Juventus extend Bonucci’s contract till 2024

Juventus announced today to have reached an agreement with Leonardo Bonucci to tack on one more year to the current deal of the defender, which will now last until 2024. He has been the only Bianconero to feature in every minute of every game so far and also coach Maurizio Sarri recently praised him and underlined his importance in the defensive plans. The official site indicates that, since joining in 2010, he has racked up the most appearances of any player in the club, 375, 35 more than any other teammate, despite moving to Milan for one season. Continue reading

Barcelona’s reserve full-backs must take their chance

When a player gets to join the likes of Real Madrid or Barcelona, the next step is to ensure that they get regular minutes on the pitch.

Often this only comes about because of an injury to a first choice player, but far too often at these big clubs, so-called reserve players don’t take their opportunities.

With success evidently required with some degree of immediacy these days, managers simply don’t have the time to persevere with those players that aren’t at the races from the get go. Continue reading

Ronaldo closes case and Juventus injury updates

After the win over Luxembourg, which allowed Portugal to punch their ticket to Euro 2020, Cristiano Ronaldo put a bow to the controversy surrounding him recently in an interview with A Bola: “I have been limited by an injury in the past three weeks. There was not any polemic on my part, but it is true that I do not like to sub off. I have tried to help Juventus playing through it and was taken out in the last two matches. Nobody likes that, but I understand because I was not 100 percent.” Continue reading

Manchester United have to be flexible to get the best out of Anthony Martial

There is no doubt about the scary potential that Anthony Martial has. Even if the last two to three seasons have been really difficult for him at a personal level, where he has had issues ongoing off the pitch and has not been a regular starter under either Jose Mourinho or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

However, after receiving his number nine jersey once again and following the departure of Romelu Lukaku, he is expected to play on a more regular basis and will be hoping to reach 20-25 league goals this season. The Red Devils will be hoping for a much better season as a whole, as they failed to be constantly effective on both sides of the pitch last season, from being defensively reckless to limited and predictable on the attacking area of the game. And if they can do that, their hopes for a top four finish is surely not impossible.

Focusing more on Martial, he’s been scoring on a few occasions over the last couple of weeks, with two goals in two games against Partizan Belgrade to help United qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League, as well as a crucial and much needed goal away at Norwich City. He’s come in at the right time with the goals as both Daniel James and Marcus Rashford have gone quiet recently.

Since his debut for the club in August 2015, he has gone on to score 50 goals for Manchester United, more than any other player within the squad from the beginning of the period. Just on that note, one can immediately understand the qualities and abilities he brings to the team, especially in the final third of the pitch and his impressive personal composure whilst having his back to goal.

It has taken some time to find out the player’s best position, given that he can be effectively and deadly either as a left-sided winger or a lone centre-forward, thanks to his movement on and off the ball and his creativity in the dangerous areas of the pitch. On top of that, he has shown what he offers to the team when he isn’t scoring, as he notched two key assists recently against Brighton.

As long as all the attackers stay fit and in fine form, Ole will need to keep a consistent and dominant attacking setup from now till the end of the campaign, with Martial as the number nine and both Daniel James and Rashford as the wide players being the ideal idea. If this does happen, it would allow Martial to be freed from his defensive duties and be utilised within the advanced areas.

The 23-year-old’s standout attribute just happens to be his one on one dribbling and his intelligence to take on two to three players within the matter of seconds, as he has the pace as well as the trickery to be the difference on the flanks. However, when he is played in this role, he can easily be marked by two players and left isolated, forcing him to remain unknown for the rest of the game.

Given that both Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez left Old Trafford in the summer, without the club bringing in a replacement at all, Martial’s qualities and potential is more required through the middle than the flanks. His goals and assists in all competitions have come from the central position, where he has the much needed licence to roam and move around to lead the side’s attack and build-up play.

Overall, Solskjaer should not use his favouritism of Rashford and push Martial back out onto the wings, as the former is not a clinical goal-scorer and is unable to bring other players into the game whilst the latter is arguably the side’s best forward in front of goal. Martial is one of the most important players in the squad and has the quality to be a game-changer or match-winner when required, and he can start or continue to be one for the Red Devils as long as he is used centrally.

AC Milan should bring back Ibrahimovic – Three reasons why

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk about a potential return to Serie A for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Just a few days ago, the Swede confirmed that he won’t renew his contract with LA Galaxy, which of course fueled the rumours in question.

Multiple Serie A clubs have shown their interest in the player, from his former side Milan to the underdogs Bologna. Recently, though, it seems the Rossoneri have overtaken the competitors in the race.

For many, it’s a no-brainer, but should the Rossoneri bring back the big man ahead of the second half of the season? In my opinion, the management has a great opportunity on the table, and down below are three reasons why they should sign the 38-year-old.

1. Goals, goals, goals…

At the start of the season, Milan have struggled to find the back of the net, bagging just 11 goals in 12 games. Many have blamed this on their style of play, but the problem has remained even after Pioli replaced Giampaolo. Therefore, it’s clear that they need some new energy.

Even though he’s older than he was during his last spell at the club, Ibrahimovic still knows how to score. And yes, MLS clearly isn’t as good as Serie A, but the Swede scored some spectacular goals with LA Galaxy to prove that he’s still got it.

The bottom line is that he will guarantee goals (hopefully) for the Rossoneri, who are in desperate need of it to turn the negative situation around. Furthermore, he should be able to raise the overall quality of Milan’s attack.

2. His experience is vital

Ibrahimovic has played on the highest level for a very long time now, and his experience would arguably be very useful for Milan. It also helps that he’s been at Milan before, as he knows the environment and what the club expects from the players.

It’s been said before, but the Rossoneri’s squad is simply too young for the time being. They need some experienced figures, and bringing in Zlatan will get them a long way. Above all, he will certainly raise the bar in the team, pushing the players to the max.

You can ask any of his former teammates, but they will all say the same. Ibrahimovic is just as important off the pitch as he is on it, constantly letting the players know about the demands in place.

3. It would be no holiday for ‘Ibra’

Should the deal go through, then it’s safe to say that it won’t be a holiday for the big Swede. He knows this, and after spending some time in the MLS, he will want to show his best side to the European crowd as well. Challenges drive the striker, which is perfect in this situation.

No doubt, he will be eager to prove that he can still do well at the top. Turning Milan around would certainly be a great testament to this. Therefore, the Rossoneri should sign him before it’s too late.

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A Great Sale- how Cagliari improved after losing Barella

When it comes to transfers, it’s very easy to get excited when a new addition arrives but player departures often bring disappointment and anger. In recent years Roma was mocked for being a supermarket, Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva’s move to Paris St Germain bookmarked the beginning of Milan’s decline, the triggering of Higuain’s release clause opened a significant wound, while the curse of the player’s will weakened Juventus’ midfield with Vidal and Pogba’s departures.

But there are instances where shrewd sales help clubs open new cycles. Napoli reinvested the proceeds of the Cavani and Lavezzi sales very well, Moggi turned Zidane into Buffon, Nedved and Thuram and Atalanta have built the current squad by previously selling the Conti, Kessie’, Cristante and Caldaras of the world. Interestingly this season’s surprise team in Serie A has been able to emerge despite selling their best player Nicolo’ Barella.

Cagliari were very patient with Barella who came up through their youth system and was a highly rated prospect since 2012 when he was named best young Italian midfielder for players his age. Barella started establishing himself in Serie A in 2016, made his debut with the Italian national team two years later and was linked to both Napoli and Chelsea last January. Cagliari decided to hold on to him a bit longer and were handsomely rewarded for their patience since Barella became a starter in the Azzurri’s midfield before fetching around 50 million for his transfer to Inter (12 million for loan, 25 million for obligation to buy plus 12 million in bonuses).

While Cagliari’s president Giulini softened the blow of losing Barella since he sold him to his favorite team Inter (of which he was a board member for 8 years) he was actually able to improve his club. The Sardinian club in fact reinvested the proceeds of the Barella sale very well, they acquired highly rated midfielder Nahtan Nandez for 18 million, which will look like a bargain should the former Boca Juniors continue to perform at this level. 

Nandez has been a rock in Maran’s midfield this season and will garner a large plusvalenza in the future to essentially repeat the Barella cycle, but he isn’t the only new addition making an impact. Cagliari also acquired Marko Rog on loan with option to buy, the Croatian international never fully settled under both Sarri and Ancelotti at Napoli, he has shown good improvements this season.

Caglairi had also planned ahead for Barella’s departure by acquiring Christian Oliva on loan with option to buy from Nacional last January- they exercised their option for 5 million and now the midfielder is finding space on Maran’s squad. Having the influx of cash from the Barella transaction also allowed Cagliari to take a flyer on bringing back Radja Nainggolan, whose had some sensational matches, as well as finding two quality replacements to replace the injured Alessio Cragno and Leonardo Pavoletti, who just happened to be Cagliari’s best players last season other than Barella.

Normally for a club like Cagliari replacing their starting keeper and leading goal scorer at the very end of the transfer window would spell doom for the upcoming campaign since by this time most clubs have already blown through their budgets. But having the cash flow from the Barella deal allowed them to get Giovanni Simeone, a more than adequate replacement for Pavoletti and a player with considerable upside. 

They say that the harder you work, the luckier you get and maybe that is the case with Robin Olsen. Cagliari had to scramble after Alessio Cragno suffered a significant injury to his shoulder at the beginning of August, and while Olsen has a good track record as Sweden’s keeper, he was as much as a liability as Rudy Giuliani on a cable news show while defending Roma’s goal in his first season in Serie A.

After Olsen’s expected move to Montpellier collapsed, Cagliari were able to acquire him at the end of the transfer window. Olsen has been very impressive and while he will likely cede the starting job back to Cragno, he’s a big reason the club is off to such a good start.

Cagliari have been able to make the most of the Barella sale. They planned ahead by previously acquiring Oliva and setting their sights on Nandez early, they weren’t afraid to gamble on reclamation projects with upside with Rog and Simeone and used their new fund cash flow to pay substantial salaries to veterans like Naingollan and Olsen- sometimes selling your best player is far from a blow. 

Solving Sarri’s Attacking Conundrum

Since returning from the first international break, Juventus have looked lethargic in the final third and have struggled to find the back of the net. In a majority of the biaconeri’s wins, one goal has separated them from their opponent and they have rarely played the opposition off the pitch. While much was promised when Maurizio Sarri was hired, we are yet to see Sarriball in full flow. Currently, the former Napoli tactician is faced with a selection headache in the final third and is under immense pressure to make his front-three fire on all cylinders.

Right now, Cristiano Ronaldo is experiencing a rough patch and has arguably played his worst football in recent memory. Sarri has not shied away from tough decisions and has subbed off the Portuguese superstar in Juventus’ last two wins. Despite reports suggesting Ronaldo was carrying a knock, the former Real Madrid man joined up with Portugal for the international break and scored a hat-trick.

Alongside him, Sarri has typically opted for one of Gonzalo Higuain or Paulo Dybala. In Sarri’s ‘Christmas-Tree’ (4-3-1-2) formation, an out-and-out number nine is of the utmost importance and Higuain has thrived since returning. Whether he’s linking up the attack with deft touches around the box or creating space for himself to score, Higuain has epitomized what a modern number nine is and is almost undroppable.

Much like Higuain, Dybala has benefitted greatly from Sarri’s arrival and has put last season’s woes behind him. Most recently, la Joya scored a crucial goal against Milan, gliding past their captain Alessio Romagnoli as if he wasn’t there. Before these match-winning exploits, Dybala notched a brace against Lokomotiv Moscow and has regularly been Juventus’ best player this season. Given his good form along with Higuain’s importance to Sarri’s tactical schemes, it’s difficult to leave one of them on the bench.

Yet, in the name of balance, it needs to be done. Otherwise, with Dybala, Higuain and Ronaldo all on the pitch, Sarri fears Juve would be overrun in the midfield. He briefly used the trio together against Inter but promptly brought on another midfielder into the fold to regain control.

Factor in Douglas Costa’s return to fitness and electric nature on the ball and it’s clear Sarri is faced with quite the selection conundrum in attack. Should he play a 4-3-3 to accommodate the Brazilian? On the other hand, who should he drop between Higuain and Dybala? Finally, and perhaps most crucially, how does he get the most out of an out-of-form Ronaldo? These are all questions Sarri will be pondering deeply over the course of this international break and will largely come to define this season.

Despite the headaches these issues may give him, it’s a positive problem for Sarri. After all, who wouldn’t want an attack as deep and as versatile as Juve’s? The important thing now, however, is piecing it all together all-while maintaining defensive solidity and balance. Sounds easy, right? Wrong.

As Sarri has shown, this prospect is much more difficult than it seems and is a delicate situation to approach. Over the course of the next months, Sarri’s handling of the situation will dictate how far Juve will go and will shape the future of Juventus’ attack.

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Should Real Madrid return for Bruno Fernandes in January?

Paul Pogba was the central midfielder Zinedine Zidane wanted. The Real Madrid manager reportedly believed that the French midfielder would be delivered to him by Florentino Perez over the summer. When it became clear that Pogba would stay at Manchester United for at least another season Real Madrid shifted their aim.

Christian Eriksen was mentioned as a potential target, but in the final days of the summer transfer window Bruno Fernandes emerged as Real Madrid’s best option. The Portuguese midfielder had been linked with both Man Utd and Tottenham over the summer, but was left on the shelf as Premier League interest was overstated.

In the end, Fernandes’ proposed move to the Santiago Bernabeu never materialised, but there is talk that Real Madrid could return for him once the January transfer window opens. Would that be the right move, though? Is Fernandes what Zidane’s team needs at this moment?

While the start to the season was difficult for Real Madrid, they have started to find some form and consistency in recent weeks. Since losing to Real Mallorca before the last international break, they have gone unbeaten, winning four of five and keeping clean sheets in all five fixtures.

Their midfield has looked a lot better as well with Fede Valverde becoming a key figure over the past few weeks. Both Toni Kroos and Luka Modric have upped their performance levels, but Zidane still seemingly wants another attacking midfielder and Fernandes could well fit the bill for him.

Fernandes has kept his form from last season going and then some. The 25-year-old has five goals and five assists in 10 league appearances this season as well as three goals and an assist in four Europa League games. The Portuguese international has actually improved on the standard he set for himself over the 2018/19 campaign.

Pogba might still be Real Madrid’s dream signing, with the Frenchman still believed to be unhappy at Old Trafford. It’s entirely possible that he will still make the move to the Spanish capital at one point, possibly at the end of the season, but Zidane might feel he needs someone sooner than that. In that case, he do a lot worse than Fernandes, a player who looks ready for the next step in his career. That next step could carry him to the Santiago Bernabeu.

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Where Next for Moise Kean?

Since joining Everton, Moise Kean has struggled to acclimate himself to his new surroundings and has since found himself on the outside looking in due to reported disciplinary issues. With Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cenk Tosun all competing for one spot up top, it’s difficult to envisage a situation that the former Juventus man breaks through in England. Which leads us to a very important question: Where next for Moise Kean?

After breaking onto the scene with Juventus last season, Kean was tipped as Italy’s saviour in the final third. Scoring goals in his Italy debut as well as his second game, it seemed he was ready to live up to the hype. When the Italian champions decided to sell him this past summer, many were left perplexed by their decision as the young forward impressed on every occasion. Let’s now evaluate some options for Kean.

Roma: 

Paulo Fonseca’s men are reportedly interested in Kean and will be among his suitors come January. Given his lack of playing time, he should be available on the cheap or even on loan. This season, Roma have impressed at every turn and have done so with many Italian youth talents in their side. Whether it’s Leonardo Spinazzola, Gianluca Mancini, Nicolo Zaniolo or Bryan Cristante, Roma are committed to developing youth. As a result, Kean would not be out of place one bit in the nation’s capital.

He’s already proven capable of finding the back of the net in Italy and wouldn’t need an adaptation period. Learning from Edin Dzeko, Roma may just be an ideal landing spot for the 19-year-old.

Milan: 

Recent reports have also suggested that Kean’s agent, Mino Raiola, is exploring all opportunities for the young striker’s next move and have linked him to Milan. The rossoneri are currently a side in disarray but have a number of interesting young players on deck. Given Krzysztof Piątek’s struggles this season, Milan could use a more mobile number nine; one that could create space for himself. In addition, Kean’s arrival would increase the competition for places, perhaps igniting a fire under Piątek.

The only worry, however, is that after an initial honeymoon period, most Milan strikers tend to struggle due to a lack of service. While returning to Italy with Milan wouldn’t be his worst option, they aren’t the best fit for the 19-year-old as of right now. In this sense, Roma are a much better option.

Staying at Everton:

While we tend to link struggling players with a plethora of teams, a plausible option is that he stays in England with Everton. Despite their early struggles this season, the Toffees have a number of interesting pieces in the final third and could benefit from Kean’s return to the lineup. All it takes for a striker to feel at home is a few goals and an extended run of games; an opportunity Everton boss Marco Silva would be wise to afford Kean before the January transfer window opens.

Kean’s play is suited to the Premier League, and after an initial adaptation period, the young striker could start punishing defences. While this option is the unlikeliest at the time given recent reports, both parties should seriously consider moving forward together. Everton could use Kean and Kean could use regular football to make Roberto Mancini’s Euro 2020 roster. It’s not impossible he stays, however, let’s not forget, it’s Raiola pulling the strings.

Whether Kean returns to Italy or remains at Everton remains to be seen, however, it’s clear there will be an update shortly. Given his incredible talent and ability to find the back of the net, it’s only a matter of time before Kean finds a place to call home again. However, his disciplinary issues remain a slight concern. In any case, Italy could definitely benefit from Kean’s return to form and hope it comes sooner rather than later…

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One to Watch: Riccardo Sottil

With the international break upon us and plenty of U-21 football on deck, it gives us time to reflect on some of Italy’s budding talents. Chief among them is Fiorentina winger Riccardo Sottil. Since Rocco Commisso has taken over, la Viola have been committed to producing Italian players and are keen on giving these players a platform to express themselves. Federico Chiesa and Gaetano Castrovilli are but two examples of Fiorentina’s success with youth and represent a clear direction in place in Tuscany. Sottil appears to be the next Azzurrini in line to take Fiorentina by storm. 

The 20-year-old is a natural winger by trade and joined Fiorentina’s youth ranks from Torino in 2016. He first featured for Montella’s men as a sub in 2018 against Sampdoria, coming on for Chiesa. This season, Sottil has featured with more regularity and has demonstrated signs that he’s ready to take the next step in his career. Montella, a manager notorious for his handling of youth, has entrusted the young winger this season, as evidenced by his seven appearances this season.

His most impressive outing was undoubtedly against Napoli in the first match-day of the season, where Sottil got deployed from the start. The 20-year-old was a constant menace and terrorized Mario Rui until the Portuguese fullback was inevitably subbed off. Using his incredible turn of pace, Sottil took on his man every opportunity he got and earned six fouls, the most of anyone on the pitch. This performance was a glimpse of what Sottil is capable of.

Beyond his directness, Sottil is a versatile winger. Whether Montella instructs him to increase the depth of the side or stretch the opposition wide, Sottil is eager to listen to his manager’s instructions. However, the Fiorentina man is at his best when hitting the opponent on the counter and thrives when there’s space to run into. Moving forward in his career, Sottil will need to diversify his game and develop the qualities needed to break down low blocks. Currently, the 20-year-old is largely used off the bench but could feature with more regularity with a bit more consistency.

Sottil also represents the Italy U-21 sides and has thrived on the wide right of their front-three. Most recently, the 20-year-old found the back of the net against Ireland in a 3-0 win. Despite his goal, Sottil is yet to regularly contribute in the final third and will need to add end-product to his game. The Fiorentina man is one of the league’s paciest customers and is able to get himself in dangerous areas, but needs to be better at finding the final ball. Once that happens, both Italy and Fiorentina will add yet another mercurial winger to their ranks.

Alongside Chiesa and Castrovilli, Sottil has the opportunity to take Fiorentina forward into a new era. An era that predicates the importance of Italian youth and an era that, hopefully, will bring more silverware than the last. Despite his clear talent, he remains one to watch as there are areas of improvement for the young winger. Regardless, it appears that Sottil is ready to take Serie A by storm.

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