Serie A Match of the Round – Inter vs Atalanta

A ridiculously busy round featured three top-notch matches between teams in the upper echelon of the table: the most entertaining one of the lot ended up being Saturday Night’s Inter-Atalanta.

Both clubs came into the game in strong form, as the Biscione won pretty easily in the last two games versus Genoa and Napoli, while the Goddess had prevailed in four of the previous five fixtures and were coming off two straight five-nil routs. Continue reading

Early Trends in the January Transfer Window

The beginning of the January transfer window saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan and Juventus defeating bitter rivals Inter in the race for the breakout player of the season Dejan Kulusevski. While those were the sexy moves, some significant trends also emerged in the first third of the winter window:

 

Napoli rebuilding their midfield

Many praised the partneopei for their work in the summer transfer window, including yours truly. But the fact that they made a coaching change and acted quickly to bring in two veteran midfielders with international experience clearly shows things haven’t gone according to plan for De Laurentiis and sporting director Giuntoli. 

With Gattuso bringing back the 4 3 3 formation following Ancelotti’s varied approach, Napoli’s priority was to find a regista- Lucas Torreira was the their top choice but Arsenal were determined to keep him, so Giuntoli quickly closed the deal with Leipzig for Diego Demme, who was named after Maradona and idolized Gattuso growing up, as well as Celta Vigo for Stanislav Lobotka who was recommended by the club’s former captain Marek Hamsik and had been a target dating back to last summer.

While Napoli always did feel a midfielder short following Hamsik, Rog and Diawara’s departures in 2019, the acquisition of both Demme and Lobotka will impact Zielinski, Allan and Fabian Ruiz’ playing time and may lead to the departure of one of them. Allan has improved since Gattuso’s arrival while Fabian Ruiz has been unrecognizable dating back to the botched team retreat- it will be interesting to see if De Laurentiis chooses to cash in on one of them with a spot in the next Champions League a remote possibility.

 

 

 

Hellas Verona selling their jewels early

In addition to Demme and Lobotka, Napoli are also trying to close the deal for Sofyan Amrabat, one of the best new additions in Serie A following his transfer from Club Brugge to Hellas Verona. The 23 year old Moroccan midfielder is a more technical version of Allan, his arrival would complete the overhaul of the midfield. Amrabat cannot join Napoli in January since he has played matches for two clubs this season and is also a target for Inter.

Amrabat isn’t only Verona player drawing a lot of interest from top teams in Serie A. Central defender Amir Rrahmani has drawn comparisons to Milan Skriniar because of his physicality and effectiveness while Marash Kumbulla has been the leader of Juric’s staunch defense this season despite only being 19 years old. Napoli are set to close the deal for Rrahmani while Inter are leading the race for Kumbulla with both moves being delayed until the summer. 

Inter going all in for scudetto by shopping in the Premier League

Following the home draw to Atalanta, Conte once again brought up the fact that he can’t count on a deep squad after reminding us earlier in the week that in the summer they had to replace three key players in Icardi, Perisic and Nainggolan. Which is in sharp contrast with Juventus since they can essentially field two different starting elevens that could compete for a Champions League spot, leaving directors Marotta and Ausilio with the responsibility of adding a few pieces to the squad to keep up in the scudetto race.

The first need is at the wing back position where Biraghi hasn’t moved the needle and Asamoah has battled injuries, Ashley Young is expected to arrive next week to provide coverage on both the left and the right- he could be Conte’s new version of Simone Padoin who arrived at Juventus during the January window back in 2012. Conte had tried to acquire Young two years ago while at Chelsea, and is now set to get him also because his new club Inter have developed a good relationship with Manchester United.

Following Alexis Sanchez’ injury, Inter have had no choice but to consistently trot out Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez in almost every match, Olivier Giroud- who just like Ashley Young has an expiring contract- will likely come to give them a breather after a recent phone conversation with Conte who managed him at Chelsea.

While Young and Giroud would bring experienced depth to the squad, Marotta is looking to make an addition that truly moves the needle in the midfield. With Arturo Vidal less likely to arrive now that Barcelona are set to make a coaching change, Inter have intensified their pursuit of Christian Eriksen. The Danish midfielder has an expiring contract so the nerazzurri want to first get him to agree to a long term deal and then convince Tottenham to let him go in January rather than losing him for nothing in the summer- while Matias Vecino will probably not get it done in a swap deal, Spurs are asking for about 20 million.

 

Atalanta cashes in while taking a worthy gamble

Few clubs had a better 2019 than Atalanta, who on top of great results on the pitch modernized their stadium while signing their manager Gasperini to an extension. At the start of the new year Atalanta cashed on the breakout player of the Serie A season by selling Dujan Kulesevki to Juventus for the highest transfer fee the bianconeri ever spent on a midfielder- which sounds bad until you realize Kulusevski wasn’t even part of the squad that got achieved all of the recent success.

Atalanta did bolster their defense by bringing back Mattia Caldara on a low risk/high reward move which should help them in stretch run of the season. Caldara has struggled with injuries and the pressures of being at a top club, but he should be able to relaunch his career in a system he knows very well.

 

Bologna continue to add talent

Last summer they followed the Atalanta blue print by targeting players in the secondary leagues abroad for better values- they brought in Tomiyasu Denswil, Schouten and Skov Olsen. In January, Bologna welcomed very highly rated Argentine prospect Nicolas Dominguez who has all the tools to be added to the list of talents discovered by Walter Sabatini and are set to acquire Atalanta’s Musa Barrow who should be an intriguing partner for Palacio and Orsolini upfront.

 

Ending Napoli curse could be watershed moment in Lazio’s Champions League chase

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It’s all too easy to get lost in football statistics nowadays.

For followers of Lazio, this has been truer than ever of late. Every match, every win, every goal, seems to set a new historic landmark or shatter some long-standing record.

Among the avalanche of numbers and information that has tumbled from the slipstream of the Roman club’s nine-match winning run in Serie A was an important moment for Simone Inzaghi.

The Lazio coach had never beaten his Juventus counterpart Maurizio Sarri until December’s thrilling 3-1 victory at the Stadio Olimpico, only to then go and repeat the feat just two weeks later to win the Supercoppa Italiana in Riyadh.

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Atalanta’s Progress: By the numbers

Last season, Atalanta sent shock-waves throughout Italian football and qualified for the Champions League, finishing ahead of Italy’s traditional giants Inter, Roma, and Milan among others. Along with European football comes the luxury of a pitfall of cash and unique opportunities for growth that Atalanta have taken full advantage of.

Beyond their Champions League cash, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have been extremely proactive on the transfer market, selling their players for incredible profits. Dejan Kulusevki, for example. The Swedish international has only played three times for them in his entire career and was sold for nearly forty-five million euros. Let’s take a deeper look at the numbers.

According to Calcio e Finanza, Atalanta have already cashed forty million euros from the Champions League and could make more depending on their two-legged affair with Valencia. Given recent form, it’s not entirely improbable they progress to the final eight.

While Champions League money is always welcomed, it’s not as sustainable as other sources of revenue for the club. After all, will they qualify for Europe’s elite competition every season? They’re hoping so, but probably not.

As a result, Atalanta have enacted a model wherein they sell their top-performing young players to Italy’s big clubs after breakout seasons. Kulusevski to Juve, Gagliardini to Inter, Cristante and Mancini to Roma, Conti and Kessie to Milan, and the list goes on. In this sense, they maximize their profits. While certain cases will have them thinking they moved on their players a season too early, that’s always better than feeling they sold a player a season too late.

Just ask Torino’s Urbano Cairo. After Andrea Belotti’s breakout season, Torino reportedly got offers ranging between 50 to 75 million euros for their hitman. Cairo played hard-ball, kept Belotti and has since missed out on a unique rebuilding opportunity by turning down those offers. Today, Belotti won’t fetch anywhere near the previously reported price-tags. Atalanta, on the other hand, have a knack for selling players at the right time. In fact, their track record speaks for itself.  Most of their departed players, bar a few, have struggled to recreate their past form at their new clubs.

According to Transfermarkt’s numbers, the Bergamo-based club are set to cash in a further 110 million euros this season, in addition to Musa Barrow’s reported sale of 20M. That’s 130M on players that have either already been replaced or have never featured regularly for them.

With their squad lacking a few additions to take the next step, it will be interesting to see what Atalanta does with that money. Will they abandon their current philosophy and go for more-experienced players in hopes of making the leap alongside Italy’s elite or will they continue with their own model that has worked wonders for them?

If last transfer window was anything to go by, it will arguably be a mix of both, with a particular focus on experienced players. See: Luis Muriel and Ruslan Malinovskyi. As another transfer window beckons, Atalanta’s activity will be worth monitoring. They have the money and a vision: but can they deliver on it?

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Mid-Season Awards: Fantasy Serie A’s Best XI

With the New Year on the way, let’s take a look back at the first half of the season and highlight Fantasy Serie A’s top performers. Without further ado, here’s your XI!

Goalkeeper - 

Samir Handanovic (Inter): The experienced shot-stopper has been in exceptional form for Inter this season and is Fantasy Serie A’s top goalkeeper, registering 73 fantasy points so far. The 35-year-old is a big reason behind the nerazzurri’s league-leading defence and has shown no signs of slowing down. 19.23M to slot him into your teams today!

Defenders -

Robin Gosens (Atalanta): The 25-year-old has picked up from exactly where he left off last season and has been a driving force behind Atalanta’s success. While he’s categorized as a defender in Fantasy Serie A, Gosens has made a name for himself as a wing-back in Gasperini’s 3-4-3, and already has four goals and three assists on the season, which is good for 68 points. Could be yours for 17.91M.

Stefan de Vrij (Inter): While Handanovic gets much of the praise for Inter’s steady defence, the shot-stopper would not have as many clean sheets if it weren’t for Stefan de Vrij. Since joining the nerazzurri, the Dutchman has taken his game to another level and is arguably the best defender in Italy at the moment. His impressive exploits on the season have earned him 71 fantasy points, the third-most among defenders. 18.7M if you want de Vrij in your teams.

Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus): After an indifferent year, Bonucci has returned to his past form and has been exceptional in Giorgio Chiellini’s absence. While Juventus’ defence have been more vulnerable than in recent seasons, Bonucci’s experience and calmness in possession have proven crucial. He’s even chipped in with a few goals, bringing him to 76 points on the season. You can add him into your teams today for 20.02M.

Aleksandar Kolarov (Roma): Kolarov has notched five goals on the season and has undoubtedly established himself as the undisputed best free-kick taker in Italy. In addition, the veteran defender has registered two assists and has lead Roma to five clean sheets with him on the pitch. Given his impressive exploits, it’s no surprise Kolarov has earned the most points among defenders with 79. Along with his output, comes his hefty price-tag of 20.81M.

Midfielders - 

Joao Pedro (Cagliari): While the Cagliari man is listed as a midfielder in Fantasy Serie A, Rolando Maran has deployed him mainly as a forward; a decision most fantacalcio players will be looking to take advantage of. Currently, the Brazilian is on 11 goals on the season and has earned the second-most fantasy points with 102, behind only Ciro Immobile. In fact, he’s scored six goals in his last six games and is well worth a punt even at 24M.

Luis Alberto (Lazio): Simply put, the Lazio man is an assist machine. Since joining the capital club, Luis Alberto has taken his game to another level, putting past inconsistencies well behind him. With just under half the season played, the Spaniard leads the league with 11 assists and may just be the deadliest final-ball specialist in the world. His three goals and his impressive assist tally bring him to 90 fantasy points on the year. At 23.71M, Luis Alberto is worth a shot.

Alejandro Gomez (Atalanta): What kind of a fantasy team would it be without Papu Gomez? The diminutive play-maker does it all for Atalanta, whether it’s splitting open the defence or finding the back of the net himself. This season, Gomez is already on five goals and six assists and has continued to be Atalanta’s creative hub. His output is good for 86 fantasy points and he’s currently available at 22.65M.

Forwards - 

Ciro Immobile (Lazio): Undoubtedly this season’s fantacalcio king so far with an astonishing 113 points. After all, that’s what 17 goals and five assists get you. Beyond being in sensational form in front of goal, Immobile has lead the line wonderfully alongside Joaquin Correa and has Lazio in an unlikely title race. You’d be missing out if you don’t have him in your teams…cough up 24M!

Romelu Lukaku (Inter): After a rough end to life in Manchester, Lukaku joined forces with Antonio Conte and has not looked back since. Alongside Lautaro Martinez, the Belgian international has been in fine form notching an impressive 12 goals. Without him, Inter would not been in the conversation for the Scudetto and Lukaku will look to continue his goalscoring exploits as the season wears on. He’s currently racked up 93 fantasy points and would run you 24M.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus): The Portuguese superstar got off to a poor start to the season, but has since turned it on for Juventus with goals in his last five Serie A games. Given his recent form, expect Ronaldo to hit the ground running in 2020 and build on his 79 fantasy points. While he’s arguably already in your teams based on name alone, he’ll prove to be well worth his 20.81M price-tag.

Join the most popular Fantasy Serie A game here: www.fantasyseriea.com

Transfer Watch: One Player For Each of Italy’s Big Six

With the transfer window set to re-open, Serie A clubs are taking to the mercato with differing objectives. While some will be looking for that one missing piece of the puzzle, others are in need of significant retooling. In any case, the January window tends to be quiet, but may present unique opportunities; opportunities clubs simply can’t turn down. Zlatan to Milan, for example.

Here’s one player for each of Italy’s big six.

Juventus - Arturo Vidal: The Italian champions are off to a relatively good start in the Maurizio Sarri era and are looking primed for a deep European run. Despite this, their midfield options leave a lot to be desired and are in dire need of reinforcement. Sami Khedira will spend most of the season sidelined while his stunt-double Emre Can appears to be on his way out.

New signings Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey haven’t exactly hit the ground running and will need more time to adapt to their new surroundings. As a result, the Chilean midfielder is an ideal target as he is already familiar with the club and will add some much-needed industry in the middle of the park. Juventus, however, will have to stave off significant interest from Inter. After all, it was Giuseppe Marotta who initially brought Vidal to Italy in the first place.

Inter – Dejan Kulusevski: The Atalanta loanee has been in great form this season and has emerged as a significant creative threat in the final third. While Parma will be reluctant to terminate his loan and Atalanta will be looking for an inflated fee, the Swedish international is everything Antonio Conte needs. Industrious off the ball and creative on it.

Currently, the nerazzurri are running with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, but will need to add depth if they want to compete with Juve’s deep squad. If he’s available, Inter should be all over it.

Roma – Andrea Petagna: Roma go into the New Year in a comfortable position, four points ahead of fifth-place Atalanta and into the knockouts of the Europa League. While Paulo Fonseca has done an incredible job with the tools at his disposal, the giallorossi could use some reinforcements in the January mercato, most notably at backup striker.

Nikola Kalinic frankly has not worked as Roma need someone more reliable in Dzeko’s absence. SPAL’s Andrea Petagna has demonstrated he’s worthy of a shot and has an abundance of experience in Serie A. Other options are Premier League newcomers Patrick Cutrone and Moise Kean. Both have struggled to adjust to life in England, but the latter is unlikely to move now with Ancelotti’s hiring. Cutrone, however, may be worth a punt.

Napoli – Sandro Tonali: While the Brescia midfielder is arguably on everyone’s Christmas wish-list, Napoli should do whatever it takes to acquire Tonali. Whether they secure him and loan him back directly to his parent club for the rest of the season, or slightly overpay to acquire him immediately, Tonali is exactly the type of player the partenopei need.

He is equally capable of dictating play as he is breaking it up and is a self-proclaimed Gattuso fan-boy. Many may liken him to Andrea Pirlo, but Tonali himself admits his style of play is closer to that of the Napoli tactician. Who knows if that plays into his decision? Regardless, it’s worth a shot.

Milan – Jeremie Boga: Milan have been crying out for a creative force down the left for years now and have yet to see anyone of note arrive. The Sassuolo midfielder is a constant menace in the final third and is regularly beating his man with ease, averaging 4.1 successful dribbles per game. At just 22, Boga would fit in with Milan’s supposed youth movement and should be available for a decent price.

In addition to playing on the left, he can also slot in as a trequartista should a new manager arrive in the summer and shake up the system. Boga to Milan is a no-brainer.

Lazio – Daniele Rugani: This seems like a long-shot, but Lazio could use another defender, especially if they want to compete with Juve and Inter for the Scudetto. Rugani desperately needs a change of scenery and could benefit from playing under the inspiring Simone Inzaghi. The biancocelesti could use another ball-playing centre-back alongside Francesco Acerbi, something Rugani proved to be at Empoli.

The Juventus man is currently out-of-favour in Turin and could be available on a short-term loan with an option to buy. Under the right conditions, Rugani to Lazio may just make enough sense.

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Winners of Summer Transfer Window in Serie A

With seventeen Serie A matches as well as the first phase of the Champions and Europa Leagues in the books, we have a large enough sample size to draw some conclusions on the summer transfer window. Some Italian teams benefitted tremendously by the moves they made in June, July and August and have been rewarded with the positions in the standings starting with:

 

Inter- the nerazzurri made the best of their Financial Fair Play restrictions coming to an end in June by breaking their transfer record not once (Barella) but twice (Lukaku) and being able to afford to ship out Icardi, Perisic and Nainggolan on loan rather than haggling over a transfer fee when their value had plummeted.

Barella and Lukaku have more than lived up to their price tag, the former Cagliari midfielder was eased into the starting lineup and has performed at the level we’ve seen on the Azzurri, while Lukaku has proven to be devastating against provinciali types, which used to be the types of teams Inter squandered the most points against- if that weren’t enough, the Belgian international has proven to be an ideal partner for Lautaro Martinez who has made a massive leap this season.

In addition to hits with Lukaku and Barella, Stefano Sensi was considered to be the best new addition on any Serie A club prior to his injury last October. While Diego Godin has struggled a bit to get used to a new formation and league, keeping Alessandro Bastoni after a successful summer retreat has proven to be a great move- he was vastly improved after spending a season on loan at Parma

 

Cagliari- the Sardinian club have so far been this season’s version of Atalanta despite selling their best player (Barella) and losing their starting keeper (Cragno) and best goal scorer (Pavoletti) to injuries. While Radja Nainggolan is rightfully getting a lot of praise for his strong comeback season after returning to his former club for mainly personal reasons, his midfield partner Nahitan Nandez has been just as impactful- the former Boca Juniors player looks ready to give president Giulini another massive plusvalenza down the road.

Giovanni Simeone has helped make up for Pavoletti’s production along side Joao Pedro, who ended up staying after being very close to joining Atalanta, but the real revelation has been Robin Olsen who arrived as a last second replacement for the injured Cragno, the former Roma keeper is arguably the most improved player in all of Serie A

 

Atalanta- many expressed concern over the Bergamaschi qualifying for the Champions League as their thinking was they would be embarrassed on the biggest stage after selling some of their best players. Instead Atalanta retained all of their starters except for Gianluca Mancini and miraculously qualified out of the group stage of the Champions League.

Last summer, president Percassi bolstered the team’s depth with some fairly significant signings in Luis Muriel, Ruslan Malinovsky and by trying to replace Mancini first with Skrtel, who ran back to Turkey after experiencing Gasperini’s brutal training sessions and later Kjaer.

The bets compliment you can give Muriel is that he’s played so well, you would barely notice Atalanta has been without Duvan Zapata for quite some time, while Malinovsky is just the latest excellent discovery from a secondary league after Freuler, Gosens and De Roon. Atalanta has also been rewarded for extending Pasalic’s loan and sending Kulusevski on loan to a team like Parma which was perfect for getting the most out of his talent.

 

Roma- in addition to hitting a home run with coach Paulo Fonseca, the giallorossi managed to make some significant improvements to the squad despite missing out on Champions League revenue. Chris Smalling has been one of the best center backs in all of Serie A this season, Gianluca Mancini has been an excellent partner for the English defender and also excelled as a midfielder when the team was ravaged by injuries.

Resigning Dzeko to a long term deal has risks considering his age, but for the first few months of the season he carried the team on his back. After a slow start because of an injury, Amadou Diawara has shown enough to remind people why he was so highly rated when he was at Bologna, his performances have so far given Roma a win over Napoli in the Manolas deal. While Olsen has had a resurgence at Cagliairi, his replacement Pau Lopez has lived up to the expectations of being the highest paid keeper in the club’s history.

 

Hellas Verona- even the biggest Calcio junkie would have had a hard time recognizing many of the names on the gialloblu’s squad at the start of the season, but the newly promoted club created a team in their manager’s image. Prior to his disastrous spells at Genoa, Juric was considered one of the best up and coming coaches in Italy following his time at Crotone, this summer he was given midfielder Miguel Veloso whom he previously managed, staunch defender Amir RRahmani and Sofyan Amrabat- these last two players are already linked to Napoli for substantially higher transfer fees than what Verona paid to acquire them.

 

Serie A Team of the Round – Atalanta

Few dominating displays in this round, even excessively so, by Roma, Inter and Atalanta and it is the Goddess that gets the shout-out for brutalizing Milan.

They came into the game looking to bounce back from last week’s loss to Parma, where they were very depleted, but welcomed back Josip Ilicic and Alejandro Gomez from minor injuries. Both started, joining Ruslan Malinovskyi in the trident, as Luis Muriel was initially kept on the bench. Mario Pasalic relieved Remo Freuler in the midfield, while Timothy Castagne was picked over Hans Hateboer on the right wing. Continue reading

Atalanta 5-0 AC Milan: Pioli’s men humiliated by confident Gasperini side

After the goalless draw against Sassuolo, AC Milan were hoping to get back to winning ways against Atalanta this afternoon. At least, they were aiming for a good result ahead of the Christmas break. Instead, they got the complete opposite, as the home side put five goals past Donnarumma. 

Straight away, you could see where the game was heading, as Atalanta played with a very high-line to constantly win back the ball. Furthermore, it looked like Milan didn’t know what to do, which only increased confusion in defence as the home side were allowed to create chance after chance.

The right side, in particular, was complete chaos for Pioli’s side. Musacchio, Conti and Kessie all failed to properly shut down Gomez and Gosens, who continued to get past the defenders and create danger. As we all know, this resulted in the first goal after just ten minutes.

Analyzing the game with a bit of distance, now that the initial feelings have cooled down, it’s safe to say that Milan were rightfully beaten. Quite frankly, they were terrible from start to finish, and any neutral fan would say the same. In other words, Pioli’s men have a lot to work on ahead of the second half of the season.

Although they ‘only’ conceded one goal in the first half, the Rossoneri certainly crumbled once Atalanta added another in the second half, after a period where the game was a bit more balanced. From there on, they just couldn’t recover, while Atalanta continued to push on for more goals.

Fair play to the home side, who just didn’t sit back and defend the three points. However, this also resulted in some gaps in their defence, but Milan weren’t good enough to capitalize on this. On numerous occasions, the Rossoneri could have threatened the home side, but they lacked everything today.

In his post-match interview, Pioli made it clear that the approach was off, taking on responsibility for what he described as a ‘bad week’ leading up to the important game. Certainly, their performance was insufficient, which is a conclusion that anyone can make just by looking at the scoresheet.

For Boban and Maldini, an important task awaits as the January window will open very soon. There is no doubt that the Rossoneri need to reinforce the squad, but being under the observation of Financial Fair Play, the directors will have to be smart when making their business. Most likely, a few players will be sold to fund the signings.

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Atalanta vs. AC Milan: Team news, stats and prediction

With just one game left until the Christmas break, AC Milan will be eager to finish on a strong note after a very rough start to the season. However, it will be far from easy for the Rossoneri, as an away clash with Atalanta awaits. The Bergamo side, sixth in the standings, are always tough to beat and especially on their home turf. 

After managing two consecutive wins for only the second time this season, Stefano Pioli’s side hit a roadblock against Sassuoloo last time out, as the game finished 0-0. Despite tons of chances, the Rossoneri failed to break the deadlock and grab three important points ahead of the tough Atalanta game. Continue reading