on him and he is very demanding with himself. He has nothing more to prove, he needs to play, have fun and score. He did well in the first half an hour in Valencia. What happened on Wednesday is water under the bridge.”