Fan Zone: Gregory on Nedved, Buffon, Dybala & more Juve talk

Gregory Caltabanis is an established writer and reporter who covers extensively European football, but what matters for the purposes of this Q&A is Gregory’s unfaltering allegiance to Italian giants Juventus.

Gregory is part of the @FantaCalcioGame team as well! They run the most popular Fantasy Serie A Game, but for now let’s go straight to the Q&A with Gregory offering lots of interesting takes on legends such as Pavel Nedved and Gianluigi Buffon.

1) Who are your 3 all-time favorite Juve players (ranked by preference) and why?

Pavel Nedved: My all-time favorite Juve player is undoubtedly Nedved. One of the first games I saw as a kid was Juve against Milan in 2005 and all I remember seeing was a player with blonde locks run effortlessly down the left wing. Of course, it was Nedved. From that point forward, I always watched Juve and became a fan. The rest is history.

Gianluigi Buffon: After Nedved, I would have to say it’s Buffon. Buffon has been with the team since I’ve followed them and is the main reason I’m a goalkeeper to this day. Beyond saving countless goals, he’s a class act both on and off the field. I’ll never forget his save on Zidane’s header in 2006.

Paulo Dybala: The last one is a bit difficult, but I have to go with Dybala. I know he’s not up there yet with Alessandro Del Piero and other legends, but Dybala is one of the reasons I’m still passionate about the team today. He’s always respected the shirt and is arguably the first worthy number 10 we’ve had since Del Piero. I hope he stays with Juve for the long haul.

2) From active players, pick your favorite Juve player by position: one each from defense, midfield and attack. Why did you pick them?

DEF: My favorite defender is 100% Merih Demiral (Gregory says it emphatically!). Since he’s joined, I always thought he would be very important for our success. It’s a shame the serious injury halted his progress, but I’m confident he’ll come back stronger. Demiral embodies everything that Juve should seek in a player. He’s confident, plays with an edge and has that fighting spirit. I’ll be ordering my Demiral jersey very soon.

MID: It has to be Rodrigo Bentancur. I’ve had my doubts about him over the years, but he’s stepped up this season and looks to be evolving into an important player for us. Like Demiral, he plays with an edge to his game which I feel we lack sometimes. I’m looking forward to seeing him make further progress when play hopefully resumes.

STR: It’s an obvious one- Paulo Dybala. You really get the sense that he loves Juve and fights for the shirt every time he steps onto the pitch. It goes without saying, but his left foot is incredible. It’s just amazing to watch him play. Now, if only Fabio Paratici shared the same opinion, we’d be better off.

3) Your choice for most important Juve victory in your lifetime? Why?

Without a doubt, when we knocked out Real Madrid 3-2 on aggregate in 2015. While the win against Inter in 2018 was huge, for me the Real result announced Juve’s return on the world stage and showed the rest of Europe “we are back.” After all, we just took out Real Madrid. The final didn’t go our way, but I can’t recall a win I’ve celebrated more.

4) Choose your all-time favorite Juve match, and why?

Against Inter and on their home turf just over two years ago. At times, it felt like the game and the title were slipping away but as soon as Dybala stepped onto the pitch, it changed everything. I’ll never forget Gonzalo Higuain’s goal to complete the comeback. Made it that much sweeter that it was against Inter at the San Siro.

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5) Where do you rank Sarri among the current generation of Italian coaches? How about among coaches worldwide?

I’d put him in the top five, but I wouldn’t rank him in the top tier of Italian managers at the moment. Conte is in a class of his own, in my opinion. Other than last year, I’d put Allegri in the same tier as Conte. Beyond them, I rate Gasperini highly but it would be interesting to see how he does outside of Atalanta.

Worldwide, I think he’s a top ten manager. If I had to rank them, I’d say this is my top ten: Klopp, Guardiola, Simeone, Conte, Zidane, Allegri, Nagelsmann, Sarri, Tuchel, Gasperini.

6) What’s Juve’s objective for this season? Is it Serie A, the Champions League, or both?

Definitely both. When you have Cristiano Ronaldo on your team, the objective always has to be the Champions League. While I don’t think the team is well equipped for a deep European run, a player like Ronaldo can make the difference in a big game. It would be a waste of his final years if Juve didn’t push for European glory.

7) Perhaps a tough one here but pick two from Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba, and Vidal for your midfield, and why?

I love Marchisio and it’ll be hard to leave him out, but I have to go with Pirlo and Vidal. Pirlo is the ultimate Regista and is needed to dictate play. Obviously, it helps he can score a free-kick from just about any angle. As for Vidal, he’s your classic box-to-box midfielder and is not afraid to jump into tackles. Few midfielders impressed me more than prime Vidal and let’s not forget, he could score, too. Juve’s current midfield is really lacking his type of profile.

8) Where are Juve’s weaknesses? Some say right-back, others say left-back, or many mention the midfield. Your take?

It has to be the midfield. This may anger some, but Miralem Pjanic is a complete liability both in and out of possession. Juve can do much better in his position and I think they’ll look to replace him this summer. Blaise Matuidi is necessary to press and offer defensive support, but ultimately he’s far too limited. Remember his turnover against Napoli?

I think this Juve side needs at least two signings in the middle of the park and should arguably offload two or three guys (Sami Khedira, Pjanic and perhaps Adrien Rabiot) As I said before, this midfield lacks fight and demonstrates zero Grinta.

Of course, our depth at full-back is worrisome particularly with Alex Sandro slowing down, but for now, I think Sandro and Juan Cuadrado can manage the situation. Hopefully, Pellegrini comes back in the summer and competes for the left-back position.

9) In your opinion who is the best player (not necessarily your favorite) to ever wear the Juve shirt?

It has to be Del Piero. Record goalscorer and record appearance holder, few match Del Piero’s resume with the club. He’s won it all with us and has inspired many to support Juve over the years. At the height of Italian football, he was one of the best and led Juve to many trophies.

Del Piero set the standard for our number ten jersey and raised the bar for everyone after him. Perhaps Buffon is in it with a shout, but I have to give this one to Pinturicchio.

Chopping Block: Five Players Juventus Should Consider Selling

While Maurizio Sarri’s first season has been a relative success thus far, Juventus’ performances haven’t exactly typified their tactician’s vision to the fullest degree. Until now, the bianconeri have grinded out wins due to individual brilliance like they always have. At a certain point, results alone won’t be enough to satisfy Juventus’ top brass. After all, Sarri’s hiring represented an identity shift for the club. One that predicated the importance of quality football along with the club’s innate desire to win.

In order to do this, Juventus will need to take a deeper look at their roster and significantly shake up their personnel to fit Sarri’s needs. Here are five players that the Italian champions should consider selling.

Blaise Matuidi - The Frenchman has established himself as a crucial starter under Sarri for his importance in the defensive third and pressing phases. When it comes to the final third, on the other hand, Matuidi struggles to combine with his teammates and often slows down Juventus’ attack to a point where an over-reliance is created on their right-hand side. If the bianconeri are serious about Sarriball, Matuidi can no longer be an undisputed starter and should be slowly phased out for a more technical midfielder.

While much is made of his defensive responsibilities, the former PSG man is currently averaging fewer interceptions and tackles per game than Miralem Pjanic, Rodrigo Bentancur and Adrien Rabiot. As a result, it’s only a matter of time before Matuidi finds himself on the chopping block. Given his inflated wages and declining form, Juve would be wise to move Matuidi this summer.

Federico Bernardeschi - Since his man-of-the-match performance in the second leg against Atletico Madrid last season, Bernardeschi has been a shadow of his former self and has struggled immensely in the final third. In fact, in his fifteen appearances this season, the former Fiorentina man is yet to score a goal or register an assist. This output is simply unacceptable from a player who came in with such high expectations.

Recently, there’s been reports that Juventus are considering a swap deal for Milan’s Paqueta, indicating their desire to move on from the stuttering winger. With Dejan Kulusevski coming in, Bernardeschi is a luxury Juve can no longer afford and should sell him to the highest bidder.

Emre Can - Like Bernardeschi, Can is yet to display consistency since joining Juve and has struggled to adapt to life in Italy. Recent reports suggest the former Liverpool man will be joining Borussia Dortmund for 25 million euros, a deal the biaconeri should look to complete as soon as possible. Simply put, the German international does not suit Sarri’s football and Juventus could do with the extra money to bolster their midfield.

His sale would not only represent a boosted transfer kitty but also more room for other midfielders. Sandro Tonali, anyone? While Can’s Juventus tenure is nearing its end, it’s best for all parties to move on and cut their losses.

Miralem Pjanic - This one’s a bit more complicated than the other three and isn’t as clear-cut. Despite flashes of quality, Pjanic is not your typical Sarriball regista and simply does not offer enough in the offensive or defensive phases. While he regularly posts impressive pass completion numbers, his stats aren’t representative of his dwindling influence on the pitch. Since his Roma days, the Bosnian international has been far too passive both in and out of possession. At the base of their midfield, Juventus need someone that is capable of taking risks with the ball and is not afraid of jumping into a tackle.

Pjanic specializes in neither of those departments and could be improved upon easily. Once again, Brescia’s Sandro Tonali comes to mind. While Pjanic is far from the problem with Juventus’ midfield, there a plethora of better options at regista; all options the Italian champions should consider come the summer-time. The very best are ruthless and Juventus must be this.

Alex Sandro - Alex Sandro’s situation is very similar to Pjanic’s. Both players face no competition for their respective roles and complacency has seeped into their play. Unlike Pjanic, I believe Juve could do well to keep the Brazilian past this season, however, they must bring in a viable number one left-back to overtake him. Whether it’s Luca Pellegrini, or a bonafide top quality fullback, Sarri can only do so much with average fullbacks.

The former Porto man offers little in the final third and rarely if ever, beats his man. Combined with Matuidi’s inability to contribute offensively, Juve’s left-hand side is a non-factor besides Cristiano Ronaldo. This can’t go on. Despite this, I wouldn’t mind Juve keeping him, as long as it’s as a backup moving forward.

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Juventus Top Performers – Round 19 vs Roma

After being gifted two goals in the first ten minutes of the Roma game, Juventus played with fire for the rest of the contest, failing to take advantage of the opportunities to seal the deal, but still managed to hold onto the lead and reclaim the first place in the standings.

Merih Demiral (4 points): the night of the defender got cut short by an apparently serious knee injury, but he scored a massive goal with a very opportunistic finish, fully exploiting a pair of imperfections by the Giallorossi defenders on a set piece. Matthijs De Ligt was forced into action and was not too shabby for somebody who is supposedly dealing with a pair of ailments and hs a matter of fact he had a crucial block on a late clear-cut attempt. Continue reading

Rabiot Excelling Ahead of Crucial Stretch

When Adrien Rabiot was picked up on a free transfer this past summer, the Frenchman was expected to play an integral role in Maurizio Sarri’s midfield. After all, he’s an adept dribbler and can progress play nicely from a mezz’ala role. The former PSG man, however, struggled in the early goings of the season and failed to adapt to Italian football, showing signs of rust. As a result, Sarri opted for the experience of Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi in the midfield, much to the dismay of the Juventus faithful.

Khedira, much like it has been the case his entire career, has since been sidelined with an injury, leaving a spot in the midfield alongside Pjanic and Matuidi up for grabs. While it seemed Rodrigo Bentancur was inching closer to making it his own in recent times, the Uruguayan picked up a three-game suspension in Juventus’ Supercoppa defeat. This presented Rabiot with the opportunity he’s been looking for.

The 24-year-old made the most of his start against Cagliari and was a driving force in Juventus’ midfield in the second half. Rather than his typical left-centre midfield role, Sarri deployed him on the right and instructed him to connect with Cuadrado and Dybala. The Frenchman did so with great aplomb and put in his best performance in a Juventus shirt.

For the first time this season, Rabiot showed signs of his technique and ability to carry the ball forward at will. If he continues on this path, Sarri will have no choice to accommodate the former PSG man into his eleven, even when Bentancur returns.

When asked about his recent performances and rumours linking him away from the club after the Cagliari clash, Rabiot was clear.

“I feel the confidence of the club and of coach Sarri. 2019 was not easy for me, I came to Juve after a long time without playing,” said the Frenchman. I’m looking to adapt to a new league, a new environment and a new coach. I hope 2020 will be better for me and be able to help Juventus by exploiting my full potential. I am finding the rhythm,” added Rabiot.

With Inter and Juventus duking it out for the Scudetto, the bianconeri will need all the help they can get and will be counting on Rabiot in the midfield. Before his impressive run, the Italian champions struggled for creativity in the middle of the park and relied heavily on Pjanic to provide the spark. Carrying a significant portion of the creative load, the Bosnian international struggled going into the new year. However, with Rabiot excelling and Bentancur starting to deliver on his promise, Juventus may just have the midfield trio they’ve been looking for all along. 

While the trio is still a far cry from Juventus’ illustrious past of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio, they are still technical enough for Sarriball and can dominate possession for sustained portions of the game. In fact, since Bentancur and Rabiot have been featuring regularly, Juventus have seen a spike in their offensive production, having scored nine goals in their last three games. As the knockout stages approach in the Champions League, this will be crucial.

Factor in the necessity for Matuidi’s pressing and industry off-the-ball, however, and Sarri will likely have to leave one of Rabiot or Bentancur out every other game. Despite this, it’s a positive headache for Sarri to have and for once since his appointment, he can rely on someone other than Pjanic in the midfield to implement his playing philosophy.

With Rabiot excelling and Juventus scoring at will, the bianconeri are primed for a strong second-half of the season. It’s now time for their other Bosman signing Aaron Ramsey to follow in Rabiot’s footsteps and pick up the slack. Can he do it?

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Pjanic and Sarri rally the troops before Leverkusen clash

Miralem Pjanic and Maurizio Sarri talked to the press late on Tuesday ahead of the Bayer Leverkusen game, mostly discussing the team’s poor form: “This is a different competition compared to Serie A, we take it game after game and we carry with us the confidence we accumulated in the previous one. It is important to play well, we will try to win in order to gear up for the next domestic match. We will face a nice team that can still go through. It will not be easy, but we are prepared.” Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 14

Juventus-Sassuolo: Cristiano Ronaldo came back midweek and now it will be interesting to see whether or not he will be load managed in Serie A player after the knee injury. Nevertheless, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala have been excellent in relief and have been able to contribute also when coming off the bench in their standard configuration. Douglas Costa got hurt again, which takes away their most explosive option at no.10, so it will Federico Bernardeschi and Aaron Ramsey running the show there for a while, but they both have not done damage in a while. Ramsey has the most upside in the duo. Khedira is fading and, while Rodrigo Bentancur and Blaise Matuidi are serviceable contributors, they are not strong fantasy options. It could be instead the right kind of match-up for Miralem Pjanic to have a meaningful offensive role, while Juan Cuadrado has been a pretty good fullback for a while now. Continue reading

Sarri dishes bad news about Ronaldo and more in presser

Maurizio Sarri held an early presser ahead of the Atalanta and begun by addressing the status of Cristiano Ronaldo and the recent controversy: “We did not really need to clear the air. I come from the amateurs in the 90’s and the reactions after subbing off were the same. Either I spent all my time trying to clarify that or I let them blow some steam. It is not a problem, the issue is his knee injury, which got worse in the second Portugal match. We are trying to solve it through some specific practices: it is affecting him mentally as well. We want him back for the Champions League tilt with Atletico Madrid, he has 99 percent chances of missing tomorrow’s match.”

Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report

Atalanta: Josip Ilicic lost the appeal so he will serve the second game of his suspension. Ruslan Malinovskyi is disqualified as well. Duvan Zapata is not ready after missing time with a thigh strain despite the early optimism, while Luis Muriel and Remo Freuler, who picked up some muscular ailments with their national teams, should be fine. 

Bologna: Mattia Bani and Danilo are banned. Takehiro Tomiyasu is poised to come back from a thigh strain, while Federico Santander suffered the same injury few days ago and will miss three weeks. Roberto Soriano and Mitchell Dijks will miss another one due to a knee and toe edema respectively, also Mattia Destro remains on the shelf due to knee soreness. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 11

Roma-Napoli: the Giallorossi have reached a pretty strong level of consistency and they are starting to recovering pieces, which will further add to their arsenal. Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov have been terrific all year long, Nicolò Zaniolo has started scoring, Justin Kluivert did damage in Udine and even Javier Pastore is starting to look good playing with continuity. Gianluca Mancini has been a stabilyzing presence, allowing the other contributors to focus more on the offense, primarly Jordan Veretout has begun to be more impactful as a playmaker after a slow start at his new club. Diego Perotti and Cengiz Under will likely need some time before being fit enough to receiving considerable playing time.  Continue reading

Bentancur adapting to life under Maurizio Sarri

When Maurizio Sarri was first appointed as Juventus boss, many expected Rodrigo Bentancur to benefit greatly. After all, the Uruguayan international is slick in possession and is a classic regista, a position Sarri greatly values. In many ways, he epitomizes everything the veteran manager looks for in a midfielder. However, life under the former Napoli tactician didn’t get off to a great start as Sarri regularly fielded Sami Khedira and Blaise Mautidi alongside Miralem Pjanic, relegating the 22-year-old to the bench. With limited minutes, Bentancur was constrained solely to cameo appearances.

In recent weeks, however, Bentancur has seen his playing time increase and has played the full ninety minutes in consecutive games. Rather than play as the side’s deepest midfielder, Sarri has used the former Boca Junior man as a mezz’ala on the right-hand side of Pjanic. This is a new position for the player as he’s typically used to playing as a number six. In this role, Bentancur often filters in centrally as a regista, giving the Bosnian international the license to roam forward. While on paper he’s fielded as a mezz’ala, Pjanic and Bentancur’s understanding of space means he occupies both positions at times.

Against Lokomotiv Moscow, at first, Bentancur was used as an attacking midfielder behind Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo. When that didn’t work, the Uruguayan international was quickly shifted deeper into midfield, once again, alongside Pjanic.

From a more familiar position, Bentancur regained control and looked way better in possession. Before the season started it seemed it was either Pjanic or Bentancur, however, Sarri has demonstrated he’s willing to use them together given their ability to interchange positions at will.

Tomorrow, Bentancur is expected to start at the heart of midfield against Genoa, after Pjanic picked up a knock in Juventus’ most recent draw against Lecce. As the side’s regista, expect the 22-year-old to dictate play and link the midfield to attack. It will be interesting to see how Bentancur performs in Pjanic’s absence as it will be the first time he plays without the Bosnian this season. Thus far, the duo have formed an unlikely partnership and give Juventus’ midfield some much-needed technique and directness.

With Pjanic on the pitch, Bentancur takes on a more subdued role as opposing defences are focused on the former Roma man. From a wider position in midfield, Bentancur filters in between the lines and is able to carve out space for himself in dangerous areas. Take the Inter game, for example. As Marcelo Brozovic was marking Pjanic for most of the game, Sarri introduced Bentancur to create a numerical advantage in the middle of the park.

Despite playing as a mezz’ala, the Uruguayan midfielder was often in central positions and played a crucial role in Gonzalo Higuain’s winner, providing the assist. With Pjanic in a deeper position, Bentancur played in an advanced role behind the strikers. As Dybala moved freely around the pitch, Inter’s defence struggled to keep track of the bianconeri’s midfielders, leaving Bentancur time and space to find Higuain on the winner.

Against Genoa, however, Bentancur is expected to play the regista role on his own; a challenge he’ll surely welcome. Despite his positive performances in recent weeks, he’s yet to prove he can handle the midfield workload on his own and has struggled in the past when tasked with dictating play.

If Bentancur impresses tomorrow, it will pose Sarri with quite the selection headache moving forward. Either continue using the Uruguayan from a mezz’ala role in tandem with Pjanic, or keep an in-form player on the bench. Remember, there’s also Sami Khedira, Blaise Matuidi and Adrien Rabiot to account for. In any case, Bentancur’s progress this season is something Juventus will welcome, especially considering their midfield woes.

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