Lazio are flying high again – but are they too dependent on Ciro Immobile?

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It never ceases to amaze how quickly moods shift and narratives change in football.

This time last week, the critics were sharpening their knives as Lazio headed back from Glasgow, having thrown away a 1-0 lead to lose 2-1 for the third time this season against Celtic.

It extended the club’s winless run to three games and left the Biancocelesti with a fairly bleak outlook in Serie A and in the Europa League.

But a 2-1 win away to Fiorentina on Sunday was followed by the capital club’s best performance of the season on Wednesday, as they blew away Torino with a magnificent 4-0 victory in Rome. Continue reading

Winners and Losers of first (full) month in Serie A

The first full month of the Serie A season was filled with drama, starting with Mauro Icardi’s last minute transfer to Paris St Germain and ending with Montella’s Fiorentina playing champagne football at San Siro against his former team Milan. Over the course of the September we’ve seen numerous stand out performances, as well as some clunkers- so to recap it all, let’s name our Winners and Losers

 

Winners

 

Stefano Sensi- while Inter signed one of the best defenders in the game, Manchester United’s number nine and one of the starters on Mancini’s Azzurri, the former Sassuolo midfielder has so far been the best addition on any team in Serie A of the season. While on paper he’s very similar to Brozovic, he interprets the role with a completely different frame of mind than the Croatian who is far more eccentric.

Sensi has played both in front of the defense and in a more advanced position so far this season, and while he isn’t a box to box midfielder quite like Arturo Vidal, he has so far made the same type of impact the Chilean international gave Conte in his first season at Juventus- and I don’t write this lightly. 

Beppe Marotta/Antonio Conte- their Inter will be seriously tested against Barcelona and Juventus before the international break, but they couldn’t have gotten off to a better start- they eliminated all the cancers from the locker room and won their first six matches including the derby in a very decisive manner. While Inter has won the transfer window and September scudettos many times in recent years, the fact they have these two in charge should give their fans hope they can shed their “Pazza” ways.

Aaron Ramsey- it’s hard to pick a Juventus winner but since they are in second place and have won eight titles in a row, they deserve to have a representative. While the former Arsenal midfielder has not surprisingly missed time due to an injury, when he’s actually played, he’s made such an impact that Sarri went back to the 4 3 1 2 formation he used at Empoli and in his first few matches at Napoli. Ramsey has brought a spark to Juventus’ midfield which has been a weakness at the club for quite some time, he’s also developed good chemistry with Paulo Dybala who is looking to get his career back on track after a difficult past 18 months.

Atalanta- there have been a lot of prisoner of the moment takes on Atalanta because they lost their first two Champions League matches, but they did use the revenues that come from competing in Europe’s top competition the right way by extending Gasperini’s contract, keeping all of their stars and bolstering their depth with quality players (they are also renovating their stadium which is now team owned but that was planned before they finished in the top four).

While they have struggled in the Champions League, Atalanta have been brilliant in Serie A by showing their usual offensive flair and ability to come back in matches. With many teams improving in the league and because they had multiple players having career years in 2018/19, many expected Atalanta to regress, but so far they look even stronger.  

Frank Ribery/Rocco Commisso-while it was going to be very hard for Atalanta to repeat last season, for Fiorentina the only way was up after avoiding relegation in the final match of the 2018/19 campaign. New owner Rocco Commisso has brought a lot of enthusiasm to the team, he retained Federico Chiesa who was heavily linked to Juventus and bolstered positions of needs. But the cherry on top of the sundae, Ribery has been everything you could have asked for- dominating performances on the pitch, particularly at San Siro where he received a standing ovation, developing great chemistry with Chiesa to whom he can be a mentor and putting Fiorentina on the map globally with his arrival and the way he’s played.

Cristiano Giuntoli- Napoli came up short in races for Pepe and James Rodriguez but those may have been blessings in disguise based on what we saw from Lozano so far. Napoli’s sporting director also landed Elmas and Di Lorenzo, who have so far been revelations on the team at positions of need and at some point Kostas Manolas should become an upgrade to Albiol as Koulibaly’s center back partner.

Newly Promoted teams- if the season were to end today, all three newly promoted teams would avoid relegation, I know it’s very early but in recent seasons we’ve seen “neopromosse” look out of their element right away. Lecce have been very intriguing thanks to manager Liverani’s propensity for attacking regardless of who they are facing, Brescia have looked like this season’s version of Parma while Hellas Verona have made up for their lack of talent with gritty performances.

Paulo Fonseca- the former Shakhtar manager was first a great recruiter on the transfer market by convincing numerous players to join him in Italy’s capital and he re energized Dzeko who signed an extension at the end of the summer. Roma so far have played a very exciting and distinct brand of football offensively and certainly look in the mix for a Champions League spot despite losing their captain (De Rossi), best defender (Manolas) and top goal scorer (El Shaarawy) during the transfer window,

 

Losers

 

Roma defense- as great as Fonseca’s offense has looked so far this season, the backline has been a mess. The giallorossi had a bad defense last season and then they lost their best defender in Kostas Manolas and tried to replace him with inexperienced Gianluca Mancini and Manchester United reject Smalling. At least Roma finally has an above average keeper, but they also have clearly the worse defense of the teams competing for a Champions League spot.

Kalidou Koulibaly- shocking to see him listed here since along with Chiellini, he’s been the best defender in Serie A the past three years. Koulibaly struggled in numerous matches, highlighted by his own goal against Juventus and a red card that cost him a two game suspension and a fine. It’s just a matter of time until he turns it around and a slow start was to be somewhat expected since he had no pre season with his new defensive partners Manolas and Di Lorenzo because of the Africa Cup.

SPAL- the club from Ferrara lost their best player in the summer with Manuel Lazzari joining Lazio and are in serious jeopardy of being relegated because of the above average newly promoted teams to Serie A this season.

Marco Giampaolo- while there were concerns with his ability to handle the pressure of being the manager ay a top club, few doubted the fact that tactically he was supposed to be Milan’s best manager since Allegri. But we have yet to see any of the offensive identity we saw Giampaolo give Empoli when he replace Maurizio Sarri or Sampdoria where Quagliarella had a career season at an age most striker are already retired. Giampaolo has looked very confused with his lineups (remember Andre Silva starting the season opener before leaving the club a few days later?) and in press conference and is now acting like a dead man walking despite the fact Milan had a fairly easily schedule to start the season.

 

Sampdoria- Giampaolo’s former club have the worse goal differential in Serie A at minus ten and are dead last in the standings. The blucerchiati have been up for sale for awhile and will need whoever buys the club to make significant investments in January to avoid relegation.

 

Romelu Lukaku is the latest black player to be racially abused in Serie A

It was difficult this past week to know which was more shocking- the monkey chants being directed at Inter Milan forward Romelu Lukaku or the fans detailed statement to the player saying that thos very chants were not racist.

What is clear is that racism is rife in football and it seems when we zone in on the major European leagues that Italy’s Serie A heads them all.

There are so many stories here but if you did miss it Lukaku was racially abused by Cagliari fans who have a history of it, just ask Mario Balotelli. But in their defence came Inter’s fans, Lukaku’s own team fans who penned an open letter stating in more ways than one, that perhaps he doesn’t understand it but it wasn’t racist.

The penned letter said: We are really sorry you thought that what happened in Cagliari was racist. You have to understand that Italy is not like many other north European countries where racism is a REAL problem. We understand that it could have seemed racist to you but it is not like that. In Italy we use some ‘ways’ only to ‘help our teams’ and to try to make our opponents nervous, not for racism but to mess them up.

“We are a multiethnic fans organisation and we have always welcomed players from everywhere. However, we have always used that ‘way’ with other teams’ players in the past and we probably will in the future. We are not racist and so are not the Cagliari fans. You have to understand that in all Italian stadiums people cheer for their teams but at the same time they use to cheer against the opponents not for racism but to ‘help’ their own team.

“Please consider this attitude of Italian fans as a form of respect for the fact they are afraid of you for the goals you might score against their teams and not because they hate you or they are racist. True racism is a completely different story and all Italian football fans know it very well.”

If you got to the end of that statement with mouth still wide shut, well done. In effect then his own fans are telling him, not to mind that the monkey chants are directed to him, because of and only because he is black. It is this acceptance that is the reason that Italian football and possibly the wider culture is in decline.

Lukaku has not responded, he is now in an awkward situation where he even won’t get support from his own fans. Good luck to him because he will need all of the luck when racism is not seen as that big a deal. Could you imagine this happening in the Premier League, esspecially in this age?

There have been calls for black players to avoid playing in Serie A. That won’t help in any situation and is in fact playing into the so called fans hands. It’s basically what they want. Lukaku himself has said that the fight against racism in football is going backwards and he is partially right, because it has always been going backwards. UEFA has not helped at all. Dishing out meaningless fines does not work. Banning supporters and docking points would.

Lukaku had a fairly easy ride in England, now he will have to understand that even if he is a success in Italy he will be seen sadly as a second rate citizen.

Is VAR ruining football after Cristiano Ronaldo is ruled offside by millimeteres?

VAR is a wonderful invention because it is there to stop unjust goals and award penalties that otherwise wouldn’t be given. But take the case of so many footballers week in and week out now who are having goals ruled out because of offside.

The offside law is another great rule, let’s make no mistake of that, if you are in front of the defence, then you are goal hanging, not really playing the game and just waiting for the ball to appear. Great rule. However VAR has taken everything to a new level, where a goal is ruled offside even if it’s just your nose that is offside.

At the weekend it was the turn of Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored what looked like a fine goal to give Juventus the lead. But after a VAR review it was ruled as a no goal. In every other season Ronaldo would have been given the goal. So the argument is that it was correct to give Ronaldo’s goal offside. But let’s throw this in- Did Ronaldo being millimetres offside bring to fruition that he meant to cheat, by placing himself offside on purpose? Really? Most probably not.

VAR has gone overboard, where every tiny mistake is now taken from the game and anaylised and the result is taking the initial joy out of the game. VAR is welcomed but maybe some other rules need to be changed, and the offside rule is painfully stupid. Now if you are half a yard offside or a yard that makes sense to rule out a goal. If it’s an inch, a nose, a knee, its plain ridiculous, no player is willingly cheating by having his nose offside.

What VAR will do is produce less goals now. We won’t be seeing another generation of Messi’s and Ronaldo’s whacking in 50 goals per season. Not that their goals were offside, but some would have been very close and called on, breaking up play, making the player second guess and so on. VAR has incredibly changed football, not just by a small margin but by a massive one.

Ronaldo’s goal in the book of laws shouldn’t have counted, but in the book of common sense it should have. Offside means that the player has made a grave error or was trying to cheat to get a goal. Ronaldo’s offside wasn’t either, he was just trying to play the game he dearly loves and put his side in the lead.

Some rules need to be changed, we can only hope in the future it will be.

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Are Juventus simply going to steamroll Serie A once again?

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The Serie A season will be starting next month and it is hard to look past Juventus in winning the league yet again. The Old Lady have won it 8 times in a row starting in 2012 and their dominance has been quite bewildering.

In that time Napoli who have not won the competition since 1990 and the days of Diego Maradona have come runners up 4 times and 3 of those of those have been in the last four seasons.

Juventus don’t just turn up and win of course and they have simply been brilliant over this decade, playing great football and working hard for their wins. But they have not faced a great challenge as the 2010′s have been a real struggle for Italian teams.

In the Champions League the decade started off brightly as Inter Milan won the competition in 2010, but that has been Italy’s only success. Juventus did make the final in 2015 and 2017 only to be beaten by Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.

But this Juventus side going into the 2019/20 season look superior in every way shape and form to any of their rivals and a 9th title in a row looks odds on.

They have Cristiano Ronaldo of course, who in his debut season scored 21 goals in 31 league games and 28 goals overall. He ages of course and is now 34, but this Ronaldo, super fit and super determined and he will be an integral part of the first team in the new season.

What is brand new is their coach in Maurizio Sarri, known as the coach that keeps on failing and smoking Sarri had a brilliant debut season for Chelsea in the Premier League and won the club the Europa League and came 3rd in the league. But Sarri and Chelsea never really got on and Sarri now returns to his home country with the best team.

Juventus are after Matthijs de Ligt and are the favourites to sign the Ajax defender. It almost looks certain he will join the side, then again this is football and you never know, but if Juve can secure his services that will be major.

Juventus have also dipped into getting a British player, this is rare for the side and in comes Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, his style of holding play is thought to be perfect for Juventus. The problem for Ramsey is he was secured under a different coach and now he will have to impress Sarri to play regular games.

Gianluigi Buffon was a surprise return to the team. He will play as back up goal keeper no doubt with a future role as a goal keeping coach more or less secured within the ranks of the club. The legend is coming home and that is good enough for the fans. And Adrien Rabiot who when given a chance for PSG always seemed to be a threat has joined from them. Initially it is on a free, but with performance the forward could end up costing Juventus around 10m euros.

All in all Juventus have spent close to 50m euros,well within their budget and if de Ligt does come that would raise their spending to around 115m euros, fairly ok for such a huge team. Now it is over to Napoli and Roma and perhaps even the Milan teams, just who will be able to challenge Juventus this season?

Serie A Top Six Fantasy Defenders in 2018/2019

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Serie A always excels when it comes to defending and the most glaring takeaway from the list is that Torino had a great year on that front, as they managed to put to three names in the chart, besting Juventus, which had two.

Armando Izzo (75 points): he has been a solid for few years now, first at Genoa and recently the Granata, but he took it up a notch, becoming one of the finest specialists in his position as right centre-back in a three-man line, whose tasks are not merely defensive. He set the tone with his intensity, physicality and never-say-die attitude and showed a lot of leadership, even in a department that featured an established guy on an international level like Nicolas N’Koulou. He amassed 15 clean sheets and put the cherry on top by scoring four goals and providing an assist attacking on set pieces  Continue reading

Juventus are not at the level to get Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp

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Juventus reportedly would like Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp to take over the side next season after the old lady sacked Massimo Allegri last week, but it seems like Juventus are sprinting before they can walk.

Klopp himself was asked if the story was true to which he replied ”bull****”. But went on to say that he loves Italy and follows Serie A. While the story of Klopp going to Juventus might be simply fabrication, even if it was true one must understand that Juventus simply are not in that position to lure Klopp away.

If anybody thought that way then they do not understand the power and awe that Klopp holds at Liverpool. Despite not winning a trophy at the club yet the club and fans love him for his brand of attacking football and never say die attitude. For this alone he is the perfect manager for Liverpool. And at Liverpool he is more than just the boss, at Juventus he would be seen as just another.

But even if Klopp did want to leave which is far from the truth why would he leave an exciting team like Liverpool who would have appeared in back to back Champions League finals just to go to Juventus who have not won the competition since 1996? True the club will be outstanding favourites to win another Serie A title next season but it will be their 9th in a row if they do so. That is a fantastic achievement but at the same time Klopp will understand that he would be leaving the most competitive league in Europe in the Premier League.

Juventus are a fantastic club with massive potential who have incredible match winning players and of course have Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks. But at the same time they are not on that ‘winning’ level of Liverpool at this time. A decade ago it may have made more sense if Klopp had made the switch, now it seems to make very little sense.

At Liverpool there is the chase and desire to win their first league title since 1990, it would of course mean so much more than winning a 9th league title in a row and so even if the story was true Klopp would not be leaving Liverpool to join Juventus. Indeed one could see Klopp at the Reds for the next 10 years or so, as he tries to go down as one of the clubs best loved managers. He is on the right road.

Cristiano Ronaldo was upstaged by Sampdoria’s Fabio Quagliarella

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In Italy Juventus and in particular new signing Cristiano Ronaldo had it all their own way once again. Winning the league with weeks to spare and an 8th successive title. Ronaldo seamlessly joined the club from Real Madrid last summer and became the first ever player to win a Premier League title a Spanish one and then an Italian league. But there was one trophy he wasn’t able to get and it may have been his most jarring- the top goal scorer award which went to Fabio Quagliarella.

A former Juventus player himself Quagliarella now plays for Sampdoria and had a fantastic season scoring 26 goals in all and winning the trophy for top goal scorer. But what has been even more impressive about the player is that he seems to be getting better with age. His 26 goals are the most he has scored in a season and he is now 36. Indeed the season before he netted 19 goals which is his 2nd best campaign.

Of course Ronaldo will be content with a Serie A league title in his debut season but as everybody knows the Portuguese player loves statistics and loves scoring goals and one has to wonder if not landing the prize as top goal scorer has left a bad taste in his mouth?

Or is it simply that Ronaldo is running out of gas? Ronaldo’s haul of 21 league goals is his worst since he was in the Premier League playing with Manchester United in the 2008/09 season. While that sounds shocking he has only played 30 games this season in the league, the last time that happened was in the 2013/14 season with Real Madrid where he was able to score 31 goals, 10 more than this season.

Ronaldo is 34 and it would only be natural that his level would go down, or simply it could be a different manner of things. We should remember that he went the first few weeks of the season without scoring for Juventus, even though he had some superb chances and sometimes was simply unlucky. Purists will point to the fact that Italian football is better defending and seen as an art in the league and that is the reason that Ronaldo has scored his lowest tally in the league in a decade.

It will be fascinating to see how Ronaldo reacts next season, for now Juventus will be massive favourites to win another league title, their 9th in a row perhaps? And that will mean that Ronaldo will get plenty of chances to score goals, maybe he just needed that first season to fit in.

 

 

Juventus need more than winning an 8th Serie A league title in a row

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Juventus claimed an 8th Serie A title in a row last weekend and it was a fantastic spectacle at their stadium as Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player to win league titles in the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A. It was a beautiful moment and the players were genuinely thrilled.

However not to put a dampener on it Juventus had this title in the bag as far as the beginning of the year. Indeed they didn’t even lose a game in Serie A until March and the last few games the team have been letting some of their regular players such as Ronaldo sit out games in order to rest for the Champions League.

And there is that word, the white elephant that was in the stadium in name only- the Champions League. This was supposed to be the season that Juventus won it for the first time since 1996. Ronaldo had been bought specifically to put Juventus on another level, after all he had just won the competition with Real Madrid for three years in a row.

As it turned out Juventus were no match for a very well organised and utterly brilliant Ajax team, who just 12 months before were a shadow of the side we see now. Juventus who looked out of the competition when they faced Atletico Madrid in the quarter finals, losing the first leg 2-0 and winning the 2nd 3-0 reached the semi-finals but could go no further this season.

The joy of winning a title should be celebrated and Juventus have had to work very hard for it, but anyone can see that there was really no challenge. Right now as the league stands Juventus have a 20 point lead over 2nd placed Napoli a 31 point lead over 4th position of AC Milan and a whopping 73 point lead over bottom team Chievo. However just to note Chievo were deducted 3 points by the Italian Football Federation- what’s a Serie A season without some docking of points?

But that’s the thing, Juventus have been so utterly dominant that this league title doesn’t feel as good or special for example as the title they won in 2012, one that came after the betting scandals of the 2000s saw the team relegated to Serie B. The 2012 league title win felt like a statement, that Juve were back and roaring back at that. This title felt a little hoarse and just par for the course now in Serie A.

That non Champions League trophy is sticking out like a sore thumb. Next season Juventus will go for it again but it may just end up being another player, a new transfer perhaps that helps deliver the title one day to a waiting Juventus as Ronaldo gets a year older, as he chases his sixth title which would equal Francesco Gento’s record for Real Madrid. We will wait and see.

Atalanta eyeing European place as they continue to progress in Serie A

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Atalanta have been making steady progress since promotion back to Serie A in 2011 and this season could rival a  couple of years ago where from astute buys and careful planning the team finished in 4th place.

The team which hail from Lombardy are currently in 7th place and have 45 points. Their objective will be to qualify for the Europa League where they are just one position and goal difference over Lazio from doing. Otherwise there is the dream of possible Champions League qualification, but they are 6 points behind AC Milan however with 10 games to go much is still possible.

Under Antonio Percassi and head coach Gian Piero Gasperini Atalanta have made great progress. Gasperini joined the team in 2016 and took the club straight into Europe and into the Europa League after a fantastic 4th place finish. Look at how the club were before the 61 year old joined. In their first season back in 2011/12  they finished 12th the next season it was 15th, which was followed up by 11th. The season after the club even flirted with the idea of relegation when they wound up the season in 17th place and then the season after that there was only minimal progress with a 13th place finish.

But it has been in the last 2 seasons where change has been afoot and the club are going in the right direction. Last summer the transfers rolled in and one of the clubs most important purchases was recognising that they needed a more youthful goalkeeper and in came Pierluigi Gollini from Aston Villa. Gollini at just 24 had spent a chunk of his time with Manchester United’s youth team but had only played 20 games in two seasons for the English championship side. Gollini has impressed for Atalanta this season after playing the same amount of games he had at Villa but in this season alone.

The real star for the side and best swoop as transfers go has to be for Colombian Duvan Zapata. The 27 year old is on loan from Sampdoria and cost 14m euros over a 2 year period. There is an option to buy him for a further 12m euros and right now he seems worth every penny. Zapata has scored 17 goals this season in Serie A and is 4th in the goal scorers chart, just 2 goals behind Cristiano Ronaldo and 4 behind leader Fabio Quagliarella. Indeed Zapata has really found his feet with the team and this is his best personal season of his career so far.

Atalanta may not be on everyone’s lips but take out the elite teams in Serie A and the club have proven to be the best of the rest so far. The last 3 seasons under the ownership of Percassi have been the best for the side in a generation. One wonders if the fans will get out the special flag, the Bandieru a massive flag which covers the whole of the Curva Nord, it comes out when the team are doing well, and we are sure to see it a few times before the end of an entertaining season for the team.

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