Andrea Agnelli’s Superleague Represents All That is Wrong With Football

Juventus president Andrea Agnelli has come under the fire for recent comments about Gian Piero Gasperini’s high-flying Atalanta, claiming they aren’t worthy representatives for Italy in the Champions Leauge. The Juventus president has regularly been on record in favour of a European superleague and criticized the Champions League’s current format.

In an interview at the FT Business of Football Summit in London, Agnelli said:

“I have great respect for everything that Atalanta are doing, but without international history and thanks to just one great season, they had direct access into the primary European club competition. Is that right or not?”

In case you missed it this season, Atalanta are primed to qualify for Europe’s elite eight having smashed Valencia 4-1 in their opening leg. After a rough opening three games, Atalanta found stability and did well to progress to the round of 16 against all the odds. In addition, Gasperini’s men are currently in fourth place, three points ahead of Roma with a game in hand, indicating last season’s success was far from a one-off.

Factor in that Atalanta are competing with Europe’s elites with a fraction of the budget, their rise becomes all the more impressive. In many ways, that’s what football is all about. It’s about the plucky underdog that defies all odds and finds a way to win. It’s about that team that goes against the grain and hits unprecedented heights when no one expected them to. If Agnelli’s superleague is put into place, these success stories will be fewer and far between if any at all, and would completely eliminate the magic of the sport.

For the last two seasons, Gasperini’s men have outplayed Italy’s traditional giants, pipping them to the final European places. Last season, they finished ahead of Inter, Milan, Roma, and Lazio and deservedly so. Despite this, Agnelli maintains their European qualification should not be guaranteed.

“Then I think of AS Roma, who contributed in recent years to maintaining Italy’s ranking. They had one bad season and are out, with all the consequent damage to them financially.”

If the superleague goes through as Agnelli wishes, it would reward clubs based on history and brand name, rather than results. In essence, the rich would get richer. In a society where elites control most facets of everyday life, football must reject this wholeheartedly and keep a meritocracy in place. Inefficiencies remain with the current system as big spenders are typically rewarded, however, less so than in a superleague, for example. In sports, most of the time, you get what you deserve. If you put in the work, chances are you’ll get rewarded accordingly.

Few clubs, if any, in Italy have innovated like Atalanta and have built a base for long-term success. Gli Orobici play an expansive brand of football, promote a host of youth talents annually and will soon be playing in their own stadium. While they may not be considered as one of Italian football’s pioneers, or one of the Seven Sisters, they shouldn’t be punished either for not being there from day one. A case could even be made that Atalanta are currently the nation’s most progressive side and represent all that is good with Italian football. 

Agnelli’s comments, while they may seem like one man’s opinion, represent a far bigger problem in football that currently exists. Europe’s elite have no regard for their league’s provinciali and will stop at nothing until the current format is blown up for their own benefit. Simply put, they’re in it for themselves. In an era where Europe’s elites have each other’s backs, the rest of Italy and the world, must do the same. Otherwise, we’ll be seeing the same 16 teams, if not fewer, every year fight for Europe’s crown. And where’s the fun in that?

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What does the Serie A fixture chaos mean for Lazio?

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The worst, it seems, is over.

After a maddening week of indecision, bickering and downright incompetence from Italy’s football authorities, some answers have finally been delivered as to how Serie A will deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

The Italian government have issued a decree confirming that all sporting events in the country are to be played behind closed doors until 3 April.

Up until this point, Lazio’s superb season has been unaffected by the public health crisis.

But after a week of contradicting statements and last-minute U-turns, now is the time to answer some of the key questions surrounding the new reality in Italian football. Continue reading

Serie A Team of the Round – Atalanta

Atalanta gave up two goals, but still had by far the most dominant performance of the weekend, thus taking home the shout-out.

They did not play last week and, before that, they had triumphed in two of the past three tilt, against Torino and Fiorentina, and tied with Genoa

Gian Piero Gasperini had to come up with a makeshift back-line with Rafael Toloi and Berat Djimsiti both on the shelf and opted to deploy Marten De Roon there, with Mario Pasalic taking his spot in the midfield and the standard configuration on offense. Continue reading

Europa League Race: Contenders, Pretenders and Dark-Horses

As the season draws to a close, the race for European places intensifies. If the season were to end today, Juventus, Inter, Lazio, and Atalanta would represent Italy in the Champions League while Roma and Napoli would have to content themselves with Europa League football.

Currently, the table could not be tighter as just four points separate sixth-place from eleventh. Let’s now take a look at the main contenders, pretenders and dark-horses for the Europa League.

Contenders: 

Roma and Atalanta: As it stands right now, one of Atalanta and Roma are pretty much guaranteed to occupy one of Italy’s two Europa League spots. Gasperini’s men are six-points ahead of the giallorossi in the fourth and final Champions League place and will be eager to maintain their advantage to qualify for Europe’s elite competition. Given Roma’s recent form, they may slide further down the table, but it’s difficult to see them finish outside the top six. As a result, expect Roma to make the Europa league leaving one last spot for the rest of the pack.

Napoli and Milan: After rough starts to the season, Napoli and Milan sacked their managers and almost immediately witnessed an upturn in their fortunes. Napoli have now won four of their last five and seem primed for a strong finish while Milan are finally playing with an identity. With Roma almost surely occupying the first Europa League spot, Napoli and Milan will likely duke it out for the remaining place. Napoli, however, will need to be better against sides under them as they have demonstrated complacency in those clashes. Milan, on the other hand, have taken care of Italy’s provinciali, but struggle against Italy’s elite.

Pretenders: 

Parma and Cagliari: Both sides got off to the season in fine form, but have recently struggled for results. Rolando Maran’s Cagliari haven’t won any of their last five clashes while Parma have proven to be far too inconsistent. In addition to their goal-scoring woes, Parma lack creative depth across the midfield, which will come back to haunt them in their hunt for European football. Cagliari, by contrast, benefitted by some incredible finishing earlier in the year; exploits that cannot be sustained throughout a full season. Expect both sides to slide further down the table as the season wears on.

Dark-Horses: 

Bologna-Hellas Verona: These two are here for vastly different reasons. On one hand, Hellas Verona have one of the league’s best defences propelling them into the race for European football while Bologna have scored freely all season and have shown no signs of slowing down. While Mihajlovic’s men have struggled in their last two games, they possess more quality in the final third than their counterparts and could go toe-to-toe with anyone in Italy. The same applies to Verona, who recently overcame Juventus in a game where they largely dominated. Milan and Napoli may be favourites for the last European spot, but Verona and Bologna will make it interesting over the next 12 match-days.

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What to Watch for in Serie A: Round 24

Can you believe we are headed into round 24 of the 2019/20 Serie A season? Neither can we.

For this set of fixtures, there is no shortage of action coming our way. Here, we provide you with what you should be watching for in this weekend of calcio.  Continue reading

De Zerbi’s Sassuolo Starting to take Shape

When Roberto De Zerbi was hired by Sassuolo, much was expected from the veteran Italian tactician. After all, like Maurizio Sarri, De Zerbi emphasizes the importance of positional play and attractive football above all else. In his first season with the club, the neroverdi finished in mid-table and showed glimpses of the football De Zerbi was hoping to implement. This season, Sassuolo are once again safe from the drop, and appear to be slowly hitting form.

Sassuolo are unbeaten in their last three and most recently dispatched Roma, scoring four past the giallorossi. While De Zerbi’s men have a well-rounded roster filled with young talents across the board, it’s the exploits of their front-four that has made the difference.

The Domenico Berardi and Jeremie Boga partnership is one of the league’s most devastating one-two punches out wide and both are comfortable taking up central positions, much to the dismay of their markers. Filip Djuricic and Hamed Junior Traore have taken turns playing as the side’s trequartista and have done an excellent job linking the midfield to attack.

In recent times, Djuricic has taken his game to the next level as evidenced by his goal and assist and overall impressive outing against Roma. When the Serbian is not on his game, Juventus loanee Traore duly steps in and is already up to three goals on the season. The 19-year-old made a name for himself at Empoli last season and is one of the league’s most promising young talents.

Veteran striker Ciccio’ Caputo leads the line to devastating effect and has built off last season, where he made a name for himself, netting 16 goals for the relegated Empoli. This season, the 32-year-old has already registered 10 goals and is well on his way to besting last year’s tally. If he can continue his goalscoring exploits, he may just be an outside bet for Mancini’s Euro 2020 roster. After all, beyond Immobile, Italy lack true goalscorers and Caputo could come in handy despite being on the wrong side of thirty.

When Sassuolo’s front four are on form, they’re difficult to stop and interchange positions wonderfully in De Zerbi’s free-flowing system. Behind them, Manuel Locatelli and Pedro Obiang, two well-rounded registas, provide the platform and passing range the side needs to stretch the opposition. Both players are tidy in possession and are unafraid to jump into the tackle when need be. If Sassuolo can keep this core together and De Zerbi can keep implementing his ideas, the neroverdi may just make a European push as of next season.

While their defence remains error-prone, it features young players with high upside like Jeremie Toljan, Marlon Santos, Fillippo Romagna and Georgios Kyriakopoulos. Turkish defender Mert Müldür is another young defender worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses even if he hasn’t featured much as of yet. Given their inexperience at the back, Sassuolo most recently added Vlad Chiriches to their rearguard, in hopes of adding stability and leadership to an overall impressive core.

As the season draws to a close and with safety from the drop no longer a concern, De Zerbi can freely introduce his ideals and set a solid foundation for years to come. While they are far from achieving what Atalanta have done under Gian Piero Gasperini, gli Orobici have provided a blueprint Sassuolo can follow. In many ways, De Zerbi’s men have what it takes as they possess a host of budding young talents ready to take the next step in their careers.

With De Zerbi at the helm, the neroverdi have one of the league’s most progressive managers and are primed to take the leap from the mid-table to contending for European places. Whether they can keep hold of their manager and young players is another story altogether. But one thing’s for sure: Sassuolo are on the right track and remain one of the peninsula’s most interesting young sides.

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Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 23

Atalanta: Marten De Roon is suspended, newcomer Tomas Sutalo is out for a month with a foot injury.

Bologna: Andrea Poli is disqualified. Nicola Sansone suffered a hamstring strain, Federico Santander a hip muscle one and they will both miss three-to-four weeks. No returns among the previously injured Gary Medel (hamstring) and Ladislav Krejci (knee).

Brescia: Ernesto Torregrossa is out due to yellow-card accumulation. Andrea Cistana  and Sandro Tonali dealt with some muscle fatigue but should be good to go.  Continue reading

Serie A’s Top Three Breakout Stars

Over the years, Serie A has acted as a home to some of the world’s best up and coming players. Whether it’s established talents like Matthijs de Ligt and Gigio Donnarumma or relatively new ones like Lautaro Martinez, Italy has proven to be a great platform for young players to earn their stripes. This season has been no different and a number of players have made the most of their opportunities and have taken their games to the next level.

Here are the Serie A’s three breakout stars from the 2019-2020 season.

Dejan Kulusevski – Parma: On loan from Atalanta, Kulusevski made the most of his temporary spell at Parma and was undoubtedly one of this season’s breakout stars. The Swedish international is capable of playing on the wing or centrally and has established himself as an elite creator with Parma. Playing in a counter-attacking system, Kulusevski’s pace, and spatial awareness have set him apart from the rest. His five goals and seven assists on the season indicate he’s been able to add end-product to his game, something his new employers, Juventus, will be hoping for. It will be interesting to see where Sarri sees the Atalanta youth product in his setup. Is it in the front three or in the midfield?

Whether he’s breaking the lines with an incisive pass or taking on his marker with speed, Kulusevski is one of the league’s trickiest customers. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Juventus dropped nearly 45 million euros for the 19-year-old. If he’s able to maintain his current form, there’s no reason why the Parma man won’t be able to make the transition to the big stage.

Jeremie Boga – Sassuolo: After countless loan spells, Boga made the move to Sassuolo from Chelsea and got the consistency he so desperately craved. With the neroverdi, Boga has been afforded freedom in the final third and often drifts centrally from a left-wing position. Much like Kulusevski, the former Chelsea youth product thrives in a free-roam role and has done so in De Zerbi’s free-flowing system. Many clubs are actively looking for a winger who can beat his man and Boga fits the bill perfectly.

Currently, Boga is averaging the most successful dribbles per game (4.3) in the league and represents a constant menace in the final third. While end-product was previously a concern, it seems Boga has put his finishing woes behind him, having scored five goals already on the season. If you needed any more proof of this, take a look at his curler against Torino from 25 yards out or his chip over Gianluigi Buffon. With many clubs after him, it’s time Boga seriously considers his future and continues his progression into an elite attacking midfielder.

Gaetano Castrovilli – Fiorentina: Moving away from the final third, Fiorentina’s Gaetano Castrovilli is one to watch and is arguably the biggest talent on this list. A natural mezz’ala by trade, Castrovilli combines an impressive range of passing with an uncanny ability to beat his man. Much like Boga, Castrovilli thrives with the ball at his feet and successfully completes 3.2 dribbles per game. In many ways, Castrovilli’s play is eerily reminiscent to that of a young Marchisio, albeit one that’s more comfortable taking on his man. Moving forward, he will need to add more end-product to his game, but his three goals and two assists on the season are a good start.

With a number of Italy’s clubs lining up for the young man, it seems Castrovilli’s days with Fiorentina are numbered. Simply put, Castrovilli has a lot to ponder going into the summer.

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Serie A Team of the Round – Atalanta

The round featured three convincing shut-out wins and strong displays by Verona and Parma against Lecce and Udinese, but obviously the shut-out goes to Atalanta, which had the best performance by any team this season in their 7-0 romp of Torino.

The Orobici were looking to atone from a surprising home loss against SPAL, while they had drawn against Inter the match the week before. Gian Piero Gasperini selected Berat Djimsiti over Mattia Caldara in the back, Hans Hateboer on the right since Timothy Castagne is out with an injury and their standard trident led by Duvan Zapata. Continue reading

What to Watch for in Serie A: Round 21

The second half of the 2019/20 Serie A season promises to be full of thrills and surprises, so much that it can be difficult to keep track of what to watch for on a week to week basis. That is where we come in.

Here are five things to watch for in Serie A Round 21 this weekend. Continue reading