Fan Zone: Gregory on Nedved, Buffon, Dybala & more Juve talk

Gregory Caltabanis is an established writer and reporter who covers extensively European football, but what matters for the purposes of this Q&A is Gregory’s unfaltering allegiance to Italian giants Juventus.

Gregory is part of the @FantaCalcioGame team as well! They run the most popular Fantasy Serie A Game, but for now let’s go straight to the Q&A with Gregory offering lots of interesting takes on legends such as Pavel Nedved and Gianluigi Buffon.

1) Who are your 3 all-time favorite Juve players (ranked by preference) and why?

Pavel Nedved: My all-time favorite Juve player is undoubtedly Nedved. One of the first games I saw as a kid was Juve against Milan in 2005 and all I remember seeing was a player with blonde locks run effortlessly down the left wing. Of course, it was Nedved. From that point forward, I always watched Juve and became a fan. The rest is history.

Gianluigi Buffon: After Nedved, I would have to say it’s Buffon. Buffon has been with the team since I’ve followed them and is the main reason I’m a goalkeeper to this day. Beyond saving countless goals, he’s a class act both on and off the field. I’ll never forget his save on Zidane’s header in 2006.

Paulo Dybala: The last one is a bit difficult, but I have to go with Dybala. I know he’s not up there yet with Alessandro Del Piero and other legends, but Dybala is one of the reasons I’m still passionate about the team today. He’s always respected the shirt and is arguably the first worthy number 10 we’ve had since Del Piero. I hope he stays with Juve for the long haul.

2) From active players, pick your favorite Juve player by position: one each from defense, midfield and attack. Why did you pick them?

DEF: My favorite defender is 100% Merih Demiral (Gregory says it emphatically!). Since he’s joined, I always thought he would be very important for our success. It’s a shame the serious injury halted his progress, but I’m confident he’ll come back stronger. Demiral embodies everything that Juve should seek in a player. He’s confident, plays with an edge and has that fighting spirit. I’ll be ordering my Demiral jersey very soon.

MID: It has to be Rodrigo Bentancur. I’ve had my doubts about him over the years, but he’s stepped up this season and looks to be evolving into an important player for us. Like Demiral, he plays with an edge to his game which I feel we lack sometimes. I’m looking forward to seeing him make further progress when play hopefully resumes.

STR: It’s an obvious one- Paulo Dybala. You really get the sense that he loves Juve and fights for the shirt every time he steps onto the pitch. It goes without saying, but his left foot is incredible. It’s just amazing to watch him play. Now, if only Fabio Paratici shared the same opinion, we’d be better off.

3) Your choice for most important Juve victory in your lifetime? Why?

Without a doubt, when we knocked out Real Madrid 3-2 on aggregate in 2015. While the win against Inter in 2018 was huge, for me the Real result announced Juve’s return on the world stage and showed the rest of Europe “we are back.” After all, we just took out Real Madrid. The final didn’t go our way, but I can’t recall a win I’ve celebrated more.

4) Choose your all-time favorite Juve match, and why?

Against Inter and on their home turf just over two years ago. At times, it felt like the game and the title were slipping away but as soon as Dybala stepped onto the pitch, it changed everything. I’ll never forget Gonzalo Higuain’s goal to complete the comeback. Made it that much sweeter that it was against Inter at the San Siro.

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5) Where do you rank Sarri among the current generation of Italian coaches? How about among coaches worldwide?

I’d put him in the top five, but I wouldn’t rank him in the top tier of Italian managers at the moment. Conte is in a class of his own, in my opinion. Other than last year, I’d put Allegri in the same tier as Conte. Beyond them, I rate Gasperini highly but it would be interesting to see how he does outside of Atalanta.

Worldwide, I think he’s a top ten manager. If I had to rank them, I’d say this is my top ten: Klopp, Guardiola, Simeone, Conte, Zidane, Allegri, Nagelsmann, Sarri, Tuchel, Gasperini.

6) What’s Juve’s objective for this season? Is it Serie A, the Champions League, or both?

Definitely both. When you have Cristiano Ronaldo on your team, the objective always has to be the Champions League. While I don’t think the team is well equipped for a deep European run, a player like Ronaldo can make the difference in a big game. It would be a waste of his final years if Juve didn’t push for European glory.

7) Perhaps a tough one here but pick two from Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba, and Vidal for your midfield, and why?

I love Marchisio and it’ll be hard to leave him out, but I have to go with Pirlo and Vidal. Pirlo is the ultimate Regista and is needed to dictate play. Obviously, it helps he can score a free-kick from just about any angle. As for Vidal, he’s your classic box-to-box midfielder and is not afraid to jump into tackles. Few midfielders impressed me more than prime Vidal and let’s not forget, he could score, too. Juve’s current midfield is really lacking his type of profile.

8) Where are Juve’s weaknesses? Some say right-back, others say left-back, or many mention the midfield. Your take?

It has to be the midfield. This may anger some, but Miralem Pjanic is a complete liability both in and out of possession. Juve can do much better in his position and I think they’ll look to replace him this summer. Blaise Matuidi is necessary to press and offer defensive support, but ultimately he’s far too limited. Remember his turnover against Napoli?

I think this Juve side needs at least two signings in the middle of the park and should arguably offload two or three guys (Sami Khedira, Pjanic and perhaps Adrien Rabiot) As I said before, this midfield lacks fight and demonstrates zero Grinta.

Of course, our depth at full-back is worrisome particularly with Alex Sandro slowing down, but for now, I think Sandro and Juan Cuadrado can manage the situation. Hopefully, Pellegrini comes back in the summer and competes for the left-back position.

9) In your opinion who is the best player (not necessarily your favorite) to ever wear the Juve shirt?

It has to be Del Piero. Record goalscorer and record appearance holder, few match Del Piero’s resume with the club. He’s won it all with us and has inspired many to support Juve over the years. At the height of Italian football, he was one of the best and led Juve to many trophies.

Del Piero set the standard for our number ten jersey and raised the bar for everyone after him. Perhaps Buffon is in it with a shout, but I have to give this one to Pinturicchio.

Lyon Defeats Highlights Juventus’ Woes in Plain Sight

While yesterday’s narrow defeat still gives Juventus a decent shot at progressing, the bianconeri’s lacklustre performance was vastly concerning and brought to light the side’s major issues. After the hosts scored an early goal, Lyon opted to defend in a deep, compact block and did so expertly. The French side conceded very little and emerged victorious keeping a clean sheet.

This season, Juventus have encountered a number of issues breaking down sides defending in their own penalty area and struggled to create anything of note last night. In fact, it took over eighty minutes for the Italian champions to register their first shot on target. Sarri’s men may still progress to the next round, but if last night highlighted anything, it’s that this Juventus side is NOT built to go toe-to-toe with Europe’s elite.

For one, Juventus’ defence lacks depth out wide. After selling Leonardo Spinazzola and loaning out his replacement Luca Pellegrini, Alex Sandro is the only senior left-back on the roster. Since last season, the Brazilian’s form has declined and offers close to nothing in the final third. Last night, Sandro looked gassed and struggled to beat his man.

On the opposing wing, Danilo did not fare much better. After pushing Cuadrado forward in his natural position, Sarri turned to Danilo for the right-back position. Since joining from Manchester City, the former Real Madrid man has regularly been sidelined and has struggled for form.

When he’s not injured, Danilo represents Juventus’ biggest liability, either at the back or in the final third. Last season, the now-departed Joao Cancelo made the right-back role his own and was arguably the side’s best performer in the first half of the season. Even if they progress past Lyon, Juventus’ questionable depth and options at full-back will come back to haunt them.

Beyond their stuttering fullbacks, Juventus’ biggest problem lies in the midfield. Miralem Pjanic is on the steep decline and hasn’t looked like himself for years while new recruit Adrien Rabiot is typically a passenger in the midfield when given the nod. Outside of Bentancur, Juventus’ midfield lacks drive and incision in the final third and often plays on the peripheries of games. Last night was no different.

Aaron Ramsey, Juventus’ other midfield recruit, is yet to establish himself as a set-starter but is slowly improving. After a top-notch performance on the weekend, the Welshman was inexplicably left out of the eleven by Sarri, leaving Juventus with three extremely similar midfielders on the pitch. If the bianconeri are to have a shot at progressing past Lyon and making a deep European run, Ramsey will need to be at the heart of it. The former Arsenal man is one of the side’s only midfielders that makes runs into the box, opening space for his teammates. Without him on the pitch, opposing sides are happy to drop off, conceding possession outside their penalty area.

The reality is, however, whatever setup Sarri goes with will have its own flaws. The side is poorly constructed and lacks pieces in key areas. If the tactician fields Dybala with Higuain and Ronaldo, Juve will lack balance and offensive options off the bench. If Sarri goes with the 4-3-3, it alienates the bianconeri’s best player Paulo Dybala and shoehorns him into a wide role. If he goes with the 4-3-1-2, he doesn’t have an out-and-out trequartista to make it work. He tried with Douglas Costa and Bernardeschi, and had no success. All this with one decent fullback.

While Ronaldo may very well put the team on his back like he did last year against Atletico Madrid, Juventus’ issues are there for everyone to see and Lyon know the tie is there for the taking. Their full-backs are sub-par, their midfield is anonymous and their roster, as a whole, is unbalanced.

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Juventus Top Performers – Round 25 vs SPAL

The usual defensive slip-up led to a tenser-than-necessary final part in the SPAL game, but Juventus, after an encouraging hour right in the middle of the game, managed to land the plane, returning to winning ways after two road tumbles.

Alex Sandro: the Brazilian left back was move vivacious than usual in Ferrara, uncorked a pair of tasty crosses that could have easily earned him an assist. The left chain worked looked well-oiled, as he, Blaise Matuidi and Cristiano Ronaldo often moved in unison. Danilo was less active than Sandro, but the team had even more success on the other flank, so the 4-3-3 scheme yielded good profits. As for the rest of the defenders, Giorgio Chiellini looked rusty to open the game but got increasingly confident as the minutes went by. Daniele Rugani was fine but he was just a fraction of a second late on a tackle, causing a penalty and soiling his display. Matthijs De Ligt was dominant in the air when he subbed in, while ordinary business for Wojciech Szczesny. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 24

SPAL-Juventus: Luigi Di Biagio devised a new system in his debut, arraying his men with a 4-3-3. While they failed to get the win, they attacked more than usual and Andrea Petagna bagged the ninth goal of his campaign. Federico Di Francesco has always been playing in very offensive role, but he is more comfortable out wide and the trident was completed by Mattia Valoti in that case, although Gabriel Strefezza will have his chances too. The duo gets a bump thanks to the coaching change, likewise Mirko Valdifiori, who resurfaced and can be a decent weapon on set pieces, as a matter of fact he picked up an assist with a corner kick. Simone Missiroli is back at box-to-box like earlier in his career, joining the sneaky Lucas Castro. On the downside, Arkadiusz Reca, and Mohamed Fares when he will be ready, will feature as fullback, so few meters behind what they were accustomed to doing. Scoring has been one of their main issues so far, as they have no reliable contributors behind Petagna. Continue reading

Chopping Block: Five Players Juventus Should Consider Selling

While Maurizio Sarri’s first season has been a relative success thus far, Juventus’ performances haven’t exactly typified their tactician’s vision to the fullest degree. Until now, the bianconeri have grinded out wins due to individual brilliance like they always have. At a certain point, results alone won’t be enough to satisfy Juventus’ top brass. After all, Sarri’s hiring represented an identity shift for the club. One that predicated the importance of quality football along with the club’s innate desire to win.

In order to do this, Juventus will need to take a deeper look at their roster and significantly shake up their personnel to fit Sarri’s needs. Here are five players that the Italian champions should consider selling.

Blaise Matuidi - The Frenchman has established himself as a crucial starter under Sarri for his importance in the defensive third and pressing phases. When it comes to the final third, on the other hand, Matuidi struggles to combine with his teammates and often slows down Juventus’ attack to a point where an over-reliance is created on their right-hand side. If the bianconeri are serious about Sarriball, Matuidi can no longer be an undisputed starter and should be slowly phased out for a more technical midfielder.

While much is made of his defensive responsibilities, the former PSG man is currently averaging fewer interceptions and tackles per game than Miralem Pjanic, Rodrigo Bentancur and Adrien Rabiot. As a result, it’s only a matter of time before Matuidi finds himself on the chopping block. Given his inflated wages and declining form, Juve would be wise to move Matuidi this summer.

Federico Bernardeschi - Since his man-of-the-match performance in the second leg against Atletico Madrid last season, Bernardeschi has been a shadow of his former self and has struggled immensely in the final third. In fact, in his fifteen appearances this season, the former Fiorentina man is yet to score a goal or register an assist. This output is simply unacceptable from a player who came in with such high expectations.

Recently, there’s been reports that Juventus are considering a swap deal for Milan’s Paqueta, indicating their desire to move on from the stuttering winger. With Dejan Kulusevski coming in, Bernardeschi is a luxury Juve can no longer afford and should sell him to the highest bidder.

Emre Can - Like Bernardeschi, Can is yet to display consistency since joining Juve and has struggled to adapt to life in Italy. Recent reports suggest the former Liverpool man will be joining Borussia Dortmund for 25 million euros, a deal the biaconeri should look to complete as soon as possible. Simply put, the German international does not suit Sarri’s football and Juventus could do with the extra money to bolster their midfield.

His sale would not only represent a boosted transfer kitty but also more room for other midfielders. Sandro Tonali, anyone? While Can’s Juventus tenure is nearing its end, it’s best for all parties to move on and cut their losses.

Miralem Pjanic - This one’s a bit more complicated than the other three and isn’t as clear-cut. Despite flashes of quality, Pjanic is not your typical Sarriball regista and simply does not offer enough in the offensive or defensive phases. While he regularly posts impressive pass completion numbers, his stats aren’t representative of his dwindling influence on the pitch. Since his Roma days, the Bosnian international has been far too passive both in and out of possession. At the base of their midfield, Juventus need someone that is capable of taking risks with the ball and is not afraid of jumping into a tackle.

Pjanic specializes in neither of those departments and could be improved upon easily. Once again, Brescia’s Sandro Tonali comes to mind. While Pjanic is far from the problem with Juventus’ midfield, there a plethora of better options at regista; all options the Italian champions should consider come the summer-time. The very best are ruthless and Juventus must be this.

Alex Sandro - Alex Sandro’s situation is very similar to Pjanic’s. Both players face no competition for their respective roles and complacency has seeped into their play. Unlike Pjanic, I believe Juve could do well to keep the Brazilian past this season, however, they must bring in a viable number one left-back to overtake him. Whether it’s Luca Pellegrini, or a bonafide top quality fullback, Sarri can only do so much with average fullbacks.

The former Porto man offers little in the final third and rarely if ever, beats his man. Combined with Matuidi’s inability to contribute offensively, Juve’s left-hand side is a non-factor besides Cristiano Ronaldo. This can’t go on. Despite this, I wouldn’t mind Juve keeping him, as long as it’s as a backup moving forward.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 18

Brescia-Lazio: it did not take much, but the Rondinelle are playing way better after the return of Eugenio Corini and have rediscovered a pair of weapons that had not produced in the first handful of games, such as Ernesto Torregrossa and Nikolas Spalek. Torregrossa is a more natural fit next to Mario Balotelli and, while not overly prolific, he can hit the net from time to time. The Slovenian no.10 instead had struggled to find his footing in the top league, but he is getting there. His emergence, on top of injuries to other midfielders, pushes Romulo to a less offensive position, where he is not as appealing fantasy-wise. Dimitri Bisoli is also faromg  better lately, while Balotelli has corrected his attitude and found the target twice in the past month and is obviously their featured guy up front. Stefano Sabelli is always very frisky for a right-back. Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round 17 vs Sampdoria

A low-wattage, at times too complacent performance for Juventus against Sampdoria, but it was enough to come away with W in a tricky spot without breaking too much of a sweat.

Alex Sandro (4 points): he was the goat on the conceded goal with not one but two botched clearances, but he literally made up for it on the other end by dishing out two assists on pretty sweet crosses. The back-line as a whole looked out of sorts when forced to defend in the box, which was strange because the four defenders each had okay outings and the opponents were pretty toothless. Something was off in its choral mechanisms, perhaps because the foursome had never appeared together before. Merih Demiral stood out again for his overwhelming physicality, which sometimes works against him in some situations where he should be more careful and not run over adversaries. Leonardo Bonucci brought the usual command and leadership, while Danilo put in a decent shift. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 16

Napoli-Parma: there is great curiosity to see what immediate changes Gennaro Gattuso will bring to the table. In his introductory presser, he hinted that he is going to use 4-3-3, which would lead to few duels up front. The first order of business will have to be reviving Lorenzo Insigne, who has not fared well in a long time, while Dries Mertens is in a domestic slump but has done some damage in Europe. Arkadiusz Milik came back midweek and he looked like a million bucks and he was en fuego before getting injured. He should be front and center in the new project. The new tactic would see José Callejon and Hirving Lozano alternate and the Mexican winger has abated after a decent stretch. It would give Piotr Zielinski and Fabian Ruiz more freedom and the Polish midfielder finally broke through last week. Giovanni Di Lorenzo is trending back up after a period of lull.

Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 14

Atalanta: Luis Muriel and Hans Hateboer subbed off due to knocks on the knee in Champions League, but there is optimism they will be able to play Saturday. Duvan Zapata flew to Spain for further check-ups on his thigh and will remain sidelined. Rafael Toloi is suspended. Simon Kjaer has been ruled out due to fatigue. 

Bologna: Mattia Destro is improving after his knee problem and could be called up, while Mitchell Dijks (toe) and Roberto Soriano (knee) are having troubles absorbing edemas. The midfielder is actually at risk of missing all the December games. Federico Santander is nursing a thigh strain. Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report

Atalanta: Josip Ilicic lost the appeal so he will serve the second game of his suspension. Ruslan Malinovskyi is disqualified as well. Duvan Zapata is not ready after missing time with a thigh strain despite the early optimism, while Luis Muriel and Remo Freuler, who picked up some muscular ailments with their national teams, should be fine. 

Bologna: Mattia Bani and Danilo are banned. Takehiro Tomiyasu is poised to come back from a thigh strain, while Federico Santander suffered the same injury few days ago and will miss three weeks. Roberto Soriano and Mitchell Dijks will miss another one due to a knee and toe edema respectively, also Mattia Destro remains on the shelf due to knee soreness. Continue reading