Allegri’s time is up

When Massimiliano Allegri was hired to replace Antonio Conte, many Juventus fans were opposed to such a move. He was met with discontent and his car was pelted with eggs and even spat at by fans lined up to “welcome him” to Juve.

Fast forward to the end of the 2014/15 season and Allegri has turned doubters into believers making himself a hero in the eyes of many Bianconeri fans… So what changed and when was the turning point? There are several factors to consider:

1) First turning point was the 2017 Champions League Final in Cardiff. Whatever happened at half-time has left a mark on certain players with Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci leaving and so forth. Alves would later claim he was “unhappy” at Juve

2) Why would Alves be unhappy? It does seem he was not enjoying his football. He only improved after returning from injury and after being given some freedom to attack on the right flank. Could it be the same story again with another attack-minded right-back in Cancelo? Cancelo seems unhappy too. The same could be said about left-back Alex Sandro who had a remarkable stretch with Juve before everything changed after Cardiff too. Sandro seems disengaged in most games the last 22 months.

3) Could it be Allegri is just allergic to talented players who have the desire to attack and attack more as opposed to track back and focus on defensive duties? This could explain why Allegri has often preferred Mattia de Sciglio over Cancelo?

4) What about the fate of two attackers: Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala? Mandzukic has played as a left-winger, even at times as a left wing-back, for over a year before returning to central striker following the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo. As for Dybala, he’s been used in multiple positions which do not suit his characteristics. Again, imagine Dybala, who is not physically imposing, has been asked to track back!

5) Not only attackers and full-backs are being misused, but also Juve’s most creative midfielder Miralem Pjanic is tasked with tracking back, defending, tackling and other defensive duties instead of saving his energy and turning his focus into creating chances for Juve’s attackers! Who’ll create if Pjanic is too busy tracking back! It sure is not going to be Blaise Matuidi, whose control and first touch leaves a lot to be desired, and it is definitely not Sami Khedira- who’s been injured this season and then had other health problems plus is slower than ever and never was a creative player.

Juve’s other midfielder Emre Can can play as a right-back, centre-back or a defensive midfield but he too is not a creative force. The same applies to Rodrigo Bentancur who is still very young and needs time to mature and find consistency.

6) Initially, Allegri’s football made proper use of rotating players and changing tactics- even in the same match at times. However, this has proven to be a failure the last 22 months with the XI coming out often looking like complete strangers. Top teams build harmony by often using the same XI and of course making the necessary tweaks on a regular basis. Allegri went too far, just have a closer look at certain Serie A match. It proved costly.

7) To make matters worse, Allegri not only rotated players and changed tactics, but he also changed the position of certain players on multiple occasions, and often at the expense of the team’s performances and results. How often have we seen Juan Cuadrado used as a right-back? What about the older, slower Andrea Barzagli also being used as a right-back? What about Alex Sandro used across multiple positions from left-back to left midfielder and even left-winger. And the list goes on.

8) Undefined tactics are also one consequence of Allegri’s constant change. What makes matters worse is coaches- such as the ones of Atletico Madrid (well, for the 2nd half of the game in Madrid) and of Ajax as well as even Young Boys have outsmarted and outfoxed Allegri. Diego Simeone saw how predictable Juve were in the 1st half in Madrid and he simply urged his team on to expose Juve and their tame football.

9) The repetitive mistakes are of grave concern. They could have been more costly yet in Serie A the weak opposition, lack of consistency and other factors have meant Juve a big margin of error to work with. Even last season, Napoli left Turin with a precious 1-0 win yet failed to build on it… Napoli had the momentum yet they bottled it.

10) Allegri’s reputation in big games has taken a hit: against Napoli last season, Juve needed a draw and he seemed intent on settling for a draw, even the 0-0 tie without showing much attacking desire even at home! Eventually he was punished with a 1-0 loss before Napoli gave it all away.

Against Atletico in Madrid, Allegri was pleased with a 0-0 draw as well and aimed to do nothing more than sit back and let Atletico have their way. The outcome was a 0-2 defeat.

He also made mistakes against both Young Boys and Manchester United. Against United in particular, with the score reading 1-0 Juve’s way, he opted for an unnecessary change by bringing on Andrea Barzagli. The outcome was a 1-2 defeat in Turin.

11) Juve’s defensive unit has conceded many times from set-pieces- via both corner kicks and free-kicks. A wise coach would work on those visible weaknesses. Instead Juve conceded against Atleti from a corner-kick followed by a free-kick. Against Ajax, the winning game for the Dutch team came from a corner-kick!

12) Several bad results hinted the future was not going to be all bright: The home defeat versus Man United was the first warning. Yes, Juve put in a good display for 80 minutes, but in football you need to play well and focus for 90 minutes. Allegri’s substitution and the team’s obvious weakness from set-pieces proved costly.

Against Swiss side Young Boys, Juve lost as well. The excuse was the game did not matter, however, in Europe a team must always try to win regardless of how important or unimportant the game is. You send a clear message when you take every game seriously.

Against Atletico in Madrid, Juve’s players and Allegri were outfought, out thought and out played by Atleti’s player and manager Simeone. Allegri was too late to react to Simeone’s changes even though one could sense the game’s momentum had completed shifted towards Atleti’s advantage.

13) Even Juve’s greatest win this season, the 3-0 triumph over Atleti to overturn the result and advance to the quarter-finals was also aided by Atletico’s own mistakes, including those of manager Simeone who surprisingly tried to defend a 2-0 lead from the first minute. When Juve were up 2-0, one felt it was too late to even contemplate an Atleti comeback of sorts. They wilted and duly got what they deserve with a 3-0 resounding defeat. Ironically, Juve’s win would serve as their downfall as Ajax’s players and their coach took a hold of the game’s video and surely noticed Atletico offered no fight. Ajax did not sit back in Turin.

14) Other notable Juventus wins are very few to the extent they can be counted on one hand. The 1-0 away win at Old Trafford was a great performance with Juve utterly dominating the first half against Manchester United. The other decent performance was the 2-0 away win over Valencia despite Cristiano Ronaldo receiving a red card in the first half

15) Allegri last season depended heavily on Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain to save him. This season he is counting heavily on Ronaldo. No one can deny how last season Dybala saved Juve time and again earlier in the season and then Higuain as well as Dybala combined to save Juve against Tottenham over the two-legged tie to advance to the quarter-finals to face Real Madrid. Hence, Allegri has not been playing a team’s game but rather relying on individual talents to tip the balance to Juve’s side.

16)  Allegri used to complain about how Barcelona had Lionel Messi and Real had Ronaldo, yet here he is in Ronaldo’s first season not taking proper advantage of the Portuguese star’s presence. While Ronaldo has taken most of the team’s free-kicks this season, that is exactly where one can first claim Allegri is losing the plot. Why would you have Ronaldo take most, if not all, the free-kicks when you have in Pjanic one of the best free-kick takers in both Italy and Europe? And to add to that, you also have Dybala who is very lethal from the right side of the pitch.

Allegri should have integrated Ronaldo in a better and more appropriate way. In addition, the team does not create enough for Ronaldo. Imagine the best finisher in the history of the Champions League is playing for Juve, yet he has been starved of service for majority of the games in Europe due to Allegri’s approach.

17) Just as Allegri’s hiring was a gamble, if Allegri is fired then Juve will simply be taking another gamble though a very necessary one. If the objective is to win Serie A, then there are several managers who could have achieved that with this squad. If the main objective is to compete in Europe, then Allegri’s approach has proven futile on multiple occasions.

18) Fitness and injury excuses have been used as well yet why are several of the the main contenders not complaining or suffering the same way? The likes of Barcelona, who used Messi often and even against weaker sides in La Liga, are still cruising and have made it to the semi-final. Forget about Manchester City who are battling on three fronts and forget Liverpool who are still battling on two fronts, but what about even Ajax, who are also locked in a tight title race with domestic rivals PSV?

19) Of course Allegri is not to blame for everything but why was he so easily convinced of Bonucci’s return? Allegri was the one to leave Bonucci with the crowd when Juve hosted Porto in the Champions League. At the time, Allegri was praised for being brave enough to bench a key starter in an important game. Is there a complicit agreement between management and Allegri to keep him in charge as long as he did not demand much in the market? Above all the signing of Ronaldo must be every manager’s dream and by clear indication coach Allegri had nothing to do with it.

20) With former France and Juve star Zinedine Zidane returning to Real, that took away one more option for Allegri in terms of available jobs. Italy is in the hands of Roberto Mancini while Chelsea are facing a transfer ban, and Manchester City are firmly under Pep Guardiola’s guidance. Barcelona will not be making a coaching change, in particular with everything appearing to be in order at this point. This leaves Arsenal and Manchester United, yet even United seem to have settled for Ole Gunnar Solskjær. This means Allegri senses his options are limited yet also Juve’s options to replace him are limited as well. He perhaps feels a greater sense of security in this ironic situation.

It is highly unlikely to see Juve come to agreement with Jose Mourinho- a coach who appears in decline and whose methods have been questioned regularly in recent years- while Jurgen Klopp seems to be happy in charge of Liverpool.

21) Again the focus returns on that Atleti game in Turin. The 3-0 win over Atletico masked all the squad’s visible weaknesses. Ajax were clever enough to know the team’s defensive unit is shaky and would be even worse without Giorgio Chiellini. Had Juve faced a better equipped side, the results may have been much worse. In addition, Juve’s midfield lacks those who can string a few passes together and is not imposing. When Juve lost to Real in Cardiff, the 2nd half showed how the likes of Casemiro can make a difference. Midfield battles win you games, and consequently can cost you games.

22) Allegri does not care to entertain the fans, and he has made that clear more than once- even stating those seeking entertainment ought to go watch a “circus!”

However, there has to be some responsibility towards fans, in particular those who travel from across the world or pay hefty fees in order to watch their beloved team in the stadium. One thing is to entertain and another completely different criteria is being courageous in your approach. Allegri has chosen the cowardly path on multiple occasions. He did so in Madrid yet escaped after Ronaldo’s remarkable hat-trick. He did so again in Amsterdam, showing he did not learn from his mistakes, but this time it did not payoff since Juve exited in the quarter-finals.

Even in Turin, the XI he put on the field seemed disengaged and at times afraid though Juve were expected to prevail due to the experience factor among other things. A coach needs to prepare his team mentally as well. If the players are afraid as Allegri admitted, then he has failed those players at some points.

Perhaps, the biggest thing is that Allegri’s voice is no longer heard in the sense some players are tired of his demands- such as tracking back- while others have simply blocked him out completely in the sense they pretend they are following his instructions yet show little desire to do so during competitive matches.

The odds are stacked against Allegri. He did well till Cardiff in 2017, however, it has been a downhill ride ever since. Around 22 months of unconvincing football culminating with a heartless and toothless performance against Ajax in Turin.

His obsession with winning trophies and avoiding defeat have often led him to a fear of losing games. When he thinks a 0-0 would do such as versus Napoli last season or even against Atleti away and most recently Ajax at home, Allegri would do his best to get the 0-0 even if in his pregame press conferences he would claim otherwise. Allegri would promote attacking the opponent only for the expected to happen during games: Juve sitting back with the aim of getting the 0-0 draw.

Juve got what they deserve but above all it is time for Allegri to leave in May 2019.

Cristiano Ronaldo in Turin: the Biggest Transfer in Years

Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Juventus cast a shadow even on World Cup matches! The Portuguese superstar’s transfer from Real Madrid has garnered so much attention and considering Ronaldo is a massive brand in his own right, many eyes will turn to Juventus and Serie A overall to watch his every move.

Regardless of what other transfers get confirmed, be it Gareth Bale or anyone else, nothing will come close to the massive interested generated by Ronaldo’s transfer. So what does the CR7 brand mean to Juve supporters?

The Bianconeri will be watching a superstar perform in the club’s shirt but Ronaldo’s presence may also unlock defensive opponents trying to stop the likes of Douglas Costa and Paulo Dybala. If coach Max Allegri is able to use all three Ronaldo-Dybala-Costa in his starting XI & use them effectively, then Juve will be a very hard team to stop for almost any opponent. Defenders will have to pay attention to Ronaldo and that should free up Juve’s Argentine star Dybala.

Goals will be expected and they are likely to come in plenty for Ronaldo. While Serie A is more tactical and defensive-oriented when compared to both the Premier League & La Liga, Ronaldo should expect even a little more attention from Juve’s opponents. This does not mean the Portuguese #7 will not score many goals. He has shown he can do deliver the goals not just in England and Spain but also for Portugal, whether in qualifiers or tournaments such as his hat-trick in the World Cup against Spain.

In addition, Ronaldo is the all-time leading scorer in the Champions League. His 120 goals lead the way with- you guessed it- Barcelona’s Lionel Messi in second place with 100 goals. It is hard to argue against Ronaldo’s record with the Portuguese proving he can score goals, and in abundance, in any tournament or league he has played in so far.

He is also renowned for his work ethic and his full dedication to maintaining not just high fitness levels but also trying to be the best athlete out there in every match he plays. Thus, his new teammates will benefit from seeing how committed the Portuguese is to perfecting everything from the timing of his runs to his shots on goal.

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Off the pitch, and as mentioned earlier, the CR7 brand is massive. Having Ronaldo means you are going to sell out games, sell even more merchandise and attract more sponsors. In just 24 hours, Juventus sold 520,000 shirts bearing the famous Portuguese star’s name. Moreover, and as expected, the season tickets have already sold out. One cannot begin to fathom the benefits emerging from the signing of Ronaldo- both on and off the pitch.

He has also turned the football world’s attention back to Serie A. As Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho noted recently the Italian league now has in Ronaldo one of the two best players in the world with the other- Messi- currently in the Spanish La Liga.

For Juve fans the ultimate question is not whether Ronaldo brings the Old Lady closer to an 8th consecutive league title but rather to a third triumph in Europe’s elite competition- the Champions League! Will Ronaldo be lifting the cup with the “Big Ears” come next May?

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Buffon to end Juventus career!

On Thursday, Italy legend Gianluigi Buffon confirmed the end of his Azzurri & Juventus career. Buffon’s decision signals the end of an era for both Italy and Juve- with the goalkeeper perhaps deserving of a Ballon d’Or based on his performances for the Italians during Germany 2006.

As for his beloved club, Buffon is set to leave Juve after 17 years which included some historic moments and memorable achievements along with some painful losses. He ends his Juve career having played the most minutes, ahead of even Alessandro Del Piero, as well as having broken multiple records. He has kept a clean sheet for 22 games in a single league season and did not concede a goal for 974 minutes- both a record for Italy’s top flight.

It would take pages to list his achievements and the titles he has won but surely winning the World Cup in 2006 must rank as one of the most memorable moments of his glittering career. Winning Serie B with Juve after opting to stay with the club despite relegation must be another defining moment in this giant’s career.

Against Verona, Buffon will don the Juve jersey for one last time. For many fans, in particularly Azzurri & Juve supporters, this will be a heartbreaking moment. We may never know whether Buffon’s decision was fully his or if the club’s management ushered him out in a more dignified manner to avoid a repeat of Del Piero’s exit.

For Fantasy Football managers, the thoughts will turn to next season when they can no longer count on the safe hands of Buffon but will have to pick Wojciech Szczesny if they are to rely on a Juve goalkeeper to earn fantasy points while playing www.seriea-fantasy.com

How Ventura Risks Eliminating Italy from World Cup 2018

A 1-0 defeat in Sweden has raised even further the possibility of Italy missing its first World Cup tournament in around 60 years. Former Torino coach Gian Piero Ventura has taken Italy on a roller coaster journey and unfortunately for Azzurri fans it has strictly been a downward spiral with no uptick in fortune.

Below are some of the main points behind Italy’s struggles:

1) Bad results and even poorer performances: The Azzurri were dismantled by Spain with Isco running the show. Things did not get better when Italy managed a 1-1 draw with Macedonia followed by an unconvincing 1-0 win at Albania.

The results were definitely poor but what is more troubling has been the bad performances. Italy’s struggles have been down to multiple factors but much revolves around Ventura’s inability to get the best out of his players.

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2) Players are uncertain of what are supposed to do: Imagine you are playing in a decisive play-off match and your team is down by one goal in Sweden, but you are unsure of your role on the pitch! Well, that is exactly how Lorzeno Insigne felt when subbed on with around 15 minutes left on the clock. Ventura played him out of position (again)! One of Italy’s brightest talents this season yet Insigne continues to be played out of position, or to be used in ways which hinder his skills.

3) Selection Nightmare: Ventura’s selection process has been controversial to say the least as he excluded the likes of Napoli’s Jorginho from the entire campaign before finally selecting him for the playoffs against Sweden! Jorginho and Insigne have built a solid understanding while both have played a critical role in Napoli’s rise to the top of Serie A.

Excluding Jorginho may perhaps be forgiven, yet Ventura’s decision to pick Eder defies all odds. Eder cannot start for Inter with stats showing the striker has not made a single start in Serie A- Eder has so far made 9 substitute appearances in Italy’s top flight in the 2017/18 campaign.

Eder’s curious case is but one example. In previous matches, Ventura opted to select Leonardo Spinazzola who had not featured for his club Atalanta during the first 4 matches in the current Serie A season. Thus, Spinazzola was clearly short on match fitness. One disappointing omission is perhaps that of his teammate Mattia Caldara who has been one of the most consistent centre-backs in Serie A over the last 15 months while also showing a knack for scoring goals.

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4) Italy’s Age Question: Ventura took over insisting he wants to rejuvenate the side yet he has taken Italy backwards several steps since taking charge. 

Performances and results aside, Ventura has also failed to blend in younger faces into the squad. Against Sweden, the likes of Andrea Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi were both selected despite being 36 and 34 years old respectively. While selecting Juventus legend Gianluigi Buffon makes sense considering the vast experience he possesses as a goalkeeper and his much needed leadership, having Barzagli and De Rossi start is confounding. Both cannot cover much space anymore and both would be expected to struggle against a physical Swedish team. However, Ventura decided to start both.

5) Conte vs Ventura: Current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte guided Italy to some solid displays during Euro 2016 despite having a less talented squad at his disposal. Conte’s attack consisted of Eder and Graziano Pellè. Ventura has had the choice of picking between the Best Player in Italy during the Month of October- based on detailed Fantasy Football stats- in the shape of Ciro Immobile and Torino’s top scorer Andrea Belotti. What does Ventura do? He rightfully selects both in his squad, yet mistakenly, again, forces both to play in the Starting XI despite the clear indications the two cannot perform well together.

Conte’s midfield options were rather limited as well, with injury depriving him of key players such as Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio. Ventura can start one or both of the midfielders yet has continued to misuse Verratti, just as he has misused Insigne.

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6) Wrong Formation: Ventura used his beloved 4-2-4 formation against Spain and not only did it backfire but it also led to a humiliating defeat in Madrid. Despite lacking the players to produce the result while using a 4-2-4 formation, Ventura continued to press with it. Ventura clearly failed to acknowledge his squad is not suited for 4-2-4.

Against Sweden, he switched to a 3-5-2 yet that backfired as well because of a number of reasons.

7) Confusion, Chaos & Tinkering: You would forgive a coach for making changes during the early stages of his reign, yet for Ventura to reinforce his uncertainty before and during the two-match playoffs against Sweden spells disaster for Italy.

Ventura has yet to settle on a formation and moved to a 3-5-2 for the first game in Sweden while he is expected to change again for Monday’s game in Milan!

The constant change leads to confusion among the players due to the lack of familiarity with the formation. In fact, the Italian team lacked cohesion versus Sweden and struggled to impose its style, that is if Ventura’s Italy did have any style to showcase.

The turnover and changes lead to a lack of stability. Imagine if this happens during critical matches in a playoff battle for qualification for the World Cup.

8) Last but not least, where is the Passion? From the beginning of the World Cup qualifying campaign, Ventura’s Italy has lacked the conviction and determination displayed under his predecessor Conte during Euro 2016.

The current squad lacks confidence too. The instability and the lack of a clear vision under Ventura has also been quite detrimental in terms of motivating the players and building their confidence. The players are clearly not confident and do not seem to trust Ventura’s tactics.

The Italian manager has failed to transmit clear ideas and has not been able to get the best out of his squad. To make matters worse, the lack of a coherent plan has resulted in a lack of commitment and dedication from the players.

To blame everything on Ventura would be a mistake because the first party to be held responsible should be the FIGC for hiring an unqualified coach in the shape of Ventura. Even if Italy turn things around and qualify to World Cup 2018, the Azzurri will be knocked out from the group stage unless drastic changes are introduced starting with the sacking of Ventura.

There is talk that Ventura does not even control the locker room with some hinting the veterans and the more experienced players have had a strong influence on Ventura and his actions. To fire him will result in a much needed jolt and perhaps see the hiring of a well respected manager who can bring order back to the locker room.

Azzurri fans deserve better. Legendary goalkeeper Buffon deserves better. Instead of celebrating a remarkable career by playing in a record 6th World Cup tournament, Buffon may end up watching World Cup 2018 as a retired player.

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Juventus: From signing Higuain for 90m to Conte’s Evolution

In Part III of our interview with Rav Gopal we continue to focus on Juventus. Rav was gracious enough to make ample time to engage in our extended Q&A covering all things Juve. His valuable knowledge goes beyond being an ardent fan of Serie A, specifically Juve, to the founding of JuveFC.com. Rav has dedicated years to the upkeep and growth of the popular site covering his beloved club.

Q1) Juve built a reputation of signing players for free, or for a bargain fee. Who do you see as Juve’s next bargain signing? 

I would hope it is someone like Leon Goretzka or Emre Can. Both are decent midfielders and either one can serve as good replacement moving from from Sami Khedira.

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Q2) Would you say Gonzalo Higuain is worth the 90m fee paid to secure his move from Napoli?

I do not think any player is worth 90m, but Higuain was what Juve were missing for quite some time, maybe since David Trezeguet left: A consistent striker who guarantees 20 goals a season. Carlos Tevez offered that to a certain extent, but he also played deeper – Higuain is the fox in the box that we lacked in the team. Considering the crazy money spent this summer, perhaps 90m is not so bad after all.

Q3) One team you would like Juve to avoid meeting in the knock-out stages of the Champions League (before the Final)? 

Real Madrid- despite the poor start to the Spanish League, they are still a ruthless side as Juve fans know all too well.

Q4) One team you would prefer Juve avoid playing in the Champions League final (if they make it)? 

Barcelona- I suspect they will only improve as the season goes on and with Lionel Messi on the pitch, anything is possible.

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Q5) We have seen or heard about Edinson Cavani & Neymar having that infamous dispute over who takes a penalty-kick… if you had a choice, would you pick Cavani or Neymar for Juve? 

Cavani, simply because I cannot tolerate Neymar. For all his talent, Neymar is a diver and a poor example as a footballer. Everything from his antics to the way his transfer was conducted, I find abhorrent. People may think I am being too dramatic, but I think the game has changed for the worse over the course of the last few years and Neymar is an example of how it has changed to the worse.

Q6) How about former Juve boss Antonio Conte. How good is he? He won the English Premier League title at first try but do you consider him to be tactically savvy? Is he superior to Max Allegri? 

Conte has improved a great deal during his time with the Italian national team. There were aspects of his character that I disliked at Juve from acting petulant at times to the way he was so guarded and aloof at times, particularly with the press. He seems to have mellowed slightly and has become a little more self-deprecating. He has a specific system that he prefers to use and it does work well, but he has his limitations as well as we saw at Juve. I do not think he has surpassed Allegri yet, because Max is still able to adapt to almost any situation. He can think outside of the box to win games while Conte can be set in his ways.

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You can follow our Podcast @eurofantasypod and keep in touch with Rav and stay informed about all things Juventus @juvefcdotcom

Premier League stars Courtois, De Bruyne & Hazard to lead Belgian quest in Russia 2018

Vincent Van Genechten, armed with his extensive knowledge of Belgian football, is back again to discuss in Part III of our Q & A the Belgian national team’s prospects ahead of the World Cup next summer.

Q1) How far do you expect Belgium to go in Russia 2018? Can Belgium reach the World Cup semi-final?

The Red Devils enjoyed a very successful qualification campaign, racing through their group while scoring a large number of goals. They must be one of the favorites, right? Well, that is where it gets tricky. On paper, Belgium has all the quality players to lift that prestigious World Cup trophy. Looking at the squad list, which other country has a world class goalkeeper such as Thibaut Courtois, an elite defender as Toby Alderweireld, an assist-machine in the form of midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and a difference maker like forward Eden Hazard at the disposal of is manager? Believe me, not that many… Continue reading

World Cup 2018: Belgium to rely heavily on Chelsea’s Hazard?

Once again we welcome back the knowledgeable Vincent Van Genechten who has ample experience covering Belgian and Italian football. In Part II of our Q & A with Vincent, we delve deeper into the affairs of the Belgian national team and turn attention to specific players, namely Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku.

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Q1) Eden Hazard had a great 2016/17 Premier League season. He was ranked as one of the top EPL Fantasy Players. How important is Hazard for Belgium?

You just have to look at who is Belgium’s captain to know how important Hazard is for this team. He has been very important since Martinez took over. He is not that vocal like Vincent Kompany or Jan Vertonghen, but you can clearly see much revolves around Hazard when the Red Devils play. In the past Hazard had the tendency to disappear in big games but those times are behind us. When Belgium needs him, he makes himself visible on most occasions. Continue reading

World Cup 2018: Martinez turning Belgium into Contenders?

We are pleased to welcome one of our former writers Vincent Van Genechten who has extensive knowledge on both Belgian and Italian football. In Part I of this Q & A, we will be discussing the Belgian national team, in particular manager Roberto Martinez and his approach.

Q1) What do you make of Belgian manager Martinez? Some are skeptical about him being the right man for the job. 

It has been nothing less than a successful reign for Martinez since he took over from Marc Wilmots. Is he special in his approach? Yes. I mean, who leaves out a world class player like Radja Nainggolan just to make a point? But that has been pretty much the only point of criticism I can give Martinez so far. He was able to guide Belgium to tough away wins against Bosnia and Greece, when his team finally showcased a sense of urgency, fighting spirit and finishing ability against good defenders. Continue reading

Juventus: from Legends Baggio & Del Piero to current stars Chiellini & Pjanic

We continue our interview with Rav Gopal, from JuveFC.com and discuss in detail his favorite Juventus players from the current squad as well as his expectations for this season and some of his favorite moments as a Juve fan.
 
Q1) For the current Juve squad, can you please rank your favorite player by position? 

Defense: Giorgio Chiellini. He is an extremely underrated defender who has rolled back the years in recent seasons to deliver consistent performances. Like Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon, he has remained loyal to the club and he is one of the best in Europe in his position.  Continue reading

Serie A Champions Juventus: From rising star Dybala to hardworking Mandzukic

We took the opportunity to interview Rav Gopal, founder and editor-in-chief of the popular site JuveFC.com. Factoring in his in-depth knowledge, we decided to pose a series of questions and Mr. Gopal did not disappoint as he offered his insightful views on everything pertaining to Serie A champions Juventus.

Here is Part One of our Q & A with Rav:

Q1) Gianluigi Buffon is considered by many as the best goalkeeper over the last 20 years, and is perhaps the all-time goalkeeper. Much has been said about him, but if you had to describe him in one statement what would you say?

Buffon has been the most consistently brilliant goalkeeper in world football, year in year out. He is a leader, a captain and a role model at Juventus and for 17 years, he has been the epitome of loyalty and class.

Q2) Where do you rank Massimiliano Allegri among active Italian coaches? How about among coaches worldwide?                                                                       

Allegri is the best Italian coach for me. Antonio Conte is doing well at Chelsea but I feel he still has things to learn. Allegri is adaptable and flexible in his approach – he works the players hard, but not to the point of exhaustion.

He is a masterful tactician, but does not dwell on the football, day in day out. He is also a very smart individual and has a self-deprecating side to his character where he does nott take himself too seriously. I think it is a valuable quality. Worldwide, I think he is right up there with the best. For me, only Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola is better than him. Real Madrid’s Zinedine Zidane is still learning the game but has done great things so far.
  
Q3) At www.eurofantasyleague.com we have over 1,500 players to pick from, but one player is making a name for himself and fast: Paulo Dybala trails only 4 players in popularity, namely Messi & Neymar and 2 defenders! He is owned by 20% of our Fantasy Football Managers. What do you make of Dybala’s rise? How good can he become? 
Paulo Dybala

He has no ceiling at present. He grows with each season, plays across the attack and now has a maturity to him that was lacking before. The club has entrusted him with the #10 shirt and he has accepted the responsibility to be a leader of sorts, dragging Juve over the finish line and being at the heart of almost every league victory so far this season.

I would like to add the inevitable links to Barcelona are annoying as it is better to simply appreciate him for the Juventus player that he is – his great touch, finishing, dribbling, passing….all of it ! He will only get better with time and I think we have only seen a fraction of his true potential.

Q4) Mario Mandzukic is perhaps one of the most underrated players on the team. Juve fans have grown to love him but for other football fans they do not see the intangibles. Mind you even at www.eurofantasyleague.com we feel stats do not do him justice as he is ranked as 10th best Juve player in terms of this season’s Fantasy Football Points.  How important is he for Juve?
mandzukic
He is vital when you consider the effort he puts into each match. He is not just a forward, he plays on the wing when needed, pushes back opposing right-backs, has a strong presence in the air, tracks back, tackles well, scores goals, provides assists and defends down the left and in the center on set-pieces. Sometimes, to understand his value, you only need to switch off from the rest of the team and just watch him perform. A true workhorse who sacrificed individual glory for the sake of the team. You do not see that very often these days.
juventus-serie-a-champions-2015

Q5) Juve has many players out on loan, can you tell us which two are most promising and why?     

Mattia Caldara is a superb talent, very composed in his character and playing style. Rarely troubled by the occasion, he is showing real consistency for Atalanta and it is exciting to watch him, considering he has already developed into a hell of a player, despite his young age.

Riccardo Orsolini is a promising young winger, also at Atalanta, and he is starting to get opportunities in the starting XI. I think Moise Kean could be a real talent in the making but he needs to stay focused and keep working hard at Hellas Verona. He was a prolific goal-scorer for the Primavera and it is interesting to see if he can translate that form in senior performances.

 

Make sure to check back again in the next few days for the remainder of our interview. You can challenge some of the best Serie A fantasy football managers at www.fantasyseriea.com

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