5 Storylines to Watch in Serie A

After a dreadful stretch of Champions League matches for Italian clubs, Serie A returns this weekend. Here are the main story lines to watch

icardi

 

Will Inter officially enter the “Britney Spears with a shaved head attacking an SUV with an umbrella” phase of their season?

You have to hand it to Inter- they qualified for the Champions League in nerve wrecking fashion, their main star Icardi proved himself on the biggest stage in European competitions, they won two key matches in the last few minutes and they still managed to throw away qualifying out of the group stage because they couldn’t defeat a team already eliminated in front of close to 70,000 fans.

On the bright side, after the draw took place last summer not many gave them a chance to qualify in the first place, but failing to defeat PSV on the heels of their loss to bitter rival Juventus may have some serious repercussions. Spalletti will need his team to get back on track when they face Udinese at San Siro on Sunday, anything less than a win could send the team on a tail spin.

The nerazzurri desperately need at least one out of Ivan Perisic or Radja Nainggolan to get going in the coming weeks. On paper they’re the ones expected to be the two biggest difference makers on the team after Icardi and Skriniar, but so far you can make a great case that Politano and Vecino/Joao Mario have been more impactful at their respective roles.

Di Francesco

Will Di Francesco hold on to his job? Will Kouame’ shine against his potential new team?

Roma has already sent their players on two retreats during the season following a string of disappointing results so now there is really no option left but to make a managerial change if things continue to go south. On the bright side for Di Francesco, he was able to get of his Champions League- something that Spalletti and Ancelotti failed to do, but qualifying for the next edition of the cup with the Mickey Mouse ears is what matters to the club- they simply cannot afford to forfeit those revenues.

Di Francesco will get one more chance against Genoa, a club that also went through a coaching change by replacing Ivan Juric with Cesare Prandelli. While on paper this should be a fairly easy match for the giallorossi, they have really struggled against the provinciali teams and now have to face Piatek and the surging Kouame’ after giving up goals in nine consecutive matches. Roma are ironically one of the many clubs who have expressed interest in Kouame’, they recently met with his agent to plant the seeds for a potential negotiation.

zaza

Will Zaza and Rincon punish their former team in the derby della Mole?

After an uneven start to the season, the granata are on pretty good roll- they’re on a four game unbeaten streak in all competitions, manager Walter Mazzarri returned to the team after being hospitalized and their star striker Andrea Belotti is starting to regain some confidence.  Following a draw at San Siro against Milan, Torino now face Juventus in the first derby della Mole of the season.

Mazzarri will keep his fingers crossed that one of his two illustrious former bianconeri comes through on Saturday- Tomas Rincon is a perfect embodiment of Torino’s trademark grinta and with the suspended Rodrigo Bentancur he’ll likely face off against Juve’s new enforcer Emre Can, while Simone Zaza is no stranger to goals in big matches. But so far the former Sassuolo striker has struggled in his return to Serie A, he has only scored 1 goal and there are still questions on how he fits alongside Belotti.

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Will Cagliari continue to hold their own at home against a top opponent?

The shocking comeback against Roma despite being down to 9 men was just the latest impressive performance Cagliari delivered for their season ticket holders. The Sardinian club are undefeated at home and will get Nicolo’ Barella back from his one game suspension when they square off against Napoli on Sunday. The home grown midfielder is the club’s best player and he has already been linked to Arsenal and Chelsea as well as every top Serie A club.

While Napoli will have to dust off the disappointment of the elimination from the Champions League, they should get a boost from Faouzi Ghoulam. The Algerian left back shined in his return to the pitch against Frosinone, the upcoming match against Cagliari will serve as a better test to gauge his level of fitness. Ancelotti may also give another chance to Alex Meret who will have his work cut out for him to permanently gain the starting job he expected last summer since in the meantime Ospina has been an upgrade from what we saw from Pepe Reina last season.

 

Can Sassuolo get back on track against Frosinone?

After a brilliant start to the season, Sassuolo have come back down to earth. The neroverdi have only one win in their last nine matches, they simply have not looked the same especially after Kevin Prince Boateng injury. In order for manager Roberto De Zerbi to reclaim the title as “the hot up and coming Italian manager” he’ll have to get his team back on track, starting with Sunday’s away match against Frosinone.

Serie A’s Rising Stars of the Season

I have found that the easiest way to rank teams at the start of the season is to look at how many blue chip and red chip players they have. A blue chipper is good enough to start for a title challenger, while a red chipper is an above average player at his respective position. Of course, as the new season unfolds some new players take a leap and start fitting these criteria- with this in mind, let’s take a look at the emerging stars in Serie A:

 cutrone

Patrick Cutrone- Milan’s new management team showed a lot of faith in the 20 year old striker by not adding another attacker to go with Higuain after Carlos Bacca and Andre Silva headed to la Liga. While Higuain’s back problems and recent suspension made them regret this decision, this development has nothing to do with Cutrone’s performances.

The rossoneri’s youth team product has drawn comparisons to both Pippo Inzaghi for his ability to sniff out scoring opportunities  and Mario Mandzukic for his work rate and demeanor, I simply like to say Patrick Cutrone is Italian for “Makes Things Happen”.

 Zaniolo-Brozovic-Roma-Inter

Nicolo’ Zaniolo- Inter’s sporting director Piero Ausilio did everything he could to keep the 19 year old midfielder while negotiation the deal for Radja Nainggolan. But Monchi simply refused to part ways with the Belgian international without getting back Zaniolo, while also never considering the idea of giving Inter a buy back clause.

While many of Roma’s signature acquisitions have struggled the past two years, Zaniolo has already started two matches against Real Madrid (and showed a lot of progress the second time around) and put in a great performance against his former club Inter. So far we have seen Zaniolo play more in a trequartista role, but his future will likely be as a mezzala and as a key player for the Italian national team.

Ola Aina/Soualiho Meite’- while Simone Zaza and Roberto Soriano’s return to Serie A was the headline of the granata’s mercato this summer, the two new players to have made the biggest impact are youngsters new to Italian football. Torino has so far won the swap deal with Monaco involving Antonio Barreca (who could return to Serie A in January) and Soualiho Meite’, who has become a constant starter in Mazzari’s midfield.

On the other hand Ola Aina made the best of Cristian Ansaldi’s injury and become one of the most dynamic left wing backs in Calcio- it’s almost certain that Torino will exercise their option to acquire him permanently from Chelsea next summer.

Christian Kouame’- Genoa will likely get back to top part of the mid table should both Piatek and the Ivorian striker produce at the same time. While the Polish striker strived under Davide Ballardini, he struggled when Ivan Juric replaced him, but that coaching change is what launched Kouame’ who has terrorized Serie A defenses in the past few months. At least now they‘ll be on a level playing field with new manager Cesare Prandelli.

While Piatek has so far mainly shined for his finishing, Koaume has more variety to his game- he combines excellent dribbling skills with above average passing and heading ability, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Koaume’ is the one with a bigger market next summer… 

milenkovic

Joaquim Andersen/Nikola Milenkovic/William Troost Ekong- while everyone knows about Koulibaly, Skriniar, De Vrij, Manolas, Chiellini and Bonucci (all players who won’t be sold in January by the way) there’s also a new breed of exciting center backs in Serie A.

After spending a season on the sidelines to acclimate himself to Italian football, Andersen has become Sampdoria’s best defender. The 22 year old Dane has adapted well to Giampaolo’s back line which is quite demanding when it comes to maintaining tight lines and has shown a lot of maturity on and off the pitch.

While a lot was expected from Fiorentina’s attack, the defense has been the consistent bright spot. Milenkovic has shown excellent versatility since he has performed well as a right wing back despite his height and previous experience as a center back- he has also managed to score as many goals as Chiesa and Simeone.

Udinese found a gem in Turkey when they discovered William Troost Ekong, the Nigerian center back has been a consistent starter under both Velazquez and new manager Davide Nicola and is already a target for numerous clubs in Serie A and abroad. 

Gianluca Mancini-  could the 22 year old be the next installment of Gasperini’s fool’s gold? In recent years we have seen numerous former Atalanta players struggle once they left Bergamo so there may be come second guessing when observing the center back’s impressive performances.

Mancini has essentially replaced Mattia Caldara this season, not only is he performing well in the 3 man back line, just like Caldara he has also shown a penchant for scoring goals. After becoming a regular on the Under 21 look for Mancini to get a selection to the Azzurri’s senior squad in 2019. 

5 Serie A Stocks to Buy Low

The golden rule on the stock market is to buy low and sell high- that is the tried and true way to make money on commodities. We can apply this principle to Serie A players as well- this works if you play fantasy football or if you just want to sound smart while discussing Calcio.

This season we have seen some previous blue chip stocks take a substantial loss, these players used to be among the highest rated at their respective position prior to losing value because of poor performances or injuries. Let’s see who has the best chance to re establish his value during rest of the season:

perisic2

 

Ivan Perisic

Of all the players listed, he may have the best excuse but also the most nebulous future at his current club. Perisic was brilliant during the World Cup and was instrumental in Croatia making it to the final, so a slow start was to be somewhat expected although his teammate Brozovic has brought the positive momentum from the tournament in Russia to Serie A.

So far this season Perisic has been simply unrecognizable. He only has two goals and two assists to his name & to make matters worse we have yet to see his all around game which also features a strong defensive presence. In the meantime Matteo Politano has exceeded expectations and has become a borderline starter for Spalletti, while Keita Balde has been sensational in his last few matches after a very slow start.

If that weren’t enough, Yann Karamoh is making the most out of his loan spell at Bordeaux and looks like a legitimate piece of Inter’s plans for future while Lautaro Martinez is itching to play more upfront with Icardi. Maybe Perisic is onto something when he tells the media he would like to play in the Premier League someday.

milinkovic3

Sergej Milinkovic Savic

Definitely not a good sign when the highlight of his season so far is the picture he took with Diletta Leotta during Monday’s Gran Gala’ del Calcio. There have been many theories put forth as to why The Sergeant has looked like a shell of his former self. Some say he became too cocky, others mention the possibility his heart isn’t into Lazio after expecting a transfer to a bigger club in the summer despite getting a significant raise with his recent extension; in addition, there’s also the possibility this is a case of Serie A managers figuring out how to stop him.

There have been some (minor) positive signs in recent weeks since Simone Inzaghi said he’s satisfied with Milinkovic Savic’s performances because he’s playing a more defensive role this season, something we also previously saw at Lazio with Felipe Anderson. At least in the last few matches he has been adequate rather than a liability to his team. Maybe now that Lazio is on a week long retreat we’ll start seeing SMS spreading Milinkocrazia again.

 

Piotr Zielinski/ Amadou Diawara

 

Last season the Polish international was being compared to Kevin De Bruyne and he was rumored to join Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea, but now his stock has taken a hit since Fabian Ruiz has become the talk of the town in Napoli’s midfield. Zielinski has in fact played more under Carlo Ancelotti when compared to the same time period last season, yet he has failed to live up to the hype on top of failing to leave his mark at the recent World Cup. Napoli however is trying to extend his deal in part to remove or increase his exit clause.

While last season Zielinski’s stock saw a substantial rise, the same cannot be said for Amadou Diawara. The former Bologna midfielder had become Jorginho’s backup, which is a nice way of saying he barely played since Sarri didn’t like to rotate in general and even more so with his key players. While Ancelotti has given him 5 starts this season, we have yet to see him dominate a match in the way he did at the Santiago Bernabeu against Real Madrid last season.

 simeone

Giovanni Simeone

 

Unless you are a Serie A news junkie, last summer the only thing you heard about Fiorentina was all the excitement surrounding the young offensive trio featuring Chiesa/Pjaca and Diego Simeone’s son. But just like the previous hyped trio of Gomez/Rossi and Cuadrado who only ended up playing 161 minutes together for the Viola, the results have been rather underwhelming.

Simeone in particular has taken a massive step back from last season, he has only scored two goals and has missed numerous chances in recent weeks. On the bright side, manager Stefano Pioli has really no other options at the central striker role so Simeone should have plenty of opportunities to play himself back into good form.

 

Revisiting the Nainggolan deal before Roma-Inter

nainggolan
Last Wednesday I was out to lunch with some work colleagues from my day job at a restaurant by the office. On the big screen TVs they were showing a Champions League preview show where they were discussing the upcoming match between Tottenham and Inter, when it came time to talk about the nerazzurri the main talking points weren’t about Icardi, Skriniar or Perisic but rather Radja Nainggolan.
The Belgian international is a big name both because of his (past) performances on the pitch but also his outsized personality off it so I wasn’t surprised an American TV station would feature him prominently in their pre match previews.
Now how players are rated is obviously subjective, but many who have followed Serie A closely in the past 18 months have seen a player in decline after arguably his best season as a professional when he scored 11 goals in the 2016/17- but because it can take some time for perception to catch up to reality, when Roma sold him to Inter last summer many saw this as a home run for the nerazzurri, especially because they were in theory weakening a rival for a Champions League spot.
But with a third of the season in the books, the deal that involved Nainggolan, Nicolo’ Zaniolo, Davide Santon and €14 million can’t really be considered a success for either side. While Nainggolan scored in his league debut for Inter, he has missed five matches and rarely made an impact- as a matter of fact, after that lofty segment in the pre game show, Nainggolan ended up having to leave the match against Spurs in the first half.
On the Roma side of things, there has been a mixed return when you look at all the layers of the deal. Despite only being 19 years old, Nicolo’ Zaniolo has already started two matches against Real Madrid in the Champions League, he has also been selected by Roberto Mancini for the Azzurri senior squad and has continued to be a valuable player on Di Biagio’s Under 21 team.
While Davide Santon was essentially a throw in the deal for financial reasons since both Roma and Inter structured it in a manner to fit both of their Financial Fair Play restrictions, he has actually been more than adequate when Di Francesco called upon him. I know his mistake against Udinese is fresh on people’s minds, but few expected him to start 5 matches out of 13 and perform well enough to be Roma’s 5th best player on WhoScored.
While Zaniolo and Santon have so far performed better than expected, the player Roma reinvested most of the Nainggolan money on (and his salary slot) has struggled to stay healthy- of course that comes with the territory with Javier Pastore. But despite being one of the highest paid players on the team, the Argentine is now behind Lorenzo Pellegrini in the trequartista role.
The decline in Nainggolan’s performances on the pitch wasn’t the only reason Roma wanted to move on from him. The giallorossi’s plan is to rebuild around numerous young players- in addition to Zaniolo, Monchi also acquired Cristante, Coric and Kluivert to go with Under and Schick- they believed that having a wild spirit like Nainggolan wouldn’t allow them to develop them properly.
But while Roma is probably glad they don’t have their top young prospects sharing a locker room with someone who freely admits to drinking and smoking and who enjoys the night life, the team clearly misses his grit, determination and experience- all attributes that Di Francesco has pointed out as lacking especially when the team falls behind in matches.
While Roma is banking on the fact that Nicolo’ Zaniolo will become a star and Inter is hoping Nainggolan will finally get healthy (in the meantime he’s out for the game against his former team this weekend) and perform like he did for Spalletti a few years ago, it’s not out of the question that the biggest benefit this deal will bring to both clubs is the relief from Financial Fair Play they received based on how the deal was structured.
 from my iPad

Premature January Transfer Window Preview

The January transfer window is now about a month away and with a third of the season in the books, Serie A clubs have a pretty good idea of what they’ll need during the “mercato di riparazione” (the market to fix things). While there may not be a legitimate challenger to Juventus for the title, the race for the final two Champions League spots and competition to avoid relegation will motivate many to be active in the first month of the new year.

In the coming weeks, we’ll look at some specific needs and targets for the top teams in Serie A, but for now let’s set the table by looking at the main themes when it comes to January transfers:

paratici

 

Juventus

 

Main Theme: Paratici’s first window without Marotta

 

While Juventus has done just fine despite Carlos Tevez, Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal’s departure in recent years, it remains to be seen how they’ll do without one of the architects of their successful run to seven consecutive league titles.

While Fabio Paratici’s role had grown in recent years, so much so that he was the one representing the club during Cristiano Ronaldo’s introductory press conference, he’ll now be working his first window without his mentor Beppe Marotta, the man who brought him to Juventus from Sampdoria.

Certainly there’s a significant contingent of Juventus fans who expect Paratici to make a bold move to bolster a midfield that felt a player short the minute Claudio Marchisio was released, but considering Emre Can’s imminent return, Allegri’s blind faith in Sami Khedira and especially Rodrigo Bentancur’s emergence, if there’s an acquisition at all it’s more likely to be a move like the one Juventus completed a few years ago for Tomas Rincon.

There’s also expected to be significant interest in Moise Kean, who will likely go play on loan abroad (unless he’s sold with a buy back clause for financial reasons) and Daniele Rugani.

marotta2

 

Inter

 

Main Theme how much will Marotta leverage his relationships in Italy in January?

As I write this Beppe Marotta’s move to Inter isn’t yet official, but it’s also the worst kept secret since who killed Nicole Brown Simpson. While the track record of former Juventus figures at Inter is hit or miss (Trapattoni and Lippi), Marotta should compliment sporting director Piero Ausilio quite well.

Ausilio has always been focused on player scouting and acquisitions, a role that Paratici filled brilliantly at Juventus, so Marotta can be more of an administrator, a financial expert and someone who can leverage his relationships in Italy with other clubs and the federation/league office.

Inter has been rather active in previous January windows and have developed great relationships with clubs like Sampdoria and Lazio. Marotta will be able to help even more in this area, it’s not out of the question that we see the nerazzurri linked to players on Udinese (De Paul, Fofana, Samir) and Sassuolo, two clubs the former Juventus executive director has a strong bond to.

Ancelotti

 

Napoli

 

Main Theme- will players actually want to come here now?

 

Last January Napoli’s president De Laurentiis and sporting director Giuntoli were desperate to make a move to bolster their chances to win the scudetto. But Sarri’s unwillingness to rotate and the difficulty of new players to integrate themselves in his system made this task that much harder.

While Simone Verdi finally arrived this summer, he famously turned down Napoli last January mainly because he wanted to continue playing regularly. Napoli were dealt another set back when Sassuolo’s position in the standings got so precarious it became almost impossible for them to sell Matteo Politano, who has now turned out to be a very good addition for Inter.

But with Ancelotti replacing Sarri, the situation is radically different. The former Milan manager has been the exact opposite of his predecessor with rotation, a new addition wouldn’t have to worry about not being integrated in the squad. 

But despite this important adjustment, we may end up seeing Faouzi Ghoulam and Alex Meret as the main additions for Ancelotti, something I’m sure Adriano Galliani would find quite ironic. Napoli will likely focus on pursuing Cavani next summer rather than in January.

Monchi

 

Roma

 

Main theme- is it worth making a big sacrifice to qualify for the Champions League?

Last summer it felt like Roma’s plan was to take one step back to take two forward. Considering they weren’t going to realistically surpass Juventus anyway, it made sense to acquire players like Cristante, Kluivert and Coric who would peak in a year or two while shedding the high wages of older players like Nainggolan and Strootman.

In a lot of ways finishing second or fourth ultimately makes little difference, the key thing is getting that Champions League revenue, which for a club like Roma who is still burdened with the debt from the previous administration, is absolutely vital. But after dropping so many points against mid to lower table teams, finishing fourth is for from a guarantee for the giallorossi.

Will Pallotta be willing to make even more sacrifices to give Monchi the funds needed to make one or two important additions? They certainly need to fix Di Francesco’s defense, but it’s also not out of the question, Roma goes the opposite way and moves Edin Dzeko to give Patrik Schick even more space. 

ibra

 

Milan

 

Main Theme- would Ibrahimovic coming back be the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig?

 

If you are reading this you are almost certainly aware of all the injuries Milan suffered recently. The January window will be an opportunity to make further additions to offset all the losses in personnel even after the deal for Paqueta was already completed. While the Brazilian fits a clear need in a midfield that needs more creativity, would brining Ibrahimovic back actually really help the situation?

Sure there’s no doubt Gattuso needs a third striker because the idea of seeing Borini again as a false nine is something Milanisti don’t want to have to experience again, but would Zlatan’s arrival create even more pressure on Higuain and take even more playing time away from Cutrone?

 

5 Reasons to Watch Lazio-Milan on Sunday

While I would normally give you five story lines to watch in Serie A this weekend, Sunday’s match between Lazio and Milan at the Olimpico has so many juicy angles that I decided to dedicate the full column to it

gattuso-bonaventura-web

Can Milan hold on until the January window despite all their injuries?

Milan started the season without much depth, as a matter a fact Rino Gattuso almost had no choice but to employ most of his starters in the Europa League matches against mainly underwhelming opponents. Then came the injuries to Caldara, Biglia and Musacchio, followed by Higuain’s two game suspensions and the season ending injury to Bonaventura on top of captain Romagnoli having to miss a month.

So Milan find themselves completely decimated with 5 weeks to go before the January window, if that weren’t bad enough they now have to face their main competitors for the fourth place spot without most of their starters. While Gattuso is also getting some players back in Conti and Strinic, they happen to play the one position where Milan hasn’t been ravaged by injuries.

It will be interesting to see if Ricardo Rodriguez can prove to be more valuable as a center back in a 3 man defense rather than at left wing back where he has been just average- this move could give an opportunity to Diego Laxalt to claim a starting role in a formation where he’s very comfortable.

 gianluigi-donnarumma-il-portiere-di-castellammare-colpito-alla-testa

Can Donnarumma perform for the rossoneri like he does for Azzurri?

The injuries to Milan’s three best center backs- Romagnoli, Caldara and Musacchio- will likely increase Donnarumma’s work load. The 19 year old keeper (still hard to believe he’ll be a teenager until next February) has been rather inconsistent since signing his controversial extension to stay at Milan.

Now aside from his blunder in the recent derby against Inter, to me Donnarumma has been much better in Serie A this season than the previous season, but he hasn’t performed as well for Milan recently as he has for Roberto Mancini and the Italian national team. With the Azzurri everything has gone very smoothly for Gigio- he’s played very well and his main competitor Mattia Perin has become a backup at Juventus. Considering the emergency on defense, Gattuso could use some vintages Donnarumma performances moving forward.

 Suso

Can Suso and Calhanoglu perform well at same time?

Last season the former Liverpool winger’s performances feel off a cliff once Gattuso replaced Montella, so much so that there wasn’t a huge market for his 40 million euro exit clause valid only abroad. The opposite happened to Calhanoglu, who under Gattuso looked like a player Milan could count on to be a key player for their new project and a worthy carrier of their number ten jersey.

I’m sure Maldini and Leonardo would have loved to get consistent performances from both at the same time, but while Suso has been one of Serie A’s most in form players in the past two weeks, Calhanoglu’s performances have fallen off a cliff. But considering the injury situation, now Gattuso has no choice but to play them both at the same time- Milan’s best chance at staying within shouting distance of a Champions League spot is for both to perform well.

 Soccer: Serie A; US Sassuolo vs SS Lazio

Can Lazio finally beat a top team in Serie A?

Considering Milan’s injuries, Roma focusing on so many young players and Atalanta’s dreadful start to the season, maybe consistently beating the provinciali would be enough for Lazio to qualify for the Champions League. But now with Gasperini figuring things out in Bergamo and Milan being linked to Ibrahimovic after closing the deal for Paqueta, it maybe necessary for Inzaghi’s team to finally beat a big name team.

A home match against an injury ravaged Milan seems like exactly what the doctor ordered, but Lazio will likely have to be without Lucas Leiva- on the bright side they do have an excellent backup in the regista role with Milan Badelj, who was also linked to the rossoneri prior to signing with Lotito’s club on a Bosman deal.

 

Is Lazio still the team in Serie A with the most upside?

A few weeks ago I did my rankings for the teams with the most realistic margin for growth in Italy. While most clubs had to mainly rely on players coming back from injuries as a way to improve, Lazio’s case is based on two of their three top players not performing well in Milinkovic Savic and Luis Alberto as well as new additions like Berisha and Durmissi barely getting any time to shine.

But against Milan we could see Berisha getting his first start in Serie A, and there are reliable reports on Milinkovic Savic (finally) playing in a more advanced position after having to play a more defensive role so far this season. If you are a Lazio fan you have to feel pretty good about your team’s chances to qualify for the Champions League after the debacle in last season’s final match

Galliani All Star, Players that feel like new purchases

I miss Adriano Galliani. I know many younger readers mainly associate him with the tail end of the Berlusconi era at Milan, where he had to try to work miracles with free transfers and loan deals, but to me few represent the rise and fall of Calcio as much as the Condor.

While it’s easy to associate him with some of the biggest deals in Serie A (Gullit/Van Basten/Rijkaard, Kaka’, Shevchenko, Pirlo etc) I always enjoyed his quotes and style. I’m sure some of you remember him standing outside Mattia Destro’s apartment, or his meetings in Sardegna during the summer transfer window, but in recent weeks Joao Mario’s resurgence made me think of Galliani’s famous saying about an injured player returning “He’s like a new purchase, we don’t need to make any transfer moves”

So in honor of Galliani, I looked at some Serie A players who could feel like new purchase- to be eligible you must have played in less than 300 minutes this season:

 Andrea Conti Milan

Andrea Conti

While most of Mirabelli’s purchases flopped because of poor performances, the former Atalanta wing back has yet to make an impact because of a series of injuries. But make no mistake about it, the 24 year old had made such an impact at Atalanta that he was viewed as a serious competitor to Florenzi for the starter’s role on the Azzurri.

There are however two lingering questions: is Conti another player who looked great playing for Gasperini only to flop on a bigger stage? Will he be the same player after two serious knee injuries? On the bright side, Milan is currently decimated by injuries, and while their current two right backs (Calabria and Abate) are healthy, Gattuso needs all the help he can get.

 

Leonardo Spinazzola

Another former Atalanta wing back is set to return after completing a long rehab, but will Allegri employ him at another position? I must say I expected Juventus to miss Asamoah more than they have so far, the Ghanaian was the bianconeri’s most consistent wing back last season, but Alex Sandro has been more effective this season and even Mattia De Sciglio has shown some encouraging signs in recent weeks.

While Allegri is known for rotating his wing backs often, there maybe a greater need in the midfield in the short term even though Emre Can appears to be getting closer to returning- this is where Spinazzola could make an impact.

 Lautaro-Martinez

 

Lautaro Martinez

While the former Racing striker hasn’t played very often (he’s so far been on the pitch for 263 minutes), he’s already made more of an impact than Gabigol, the player he was most often compared to by Milanisti. There has been some chatter that he could be loaned in January, but considering Keita Balde’s struggles and Spalletti’s propensity to employ different formations, there’s a good chance we’ll see a lot more of Martinez in second half of the season.

Spal - Perugia

 

Faouzi Ghoulam/Alex Meret

 

One of the trademarks of Sarri Ball at Napoli was the exciting run of play on the left wing featuring Ghoulam, Hamsik and Insigne- after numerous triangles to open space, we’d have the inevitable cross to the far post where Callejon was waiting. 

I think few could have imagined Insigne improving as much as he has under Ancelotti, so is it out of the question that Ghoulam will also have a revival?  Prior to his first knee injury, the Algerian international had established himself as the best player at his position in Serie A, and while Mario Rui has been more than adequate this season, Ghoulam even just at 75% would be a considerable upgrade.

Another Sarri trademark was the fact that Pepe Reina’s ability with his feet was deemed more important than the fact he was a below average shot stopper in Serie A. Just like the great Milan teams in 80s and 90s, the keeper position just didn’t feel very important to Napoli until this summer when they invested over 25 million in Meret, one of the most promising keepers in Italy.

Meret injured himself in the first day of the summer retreat, and his rehab has had a few setbacks. In the meantime Ospina has performed well enough that there’s talk of Napoli redeeming his rights well before the summer window, so you have to wonder if this will end up being a lost season for Meret.

 

Serie A Team of Season (So Far)

The last international break of the year takes place with about a third of the Serie A season in the books, enough time to come up with an ideal eleven with what we’ve seen so far. Suffice to say this is a subjective exercise that is likely to cause a lot of second guessing. But let’s put fear of criticism aside and focus on picking the ideal starting eleven:

Keeper- Alessio Cragno

 

We have a seen a significant turnover at the position for top teams. Buffon is now shockingly at Paris St Germain, Pepe Reina is now a backup at Milan and Roma cashed in on Alisson, the best player at the position last season.

While the more hyped Alex Meret hasn’t been able to play for Napoli yet after suffering an injury to his arm during the summer retreat, Alessio Cragno has become a regular on Mancini’s selections for the Azzurri thanks to his strong performances for Cagliari. He received significant competition from Parma’s Luigi Sepe for the vaunted starter spot on Amoyal’s top 11, leading me to wonder if Napoli would have been just better off starting him dating back to last season.

Honorable mentions- Sirigu, Sepe

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Right Back- Cancelo

When the former Inter “defender” arrived in Turin, his agent Jorge Mendes just smiled when a fan asked him if Cristiano Ronaldo would be joining him at Juventus. That started the narrative that Cancelo was essentially the tax Juventus had to pay to the super agent to land CR7, but now the Portuguese international is rightly considered one of the best wing backs in all of Serie A- he’s the player Juventus was looking for when they signed Mauricio Isla from Udinese and later Dani Alves.

Spal’s Lazzari is now more than ready for a top team, while De Silvestri has been one of Torino’s most consistent players of the season so far.

Honorable mention- Lazzari, De Silvestri

 

Left Back- Cristiano Biraghi

The former Inter youth team product has strived playing for Pioli and is the current starter on the Italian national team. He edges out Asamoah, who has slowed down after a great start at Inter and Alex Sandro who is showing signs he’s regaining the form from his first season at Juventus. 

Honorable mention- Asamoah, Alex Sandro

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Center Backs- Kalidou Koulibaly, Stefan De Vrij

I was recently asked who is the best Bosman signing of the past ten years in Serie A, and while Pirlo is still the obvious answer, we could see De Vrij get in the conversation pretty soon. It’s very rare to sign a defender of his caliber who is just at the beginning of his prime without paying a transfer fee, and his performances this season have shown his trademark elegance and efficiency- he’s an ideal partner for Skriniar, who continues to be one of the elite defenders in Italy.

After losing Higuain because Juventus exercised his exit clause a few years ago, Napoli’s president De Laurentiis decided there was no way he was going to lose Koulibaly during the same window. It’s starting to look like losing the Senegalese defender would have been an even bigger loss than Higuain.

You all know about Chiellini, so let’s highlight fact that Sampdoria has done great work grooming Joaquim Andersen- the Danish center back sat out his first season in Serie A and is now starting to be linked to clubs like Juventus and Inter.

Honorable mention- Skriniar, Chiellini, Andersen, Acerbi

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Midfield- Allan, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Nicolo’ Barella

We’ve seen a changing of the guard here with Hamsik, De Rossi and Nainggolan slowing down. While Allan had already emerged as a force for Napoli under Sarri, the fact that Jorginho is gone is giving him more of a spotlight. He’s become the best box to box midfielder in Serie A since Arturo Vidal’s first two seasons at Juventus.

The injury to Pastore gave Lorenzo Pellegrini an opportunity to play in a more advanced position and he couldn’t have done more to take advantage of it. Cagliari must be thrilled they decided to hang on to Barella for another season, his value has skyrocketed because of his performance in Serie A as well as the Italian national team where he looks like a good compliment to Jorginho and Verratti.

Benassi has managed to score as many goals as Chiesa/Pjaca/Simeone combined, as Brozovic goes so does Inter and former Monaco midfielder Meite’ has more than doubled his transfer value since arriving in Italy.

Honorable mention- Meite’, Brozovic , Benassi

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Strikers- Ciro Immobile, Krzysztof Piatek, Lorenzo Insigne

While Piatek hasn’t been able to score since Ballardini was sacked, he has been one of the best story lines in all of Calcio this season. Immobile has kept Lazio afloat despite De Vrij’s departure and more importantly Milinkovic Savic and Luis Alberto getting off to dreadful starts. For the last starting spot I was very undecided between Suso, who has adapted to Gattuso’s style brilliantly after a tough second half to last season, and Insigne but I give a slight edge to the Neapolitan striker since he also adapted to a new role under Ancelotti.

Honorable mention- Suso, Ronaldo, Icardi, El Shaarawy

 

5 Story Lines To Watch In Serie A This Weekend

After a thrilling set of Champions League matches which featured Cavani’s return to the San Paolo, another late goal by Inter, Roma’s key win in Russia and Ronaldo’s six pack celebration, Serie A is back with an intriguing set of matches. Here are some story lines to look out for this weekend

piatek

 

Will Napoli leave Marassi thinking they dodged a bullet with Piatek?

You know you are off to a great start in Serie A when your initial scoring streak gets you mentioned alongside the likes of Zico and Batistuta, but in the past few weeks Krzysztof Piatek has cooled off. You can chalk this to manager Ballardini inexplicably getting sacked, the higher caliber of opponents or a combination of the two, but regardless of the reason the Polish striker will be eager to showcase his skills to a club that has already expressed interest in him when Napoli travel to Liguria this weekend.

A few weeks ago, Napoli’s president Aurelio De Laurentiis stated that he had already spoken to both Piatek’s agent as well as Genoa about acquiring him in January for a reported fee of around 35 million, an amount Preziosi found to be too low. You have to wonder which of the two presidents will end up being disappointed that talks didn’t go any further…

ilicic

 

Will an Atalanta striker challenge Inter’s impressive defense?

After a dreadful start to the season, Atalanta have won three in a row in large part thanks to a rotating cast of striker. Ilicic had a streak where he looked like the most unstoppable attacker in Serie A, Barrow continued to show why by the end of last season he was considered the next great Atalanta prospect and last week Zapata scored the game winner.

While these three would already be a more than adequate attack for a top tier Serie A team, there’s of course also captain Papu Gomez. Gasperini’s front line will now be tested by an Inter backline that is ready to challenge Juventus as the best in Calcio now that Vrsaljko is healthy. De Vrij and Skriniar look set to be an elite centerback combination for years to come, and while Miranda is starting to show his age, he’s still a very adequate rotation player now that Inter looks set to get out of the Champions League group stage.

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Can Sampdoria’s defense stop the bleeding against Roma?

Just two Sundays ago, the blucerchiati headed into San Siro to face Milan with the best defense in Serie A- since then Giampaolo’s squad has given up seven goals, four of which came home against Torino- on the bright side they did Mancini a favor since they were able to get Belotti back on track with a brace.

Sampdoria will try to rekindle their form when they travel to Italy’s capital to face Roma- a team that has been widely inconsistent this season, especially up front. Hopefully for Giampaolo, Danish center back Joachim Andersen will regain some confidence after agreeing to an extension on Thursday, it’s safe to say Inter, who have already expressed interest in acquiring him, will hope to see some positive signs as well.

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Is Perin ready to replace Szczesny?

Being the keeper for a dominating team comes with some perks- high salary, time to meditate since you aren’t likely to be tested often, a lot of exposure- but also the downside of not having many opportunities to shine to make up for some inevitable mistakes. This last example is part of the reason why we shouldn’t over react to Szczesny’s less than brilliant start to the season, but when you have a backup of Perin’s caliber, it’s normal for fans to start wondering if it’s time for a switch.

Last season Szczesny performed brilliantly in his first go around at Juventus, he answered all of the concerns on his ability to eventually replace Buffon- but now that he has the job, things haven’t gone as smoothly. In addition to competition from Perin, it also doesn’t help that his predecessor performed superbly against Napoli in the Champions League earlier this week.

Szczesny is expected to start at san Siro against Milan on Sunday night, and while it’s tempting to want to write about how Bonucci will be “greeted” by rossoneri fans, the Woj story lines has more intriguing implications down the road.

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Can Pjaca get his season on track?

It feels like a life time ago that Milan and Juventus were competing to sign the Croatian international. I’m sure some of you remember Galliani trying to woo his agents at a dinner party despite Berlusconi not likely being willing to want to pay to acquire him, but since then Pjaca’s career has stalled.

Injuries and lack of playing time at Juventus certainly didn’t help, but his stint at Schalke didn’t work out, and despite all the hype on how great the trio with Chiesa and Simeone would work out, so far they have combined for 5 goals. While both Simeone and especially Chiesa have a proven track record at Fiorentina, manager Pioli has already been critical of Pjaca- on the bright side, he has an opportunity to turn it around when he faces Frosinone, who are tied with Genoa for the second worse defense in Serie A.

 

Grading Serie A’s Transfer Window

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With a quarter of the season in the books, we have enough of a sample size to give some premature grades on the summer transfer window in Serie A. Forget the “it’s way too soon for this” reaction and just come along for the ride

Juventus

 

Immediate impact: Cancelo, Ronaldo, Bonucci

Non factor: Perin, Spinazzola

Somewhere in between: Emre Can

So far Cristiano Ronaldo has been involved in 12 goals this season and has brought the confidence Juventus has lacked in the Champions League. Joao Cancelo has performed so well that he’s already in the conversion for best wing back in Serie A after often being mainly described as the tax Juventus had to pay to Mendes for the CR7 deal.

While Bonucci has been at fault on most of the goals Juventus gave up in Serie A, his passing ability has been a god send for Allegri since his midfield lacks creativity beyond Pjanic- the former Milan captain also put in a vintage performance at Old Trafford and the fact that Caldara has only started one match for the rossoneri so far, has radically changed the way the deal involving the two is perceived. The injuries to Khedira and Emre Can however exposed how thin Juventus’ midfield was after Marchisio was released.

GRADE: B

 

Napoli

 

Immediate impact: Fabian Ruiz, Malcuit

Non factor: Meret

Somewhere in between: Verdi, Karnezis, Ospina

One of Aurelio De Laurentiis’ biggest complaints about Sarri was his manager’s unwillingness to trust new players with significant roles. It was also the reason Simone Verdi turned down the opportunity to join the partenopei last January, a move that was eventually delayed to the summer. So far the former Bologna attacker has however failed to make a major impact.

While Fabian Ruiz joined a midfield stacked with numerous intriguing options, he has shown why he was so highly rated at Betis- he has continued Napoli’s great tradition with Spanish players in recent years. Malcuit has proved to be an intriguing alternative to Hysaj since they have opposite strengths, the French right back brings an offensive dimension Napoli has been lacking at the position. Considering Chelsea’s fast start this season maybe it was true that players didn’t need so much time to get acclimated to Sarri Ball.

Meret has yet to appear in a match after suffering an injury during the summer retreat, in the meantime Ospina and Karnezis have been adequate leaving the keeper position as still a question mark for the partenopei.

GRADE: B-

 

Inter

 

Immediate Impact: Asamoah, De Vrij, Politano  

Non factor: Keita

Somewhere in between: Vrsaljko, Nainggolan, Lautaro Martinez

Targeting players already acclimated to Serie A and Bosman signings has so far really paid off for Piero Ausilio both on the pitch and with the club’s financial situation. De Vrij and Asamoah aren’t your typical expiring contract type of signings considering they are still in the prime of their careers, they also happened to address two positions of needs considering Miranda starting to show his age and Dalbert’s struggles.

Politano has continued to display his stellar form from the second half of last season when he almost single handedly avoided relegation for Sassuolo, while Nainggolan has played well when he has been able to get on the pitch.

GRADE: A-

 

 

Milan

Immediate Impact: Higuain

Non factor: Caldara, Reina, Strinic, Bakayoko, Halilovic

Somewhere in between: Laxalt, Castillejo

There’s no doubt that Leonardo and Maldini had the odds stacked against them between taking over mid way through the transfer window and the Financial Fair Play restrictions they inherited. But while many (including yours truly) applauded them for the Caldara-Bonucci swap as well as the Laxalt and Bakayoko deals, so far Gattuso hasn’t gotten much from those three players.

On the flip side, Higuain has made the Bonucci deal worth it since he’s clearly Milan’s best player since Ibrahimovic and there’s also the fact that Musacchio has been a more than adequate starter filling in for Caldara. But overall Milan will need more from their new additions to stay in fourth place especially now that Biglia is hurt.

GRADE: C-

 

 

Lazio 

Immediate Impact: Acerbi, Correa

Non factor: Durmisi, Badelj

Somewhere in between: Berisha

While Simone Inzaghi’s squad has lost every time they faced one of the top teams in Italy, these shortcomings have much more to do with Luis Alberto and Milinkovic Savic’s struggles than poor performances from new additions. Acerbi has been a more than adequate replacement for De Vrij (not an easy feat) while Correa has brought significant creativity off the bench- there is no downgrade from what we saw from Felipe Anderson last season.

Lazio could receive a boost in the second half of the season as Durmisi and Berisha get acclimated to Serie A, the biancocelesti have seen some late bloomers recently with Marusic and Luis Alberto.

GRADE: C+

Roma

 

Immediate impact: Olsen, Santon

Non factor: Marcano, Cristante

Somewhere in between: Pastore, Kluivert, NZonzi, Zaniolo

In a way it’s frightening for Roma fans that the two most impactful additions were the replacement for the best keeper in Serie A last season therefore not offering an upgrade and a throw in the Nainggolan deal with Santon.

Pastore did score two beautiful back heel goals but overall has been a considerable disappointment especially when you consider the cost of the deal to acquire him and his high salary. Kluivert has shown some flashes but has struggled to get regular playing time, while NZonzi will soon no longer be able to use France’s deep run in the World Cup as a justification- Di Francesco needs him to at least match the contributions he got from Strootman last season, especially because Cristante looks like another classic Atalanta fool’s gold product.

GRADE: D+