Three Things Napoli Should Do to Get Back on Track

Going into the new season, much was expected from Napoli under Carlo Ancelotti. Having added Kostas Manolas, Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Hirving Lozano among others, the partenopei were expected to make a Scudetto push after consecutive seasons as runners-up. However, nothing of the sort has taken place and Napoli are currently languishing below mid-table and have replaced Ancelotti with Gennaro Gattuso. Here are three things Napoli should consider to get back on track.

1) Squad revolution: Sell, sell, sell! 

Most of the current Napoli side have been with the club for the greater part of the decade, and have experienced incredible highs and lows. For example: Winning 1-0 in a title decider against Juventus away from home, only to lose the following game to Fiorentina and squander their lead at the top. This undoubtedly remains in the psyche of most of their players.

After a rough start to the season, the club’s veterans turned against Ancelotti and demanded change from the upper hierarchy. Moreover, many of their ageing stars on expiring deals are asking for pay-rises due to their past exploits with the club. Exploits they probably won’t be able to recreate, if we’re being honest. Football works in cycles and one thing is clear: This cycle is over for Napoli and it’s time for a rebuild. Sell Insigne, Mertens, Hysaj and anyone in between. Out with the old and in with the new. That sounds equally exciting as it sounds scary.

2) Stick with Gattuso

This may seem like a stretch especially after the rough start to his tenure, losing four of his first five games, but Napoli would be wise to stay with Gattuso. With a full pre-season under his belt and an entire summer to sign players he wants, the former Milan tactician will have the weapons he needs to make a push for the title next season. In addition, most of his current players appear to have their heads elsewhere and could use a move away and start fresh.

While this season won’t amount to much, it will be a good opportunity for Gattuso to acclimate himself to his new surroundings and establish players he can count on. This will undoubtedly come in handy moving into the new season. In his final season at Milan, the World Cup winner almost got the rossoneri into the Champions League with a far worse roster. Given time and a roster upheaval, Gattuso will prove to be a good fit for Napoli.

3) Establish your core. 

Speaking of finding players to count on, Napoli’s top brass should use the rest of the season and evaluate their squad. Who is sellable and who is untouchable? After this year’s shocking performances, you can argue only Meret, Koulibaly, Di Lorenzo and the newcomers are off-limits. The rest should and arguably will be on the market for the right price. Fabian Ruiz, for example, has shown signs of brilliance but doesn’t look as implicated as he could be for the Napoli cause. Reports suggest Barcelona and Real Madrid are keeping tabs on the Spanish international and could present a bid upwards of 50M for the midfielder.

Another player’s future to consider is Lorenzo Insigne. While the diminutive playmaker is one of the last true bandiere in Italy, it may be time for a move away. After all, he did lead the mutiny against Ancelotti and hasn’t exactly performed on the pitch. As a result, the list of sellable players should far exceed the “untouchables.” In any case, Napoli’s season does present a silver lining: A unique opportunity to reboot and start a new cycle. Hopefully, for them, this one will be filled with silverware and that elusive Scudetto.

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Selection Problems Ahead for Sarri

As Juventus are approaching a crucial stretch in the season, the bianconeri are beginning to show signs of Sarriball and are slowly clicking into top form. In Juventus’ last six games, the Italian champions have scored 16 goals and don’t appear to be stopping anytime soon. With Antonio Conte’s Inter and Immobile’s high-flying Lazio hot on their heels, Sarri’s men will need to continue in the same vein, starting with Parma tomorrow.

While Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to form and Paulo Dybala’s weekly wonder-goals definitely help the cause, Juventus’ recent streak stems from something much deeper. It’s not simply individual brilliance at play here. For the first time in a while, Sarri appears to have a wealth of options in the midfield and has a number of midfielders playing their best football this season.

Adrien Rabiot is looking much quicker and leaner, Rodrigo Bentancur is finally coming good, meanwhile, Miralem Pjanic is no longer being asked to do too much at the base of midfield. Factor in Blaise Matuidi’s importance to Sarri’s pressing schemes and Juventus’ midfield isn’t as bad as first advertised.

And we haven’t even mentioned Aaron Ramsey just yet. The Welshman has struggled to adapt to Serie A and has looked a step behind the pace since making the move to Juventus. Tasked with linking the midfield and attack in a classic trequartista role, the former Arsenal man has displayed flashes of brilliance but is yet to make the number ten role his own.

As Ramsey familiarizes himself with the mechanisms of Sarri’s 4-3-1-2 and acclimates himself further to his new surroundings, Juve will be able to add yet another weapon in the final third, giving Sarri further selection headaches.

If the Ramsey experiment doesn’t quite work out, Sarri could still turn to Douglas Costa. A natural winger by trade, Costa brings speed and unpredictability to the lineup and offers the veteran tactician an alternative to Ramsey. In recent times, the former Bayern Munich man has looked good behind the strikers, but much like Ramsey, needs to adapt to his new role. After all, Sarri’s system is very rigid and requires tactical discipline, something a flair player like Douglas Costa often rebels against. Despite this, the Brazilian seems to be adjusting nicely in recent games and may overtake Ramsey in the rotation if his current form continues.

Beyond Ramsey and Costa, Sarri’s final option for the trequartista, and his preferred one in the first half of the season is Federico Bernardeschi. Recently, however, the former Fiorentina man has experienced the worst spell of his career and is yet to register a goal or an assist. Rather than relegating him to the bench, Sarri is trying to convert Bernardeschi into a mezz’ala. In Juventus’ most recent Coppa Italia clash, the Italian international played on the right-hand side of the midfield three and arguably had his best game in months. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if Sarri continues with Bernardeschi as a midfielder or as a trequartista. 

While Juventus’ midfield has fallen short in recent years, it seems Sarri is slowly finding his best eleven and is starting to piece together the final pieces to his puzzle. It must be said, unlike in the past, Sarri has demonstrated courage with his player selection and has often fielded players in unfamiliar roles to great effect. Cuadrado at right-back, for example, has worked like a charm.

Given Juventus’ recent run of form, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before Sarri’s men take the leap and finally start playing full-flowing Sarriball at the Juventus Stadium. As the veteran tactician keeps mixing and matching, his selection problems will only keep growing. And I don’t think he’ll mind too much.

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Player Focus: Jeremie Boga

This season Serie A has seen a number of breakout stars make a name for themselves and attract interest from Europe’s elite. Sassuolo attacking midfielder Jeremie Boga is no different, and has established himself as one of the peninsula’s creative threats. Capable of beating the opposition with skill or finishing from range, Boga is a multi-faceted forward and is versatile enough to occupy multiple positions.

Under Roberto De Zerbi, the former Chelsea youth product has primarily featured from the left-wing but often drifts in centrally, interchanging positions with Juventus loanee Hamed Junior Traorè. Most recently, Sassuolo’s front-four combined to devastating effect against Torino, scoring two quick-fire goals and propelling them to victory over the Granata.

Boga would finish the game with a wonderfully taken goal and an assist on Berardi’s winner. Playing alongside Traorè and Berardi, Boga has really come into his own and has since been shortlisted by Italy’s elite, including Napoli and Milan among others.

While his end-product was a concern in the past, the Ivorian international has taken the step up this season and has already notched five goals for the neroverdi. Among those five goals is a carefully dispatched chip over the legendary Gianluigi Buffon in a draw against Juve and a perfectly-hit top corner effort against Torino’s Salvatore Sirigu most recently.

In addition to his increasing output, no player in Italy beats their man with as much ease as Boga does. Currently, the 23-year-old is averaging 4.3 successful dribbles per game and is proving to be a constant menace, be-it on the wing or through the middle. For context, Fiorentina Gaetano Castrovilli is the next player on the list with 3.1 successful dribbles per game. While his incredible turn of pace helps him on the counter, Boga’s main success with the ball at his feet comes from his innovation. Whether he has a tight angle or he’s given time and space, Boga is regularly scanning the field for the most dangerous option.

In the past, consistency has been an issue for the Sassuolo forward, but he has since hit his stride with Sassuolo. Playing under a progressive manager in De Zerbi, Boga has made the most of the freedom afforded to him and has filtered between the lines with regularity.

Francesco Caputo, Sassuolo’s number nine, is extremely mobile and often swaps positions with Boga, affording the winger further room in the eighteen-yard box. In this case, the player’s tactical versatility comes to the fore. Whether he’s stretching the opposition’s defence wide on the counter or finding a pocket of space in behind the midfield, Boga’s positional awareness is proving to be his ultimate asset.

Moving forward, many teams will be keeping tabs on Boga’s progress and will shortly be knocking at Sassuolo’s door with official bids. The important thing for the 23-year-old now is maintaining this level week in, week out and demonstrate he’s ready to take the next step in his career. Then it’s all about picking the right team to continue his development. While it’s still early days for Sassuolo and Boga, all the signs are pointing to a big-money move this summer.

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Atalanta’s Progress: By the numbers

Last season, Atalanta sent shock-waves throughout Italian football and qualified for the Champions League, finishing ahead of Italy’s traditional giants Inter, Roma, and Milan among others. Along with European football comes the luxury of a pitfall of cash and unique opportunities for growth that Atalanta have taken full advantage of.

Beyond their Champions League cash, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have been extremely proactive on the transfer market, selling their players for incredible profits. Dejan Kulusevki, for example. The Swedish international has only played three times for them in his entire career and was sold for nearly forty-five million euros. Let’s take a deeper look at the numbers.

According to Calcio e Finanza, Atalanta have already cashed forty million euros from the Champions League and could make more depending on their two-legged affair with Valencia. Given recent form, it’s not entirely improbable they progress to the final eight.

While Champions League money is always welcomed, it’s not as sustainable as other sources of revenue for the club. After all, will they qualify for Europe’s elite competition every season? They’re hoping so, but probably not.

As a result, Atalanta have enacted a model wherein they sell their top-performing young players to Italy’s big clubs after breakout seasons. Kulusevski to Juve, Gagliardini to Inter, Cristante and Mancini to Roma, Conti and Kessie to Milan, and the list goes on. In this sense, they maximize their profits. While certain cases will have them thinking they moved on their players a season too early, that’s always better than feeling they sold a player a season too late.

Just ask Torino’s Urbano Cairo. After Andrea Belotti’s breakout season, Torino reportedly got offers ranging between 50 to 75 million euros for their hitman. Cairo played hard-ball, kept Belotti and has since missed out on a unique rebuilding opportunity by turning down those offers. Today, Belotti won’t fetch anywhere near the previously reported price-tags. Atalanta, on the other hand, have a knack for selling players at the right time. In fact, their track record speaks for itself.  Most of their departed players, bar a few, have struggled to recreate their past form at their new clubs.

According to Transfermarkt’s numbers, the Bergamo-based club are set to cash in a further 110 million euros this season, in addition to Musa Barrow’s reported sale of 20M. That’s 130M on players that have either already been replaced or have never featured regularly for them.

With their squad lacking a few additions to take the next step, it will be interesting to see what Atalanta does with that money. Will they abandon their current philosophy and go for more-experienced players in hopes of making the leap alongside Italy’s elite or will they continue with their own model that has worked wonders for them?

If last transfer window was anything to go by, it will arguably be a mix of both, with a particular focus on experienced players. See: Luis Muriel and Ruslan Malinovskyi. As another transfer window beckons, Atalanta’s activity will be worth monitoring. They have the money and a vision: but can they deliver on it?

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Rabiot Excelling Ahead of Crucial Stretch

When Adrien Rabiot was picked up on a free transfer this past summer, the Frenchman was expected to play an integral role in Maurizio Sarri’s midfield. After all, he’s an adept dribbler and can progress play nicely from a mezz’ala role. The former PSG man, however, struggled in the early goings of the season and failed to adapt to Italian football, showing signs of rust. As a result, Sarri opted for the experience of Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi in the midfield, much to the dismay of the Juventus faithful.

Khedira, much like it has been the case his entire career, has since been sidelined with an injury, leaving a spot in the midfield alongside Pjanic and Matuidi up for grabs. While it seemed Rodrigo Bentancur was inching closer to making it his own in recent times, the Uruguayan picked up a three-game suspension in Juventus’ Supercoppa defeat. This presented Rabiot with the opportunity he’s been looking for.

The 24-year-old made the most of his start against Cagliari and was a driving force in Juventus’ midfield in the second half. Rather than his typical left-centre midfield role, Sarri deployed him on the right and instructed him to connect with Cuadrado and Dybala. The Frenchman did so with great aplomb and put in his best performance in a Juventus shirt.

For the first time this season, Rabiot showed signs of his technique and ability to carry the ball forward at will. If he continues on this path, Sarri will have no choice to accommodate the former PSG man into his eleven, even when Bentancur returns.

When asked about his recent performances and rumours linking him away from the club after the Cagliari clash, Rabiot was clear.

“I feel the confidence of the club and of coach Sarri. 2019 was not easy for me, I came to Juve after a long time without playing,” said the Frenchman. I’m looking to adapt to a new league, a new environment and a new coach. I hope 2020 will be better for me and be able to help Juventus by exploiting my full potential. I am finding the rhythm,” added Rabiot.

With Inter and Juventus duking it out for the Scudetto, the bianconeri will need all the help they can get and will be counting on Rabiot in the midfield. Before his impressive run, the Italian champions struggled for creativity in the middle of the park and relied heavily on Pjanic to provide the spark. Carrying a significant portion of the creative load, the Bosnian international struggled going into the new year. However, with Rabiot excelling and Bentancur starting to deliver on his promise, Juventus may just have the midfield trio they’ve been looking for all along. 

While the trio is still a far cry from Juventus’ illustrious past of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio, they are still technical enough for Sarriball and can dominate possession for sustained portions of the game. In fact, since Bentancur and Rabiot have been featuring regularly, Juventus have seen a spike in their offensive production, having scored nine goals in their last three games. As the knockout stages approach in the Champions League, this will be crucial.

Factor in the necessity for Matuidi’s pressing and industry off-the-ball, however, and Sarri will likely have to leave one of Rabiot or Bentancur out every other game. Despite this, it’s a positive headache for Sarri to have and for once since his appointment, he can rely on someone other than Pjanic in the midfield to implement his playing philosophy.

With Rabiot excelling and Juventus scoring at will, the bianconeri are primed for a strong second-half of the season. It’s now time for their other Bosman signing Aaron Ramsey to follow in Rabiot’s footsteps and pick up the slack. Can he do it?

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Inter Reinforcing Ahead Of Scudetto Push

Before the season started, many expected Inter to challenge Juventus for the Scudetto, but few foresaw the nerazzurri going toe-to-toe with the Italian champions like this. After seventeen match-days just eight goals and their head-to-head encounter separates the two at the top of the table. Since his arrival, Antonio Conte has already imprinted a clear identity at the San Siro, something that was lacking for years at the club.

Along with his trade-mark 3-5-2 and defensive solidity, the former Chelsea tactician has ensured his Inter side are among the toughest to break down in the peninsula. However, their lack of squad depth has been pegged as the defining factor in their title bid. As a result, Inter sporting director Giuseppe Marotta appears to be dipping into their war-chest and taking to the January mercato aggressively.

Reports suggest that former Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal is on his way to the club, but Inter will reportedly not stop there. In recent times, they have also been linked with Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam, Marcos Alonso, Olivier Giroud and Marcos Acuna among many other names, highlighting clearly Inter’s intent. While their list of targets grows as the mercato is set to open, Inter’s needs are clear: Midfield depth, another wing-back to compete with Asamoah and Biraghi, and a striker to provide Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez with some much-needed rest. Alexis Sanchez is also expected to return to action shortly, giving Conte another weapon in the final third. Beyond bolstering the side in key areas, Inter’s reported winter activity highlights one thing clearly: The title is there for the taking this season and they’re going for it.

When Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi went down injured, Conte’s men struggled to create chances and Inter barely overcame their opponents in tight affairs. Recognizing this, Inter loosened their purse strings. That’s where the experience of Vidal comes into play. Despite being on the wrong side of 30, the Chilean remains one of football’s elite box-to-box midfielders and will add some valuable experience in the middle of the park, in what is a relatively young midfield trio.

Up front, Lukaku and Martinez deserve a break. Up until now, the former Manchester United man has featured in all of Inter’s 17 Serie A clashes while his Argentine counterpart has appeared in 16 of the nerazzurri’s domestic affairs. While Sanchez’s injury complicated things, Conte will be eager to add another forward to his offensive ranks. Given he’s already familiar with Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud, the Frenchman’s arrival makes perfect sense. The former Arsenal man still has plenty to offer as a link-up man in the final third and could form quite the partnership with any of the nerazzurri’s front-men.

While adding another fullback is a luxury more than a necessity given Inter’s depth out wide, it demonstrates Conte and Marotta won’t stop until they’ve built a comprehensive side capable of competing on multiple fronts. With the title race likely going down to the wire this season for the first time in years, Inter are reinforcing significantly and won’t go down without a fight. Brace yourselves, we’ve got a title race.

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Dejan Kulusevski is Everything Juventus Need

Today it was reported that Juventus beat fierce rivals Inter to the signature of Atalanta’s highly-rated Dejan Kulusevski. After spending last season with gli Orobici’s youth setup, the 19-year-old was loaned out to Parma this season and has since broken onto the scene in Italy, with four goals and seven assists in 17 appearances.

Beyond his output, Kulusevski has established himself as one of the league’s rising stars and is a major reason behind Parma’s positive start to the season. The Swedish international will remain at the Tardini for the rest of the season to continue his development. But who exactly is Kulusevski?

Player Profile:

Position: Attacking midfielder/winger.

Age: 19.

Height: 6’1 (186cm)

Nationality: Sweden.

Preferred Foot: Left.

Since arriving in Italy, Kulusevski has proven to be an extremely versatile player, capable of playing through the middle or on the wing. Given Parma’s counter-attacking setup, the 19-year-old has often been deployed on the left-wing, making the most of his impressive pace. The former Atalanta man thrives when tasked with running behind opposition defences, however, is equally capable at picking the final ball.

In fact, only Lazio’s Luis Alberto has more assists (11) than him this season. Kulusevski’s departure next summer will leave a gaping hole in Parma’s attack as he has played a direct role in 11 of gli Crociati’s 24 goals this season thus far. Moreover, the 19-year-old is currently averaging 2.4 key passes per game and has registered over 30 shot assists on the season already.

For context, Juventus superstars Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo are averaging 1.8 and 1.7 key passes per game, respectively. Bar Pjanic, no Juventus midfielder comes close to Kulusevski’s production in the final third. And even then, the Bosnian international’s output still pales in comparison to the Parma man. While it remains to be seen if the Swedish international can translate his breakout season to a big team, one thing’s for sure: He will add some much-needed creativity, precision, and unpredictability to an otherwise machine-like and sloppy Juventus.

Given his creativity and versatility, it begs the question: Where exactly will Kulusevski fit in Sarri’s plans? The question itself raises more questions than answers. After all, the Parma man can play a multitude of roles and Sarri is yet to define his best formation with the bianconeri. Is it a 4-3-1-2 or a 4-3-3? Time will tell.

From a young age, the 19-year-old mainly featured as a trequartista, but has since evolved as a winger under Roberto D’Aversa’s watchful eye. He’s also played deeper in the midfield with Atalanta’s youth teams and has incredible progression numbers to match a mezz’ala role. As the season wears on and Kulusevski joins his new team in the summer, his role will undoubtedly become clearly defined. There is much uncertainty surrounding his position as of right now, but he will provide Sarri with valuable tactical flexibility.

Another factor to consider in this equation is Juventus’ future acquisitions: Will they finally splash the cash for a big name midfielder? The bianconeri are in dire need of a technical midfielder since Pogba’s departure, but appear to have addressed that with Kulusevski’s signing. While the two players couldn’t be more different in terms of what they bring to the table, the Swedish international has proven to be quite the creative force in the final third. The reality is Juventus wouldn’t drop nearly forty million euros on him if they didn’t believe he can play a significant role as early as next season.

Moving forward, Kulusevski will need to demonstrate his end-product on a more consistent basis. After all, it’s only his first season in the top flight. Regardless, the 19-year-old appears to have all the tools necessary to take the next step in his career and establish himself as an elite creator at the top level; as long as the bianconeri are ready to properly accommodate him and give him the playing time he requires to fully develop. If Kulusevski and Juve can do this, he’s exactly what the Italian champions have been missing all these years.

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Mid-Season Awards: Fantasy Serie A’s Best XI

With the New Year on the way, let’s take a look back at the first half of the season and highlight Fantasy Serie A’s top performers. Without further ado, here’s your XI!

Goalkeeper - 

Samir Handanovic (Inter): The experienced shot-stopper has been in exceptional form for Inter this season and is Fantasy Serie A’s top goalkeeper, registering 73 fantasy points so far. The 35-year-old is a big reason behind the nerazzurri’s league-leading defence and has shown no signs of slowing down. 19.23M to slot him into your teams today!

Defenders -

Robin Gosens (Atalanta): The 25-year-old has picked up from exactly where he left off last season and has been a driving force behind Atalanta’s success. While he’s categorized as a defender in Fantasy Serie A, Gosens has made a name for himself as a wing-back in Gasperini’s 3-4-3, and already has four goals and three assists on the season, which is good for 68 points. Could be yours for 17.91M.

Stefan de Vrij (Inter): While Handanovic gets much of the praise for Inter’s steady defence, the shot-stopper would not have as many clean sheets if it weren’t for Stefan de Vrij. Since joining the nerazzurri, the Dutchman has taken his game to another level and is arguably the best defender in Italy at the moment. His impressive exploits on the season have earned him 71 fantasy points, the third-most among defenders. 18.7M if you want de Vrij in your teams.

Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus): After an indifferent year, Bonucci has returned to his past form and has been exceptional in Giorgio Chiellini’s absence. While Juventus’ defence have been more vulnerable than in recent seasons, Bonucci’s experience and calmness in possession have proven crucial. He’s even chipped in with a few goals, bringing him to 76 points on the season. You can add him into your teams today for 20.02M.

Aleksandar Kolarov (Roma): Kolarov has notched five goals on the season and has undoubtedly established himself as the undisputed best free-kick taker in Italy. In addition, the veteran defender has registered two assists and has lead Roma to five clean sheets with him on the pitch. Given his impressive exploits, it’s no surprise Kolarov has earned the most points among defenders with 79. Along with his output, comes his hefty price-tag of 20.81M.

Midfielders - 

Joao Pedro (Cagliari): While the Cagliari man is listed as a midfielder in Fantasy Serie A, Rolando Maran has deployed him mainly as a forward; a decision most fantacalcio players will be looking to take advantage of. Currently, the Brazilian is on 11 goals on the season and has earned the second-most fantasy points with 102, behind only Ciro Immobile. In fact, he’s scored six goals in his last six games and is well worth a punt even at 24M.

Luis Alberto (Lazio): Simply put, the Lazio man is an assist machine. Since joining the capital club, Luis Alberto has taken his game to another level, putting past inconsistencies well behind him. With just under half the season played, the Spaniard leads the league with 11 assists and may just be the deadliest final-ball specialist in the world. His three goals and his impressive assist tally bring him to 90 fantasy points on the year. At 23.71M, Luis Alberto is worth a shot.

Alejandro Gomez (Atalanta): What kind of a fantasy team would it be without Papu Gomez? The diminutive play-maker does it all for Atalanta, whether it’s splitting open the defence or finding the back of the net himself. This season, Gomez is already on five goals and six assists and has continued to be Atalanta’s creative hub. His output is good for 86 fantasy points and he’s currently available at 22.65M.

Forwards - 

Ciro Immobile (Lazio): Undoubtedly this season’s fantacalcio king so far with an astonishing 113 points. After all, that’s what 17 goals and five assists get you. Beyond being in sensational form in front of goal, Immobile has lead the line wonderfully alongside Joaquin Correa and has Lazio in an unlikely title race. You’d be missing out if you don’t have him in your teams…cough up 24M!

Romelu Lukaku (Inter): After a rough end to life in Manchester, Lukaku joined forces with Antonio Conte and has not looked back since. Alongside Lautaro Martinez, the Belgian international has been in fine form notching an impressive 12 goals. Without him, Inter would not been in the conversation for the Scudetto and Lukaku will look to continue his goalscoring exploits as the season wears on. He’s currently racked up 93 fantasy points and would run you 24M.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus): The Portuguese superstar got off to a poor start to the season, but has since turned it on for Juventus with goals in his last five Serie A games. Given his recent form, expect Ronaldo to hit the ground running in 2020 and build on his 79 fantasy points. While he’s arguably already in your teams based on name alone, he’ll prove to be well worth his 20.81M price-tag.

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Fantacalcio Watch: Joao Pedro

Every season, Serie A springs new surprises on its faithful and this year has been no different. Whether it’s Atalanta’s continued rise, Cagliari’s astonishing run of results or the newly-promoted Hellas Verona’s solidity, this season has seen no shortage of head-scratchers. Cagliari’s Joao Pedro falls under this list.

Before this season, the Brazilian forward was a relatively unknown name to most Serie A fans, but has since established himself as one of the league’s deadliest forwards in front of goal. Averaging a goal every 139 minutes this season, the 27-year-old has eclipsed his past exploits with his 11 goals on the year.

In fact, he’s currently third in the capoconniere race, only behind the in-form Ciro Immobile and Serie A newcomer Romelu Lukaku. While his goal-scoring exploits may not last the entire season, he’s currently ahead of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. What’s important to note from the scorer’s table, however, is not only their tallies but shots taken. Immobile, for example, has 51. Lukaku, the other striker ahead of Joao Pedro, has 40 while Ronaldo has a league-leading 58.

Unlike his competitors, the Cagliari man does not need too many opportunities to score and has 11 goals from 29 shots, for an impressive 38 percent conversion rate. No striker in Italy has a better rate currently and only Immobile comes close at the moment with 33 percent. Joao Pedro’s run of form has Cagliari dreaming of European football and rightfully so. The Sardinian club currently sit comfortably in sixth place, four points ahead of Parma, having beaten the likes of Napoli and Atalanta among others.

Before the year came to a close, Joao Pedro was arguably the league’s most in-form forward, scoring six goals and registering one assist in his last six games in league play. With a clash against Juventus on the cards, expect the Brazilian to be raring to go. After all, the bianconeri haven’t exactly looked solid at the back and have already conceded 17 goals on the season.

While Joao Pedro wasn’t the first name in your fantasy teams ahead of the new season, he is surely on everyone’s radar now. He may not have the name appeal of a Ronaldo or a Mertens in the final third, but he has proven to be more effective than both thus far.

In fact, the Brazilian has earned the second-most fantasy points on the season with 102, only behind the dazzling Immobile. His price-tag of 24 million euros may prove to be too steep, but given his recent run of form, he’s definitely worth considering.

Currently, Cagliari’s 33 goals are joint for fourth-best in the league for now and don’t appear to be stopping anytime soon. In Rolando Maran’s set-up, Radja Nainggolan plays behind the Brazilian and Giovanni Simeone and have established themselves as one of the league’s most in-sync trios.

Given their technical midfield and bombing fullbacks, chances are never hard to come by in Sardinia. And Joao Pedro has proven he doesn’t need too many of them to be effective either. For this reason, the Cagliari man features on this edition of fantacalcio watch and is arguably worthy of further consideration in your teams. With a game against Juventus on deck, keep your eyes peeled for Cagliari’s number ten. He may just impress you enough for you to add him on your team.

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Do Juventus have a Pjanic Problem?

When Juventus triggered Miralem Pjanic’s release clause, many thought the Italian champions had secured one of the world’s elite midfielders and increased the gap between them and the rest of the field. While that looked to be the case in the Bosnian international’s first two seasons with the club, Pjanic has since slowed down.

Last season, Massimiliano Allegri deployed him in a new position as the side’s regista; the deepest-lying midfielder on the field. Initially, it worked out for Juventus and the former Roma midfielder used his range of passing to dictate proceedings. As the season wore on, however, Pjanic struggled to impose his game on the opposition and proved to be a defensive liability.

Under Maurizio Sarri many expected the 29-year-old to return to his dazzling form, but Pjanic hasn’t exactly kicked on. Playing in front of the defence, the midfielder was supposed to be an essential part to Sarri’s offensive schemesoffering the link between the back four and the front three. Jorginho acted as this link to Sarri both at Napoli and at Chelsea, while the Bosnian seemed like the right man for the job at Juve.

Pjanic, however, has continued to struggle in this deeper role and often opts for the safe option rather than the line-breaking pass Sarri so desperately craves. His pass completion rate is near an impressive 90 per cent, but it is not representative of the impact he’s had on games. If anything, it demonstrates how passive he is, rather than taking control of games. While his fellow midfielders lack in quality and Pjanic is tasked with filling multiple roles at times, the former Roma man often puts in anonymous performances for the bianconeri. 

In addition to his dwindling impact in possession, Pjanic offers no defensive cover as the side’s regista, leaving the back four often exposed on the counter. This season, the bianconeri have conceded the most goals they have in recent years, having already shipped 17 on the year.

While many associated Andrea Pirlo to pinpoint passing and deadly set-pieces, his defensive impact was often forgotten, playing in the same role as Pjanic. He may not have been the most rugged of players, but Pirlo always contributed significantly defensively, whether it was interceptions or tackles. Pjanic has fallen short in both those categories thus far. Given the Bosnian’s importance to Sarri’s tactics, this is not something that could go unaddressed.

The good news for Sarri is that he’s been presented with an alternative to Pjanic in recent weeks. After an indifferent start to life in black and whiteRodrigo Bentancur has impressed over the last few games and has now established himself as a set-starter in the midfield. Currently, the Uruguayan international has been playing on the right of Pjanic as a mezz’ala, but has regularly played as the side’s regista both under Allegri and under Sarri, at times.

Given Pjanic’s struggles, Sarri would be wise to swap them positions and field the 29-year-old higher up the pitch with Bentancur slotting in at regista. After all, Pjanic made a name for himself at Roma playing as a number eight. Alongside Radja Nainggolan and ahead of Kevin Strootman, Pjanic had a career year, notching 10 goals and 12 assists. What wouldn’t Juventus give for similar output?

With less defensive responsibility and more freedom of movement, Pjanic has demonstrated he’s up there with the world’s best and is something Sarri should look to foster. Given his past exploits as a mezz’ala, it makes Sarri’s decision to keep fielding him deep all the more puzzling. Factor in Bentancur’s recent form and it makes the switch a no-brainer.

As Juventus head into a crucial part of their season, they’re going to need Pjanic in top form. A slight position change may be exactly what the doctor ordered and the solution to Juventus’ “Pjanic problem”.

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