New AC Milan boss Pioli right to give Piatek another chance

Following a disappointing start to the season, Stefano Pioli has officially taken over from Marco Giampaolo, who had his job for just seven games. Next week, the first game under the new manager will take place, as Lecce will pay a visit to the San Siro. 

However, it remains to be seen which players Pioli will opt for in the starting eleven, especially up front. The other two departments, namely the defence and midfield, have more or less been decided already, at least so it seems. For the attack, on the other hand, it is different. Continue reading

Will January additions ease Man City’s defensive crisis?

As soon as Aymeric Laporte hobbled off injured during Manchester City’s 4-0 home win over Brighton in late August projections were made over how it would affect the defending Premier League champions. Amid all the doom and gloom, nobody expected that Laporte’s absence would be so costly.

Only eight games of the 2019/20 Premier League season have been played, but Liverpool already hold an eight point lead over Pep Guardiola’s side. City have suffered collapses against Norwich City and Wolves with their defence especially vulnerable following the injury to John Stones.

Guardiola has so far failed to find a suitable solution to ease Man City’s problems at the back. The Catalan has used Fernandinho as a centre back in Laporte and Stones’ absence. This is designed to keep the link between City’s defence and midfield intact, with the Brazilian key to bringing the ball out from the back.

However, Fernandinho isn’t a defender and that has been obvious in the games he has played at centre back. And so talk has started over who City could target in the January transfer window. The Etihad Stadium outfit might spend their way out of trouble.

Ruben Dias has most recently been linked with a move to the Premier League champions. This isn’t the first time that the Benfica defender has been linked with a move to England, with Manchester United also reported to be interested in the Portuguese international. He would be a shrewd addition for either team.

Guardiola does have a centre back that he has only used off the bench during this injury crisis. Eric Garcia is highly rated as a young defender, but the Man City boss has so far been overlooked in favour of square pegs in round holes. Another expensive signing like Dias would only underline how Guardiola hasn’t yet held up his end of the bargain as an advocate of youth.

However, it’s true that City needed a new centre back before the injuries to Laporte and Stones even hit. Vincent Kompany left them short of options in defence, leaving the Etihad Stadium for Anderlecht. Nicolas Otamendi isn’t a player Man City can depend on, as has been demonstrated over the past few weeks. Rather than fixing new problems, the signing of someone like Dias would patch things up that date back to the summer.

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Should Manchester United be targeting Moussa Dembele?

The January transfer window might still be a few months away, but decisions behind the scenes are now being made and lists with potential targets being drawn up.

Manchester United know, given their results, they have to recruit in the winter market, even if it is not a preferred course of action. There is a reason as to why few clubs operate in January, and it is primarily due to the hike in already inflated transfer fees.

However, the Red Devils, currently sitting in 12th place, having scored less goals than Wolves, Aston Villa and Norwich, are having monumental problems at the top of the pitch and simply have to address it halfway through the season.

After moving Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez on in the summer, and then failing to replace them, there is little wonder as to why they are in the position they are in now. Mason Greenwood might have had more opportunities to play, but he is still only 17-years-old, and is not in a position to have authority in matches.

Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are the two registered centre forwards, although there is a strong case to suggest that the England international is better suited on the wing. Unlike the Frenchman, Rashford does not possess the killer instincts and composure in front of goal when tasked with a one-on-one situation.

As seasons progress, injuries occur, which is exactly what has hampered Martial and caused him to remain on the sidelines. And so Rashford is then left with the pressure to be the out-and-out goalscorer – something he does not look comfortable with at all.

One striker on the continent that has been linked with Manchester United time and time again is Olympique Lyon’s Moussa Dembele.

The Frenchman has an impressive record already this season, having scored six Ligue 1 goals in only eight appearances so far this campaign. In 2018/19, Dembele mustered up 23 goals and six assists in 52 appearances – a highly impressive tally after making the move from Celtic to Lyon.

Dembele is not the tallest of strikers, standing at 1.83m, but he does know where the space is inside the box and comes alive in close quarters. The Frenchman’s movement and precision is near enough perfection, pulling away from defenders and anticipating where the ball either might fall, or where the intended cross will end up to be on the end of it.

Lyon are usually hard negotiators and do not let their players leave easily. As seen last summer, Tanguy Ndombele finally made his move, which Tottenham had to pay over £50 million for.

Jean-Michel Aulas, the club’s President, is a famed negotiator, which does not bode well given the time restraints in January, as well as the ineptitude of the club’s negotiators behind the scenes.

Dembele is not the type of player to carry an exorbitant ego into the dressing room at Old Trafford, given he is not at the highest echelon of world football yet, but he has the potential to get there should he carry on working hard and delivering performances.

It is clear Manchester United are trying to move away from the prima-donnas of the world in Sanchez and Angel Di Maria, and instead focussing on players who can buy into the club’s philosophy and mentality.

A very well-rounded centre forward who has a history of consistency is what the Red Devils and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer need, and so bringing Dembele in during the January transfer window might just be the catalyst in scoring the department.

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Pioli’s Task- improving Milan while implementing Gazidis’s plan

Most of us claim to want transparency even if it means hearing things we don’t want to hear and few things are more infuriating in life than being deceived. If you tend to agree with the above statement, then you won’t have much of a problem with what Ivan Gazidis has said about Milan in his two highest profile statements about the club he’s running along with Boban and Maldini.

The introductory press conference for new manager Stefano Pioli was an opportunity for Gazidis to remind the media and rossoneri fans’ that he and his colleagues inherited a dire financial situation following the Elliott Fund having to bail out the mysterious Chinese owners and Mirabelli’s disastrous spending spree from a few summers ago. 

The former Arsenal directors reminded everyone that club had to make some painful decisions, including passing on participating in the Europa League and focusing on cheaper players, to be economically viable long term because of the mess they were asked to clean up. But while this maybe true, the fans are now tired of hearing about so many different financial terms since now they just want to have some sporting successes.

The seventh coaching change since Max Allegri was sacked in early 2014 felt like another “been there, done that” moment for those following Milan. What ended up costing Marco Giampaolo his job weren’t just the poor results but almost certainly his unwillingness to execute the plan Gazidis had clearly laid out in his other big public statement of the year- his long interview with Gazzetta dello Sport at the end of May.

Say what you will about Gazidis, but he was a man of his word- he stated Milan would target young players who had the potential to become stars at Milan. This would help keep costs down with wages while also potentially generating some future plusvalenze- we then saw the club acquire Bennacer, Leao, Hernandez and Duarte to become the club’s future stars.

With that plan in mind, hiring Marco Giampaolo made a lot of sense. At Empoli and Sampdoria he had an excellent track record of developing young players like Torreira, Skriniar, Praet, Andersen and even Patrik Schick who has sold for an exorbitant transfer fee. On paper not only would Giampaolo get the most out of one of the youngest squads in Serie A, but he would also bring back the offensive minded football we associate with Milan.

Well you know how it turned out- Giampaolo was unmitigated disaster in every aspect. He seemed confused with his lineup (Andre’ Silva starting only to be loaned a few days later), Paqueta’ and Piatek regressing significantly, no offensive improvements, but consistently starting the Biglia, Calhanoglu, Rodriguez and Castillejos of the world over the players Milan was looking to develop was just a bridge too far.

While Milan flirted with the idea of hiring Luciano Spalletti, from a financial stand point it never really made much sense considering he’s still under contract with Inter through 2021 with a substantial annual salary. Instead Milan ended up hiring his predecessor at the nerazzurri Stefano Pioli, who was “welcomed” to the club with a virtual protest on social media demanding his sacking even before his introductory press conference.

The protest wasn’t so much directed at Pioli but rather the direction of the club and by the time the press conference took place, you could see many Milan fans had gotten through the seven stages of grief and had talked themselves into Pioli. When you look at the managers who have been on the rossoneri’s bench since Allegri left, you can certainly make a case Pioli ranks towards the top.

Pioli was able to get Lazio to third place back in 2015, while time at Inter ended with a typical pazza collapse, he had won 12 of his first 16 Serie A matches with the nerazzurri once he replaced De Boer. Pioli received universal praise for the way he handled Davide Astori’s tragic death at Fiorentina and the team got considerably worse last season when Vincenzo Montella (another former Milan manager) replaced him.

Certainly Milan fans will judge Pioli mainly based on results, and it won’t be easy for him since he will face a much tougher schedule than what Giampaolo dealt with in his first seven matches, but how he develops Milan’s young players will be just as significant. But how those results are achieved will be equally important- Pioli will have to get Piatek and Paqueta’ back on track, continue to develop Leao and Bennacer while finding out if Caldara and Hernandez can be starters on defense alongside Romagnoli since  Gazidis and the rest of the management team need to see their vision executed on the pitch.


How AC Milan could line up with Stefano Pioli in charge

Stefano Pioli’s AC Milan is taking shape. Even though many players are away on international duty this week, the former Fiorentina manager has had some time to work with part of the first-team squad at Milanello, and the media seem to have a pretty clear picture of how the Rossoneri will line up come next Saturday. 

Just like Marco Giampaolo, who was sacked from his position earlier this week, Pioli is expected to use the 4-3-3 formation as it’s the best option based on the players that Milan have. Furthermore, the 4-2-3-1 formation is expected to be the alternative, given that he has alternated between the two in the past. Continue reading

Italy 2-0 Greece Euro 2020 Qualifying: The Azzurri player ratings

Italy have done it! After the 2018 World Cup qualifying disaster, Roberto Mancini and his reborn Azzurri have officially qualified for next summer’s Euro 2020 with a 2-0 win over Greece.

Jorginho and Federico Bernardeschi goals sealed a hard fought win over a compact, organized Greece side, making it a perfect 7 wins from 7 in Group J play.

Here are the player ratings for the Italians. Continue reading

Sampdoria appoint Ranieri after the firing of Di Francesco

It took them few days, but Sampdoria finally hired their new coach on Friday, after dismissing Eusebio Di Francesco on Monday following a disastrous start. The veteran manager, coming off a two-month stint at Roma, agreed to a two-year contract.

Ranieri won half his matches with La Lupa last year, posting then four draws and two losses. Over his long career, he has worked in four different countries and also led the Greek national team for a while. In the Peninsula, he spent time at Cagliari, Napoli, Fiorentina, Parma, Juventus, Roma and Inter, while abroad he is best known for his spells at Valencia, Chelsea, Monaco and obviously at Leicester, where he shocked the world by winning Premier League in 2016. Continue reading

Was Barcelona’s appointment of Victor Valdes destined to end in disappointment?

So, it’s official.

On Monday of this week, Barcelona brought the curtain down on Victor Valdes’ swift return to the club, sacking him for what they considered to be conduct unbecoming for one of their coaching staff.

Always known as a spiky individual, one has to ask the question as to whether the club’s appointment of their former goalkeeper was destined to end in disappointment?

After all, he was never going to toe the party line. Continue reading

Italy boss Roberto Mancini spoiled for choice in the midfield

The biggest talking point in Italy camp this international break is, ahead of two Euro 2020 qualifiers, how a berth can be achieved in this round, and with two matches to spare.

Since day 1 on the job for CT Roberto Mancini after the sacking of Gian Piero Ventura, clinching a spot in this tournament was deemed the first step in the Azzurri’s restoration project towards a revival to reclaim what was once theirs – a seat at the adult table with the world’s powers.

Sitting comfortable and cozy atop the Group J table with a perfect 6-0 record, the Italians have been elevated all over the pitch through some impressive performances, though it would be remiss to not hone in on the special happenings which lie in the midfield. Continue reading

What will come next for Jurgen Klopp after Liverpool?

There has been a lot of talk over Jurgen Klopp’s future of late. The German has led Liverpool to the top of the Premier League table, holding an eight point lead over defending champions Manchester City. The Reds have still to even get their hands on the trophy – it’s not even Christmas yet – but there has been some speculation over what Klopp might want from his career next.

Every so often there are links made to clubs like Real Madrid. Club president Florentino Perez is believed to be a fan of the German coach, but then who isn’t right now? Klopp, along with Pep Guardiola, is setting the zeitgeist for the current era of the sport at the top level. It’s natural that he should be a man in-demand.

It was recently revealed that Borussia Dortmund offered Klopp the chance to return to the Westfalenstadion in the summer of 2018 after their former coach had suffered defeat in the Champions League final to Real Madrid. They never really stood a chance of luring him from Liverpool, but the fact they even tried underlines that Klopp isn’t exactly rooted to the core of the earth on Merseyside.

Now, it has been suggested that Klopp could take over from Joachim Low after the 2022 World Cup is over. His Liverpool contract would be expired by such a time and the winter World Cup means Klopp could also factor in a short break from the game before moving into his next job.

“I really can not say. I do not know if I would like to. Now, as of today, I do not feel like it,” Klopp responded when asked whether this would be something he would consider. “Stand up now, I’m totally happy with what I do and that’s important in the whole story. I also could not say one hundred percent if I was the right one [to replace Low]. If the question ever arises, I would think about it, but not now.”

Liverpool have still to even reach their peak under Klopp, but they must consider what might come next just as the man himself seems to be. There’s no immediate prospect of the German leaving Anfield to take over as Real Madrid or Germany boss. He will see the job through. But planning must start taking place now.

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