Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Four – Top Matches

NAPOLI-ATALANTA

Napoli: they did not get to play the third game because of well-known reasons, but the first two were pretty indicative. Victor Osimhen has yet to score, but he has had a major impact anyway and he is bound to break through soon. In the meantime, Dries Mertens has led the charge (two goals, two assists), helped by the resurgent Hirving Lozano, who has kept up the momentum from the restart. The injury to Lorenzo Insigne and Piotr Zielinski and Elijf Elmas getting COVID might slow down the deployment 4-2-3-1 in full force, but that should be the way forward and the arrival of Tiemoué Bakayoko cements it. The absences could give Matteo Politano and/or Stanislav Lobotka a bigger role than usual and the former scored in the Genoa romp. If Atalanta do not adjust the way they defend, they could make some sweet music on counters.

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Do Juve really need Federico Chiesa?

In the end, Juventus got their man, just. Only hours remained of the transfer window when it was officially announced that the club had signed Federico Chiesa from Fiorentina.

Juve had to shift some pieces of the jigsaw around in order to get the 22-year-old; a Douglas Costa loan move to Bayern Munich here and a Daniele Rugani loan move to Rennes there, freed up the necessary funds in order to get the Chiesa deal finalised.

As has been the story of this Covid-influenced transfer window, Juve signed Chiesa on a two-year loan deal, but in reality it’s just a creative method of staggering the payments for the winger.

So everyone was happy: Juve got their man, Chiesa got the move he wanted a year ago, and Fiorentina offloaded a player who clearly didn’t want to be there for a cool €50m. But is Chiesa actually what the champions need?

There is no doubting Chiesa’s talent. The son of Parma and Sampdoria legend Enrico has seemingly unlimited barrels of energy, and can skip past players at will, when in the mood. Yet since his graduation to the first team at Fiorentina, Chiesa’s decision-making has been questionable. Too often he has beaten an opposing defender in a one vs. one situation, only to produce an inadequate cross or fail to pick out the correct pass. On occasion he’s simply been guilty of supreme selfishness, aiming for goal when a colleague was in a better position.

Chiesa posted 10 goals and six assists in Serie A last season for the Viola, a respectable record for a player in a side that finished 10th. Yet it should also be pointed out that he took more shots on goal than any of his teammates, with an average of 3.3 per game. Next in line was striker Dusan Vlahovic, with 2.2.

On the verge of his 23rd birthday, Chiesa is still incredibly raw. His development has been hampered by a succession of coaches at Fiorentina utilising him in a myriad of different positions, thus denying him the possibility to hone his ability in one position. Vincenzo Montella, Paulo Sousa, Stefano Pioli and now Beppe Iachini have shifted Chiesa everywhere from right wing-back to left winger, via stints as a second striker and attacking midfielder. It’s left the player as a non-accomplished jack-of-all-trades, and certainly a master of none. It’s a wonder Chiesa hasn’t been tried out at centre back, given the poor performances of Federico Ceccherini recently.

So where does Juve’s new €50m signing fit in Andrea Pirlo’s starting XI, and was Chiesa an essential purchase?

Due to the lack of pre-season games, Pirlo has been given little margin for experimentation as Juve boss thus far. In their opening game of the season against Sampdoria, Juve lined out in a 3-5-2 formation. A week later Pirlo changed to a 4-4-2 in order to accommodate the returning Alvaro Morata, but the switch didn’t work, and Juve played like the ghost of Maurizio Sarri had returned for one final game.

Speaking of ghosts, for the game that wasn’t against Napoli on Sunday, Pirlo had intended to line up in a 3-4-1-2 system. Should Pirlo return to this set-up in matches that actually happen, then this could be where Chiesa is set to play, replacing Juan Cuadrado on the right-hand side.

Chiesa’s arrival also gives Pirlo the option to utilise a 3-4-3 system, with Chiesa either being deployed as a right-winger, or on the right in the four-man midfield.

Whilst plotting theoretical positions for Chiesa is all well and good, do Juve actually need him? The answer is no, they don’t. Sporting director Fabio Paratici should’ve prioritised signing a right-back, with Danilo fluctuating somewhere between injury and unconvincing since joining the club from Man City a year ago. Cuadrado has done fine job as a makeshift right-back, but the Colombian is now 32, and defensively suspect, as is the case with someone who spent the majority of their career playing as a right winger.

Midfield is still another fragile position that’s been underfunded over the last half decade, with the shadows of Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal still looming large. It’s early days in Weston McKennie’s Juve sojourn, but the American produced a positive display against Sampdoria on his debut. Is he the Vidal-replacement the team has required for five years? Only time will tell. The signing of Arthur may alleviate the creative burden from the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Dejan Kulusevski, but the Brazilian lacks the dynamism the midfield area so badly requires.

Bringing things round to Chiesa once more, recent history isn’t on his side. Giorgio Chiellini, signed by Juve in the summer of 2005, remains the last player to arrive from Florence and succeed. Since then, the likes of Felipe Melo, Neto, Valeri Bojinov and Federico Bernardeschi have all made the switch and failed to make an impact, and in the case of Melo, damagingly so.

There are similarities between Chiesa and Bernardeschi, the most recent player to make the jump. Like Chiesa, Bernardeschi arrived at Juve as the Viola’s brightest star in the summer of 2017 with a price tag of €40m. Furthermore, Bernardeschi, again like Chiesa, possessed some degree of versatility. This has proved to be his downfall at Juve, with the Carrara-native operating in various positions in the final third of the pitch, and in the process blunting his own skillset. The club would’ve accepted an offer to offload him during the transfer window, but there were no serious takers.

The pressure is firmly on Chiesa now to make the qualitative leap that playing for Juve demands. He wanted the big move for over a year, and now he’s got it. His father Enrico never got to play for Italy’s biggest club, it’s up to Federico to demonstrate that he’s more Roby Baggio or Chiellini, than Melo or Bojinov.

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Points dropped for Inter after fiery 1-1 draw with Lazio

Inter managed to draw 1-1 away to Lazio which on the face of it would have been seen as a decent point away from home. However there would also be a tinge of disappointment at the result given that Inter had taken the lead in the game.

Man of the moment Lautaro Martinez opened the scoring after being set up by an Ivan Perisic shot that deflected and it was Martinez’s 3rd goal in as many games for the Nerazzurri. It was a good week for Inter given that Barcelona were hot on the trail for Martinez’s signature before the transfer window closed, but Inter have managed to keep the brilliant 23 year old striker.

Lazio would hit back through Sergej Miliinkovic-Savic’s strike ten minutes into the second half and the game would remain 1-1, but there was still incident. Ciro Immobile who finished last season as the top goalscorer in Serie A was sent off in the 70th minute after clashing with Inter new signing Arturo Vidal and for the last 20 minutes the ascendancy was with Inter but Antonio Conte’s team could not find a way through. And then with just three minutes left Inter were left with 10 men when Stefano Sensi was also sent off. In fairness a rather enjoyable game of football was spoilt by a 2nd half that felt staggered and petered out as both teams were constantly in dispute of the sending offs.

The result leaves Inter in 4th place with 7 points and they are just two behind current league leaders Atalanta. Whilst Inter lost their 100% record they are still unbeaten and have scored 10 goals and conceded 6.

There was good news for Inter’s Stefan De Vrij who received an award for the best defender in the league last season, De Vrij said: “The championship organiser decides based on how you play during the season, it’s a great honour. It’s a confirmation of the level I reached in Italy last year. I did everything my way and that’s what gives me even more pride.”

As for the players that stood out for Inter at the weekend and earned the most fantasy points Lautaro Martinez leads the way as the striker earned 8 pts, he now has a total of 12 and that’s the most of any Inter player so far. Romelu Lukaku earned 7pts and midfielder Roberto Gagliardini earned 6pts.

Inter’s next game is not until after the international break on October 17th but you will be wanting to mark it in your diaries as it is the one and only derby match with AC Milan. Given how Milan have improved over the last six months this should be a game to remember.

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Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round Three

Atalanta: Pierluigi Gollini (PCL tear), Aleksey Miranchuk (thigh strain) and Matteo Pessina (patellar dislocation) will once again be unavailable and the coach raised some concern regarding Cristiano Piccini, who has not been able to practice fully since joining. The fact that they are signing another player in his role does not bode well for his timetable. The team announced that somebody tested positive but did not disclose whom: Mattia Caldara and Rafael Toloi are absent out of the blue. 

Benevento: Federico Barba returned midweek but subbed off in the first half and has been ruled out. Andres Tello (thigh) and Oliver Kragl (neck) are again sidelined. Nicolas Viola (meniscus) might not be back for the first game after the break. Continue reading

Inter sign Vidal, plus other moves

It took them a couple of years and Barcelona deciding to clean house, but Inter finally managed to reunite Antonio Conte and Arturo Vidal, who was one of the first players the coach asked for when he joined the Nerazzurri. The signing was made official Tuesday and the 33-year-old midfielder agreed to a two-year deal with an optional third one. The Italian side will play just €1M bonus.

The Chilean international joined Juventus in 2011, a couple of months after the hiring of Conte and quickly won over the gaffer, becoming an integral part of his formation. After four years with the Bianconeri, where he totaled 178 appearances and scored 48 goals, he spent three seasons at Bayern Munich and finally the last two at Barcelona. Continue reading

How Inter could line up with new summer signings

Internazionale have been busy again this summer, with Arturo Vidal’s arrival from Barcelona on Sunday being the sixth new face to arrive at the San Siro this summer.

The Italian giants also have a number of players back from loan spells last season, including Ivan Perisic, Joao Mario, Valentino Lazaro and Radja Nainggolan, though whether they will be moved on permanent before the close of the transfer window remains to be seen.

Mauro Icardi’s sale to Paris Saint-Germain has given Antonio Conte increased transfer budget to build a side capable of challenging for the Serie A title this season.

€40 million has been spent on Achraf Hakimi from Real Madrid. The pacey right-back has impressed on loan at Borussia Dortmund over the past two seasons that it was a surprise the Spanish giants moved him on.

Alexis Sanchez spent last season on loan from Manchester United before making his move permanent in August at the start of August.

Midfielders Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi have joined from Cagliari and Sassuolo off the back of good campaigns in 2019-20. Inter then signed experienced left-back Aleksandar Kolarov from AS Roma.

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Ivan Rakitic leaves Barcelona with his head high

After the 8-2 humiliation against Bayern Munich, there were always going to be casualties, and not just on the coaching side.

The result was so cataclysmic for the Catalans, that if a root and branch clear out wasn’t necessary, then something approaching it probably was.

Barca’s lowest ebb of this millennium needed strong decisions to finally be made, no matter what. Continue reading

Ivan Rakitic the latest to leave the Barcelona sinking ship

Ivan Rakitic has left Barcelona to rejoin Sevilla, and the fact he has gone back to Sevilla should speak volumes.

Some followers of Barcelona would like to play down Rakitic’s move as no more than a 32 year old who played six seasons with Barcelona simply moving on. But the timing and choosing of his new club is critical.

Lionel Messi has dominated the football news with his stunning transfer request which is in reality taking a stand at how the club has been run over the past 3 seasons. Now of Barcelona’s best midfielders over the same period of time Rakitic has left. True Rakitic was getting on in age, but he is a quality player that still had a few more seasons in him. The fact he has decided to go back to Sevilla where he enjoyed success and much less pressure says a lot. He will be returning back to the club, one suspects with a wide smile plastered over his face.

Rakitic scored 36 goals in all competitions for the club, but that was never why he was brought into the team. He commanded the midfield and set up well with Sergio Busquets after Xavi and then Andreas Iniesta left the club. Rakitic was the perfect fit and helped Barcelona win 13 trophies including 4 league titles and the Champions League which they won in 2015 and remains the last time the club has won it.

This is the season which is expected to be a big clear out for the club. Arda Turan finally left on a free transfer to join Galatasarey after a miserable time at the Nou Camp. Arthur joined Juventus for 72m euros although Barcelona didn’t really ‘see’ that money given that they then gave Juventus 60m euros for Miralem Pjanic.

Others players that are heading for a likely exit are Arturo Vidal who had a poor campaign and hasn’t really kicked on since his debut season with the club. Luis Suarez is almost certain to leave as new coach Ronald Koeman doesn’t see the former Liverpool striker in his plans. Suarez could leave for either PSG or Juventus. In fairness this is a deal that could be good for both player and club, it is obvious that Suarez has lost a few yards, and maybe just needs a fresh challenge.

There is upheaval at Barcelona, a new beginning that there can be little doubt. The club will splash the cash this summer make no mistake, but they have made many of those over the past few seasons, there seems like there is no room for error especially if they can convince Messi to stay.

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Weston McKennie Could Prove Good Value for Money

Juventus sent shockwaves throughout Italian football on Wednesday after it was announced they were closing in for a surprise move for Schalke’s Weston McKennie. The U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder will join the Bianconeri for an initial three million euros loan fee. Juventus will then have the option to make the move permanent the following year for a further 18 million euros.

While the move came out of nowhere, McKennie’s arrival signals a shift in direction for Juventus in the transfer window. The Italian champions are in the midst of revolutionizing their squad and have already signed two promising young talents, including Dejan Kulusevski and Barcelona’s Arthur.

Andrea Pirlo has wasted no time making an impact in Turin and has already informed Gonzalo Higuain and Sami Khedira are surplus to requirements. McKennie’s arrival indicates the Bianconeri are eager to trim their wage bill, reduce the average age of the roster, and more importantly, return to the past transfer strategy that worked so well from them in the past.

McKennie will offer a dynamic presence in the middle of the park at little to no cost and will complement Juventus’s existing options. If the American international does not pan out, Juventus will simply not trigger their obligation to purchase the midfielder. In many ways, the deal for the Schalke midfielder is a low-risk, high upside deal.

Pirlo alluded to a culture shift in his introductory press conference, claiming he wants his Juventus side to win the ball back as quickly as possible. In addition, the former Juve legend claimed he wants to reintroduce grit back into the fold.

Prior to McKennie’s arrival, the Bianconeri did not have an out-and-out ball-winner in the side and could use one. Rodrigo Bentancur, Arthur, and Adrien Rabiot are all capable of maintaining possession but struggle in the defensive third. Last season, Juventus had one of its worst defensive seasons in recent memory, conceding 43 goals. McKennie’s signing will help in this respect as the American international will offer some much-needed physicality in the midfield.

McKennie excels out of possession and has emerged as one of the Bundesliga’s most intriguing box-to-box midfielders this season, making 32 appearances for David Wagner’s men. Juventus have lacked this exact profile since Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba were still at the club.

Similarly to this deal, Juventus swooped in for both Vidal and Pogba when they were relatively young talents on the rise. While McKennie is far from the final product, his signing is an encouraging one and is a welcome change in transfer policy in Turin.

Last season, Juventus opted for established midfielders like Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey on free transfers, offering both players hefty wages. Rabiot made significant strides forward as the season progressed while Ramsey simply never got going. Ultimately, neither delivered what was expected of them. McKennie’s arrival, by contrast, is a low-cost operation and represents good value for money.

McKennie may not become a starter right away with the Italian champions, but one thing’s for sure: The American international will offer Pirlo something Juve doesn’t currently have at a reasonable price.

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3 things to watch in the Barcelona v Bayern game

It’s arguably the tie of the Champions League quarter finals, and Barcelona v Bayern is the only one which features two former winners of the trophy.

All the other six remaining teams have never had their hands on the cup with the big ears, so in some respects the experience of the two FCB’s benefits them enormously.

However, only one can go through and, on current form at least, the Bavarians will be expected to waltz into the final four. Continue reading