Serie A Injury Report – Round 9

vecino

Juventus: Paulo Dybala had a little scare with Argentina, but his knee is fine. Daniele Rugani nursed a rib fracture during the break and Leonardo Spinazzola has a chance to make the squad list. The only injured player is Sami Khedira, who is dealing with a hamstring strain.

Napoli: Lorenzo Insigne has picked up a minor injury and will not be available. Kalidou Koulibaly returned early from international duties because of muscle fatigue and he is likely to rest. Faouzi Ghoulam (kneecap fracture), Amin Younes (torn Achilles) and Alex Meret (arm fracture) are inching closer to a return but the could be held out for another week. Sebastiano Luperto is fatigued. Continue reading

Bonucci comments on Juventus return and relationship with Allegri

bonucci

Leonardo Bonucci talked about his Milan move and subsequent return to Juventus in an interview with Corriere dello Sport: “It was a weird feeling. I was in a new place, but it was like I never left. Same faces, same hugs. This stadium, this team, this town are my home. It was nice to share the locker room again with Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli. Leaving it all was hard and I made that choice because I was angry. This experience taught me that in those moments the instinct can lead you to bad decisions that would not have been taken with a clearer mind.” Continue reading

Italy’s potential new building blocks

.

The recent two matches against Poland and Portugal certainly didn’t do much to inspire hope that the Azzurri can rapidly turn things around failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.

But the start of the Serie A season has given even a cynical person like myself at least some reasons to believe Roberto Mancini (or whoever could potentially replace him after the Euro) will be able to field a competent squad in Qatar should the Azzurri make it that far.

There have been some Italian players young enough to be in their prime in four years who have been able to shine in the first few weeks of the season including…

Nicolo’ Barella the 21 year old Cagliari midfielder was the man of the match in the recent showdown against Milan. The Sardinian native has shown his versatility so far this season, he packs a strong punch with his shot to go with good positioning and above average tacking ability. Barella has all the tools to slot nicely next to Jorginho, a player who so far has struggled to shine on the Azzurri the same he does at the club, likely because the system isn’t set up for him to shine and also because the drop off in talent when he plays for the Italian national team is significant to what he experienced at Napoli and now at Chelsea. Barella’s teammate Alessio Cragno has continued to build on the strong performances from last season, and could become Donnarumma’s backup on the Azzurri (or main competitor) should Mattia Perin continue to struggle to find playing time at Juventus. 

Speaking of Juventus, Federico Bernardeschi has been arguably Allegri’s best player so far this season. During the summer there was talk the former Fiorentina player would move to the midfield to help overcome the lack of depth after Claudio Marchisio’s departure and because he wasn’t expected to play much in an attack featuring players like Douglas Costa, Paulo Dybala, Juan Cuadrado and Mario Mandzukic. But so far Bernardeschi has shown the maturity that he lacked during his time in Tuscany and in the process made it really hard to bench him.

While Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are still certainly well above average players at their positions, it’s hard to imagine that either of them will be still viable options during the next World Cup. But luckily Italy will be able to count on Alessio Romagnoli, who recently inherited Milan’s captain’s arm band- the former Roma defender is in the verge of becoming an elite player at the international level after shining in Serie A. Romagnoli’s teammate Davide Calabria still hasn’t convinced most of his critics, but considering his young age and experience in Serie A and with Italy’s Under 21 where he appeared in 15 matches, there’s reason to believe he’ll at least be a potential backup wing back on the Azzurri.

Mancini must have have told himself “if you want something done right, you might as well do it yourself“ when he recently selected Nicolo’ Zaniolo to the Azzurri’s senior squad right after complaining Serie A teams weren’t fielding enough young Italians. Mancini’s bold decision inspired Eusebio Di Francesco to give Zaniolo his debut for Roma at the Santiago Bernabeu, the former Inter youth team player was a key member of Italy’s Under 19 that made it to the European finals and could single handedly change the way the Nainggolan deal has been evaluated.

Just like in Barella’s case, there’s no doubt that Federico Chiesa will benefit from at least another full season at his current club in a system where he’s comfortable. The Fiorentina winger is going from being rated as one of the beta prospects in Serie A to being considered one of the league’s best players outright with his performances to start the season.

Chiesa’s teammate, Marco Benassi is entering his prime now and his first few matches were so convincing that Mancini selected him for the two recent matches. Benassi has appeared in 27 matches with the Azzurri’s Under 21 team where he also scored six goals.

Milan need to sort out their defensive issues

In the first half of last season, Milan were shambolic in defense, conceding ridiculous goals at the wrong place at the wrong time and struggled to make the difference at the other end of the field. Despite winning against AS Roma, there are a few pressing concerns in defense this season.

There were some mitigating factors in the previous year. The infusion of new players and the formation of a new defensive set up. Leonardo Bonucci’s arrival prompted the then manager Vincenzo Montella to opt for a three back because of the defender’s familiarity with that system. Effectively laying the platform for one man.Ricardo Rodríguez, Mateo Musacchio and Alessio Romagnoli had to adapt to this new organization and in most instances they wilted. Among some of the embarrassing displays were the two zero defeat to Sampdoria at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris and the 4-1 debacle at the hands of Lazio at the Stadio Olympico.

But Milan did improve in the second half of the season after Gennaro Gattuso was installed as the head coach. Gattuso steadied the ship and change the structure of the team to a back four. The Rossoneri conceded 15 goals in 19 games before the end of May 2018. After such improve, you would expect that the Diavolo would demonstrate some level of resilience and reliability at the back, but it hasn’t been the case so far.

The season is just two games old, but there are worrying defensive weaknesses that must be addressed. Milan continue to bleed in defense after shipping in four goals in their first two matches. What is more frustrating is the systemic errors committed by players. The reckless concession of possession in Milan’s half and the inability of players to deal with shots from distance. In the two games against Napoli and AS Roma, we saw how Gattuso’s men struggled against their opponent during set pieces.

A bit of narration.

In the 2-1 win over Roma, the manner in which Milan reacted to Javier Pastore’s conner kick is very telling. Pastore sent the cross into the mixer, hoping to find the height of either Dzeko or Fazio, Gianluigi Donnarumma comes out to parry the ball out, it fall to Stephan El Shaarawy close to the edge of the 18yard box, the little Pharaoh sends in a pass which deflects off the foot of Daniele De Rossi, marked by Mateo Musacchio, the ball gets to Davide Calabria with his arms around Patrik Schick, the young Italian kicks the ball with his weaker foot to Federico Fazio, and the Argentine hits in the rebound to put Roma on level pegging.

Now let’s cast our mind back to the 3-2 defeat at the San Paolo against Napoli. The home side equalized the second goal from a corner kick. Jose Callejon hits the ball in from the left side flag, Tiémoué Bakayoko heads the ball out of the box, which fall to Piotr Zieliński, the Napoli midfielder shoots right from the edge of the 18yard and the ball finds its way into the back of the net.

Dissecting the problem.

Milan are failing to pick up these players who patrol outside the 18yard box. And they are mostly players with the ability to provide an incisive pass to create goal scoring opportunities. In the two instances narrated above, there was no sense of closing down both El shaawary and Zielinski when they received the ball.

The positioning of the defenders when a cross is sent in the box. Given Patrick Schick’s height and strength, it’s quite perplexing to see Calabria trying to put a brake on the Czech International. This should have been the job of Kessie or Bonaventura. Calabria invested his strength in his arm around the Roma forward, weakening his position to attack the ball as precisely as he should.

It must also be noted that Steven Nzonzi’s VAR disallowed goal also resulted from a corner kick.

Milan have a relatively youthful defense with a 19year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma in the post so the lack of experience almost always bites them. It will take time and patience for them to grow strong and mature together.  Gattuso still needs to sort out the best center back partnership for Alesio Romagnoli. Mateo Musacchio is not the most popular in defense whiles Caldara is yet to start a game this season, but could be crucial in redefining the Rossoneri’s defensive identity. He may be the lynchpin in the defense.

Conceding four goals in two games is not the best way to kick start a campaign, It gives opponents confidence when anytime they are on the offensive and set jitters among the defenders. Milan must get the basic rules of defending right.

Do you know you Italian Football? Play the new Serie A Fantasy game here: www.seriea-fantasy.com & remember to invite your friends too!

Gennaro Gattuso has got a huge job on hands

Money does not always correlate with success, and that was the story of AC Milan last season when they went on a spending spree adding nine new players to instigate a revolution. The headliner, was the signing of Leonardo Bonucci from rivals Juventus. However, after a year with the Rossoneri as captain, Bonucci is back with the Old Lady while Milan received promising defender Mattia Caldara in exchange. 

Despite a less than a year experience as a coach in Serie A, there is residual believe that Gattuso can restore the Diavolo back to its past glory days. And with Leonardo Araújo and Paulo Maldini play key roles at management level, the Gattuso can only be confident that his job is safe for now.

Last Saturday’s 3-2 defeat to Napoli at the San Paolo was evidence of how far the Rossoneri were behind last season’s top four teams. It revealed a team with startling defensive flaws, lack authority in midfield and devoid of character. The very qualities that, Napoli showed to come from behind to score three goals.

The Diavolo addressed a key position of need in the transfer window by signing Gonzalo Higuain from Juventus as the team struggled for goals last season with Nicola Kalinic as their top marksman. Higuain is a proven goal scorer with not less than 15 goals in each of the four season he has spent in serie A .However, his efficiency will largely depend on the understanding he develops with the likes of Hakan Çalhanoğlu , Jack Bonaventura and Suso. Most significantly the quality of services from his supporting cast.

One thing is apparent in this Milan side, there are some rough edges that, individually, Gattuso needs to smooth out, particularly the young players. The decision making of Davide Calabria, Franck Kessié wayward shots, Suso’s crosses, Donnarumma’s lack of confidence playing from the back, Bonaventura’s hesitations in key moments in games, Mateo Musacchio’s reading of the game, Ricardo Rodriquez’s poor offensive participation and Lucas Biglia’s lack of ball progression. The lack of leadership and personalities in this team is very glare. Likewise the issue of immaturity and mental toughness.

The season is still embryonic though, but it’s hard to deny that the negatives seem to outweigh the positives. Having said that, there is still cause to be optimistic as the season wears on.

In defense, the return of Andrea Conti  should solve the problem at right back as the former Atalanta defender shows better judgement in his passes and attacks the flanks with more purpose and precision. This could free Suso to provide more support to Higuain in attack and supplementary interplay from the right channel. Then there is the issue of the center back pairing. Gattuso opted for a partnership between Alessio Romagnoli and Mateo Musacchio in their first Serie A game, but it’s difficult to envisage this coupling in a long term.

It is the vision of many Milanisti to see a partnership of Caldara and Romagnoli, based on the idea that these two could lead the Azzurris defence in the not too distant future. The departure of Leonardo Bonucci means there is a vacuum of leadership at the back, as both Caldara and Romagnoli lack a bit in stature and experience. However Pepe Reina’s know-how and leadership qualities could be key in the dressing room whiles mentoring Donnarumma.

One key area that Milan have been suffering from in the past couple of years is the midfield. For a club that had the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Massimo Ambrosini, Kaka, Rui Costa and the warrior, Genaro Gattuso, it’s a big disappointment watching the current crop. Milan lack presence and expertise in midfield. Lucas Biglia should be more imaginative with his passes and tactful on the ball. Kessie is a burst of energy and athleticism, but very limited technical wise. His energy can be more useful if he stays close to Biglia to break down opponents’ attacks rather than waste opportunities in support of the attack.

Milan inability to stock their midfield with A list players could bite them for the second time in a roll as Tiémoué Bakayoko, Andrea Bertolacci, Riccardo Montolivo may not offer much. Milan, just don’t have enough quality to play themselves out of situations when they are under pressure.

This Friday, Hakan Çalhanoğlu returns to action against AS Roma. And the Gialorrosi will be looking to exact revenge after the Rossoneri inflicted a two nil defeat on them at the stadio Olimpico last season.  The Turkish international’s creativity alongside Bonaventura should give Milan confidence in attack.

Genaro Gatusso has got a huge job on his hands as his team needs to massively improve if they have any aspirations of making the top four. It’s not enough for him to be taking the blame for the poor performance of his players, there must be evidence of progress on the pitch.

Play the new Serie A Fantasy game here: www.seriea-fantasy.com

 

 

Serie A Weekly News Recap

douglascosta

On Monday, Italy finished the first cycle of friendlies with Roberto Mancini at the helm with a tie against Netherlands. So one win, one loss and one tie for the new coach as the Azzurri had mixed showings under the new regime.

The coaching carousel is almost over: Cagliari have hired Rolando Maran and Udinese have appointed Julio Velazquez. Sassuolo have parted ways with Giuseppe Iachini and that’s the only open spot besides Bologna. The Sardinians have also promoted Daniele Conti to technical director.  Continue reading

Serie A Player Status Updates – Round 36

immobile5

Injuries pile up at the end of the season and unfortunately some top players got caught.

Juventus: Miralem Pjanic is suspended, while Mario Mandzukic will be held out due to a cut on the ankle. Giorgio Chiellini, Stefano Sturaro and Mattia De Sciglio are out with their previous injuries. Benedikt Howedes suffered yet another muscular ailment. 

Napoli: Kalidou Koulibaly is disqualified and Faouzi Ghoulam continues to rehab his fractured patella.  Continue reading

Serie A Player Status Updates – Round 34

pjanic2

Some of the most recognizable players risks being out in the upcoming round, here are the updates on everybody’s conditions.

Juventus: Miralem Pjanic is trying to recover for the big match against Napoli after skipping one due to a hamstring contracture and there are good chances he will be able to. Same for Mario Mandzukic, who was unavailable in Crotone due to gastroenteritis. Stefano Sturaro has a sore Achilles tendon, Mattia De Sciglio is out with a foot injury.

Napoli: no problems for the Partenopei, other than Faouzi Ghoulam who has been out for a while with a patella fracture.  Continue reading

Serie A Player Status Updates – Round 32

candreva

Here are the latest updates on few players’ conditions heading into the next Serie A matchday.

Juventus:  Mattia De Sciglio was taken out of the Real Madrid match due to an apparent plantar fascia lesion that will require further testing. Federico Bernardeschi and Andrea Barzagli are working their way back from a knee sprain and an abdominal strain and practiced partially this week, but they will likely not be available this week.

Napoli: Mario Rui is suspended, no other absentees other than the usual one, Faouzi Ghoulam.

Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Game Predictions – Round 32

lazioroma

Here’s a breakdown of the top five matches of the next Serie A round.

Atalanta-Inter: the Goddess has slowed down a little after a hot comeback and have failed two win in their last two outings, against Sampdoria and Spal. Their offence is missing a key piece in Josip Ilicic and Alejandro Gomez and Bryan Cristante look spent after a demanding year: it would be the right time for either Andrea Petagna or Andreas Cornelius to carry the load a little bit, but neither has been consistent so far. Two disappointing results for Inter as well, first in the Derby della Madonnina, then against Torino. Continue reading