Inter vs. AC Milan: Coppa Italia quarter-final – Team news, stats and prediction

After the heavy defeat against Atalanta at the weekend, Milan need to bounce back as soon as possible and they have a perfect opportunity on Tuesday evening. Inter are the designated home side in the Coppa Italia quarter-final clash and while a win would be a great boost, it could also be another rough set-back. 

The Rossoneri failed to live up to their usual standard against Atalanta and were beaten fair and square by three goals to nil. With both Ismael Bennacer and Hakan Calhanoglu out, they just couldn’t get their play going and didn’t really have many chances to grab at least one goal.  Continue reading

Serie A Best Fantasy XI – Round 19

Mattia Perin (7 points): a solid number of clean sheets in this round as well as defenses are stiffening up. There was some excellent goalkeeping across the board, starting off with Udinese’s Juan Musso, continuing with Juventus’ Wojciech Szczesny and finishing off with Sampdoria’s Emil Audero, but the nod goes to Genoa’s bulwark because of two terrific and key saves on close-range shots by Joao Pedro and Giovanni Simeone.

Cristian Romero (11 points): he dominated at both ends in the Milan clash, where he kept Zlatan Ibrahimovic reasonably in check, holding him scoreless for the first time in a Serie A match, and picked up a goal and assist in the opposing box. He perfectly contorted himself in the air to meet the ball on a long cross to give his side the lead in the early going and the slipped it to Duvan Zapata on the final goal. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 19

Standings implications: this round favored the chasers as Milan got trucked by Atalanta and Inter could not perforate Udinese and had to settle for a nil-nil tie. Roma outlasted Spezia despite the troublesome week, while Juventus prevailed against Bologna. The gap between the top two teams and the third place is now down to four points, while Napoli got leapfrogged as they got torpedoed by Verona and Lazio patiently mounted a comeback versus Sassuolo.

In the bottom half of the standings, Benevento and Torino shared the spoils in an entertaining game, Fiorentina sunk Crotone, Sampdoria blitzed Parma and Genoa nabbed another positive result as they squeaked it out versus Cagliari. Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round 19 vs Bologna

Juventus passed an eerie quarter of an hour at the beginning of the second half when they nearly threw away the lead (again) due to a dip in focus, but other than had the right attitude and generated a bonanza of scoring opportunities versus Bologna, fully taking advantage of the missteps by the Milan-based clubs.

Weston McKennie (6 points): another incredible performance by the American starlet, who might be the most consistent contributor throughout the season. He was seemingly everywhere in both phases thanks to his stamina, but he was especially impactful in the final third thanks to his impeccable timing on cuts and nose for the ball. He bagged the second pivotal goal with a sneaky header on a corner kick on the nth successful duel in the air. Continue reading

AC Milan 0-3 Atalanta: Rossoneri register second loss of season after lackluster performance

Milan aimed to grab another three points this evening after the comfortable 2-0 win against Cagliari on Monday evening. However, it wasn’t a good night for the Rossoneri as Atalanta put three past Gigio Donnarumma. And therefore, they failed to extend their lead at the top of the standings. 

As a result of Milan’s loss, Inter had the chance to overtake them on goal difference (until the reverse fixture, at least) but Antonio Conte’s men failed to score against Udinese this evening. Stefano Pioli and his players are still in the lead, therefore, but their margin has shrunk to two points.  Continue reading

Paulo Fonseca on the hot-seat in Roma

Roma has struggled in recent weeks with Paulo Fonseca attracting heavy criticism in the nation’s capital. The Giallorossi suffered a disappointing defeat against Lazio in the latest iteration of the Derby Della Capitale and most recently slumped to a shock elimination against Spezia in the Coppa Italia. To make matters worse, Fonseca wrongly made six substitutions, handing Roma its second forfeit of the season.

Roma avenged its defeat in the Coppa Italia on Saturday, but nearly dropped points once again. The Italian giants needed a stoppage-time winner to overcome Spezia, with Lorenzo Pellegrini firing home the winner in the seven-goal thriller. The win offers Fonseca some temporary respite in the Roma hot-seat, but as the disappointing performances pile on the tactician’s future is very much in doubt.

According to recent reports, Roma is seriously considering replacing Fonseca come summertime with a number of high-profile managers in contention. Massimiliano Allegri and Maurizio Sarri have since been linked with the job, casting further uncertainty over Fonseca’s future.

Despite the increased reports, Roma is still picking up results, emerging as legitimate top-four contenders. While the Giallorossi have gotten the job done thus far, their struggles against top sides over the course of the season have been concerning. Roma is yet to win in its clashes against Italy’s top six, losing to Atalanta, Napoli, and Lazio, while playing out to draws against Juventus, Milan, and Inter.

Beyond the disappointing results, Roma has conceded 16 goals in these six games, highlighting their defensive issues. In many ways, the second half of the season will be defining for Fonseca’s tenure in the nation’s capital. The first step for the Portuguese tactician is guiding Roma back into Europe’s elite competition. Should Fonseca deliver Champions League football at Roma, the case for his departure weakens significantly.

The reality is, Champions League football alone is simply not enough. Roma must demonstrate considerable improvement against Italy’s giants in the second half of the season. As the race for top four intensifies, it may just prove to be the difference. While qualifying for Champions League football is good in itself, Roma needs to show it can compete at the highest level under Fonseca.

Fonseca’s naivety has been on display in big games with Roma, underlining a worrying trend. Should the lapses in concentration continue, the Roma brass must seriously consider how much of their woes stem from their manager. The Portuguese boss has instilled an entertaining and expansive brand of football, but Roma often falls short in their own defensive third.

Let’s now consider Fonseca’s potential replacements. Allegri has regularly proven to be one of Italy’s elite tacticians, enjoying varying degrees of success where he goes. The former Juventus boss would offer Roma some much-needed stability and pragmatism, which will especially come in handy in big games. If Allegri is interested in the job, there is no reason why Roma shouldn’t pull the trigger.

Other than Allegri, Sarri has often been linked with the Roma hot-seat. The 62-year-old was most recently sacked by Juventus despite leading them to yet another Scudetto. Sarri’s 4-3-3 is arguably a better fit for Roma’s current roster, making for an intriguing appointment. While his ideas never fully got implemented in Turin, a potential move to Roma could just be the shake-up Sarri needs. With the pressure to deliver trophies reduced, Sarri could hit the ground running – much like it was the case with Napoli.

Fonseca’s time in the nation’s capital may just be coming to an end, even if he leads Roma back into the Champions League. Allegri and Sarri represent a better fit given their experience in Serie A and could offer Roma a fresh start they need.

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Confident Milan gunning for title with busy transfer window

Milan enters its clash against Atalanta with the possibility of being crowned campioni d’inverno - the winter champions. The team that finishes in first place after the first half of the season typically goes onto win the ultimate crown in Italy.  Milan has shown its willingness to push on this transfer window, securing Fikayo Tomori, Mario Mandzukic, and Soualiho Meite. The Rossoneri’s proactive dealings demonstrate they believe in themselves and their ability to push on for the Scudetto.

Since Ivan Gazidis took over, Milan forged ahead with an ambitious youth project, looking to rejuvenate the side with young prospects on the cusp of greatness. Ismael Bennacer is but one of these players, taking the next step in his career and becoming one of Italian football’s midfield dynamos.

Rafael Leao is another intriguing talent and has since added end product to his game, delivering the goods when called upon. Led by the indomitable Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan’s young guns have surprised the rest of Italy, losing just once this season. The Italian giants have recognized the title is there for the taking and have reacted accordingly this January.

Mario Mandzukic offers some much-needed depth in the final third and will make for an excellent vice-Ibra. The Croatian has shown he is capable of starting on the left-wing and roaming into the box dangerously. Whether Pioli deploys him as a more traditional number nine remains to be seen, but Mandzukic’s skillset makes for an interesting pairing with Ibrahimovic.

Beyond guaranteeing goals, Mandzukic’s arrival is a clear signal of intent from Milan. The former Juventus hitman adds some veteran leadership in what is a relatively inexperienced locker room. A proven winner, Milan will be hoping Mandzukic leads by example and spurs the side onto new heights.

On the opposite side of the pitch, the Rossoneri bolstered their defensive ranks with Chelsea’s Fikayo Tomori. The Englishman arrives on a loan deal with an option to buy, offering Mian depth at the back. Simon Kjaer and Alessio Romagnoli are Milan’s undisputed center-back pairing, but Tomori will make for a quality option off the bench.

The 23-year-old kicked off his Chelsea career by bursting onto the scene but has since seen his minutes halved due to the arrival of Thiago Silva. A move to Milan may be exactly what Tomori needs to play regular football and deliver on his incredible potential. Should the Chelsea loanee struggle, Milan will simply not trigger its option to purchase him. In many ways, this deal is yet another win-win for Maldini and co.

Stefano Pioli’s side also wasted no time improving on its midfield depth, securing Meite from Torino. The 26-year-old arrives on a low-risk deal, with Milan holding the option to make his move permanent for a modest fee. Much like Tomori, this six-month loan spell will be Meite’s trial at the club.

Milan’s midfield has been ravaged by injuries and suspensions in recent weeks, forcing Pioli to deploy Davide Calabria in the double pivot. While the fullback has done an adequate job filling in, a player like Meite ensures the Italian giants are not short on options in the middle of the park. Bennacer and Kessie may be Pioli’s first-choice pairing, but Meite could still carve out important minutes for himself – especially as the side competes on three fronts.

Milan has extremely proactive this January transfer window, arming its side with quality depth ahead of the final run-in. The crafty formulas of their deals ensure they have close to no financial obligations should either Meite or Tomori struggle to adapt. Mandzukic, on the other hand, can prove to be the difference-maker in the title race, boasting a plethora of experience. As the second half of the season approaches, one thing is clear: Milan believes in themselves and they are going for it.

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Locatelli, Pogba, and the midfielders Juventus should be targeting

Juventus may be coming off a triumph in the Italian Supercup, but the Italian champions are in serious danger of relinquishing their stranglehold over Serie A. Milan and Inter have run away with it in the first half of the season, with the Bianconeri trailing Stefano Pioli’s side by 10 points already. As the second half of the season approaches, Juve’s midfield woes have become more apparent.

Manuel Locatelli has been heavily linked with a move to Turin, reuniting him with his idol Andrea Pirlo. The Sassuolo midfielder has taken Italian football by storm this season, establishing himself as one of the league’s elite deep-lying playmakers. In many ways, Locatelli is exactly the type of profile Juventus lack in the middle of the park. Comfortable in possession, the Italian international would be a significant upgrade on Rodrigo Bentancur and could slot in nicely next to Arthur. His 40M euro price-tag will seem like a bargain in 2 years time.

Beyond Locatelli, Juventus is reportedly interested in a sensational swoop for Paul Pogba. Mino Raiola – the Frenchman’s agent – sent shockwaves throughout the footballing world when he claimed his client was on the market come the summertime. Pogba allegedly would appreciate a move back to Italy, where he has played the best football of his career. The major stumbling block, however, is his pricetag as he won’t come cheap. Manchester United will, at the very least, be seeking to break even on the midfielder, demanding well over 100 million euros.

Other than the increased price-tag, it will be interesting to see where the World Cup winner would slot in Pirlo’s system. Pogba does not thrive in a double pivot and may just be an awkward fit between the lines alla Aaron Ramsey. Juve should think twice before pulling the trigger and ask themselves whether they have what it takes to accomadate the French international.

If finances are tight, Juve can always shift its focus to Udinese’s Rodrigo De Paul. The Argentine midfielder is crying out for a move to a bigger club and is more than ready for the step up. De Paul is arguably the best fit for Pirlo’s Juve, given his ability to play as a deep-lying playmaker or roam between the lines. The Udinese man would walk directly into Juve’s starting 11, usurping Aaron Ramsey in the trequartista role. De Paul boasts an impressive engine and is versatile enough for Pirlo’s hybrid 4-4-2/3-5-2 formation.

The final option for the Bianconeri is Lyon’s Houssem Aouar. Juventus has been heavily linked with a move for the French midfielder in the past and could just return for him this summer. A dynamic midfielder by trade, Aouar has all the tools to emerge as a bonafide creative threat for Pirlo’s Juve. At just 22 years old, the midfielder has his entire career ahead of him and would make for an excellent fit in Turin. Aouar thrives when tasked with linking up the midfield and the attack and has even shown he can play in a double pivot.

Fabio Paratici often says it is incredibly difficult to improve on Juve’s current roster, but the reality is, any of these midfielders would become starters in the side’s current setup. While a Pogba reunion may steal the headlines, Locatelli and De Paul are arguably the better fits and would come cheaper. Given Juve’s working relationship with Sassuolo and Udinese, the Italian champions can negotiate a crafty deal for both midfielders, without sacrificing the club’s finances. Aouar remains an interesting option should either midfielder become unavailable, but the next step for Juve is ridding itself of its deadwood.

Aaron Ramsey, Adrien Rabiot, and Rodrigo Bentancur have all shown glimpses of their potential, but are the furthest thing from consistent. Only once these midfielders are sold can Juve begin dreaming of De Paul and Locatelli.

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Serie A Predictions – Round 19

Benevento-Torino: the Sanniti were quite surprisingly routed by Crotone last week, making it the second 1-4 in a row after the more understandable one versus Atalanta and the third defeat in the past four rounds. The Granata decided to change the coach after the disappointing nil-nil with Spezia: they have shared the spoils four times in the past six rounds, winning and losing once: 1-1.

Roma-Spezia: the Giallorossi were unable to prevail the last two matches as they equalized with Inter and were manhandled by Lazio. They have generally been automatic against the minnows but the atmosphere within the club is very tense and the coach is under scrutiny. The Aquilotti have started a positive streak by beating Napoli and resisting against Torino: 2-2. Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 19

Atalanta: Mario Pasalic had a small set back in his return from sports hernia and will miss some more time.

Benevento: Marco Sau was hit with a two-game suspension for berating the referee. Roberto Insigne hurt his ankle/foot in the past game but he made the squad list and will be a late call. Gabriele Moncini (ankle), Gaetano Letizia (thigh) and Pasquale Schiattarella (COVID) are out. Iago Falque, Nicolas Viola and Luca Caldirola are available but not ready to start. Continue reading