Manchester City were made to work hard for their 3-1 win against a resilient Everton on Saturday afternoon. Their performance put them five points behind Manchester City but problems within the side was still evident. Had it have not been for Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez, Pep Guardiola could well have been looking at a different scoreline. Continue reading
Arsenal 3-2 Manchester United, November 1997
Arsene Wenger’s first full season in charge of Arsenal ended in a dual domestic triumph, with the north Londoners winning a domestic double of Premier League title and FA Cup. They beat Manchester United to top spot in the top flight by a single point, which means their two wins against their closest challengers proved decisive.
Juventus did not bother showing up until the final stages of the first half, but then insisted in their pursuit of the kill-shot after getting the lead and their wish was ultimately granted, allowing a tranquil finish for a change.
Matthijs De Ligt (5 points): the Estensi attackers did not pose much of a threat and were pretty poor technically even when they tried to go forward, but the Dutch youngster still made his presence felt on few occasions, perfectly forestalling the opponents with ease. His best intervention came in the first half where he thwarted a three vs two. He has been growing in each game and it is a matter of time until he is back to Ajax levels. A diligent game for Leonardo Bonucci as well, who was just a tad nonchalant on a ball in the box late. Gianluigi Buffon surpassed Paolo Maldini with his 903rd club appearances and that was the highlight of his day, as the enemies never took a shot on goal. Continue reading
It’s only been five games and they had a fairly easy schedule to start the season, but no matter which caveat you want to add, there’s no doubt Inter couldn’t have had a better start to the season in Serie A. In addition to the results on the pitch, cross town rivals Milan are in a full blown crisis, Napoli suffered a deflating home loss to Napoli and Juventus has shown some cracks in their armor.
But can Inter sustain this success? Let’s rank the reasons why it’s likely they will:
Singular focus on Serie A
The home draw to Slavia Prague in the Champions League, the easiest match of the group stage is either part of the plan to “pull a Napoli and punt the Champions League” or a potential blessing in disguise to give Conte’s squad a better chance at a deep scudetto run. Should Inter be eliminated early in the group stage, they can put all their eggs in the Serie A basket earlier into the season.
Team can improve thanks to Valentino Lazaro and Alexis Sanchez
So far Inter have received a significant boost from their new additions. Stefano Sensi is arguably so far the most impactful new player on any Serie A team, Barella is living up to the hype of his substantial transfer fee after being eased into the starting lineup slowly, Lukaku has been decisive even when he doesn’t score, Godin has shown why he’s considered one of the best defenders of his generation and Biraghi played well in his first start against Lazio.
In the coming weeks we could see Valentino Lazaro get into the right wing back rotation and Alexis Sanchez will try to regain his Arsenal (or Udinese form) while giving a breather to the starting strikers. Lazaro was a fairly significant investment for the club, so look for Conte to try to turn him into his new Victor Moses, while Sanchez is a great low risk/high reward investment.
Lazaro and Sanchez will bring more depth to a team that has already had to use some of its backups this season. D’Ambrosio has played as a center back and rotated with Candreva on the right wing, Asamoah and Biraghi are both starting caliber players at left wing back, while Vecino has limitations as a player his physicality and nasty streak make him a good compliment to Sensi, Barella and Brozovic
Politano can be a deluxe version of one of Conte’s favorite players Emanuele Giaccherini. The former Sassuolo winger has a knack for making an impact off the bench and he can play in multiple roles in Inter’s current formation. Even much maligned Ranocchia was useful at the start of the season while both De Vrij and Godin nursed injuries.
Conte and Marotta
Inter has won countless August and September scudetti in recent years. They are often called the winners of the summer transfer windows and/or get off to a fast start only to collapse in epic fashion before the season even gets to its second half. But because of the changes at the top, there’s ample reason to believe things will be different.
Beppe Marotta brought a Juventus like business approach to Inter. Rather than coddling Mauro Icardi last season, he was publicly stripped of the captain’s armband and was shipped out of town along with Nainggolan and Perisic, two players who also brought numerous distractions. Marotta hasn’t been afraid to speak publicly during difficult moments (maybe something Milan’s current directors can learn from) and has taken the pressure off Conte by handling tough situations head on.
Marotta built a team in Conte’s image and now the former Juventus and Chelsea manager is in the conditions to succeed, the focus is on the group of players rather than individual stars and there’s plenty of quality through out the squad.
In recent years I’ve described Conte as the type of manager that takes a team from A to B- someone you want to take over when your club has hit rock bottom. It will be interesting to see if he can now take the foundation Spalletti built to the next level- after his recent experiences, odds are he will. One thing that Conte has clearly already improved Inter on is defeating provinciali types- in recent years, the nerazzurri squandered numerous points against the bottom table teams and so far have won those matches convincingly.
While Serie A is certainly no longer a league focused on catenaccio, the old adage that offense wins game and defense wins championships is often still true. Last season Inter had the most clean sheets in Serie A and they added a blue chip player in Diego Godin to fortify a strength, Handanovic has continued to look brilliant this season- particularly in the match against Lazio- and both D’Ambrosio and Ranocchia have responded well when called upon. Conte will also likely ease in Alessandro Bastoni in his center back rotation after his positive season on loan at Parma.
It was the transfer saga of summer 2019.
Just when it looked likely that Neymar would return to Barcelona from Paris Saint-Germain, another spoke was put in the deal and, by the end of the window, neither party could agree on the move.
Now that looks even further away from happening after the most recent developments.
You’ll recall that when Neymar left Barcelona back in 2017, to compound the Catalans’ shock at his exit, the Brazilian wanted his loyalty bonus paid. Continue reading
The only thing that seemingly stood a chance of halting Manchester City was their own mortality and so it has proved. Indeed, the defending Premier League champions, who have collected 198 points over the past two seasons, have wobbled following the injury suffered by Aymeric Laporte, with John Stones also ruled out for the foreseeable future.
City have looked vulnerable at the back without Laporte and with Stones also out Pep Guardiola has had to get creative, with Fernandinho drafted into the centre back position alongside Nicolas Otamendi for the game against Watford last weekend, a game which saw the Premier League champions go close to a record-breaking win.
Guardiola possesses a great tactical mind and so it’s somewhat surprising that he hasn’t yet resorted to a different shape or formation to mask his team’s shortcomings at the back. City have used a back three on occasion under the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss, so why hasn’t he gone down this route in light of recent injuries?
He has the players to switch to a back three. The signing of Joao Cancelo from Juventus during the summer means Guardiola could now use the Portuguese international as a wing back on the right side with Kyle Walker on the right side of a back three. That would surely close up some of the gaps that have appeared in the City backline in recent games.
Guardiola clearly has faith in Walker. “When Kyle is stable in the mind, he knows exactly what he has to do and always performs well. Be stable here,” the City boss said when asked why Walker wasn’t called up to the last England squad. “Be consistent, be seven or eight (out of 10) all the time – that is what we have to work on with him. He is incredibly strong and he will be back.”
In Cancelo, Man City boast one of the best full backs in the European game right now. It’s becoming a little peculiar that Guardiola isn’t turning to him, especially with City’s defence in the state it currently is. Fernandinho is an effective ball-player from centre back, but he lacks true defensive nous. Playing Cancelo would allow Walker to shift inside and hide deficiencies that Norwich exposed. If they’re not careful, the Canaries might not be the last team to do this.
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When Alisson Becker was withdrawn through injury midway through Liverpool’s opening game of the Premier League season against Norwich City a sense of dread set in around Anfield. The Brazilian goalkeeper was key to the Reds’ success the season before, providing a sense of stability that had been so desperately lacking before his arrival. Everyone remembers Loris Karius’ performance in the 2018 Champions League final.
Indeed, Alisson’s early season injury was seen as a big blow to Liverpool and their chances of winning a first Premier League title. Adrian was thrown into the first team just weeks after he was signed as a free agent during the summer and there were some initial signs of shakiness from the deputy. Since then, however, the dread has ebbed away.
Liverpool have barely missed Alisson. The Brazilian might have helped his team to one or two more clean sheets, particularly in the Champions League group stage defeat suffered away to Napoli, but the Anfield side currently sit top of the Premier League table, five points clear of defending champions Manchester City, with six wins from their opening six fixtures.
Alisson could make a return to first team action this weekend with Jurgen Klopp’s side taking on Sheffield United on Saturday afternoon. However, in his absence Liverpool’s strength was underlined. While Man City have struggled without Aymeric Laporte, with the Frenchman ruled out for five to six months through injury, Liverpool absorbed the injury to their starting goalkeeper.
Liverpool’s depth has been questioned. It’s true that City have greater options from front to back, left to right. Pep Guardiola has the likes of Leroy Sane, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden in reserve, Klopp has players of a lower calibre. But it might just be the case that Klopp’s philosophy as a coach and the way it keeps his team playing in the same manner no matter who is on the pitch is sustaining them.
City over the past two seasons set a new precedent at the top of the Premier League table. Guardiola’s side might well be the best team in the division’s history. But Liverpool have started extremely strongly and it’s difficult to envisage where they might stumble. While many feared that Alisson’s injury would expose any weaknesses they had, it actually served only to highlight and demonstrate just how strong they are.
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Not so long ago, Martin Odegaard found himself on the scrapheap alongside the likes of Freddy Adu, Kerlon and Gael Kakuta. Signed by Real Madrid as a prodigious teenager, the Norwegian was barely given a chance at the Santiago Bernabeu before he was written off. How such hastiness now looks foolish.
On loan from the capital at Real Sociedad, Odegaard has arguably been the best player in La Liga over the first few weeks of the season. The Norwegian, now 20 years old, has scored twice and has contributed one assist in six appearances for the Basque side, but those numbers don’t quite do justice to the impact he has made.
There was one particular moment in Real Sociedad’s 3-0 win over Alaves on Thursday night that illustrated the level at which Odegaard is playing right now. The Norwegian picked up the ball, beat two players and then threaded through a pass few would have seen let alone make for Mikel Oyarzabal to finish.
Odegaard is playing so well that some have already speculated whether he could be recalled early by Real Madrid. The Norwegian is on loan for the next two years at the Anoeta, but with Zinedine Zidane short of options in midfield he is surely already thinking about how he could use the 20-year-old in his own team.
“At the end of last season, I felt like it would be best for me not to return to Madrid,” Odegaard explained in an interview given just a few weeks ago. “At Madrid, there are lots of big-name players and there is a lot of competition. It was obvious that it was better for me to ask for a new loan, which I think the club also accepted. That’s why we decided so soon.”
Real Madrid’s signing of Odegaard all those years ago finally looks to be paying off, but they have yet to gain any benefit themselves. Instead it’s Real Sociedad, who sit just one point adrift of Real Sociedad at the top of La Liga, who are getting the best from the Norwegian as he matures into the superstar he always promised to be.
The discussion now being had at the Santiago Bernabeu is surely now focused on whether it would be better to keep Odegaard out on loan at Real Sociedad for the full duration of his loan spell or to recall him and start integrating him into the Real Madrid first team. If he continues playing in this manner, the decision might be made for them.
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Round 5 came and went, with several of the top clubs faltering in losing fashion.
Wednesday saw Roma suffer a 2-0 defeat to Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta, while their city rival Lazio succumbed to Inter at San Siro with a 1-0 loss, further solidifying the Nerazzurri’s case as a title contender. While the biggest stunner was Cagliari taking all three points at the San Paolo from Napoli, Torino riding Andrea Belotti’s four minute brace to victory over an AC Milan side who controlled most of the match became the lasting memory from yet another eventful round of calcio. Now, it is time to set our sights on round 6.
Here are five players with increasing stock that you will want to consider for your fantacalcio squad this weekend. Continue reading
Juventus: 4-3-1-2 Buffon; Cuadrado, Bonucci, De Ligt, Matuidi; Khedira, Pjanic, Rabiot; Ramsey; Dybala, Ronaldo.
Potential lineup changes: Can for Rabiot, Bernardeschi for Ramsey, Higuain for Dybala.
Confirmed out: Danilo (thigh), De Sciglio (thigh), Chiellini (knee), Costa (thigh), Perin (shoulder), Pjaca (knee), Sandro (personal).