Balotelli Hits out at league: “They Waited for Juventus to Go First.”

Mario Balotelli has never been one to shy away from speaking his mind and most recently, lambasted the league’s indecision regarding the ongoing outbreak of the Coronavirus. Since the outbreak, Supermario was very vocal and wanted the league to suspend the games with immediate effect. Serie A, however, allowed for the Derby d’Italia to be played before eventually suspending the games until April 3; a decision Balotelli rejected wholeheartedly.

In typical fashion, the enigmatic striker took to Instagram live to blast the league claiming they favored Juventus. “They had to wait until Juventus went back on top before stopping the league,” said Balotelli. “In all honesty, I hope Serie A doesn’t start up again until there are no more cases. I got so angry at the start when I urged everyone to stop and people insulted me for it. Maybe now they’ve finally realised the situation,” stated Supermario. 

Before the Derby d’Italia, Juventus found themselves two points behind Lazio in second-place with a game in hand. With their win, Maurizio Sarri’s men leapfrogged Lazio, pulling themselves temporarily in first with twelve games to play. However, one head-to-head clash between the two sides remains before the season comes to a close.

One option that FIGC President Gabriele Gravina put forward to decide key positions if the games couldn’t be played was to go off the current table to discern a winner. In this case, Juventus would be crowned champions with Lazio, Inter, and Atalanta rounding off the remaining Champions League spots.

Otherwise, the other two options would be to assign no winner and void the season or make Italy’s top four compete in playoffs. Simply put, any of the three options have their respective short-comings, leaving someone dissatisfied. In any case, a decision will need to be made sooner rather than later.

Shortly after Balotelli’s controversial comments, Brescia distanced themselves from their striker’s claims, stating his comments do not reflect the club’s position in any way. In an official press release, they said:

“Brescia officially distances themselves from Mario Balotelli and his hypothesis about the league’s potential favoritism. Specifically, on his Instagram live later disseminated on Youtube, Balotelli alluded to the league favoring Juventus for the title. Brescia would like to underline that this opinion is strictly personal and does not in any way reflect the club’s views.” 

In any case, clarity will be provided shortly as a number of factors remain. For one, what will happen to Euro 2020? If the tournament is postponed, there may be a chance that the remaining Serie A fixtures could be played.

As Italy looks to curtail the outbreak of the Coronavirus, let’s make one thing clear – at a time like this, football is secondary. In this sense, Balotelli is not wrong. Whether they void the season or not, it simply doesn’t matter at this delicate time. With the number of reported cases rising every day within Italy, what’s important is curbing the outbreak and then depending on where we are, figure out the rest of the season.

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Five More Serie A Players Test Positive for Coronavirus

After the league was temporarily suspended last week, it was reported that Juventus defender Daniele Rugani was the first Serie A player to contract the coronavirus. Shortly thereafter, Sampdoria’s Manolo Gabbiadini announced he tested positive for the disease himself, indicating the suspension of the season was the correct call. Following these reports, all Champions League games were postponed in addition to the suspension of all major sports leagues, including the NBA, the NHL, and the MLB.

Today, reports came out that a further four Sampdoria players got the Coronavirus in addition to Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic. Morten Thorsby, Albin Ekdal, Omar Colley and Antonino La Gumina were the league’s next round of confirmed cases. Moreover, Sampdoria’s team doctor Amedeo Baldari also contracted the virus, bringing the league’s total to eight for the time being.

Sampdoria midfielder Albin Ekdal took to Twitter to address the latest news:

“Listen to the authorities and do everything in your power to help reduce the spread of this virus. It will help us protect the sick and the elderly. Lastly I would like to say thank you to all healthcare professionals who are doing a heroic job right now.”

Given the recent spike in cases, Italy’s Minister of Sport Vincenzo Spadafora recently spoke out against the league’s indecision. In a recent interview with Rai Uno, Spadafora said: “Football is a world in itself: there was a time when the Lega Serie A didn’t want to take responsibility as it should have done,” said Spadafora. “We did it as a government to protect interests. Now there is no longer any controversy because some of the players have the virus. We would have preferred to have stopped the league sooner, but better late than never.”

With the league suspended until April 3, it has left many wondering if the season will finish at all and if so, what the result will be. Currently, Juventus are one point ahead of Lazio in first, however, the bianconeri still have a game to play against Simone Inzaghi’s men. If the games cannot be played, playoffs are being touted as a real option. However, it is still unclear how that would play out.

Where it might get trickier is in the relegation zone. Judging by the standings, SPAL and Brescia are as good as relegated on 18 and 16 points respectively. While either side could hit miraculous form over the last twelve match-days to save themselves, it was looking increasingly unlikely.

The third and final relegation spot, however, is a different story. Lecce and Genoa are currently tied on points, with the Grifoni holding the tie-breaker for the time being. Beyond Genoa and Lecce, Claudio Ranieri’s Sampdoria are just one point ahead in the relegation race. Torino aren’t exactly out of the woods either on 28 points and could feature in a relegation playoff if one comes about.

With much uncertainty surrounding the league and more cases being reported by the day within the league, Serie A will need to take action shortly. After all, April 3 is fast approaching.

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Andrea Agnelli’s Superleague Represents All That is Wrong With Football

Juventus president Andrea Agnelli has come under the fire for recent comments about Gian Piero Gasperini’s high-flying Atalanta, claiming they aren’t worthy representatives for Italy in the Champions Leauge. The Juventus president has regularly been on record in favour of a European superleague and criticized the Champions League’s current format.

In an interview at the FT Business of Football Summit in London, Agnelli said:

“I have great respect for everything that Atalanta are doing, but without international history and thanks to just one great season, they had direct access into the primary European club competition. Is that right or not?”

In case you missed it this season, Atalanta are primed to qualify for Europe’s elite eight having smashed Valencia 4-1 in their opening leg. After a rough opening three games, Atalanta found stability and did well to progress to the round of 16 against all the odds. In addition, Gasperini’s men are currently in fourth place, three points ahead of Roma with a game in hand, indicating last season’s success was far from a one-off.

Factor in that Atalanta are competing with Europe’s elites with a fraction of the budget, their rise becomes all the more impressive. In many ways, that’s what football is all about. It’s about the plucky underdog that defies all odds and finds a way to win. It’s about that team that goes against the grain and hits unprecedented heights when no one expected them to. If Agnelli’s superleague is put into place, these success stories will be fewer and far between if any at all, and would completely eliminate the magic of the sport.

For the last two seasons, Gasperini’s men have outplayed Italy’s traditional giants, pipping them to the final European places. Last season, they finished ahead of Inter, Milan, Roma, and Lazio and deservedly so. Despite this, Agnelli maintains their European qualification should not be guaranteed.

“Then I think of AS Roma, who contributed in recent years to maintaining Italy’s ranking. They had one bad season and are out, with all the consequent damage to them financially.”

If the superleague goes through as Agnelli wishes, it would reward clubs based on history and brand name, rather than results. In essence, the rich would get richer. In a society where elites control most facets of everyday life, football must reject this wholeheartedly and keep a meritocracy in place. Inefficiencies remain with the current system as big spenders are typically rewarded, however, less so than in a superleague, for example. In sports, most of the time, you get what you deserve. If you put in the work, chances are you’ll get rewarded accordingly.

Few clubs, if any, in Italy have innovated like Atalanta and have built a base for long-term success. Gli Orobici play an expansive brand of football, promote a host of youth talents annually and will soon be playing in their own stadium. While they may not be considered as one of Italian football’s pioneers, or one of the Seven Sisters, they shouldn’t be punished either for not being there from day one. A case could even be made that Atalanta are currently the nation’s most progressive side and represent all that is good with Italian football. 

Agnelli’s comments, while they may seem like one man’s opinion, represent a far bigger problem in football that currently exists. Europe’s elite have no regard for their league’s provinciali and will stop at nothing until the current format is blown up for their own benefit. Simply put, they’re in it for themselves. In an era where Europe’s elites have each other’s backs, the rest of Italy and the world, must do the same. Otherwise, we’ll be seeing the same 16 teams, if not fewer, every year fight for Europe’s crown. And where’s the fun in that?

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Coronavirus Outbreak Nullifies Home-Field Advantage

The 237th instalment of the Derby d’Italia will be a defining moment in the season for both sides. On one hand, Inter desperately needs the three points to maintain the pace with Lazio and Juve at the top, while the bianconeri, by contrast, would like to keep Antonio Conte’s men at arm’s length. After all, a win against their fierce rivals would extend their lead to nine over the nerazzurri, with just one game in hand. With Lazio in fine form, three points are of paramount importance for Sarri’s men ahead of their crucial Champions League return leg against Lyon.

The game was initially set to be played last week in Turin, in front of their usual 40,000 spectators. With former Juventus captain Antonio Conte returning as an opponent for the first time since switching allegiances, the Allianz Stadium promised to be hostile. Many fans have even petitioned for Conte’s star to be removed at the Allianz Stadium after he joined Inter.

However, with the coronavirus spreading across the nation, the Italian Government ruled that all sporting events until April 3 would need to be played behind closed doors. As a result, Conte and Marotta will have to wait until next season to receive their “warm” welcomes.

While the game promises to be an evenly-matched tilt, the ruling puts Inter at a slight advantage. For one, the deafening home crowd won’t be present to distract them and they’ll be able to lock in like never before. On the other hand, Conte excels at motivating his men for one-off battles as we have seen throughout his young managerial career and will benefit from the relatively quiet, empty stadium. There may not be fans present, but one thing’s for sure: Conte’s voice will be heard, whereas Sarri is far more observant on the touchline.

In a game like this, Conte gets the advantage and will likely be motivating his men full throttle. With everything on the line tomorrow, expect Inter to come out firing from all cylinders. The stadium ban is an unprecedented situation that nullifies Juve’s home advantage, and Inter will be looking to fully capitalize on it.

For Sarri, the challenge is unique. After seeing his side underperform after the new year, Juve have fallen behind in the title race for the first time. Simply put, a reaction is needed or they may be in for a rough finish to the end of the season. Juve may have the game in hand on Lazio, but the biancocelesti have been in sensational form and have shown no signs of stopping. In many ways, they’ve been the best side in Italy this past season. Anything but a win against Inter and Juventus will find themselves in second place by tomorrow night; a worrying prospect indeed.

With Inzaghi’s men focusing solely on the league, it will be quite the uphill battle to climb if they fall behind, especially with no fans to support them. Factor in Juventus’ narrow deficit in the Champions League and the bianconeri’s minds may just be on their European exploits.

On the bright side, the last week has allowed Sarri’s men to regain energy and rest ahead of a crucial stretch. Due to injuries and a lack of depth in key areas, a majority of Juventus’ squad needed this.

No matter which way you put it, tomorrow’s derby d’Italia will be an awkward affair. The contrast of having massive title implications but no fans present make it so, there’s no way around it. While Sarri will be eager to prove he’s the right man for the job after coming under fire, Conte and his men are more than happy to play spoiler and throw their name in the hat for the Scudetto. For now, it’s advantage Conte.

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Federico Bernardeschi: Time for redemption?

With Juventus struggling in the final third, Federico Bernardeschi may just be presented with an opportunity to redeem himself. After an indifferent finish to last season, Bernardeschi faded and failed to establish himself as a set-starter. When Maurizio Sarri was hired, however, many expected the former Fiorentina man to take the next step in his career, something that until now has not happened.

In 17 Serie A appearances this season, Bernardeschi is yet to register an assist or score a goal. That’s over seven hundred minutes of football with nothing to show for. Despite this, the 26-year-old could yet turn it around. After failing to implement the 4-3-3 successfully at the start of the season, Sarri turned to a more narrow 4-3-1-2 and deployed Bernardeschi as the side’s trequartista. 

While he may seem suited to the role given his technique, Bernardeschi needs space to operate and is far more effective from a wide position. When he plays for Italy there, the Juventus man looks more threatening and creates many chances.

As a result, the Juventus winger has looked out of place in the hole and offers close to nothing in the final third. Fast forward to match-day 26 and Sarri is now turning back to the 4-3-3, presenting Bernardeschi with a unique opportunity for redemption.

In Juventus’ last three games, Cuadrado has been deployed on the right alongside Dybala and Ronaldo. The Colombian international has injected some much-needed pace and unpredictability in the final third, but one problem remains. With Cuadrado in the front-three, Juventus’ right-back options leave a lot to be desired. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sarri starts Bernardeschi in the front-three with Cuadrado returning in defence.

In the past, Bernardeschi demonstrated he can play with Ronaldo and showed early signs of a budding partnership. Factor in Dybala’s mobility and ability to interchange at will, and Bernardeschi could thrive on the right-hand side of a front-three. Since returning from injury, the 26-year-old has made cameo appearances and is slowly finding his rhythm again.

Douglas Costa is another player that could feature alongside Ronaldo and Dybala, however, the Brazilian struggles to stay fit. As a result, expect Bernardeschi to get more minutes than his counterpart. If the former Fiorentina man seizes his opportunities, he may just finish the season as Juve’s starting right-winger.

Right now, the side desperately needs a spark in attack and could use Bernardeschi back at his best. When the 26-year-old was at Fiorentina, he was a constant counter-attacking threat and had a keen eye for goal. Until now, the Juventus faithful haven’t seen this side of him. As the season wears on and with crucial games upon us, expect Sarri to try and revitalize Bernardeschi and give him a new lease on life. While he may be on his way out this summer as it’s been widely reported, this end of season run-in presents Bernardeschi with an opportunity for redemption. It’s up to him if he takes it.

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Europa League Race: Contenders, Pretenders and Dark-Horses

As the season draws to a close, the race for European places intensifies. If the season were to end today, Juventus, Inter, Lazio, and Atalanta would represent Italy in the Champions League while Roma and Napoli would have to content themselves with Europa League football.

Currently, the table could not be tighter as just four points separate sixth-place from eleventh. Let’s now take a look at the main contenders, pretenders and dark-horses for the Europa League.

Contenders: 

Roma and Atalanta: As it stands right now, one of Atalanta and Roma are pretty much guaranteed to occupy one of Italy’s two Europa League spots. Gasperini’s men are six-points ahead of the giallorossi in the fourth and final Champions League place and will be eager to maintain their advantage to qualify for Europe’s elite competition. Given Roma’s recent form, they may slide further down the table, but it’s difficult to see them finish outside the top six. As a result, expect Roma to make the Europa league leaving one last spot for the rest of the pack.

Napoli and Milan: After rough starts to the season, Napoli and Milan sacked their managers and almost immediately witnessed an upturn in their fortunes. Napoli have now won four of their last five and seem primed for a strong finish while Milan are finally playing with an identity. With Roma almost surely occupying the first Europa League spot, Napoli and Milan will likely duke it out for the remaining place. Napoli, however, will need to be better against sides under them as they have demonstrated complacency in those clashes. Milan, on the other hand, have taken care of Italy’s provinciali, but struggle against Italy’s elite.

Pretenders: 

Parma and Cagliari: Both sides got off to the season in fine form, but have recently struggled for results. Rolando Maran’s Cagliari haven’t won any of their last five clashes while Parma have proven to be far too inconsistent. In addition to their goal-scoring woes, Parma lack creative depth across the midfield, which will come back to haunt them in their hunt for European football. Cagliari, by contrast, benefitted by some incredible finishing earlier in the year; exploits that cannot be sustained throughout a full season. Expect both sides to slide further down the table as the season wears on.

Dark-Horses: 

Bologna-Hellas Verona: These two are here for vastly different reasons. On one hand, Hellas Verona have one of the league’s best defences propelling them into the race for European football while Bologna have scored freely all season and have shown no signs of slowing down. While Mihajlovic’s men have struggled in their last two games, they possess more quality in the final third than their counterparts and could go toe-to-toe with anyone in Italy. The same applies to Verona, who recently overcame Juventus in a game where they largely dominated. Milan and Napoli may be favourites for the last European spot, but Verona and Bologna will make it interesting over the next 12 match-days.

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Three Things to Watch in the Derby d’Italia

With the Derby d’Italia coming up, albeit behind closed doors, the implications couldn’t be bigger. With a win, Inter pull themselves within three of Juve with a game in hand on the Italian champions. A loss for the nerazzurri, however, could spell the end of their title challenge. Juventus, by contrast, will be looking to bounce back after a tough defeat against Lyon and will be keen on keeping Lazio at a distance.

The biancocelesti are in fine form and are currently just one point behind Juventus. Without further ado, here are three things to look out for in the latest iteration of the Derby d’Italia.

1) Where is Christian Eriksen?

Since joining Inter, Eriksen has been eased into Conte’s set-up and often comes on as a super-sub. Against Milan, the former Tottenham man started on the bench and impacted the proceedings from a more advanced role in the second half. Considering Conte’s rigid 3-5-2 formation, it will be interesting to see if the veteran tactician deploys Eriksen from the start against Juve.

While he has used him in the hole behind Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Conte is not exactly a risk-taker and typically opts for defensive solidity. Against Juventus, expect Eriksen to play a crucial role, however, it remains to be seen whether it’s off the bench or from the start. As the season wears on, the Danish international will see his influence on the side slowly increase, but hopefully for Inter, it won’t be too late.

For now, Eriksen’s progression is definitely something to keep an eye on.

2) Juventus’ midfield dilemma continues. 

You could have written this section three years ago and it still would have been true. Since Pogba and Vidal left Juve, their midfield has not been the same, an issue the bianconeri are yet to address. Beyond bosman signings, reinforcements in the middle of the park have been few and far between, something which has come to haunt Juventus today.

We’re going into match-day 26 and it still seems Sarri is unsure of his best midfield trio. Does it include Ramsey and Rabiot? Is Pjanic the bianconeri’s best option at regista or is it Rodrigo Bentancur? Questions that as of right now have no answers, which is deeply concerning. After fielding Rabiot and Bentancur alongside Pjanic in mid-week, expect Sarri to shuffle his deck once more in hopes of finally establishing his preferred midfield.

The Derby d’Italia is as good an opportunity as any for a midfielder to stake a claim for a starting role and Sarri will be hoping the enormity of the game will spur on his uninspired midfield. Until now, they’ve been lackluster and that needs to change.

3) Will the lack of fans impact the game? 

After the Coronavirus spread to Italy, it was announced that most games in Northern Italy will be played behind closed doors. While the logic makes sense and avoids further pandemic, it will undoubtedly be odd in this clash. The whole season has been building up to this Derby d’Italia and now the fans won’t even be able to be there.

Fans play a crucial role at establishing atmosphere in a stadium and spurring their team onto victory. Without them at the Allianz Stadium, it will be interesting to see just how the game will be affected. Will it still feel like a title race? Does it give Inter the advantage or will the calm give Juve the upper hand?

While it will definitely be strange to see an empty Derby d’Italia, the game itself promises to be an enthralling affair between two of Italy’s best sides. Lazio will be looking on eagerly.

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Lyon Defeats Highlights Juventus’ Woes in Plain Sight

While yesterday’s narrow defeat still gives Juventus a decent shot at progressing, the bianconeri’s lacklustre performance was vastly concerning and brought to light the side’s major issues. After the hosts scored an early goal, Lyon opted to defend in a deep, compact block and did so expertly. The French side conceded very little and emerged victorious keeping a clean sheet.

This season, Juventus have encountered a number of issues breaking down sides defending in their own penalty area and struggled to create anything of note last night. In fact, it took over eighty minutes for the Italian champions to register their first shot on target. Sarri’s men may still progress to the next round, but if last night highlighted anything, it’s that this Juventus side is NOT built to go toe-to-toe with Europe’s elite.

For one, Juventus’ defence lacks depth out wide. After selling Leonardo Spinazzola and loaning out his replacement Luca Pellegrini, Alex Sandro is the only senior left-back on the roster. Since last season, the Brazilian’s form has declined and offers close to nothing in the final third. Last night, Sandro looked gassed and struggled to beat his man.

On the opposing wing, Danilo did not fare much better. After pushing Cuadrado forward in his natural position, Sarri turned to Danilo for the right-back position. Since joining from Manchester City, the former Real Madrid man has regularly been sidelined and has struggled for form.

When he’s not injured, Danilo represents Juventus’ biggest liability, either at the back or in the final third. Last season, the now-departed Joao Cancelo made the right-back role his own and was arguably the side’s best performer in the first half of the season. Even if they progress past Lyon, Juventus’ questionable depth and options at full-back will come back to haunt them.

Beyond their stuttering fullbacks, Juventus’ biggest problem lies in the midfield. Miralem Pjanic is on the steep decline and hasn’t looked like himself for years while new recruit Adrien Rabiot is typically a passenger in the midfield when given the nod. Outside of Bentancur, Juventus’ midfield lacks drive and incision in the final third and often plays on the peripheries of games. Last night was no different.

Aaron Ramsey, Juventus’ other midfield recruit, is yet to establish himself as a set-starter but is slowly improving. After a top-notch performance on the weekend, the Welshman was inexplicably left out of the eleven by Sarri, leaving Juventus with three extremely similar midfielders on the pitch. If the bianconeri are to have a shot at progressing past Lyon and making a deep European run, Ramsey will need to be at the heart of it. The former Arsenal man is one of the side’s only midfielders that makes runs into the box, opening space for his teammates. Without him on the pitch, opposing sides are happy to drop off, conceding possession outside their penalty area.

The reality is, however, whatever setup Sarri goes with will have its own flaws. The side is poorly constructed and lacks pieces in key areas. If the tactician fields Dybala with Higuain and Ronaldo, Juve will lack balance and offensive options off the bench. If Sarri goes with the 4-3-3, it alienates the bianconeri’s best player Paulo Dybala and shoehorns him into a wide role. If he goes with the 4-3-1-2, he doesn’t have an out-and-out trequartista to make it work. He tried with Douglas Costa and Bernardeschi, and had no success. All this with one decent fullback.

While Ronaldo may very well put the team on his back like he did last year against Atletico Madrid, Juventus’ issues are there for everyone to see and Lyon know the tie is there for the taking. Their full-backs are sub-par, their midfield is anonymous and their roster, as a whole, is unbalanced.

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Paul Pogba or Sergej Milinkovic-Savic: Who would you take?

After his most recent man-of-the-match performance against Inter, Sergej Milinkovic Savic is drawing comparisons to Europe’s elite midfielders and rightfully so. Many are even making the case that the 24-year-old is the best midfielder in the league right now. After all, the Serbian international is as well-rounded as they come. He can score goals, he dominates aerial duels both in his own half and in the final third and is slick in possession.

It’s since been reported that Italy’s elite are queuing up for the Lazio man, including the likes of Juventus and Inter. Whether Lazio will sell the player is a completely different story; especially if they go on to win the Scudetto.

It’s also recently been reported that Paul Pogba is on his way out of Manchester United and will be available this summer. His agent, the infamous Mino Raiola, is currently hard at work and is trying his best at wedging himself between his client and the club. Considering both are of similar age and will command the same price, which player would you go with? Let’s have a look.

Both players are similar in the sense that they operate best from a mezz’ala role, and enjoy making late runs into the back post, where they can use their physical presence to create space. In addition to their aerial prowess, both Pogba and Milinkovic-Savic are equally capable at firing from range and don’t have to be asked twice to shoot. When it comes to scoring goals, however, I might have to give the Frenchman the slight advantage. Pogba has demonstrated more consistency in this respect over the years.

Defensively, it’s another close call as both players are increasingly involved in their own third, be it through tackles and interceptions. While Pogba has improved in this respect in recent seasons and has become defensively responsible, Milinkovic-Savic currently has the upper hand. The Lazio man is currently averaging 1.6 tackles and 1.2 interceptions per game, and makes his presence felt inside his eighteen-yard box. Advantage SMS.

Beyond preventing goals, creating them is equally important. In this respect, Pogba is the more accomplished player. Milinkovic-Savic possesses a great range of passing himself, but the Manchester United man simply creates more chances; chances that translate into goals. Last season, Pogba registered ten assists in all competitions and he regularly leads his side in this regard. While Milinkovic-Savic is slowly developing this facet to his game, as illustrated through his four assists this season, he still lags behind the Frenchman when it comes to end-product. Point, Pogba.

All in all, if they’re both available for similar prices, I’d probably take Pogba and even then, it’s too close to call. In my opinion, he’s the better goalscorer and creator and is equally dominant in the air. Wages, agent fees, and availability come into play, but any team looking to bolster their midfield have no choice but to take a flyer on these two.

Now have your say: Who would you take on your team?

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Sarri set to shake things up once more

Going into a crucial stretch in the season, Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri is weighing his options and is reportedly considering shaking things up in the final third. In an attempt to introduce more dynamism into the side, the former Napoli tactician will deploy Paulo Dybala as a false nine and will shift Juan Cuadrado from defence into the attack. We saw glimpses of this setup this past weekend against Brescia and according to Gazzetta dello Sport, is something Sarri will persist with this match-day against cellar-dwellers SPAL.

With an important game against Lyon coming up, the pressure is on Sarri to get Juve into the quarter-finals comfortably and look to make a deep European run. The veteran tactician previously had success with a false-nine setup at Napoli when he deployed Dries Mertens there.

While Dybala and Mertens are different players in their own way, both are extremely technical and do a good job at linking the midfield to attack. More importantly, they’ve both proven to be deadly finishers. As la Joya is set to play closer to goal, expect more involvement from Dybala. If anything, a central role suits the former Palermo man better and will undoubtedly help Juve create more chances in the final third.

When Sarri was initially hired, many expected Dybala to occupy this role, but it has since taken 24 match-days to get there. In recent times, Juventus have struggled in the final third and have typically relied on individual brilliance to see them through. Recognizing this, Sarri is keen on making changes.

Beyond shifting Dybala into a central position, Sarri is reportedly moving Cuadrado out of defence and into the attack. After the side failed to adequately replace Joao Cancelo, Sarri used the Colombian international at right-back. Initially, the position switch worked wonderfully, but injuries to key men in the attack mean Sarri’s forced to shuffle the deck once more.

Cuadrado has played in Juve’s front-three in their last two games and has added some much-needed unpredictability and speed up top. Other than his ability to beat his man, the former Fiorentina winger stretches opposition defences regularly and is a counter-attacking threat. Until this switch, Sarri fielded his typical 4-3-1-2 formation, which sorely lacked width and pace.

The formation switch also suits Juve’s current attacking options better than Sarri’s narrow ‘Christmas Tree’. While Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa are still out injured, a 4-3-3 gives them the opportunity to play out wide in their natural roles, rather than being pigeon-holed into a central position. With Ronaldo drifting in from the left-wing and Dybala interchanging, Cuadrado, Douglas Costa or Bernardeschi will all have a chance to stake a claim for the final place in the front-three. The increased competition will likely help the wingers hit new heights.

As Juventus look to compete on three fronts, simply put, they will need to create more chances. Sarri’s latest shuffle may not work, but it’s definitely worth a shot, and if anything, suits Juventus’ attacking options way better than their current setup.

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