Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s rebirth to propel Roma back into the Champions League

Since assuming the reins in 2019, Paulo Fonseca has wasted no time implementing his footballing philosophy in the nation’s capital. The veteran tactician has proven to be a willing learner since making the switch to Italian football, switching from his preferred 4-3-3 into a more fluid 3-4-2-1. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has arguably been the biggest benefactor of the formation change, establishing himself as one of Serie A’s deadliest creative threats.

The Armenian international is off to one of the best starts to a season in recent memory, registering seven goals and six assists in 14 appearances. Mkhitaryan has combined wonderfully with Edin Dzeko and Pedro up top, interchanging freely in the final third. The former Arsenal man has excelled with his newfound freedom and has since led the Giallorossi into third place heading into 2021.

Roma has failed to qualify for the last two editions of the Champions League and will be eager to make their return to Europe’s elite competition. Beyond the prestige that comes with the competition, Champions League qualification would represent more funds to bolster the side. Mkhitaryan’s rebirth offers a cause for excitement in the nation’s capital and could propel Roma back into the conversation alongside Europe’s elite.

The 31-year-old initially broke onto the scene back in 2016 in Germany with Borussia Dortmund, emerging as an elite attacking midfielder under Jurgen Klopp. Mkhitaryan finished the season with 11 goals and 15 assists in 28 starts, prompting interest from England’s giants. The Armenian international eventually made the move to Manchester United, where he struggled to replicate his past exploits. Simply put, English football did not suit Mkhitaryan’s skillset.

Mkhitaryan later moved to Arsenal in hopes of reviving his career, but once again, failed to prove his worth in London. His woes in England meant he was available on the cheap, with Roma swooping in for his signature, securing him on a loan deal. The former Manchester United man impressed on his loan, scoring nine goals and recording five assists in 16 appearances. The decision to trigger their option for him proved to be an easy one for Roma.

The switch to Italian football has since helped Mkhitaryan get his career back on track and show glimpses of his past form. The Armenian international is currently on pace to beat his breakout season with Dortmund and surpass his personal best for goals and assists. Beyond his impressive numbers, Mkhitaryan makes Roma tick in the final third.

The 31-year-old is always looking to dictate play in possession and regularly looks to take on his man. His connection with Dzeko has made for one of Italy’s most intriguing strike partnerships this season, with the Giallorossi netting 31 goals already on the season. Given both their experience, expect Roma to continue their run of form heading into 2021.

Fonseca’s men open up the new year against Sampdoria and Crotone, but they can’t get too comfortable. After all, mouth-watering clashes against Inter and Lazio await them in the space of five days, wrapping up an enthralling month of January. With Mkhitaryan firing on all cylinders, the Italian giants will like their chances.

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Alejandro Gomez to Lazio: A perfect fit?

Atalanta’s ascent to stardom has taken Italian football by storm this season, punching above their weight season after season. The Bergamo-based outfit has shown no signs of slowing down this year and has since qualified for the Round of 16 of the Champions League. As an intriguing matchup with Real Madrid awaits them in February, Atalanta may have to take the field against Los Galacticos without their star man, Alejandro Papu Gomez. 

The diminutive playmaker has reportedly fallen out with Gian Piero Gasperini and as a result, has been frozen out of the first team. Italian clubs have circled like vultures following the reports, with Roma, Lazio, and Milan all being linked with a move for the playmaker. Rumours quickly surfaced that Gomez would appreciate a move to Lazio, adding further fuel to the story.

In many ways, Gomez is a perfect fit for Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio. While his setup may be far more rigid than Atalanta’s free-flowing system, the Argentine playmaker is extremely familiar with the 3-5-2 formation and could slot in seamlessly alongside Ciro Immobile. Gomez has demonstrated he can be devastating alongside a more physical presence in the final third and will almost certainly strike a deadly partnership with the Italian international.

Alternatively, Inzaghi can alter his 3-5-2 to include a trequartista behind the strikers. The Italian tactician has flirted with this possibility in the past but has never used it over a sustained period of time. A front three of Gomez, Correa and Immobile could open up any rearguard and would be worth tinkering with.

Luis Alberto acts as a defacto attacking midfielder despite slotting into the midfield three and regularly looks to get forward between the lines. Gomez’s arrival would take the creative burden off the Spanish international, who is largely tasked with linking up play in the final third. Luis Alberto excelled in that position last season, registering six goals and 15 assists in 36 appearances. The former Liverpool man has since slowed down this season and is yet to record an assist. Regardless, Luis Alberto continues to create countless chances and remains an integral piece to Inzaghi’s attack.

When the 28-year-old is struggling, Lazio is not nearly as dangerous in the final third and often look toothless. Available at around 10 million euros, Gomez would be an ideal alternative to Luis Alberto’s creativity. With Gomez roaming dangerously between the lines, much of the focus would be off the Spaniard in the final third, allowing him to use his vision to hurt the opposition backline.

Gomez may be turning 33 in February, but the Atalanta man is a bonafide gamechanger. In Italy, countless players on the wrong side of 30 – notably Zlatan Ibrahimovic – have proven they can still contribute. If anything, Gomez has only gotten better with age and has, at the very least, another two or three productive years ahead of him. If he is available at the right price, Lazio would be foolish not to pull the trigger on a deal for him.

The Biancocelesti took Italy by storm last season, competing against Juventus for the Scudetto and qualifying for the Champions League. Should Lazio want to replicate last year’s exploits, they will need quality reinforcements. Their summer arrivals have failed to make an impact since joining, forcing Inzaghi to rely on his usual suspects despite competing on three fronts.

Lazio’s Round of 16 encounter with Bayern Munich is a tall ask for the capital-based club, but in a season unlike any other, they may just spring a surprise. Gomez could be the inspired piece of business the Biancocelesti need to get themselves over the line and into the next round alongside Europe’s elite.

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Should Juventus target Paul Pogba?

European super-agent Mino Raiola sent shockwaves through the footballing world when he recently claimed he was actively looking for transfer destinations for his blockbuster client – Paul Pogba. The World Cup winner has reportedly set his sights on moving on from Manchester United this summer, as his contract is set to expire in the following year. Intent not to lose him on a free transfer, the Red Devils are ready to negotiate.

A plethora of clubs have since been linked with Pogba, in hopes of securing one of Europe’s premier midfielders. In Italy, rumours have surfaced about Juventus potentially making a move for him, but he will not come cheap. The English giants spent over 100 million euros to bring him back to Manchester and will be looking to recoup most of that fee this summer.

When Pogba initially made the move to Manchester United back in 2016, many expected the Frenchman to lead the side back to their former glories. Fast forward four years and nothing of the sort has happened, with the Red Devils failing to win the league since his return. Pogba may have lifted the Europa League and EFL Cup in his first season, but the Frenchman will not want to stop there. With one foot out the door already, it begs the question: should Juventus do what it takes to bring back Pogba?

For one, his price-tag is a major stumbling block. Juventus has reportedly offered players and cash in a swap deal, an advance Manchester United quickly rebuffed. Recent reports have suggested Paulo Dybala may be involved in a deal for the midfielder, which could sway the negotiations. La Joya may be struggling under Andrea Pirlo, but Juventus would be foolish to part ways with Dybala. Despite his recent woes, the 27-year-old should not be sacrificed to bring in Pogba. After all, isn’t the objective to compete for the Champions League, and for that, Juve will need all hands on deck.

The next question is whether the French international is a good fit for Juventus. Pogba thrives on the left-hand side of a midfield three, while Pirlo has regularly opted for a double pivot and an advanced midfielder. Pogba has struggled in similar positions during his second stint with Manchester United, but Juventus would be foolish not to accommodate him.

Pogba is exactly the type of profile the Bianconeri lack in the middle of the park and would add some much-needed creativity in the final third. Pirlo would be wise to consider a formation change if Juve’s interest in the midfielder is serious. However, the 27-year-old will struggle if he is shoehorned in Pirlo’s hybrid 4-4-2/3-4-1-2 setup.

The last step in bringing in Pogba back to Turin revolves around Juve’s remaining midfield options. With Rabiot, McKennie, Arthur, Bentancur, and Ramsey, the Bianconeri’s midfield is slightly congested at the moment. Arthur and McKennie appear set to stay, leaving the remaining options in limbo over their futures. Ramsey seems the likeliest to be heading out, considering the increased reports over his departure.

Fabio Paratici will have big decisions to make in the middle of the park should they decide to target Pogba. The Juventus sporting director has often gotten it wrong in recent seasons, but simply can no longer afford to. Cristiano Ronaldo is heading into the final stages of his career and they will want to get the most out of their superstar. It may be their best shot at winning their first Champions League in 24 years.

When assessing whether to bring back Pogba or not, the answer is simple. Anytime a player of his caliber is available, you do your best to sign him. With that being said, if Juventus are not prepared to accommodate him or need to sacrifice a future pillar in Dybala, the deal becomes a little more complicated. If recent reports are anything to go by, expect Juventus to do their best to secure Pogba. If that is a good decision or not, remains to be seen.

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Fantasy Serie A’s top performers heading into 2021

The Serie A season is temporarily on hold heading into 2021 for the holiday season but has not disappointed thus far. Milan has picked up from exactly where they left off last year, sitting in first place, while Antonio Conte’s Inter has since emerged as legitimate title contenders. Juventus has struggled in the early goings of the Andrea Pirlo era, drawing six of their 13 games thus far.

As the new year approaches, let us have a look at Serie A’s top performers after 14 matchdays. Here are your top five Fantasy Serie A performers:

1) Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Roma) – 94 points. 

The 31-year-old has been in sensational form this season, helping Roma throw its name in the race for top four. Mkhitaryan has hit the ground running in the early goings of the new season, registering seven goals and six assists in 14 appearances for the Giallorossi. Paulo Fonseca’s men currently sit in third place going into 2021 and will rely on the Armenian international to lead them into an unlikely title race. As of right now, Mkhitaryan is Fantasy Serie A’s top performer with 94 points. At 4.5 million euros, there is no reason why the Roma man isn’t on your team.

2) Romelu Lukaku (Inter) – 78 points.

The Belgian international has been the driving force behind Inter’s title race early on, netting eight goals in 11 appearances for the Nerazzurri. Inter has only lost one game this season and is currently riding a ten-game unbeaten streak going into 2021. Antonio Conte’s men have maintained the pace atop the table due to their impressive run of form, sitting just one point behind Milan. If Inter will successfully overtake their fierce rivals, Lukaku will need to be firing from all cylinders. His 78 points are good enough for second place in our top fantacalcio performers thus far and should only add to his impressive tally heading into the new year.

3) Theo Hernandez (Milan) – 75 points.

The former Real Madrid man has taken the next step in his career since making the move to Italy, establishing himself as one of football’s elite fullbacks. Hernandez has picked up some crucial goals along the way, including a brace in Milan’s come-from-behind draw against Parma and a last-gasp winner in the Rossoneri’s most-recent triumph over Lazio. The 23-year-old has proven to be one of Milan’s most creative outlets in the final third, adding three assists to his four goals. Stefano Pioli’s men have since emerged as title contenders due to their recent form but will face stiff competition heading into the new year.

4) Roberto Soriano (Bologna) – 74 points.

The Bologna man is a surprise inclusion on this list but has been in top form this season. Soriano has been extremely productive for Sinisa Mihajlovic’s men, netting six goals and four assists. While being the side’s designated penalty-taker helps, Soriano’s numbers make him an intriguing choice for your fantasy Serie A sides. His good form has since prompted Roberto Mancini to call him up to the Italian national team, rewarding his positive performances. Bologna has struggled in recent weeks, failing to win in their last five games, but if they want to turn it around, Soriano will need to be at the heart of their turnaround.

5) Joao Pedro (Cagliari) – 74 points.

Joao Pedro burst onto the scene in Italy last season, scoring 18 goals, and has not slowed down under Eusebio Di Francesco. The Brazilian been his typical efficient self in front of goal, registering eight goals in 14 appearances. Joao Pedro has combined to devastating effect with Giovanni Simeone and will be hoping to lead Cagliari into the race for European football. While they may sit closer to the relegation zone, the Sardegna-based outfit possesses enough firepower to turn their fortunes around.

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Lazio’s summer arrivals failing to make an impact

Lazio was extremely proactive this past summer as the Biancocelesti looked to make a successful return to the Champions League. The capital-based club added some much-needed depth up front, securing Vedat Muriqi from Fenerbache, while Mohamed Fares made the move from the relegated SPAL.

Simone Inzaghi’s men bolstered their defensive options as well, bringing back Wesley Hoedt from Southampton. Pepe Reina, Gonzalo Escalante, and Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro joined on free transfers while Manchester United’s Andreas Pereira arrived on a loan deal. While Pepe Reina has impressed since making the move, competing with Thomas Strakosha for the number one role, a majority of Lazio’s summer arrivals have failed to hit the ground running.

As a result, Lazio has struggled for consistency in league play and currently sit in eighth place with five defeats already. The Biancocelesti may have punched their ticket into the Round of 16 of the Champions League, but have since been drawn with the reigning champions Bayern Munich. The Bavarian giants have shown no signs of slowing down this season, indicating Lazio’s European adventure may come to an end sooner rather than later.

If Inzaghi’s men want to qualify for Europe’s elite competition two years in a row, they will need to turn it around heading into the new year. A large part of their struggles has boiled down to their new signings’ inability to integrate into the first team.

Muriqi has struggled to adapt to Italian football and has looked off the pace since making the move. The Albanian international is yet to find the back of the net in his 10 appearances thus far, cutting a frustrated figure in the final third. Ciro Immobile, Joaquin Correa, and Felipe Caicedo is a talented offensive core, however, as Lazio looks to compete on three fronts, the Biancocelesti will be hoping Muriqi can put his offensive woes behind him.

Beyond his struggles finding the back of the net, the former Fenerbache man regularly disappears in games and fails to offer an imposing penalty box presence. Lazio will have expected far more from their marquee signing after spending over 20 million euros to bring him in.

Fares is another one of Lazio’s signings that is yet to carve out an important role for himself. The Algerian established himself as one of the Serie A’s two-way wingbacks with SPAL, bombing down the left wing at will. Much like Muriqi, however, the move to Lazio appears to be a step too far for him, failing to reach his former heights.

Adam Marusic has since overtaken him in the starting lineup, with Fares largely featuring off the bench. When the 24-year-old does feature, his end product leaves a lot to be desired, registering just one assist in 13 appearances in all competitions. Fares appeared to be an ideal reinforcement given his comfort in a similar setup but has since failed to assert himself in the nation’s capital.

Andreas Pereira, on the other hand, has impressed when called upon but has rarely featured from the start. The Brazilian has made 14 appearances for Lazio this season with only two of them coming as a starter. Lazio possesses a 27 million euro option to make his move a permanent one, but if Andreas Pereira remains on the outskirts of the first team, it is unlikely the option will be triggered.

Hoedt and Reina are arguably the two exceptions to the rule, with both offering Inzaghi some depth at the back. The Spanish shot-stopper has established himself as Lazio’s number one in the early goings of the season, while Hoedt has slotted in seamlessly in his second stint with the club.

Despite their impressive performances, Lazio’s summer business has largely failed to address their squad’s needs. Fares, Muriqi, and Andreas Pereira all added depth in key positions, but they have all been unable to become crucial pieces to Inzaghi’s setup. As the season wears on, the Italian tactician will be hoping his summer arrivals can turn their fortunes around and demonstrate why Lazio was so eager to bring them in. Otherwise, the Biancocelesti risk missing out on European football altogether.

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Hellas Verona continues to surprise under Ivan Juric

Since returning to the top flight in 2019, Hellas Verona has established itself as one of Italy’s most compact sides, surprising Italy’s giants at every turn. Ivan Juric has done a wonderful job in Verona, leading the side to unprecedented heights. Just last season, Hellas Verona was in an unlikely race for Europa League football, up until the latter stages of the year. They still managed to finish in the top half of the table in their first season back in the top flight – an impressive feat on its own.

Many expected them to take a step back this season after the departures of key men, but Juric’s side has shown no signs of slowing down. After all, Marash Kumbulla joined Roma while Sofyan Amrabat returned to Fiorentina – two of the side’s most important players last season.

Despite their departures, Hellas Verona has picked up from where exactly they left off last year, attempting to consolidate itself in the top half of the table. What is perhaps most remarkable is their record against Italy’s top six. Hellas Verona has demonstrated they can compete with Italy’s best clubs, holding Roma, Milan, and Juventus to a draw, all-while beating Atalanta and Lazio.

Hellas Verona’s success largely lies in their tactical discipline and overall commitment to Juric’s system. The Croatian tactician deploys his men in a 3-4-2-1 of sorts, with both wingbacks playing a crucial role both in and out of possession. Hellas Verona has proven to be incredibly difficult to break down thus far, conceding a mere 14 goals on the season.

Marco Silvestri plays a large part in this, organizing Hellas Verona’s rearguard from between the posts. The Italian shot-stopper remains one of Italy’s most underrated goalkeepers, offering Juric a safe pair of hands. Silvestri has often proved to be the difference for Hellas Verona in tight games, making sensational saves to keep them in it.

Koray Gunter is another integral piece to Juric’s puzzle, occupying the central position of the back three. The German has stepped up since Kumbulla’s departure, excelling at the heart of the defense. Summer arrival Mert Cetin has also impressed in his four appearances this season, but it is Matteo Lovato that has established himself as a starter.

The 20-year-old spent last season on loan with Padova and has made the step up to the top flight look a seamless one. Lovato has since been linked with a number of Italy’s giants, including Juventus and Inter. Despite his inexperience, the former Padova man exudes calmness in possession and can go toe-to-toe with imposing strikers. Between Gunter, Lovato, and Silvestri, Hellas Verona’s defense is as resolute as they come.

In many ways, however, it is Juric’s ability to keep them motivated week in, week out, that makes the difference. The Croatian international is Hellas Verona’s X Factor and will be eager to continue leading them into new territory. Atalanta and Sassuolo may steal the headlines and acclaim from calcio’s neutrals, but make no mistake about it, Hellas Verona’s rise has been just as compelling.

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Three Serie A players who might be on the move this January

The ongoing pandemic has forced clubs to be creative on the transfer front in recent times, taking advantage of unique opportunities to get deals done. Serie A clubs have nonetheless been active, in hopes of bolstering their sides and dethroning Juventus for the first time in 10 seasons.

When the mercato reopens in January, expect many of Italy’s giants to be proactive, looking to put their respective sides over the edge. Here are three players who might be on the move come-January:

1) Rodrigo De Paul

The Udinese midfielder has regularly been linked with a move away and has since established himself as one of Italy’s elite two-way players. De Paul thrives on the outside of a midfield three but is equally capable of playing as the side’s trequartista and has even featured at the base of midfield. His versatility makes him an interesting fit for many of Serie A’s top sides, prompting interest from Inter and Juventus.

Leeds United was heavily linked with a move this past summer but was unable to agree to terms with Udinese. De Paul has hit the ground running once again this season, demonstrating he is more than ready to take the next step in his career. The Udinese man will undoubtedly be at the heart of many discussions this January, especially for sides looking to boost their midfield ranks.

2) Gianluca Scamacca (Genoa)

The Genoa hitman has taken Serie A by storm this season, bursting onto the scene as one of Italy’s most intriguing attacking talents. Scamacca has proven to be a willing runner up front, combining his athleticism and predatory instinct to be in the right place at the right time. Genoa’s relegation battle may mean they are reluctant to part ways with their striker, but Italy’s elite has come calling.

Milan is reportedly in talks with Sassuolo, his parent club, over a potential transfer, as they look to add some much-needed depth ahead of the final stretch. Scamacca may only have found the back of the net twice this season in seven appearances but could thrive with better service. Genoa currently boasts the worst attack in Serie A, netting a mere 12 goals on the season. Scamacca can benefit from a change of scenery and is a great fit with Milan’s ongoing youth movement.

At just 21 years old, the young striker has plenty of room for improvement and can learn a lot from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The big Swede’s continued injury problems is another reason Milan are interested in Scammaca, offering him a unique opportunity to jump from the relegation battle and into the Scudetto race.

3) Christian Eriksen (Inter) 

The Danish maestro has gotten off to a miserable start since joining Inter and has proven to be an awkward fit for Antonio Conte’s rigid 3-5-2 system. Eriksen’s struggles have meant he has largely featured from the bench, failing to make an impact with his limited minutes. Reduced to a mere super-sub, Eriksen has been a shade of his former self and has not been able to replicate his impressive exploits in the final third.

Many of Europe’s elite have reportedly been keeping tabs on Eriksen’s continued woes, in hopes of securing the former Spurs man in a low-cost operation. Arsenal is the most recent side to be linked with him and is in dire need of a creative outlet in the final third. Conte’s inability to integrate him into his side has essentially sealed his future, one that is far away from Inter.

As the mercato opens, expect a number of clubs to inquire about his availability. After all, Eriksen remains an elite player. The Danish international simply was not a good fit for Inter and will surely reach his former heights at a club that suits his skills better.

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Serie A’s most intriguing storylines going into 2021

The past year has been unlike any other across the footballing world, forcing clubs to play in empty stadiums and tackling unprecedented challenges. Italian football has not disappointed, regularly delivering excitement and unlikely surprises at every turn.

Once Wednesday’s final games are played, Serie A will take a much-needed break, halting action until the new year. Without further ado, here are three things to look out for in 2021 in Serie A:

1) The Alejandro Gomez saga: 

When reports surfaced that Gian Piero Gasperini and his star man, Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez, had a falling out, it shocked the entire calcio world. The two have proven to be a match-made in heaven in Bergamo, firing the side to newfound heights. Just last season, Gli Orobici were painfully close to booking their place into the Champions League final four, but eventually lost a narrow affair against PSG.

Gasperini’s relationship with Gomez was a special one, claiming he would resign if ever the club sold the diminutive playmaker. The veteran tactician got the most out of Gomez, with the Atalanta man establishing himself as one of Italy’s elite creative threats. Fast forward to today, and Gomez is very much on his way out, with reports saying the damage is irreparable.

Milan and Roma among others have queued up for his signature, in hopes of adding an elite player on the cheap. At 32-years-old, Gomez can still play a crucial role in any team and has shown no signs of slowing down. While his inevitable transfer is intriguing in itself, the Atalanta man has claimed he will reveal exactly what went down once he leaves. It will also be interesting to see just how Gian Piero Gasperini’s men cope without him in the lineup.

Atalanta is coming off a vintage 4-1 win over Roma with Gomez out, but sustaining it over an entire season is a completely different story. Beyond one of Serie A’s best players moving on mid-season, this story is far from over.

2) Can Andrea Pirlo turn it around? 

Andrea Pirlo has struggled since assuming the reins in Turin, stumbling out of the gates in Serie A. Juventus has drawn six of their 13 games and most recently saw their unbeaten run snapped in emphatic fashion against Fiorentina.

Pirlo may have led the Bianconeri to an impressive Champions League group stage campaign, but desperately needs to turn it around, as soon as the season restarts. Juventus has dropped points in countless games they should have won, including draws against Crotone and Benevento, and can no longer afford to fall further behind.

The Italian champions sit seven points behind Milan and have an incredibly tough schedule to kickstart the new year. As a two-legged affair with Porto looms, Juventus need to achieve some form of consistency and begin stringing results together. One of the biggest storylines going into the new year will be to see if Pirlo can bounce back from an indifferent start – otherwise, we might just have a new champion heading into next season.

3) Are Milan legit Scudetto contenders? 

Well, we’ve been asking this for the better part of 13 matchdays now and the answer seems to be yes. However, Milan will need to demonstrate its resolve heading into the new year, welcoming Juventus into San Siro on January 6. As we approach the half-way point of the season, Milan can announce themselves as serious contenders, especially with a statement win against Juventus.

Stefano Pioli’s men have played some sensational football in recent months, navigating a tricky schedule diligently, despite a number of injuries – including one to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. As we enter 2021, the Rossoneri will need to confirm their contender status and demonstrate they can handle the pressure that comes with it. If their recent run is anything to go by, Milan will be up for it.

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Juventus struggling for consistency under Andrea Pirlo

Juventus has stumbled in the early goings of the Andrea Pirlo era, playing out to six draws in its first 13 games. Most recently, the Italian champions were handed their first defeat of the season, losing to Fiorentina 3-0. Juan Cuadrado’s early red card may have essentially sealed their fate on Tuesday, but the Colombian’s sending off is a part of a worrying trend for Pirlo’s men.

Indiscipline has come back to haunt Juve this season, earning six red cards already. In many ways, it has cost them important points, forcing them to share the spoils with Roma and Crotone, while losing to Fiorentina on Tuesday. Beyond Juve’s indiscipline, the Bianconeri have regularly been victims of lapses in concentration in their own defensive third, indicating their own complacency.

Juventus can ill afford to drop any further behind as the season wears on and currently sit seven points behind the league-leading Milan. CONI’s ruling to overturn Napoli’s forfeit means that in addition to playing Gennaro Gattuso’s men, Juventus has to take on Milan and Inter as well. January could just prove to be a make-or-break month for Pirlo and could come to define his Juventus tenure.

The Italian champions could use their encounters with both Milan-based clubs to turn their season around and close the gap atop the table, but on current form, it seems unlikely. Pirlo has persevered with his hybrid 4-4-2/3-5-2 formation and is clearly experiencing growing pains.

Juventus often get caught on the break, just like they did for Fiorentina’s opener, and at times, struggle to make their possession count. While Pirlo’s system is completely different compare to Maurizio Sarri’s rigid setup, time is running out for the rookie tactician. If Juventus keep dropping points, they will be out of the title race before it even starts.

At times, the Italian giants look unstoppable in the final third and run rampant against their opposition, as evidenced by their 4-0 win over Parma. Other times, the Bianconeri look completely toothless and devoid of any inspiration. Juventus has impressed in Europe this season, topping their Champions League group, but has failed to translate their dominance back to Serie A – indicating their struggles might boil down to a lack of motivation.

Juve’s struggles in big games is another concern for Pirlo heading into the new year. The Turin-based club has drawn against Roma, Lazio, Atalanta and is yet to beat a side in Italy’s top six. Their upcoming clashes against Milan and Inter can serve as a turning point in their season, but it won’t be easy. On one hand, the Rossoneri are playing some of the best football in Italy, while on the other, Conte’s Inter is as well-drilled as they come in the peninsula. Factor in another game against Napoli in addition to a congested schedule, and it’s an uphill battle for Pirlo.

The rookie tactician can take solace in the fact that he has all the ingredients to turn it around. Alvaro Morata has hit the ground running since returning, forming a deadly partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo, while Weston McKennie appears ready for a bigger role. Their backline may not be as solid as it used to be, but Matthijs de Ligt’s continued progression into one of Europe’s elite defenders is encouraging.

The wealth of options has since given Pirlo quite the dilemma, with the World Cup winner yet to decide on his best eleven. Moving forward, the Azzurri legend should make the most of the upcoming break and establish his starting lineup – otherwise, the Bianconeri’s woes will only continue. Juventus is in dire need of consistency going into 2021 and needs their manager to step up. Pirlo may have all the tools to succeed in Turin but whether he knows what to do with them, remains to be seen.

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Roma’s hot start comes crashing down against Napoli

Roma kicked off the season in sensational form after their bizarre forfeit against Hellas Verona, propelling themselves into an unlikely title race. The Giallorossi’s hot start came to an abrupt end, suffering a comprehensive defeat against Napoli. Paulo Fonseca’s side failed to get into the game, eventually losing 4-0 to the Partenopei.

While it is the side’s only defeat on the field this season, the manner in which they lost was slightly concerning. Roma was completely played off the pitch by Gennaro Gattuso’s men and will need to turn it around ahead of the holiday stretch. Bryan Cristante, a midfielder by trade, has had to deputize at the back due to an injury crisis at the club, and did a solid job – that was until Sunday.

Summer arrival Marash Kumbulla is expected to return to the lineup, after battling with COVID-19 for the better part of the last two weeks. The defender’s return will offer Roma some much-needed stability at the back, allowing Cristante to return to a more familiar position.

Beyond their defensive woes on Sunday, Napoli completely overran Fonseca’s side in the middle of the park. Jordan Veretout and Lorenzo Pellegrini struggled to get a grip of things in the midfield and regularly turned over possession. Roma’s 3-4-2-1 setup has worked in recent weeks, but in big games, their midfield duo needs support.

Whether it is a winger tracking back centrally, or one of their wingbacks coming into the middle, Fonseca would be wise to make a tactical adjustment. Otherwise, Roma risks getting outnumbered in the midfield in every big game. Gattuso took full advantage of this opportunity, deploying a midfield three of Diego Demme, Fabian Ruiz, and Piotr Zielinski.

The Polish international was a constant menace in the final third and often drifted between the lines, without being marked. Fabian Ruiz, on the other hand, was offered more freedom by Gattuso and regularly popped up in and around the area. As Demme shielded the back four, Fabian Ruiz and Zielinski’s runs opened up Roma’s rearguard and overloaded the middle of the park. If Roma wants to continue its fine run of form, Fonseca should take note of this and make the appropriate tactical changes.

As a result of their midfield struggles, Roma’s front three of Pedro, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Edin Dzeko were largely stranded up top. Mkhitaryan often dropped deep to collect possession but was unable to find outlets in the final third. Roma’s wingbacks tried to get forward in support, but Napoli did well to double up on their markers out wide and nullify their threat.

Roma had been flying high before matchday nine, but have since been rocked back to earth following their heavy defeat. Fonseca would be wise to learn from his side’s mistakes and retool his setup ahead of the upcoming stretch. Roma has made some significant progress under the Portuguese tactician and is arguably a few tweaks away from hitting their best form. It may have taken a 4-0 defeat, but it might just help them in the long run.

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