Jose Callejon – Serie A’s best signing of the last decade?

Recall the scene: Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne would receive the ball down on the left hand channel of the opponent’s half. Insigne would take several touches, cut inside and delicately float a beautifully weighted diagonal pass behind the opposition defence and into the stride of Jose Callejon on the right hand side, who’d timed his run impeccably.

Callejon would either take one of two options: he’d instantly kill the ball with his first touch and shoot at goal, or roll it across for Napoli’s central striker to tap it in. Throughout the Maurizio Sarri era, this scenario played out seemingly two or three times a game, with a goal usually the end result. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 38 – Sunday Games

SPAL-FIORENTINA

SPAL: they were thumped early against Verona and failed to generate any semblance of offense, interrupting a mini-streak of consecutive matches where they had managed to score. Their agony will finally end here after a terrible season. Marco D’Alessandro has been their best player in the resumption, while Andrea Petagna and Gabriel Strefezza were the most reliable ones in the first part of the season. Mattia Valoti and Federico Di Francesco came back from their injuries and they could be worth a flier-

Suggested picks: D’Alessandro, Petagna, Valoti. Continue reading

Serie A Probable Lineups – Round 38

Brescia-Sampdoria

Brescia: 4-4-2 Andrenacci; Sabelli, Gastaldello, Mateju, Mangraviti; Spalek, Tonali, Dessena, Zmrhal; Aye, Torregrossa.

Potential lineup changes: Semprini for Mangraviti, Viviani for Dessena, Donnarumma for Aye.

Likely bench options: Bjarnason, Ndoj, Martella.

Questionable: Cistana (lower leg), Joronen, Donnarumma.

Ruled Out: Balotelli (contract dispute), Bisoli (knee), Chancellor, Skrabb (ankle).

Suspended: Papetti. Continue reading

Four reasons Lazio still have much to play for in Serie A finale

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A wild and wonderful Lazio season comes to an end on Saturday when they travel south to face Coppa Italia holders Napoli.

Gennaro Gattuso’s side have nothing but pride left to play for in the league, as they are guaranteed to finish seventh regardless of the result.

On the face of it, Lazio have little on the line either. They can still finish anywhere between second or fourth, but a Champions League spot is guaranteed either way.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find a few reasons to get excited about the climactic moment of a memorable campaign for the Biancocelesti.

Ciro Immobile’s quest for history Continue reading

Just how good is Martin Odegaard?

He provided, no matter which way you look at it, one of the defining storylines of the 2019/20 season in Spain. Written off as a teenager and a wonderkid who failed to fulfil his potential, Martin Odegaard showed why so many were wrong about him by loaning Real Sociedad on loan this season and marking himself out as one of the best players in La Liga.

Indeed, Odegaard is finally flourishing. The Norwegian is still only 21 years old, but he made the move to Real Madrid at such a young age (16) that this season felt like something of a career renaissance. In hindsight, the pressure that was placed on a player, and a person, so young was ridiculous. Odegaard deserved time to mature at his own rate, and that is now what he has done.

Odegaard’s sensational performances for Real Sociedad this season have led to speculation that his two-season loan at the Anoeta could be cut short this summer after just one season. The Norwegian has proven himself on loan and now his parent club could recall him in order to integrate him into their new look midfield for the start of the 2020/21 campaign.

Recent reports state that Real Madrid will take a decision on Odegaard’s future after the Champions League has finished, with Los Blancos 2-1 down from their last 16 first leg against Manchester City. They have some work to do to turn the tie around and make the quarter finals.

The noises out of the Santiago Bernabeu are that Real Madrid will have to sell players before they can make moves in the transfer market this summer. That might prove quite challenging given the financial landscape across the European game at this moment and so Florentino Perez might not have much money to throw around.

Perez always recognises the importance of hype and growing excitement among the Real Madrid support and so he could recall Odegaard to do this. The Norwegian has been on the books at the Santiago Bernabeu for the last five years, but the fans haven’t yet been given a real look at him. Real Madrid could, in a way, present him as something of a new signing this summer. It might be time for Odegaard to finally prove why Los Blancos kept him around and why he should be a big part of the club’s future.

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Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 38

Atalanta: Josip Ilicic will miss another one and will be probably joined by José Palomino, who picked up a thigh problem in the last game.

Bologna: Mattia Bani (calf) and Takehiro Tomiyasu (thigh) will not be back for the season finale. Mitchell Dijks and Ladislav Krejci (thigh) have been ruled out. 

Brescia: Jhon Chancellor and Simon Skrabb are out, while Jesse Joronen, Alfredo Donnarumma and even Andrea Cistana are in the squad list, but that is not necessarily an indication they are certainly going to play.   Continue reading

Fiorentina Take Step Back After Confirming Beppe Iachini

Fiorentina confirmed Beppe Iachini would be returning as their coach going into the new season, after replacing Vincenzo Montella on an interim basis in December. La Viola has struggled for consistency all season, hovering just over the relegation zone. While Iachini steadied the ship upon his arrival, this appointment does not exactly fall in line with Fiorentina’s ambition. The Tuscan based outfit has secured a number of promising young talents in recent times and could regularly be challenging for European places.

A mid-table to lower-tier specialist, Iachini isn’t exactly the ideal profile to lead the charge and usher in progressive football. Fiorentina currently possesses an impressive young core, boasting the likes of Nikola Milenkovic, Federico Chiesa, Gaetano Castrovilli, and Christian Kouame among others. Considering the wealth of talent of Iachini’s disposal, much was expected from La Viola this season. Fiorentina, however, disappointed and only recently hit form, propelling themselves into a comfortable mid-table finish.

The main question mark going into the new season for Fiorentina is the futures of their star men. Chiesa has been linked with a big-money move to both Juventus and Inter over the past few weeks and looks intent on leaving Tuscany when the mercato opens. Another player who seems to be on everyone’s radar is la Viola’s towering defender Milenkovic. Capable of playing anywhere across the back four, the Serbian international has since emerged as a hot transfer target both in Italy and abroad. Manchester United was reportedly interested in the Fiorentina man as they look to bolster their defense.

In this sense, much of la Viola’s success next season will depend on them retaining their star players. If they are unable to do so, Iachini’s men may just be gearing up for yet another season filled with relegation scares. Should Fiorentina hold on to their star men, they will be in a great position to take the next step and qualify for the Europa League for the first time in four years.

That being said, Iachini’s confirmation will only hold Fiorentina back moving forward. When Rocco Commisso initially purchased the club, the expectations in Tuscany were high. The American businessman quickly invested in the side and has since built a young and vibrant roster. The play on the field, however, has left a lot to be desired with la Viola struggling for results and battling relegation.

As the side looks to take the next step and return to the upper echelon of Italian football once and for all, Fiorentina will need to bring in a more progressive manager. Managers like Gian Piero Gasperini and Roberto De Zerbi have taken Italy by storm this season and Fiorentina would benefit immensely from having a progressive thinker at the helm.

Eusebio Di Francesco was briefly linked to the Fiorentina job over the last few days, but la Viola decided against hiring the former Sassuolo tactician. In many ways, Di Francesco’s 4-3-3 would have suited Fiorentina’s roster and young core better, but the upper brass opted to confirm Iachini. With the new season kicking off in just under two months’ time, Fiorentina will be hoping they don’t regret their decision to do so – even if all the signs are pointing to it.

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Kevin De Bruyne finishes season at the top

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Manchester City ended the season on a high with a cruising 5-0 thumping of relegated Norwich City at the Etihad Stadium.

Gabriel Jesus opened the scoring, whilst Kevin De Bruyne scored a goal at the end of each half, either side of goals from Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez against the hapless Canaries.

The brace saw the Belgian star end the campaign with 13 goals and 20 assists, collecting the most fantasy points among English Premier League players.

De Bruyne was back to his best this past season after missing half of 2018-19 through injury. His first on Sunday was a sumptuous 20-yard strike across goal into the top corner of Tim Krul’s goal. He had earlier been heavily involved in the buildup to Jesus’ opener.

The midfielder’s second goal of the game, Manchester City’s final of their Premier League campaign, was a first time effort in off the post after Mahrez’s blocked effort fell kindly into KDB’s path.

However, three points in the final game and Kevin De Bruyne’s exceptional performance throughout the season weren’t enough to help City retain their Premier League title as Liverpool ran away with the championship, finishing an incredible 18 points above Pep Guardiola’s runners-up.

Kevin De Bruyne ended the fantasy Premier League season with 206 points – 14 ahead of runner-up Trent Alexander-Arnold. Liverpool had five of the top seven players in the final standings, whilst the next City player on the list was Riyad Mahrez down in 12th.

Manchester City will be back in action on Friday 7 August for the second leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie against Real Madrid. The Premier League side were 2-1 winners in the first leg in the Spanish capital back in February.

Real Madrid were resurgent following the restart, winning their first 10 games to clinch the 2019-20 La Liga title before drawing their season finale with nothing at stake. Zinedine Zidane’s side conceded just four goals during that 10-game winning streak. However, they were facing the likes of Eibar, Mallorca and Espanyol… not Manchester City.

Kevin De Bruyne and teammates certainly have the beating of this Real Madrid side, as they showed in the first leg. Manchester City created numerous chances before finally scoring twice in the final quarter-of-an-hour.

Despite Real Madrid’s recent impressive defensive record, it’s nothing for City to fear. They themselves scored 21 goals in their final five Premier League matches, winning each of them.

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Arsenal vs Chelsea: FA Cup final preview

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Arsenal and Chelsea will contest the 2019-20 FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.

Both London teams defied the odds in beating Manchester City and Manchester United in the semi-finals to setup an all-London affair in the final.

Chelsea wrapped up a Champions League finish on Sunday by beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 at Stamford Bridge to finish fourth. This proved to be a rather impressive debut season for Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge considering the transfer embargo the club was under.

If the former Derby County manager and Chelsea playing legend can take home a piece of silverware on Sunday it will go a long way to proving the doubters wrong after he was appointed last summer.

To reach the final, Chelsea had been on top of Manchester United in the last round prior to Olivier Giroud‘s opener in the 11th minute of first-half stoppage time. The Blues doubled their lead immediately after the restart when David de Gea spilled Mason Mount’s long-range effort into his own net. They went on to win 3-1 in the end.

Meanwhile, the Gunners were 2-0 winners over City with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring 20 minutes into the game and 20 minutes from the end, despite Mikel Arteta’s side only seeing 30% of the possession.

The Spaniard has been in charge of the North London club even shorter than this weekend’s opponent as he was only appointed back in December following the dismissal of Unai Emery.

Arsenal had initially made a shaky start once the season resumed before beating Wolves 2-0 and Liverpool 2-1 prior to their impressive FA Cup performance.

They will be looking to win a record 13th FA Cup on Sunday, though the bookmakers have Chelsea as the narrow favourites.

Continue reading

Moyes gets midfielder Tomas Soucek on permanent deal

After spending six months playing for West Ham on loan from Slavia Prague, Tomas Soucek has completed a four-year, £19m deal with the Hammers.

After arriving from his native Czech Republic, the 25-year-old defensive midfielder played 13 games for West Ham, scoring three goals, one of them in the win against Watford, three matches before the end of the season, when the David Moyes’ team secured their Premier League status for another year.

The two time Czech Player of the Year won the trust of the Moyes with both his defensive and attacking qualities, a strong physical presence and an eye for goal. Although the loan was Soucek’s first experience outside his home country, he was quick to adapt to English football and made a big impact in east London.

His versatility and enthusiasm was crucial after the Premier league restarted, when West Ham were on the cusp of relegation with only 27 points, the same as Watford and Bournemouth who are now Championship-bound. Since then Soucek has showed his full potential while also gaining interest from numerous of teams around Europe.

David Moyes expects the Czech to be one of the biggest assets for the Hammers in the upcoming season. With his 6ft 4in frame and energetic box-to-box game, Soucek provides something for Moyes that others in his squad lack, and team may well be adjusted to suit his skillset.

“I’m delighted that Tomas has signed his permanent contract to secure his long-term future at the Club. When I came in, we talked about needing another midfield player, to help Declan Rice and Mark Noble, and I think he’s been a really good fit for us. He’s a terrific lad with very good physical capabilities. He has scored some really important goals for us, against Chelsea, Newcastle and Watford. We’re glad he’s going to be a West Ham player for a good period to come”, said Moyes.

Soucek started his football dream as a six-year-old in a small club in his native Havlíckuv Brod. The club that is currently playing in the Czech Republics’ fourth division recognised his talent and potential. before letting him move on to the most successful Czech team, Slavia Prague. The owners of Havlíckuv Brod also put a clause in the contract demanding a percentage of any future transfer of Soucek from Slavia. Six years later, they will collect £1.4m on the back of this transfer.