Cengiz stops Roma going Under

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Having gone six Serie A games without a win, Roma badly needed a saviour to stop their slide down the table. Step forward Cengiz Under, who scored the winner in the Giallorossi’s 1-0 victory over Verona last weekend.

Cengiz had endured a tough start to life in the Italian capital, failing to register a goal or assist in his first 16 appearances, yet the Turkish starlet needed just 43 seconds to veer in from the right and pull the trigger to move Roma to within a point of the Champions League places. Continue reading

Serie A Winter Review: Part 2

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If the Serie A title race is proving tighter than expected, it’s even more of a mish-mash in mid-table, where only three points separate Sampdoria in sixth place and Bologna down in 12th as the divide between top and bottom grows with each season. Milan’s summer splurge in the transfer market seemed a sure-fire sign of intent that they would go back to competing for the Scudetto, yet Leonardo Bonucci and co. find themselves nearer to the relegation zone than the top four.

For a long time, Samp threatened to break into the Champions League reckoning with their stylish displays, among them a 3-2 victory over Juventus, but four defeats in their last five games have seen them fall nine points behind fifth-placed Lazio. Furthermore, sixth spot is not so much of a certainty, judging by the way Atalanta have bounced back from their culture shock of juggling the League with European football. Six wins in eight suggest last term’s finish of fourth was no flash in the pan. Continue reading

Serie A Winter Review: Part 1

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Despite there being another matchday before the end of 2017, Serie A tradition says we have reached the midway point the season, and that will come as music to the ears of Marek Hamsik’s Napoli, who top the table after 18 games and just one defeat. The most recent round of fixtures also threatened to shape the title race, with Inter and Roma falling off the pace and Juventus emerging as the Partenopei’s likeliest rivals.

A lack of serious investment last summer led to many writing off Napoli’s ability to compete, but eight straight wins quickly silenced the critics. Points dropped to Inter and Juve, as well as an early Champions League exit, renewed those doubts, yet victories in their previous two matches see them perched at the summit. It’s testament to the southerners keeping their best players and Maurizio Sarri continuing to get the most out of them. Continue reading

Opportunity knocks for Roma

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Having failed two of their Scudetto auditions against Inter and Napoli so far, opportunity certainly knocks for Roma when they face Juventus on Saturday. The Giallorossi lie just three points behind their opponents and have a game in hand on them, making this the biggest test of their title credentials in years. However, standing in their way are a Bianconeri side that are well on their way towards looking back to their best.

The Lupi approach their trip to Turin without a defeat in their last 10 League games, although they were eliminated from the Coppa Italia by Torino midweek. Furthermore, they finally have a settled squad and system in place, coached by the philosophical Eusebio Di Francesco, and appear a far cry from the team that were ultimately undone by the political turmoil involving Luciano Spalletti and Francesco Totti over the past year. Continue reading

Calhanoglu needs Kaka’s Milan return

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It’s not been the easiest of starts for Hakan Calhanoglu at Milan. The Turkey midfielder was earmarked as the man to drive the Rossoneri back to the upper echelons of Italian and, in time, European football, but instead he’s already been dubbed as a lost cause by some. Yet when there’s a will, there’s a way, and the Diavolo’s desire to bring back Kaka could just be what Calhanoglu needs to find his feet at San Siro.

Milan splashed out €20m to sign the 23-year-old from Bayer Leverkusen last summer. If that wasn’t enough of a show of faith on the Rossoneri’s part, they also gave him the club’s mythical No 10 jersey, previously worn by the likes of Gianni Rivera, Ruud Gullit and Clarence Seedorf. However, form and fitness has since been sorely lacking from Calhanoglu’s game, which has yielded just one goal and two assists in 12 Serie A appearances. Continue reading

VAR: Serie A’s new scapegoat

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It’s not been a vintage week for refereeing in Serie A. Just days after Piero Giacomelli reportedly prompted Lazio to consider pulling out of the campaign altogether after his decision to send off Ciro Immobile and not award them a penalty during their 3-1 defeat to Torino, Cagliari boss Diego Lopez suggested smaller clubs were being penalised by video assistant referees (VAR) in the wake of his side losing Roma in last-gasp fashion.

VAR had been installed to curb officiating controversies, yet it has only served to raise more questions than answers – through no fault of its own. As it were, why didn’t Giacomelli review the penalty appeal and incident that led to Immobile’s dismissal with the technology? And just why did the Roma-Cagliari ref selectively turn Edin Dzeko’s dive into a penalty and let Federico Fazio’s goal stand, despite the clear suspicions of a handball?

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Gattuso’s Milan finally get going

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It may have been a week later than planned, but Gennaro Gattuso’s Milan are up and running after a 2-1 win against Bologna on Sunday. Giacomo Bonaventura duly delivered the goods either side of half-time, and even if it wasn’t all plain sailing at San Siro, there were enough signs to suggest the result could mark a watershed in the Rossoneri’s campaign.

Something had to change after a 2-2 draw with Serie A basement boys Benevento and a 2-0 defeat to Rijeka in the Europa League, and Gattuso did something that predecessor Vincenzo Montella failed to as he switched to a 4-3-3 formation. Montella had persisted with trying to shoehorn Leonardo Bonucci, Mateo Musacchio and Alessio Romagnoli into a 3-5-2, but Milan rarely looked comfortable, culminating in the Coach’s dismissal.

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Insigne injury exposes Napoli flaws

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All good things must come to an end, and Napoli will be hoping theirs doesn’t with Lorenzo Insigne’s injury. The forward is likely to miss the Partenopei’s Champions League decider against Feyenoord on Wednesday, and although his side should have more than enough in the tank to beat the Dutchmen, it surely raises questions about how Maurizio Sarri manages his squad.

Napoli raced to the top of Serie A after they started the season with 11 wins in their first 12 games, until a 2-1 defeat to Manchester City on October 17 set the tone for three more in their next 10 matches. That run of results saw them not only drop to third in the Italian top flight but also risk missing out on the knockout stages of the Champions League.

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Napoli and Juve eye showdown signal

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We may only be a third into the season, yet Serie A is already gearing up for one of its most important fixtures as Napoli and Juventus lock horns on Friday, in an encounter that pits the table-topping Partenopei with the winners of six straight Scudetti. It also sees Gonzalo Higuain possibly return to the San Paolo, just four days after the striker went under the knife for hand surgery.

Twelve wins and no defeats have allowed Neapolitans to dream of a first Serie A title since the heady days of Diego Maradona and co. back in 1990, and victory over Juve would open up a seven-point gap between themselves and the Old Lady at the top of the table. But while Max Allegri’s side appear to have lost some of their invincibility, they remain the team to beat in Italy – and the team Napoli must topple if their Scudetto tilt is to stand the test of an entire campaign. Continue reading

Spalletti’s Inter revolution in full swing

Inter take on Cagliari this Saturday, knowing a win would send them top of Serie A if Napoli trip up against Udinese. From the impenetrable performances of Milan Skriniar at the back to Mauro Icardi’s prolific form at the other end, however, the man behind the Nerazzurri’s road back to the top is Coach Luciano Spalletti.

What makes Spalletti’s start at Inter all the more impressive is how he achieved it. The 58-year-old had just guided Roma to a runners-up finish in the Italian top flight but nonetheless abandoned ship for the Beneamata, who were in complete disarray after a campaign that saw them make three coaching changes and fail to qualify for European competition. Continue reading