Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Three

Fiorentina-Juventus: despite the two tough losses, la Viola showed some intriguing stuff up front against both Napoli and Genoa. The potential is there, but the whole team needs to tighten up and build up some chemistry. Franck Ribery is primed to get more minutes after the break and they should finally counter-balance a line-up that is always too reliant on Federico Chiesa. The ones that will benefit the most are the centre-forwards and for the time being Kevin-Prince Boateng will likely be the top option until Dusan Vlahovic and Pedro find their footing. Gaetano Castrovilli has already shown that he can be dangerous with his cuts, while Erick Pulgar hit the net twice on penalties and will have more opportunities to put his shooting prowess to good use in a slightly modified role. Continue reading

Serie A Transfer Market Weekly Recap

Little time left in the window and the clubs are putting the finishing touches on the rosters and getting rid of surplus players. The biggest move of the week was once again made by Inter, which signed Alexis Sanchez on loan from Manchester United and also acquired Cristiano Biraghi from Fiorentina in a swap with Dalbert. The Red Devils sent also Chris Smalling to Roma, who temporarily leaves Old Trafford after eight seasons and was regular in the last three. His experience will give him an edge over the younger options, but it would not particularly surprising to see Federico Fazio lose the starting job at some point. Continue reading

Inter add Alexis Sanchez and Biraghi on loan

Eight years after leaving Udinese, Alexis Sanchez is back in Serie as Inter reached agreement with Manchester United on a straight-up season-long loan. The two clubs negotiated at length on how to structure the deal and divvy up the wages and will have to do it again regarding the fee if the Nerazzurri decide to buy him next summer.

After few great seasons at Arsenal, Sanchez was pretty poor in his 18 months at Old Trafford, where he managed to score just four times in 45 appearances. However, he is coming off a strong Copa America with Chile. The 30-year old forward racked up 80 goals and 45 assists in three and half years with the Gunners and was equally good in his time in Barcelona. Continue reading

Serie A Wishlist: One Player Each For Calcio’s Top Four

With the mercato closing in just under two week’s time, many of Italy’s top sides are scrambling to complete their sides. Inter have been linked with every striker remotely available, Roma desperately need a defender while Napoli are looking at a number of James Rodriguez alternatives. But who exactly should these sides be targeting before the window shuts? Let’s have a look starting with the Italian champions, Juventus.

1) Juventus

Juventus started the transfer window in swash-buckling fashion securing the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Adrien Rabiot and Matthijs de Ligt, but have recently taken a back seat focusing on player sales. While their roster is arguably the strongest in Italy, there’s no denying it still has a few holes. For one, Danilo has to come good or they’re without a top class right back. On the other hand, the bianconeri could really use another midfielder. That being said, both positions are extremely unlikely and Juventus seem intent on going into the season with what they have.

Otherwise, if Juve are able to sell Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Mandzukic, and those remain big ifs, they should go all out for Inter’s Mauro Icardi. After all, they could use fresh legs in the final third and have recently sold Moise Kean. You just feel if the Italian champions don’t sign Icardi, they’d have sacrificed Kean for nothing. A player like Icardi, while he comes with personal baggage, is extremely hard to find. As a result, Fabio Paratici should do all he could to be in a position to sign the Inter man come the end of August.

2) Napoli

At the time of writing this, Napoli have reportedly signed PSV’s Hirving Lozano. The Mexican is a versatile forward capable of playing anywhere across the front-line but will likely feature on the wing. Despite his signing, the partenopei are still lacking something in the final third. All too often last season, they dropped points as a result of their own profligacy in front of goal, costing them on their ultimate Scudetto objective.

While Icardi would arguably do wonders under Carlo Ancelotti, the player Napoli should be looking at is James Rodriguez. The Colombian remains on Real Madrid’s chopping block and would add some much needed creativity in the final third. With Insigne and Lozano on either wing and Rodriguez in the hole, Napoli’s front-line would be truly devastating.

3) Roma 

Where to begin with Roma? The giallorossi could arguably use another winger and right back but for the time being will have to settle for a new central defender. Right now, Roma’s centre-backs consist of Juan Jesus, Federico Fazio, Gianluca Mancini and the newly-acquired Mert Cetin.

Out of them, Mancini is of starting quality, but none of the other three names inspire confidence as regular starters. While Cetin is reportedly a top talent, it would almost be too much to ask of the 22-year-old. As a result, Roma would be wise to secure another centre-half. Recently, it’s been reported they’ve been in the market for Daniele Rugani or Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren.

Either would frankly add some much-needed depth at the heart of defence, but what Roma need is a long-term solution. Someone like Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld would be ideal. Before the end of July, he was available for just under 30 million euros, yet the giallorossi refused to meet the Belgian’s release clause. A decision that might come back to haunt them.

4) Inter

The truth is Inter, much like Roma, could use a few players: a left-back to challenge Asamoah, a right back in case Valentino Lazaro flops and another striker for depth. While they could use all three and will likely make a push for three more players, their most pressing need remains a vice-Lukaku. Currently, Inter only possess Lautaro Martinez that they can rely on besides the Belgian.

As Conte typically deploys two strikers and Inter will be competing in three competitions, adding another striker is vastly important. Recently, they’ve been linked with Napoli’s Arkadiusz Milik, Manchester United’s Alexis Sanchez and Fernando Llorente among others.

Of the three names Inter would be wise to sign the Chilean. Despite his struggles since moving to Old Trafford, moving to Inter could revitalize his career. Under Conte, Sanchez will have new-found motivation and will find a familiar partner in Romelu Lukaku.

Bonus: 

Milan: Angel Correa

Lazio: Bas Dost

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Manchester United are feeling the effects of signing Alexis Sanchez

It has been over a year since Alexis Sanchez joined Manchester United from Arsenal on a free transfer, and yet the Chilean has only managed 29 appearances in all competitions for the club. 

Out of those 29 appearances, perhaps only a handful have been worth remembering. Through injuries, a lack of confidence and irregular minutes on the pitch, Sanchez has been nothing short of a disappointment by Manchester United fans. By all accounts, he is not justifying his immense £350,000 per-week deal (plus bonuses).

It was well documented back in January 2018 that to beat Manchester City to the acquisition of the Chile international, the Red Devils would have to increase their offer and make it as lucrative as possible. The club succumbed to the demands and offered Sanchez an overall package that thumped not only every other player at the club, but also in the Premier League and most of Europe.

With his pedigree and reputation, however, and with the fact that there was no transfer fee to pay, Manchester United thought they would receive his stellar, match-winning performances that he had shown in the years previous at Arsenal.

But, as of present day, that has not been the case. Injuries have plagued the 30 year old and he has yet to ignite in a Red Devils jersey. There were issues with style of play under Jose Mourinho which evidently did not help, but even when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came in as interim manager and gave everyone a lift, Sanchez remained unaffected.

Whether the Chilean is moved on at the end of the season or not is another story – and it will not be easy – but what is more prevalent than his on-pitch performances is how his pay packet is now affecting how the club operates. Given the extortionate sums Sanchez is receiving, his teammates, who are well within their rights to ask, are wondering why they cannot increase their contracts by a considerable figure.

Ander Herrera, for example, is the latest player to ask for a sizeable increase on his contract, which currently expires at the end of the season. With interest looming large from Paris Saint-Germain, the Spain international is using Sanchez’s situation, as well as the attraction from other clubs, to his advantage.

The Spanish midfielder is a classy player and has served United well over the years. He might be considered a squad player more than an essential starter, but there is no denying that he has acted accordingly and fans have grown fond of him since arriving in Manchester in 2014.

Sanchez’s teammates are now expecting similar luxury treatment after understanding the full extent of the Chilean’s contract. Especially given the fact that he has barely played for the club, the likes of Herrera and Luke Shaw feel it is well within their rights to ask for what they think they deserve with the performances they have shown.

If the Chilean never came to Man United in early 2018 and decided to opt for Pep Guardiola’s Man City instead, it would be an immensely difficult sell for Herrera to receive the £200,000 per-week he is asking for.

But alas, given the indentation that Sanchez has done to the books at Old Trafford, the average wages are going to soar with players asking for the ridiculous. There is now no sense of control over what the club can be signing these players up for, because the new ‘normal’ has increased dramatically.

So not only has Sanchez wildly underperformed during his 13 months at Manchester United, but he has also put the club in a difficult situation when trying to re-negotiate contracts with important members of the squad. It will be interesting to see how this pans out with Herrera especially, but the Red Devils have to, at some point, say enough is enough.

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?

FA Cup: Manchester United 2-0 Reading

Ole Gunnar Solskjær made it five wins from five matches after overcoming Reading in what was, perhaps, the most underwhelming performance of his tenure so far. 

Goals from Juan Mata and Romelu Lukaku sealed the game, but Manchester United’s overall output was lacking intensity and the same, relentless pressure as seen in the other four matches so far was not present.

While not every game is going to make fans sit on the edge of their seats, Solskjær will be hoping that when his first-team starting players return to action next weekend against Tottenham they elicit a better response than what was seen out there for 90 minutes.

Here are some talking points from Manchester United’s FA Cup third round fixture:

Sergio Romero comes up trumps again

It is difficult for any goalkeeper with the ability to be a team’s number one to remain on the bench, patiently waiting for their chance and opportunity. The Argentina international, who played in last year’s World Cup for his country, has predominantly been used as United’s Cup goalkeeper and has excelled enormously.

Romero kept yet another clean sheet in a season where goals had been flying in before Solskjær’s arrival. The defence in front of him was makeshift, with Matteo Darmian slotting in as a right-sided centre back, but the former Sampdoria ‘keeper rose to the occasion and delivered another top performance that has rightly been on the receiving end of some praise.

The Argentina international has had opportunities to leave Manchester United in the past, with clubs from all over Europe offering him the chance to become their first choice, but Romero has stuck with it at Man United. While he is unlikely to ever usurp David de Gea, Romero plays such an important role at Old Trafford for when he is called upon.

There are not many clubs who have the same type of sheer quality in reserve as Manchester United do with Romero, which is why the fans should be extremely thankful for the Argentine’s services over the course of the last three-and-a-half-years.

Alexis Sánchez and Romelu Lukaku return 

Manchester United are patiently hoping for Alexis Sánchez to turn 2019 into his year after a disappointing 2018 that caused a bit of distrust between the fans and the Chilean.

Sánchez, who has now assisted twice in his two appearances under the Norwegian, looked sharp against Reading and had the foresight to see the runs of Lukaku appearing in behind the last defender. While he came off with what looked like a hamstring issue, Solskjær sounded confident that it was just precautionary and that he should be fit for the game against Spurs next weekend.

Romelu Lukaku has sprung to life under the caretaker manager with three goals to his name in as many appearances. While his overall game still needs a fair amount of work on – as does his first touch – Lukaku is putting away the goals when in front of goal and in promising positions. The Belgian is no Rashford when it comes to attacking space and interchanging with teammates, but he has certainly found his shooting boots.

It will be interesting to see who Solskjær opts for to lead the line for the Red Devils at Wembley with both Rashford and Lukaku now in a rich vein of form.

Tahith Chong is the future 

Manchester United embody the philosophy of promoting academy graduates into the first-team and it was Tahith Chong’s turn to make his senior debut for the Red Devils this time out.

Chong, who has been on fire for Manchester United’s U23 team in the reserve league, as well as in the UEFA Youth League, has been on the periphery for some time, training constantly with the first-team. The Dutch U21 winger looked at ease when entering the cauldron of Old Trafford with some applause and opted to taking on his opposite man at every given moment.

Of course, Chong is still in the early stages of his development into men’s football, but the willingness to run forward and not be fazed by the stage will have filled the fans and manager with confidence that he has a bright future ahead of him. Chong is certainly one to keep an eye on.

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Is 2019 the year of Alexis Sánchez?

When Alexis Sánchez arrived at Manchester United in the January transfer window, there was a great sense of optimism over what this signing could bring. Under José Mourinho, the Red Devils’ attack was stifling and very few chances being created let alone scored. They needed something to revitalise their attack and Sánchez was a real possibility of doing just that. 

After beating Manchester City to the signing of the Chile international, fans were incredibly excited to see what he could bring to the team. He might have signed on ginormous wages, but he would certainly live up to expectation and be of value if he was to replicate his immense form under Arsène Wenger for Arsenal.

However, life in Manchester was not plain sailing for Sánchez. While there were a few games in which he excelled in – against Tottenham in the FA Cup semi final – it was a case of huge inconsistencies in his performances that gave the overwhelming sense of disappointment. Injuries took their toll and it appeared Sánchez was failing to gel into Manchester United’s attack.

After a solid pre-season in which it was his first summer in half a decade where international football did not take precedent, Sánchez looked sharp and raring to go for the start of the Premier League. But just as he was ready to take the campaign by storm, another injury curtailed his progress and he did not look at peak physical performance.

A run in and out of the team, mainly from the bench, caused great concern among United fans, who were yet to see the player they were promised back in January. Everyone knows what a fantastic forward the Chilean is, but Mourinho simply could not find it in him nor keep him fit enough to put games together.

Sánchez suffered the same fate as the rest of United’s attackers with being shackled to a regimented system that was not allowed to breathe. The former Arsenal striker is a fluid player that interchanges a lot with his other attackers and it is his movement that is one of his best characteristics and is why he can get into positions others cannot. Mourinho was not prepared to change his whole philosophy for that and so Sánchez rarely got the chance to express himself – just as his teammates did not.

Another hamstring injury has ruled Sánchez out since the beginning of December and he is only just returning to first-team training. Under new manager Solskjær, as seen with other forwards, Sánchez might just be in a position of strength heading into 2019 with a completely fresh coach who does not have an agenda.

The Chilean might be 30 but he can still add a lot to United’s attack. Providing he can maintain his fitness and remain injury free, Sánchez is a wonderful option to have either from the bench or to start alongside the Red Devils’ other vibrant, flexible forwards.

Under Mourinho there was a period in which Sánchez was played through the middle, just as he was on United’s pre-season tour to America. Even though he was not in the best of form, he looked threatening against Premier League defences and was in promising positions to strike. One of the main attributes in Sánchez’s locker is his ability to ghost in and out of dangerous areas on the pitch – something that many try and fail to achieve.

Whether Sánchez starts on the left, right or through the middle, under Solskjær’s guidance and permission, the Chilean will be allowed to rotate with his other teammates and interchange positions freely. As seen in his last full season at Arsenal, Sánchez reaps the rewards when given a free role and the freedom to move across the forward line – that is where he is so threatening.

In the Gunners’ 2016/17 season, Sánchez notched up 30 goals and 18 assists in 51 appearances. Nearly one goal contribution per-match and one of the main reasons why top flight clubs all over Europe were chasing the Chilean’s signature. Playing through the middle and occasionally off the left, he was surrounded by players in a flexible system that delivered service to him.

Now, under Solskjær, in his opening three games, it has been evident to see that the Norwegian plans to implement a similar style. The interim manager has said in depth at how Manchester United have to be on the front foot and attacking constantly, which will play into the hands of Sánchez.

It was a year to forget for Sánchez in 2018, but 2019 could be the year of his rebirth. Only time will tell.

Jose Mourinho’s 3rd season syndrome strikes again as he is sacked from Manchester United

Jose Mourinho has been sacked as manager of Manchester United and it should come as no surprise that this has happened, especially as he had just begun his 3rd season in charge of the club.

That’s right 3rd season syndrome has hit the Portuguese manager once again just as it did with Chelsea and Real Madrid in the past and even at Inter Milan, where he won the treble in his 3rd season it still ended up being his last, as he jumped ship. This time just like his second nightmarish experience at Chelsea that ship came calling for him.

At the end of the day losing 3-1 to a great rival like Liverpool and then having it confirmed that your club is 19 points behind them was just too much for the Manchester United hierarchy. Let it be known when he could have been sacked as early as September that the board did seem to give ‘the special one’ more and more time to prove them wrong, but he couldn’t.

Mourinho is sadly now yesterdays man. He can’t seem to stand any confrontation, but players have changed in the past 10 years when he could do very little wrong. The likes of Paul Pogba for example will post things on social media and time and again Mourinho has taken something very innocent out of context, he is in fact like the school teacher who is set in his ways. The result is that he isn’t like Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp who can get the best out of their players. Truth is the new generation of manager also needs to be there for the players and act like a friend at least inside of work.

Mourinho is simply uncapable of that, in some ways he is  a devoted professional and sees the role of a football manager very differently, but it doesn’t work, and if he can’t change then Manchester United should be his last coaching job. Of course for someone who wants to be professional, two things strike to mind that let Mourinho down at his time in Old Trafford. The first was blaming players through the media- what does this do to a footballer? They will simply lack more confidence and not want to play for you. The second was showing no commitment to United. What other manager moves into a hotel for 3 years?

Mourinho’s signings were also  very questionable. Why bring back Pogba for £90m? His signing of Arsenal player Alexis Sanchez looked like a good one, but then he didn’t know how he was going to play him, result, Sanchez has looked like one of the poorest players to have ever graced the Premier League, and yet we know he isn’t. There was a battle to sign Fred, with the United board not wanting to spend, result, Mourinho gets his own way and then hardly plays him.

It will be fascinating where Mourinho ends up next, and one has to wonder if any major club in Europe will want to touch him, although Inter Milan must have fond memories of him. As for United it is expected they will take in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer until the end of the season and then offer the job to Zinedine Zidane. Solskjaer is on a win -win situation if he takes the job for the next five months and the fans love and respect him.

Manchester United have not been the club we once knew, perhaps now with this change which was needed we will see a possible re-emergence.

 

José Mourinho’s negativity is not welcome at Manchester United

To say it’s been a difficult season so far for Manchester United is an understatement of magnificent proportions. For a club that is used to challenging for major honours, sitting in seventh place, eight points from fourth after 14 games, United’s fans are wondering where it all went wrong.

It’s not as if the club possess bad players. Quite the opposite, in fact. Mourinho has signed 11 first-team players since arriving in 2016, including Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku who cost a combined £165 million in transfer fees.

The signing to trump all in terms of failures so far has been Alexis Sánchez, who was brought in from Arsenal last January. The Chilean was supposed to invigorate United’s front line and add a different dimension to their stagnating attack, but has yet to live up to expectation. Spending £500,000 per-week on wages now looks to be a massive mistake and one that Manchester City are thankful they did not commit to.

There is no sense of consistency in United’s game, especially after conceding two goals against Southampton last weekend in quick succession. A team that has been nothing short of shambolic for the past few months; and yet they found a way to carve United apart with ease to find the back of the net. Such are Mourinho’s woes, this is now the new reality.

While the team is suffering this season and the players have not performed to the standard that is expected of them, Mourinho’s incessant negativity around the club is certainly not easing matters. Fans have had enough of his negative football being portrayed on the pitch, and certainly don’t want to have to hear him profess how it’s not his fault.

Mourinho’s go-to tactic has always been to blame the situation around him and remind people of the major honours he has won in his glittering career. No one cant take that immense success away from him, but it’s tiresome to hear Mourinho separate himself from the current mess that is being played out in public for all to see.

It’s clear that the Portuguese coach wants to isolate himself in order to save a reputation that has quickly been declining ever since his last season in charge at Chelsea. At this moment in time, it appears that the £14 million payoff that Mourinho is due if United decide to sack him is too much for even the self-proclaimed ‘richest club in the world’.

So, unless matters deteriorate even further, which would not be a total surprise, Manchester United are likely to keep with him until the end of the season. Fans are not expecting miracles, but they do long for football that entertains them.

The constant leaks coming from the football club is not helping, either. There is no better embodiment of Manchester United post-Ferguson than to see how much information is constantly being played out in the public. Ferguson used to keep a tight control over what was and what wasn’t said, but Mourinho simply doesn’t possess the same authoritative figure that can demand similar.

This time it was the Portuguese manager explaining to the first-team players that Pogba is a ‘virus’, just before they took on Southampton. It is bemusing as to how that can help any set of players go out and win a match, but this relationship, or lack of, has been bubbling away since February, when Mourinho asked Pogba to play a lot deeper against Tottenham at Wembley.

Since then, their relationship has worsened and there have been many notable moments played out for all to see which says they don’t get on. However, if Mourinho wants to survive in this job, he has to start building bridges and stop ostracising players, just as he has done ever since he step foot in Old Trafford.

There is going to be little chance for major honours this season given the level of competition and how far off the Red Devils are. But what the fans want to see, at the very least, for the remaining part of the season, is some high level football that entertains them.

They might not get what they want in celebrating success, but if Mourinho cannot deliver some entertainment at the supposed ‘Theatre of Dreams’, his time will be coming to an end sooner rather than later.

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