Fantasy Football News

Sarri, between living up to expectations & not winning any titles

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When I was in college I briefly dated a stripper. At the beginning it was very exciting, I could brag to my friends about how hot she was, she brought a lot of good looking friends to parties and she made me feel like a rock star. But as time passed, the idea that she was doing her “job” in front of other guys caused a lot tension and it became too much for me to handle, so I decided to break it off and go with a more traditional girlfriend.

I’ve been thinking about this phase of my life since Maurizio Sarri’s time at Chelsea took a turn for the worse in recent weeks and especially after the embarrassing loss to Manchester City last weekend. The stripper was ultimately acting exactly as I should have expected her to, so in the end I had no one butmyself to blame when we broke it off.

You see anyone who has followed Sarri’s tenure at Napoli closely could have seen all of this coming, as a matter a fact the only surprising aspect of his time at Chelsea so far, was the team’s very fast start despite going from Conte’s SufferBall to the much more offensive and glitzy SarriBall.

Serie A junkies like myself figured it was only a matter of time until Sarri’s shortcomings would start becoming talking points for his critics in the Premier League. The lack of squad rotation and stubborn refusal to play younger players became amplified at Chelsea since the Blues have more options on both countsthan Napoli, and while Sarri had said all the right things upon arriving at Stamford Bridge, he recently started showing his poor sportsmanship and willingness to blame others as things took a turn for the worst.

Mind you being proven right in this case (at least so far) wasn’t particularly pleasurable for me. You see Sarri is probably my favorite figure in Italian football of the past 5 years, I remember my friend Enrico Passarella (who also writes for this site) telling me to pay close attention to Sarri’s Empoli after they were promoted to Serie A a few years ago.

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I remember watching them for the first time when they travelled to face Napoli at the San Paolo and I was so impressed with the fact they played such an attractive and distinct style even when facing the top Italian teams on away matches. As a matter a fact Empoli was so impressive when they faced Milan at San Siro that Silvio Berlusconi had flashbacks to Arrigo Sacchi when he was at Parma and pushed to hire him until he learned about his left wing leaning politics, too much to handle on top of the fact that Sarri liked to wear track suit on the sidelines.

While Sarri’s lack of rotating players at Napoli was also exasperated by the serious injuries to Faouzi Ghoulam and Arkadiusz Milik in his last season at the club, it was not surprising to see him continue this trend at Chelsea. Meanwhile at his former club, Ancelotti was praised for using twelve different lineups to start his tenure under the Vesuvius while giving opportunities to players Sarri often ignored in Milenkovicand Ounas.

In addition to using more members of the squad regularly, Ancelotti also showed considerable more tactical flexibility of Sarri. The former Milan and Real Madrid manager used different formations and wasn’t afraid to change the strategy during matches, something Sarri essentially still refuses to do still today. Not surprisingly considering his experience at top clubs, Ancelotti has shown to be much more polished with his communication with the media and peers than Sarri who was known for vulgar language and Herculean ability to complainabout all sorts of different topics (scheduling of matches, pitch conditions, international breaks) after a disappointing performance.

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But while all these changes at Napoli sounds great, in Sarri’sdefense, the results have so far gotten worst. The partenopeihave been eliminated in both the Champions League and the Coppa Italia and find themselves with eight less points than this time last year when they were more than holding up with Juventus in Serie A with essentially the same squad when you consider that Fabian Ruiz, often praised as one the best players to arrive in Serie A last summer replacing Jorginho.

Speaking of Juventus, the other criticism that Sarri often receives “HE HASN’T WON ANY TITLES” ignores the bianconeri’s strength (not to mention the fact that he never managed a top tier team in Italy until arriving at Napoli). At the end of the day only won team can win the league title, which was Napoli’s only objective last season after they saw an opening following Bonucci’s (temporary) departure from Turin.

While Sarri’s squad could have showed more mental fortitude following Juventus’ comeback win at San Siro against Inter and they did run out of gas at the end of the season because of lack of rotation (which again was also partly to blame to the injuries to Ghoulam and Milik), the team still finished with 91 points- the most ever by a team not to win the Serie A title and a higher total than Juventus achieved multiple times during their recent long streak of consecutive league titles.

Certainly, Sarri has his faults, but since August they have been the exact same ones that anyone that knew him saw coming. Just like me with the stripper I dated in college, when someone turns out to be exactly as you expected have to blame yourself.

 

Serie A Fantasy Picks – Round 24

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Samir Handanovic: Inter remain one of the most trustworthy defences and they have allowed the fewest goals at home. They will tangle with Sampdoria this week, which have been shutout in their last two games.

Faouzi Ghoulam: Mario Rui got hurt against Fiorentina, which paves the way for the Algerian left back, who is always a threat offensively. Napoli have kept three clean sheets in a row.

Jens Larsen: while Udinese are laboring as a team, the Danish is thriving as wing back and is much more involved offensively, even scoring recently. Chievo have given up a lot of goals as of late and have failed to hit the net in three of their last four road fixtures. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 24

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Juventus-Frosinone: the Bianconeri quickly bounced back in Sassuolo after the 3-3 draw with Parma and have won four times in the last five fixtures, fortifying their lead in the standings. The Ciociari have been pesky recently and they are coming off a surprise win over Sampdoria, their second in a row on the road, and they are now within striking distance from the 17th spot. With Champions League just around the corner, Cristiano Ronaldo might be rested for the second time in Serie A, which would mean more scoring opportunities for Mario Mandzukic, Federico Bernardeschi and Paulo Dybala, or whoever will compose the front-line. Continue reading

Manchester United’s Alexis Sanchez needs to return to Arsenal or leave the Premier League

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Despite the odd good game for Manchester United it is fair to say that Alexis Sanchez will never be remembered as one of the Old Trafford greats and even though he has only been at the club for one season perhaps it is the right time to quit the club.

United are good, Sanchez is good but for whatever reason the two entities just don’t fit. When Jose Mourinho bought Sanchez from Arsenal last summer it was seen as a fantastic deal. Because Sanchez was far and away Arsenal’s best player of the past few seasons. It seemed almost bizarre in fact that Arsenal would sell to a Premier League rival but sell they did.

Once at United Sanchez just didn’t perform most blamed Mourinho’s tactics and let’s be honest the whole team were not performing. But what has been surprising is that Sanchez has not picked up his form under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer despite the rest of the squad doing so.

Even Solskjaer has admitted that there isn’t anything they can do with the player- but he will give him time and has commented that the player is a quality one who needs to find himself. The truth is that Sanchez does not seem happy at United and has simply not settled into life up in Manchester- it happens and perhaps the Chilean should not be too harshly judged about it.

Could he return to Arsenal? There were rumours that he wanted to play for Manchester City, but he has become the shadow of the player that everyone knew and it is unlikely now that City manager Guardiola would go for his signature. But at Arsenal as long as Unai Emery wanted him, he would be welcomed back. It was clearly an environment that Sanchez enjoyed and revelled in, but of course everyone needs to be on the same page for that to happen.

Otherwise perhaps the simple solution for Sanchez would be to leave the Premier League- maybe a return to Spain is on the cards? It just might be a culture that suits Sanchez more anyway. Although a return to Barcelona does not seem possible, but Sanchez is still good enough to play for any of the top six sides in La Liga.

Sanchez is a quality player that there is no doubt, but has there been a more unhappier high profile Premier League player of  the past six months?

From Hazard to Dybala and possibly Neymar Real Madrid need to buy big next season

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By their incredible standards Real Madrid have looked their most fragile and normal for the first time in a good decade. It has been a season of transition for the club who came into this season without Ronaldo and with Zinedine Zidane resigning. It has felt a little empty for a side who have won the last 3 Champions League trophies.

Let’s be honest something has felt off about the club, where was the mega signings? Because look around and you will see that Florentino Perez is still around, he who invented the original galacticos and made sure that Madrid kept signing the very best players- sometimes it worked sometimes it didn’t- yes we all remember Thomas Gravesen.

This season was clearly a breather- so much had happened in such a short space of time at Madrid then everyone needed it. And yet the club find themselves just 6 points behind league leaders Barcelona, are in the semi finals of the Copa del Rey, have won the World Club Cup and have one foot in the quarter finals of the Champions League- things really are not that bad at the club, are they?

Madrid though will be having a summer of upheaval, there is no secret about that. Coach Santiago Solari is only staying if he is able to win a trophy and the Copa del Rey may not be enough for  a side who are used to winning bigger trophies. But it is the players that the club will be bringing in which is raising the most eyebrows.

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Madrid have been flirting with each other ever since the World Cup ended last summer and Hazard has made no secret of where he would like to play next season. With his current club Chelsea looking like they might hit a meltdown under current coach Maurizio Sarri, Hazard may just be able to find the perfect excuse to leave. He is very much expected to leave what ever happens at Chelsea.

Paulo Dybala is another leading candidate to join Los Blancos, it what would be seen as more of a shock move after his successful career at Juventus, but Dybala the class player that he is should be able to fit into Madrid with few problems.

Then there is the real shock move which could happen this summer- the transfer of Neymar from PSG- could it really happen? Neymar would be gold for Madrid and a big loss for PSG. But what about the Barcelona fans? Last time a big name player switched clubs- Luis Figo from Barcelona to Real Madrid fans started a riot ending with a pigs head on the pitch.

Neymar would be the key for Madrid going forward, although Hazard may see Neymar as a threat as he wants to be the shining light at the club- One thing is for certain, this summer will be an incredibly interesting one at the circus that is Real Madrid.

 

Lille and Lyon to fight it out for 2nd place in Ligue 1 as PSG go clear

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The Ligue 1 title is heading back to PSG, that is a certainty as the club have shot into a 10 point lead at the top. Not only that but the current French champions have 2 games in hand of 2nd place. This league is done and dusted and there is nothing to see here, well almost nothing.

Not many pundits and fans would have expected Lille who have been threatened with relegation in recent years to be in 2nd place, but that is where they are. Yes the league has gone but 2nd place means qualifying directly to the Champions League which would be a fantastic achievement for the club.

Lille have been nothing short of spectacular this season in France. Their consistency has been champion material it’s just unfortunate for them that PSG have been able to build such a strong team at the same time.

Lille have won 15 games this season from 24 and at home they have lost just one game all season. The good news for the club is that there is only one other realistic team that can catch them and that is Lyon. The other good news is that Lyon lost 1-0 to Nice last weekend which means that Lille has opened up a 6 point gap to 3rd place. Could playing in the Champions League really be a reality for the club next season?

Ligue 1 really has become a little boring this season with PSG running away with the title and that is why so much focus has gone on to 2nd and 3rd place. After all it is Lyon who are usually the team right up there and being France’s next best team. Not so this season and it is the common man and fan that would love to see Lille pip Lyon to that 2nd place- for Lille it would feel like they have won the league, make no mistake in that.

And Lille have some great players too- most notably Nicolas Pepe, who has scored some great and important goals this season and he is tipped to make a big name in Europe and World football as his career progresses. He is certainly checking all of the right boxes for Lille.

For Lille to finish 2nd it could all come down to May 4th, that is when they will play a potentially massive game against Lyon which could decide both clubs fate this season. The catch for Lille is that Lyon will be at home.

This little battle has become the most interesting in Ligue 1 this season.

Real Madrid fans are wrong to turn on Gareth Bale

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If any player deserves myth status at Real Madrid currently than you could do no more wrong in suggesting that accolade should go to Gareth Bale. But it seems that every time Bale makes an error it is this the fans are remembering him for and not his greatness as a player.

Let’s be blunt, Bale has become the best ever British import- he has joined Real Madrid, competed in a side with Cristiano Ronaldo, scored countless goals- most of them important ones and most of them awe inspiring and has won so many trophies that it is easy to lose count of them all. But for some reason that doesn’t matter diddly to Madrid fans.

Madrid’s fans have always been very hard to please. Especially if you are a player of flair- even Ronaldo has been booed at the club before, and if he can be then anyone can. But these are fans that probably wish the likes of Roy Keane had played for the club. The harder you are the more loyal you are etc etc.

It’s not that the fans do not like Bale, and any of them would have to admit he has been one of the best foreign players the club have had in their last 25 years, but they won’t let things lie down. So when Bale missed a sitter against Atletico Madrid that was brought to the forefront so much so that Spanish daily reported on it, is Bale in crisis at Madrid moment? What was bizarre is that Bale scored in that game and Madrid won 3-1, which has consequently brought them  back into the league.

But this is Madrid fans in a nutshell, they did the same to another British player-who scored important goals and won 2 Champions Leagues, Steve McManaman. Now the ex Liverpool player is welcomed back at the Bernabeu with open arms and you get the feeling that once Bale leaves the club and the years go on and retirement comes, Bale will be seen as a very important figure at the club. Surely that was cemented last summer when he came off the bench in the Champions League final and scored an incredible bicycle kick against Liverpool- and let’s be honest it was his involvement in the game that ended up winning Real Madrid their 3rd consecutive Champions League title.

Madrid fans will never change- but they need to show Bale a little bit more respect- after all he is the best player they have at the moment.

Can Napoli threaten Juventus in Serie A this season?

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Juventus are in their usual spot of 1st place in Serie A as they go after an incredible 8th Scudetto in a row, no other team has won Serie A since Milan did so in 2011 and it has been a decade of utter dominance by the Old Lady.

Any team hoping that the good times were going to fizzle out for Juve were greatly let down when they signed Cristiano Ronaldo for 100m euros last summer. Together with an already world class squad Ronaldo has helped them back to the top of the league and is currently the leading goal scorer in his debut season in Italy. Everything is like a dream for Juventus at this moment, and then there is Napoli…..

The team from Naples have not won the league since 1990 when a certain Diego Maradona helped them to the title with his greatness and goals. Those days are long gone, but Napoli of the last 10 years have been a very impressive team. Take for example that they have finished runner up to Juventus in the 2010s on 3 different occasions and have at times really tried to push the Turin club. The problem is that Napoli keep losing the title and are being seen as the pretenders each season.

This one looks like ending the same, but Napoli yet again in 2nd place have not given up hope. Currently they have 52 points and are 11 points behind. They have messed up in recent weeks as they drew against both AC Milan and Fiorentina, but is there a way back for the side?

One way could be that Juventus get tied up in the Champions League. They have only won the competition twice in their history in 1985 and 1996, and have been a runner up 2 times from the last 4 competitions. It is the one trophy they are looking for this season and let’s face it it is the reason they signed Ronaldo in the first place, a player that has just won 3 of what they want in a row. Now could be the time.

So from Napoli’s perspective if Juventus get caught up in the competition inevitably they will focus on it, and should start dropping points. Well that is the theory. Let’s remind ourselves that this Juventus team are still unbeaten and it would take Napoli to win every game remaining of this season to have a chance for the title, that’s winning 15 games in a row.

It isn’t going to happen this season, Napoli have dropped the ball so to speak on too many occasions. But next season could be a real possibility and would also mark 30 years since they last won it.

Wolves have been nothing short of spectacular in the Premier League this season

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Such is the gulf between teams in the Premier League now that it has been referred in the past to a three leagues in one. First you have the elite six teams who always seem to sprint away from the middle pack and create their very own league. From about 13th place to 20th you have the bottom clubs and even if you are near the top half there is every chance of getting sucked down to the bottom three.

And then there is a very important pack, the middle one which ranges from 7th-12th. These are the teams that are well capable of upsetting the teams at the top end and in effect influencing the league. These teams have been managed well, through budgets and players brought in and genuinely have quality managers. Put it this way if you are a manager of one of these clubs and you have an off season and get sacked, your next job will still be in the Premier League, you simply became an established member of the world’s most hyperbole and yet utterly fascinating league.

The only thing that honestly separates the teams is budgets. The top six might be able to spend £100m and upwards, these teams it’s more realistic to strike around the 50-60m mark.

With all of that said here comes the unofficial Premier League ‘real’ leaders, who will reside in 7th- they are the so called best of the rest and that accolade as we roar through February and into the home straight in the league goes to Wolverhampton Wanderers, or simply known as Wolves.

Under Nino Espirito Santos Wolves have been a revelation this season. They started the season brightly becoming a real force to be reckoned with. First they stopped Everton in their tracks with a 2-2 draw at Molineux and they improved on their home form by also forcing champions Manchester City into a 1-1 draw.

They took a point away to Manchester United and before you knew it Santos was picking up manager of the month. All was good before Wolves hit a slump, and it seemed that the club had simply gone through a honeymoon period with their new coach.

But their strength in character really showed and they have been back on form for the past few months. They have lost just 2 games in their past seven and have climbed deservedly so to 7th place, playing attack minded football and making games very difficult for their opponents.

Now they find themselves in 7th and 11 points from 6th and Chelsea who have hit a wall. Could Santos’ team rally on and even threaten that place? Watford are the only team at this moment who are near to the club and these two teams have really been able to punch above their weight this season.

However Wolves remain the leader of the pack and don’t look like they will be tamed anytime soon.

 

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Why Marotta deserves credit for handling of Icardi situation

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For millions of Inter fans across the world, the last 24 hours have proved to be rather tumultuous. Mauro Icardi has been stripped of his role as team captain as he once again finds his future at the club clouded in uncertainty. Indeed, the Argentine striker has also been omitted from the Nerazzurri squad which travelled to Austria to face Rapid Vienna in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 tomorrow night. Yes, the black and blue half of Milan once again finds itself in a state of absolute chaos. Continue reading