Fantasy Football News

Struggling Villarreal right to dismiss boss Javier Calleja

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Monday morning saw Villarreal boss Javier Calleja become the fifth managerial casualty of the current La Liga campaign. In truth, it was no surprise. The Yellow Submarine sit just one place above the relegation zone and are one of the biggest underachievers in this crazy season in Spain.

Their performances were not alarmingly bad nor is relegation a serious concern at present. They have conceded the same amount of goals as Real Madrid and Barcelona. But the reality is this a side who should be doing an awful lot better and Calleja, well-liked at the club, cannot complain about losing his position. Continue reading

Ronaldo talks Juventus, Messi & the Ballon d’Or

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Cristiano Ronaldo gave an attention-grabbing interview to Gazzetta dello Sport: “I am happy to be here, the city is very pretty, the fans are nice and Juventus is a fantastic club with an extraordinary organization. The players are humble and work hard. The first impression has been wonderful.”

On the squad: “This is the best group I have played in, we are a team. In other clubs, some players felt like they were bigger than the teammates, while that is not the case here. They are aligned and they want to win. Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic are happy even if they do not score. I noticed the difference. Compared to Real Madrid, this is more like a family.” Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 15

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Standings implications: Juventus sank Inter in the most anticipated game of the round, while Napoli wiped out Frosinone, maintaining the distance from the top spot and gaining ground on the Nerazzurri. Both Roman teams were incredibly pipped at the post against Cagliari and Sampdoria and Fiorentina tied the game late versus Sassuolo. Milan and Torino shared the spoils, so the only team prospering in the Europa League zone was Atalanta, which upended Udinese on the road. Among the relegation strugglers, Empoli keep soaring with the third win in the last month, this time over Bologna. Genoa showed grit in the one-one tie with SPAL in Cesare Prandelli’s debut. Continue reading

Three things we learned from Manchester United’s dominant victory at home to Fulham

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In the early minutes of the game, the visitors were showing that they meant business as they looked active on and off the ball. Since the arrival of Claudio Ranieri to Craven Cottage a couple of weeks ago, the side are now showing more stability in the back whilst also pressing and creating chances here and there. Once the goals start to roll in constantly, so will the valuable points and the wins.

However, it was the home side who took the lead and on the 13th minute mark, as Ashley Young completed an impressive solo goal from the left flank as his shot went flying into the top right corner of the net. Just over ten minutes later, United doubled their lead through Juan Mata, who completed off a really good play which included the vital involvement of Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku.

Just a couple of minutes before the half-time break, the hosts managed to score another goal and it came from a quick corner routine which allowed Lukaku to score and finally break his Old Trafford goal drought. Many of the Red Devils will be hoping that goal will be a confidence booster for the Belgian international, especially ahead of the Valencia and Liverpool fixtures that are coming up.

The second half of the fixture was completely opposite to the first half, where the game was done and dusted, which led the hosts to play with less urgency and intensity whilst the visitors were looking to gain more time on the ball. Due to this, Fulham were finally able to produce more passes in the final third and were also allowed to have their midfield and attack further up the pitch.

Fulham were given a huge opportunity to pick up a consolation goal from the penalty spot, which was well-taken by Aboubakar Kamara, who sent David De Gea the wrong way. Though, things went from bad to worse for the West London club, as Andre Zambo Anguissa picked up his second yellow card of the match and Ranieri’s side went down to ten men for the final 22 minutes of the game.

With eight minutes left until the full-time whistle, Marcus Rashford deservingly got his goal and also the side’s fourth goal of the afternoon, which summed up the fine performance many saw from the youngster yesterday. In the end, Manchester United will be really glad to complete a perfect display from start till end after a long time whilst Fulham will have to really improve if they want to stay up.

Here are the three valuable factors we learnt from Manchester United’s latest league game…

Diogo Dalot has instantly become a fans favourite

Manchester United have had issues with playing out from the back as well as ongoing problems with utilising full-backs for them to be a dangerous threat going forward. On the other hand, Diogo Dalot has recently entered the side’s starting line-up and is already showing what he can offer to the team on and off the ball, which cannot be easily stated for the likes of Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young.

Although he is yet to show his composure and quality defensively, the 19-year-old is evidently proving that he has the dribbling and crossing ability to unlock the oppositions that come to Old Trafford and sit deep in their own half. The Red Devils finally look to have an impressive gem that has the huge and key potential to make the right-back position his own for next five to ten years.

Ander Herrera and Juan Mata are now undroppable

Yesterday, United’s midfield and attack showed they can play football on both sides of the pitch and can also do that at a fast and speedy level. From pressing as a solid unit high up the pitch to attacking down the flanks on both areas of the field, the evidence and proof was simply there that the side have not forgotten how to play football it’s just that they lack urgency and actual desire.

Focusing back onto the match, both Ander Herrera and Juan Mata played an influential part in helping the side to a convincing and dominant victory. With the way how both Spaniards play around each other as well as the chemistry and understanding they have with the rest of the team, they must continue to play and remain in the line-up if the manager wants to go on a winning run.

The Red Devils finally complete a thrashing at Old Trafford

Over the last year, Manchester United have not shown the ideal aggression and ruthlessness against the weaker sides, which is one of the reasons to why they sometime drop points to the newly promoted clubs. On top of that, the lack of consistency and planning going into the final third of the pitch, is why the team tend to end the season with a low goal difference compared to the rest.

On the other hand, the four goals scored yesterday against Fulham is actual evidence that this Manchester United side can attack effectively and that they can take their chances. Although the supporters have not seen four goals scored at home in the league on a regular basis, the recent result would make them believe and feel that this can hopefully now happen week in and out.

Spalletti deserves criticism for handing initiative to Juventus in Derby d’Italia

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“It’s unfortunate that we lost, but we were the team that had the bigger chances during the game. But this is Juventus’s strength: we more than matched them, but they know how to fully capitalise on their opportunities. We didn’t manage to find the back of the net, however. We could have got a better result tonight, but we’ll try to take good heart from the good things we did tonight: on Tuesday evening, we have to win at San Siro in front of our fans, who are always fantastic.” Continue reading

Chicharito making his mark for West Ham

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Javier Hernandez has started more league matches in the last week than he had in the entirety of this season combined. It wasn’t so long ago that he’d been linked with a move away from the London Stadium, but it now seems unimaginable that he wouldn’t be in the starting line up.

The build up of fixtures was likely to be a factor in the rotation which played a part in reinstating him to the starting line up, but his performances have ensured it hasn’t resulted in him coming back out of it. With the Hammers currently missing the likes of Marko Arnautovic, Andriy Yarmolenko and long term absentee Manuel Lanzini, Chicharito has truly stepped up to help his side. December was coined as the most important period of West Ham’s season and the Mexican has been integral in making sure that period has begun with success.

The first match came away against an in form Newcastle United, in which Hernandez was handed his first start since a draw with Leicester in October. He opened the scoring just 11 minutes into the game at St. James’ Park, as he latched onto a pinpoint ball in from Robert Snodgrass and played it first time past Martin Dúbravka. It was the type of goal which the Mexican has become so well known for throughout his career. Having missed a few chances, he got his second of the game when he got onto the end of Arnoutovic’s header, raced forward and calmly slotted the ball away at the near post, getting the second of the Hammers’ three goals.

Chicharito started again in the next game, which came against Cardiff City. He may not have scored but  the striker was a constant threat for the 64 minutes he was on the pitch. West Ham managed three goals again, as they earned their first back to back victories since January 2017.

West Ham were desperate to keep their run going against Crystal Palace and Hernandez helped to ensure that happened. The Hammers had gone 1-0 down in the sixth minute, but as Andy Carroll replaced the injured Lucas Perez they got into the game a lot more. After Snodgrass had drawn the sides level with his first league goal for West Ham, Hernandez was able to put the Hammers in front.

It was a goal which highlighted his poacher’s instincts for all to see. Felipe Anderson struck a free kick to Wayne Hennessy’s left. The Welsh stopper was able to palm it away from the goal, but while everyone in the wall had been focused on trying to stop the initial hit, Hernandez ran behind them and into the perfect position to get the rebound, striking the ball into the roof of the net. This goal helped West Ham to their third win in a row, something they hadn’t achieved for over two years.

With the games coming thick and fast, this is the perfect time for the Mexican to find form, especially with Arnautovic currently out injured. He’s always been able to get goals no matter where he’s been in his career, but having struggled since joining the club in 2017 there were fears that things wouldn’t work out for Hernandez in East London. Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly managed to get the best out of him and his team mates though. With an impressive run of games behind him, everyone involved with West Ham will hope this form continues against Fulham on Saturday.

 

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Serie A’s Rising Stars of the Season

I have found that the easiest way to rank teams at the start of the season is to look at how many blue chip and red chip players they have. A blue chipper is good enough to start for a title challenger, while a red chipper is an above average player at his respective position. Of course, as the new season unfolds some new players take a leap and start fitting these criteria- with this in mind, let’s take a look at the emerging stars in Serie A:

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Patrick Cutrone- Milan’s new management team showed a lot of faith in the 20 year old striker by not adding another attacker to go with Higuain after Carlos Bacca and Andre Silva headed to la Liga. While Higuain’s back problems and recent suspension made them regret this decision, this development has nothing to do with Cutrone’s performances.

The rossoneri’s youth team product has drawn comparisons to both Pippo Inzaghi for his ability to sniff out scoring opportunities  and Mario Mandzukic for his work rate and demeanor, I simply like to say Patrick Cutrone is Italian for “Makes Things Happen”.

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Nicolo’ Zaniolo- Inter’s sporting director Piero Ausilio did everything he could to keep the 19 year old midfielder while negotiation the deal for Radja Nainggolan. But Monchi simply refused to part ways with the Belgian international without getting back Zaniolo, while also never considering the idea of giving Inter a buy back clause.

While many of Roma’s signature acquisitions have struggled the past two years, Zaniolo has already started two matches against Real Madrid (and showed a lot of progress the second time around) and put in a great performance against his former club Inter. So far we have seen Zaniolo play more in a trequartista role, but his future will likely be as a mezzala and as a key player for the Italian national team.

Ola Aina/Soualiho Meite’- while Simone Zaza and Roberto Soriano’s return to Serie A was the headline of the granata’s mercato this summer, the two new players to have made the biggest impact are youngsters new to Italian football. Torino has so far won the swap deal with Monaco involving Antonio Barreca (who could return to Serie A in January) and Soualiho Meite’, who has become a constant starter in Mazzari’s midfield.

On the other hand Ola Aina made the best of Cristian Ansaldi’s injury and become one of the most dynamic left wing backs in Calcio- it’s almost certain that Torino will exercise their option to acquire him permanently from Chelsea next summer.

Christian Kouame’- Genoa will likely get back to top part of the mid table should both Piatek and the Ivorian striker produce at the same time. While the Polish striker strived under Davide Ballardini, he struggled when Ivan Juric replaced him, but that coaching change is what launched Kouame’ who has terrorized Serie A defenses in the past few months. At least now they‘ll be on a level playing field with new manager Cesare Prandelli.

While Piatek has so far mainly shined for his finishing, Koaume has more variety to his game- he combines excellent dribbling skills with above average passing and heading ability, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Koaume’ is the one with a bigger market next summer… 

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Joaquim Andersen/Nikola Milenkovic/William Troost Ekong- while everyone knows about Koulibaly, Skriniar, De Vrij, Manolas, Chiellini and Bonucci (all players who won’t be sold in January by the way) there’s also a new breed of exciting center backs in Serie A.

After spending a season on the sidelines to acclimate himself to Italian football, Andersen has become Sampdoria’s best defender. The 22 year old Dane has adapted well to Giampaolo’s back line which is quite demanding when it comes to maintaining tight lines and has shown a lot of maturity on and off the pitch.

While a lot was expected from Fiorentina’s attack, the defense has been the consistent bright spot. Milenkovic has shown excellent versatility since he has performed well as a right wing back despite his height and previous experience as a center back- he has also managed to score as many goals as Chiesa and Simeone.

Udinese found a gem in Turkey when they discovered William Troost Ekong, the Nigerian center back has been a consistent starter under both Velazquez and new manager Davide Nicola and is already a target for numerous clubs in Serie A and abroad. 

Gianluca Mancini-  could the 22 year old be the next installment of Gasperini’s fool’s gold? In recent years we have seen numerous former Atalanta players struggle once they left Bergamo so there may be come second guessing when observing the center back’s impressive performances.

Mancini has essentially replaced Mattia Caldara this season, not only is he performing well in the 3 man back line, just like Caldara he has also shown a penchant for scoring goals. After becoming a regular on the Under 21 look for Mancini to get a selection to the Azzurri’s senior squad in 2019. 

Victor Lindelof is Manchester United’s best central defender but needs a partner to become the finished article

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The supporters of a football club will always be protective when it comes to criticism of their own players. Generally expecting a positive picture of their rising stars within the English media, they can also be very quick to reveal their opinions and thoughts on individuals from other clubs. Meanwhile, now and again there is always a player who can be regarded as overrated or underrated by the press on a weekly basis. Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof is an example of one those types of players.

It’s not to highlight that Lindelof has not been an impressive signing for Manchester United, but more to the fact he has become an easy player to blame for when the side concede a goal in the league. With Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo only featuring recently for the Red Devils so far this campaign, the Swedish international has adapted to the Premier League with ease and is continuing to impress everyone week by week.

Although Lindelof had a rough and forgettable start to his early first months in England, he is now showing that he is the ideal ball-playing centre-back that Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United badly needs. Currently on the sidelines reportedly for the rest of the month with a thigh injury, it can easily be stated that the side are now having issues of playing out from the back without his key presence.

Meanwhile, there are still a number of areas for the player to improve on before he can be regarded as one of the best centre-backs within the league. Along with his ability to play out from the back and his intelligence of reading the game effectively, he needs to start dominating the physical strikers in the air and off the ball, as he can become a very easy player to target in United’s backline.

Despite the little amount of errors he has made, it has probably not cost Manchester United any points in the league, but if they had done so, a lot of pundits would have been his back, similar to what the likes of David Luiz, Jan Vertonghen and Shkodran Mustafi have experienced over the last couple of months. However, this has become a normal factor for centre-backs, as they are criticised for the small errors they produce but hardly receive the appreciation for when they perform well.

Without a doubt, Lindelof is the type defender who likes to be committed and wants to take risks, which can also involve doing more than just defending and helping the team to go forward in attack. Whilst playing at the half-way line as a centre-back, it leaves you clearly open to get caught out on the counter-attack, which is something that the 24-year-old needs to improve on as time goes on.

Once the side actually have an effective gameplan to utilise on a regular basis or a coached by the manager to develop and improve their skills, whether that is with Mourinho or not, then Lindelof along with the team’s defence will become a dominant and solid force that will be very hard to beat.

Overall, since his move from Portugal, Victor Lindelof has already been regarded as one of the most consistent centre-backs within the squad by many Premier League pundits and the Manchester United supporters. Once Mourinho himself can work out who is the right partner to play along with the Swede at the back, it would surely leave the Red Devils with an unbreakable partnership at the heart of defence which hasn’t been witnessed since the days of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.

Roma and Lazio drop points, AC Milan with a golden opportunity

Tomorrow evening, AC Milan will take on Torino at the San Siro, following an important win against Parma last weekend. Despite the long injury list, Gattuso’s men will look to continue their positive run, as a win would put them closer to their city rivals Inter. 

Last weekend, the Rossoneri put in a good performance against Parma, eventually grabbing the win after going down early in the second half. Considering the number of injuries on important players, Gattuso has certainly proved that his team is mentally strong, being able to focus on one game at a time. Not only was the win important for the team’s self-esteem, but it also saw them jump to 4th place, as Lazio failed to beat Chievo away from home.

However, even though Parma have started their season well, it’s expected that the clash with Torino will be slightly tougher. Il Toro have lost only one of their last nine league matches: four wins and four draws. In addition to this, they are one of the two sides (alongside Juventus) to have lost none of their away games in Serie A this season. Milan, on the other hand, are unbeaten at the San Siro against Torino in Serie A since 1985: 15 wins and seven draws since then. In other words, tomorrow’s encounter will be interesting.

According to La Gazzetta Dello Sport, Gattuso will only make one change to the line-up. Calabria and Rodriguez will start as the full-backs, while Abate and Zapata will pair up once again in front of Donnarumma in goal. In the middle, Bakayoko and Kessie will start once again, getting the support of Suso and Calhanoglu on the flanks.

Up front, however, is where the change will be. As Higuain has served his two-game ban, Gattuso will revert back to two strikers, also fielding the youngster Patrick Cutrone, who scored one of the two goals last weekend.

Likely AC Milan XI (4-4-2): Donnarumma; Calabria, Abate, Zapata, Rodriguez; Suso, Kessie, Bakayoko, Calhanoglu; Higuain, Cutrone.

More importantly, Milan need to take advantage of the situation. Lazio and Roma, fifth and sixth respectively, both dropped points today. The former had the lead up until the 99th minute when former Milan man Saponara scored the equaliser, while Cagliari’s Sau scored in the 95th minute to tie it up against the Giallorossi. 

With that said, Gattuso’s men will have the chance to gain a three-point advantage on Lazio, as well as a seven-point advantage on Roma. In addition to this, a win would get them within one point of their city rivals Inter, who are currently on 29 points after their loss yesterday away at Juventus. In other words, the pressure will be on Milan to deliver tomorrow, although you could also argue that Roma and Lazio’s results might calm them down a little.

In any case, should the Rossoneri continue their fine form recently, then they should be able to beat Torino in front of their home crowd. However, as we all know with Milan these days, you can never take anything for granted.

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