Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 5

Brescia-Juventus: two questions loom large on the game, one for each side. Mario Balotelli is eligible to return after the suspension, but his conditioning might be a problem after skipping the summer preparation, so he might be initially be kept on the bench. Cristiano Ronaldo has been ruled out due to muscle fatigue and it is new situation under Maurizio Sarri; they also do not have Douglas Costa, so they lack a pure left-wing player. Federico Bernardeschi could certainly be adapted there, but he has struggled so far, so the coach might try new solutions, like for instance fielding Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain together. Whoever ends up starting up front will have to shoulder a bigger load sans Ronaldo. Continue reading

Serie A’s Breakout Players



A few years ago, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli described Serie A as a “transient league” where players came to develop before going abroad for huge fees. We have seen this trend change recently with more Italian teams holding on to their best players, and in some cases sell them to another Serie A team.

I was thinking about this trend as I was putting together my list of players to watch this season, rather than this being a shopping list for fans of other leagues, there’s now hope the below players won’t be destined to leave for greener pastures if they take their game to the next level.

But enough foreplay, here are some players poised to break out in the coming season:


Arkadiusz Milik

The former Ajax striker was poised to be Gonzalo Higuain’s replacement prior to his first knee injury and Dries Mertens excelling in the false 9 role. At this point the only thing holding Milik back is his health, he sadly suffered two anterior cruciate ligament injuries in the span of 12 months but now finds himself set up to succeed after Napoli failed to sign a big name striker like Benzema or Cavani.

Milik is much more suited to play as a center forward in Ancelotti’s formation than Sarri’s- he’s more similar to the main strikers featured on Carletto’s previous squads than Mertens and he could benefit by playing alongside Insigne/Callejon and in front of a combination of Zielinski, Fabian Ruiz, Diawara, Hamsik and Allan.


Rodrigo Bentancur


Juventus’ decision to let go of Claudio Marchisio following the deal with Sporting for Stefano Sturaro could give the Uruguyan international more opportunities this season. Bentancur’s performances with the bianconeri have radically changed the way the Carlos Tevez deal is now perceived, what looked like a heist for Boca Juniors could end up being another homerun for Paratici and Marotta.

Despite only being 21 years old, Bentancur has experience on the biggest stages after appearing in multiple Champions League matches last season and representing his country at the recent World Cup. Bentancur’s versatility will allow him to be a valuable backup for Allegri and he could establish himself as a starter by season’s end.



Nicolo’ Barella

It’s rather surprising to see him still representing his hometown team Cagliari this season considering that he’s been linked to Juventus, Inter and Napoli for the past few months, but another season as a guaranteed starter will likely benefit him long term. Barella has been featured on Italy’s Under 21 team and has won the award for best Italian midfielder born in ’97 twice.

Like Bentancur, Barella is a modern player who can cover pretty much any role in the midfield, and while he maybe small in stature, he packs a big punch with his shot from the outside and tenacity on the ball. Barella is also a dead ball specialist and it’s only a matter of time until we see him on a big club and playing for Mancini’s Azzurri.


Dennis Praet

The former winner of the Belgian league player of the year award has further honed his skills playing for Giampaolo at the Marassi stadium, so much so that Juventus saw him as a better fit for their club than his former teammate Lucas Torreira, who is now playing for Arsenal.

Praet is an offensive midfielder known for his passing ability and fact he’s equally comfortable with his right and left foot. While he did start the season with an injury, he’s expected to use the coming months as a spring board for a move to a bigger club in the upcoming transfer windows.


Mattia Caldara 

The former Atalanta center back will certainly have more immediate opportunities at Milan rather than Juventus, the club he left as part of the deal involving Bonucci and Higuain. Caldara will join a defense that could become the backline of the Azzurri in the near future since he’ll play alongside Donnarumma, Caldara and his former teammate Conti.

Considering that Gattuso is starting the season with a classic four man defense, Caldara will have to adjust a bit since he’s coming off back to back seasons playing in Gasperini’s 3 center back formation. But considering that Caldara combines strong physical tools with above average technique for a defender, on top of a penchant for scoring goals, he should get up to speed rather quickly. Caldara has excelled on the biggest stages at Atalanta, some of his best performances came in the Europa League against Borussia Dortmund and Everton as well as versus Napoli in Serie A.


Rick Karsdorp 

If Adriano Galliani was running Roma he would be bragging about fact the Dutch international is like a new purchase for Di Francesco’s squad. Karsdorp suffered multiple knee injuries last season after becoming the most expensive player ever sold by Feyenoord (19 million including bonuses)- he ended up only playing 80 minutes, but now a lot is expected from him. Considering his speed and crossing ability, he should be able to form a dynamic partnership with Edin Dzeko- during the 2015-16 season he ended up with ten assists, and now he’ll have a massive target to set up. Should Karsdorp establish himself as the starting right back, Roma would be able to move Florenzi to a more advanced role therefore upgrading at two positions.

Can Ancelotti Bring Success to Napoli?

There are so many question marks over Napoli this season after surrendering the league title to Juventus during the latter weeks of the previous campaign. The chief concern is, does Carlo Ancelotti have the necessary tools to bring success to the fans at San Paolo?

Whichever way, Carlo Ancelotti will look to continue Maurizio Sarri’s legacy of bringing exciting attacking football to the people of Naples whiles making them a genuine force again in the league. The Partenopei still boast a chunk of the key components of the squad that almost secured the Serie A title. Notably Senegal center back Kalidu Koulibaly, Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Captain Marek Hamsik. These are players of vital importance.

However, the aforementioned players come nowhere near to the players that have brought Ancelloti success in the past. Paulo Maldini, Alexandro Nesta, Segio Ramos, Tiago. Silva, Andrew Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andry Shevechenko, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Kaka, Dida, Iker Casillas and Philp Lahm just to mention a few. One won’t be wrong to say with the exception of Messi, Carlo Ancelotti has coached the best players in the game in the last two decades.

Carlo may possess the ability to lure a few top players to Napoli based on his reputation, but after a reprehensible end to his Bayern Munich reign, many who love and follow him fear coaching a team like Napoli, despite their upswing in performance in the last three years could further lower his status in the game. In terms of history, stature and experience, Napoli lack the cachet of previous clubs such as Milan, Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid.

The Partenopei rise to prominence in Serie A in recent years, had nothing to do with the acquisition of world class talents, but propelled and earned through Mauriczio Sarri, whose meticulous work ethos enabled his players to show better quality on the ball, redefined their defensive identity while their offensive ratings skyrocketed.

The San Paolo outfit do not have the financial might of Carlo’s previous employers, and with Inter, AC Milan and Roma constantly upgrading owing to the ambitions of their new owners, it’s hard to envisage Napoli challenging for the Scudetto in the not too distant future. It’s no surprise that ahead of the opening fixtures of the season, newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport predicted that both Inter and Milan will leapfrog the Partenopei in the scrap for Champion League position. One wouldn’t be far from right to surmise that this bold call was made taking into account the performance of the teams in the transfer market.

The frustrations of Napoli fans about the club’s lack of ambition in the Mercator were echoed in a recent comment by club president Aurelio De Laurentiis  when he argued that “They want me to spend millions on buying new players, but then they are the ones who buy fake jerseys, make counterfeit merchandise and push through the turnstiles without paying. “So they challenge me too, and I’ll do the same with them.

Carlo Ancelotti issuing out instructions

Carlo Ancelotti issuing out instructions

Despite the talent available to Carlo Ancelotti, Napoli lag behind the likes of Juventus, Inter and AS Roma in terms of depth, and it’s difficult to imagine Ancelotti win the Scuddeto with such a thin squad. The San Paolo fans will miss midfield orchestra Jorginho who has left to Chelsea but it’s also a great opportunity for Polish international Piotr Zieliński to fulfil his potential.

Notwithstanding the win against Lazio at the Olympic last Saturday in their opening Serie A fixture, the manner in which Ciro Immobile turned three Napoli defenders to score that perch of a goal was disappointing, and Ancelotti will hope that such misjudgments do not occur going forward. It was big performances and results like this that made them favorites for a lot of neutral in their last campaign.

For Napoli to pose a threat to Juventus, it’s imperative that Arkadiusz Milik remains fit this season as his height and strength would be crucial in the box against teams like Juventus and Inter. The Polish International could be key in how Ancelotti intends to unhinge his opponents alongside the likes of Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne.

One notable difference in this Napoli team is how Carlo Ancelotti intends to use Marek Hamšík. The skipper seems to have been assigned the role of a deep lying playmaker and despite his limited defensive capabilities the Slovakian distinguished himself against Lazio. But it remains to be seen if that is an ideal plan in the long term. It’s worthy to note that, just like former boss Mauricio Sarri, Carlo is another conservative who hardly rotates his squad. Carlo Ancelotti has got an impressive coaching record, but has he got the right materials to inspire success at San Paolo?



Ten of European footballs most in – form strikers


Euro 2016

There is a quartet of strikers in European football who invariably outshine all others.

Nevertheless aside from Barcelona’s attacking triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, along with Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid, there are currently many other in-form European based strikers, who play for clubs competing in the UEFA Champions League.

As well as showcasing their skills in European football’s elite club competition, the following list, which is far from exhaustive, profiles ten strikers performing extremely among the continent’s top leagues.

Sergio Aguero

Prolific is the only way to describe the 28-year-old Manchester City striker’s goal – scoring form this season, as in just six appearances, Aguero has scored 11 goals.

The first three of those arrived against Steaua Bucharest, as despite also missing two penalties, he inspired his team to a 5-0 victory over the Romanian side in the first leg of their Champions League Play-Off tie.

Subsequently Aguero scored a second Champions League hat – trick as Manchester City opened their group stage campaign with a 4-0 home win over Borrussia Monchengladbach.

Aguero has been able to replicate his razor sharp finishing on the continent in the English Premier League.  He most recently did so against Swansea City as he returned from serving a three-game domestic suspension, after being found guilty of violent misconduct for elbowing West Ham’s Winston Reid, to score twice against the Welsh side and continue his rich vein of form.

Islam Slimani

The 28-year-old Algerian internationalist striker has seamlessly settled into Leicester City’s side, since joining the current English Premier League Champions for £29m from Sporting Lisbon at the end of August.

In addition to scoring two headers to help Claudio Ranieri’s side to a 3-0 league victory over Burnley, Slimani further displayed his aerial prowess against Porto in the Champions League.

Specifically he guided a fine diving header beyond Iker Casillas to give Leicester a 1-0 win.

That goal was Slimani’s sixth in matches with Porto during 2016, since he scored five times in three appearances for his former club Sporting Lisbon against Dragoes, and earned him the title of becoming the first Algerian to score for more than one club in the Champions League.

Son Heung Min

In his last five appearances for Tottenham, the 24-year-old South Korean has scored five goals, including his first in the Champions League against CSKA Moscow.

That proved to be the winning goal, as Son collected a fine Erik Lamela pass to finish composedly, very similar to the way in which he did when scoring double in the English Premier League against Stoke and Middlesbrough.

In doing so the former Bayer Leverkusen striker has established himself top scorer for Spurs, with him enjoying an extended run in Mauricio’s Pochettino’s side.

Alexis Sanchez

A key member of Arsene Wenger’s ever improving Arsenal team, Sanchez is currently amidst a wonderful run of form, whereby he is vividly portraying his great awareness, electrifying pace and wealth of technical skill.

That was most recently in evidence during Arsenal’s 3-0 English Premier League victory over Chelsea, the diminutive Chilean was a vocal point of many of the Gunners best attacking moves.

In addition to his four league goals this season, three of which have arrived away from the Emirates Stadium Sanchez’s late equaliser against Paris Saint Germain earned his team a valuable point from their opening Champions League group stage game.

Arkadiusz Milik

The monumental challenge of replacing Gonzalo Higuain as Napoli’s leading striker is one that the 22-year-old Polish internationalist is currently embracing wonderfully well.

At present Milik is averaging a goal a game for Partenopei, having scored six times in six appearances for the Serie A club, whom he joined from Ajax.

In addition to scoring braces against AC Milan and Bologna, Milik also achieved that feat in the Champions League to inspire Napoli to an excellent 2-1 away victory over Dynamo Kiev

Edinson Cavani

Since the summer departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani has assumed the role of Paris Saint Germain’s leading striker, with the Uruguayan having scored five goals in three Ligue 1 appearances.

Furthermore the former Napoli player also put his team ahead in their opening Champions League group stage game against Arsenal, which ended in a 1-1 draw.

A week prior to that game, Cavani scored twice for Uruguay to help his country to a 4-0 win over Paraguay, as Los Charruas moved to the top of the 2018 World Cup Qualification’s South American section.

Javier Hernandez

Despite missing Bayer Leverkusen’s opening league match of the season due a broken hand, Chicarito has subsequently recovered from that injury to play an important role for Roger Schmidt’s team.

Hernandez has been particularly influential for Leverkusen in their last two matches.

Specifically whilst the former Manchester United and Real Madrid striker’s hat-trick powered Leverkusen to a 3-2 Bundesliga victory over Mainz 05, he earned his team a creditable 1-1 draw away to Monaco in the Champions League by scoring a late equalising goal.

Gonzalo Higuain

Since becoming the third most expensive player in the history of world football, after joining Juventus from Napoli for €90m, Higuain has made an extremely positive impression for the Turin giants.

On his debut for La Vecchia Signoro, Higuain scored the winning goal as the current Serie A champions beat Fiorentina 2-1.

Since then the former Real Madrid striker has found the net four times in seven appearances, as his partnership with fellow Argentinean Paulo Dybala continues to evolve.

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang

Borussia Dortmund’s top scorer for the past two seasons, Aubameyang has commenced the current campaign tremendously well, whereby the former St-Etienne player has scored seven goals in just six appearances.

In addition to scoring in both of his club’s Champions League group stage games, against Legia Warsaw and Real Madrid, Aubameyang, who despite beginning his career at AC Milan did not play a competitive game for I Rossoneri , has also exercised great predatory instinct to help Dortmund win four of their first five Bundesliga games.

The Gabonese international striker is currently enhancing his reputation as one of the finest all round strikers in European football, with his two Champions League goals this term, adding to the three he scored during Dortmund’s run to the last 16 of the 2014-2015 edition of the competition.

One striker to outscore Aubameyang in the aforementioned run was Ciro Immobile, with the 26-year-old’s four group stage goals, vital in helping Dortmund progress to a the knock-out stage.  However Immobile has since left the club and is currently Lazio’s top scorer in Serie A with two goals, albeit four behind the division’s leading marksman Mauro Icardi.

Antoine Greizmann

The Euro 2016 player of the tournament and golden boot winner is currently the joint top scorer in La Liga, alongside Barcelona’s Luis Suarez, with five goals.

The most recent of those was against Deportivo La Coruna, as a typically cool Greizmann finish gave Diego Simeone’s side a 1-0 victory and propelled them to third place in Spain’s top flight.

Given his excellent current form, Greizmann’s prospects of surpassing his best La Liga goals haul for a season of 22, appear extremely healthy.

Ultimately whilst each of the ten strikers profiled possess many different qualities, they share an innate ability to score goals and spearhead the attacks of their respective teams extremely well.

Milik enjoying a fine start to life in Naples


It’s too early for Napoli fans to boast ‘Gonzalo who?’, but after the turmoil of his summer move to Juventus, there appears a light at the end of the tunnel. That light is Arkadiusz Milik, the Polish striker who has opened his Neapolitan career with a bang.

The €35 million signing from Ajax already looks at home at the Stadio San Paolo. He has notched four goals in two appearances there. After a 15 minute brace to open the scoring against Milan, Milik turned last Saturday’s match with Bologna around in just 13 minutes.

His first goal was superb. Milik latched on to a perfectly weighted Marek Hamsik pass to net with his first touch. The 22-year-old was then on hand to drill in a low shot at the near post to make the score 3-1. With that brace – his second in as many matches following the Champions League triumph at Dynamo Kiev in midweek – Napoli returned to the top of Serie A.

They last occupied the position during 2015-16, when Higuain’s goals offered a sight at the Scudetto. That was snuffed out by Juventus, but they hope to be around the mark once more this term.

Not that Maurizio Sarri is getting carried. “The economic difference with Juventus is so vast, not just for us but every Italian competitor, that they’ll have the kind of campaign that Bayern Munich have in Germany, PSG in France and Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain.” The boss went on to say that Napoli would need the Bianconeri to mess up in order to claim the Scudetto.

He was full of praise for Milik’s start to the season, stating: “I was surprised by Milik’s scoring rate, but not by his performances, because I knew he was very strong.” However, Sarri urged caution and patience with the youngster. “He cannot be compared to the top players and must be given the time and space to grow.”

Yet Milik and Jose Callejon are Napoli’s in-form men in front of goal, sharing nine goals between them in Serie A. The pair will be important on Wednesday as the Partenopei face a tricky away trip to Genoa. The Grifoni are coming off a first loss of the season, against Sassuolo, after opening with two victories. Napoli have a good recent record in this fixture, going unbeaten in the previous four trips – including three wins.

Another triumph at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris will have Napoli well positioned ahead of winnable matches against Chievo and Atalanta. Given Milik’s start in the blue shirt, expect him to play an important role.

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