Serie A Best Fantasy XI – Round 24

Juan Musso (7 points): a pretty good number of clean sheets in this round as seven defences managed to stymie the opponents. Udinese’s Argentinian goalie had the best save of the weekend, actually a double one as he parried away a point-blank header going to the ground with cat-like agility and then had the alertness of slapping away the ball before a tap-in. Parma’s Simone Colombi had a sensational save as well on an attempted chip shot.

Adama Soumaoro (8 points): on top of stopping an in-form Bologna team, three Genoa defenders picked up bonus point for their contribution on the other end. The spot on behalf of the trio goes to the newcomer Soumaoro, who has taken full advantage of Cristiano Romero’s absence to show his worth and scored with a clinical sliding finish, on feed by Andrea Masiello (7 points) no less. Domenico Criscito (9) instead canned another penalty late to round up the score. Continue reading

AC Milan 1-0 Torino: Rebic on target again as Rossoneri claim important win

AC Milan followed up the impressive display against Juventus with a win this evening, beating Torino by the odd goal at the San Siro. Once again, just like against the Bianconeri, Ante Rebic got on the scoresheet (his sixth goal in seven games) and ultimately won the game for his side. 

The Rossoneri are now just four points behind Roma in fifth place, although the top-four zone and Atalanta are still ten points away. The Champions League dream remains, though, with 14 games left of the season. After Christmas, few would have predicted the progress that Milan have made since the start of the year.  Continue reading

Serie A Match of the Round – Lazio vs Inter

Lazio-Inter was the most anticipated match going into round 24: it was pretty tight but still had a decent amount of action, so it takes home the shout-out in combination with its potentially huge significance in the title race.

The Biancocelesti were handed their last loss in the first meeting between the two sides back in September and then proceeded to go on a still ongoing terrific run, although they had slowed down a bit lately with two draws in the past four contests. The Nerazzurri were instead coming off two Ws, the first versus Udinese and then a crazy one in the Derby. Continue reading

Three Reasons Behind Roma’s Slump

After a relatively decent first-half to the season, Roma have hit a rough patch and now find themselves six points adrift Atalanta for the fourth and final Champions League spot. Earlier in the year, it appeared the giallorossi were establishing a clear identity under Paulo Fonseca and were building a solid foundation for years to come. However, in recent times, Roma have struggled for results, losing three of their last four clashes and are in free-fall mode.

But how exactly did we get here? Here are three reasons behind Roma’s slump.

1) No Diawara, no party. 

After a great start to the season, Amadou Diawara went down injured at the end of January and is now out for an undisclosed period of time. Alongside Jordan Veretout, the former Napoli man established himself as one of Fonseca’s key players and typically played in the role of regista dictating play from deep. Without him in the lineup, Roma have struggled to build out of the back and have looked defensively suspect. Diawara was central to Fonseca’s system and essentially acted as the lynchpin that tied it all together in the middle.

His replacement, Bryan Cristante, hasn’t exactly performed when called upon and is currently struggling for form. Whether it’s his imprecision on the ball or his inefficiency in front of goal, the downgrade from Diawara to Cristante is hurting Roma.

While Diawara’s return is unknown for now, Fonseca is going to need to find a solution quickly. If not, Roma risk falling out of contention for a Champions League place and could be eliminated from the Europa League.

2) Centre-backs are making routine errors. 

Following Kostas Manolas’ departure to Napoli, many expected the giallorossi to spend big to replace the Greek international. Rather than splashing the cash on a new defender, Roma opted for a low-cost option and loaned Manchester United defender Chris Smalling. The Englishman started the season in phenomenal form and for the first half of the season looked like the signing of the summer. However, in the new year, his good performances quickly faded and began making routine mistakes at the back.

His partner, Gianluca Mancini, has endured a very similar start to 2020. The former Atalanta defender has looked increasingly shaky at the back and devoid of any confidence. In Roma’s most recent games, Mancini has been regularly beaten by his man and hasn’t exactly exhibited confidence. In fact, in the giallorossi’s last three games, they’ve conceded nine goals, losing to Bologna, Sassuolo and direct Champions League rivals Atalanta.

While Mancini and Smalling had great starts to the season and looked more than ready to assume bigger roles, their respective shortcomings have now caught up to them. Much like it was the case in midfield, Roma will regret not reinforcing further this past January.

3) Roma’s attack is filled with “nearly-men” 

While Roma are having no trouble finding the back of the net in this negative run, their front-line remains an inconsistent bunch. This leads to regular rotation and overall incoherence in the final third. On some nights, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Cengiz Under look like world-beaters while other games, they can barely string two passes together. See: Most recent defeat vs. Atalanta.

Nicolo Zaniolo’s injury significantly hampered Roma in this respect, but it’s time one of their youngsters on the cusp steps up and builds a partnership with club veteran Edin Dzeko. Whether it’s Kluivert, Pellegrini or Under, one of them needs to assume more responsibility in the final third. If they are unable to do so, it may be time for the giallorossi to reconsider and in some cases move on from them completely because right now their “nearly-men” are killing them.

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Serie A Club of the Round – Genoa

A late consolation goal by Sampdoria prevented Fiorentina from keeping a clean sheet and assembling a glorious fantasy haul thanks to a 5-1 romp, so the nod goes to the team next in line, Genoa, which surprised Bologna on the road and took full advantage of a pair of favourable episodes on their way to a perfect result.

The Griffon got their first win in a month in the previous round, a narrow one over Cagliari at home, while they had tied with Fiorentina and Atalanta in the two previous outings, thus showing decent signs of improvements and starting to pick up some momentum in the relegation race. Continue reading

Premier League: Best 11 Players of the Weekend

Because of the winter break in the Premier League there were just 5 games played at the weekend. All of the favourites won their games including Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool. But let’s take a look at the players who made a difference this past weekend in the Premier League.

Formation: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel- Leicester 7pts

A few goalkeepers earned 7 points but Kasper Schmeichel deserves credit as his Leicester side went away from home against a very difficult Wolves side and got a point, keeping a clean sheet too as the game ended 0-0. That was the goalkeepers 9th clean sheet of the season.

Defender: Romain Saiss- Wolves 5pts

It’s no mean feat to keep Jamie Vardy and co from scoring a goal and Saiss helped his side Wolves keep a clean sheet at home against the team in 3rd place. Saiss has 17 points this season.

Defender: Trent-Alexander Arnold- Liverpool 5pts

On fantasy ranking points Alexander Arnold is the best defender in the Premier League and he showed his qualities again as Liverpool beat Norwich 1-0 away from home to record his 12th clean sheet of the season.

Defender: Virgil van Dijk- Liverpool 5pts

His teammate van Dijk and recognised as one of the worlds best defenders also helped keep a clean sheet and the player now has 74 points in the fantasy rankings and is just 9 behind his team mate in 2nd place.

Defender: Wes Morgan -Leicester 5pts

Wes Morgan had a lot to do in the back four of Leicester as Wolves who were at home asked many questions of the Foxes. Morgan held his ground well and earned 5 points in the process.

Midfielder: Mesut Ozil- Arsenal 6pts

Ozil has been under pressure for the past two seasons for his performances, but against Newcastle he was on the ball. Not only did his side keep a clean sheet but he also scored a goal, his first of the season in the league.

Midfielder: Sadio Mane- Liverpool 5pts

Sadio Mane showed his qualities coming on late in the game v Norwich and ended up scoring the winner- a classy finish too. He dropped a point because he was booked in the final minute though.

Midfielder: Jordan Henderson-Liverpool 4pts

It should come as no surprise to see Henderson’s name on the team of the weekend yet again. He earned 4 points after a solid, professional display as Liverpool continued their unbeaten run this season with a 1-0 win over Norwich.

Midfielder: Lucas Torreira- Arsenal 2pts

It was rare joy for Arsenal and Torreira to win a game, and so many defenders ended the weekend with 2 points. Torreira deserves his place after a tormented time this season with Arsenal, he held firm and didn’t give Newcastle a look in.

Striker: Nicolas Pepe- Arsenal 8pts

Nicolas Pepe has been criticised this season as he has started his career with Arsenal very slow. But at the weekend he was on top form and earned 8 points after he scored a goal and he also assisted in the opening goal. In 240 seconds he showed why Arsenal had paid over £70m for him.

Striker: Heung-Min Son- Tottenham 6pts

If Tottenham are to finish in a Champions League place a large chunk of that could go to the fact that in Son they have a great striker. He scored 2 goals as Tottenham beat Aston Villa in a thrilling 3-2 win. He now has 9 goals for the season and looks in brilliant form.

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La Liga: Best 11 Players of the Weekend: Week 24

Real Madrid were shocked as they could draw at home against Celta Vigo 2-2. With Barcelona getting past Getafe with a 2-1 win it means that Barca are just one point behind Madrid with 14 games left to play. From the top 6 teams only two won in Barcelona and Villarreal and that has also made Champions League finishing positions more open and interesting.

Let’s take a look below at who performed the best this past weekend.

Formation: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper: Joel Robles- Real Betis 7pts

Only two goalkeepers in La Liga earned 7 points and it happened in the same match as Leganes took on Real Betis. The game ended 0-0 but Joel Robles deserves this one being the away goalkeeper and Levante had 11 goal attempts.

Defender: Oier Mate- Osasuna 8pts

It was a perfect match for Oier Mate who not only kept a clean sheet for his club but also scored the only goal and winner as Osasuna beat Athletic Bilbao 1-0 away from home.

Defender: David Garcia- Osasuna 5pts

Garcia alongside his team mater Oier Mate helped to keep a clean sheet away from home and earned 5 points. That is his 7th of the season where he has helped his club.

Defender: Aissa Mandi- Real Betis 5pts

Aissa Mandi has been good at collecting yellow cards which has hampered his points total, but at the weekend he did a perfect job for Real Betis and he has helped the club keep 4 clean sheets this season.

Defender: Martin Valjent- Real Mallorca 

Real Mallorca beat Alaves 1-0 and Valjent was a big part of that success and earning 3 points in the heart of defence. He has helped to keep 4 clean sheets this season.

Midfielder: Suso- Sevilla 6pts

Suso rescued a point for Sevilla who were losing 2-1 at home to Espanyol but with just minutes left Suso was able to get a very important goal for the home side. It was only his 2nd goal of the season but such an important one.

Midfielder: Toni Kroos- Real Madrid 4pts

It was a disappointing result at the weekend for Real Madrid who could only draw 2-2 at home to Celta Vigo. But Toni Kroos put in a good shift at home and also scored a goal to put his team back in the game after they conceded first.

Midfielder: Moises Gomez- Villarreal 4pts

Moises Gomez got the winning goal as his side Villarreal beat Levante 2-1 in a very close game. He has been involved in 7 goals this season and that was his 3rd of the season.

Midfielder: Thomas Partey- Atletico Madrid 4pts

Thomas scored only his 2nd goal of the season to help Atletico draw 2-2 with Valencia in an entertaining draw. The league is over for the club but they need to maintain a Champions League berth.

Striker: Gerard Moreno- Villarreal 6pts

Gerard Moreno had a brilliant game for Villarreal as he opened the scoring and then set up the winner as his side won 2-1. Moreno has scored 10 goals this season and created 3 further goals.

Striker: Lucas Ocampos- Sevilla 6pts

Lucas Ocampos also earned 6 points and did the same job as Moreno scoring his teams first goal and then setting up the assist for the 2nd as Sevilla drew 2-2. It was Ocampos’ 7th goal of the season.

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Lazio’s Secret: Sometimes the best deals are those you don’t make

You can drive yourself crazy going down the rabbit holes of “what if?”. This obviously applies to your day to day life, but when it comes to sports we all too often look at this from the perspective of what if my team had signed player X or hired manager Y- think of Juventus choosing Poulsen over Xabi Alonso or Manchester United picking Moyes for life after Sir Alex Ferguson.

But this current Lazio team is the best demonstration that this also applies also to the players and manager who are leading them to success. In fact Sergej Milinkovic Savic who scored the game winner and manager Simone Inzaghi weren’t even supposed to be on this team.

Back in 2015, Milinkovic Savic was a promising midfielder at Genk who had acquired him the year before Vokvodina for less than a half a million euro. The Bosnian midfielder caught the attention of both Fiorentina and Lazio the following summer, Milinkovic Savic visited the biancocelesti’s facilities at Formello and fell in love with the city and the club.

However Fiorentina took the lead in the race and a few weeks later Milinkovic Savic travelled to the club’s headquarters in Tuscany to sign his contract, but this is where he got cold feet and decided to pull a U turn and sign with Lazio who closed the deal with Genk for around 10 million (the Belgian club had retained a percentage on the future sale which Lazio eventually was able to negotiate out of his contract by paying financial considerations upfront).

Once Milinkovic Savic fully broke out at Lazio during the 2017-18 season, it felt almost inevitable he would leave. Lazio had failed to qualify for the Champions League and the upcoming World Cup in Russia was set to be the perfect stage for the Serbian Sergeant to become a huge name on the market. Instead Serbia flamed out, Milinkovic Savic’s performances dropped after his first strong initial game and there were no suitors willing to pay Lazio’s president Lotito’s asking price of 100 million euro.

When the following season Milinkovic Savic failed to play to his previous standards, many wondered if Lazio had asked for way too much for a one season wonder and assumed they would eventually regret the decision. Lazio failed to qualify for the Champions League on the last game of the season and it felt inevitable that Milinkovic Savic would be sold but for far less than the expected 100 million euro return.

In the meantime Lazio gave Milinkovic Savic an extension making him one of the highest paid players on the team, but that didn’t stop clubs like Juventus, Inter, Manchester United and Real Madrid from pursuing him. The bianconeri even agreed to personal terms with Milinkovic Savic, but eventually decided to shoot their load transfer fee wise on Mathijs De Ligt and go with two Bosman signings, Ramsey and Rabiot, to boost their midfield.

This current season has seen a return to form for Milinkovic Savic, who isn’t as flashy now that he plays a more defensive role in Inzaghi;s midfield but has certainly shown an ability to come through in big moments. His poor showing in the last World Cup had helped fuel the story line that Milinkovic Savic crumbled on the biggest stages against top opponents, but this season he has scored the goal that gave Lazio the lead against Juventus last December and the game winner against Inter on Sunday.

Just like Milinkovic Savic, the biancocelesti’s current coach Simone Inzaghi wasn’t supposed to be at the Olimpico on Sunday night. While Pippo’s brother has strong ties to Lazio dating back to his two spells at the club as a player, when he was hired as the first team’s coach back in April of 2016 it was only supposed to be on an interim basis.

Inzaghi was managing Lazio’s Primavera team when Stefano Pioli was sacked before the final stretch of the season. While he achieved very good results by accruing twelve points in the final seven matches of the campaign, Lotito wanted to make a statement signing to keep up with Roma and give his team a jolt.

Lotito was able to convince Marcelo Bielsa to take his flamboyant style to Italy’s capital, everything was set and Lazio even announced his signing and the time for his introductory press conference, Simone Inzaghi was going to continue building his resume at Lotito’s other club Salernitana in Serie B- but then Bielsa bailed and Lazio were found without a manager.    

Lotito quickly decided to give Inzaghi the main job at Lazio where he developed the likes of Milinkovic Savic and Luis Alberto. Last summer there was buzz that Rino Gattuso could be Lazio’s new manager because Inzaghi had become a target for both Juventus and Milan- a rumor that made the fanbases of those clubs about as excited as Star Wars superfans seeing Jar Jar Binks show up at Comic Con.

Juventus had shown interest in Simone Inzaghi because of the similarities of his formation and style with Max Allegri and because of his close relationship with the bianconeri’s sporting director Fabio Paratici, while Milan were looking to hire both sporting director Tare and Inzaghi to relaunch the club- instead Juventus hired Sarri while Milan went for Maldini/Boban/Massara and Giampaolo.

Lazio’s triumph on Sunday against Inter is a reminder that sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make or that a decision that was made a few years ago can still pay huge dividends today- it’s not always about the next big acquisition.

Toulouse are down and out but did VAR make the right decision?

Picture this if you will, down in bottom place of Ligue 1 and 14 points from safety, lost 18 games this season and conceded 51 goals. Nothing is going right for Toulouse and that was underlined at the weekend when playing at home they lost to Nice 2-0.

But there would be a couple of controversial moments during the game that certainly affected it for a club who prepared for this one. They had known that Nice do not have the best away record and that they have been a club when needed to win or expected to win against a bottom three side have done a great job in the past of messing it up. Toulouse knew they would be the outsiders- although curiously the bookmakers had matched up the sides with the same price and chance of winning. There was something in the air.

Toulouse look doomed in Ligue 1, but before the weekend, they looked doomed but had a small chance, a win here would have created a buzz missing in the club, and with no wins in the last four months, it was something that they needed. But the game was over before it had really got going after Nice took a 12th minute lead through Pierre Lees Melou. The balance was still there though and Toulouse were not about to give up. But fifteen minutes later the towel was thrown in with the help of VAR.

Toulouse defender Ruben Gabrielsen was adjudged to have made a professional foul but it did look 50/50 as both him and striker grappled for position. A straight red just seemed harsh in the circumstances but that’s what happened and when you are the bottom club, 1-0 down and now have 10 men in under 30 minutes it is literally game over. The home support voiced their frustrations but there was nothing they could do about it.

In the second half Toulouse had another player sent off, and this time VAR got it right. Steven Moreira kicked out but the referee only saw that as a yellow card until VAR intervened and changed it to a red card, and it was fully deserved. The icing on the cake ended with Toulouse missing a penalty to make it 1-1 and then Nice going down the other end to get their 2nd in a game that finished 2-0 to the away side.

Toulouse will look back at what looked like a controversial sending off, and one wonders unless a player is being very violent or comes in with a ‘leg breaking’ tackle if they need to be more lenient so early in games. After all having 11 players play 10 it just seems to end the contest before it has really got started, and no one wants that.

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AC Milan vs. Torino: Team news, stats and prediction

Having faced Juventus in the Coppa Italia semi-final during the week, AC Milan are gearing up to take on yet another Turin side at the San Siro, namely Torino. Seemingly in good form, Stefano Pioli’s side will be looking for a win to keep their dream of Champions League qualification alive. 

The Rossoneri responded well to the blackout against Inter, being the better side for a majority of the game against Juventus. Had it not been for the 90th-minute Ronaldo penalty, then they would have secured an important 1-0 win ahead of the second leg. Now, however, the situation is a bit tougher.  Continue reading