How Ambitious are Roma this Season?

Roma have not really positioned themselves as a threat on the domestic front. However, victory against Torino over the weekend and their famous run to the semi-final of the Champions League last season, should remind them of their ability and provide some optimism as the season ages.

Prior to the commencement of the league, AS Roma Coach Francesco Eusebio stated that “This year I want to stay above the Milanese clubs, even though I know that Inter have had a very strong transfer market, we can be stronger than last season. We have no limits as to how well we could do and we will do our talking on the pitch. We will fight to go as far as we can possibly go.” It’s fair to say comments like this, inherently limits the aspirations of the club and the ambitions of the players.

However the sale of the Brazilian goalkeeper Alison Becker to Liverpool and midfield dynamo Radja Niangolan to Inter Milan suggest AS Roma are still in the business of wheeling out their most refined stars to the big sharks in Serie A and Europe for large sums to balance the books. It was so with Mo Salah last season. Perhaps Eusebio was looking at things from a realistic point of view. That they lack the financial muscle and confidence to leap over Napoli not alone topple Juventus at the top. That they’re not yet at the level of the some of the European heavyweights.

Despite losing the aforementioned, the Rome club look quite a different proposition this season. They’ve added to their creative options by signing Javier Pastora from PGS and Justin Kluivert from Ajax Amsterdam whiles the arrival of French World Cup winner Steven Nzonzi from Sevilla to fill the void left by the Nainggolan will win more admiration for transfer director Monchi as a great business. Nzonzi may not possess the warrior like character of the Belgian, but his calm imposing presence when in possession can ensure AS Roma do not easily concede play in midfield.

The Gialorossi should be confident in a midfield trio of Kevin Strootman, Steven Nzonzi and Javier Pastore to compete against any team in Serie A.

After losing out to Barcelona on the chase for Brazilian forward Malcom, Roma will once again rely heavily on their most dependable striker Edin Dzeko to provide goals this season. The Bosnian continued his knack for scoring spectacular goal over the weekend when he finished off a superb cross from Justin Kluivert with an exquisite left foot volley. Dzeko’s hold up play and the ability to strike with both feet is second to none in Serie A and it’s no surprise the club is offering him a raise to €5 million per season and an extra year of contract. The 32 year Old’s contract currently expires in June 2020.

Edin Dzeko celebrate one of his spectacular goals

Edin Dzeko celebrate one of his spectacular goals

Last year, we saw glimpses of what young Turkish right winger Cengiz Ünder could do in attack, but a lot is still expected from him if Roma will are going to be lethal up front. Stephan El Sharaawy

could be very important to what they do in attack as he can operate on both wings. There are many who still believe the young Pharaoh has only scratched a surface of his potential hence the need for more playing time to really bring out the best in him.

AS Roma’s Achilles heel could be in defense especially the man between the sticks. The fear is that, Robin Olsen, may not provide the reflexes that Allison provided last season. Coupled with that, the back four has a tendency to switch off so there must be evidence of improvement at the back. It is also a well-known fact that Federico Fazio and Juan Jesus are notoriously inconsistent.

There were times last season when AS Roma appeared too cagey, especially in games against the top teams. It was only when Eusebio men showed a sense of believing and took the game to their opponents that earned them victory. Their 4-2 win over Napoli at the San Paolo was testament of what this team is capable of.

Eusebio Di Francesco showed last season that he can map up a strategy to upstage some of Europe’s big guns at the Olympico, so a lot of Roma fans await what plan he has in his tactical tray this season.  Despite their fêted victory over Barcelona and securing Champions League qualification, few believe the former AS Roma midfielder is the right man to lead them.

For AS Roma to upset the current order in Serie A, it’s important for Eusebio to build a winning culture by instilling believe in his players to have confidence in themselves. The Gialorossi can use last season performances as a springboard to kick on this season.

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Can Ancelotti Bring Success to Napoli?

There are so many question marks over Napoli this season after surrendering the league title to Juventus during the latter weeks of the previous campaign. The chief concern is, does Carlo Ancelotti have the necessary tools to bring success to the fans at San Paolo?

Whichever way, Carlo Ancelotti will look to continue Maurizio Sarri’s legacy of bringing exciting attacking football to the people of Naples whiles making them a genuine force again in the league. The Partenopei still boast a chunk of the key components of the squad that almost secured the Serie A title. Notably Senegal center back Kalidu Koulibaly, Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Captain Marek Hamsik. These are players of vital importance.

However, the aforementioned players come nowhere near to the players that have brought Ancelloti success in the past. Paulo Maldini, Alexandro Nesta, Segio Ramos, Tiago. Silva, Andrew Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andry Shevechenko, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Kaka, Dida, Iker Casillas and Philp Lahm just to mention a few. One won’t be wrong to say with the exception of Messi, Carlo Ancelotti has coached the best players in the game in the last two decades.

Carlo may possess the ability to lure a few top players to Napoli based on his reputation, but after a reprehensible end to his Bayern Munich reign, many who love and follow him fear coaching a team like Napoli, despite their upswing in performance in the last three years could further lower his status in the game. In terms of history, stature and experience, Napoli lack the cachet of previous clubs such as Milan, Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid.

The Partenopei rise to prominence in Serie A in recent years, had nothing to do with the acquisition of world class talents, but propelled and earned through Mauriczio Sarri, whose meticulous work ethos enabled his players to show better quality on the ball, redefined their defensive identity while their offensive ratings skyrocketed.

The San Paolo outfit do not have the financial might of Carlo’s previous employers, and with Inter, AC Milan and Roma constantly upgrading owing to the ambitions of their new owners, it’s hard to envisage Napoli challenging for the Scudetto in the not too distant future. It’s no surprise that ahead of the opening fixtures of the season, newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport predicted that both Inter and Milan will leapfrog the Partenopei in the scrap for Champion League position. One wouldn’t be far from right to surmise that this bold call was made taking into account the performance of the teams in the transfer market.

The frustrations of Napoli fans about the club’s lack of ambition in the Mercator were echoed in a recent comment by club president Aurelio De Laurentiis  when he argued that “They want me to spend millions on buying new players, but then they are the ones who buy fake jerseys, make counterfeit merchandise and push through the turnstiles without paying. “So they challenge me too, and I’ll do the same with them.

Carlo Ancelotti issuing out instructions

Carlo Ancelotti issuing out instructions

Despite the talent available to Carlo Ancelotti, Napoli lag behind the likes of Juventus, Inter and AS Roma in terms of depth, and it’s difficult to imagine Ancelotti win the Scuddeto with such a thin squad. The San Paolo fans will miss midfield orchestra Jorginho who has left to Chelsea but it’s also a great opportunity for Polish international Piotr Zieliński to fulfil his potential.

Notwithstanding the win against Lazio at the Olympic last Saturday in their opening Serie A fixture, the manner in which Ciro Immobile turned three Napoli defenders to score that perch of a goal was disappointing, and Ancelotti will hope that such misjudgments do not occur going forward. It was big performances and results like this that made them favorites for a lot of neutral in their last campaign.

For Napoli to pose a threat to Juventus, it’s imperative that Arkadiusz Milik remains fit this season as his height and strength would be crucial in the box against teams like Juventus and Inter. The Polish International could be key in how Ancelotti intends to unhinge his opponents alongside the likes of Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne.

One notable difference in this Napoli team is how Carlo Ancelotti intends to use Marek Hamšík. The skipper seems to have been assigned the role of a deep lying playmaker and despite his limited defensive capabilities the Slovakian distinguished himself against Lazio. But it remains to be seen if that is an ideal plan in the long term. It’s worthy to note that, just like former boss Mauricio Sarri, Carlo is another conservative who hardly rotates his squad. Carlo Ancelotti has got an impressive coaching record, but has he got the right materials to inspire success at San Paolo?

 

 

Champions League ambition to derail Juve’s quest for another Scudetto?

It was difficult to tell what Juventus’ main priority was from the beginning of last season. The Champions League or the Scudetto. After falling to Barcelona in the 2015 Champions league final, the Bianconeri won over a lot of neutrals in their fantastic run to the 2017 Champions League final only for another Spanish giant, Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo to make nonsense of their formidable defense in the second half.

The departure of Dani Alves to PSG and Leonardo Bonucci leaving to join arch rival AC Milan added substance to rumors of a half time rumbling that led to their collapse in the second period of that final game. Despite the subsequent denial, it’s important to note that both Bonucci and Alves mounted the FIFPro XI podium during the FIFA Best Men’s Player Award that same year. So that begs the question as to why a club of Juventus’s stature will allow two of their best defender in that period to move on.

Symptoms of that effect was quite clear from the beginning of last season as Juventus struggled defensively against teams such as Sampdoria and Udinese. The Bianconeri were leaking goals at the wrong place at the wrong time, while the attack lacked the surging runs, tailor made crosses and quality passes that Dani Alves provided the season before. During such turbulent moments, Mauricio Sarri was creating something that Pep Guardiola will later describe as the best team he has ever faced in the game. Match after match, Napoli put together what looked like the final pieces of what Sarri was building in his three years’ stint at Naples. Suddenly, the narrative of a championship team had turned towards the men in the light blue stripes- Napoli.

But it was never meant to be for Napoli. Juventus clawed back to snatch victories from the jaws of defeat with two season defining away games against Lazio at the Olimpico and Inter at the San Siro in the latter weeks of the season. The manner of those victories was not only a testimony to the Old Lady’s strength and character but a failure on the part of the rest to put a stop to the Bianconeri’s stranglehold on the Italian league.

That was the Juventus story last season. This season, they’ve gone up a notch.

No team in Serie A can rival the Bianconeri’s depth, talent and experience. Evidence of that has been displayed in the six years that they’ve won the Scudetto in succession. Till now, the most significant news in Turin and Italy is the arrival of Ronaldo. The former Real Madrid forward and current FIFA Best Player has been secured to boost the Old Lady’s chances of landing their third elusive Champions League trophy.

After winning seven Scudetti in a row it has become mundane to talk about another Serie A title. Juventus are looking to stretch their dominance onto the European stage, but it’s not a given, and they risk losing their domestic form. Title rivals Napoli have signed former AC Milan and Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti after Mauricio Sarri agreed to a move to manage Chelsea. Despite losing Sarri and playmaker Jorginho to a foreign club, it will be foolhardy to ignore what Ancelotti can eke out of this Napoli squad. They still retain their core with Kalidou Koulibaly, Allan, Marek Hamsik, Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens in their ranks.

Ancelotti’s fatherly figure helps in creating a family environment that allows his players to bond and thrive once they assimilate his concepts. Though he’s been out of Italy for past nine years, the former Bayern Munich coach still retains a degree of knowledge about the nature of the league and its nuances.

The team that many should be looking to threaten Juventus for the Scudetto this season is Luciano Spalletti’s Inter. The Nerazzurri have made some significant acquisitions this transfer window and will be aiming for the league title. The signing of Radja Nainggolan from Roma and Kwadwo Asamoah from Juventus means Inter Milan have added more steel and experience to their spine. The possession of a relatively young and lethal Mauro Icardi is still something to smile about. Inter will also have a crack at the Champions league, but it is a much tougher asking and it will be a prudent use of their resources to channel their energy into securing the Scudetto.

Ronaldo’s evolution from a winger into a clinical striker in the box means goals will be in ample supply for the Old Ladies, however given the fact that the number seven man is at the wrong side of age, a decline in skill set is to be expected. Coupled with Bonucci’s return, Juventus will probably the strongest team in Europe, but that may derail their chances of another Serie A title.

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