Serie A Fantasy Previews – Round Five – Top Matches

ATALANTA-SAMPDORIA

Atalanta: the Bergamaschi looked unprepared to match Napoli’s aggressiveness in the last fixture and the much-anticipated bout ended with a shocking beating. They will look to return to form in Serie A as well after pummelling Midtjylland. Alejandro Gomez has been the tip of the spear so far and straight-up one of the best players in the League. Luis Muriel has put his name in the stat-sheet twice, like Sam Lemmers, who has made the most of his limited opportunities. Duvan Zapata has been more up-and-down. Josip Ilicic looked rusty in his first game back, but that is understandable: the good news is that he indeed came back and the coach will likely give him regular minutes to get him into shape. Ruslan Malinovskyi is questionable due to an injury, which may lead to some playing time for the intriguing Aleksey Miranchuk. Their stud wing-backs Hans Hateboer and Robin Gosens have scored one goal each, with the German international adding two assists.

Suggested picks: Gomez, Muriel, Zapata. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Three – Other Games

FIORENTINA-SAMPDORIA

Fiorentina: the Viola were rather unlucky to be pipped at the post by Inter, but on the offensive end they surely raised the bar compared to opener, primarily thanks to a superb Franck Ribery, who shredded the defence and dished two assists. However he is said to be banged up, so the others could have a bigger role in this case. Gaetano Castrovilli, who notched the second goal in a row, and Federico Chiesa capitalized, while Christian Kouame benefitted from a generous feed by Giacomo Bonaventura. The ex-Genoa striker has separated himself from Patrick Cutrone and Dusan Vlahovic as main centre-forward and should end up being their primary scorer, even though generally throughout his career he has fared better as second-striker. The Gigliati are pretty stacked offensively and Cristiano Biraghi has been exuberant down the left flank.

Suggested picks: Kouame, Chiesa, Ribery.

Sampdoria: the Blucerchiati thought they had the Benevento game in the bag, but the Sanniti had different plans. Despite the second-half collapse, the Blucerchiati produced more than against Juventus, as natural, and Fabio Quagliarella quickly opened his seasonal tally, followed up by Omar Colley’s first Serie A goal. The offense got a boost with the addition of Antonio Candreva as right winger, who provided an assist right away. Federico Bonazzoli and Jakub Jankto instead have not been great in the first two games, while the secondary option Morten Thorsby was supplanted by Valerio Verre in the midfield last week, who was pretty good at Verona, but featured in a much more advanced position. Tommaso Augello uncorked few decent crosses in the last game, while Manolo Gabbiadini hit the post immediately upon subbing in and might get the start this week. Jankto has been ruled out, which could lead to an extended run for newcomer Mikkel Damsgaard or last year’s late bloomer Kristoffer Askildsen.

Suggested picks: Quagliarella, Candreva, Gabbiadini.

SASSUOLO-CROTONE

Sassuolo: the Neroverdi predictably detonated in the Spezia match, taking advantage of a lousy defence, and could be in a similar spot this week given Crotone’s early struggles on that front. Jeremie Boga still has not cleared the COVID-19 protocol: Lukas Haraslin was limited by an injury in the last game, but Gregoire Defrel picked up the slack more than convincingly, while Filip Djuricic and Francesco Caputo quickly shook off an underwhelming opener and Domenico Berardi nailed a PK. Manuel Locatelli is already playing at an excellent level, but he is not so prone to picking up bonuses. As far as the full-backs go, where there is some potential, Rogerio is hurt and Grigoris Kyriakopoulos is not as impactful, while on the right Jeremy Toljan has so far played more than Mert Muldur, who is generally more exuberant, although a little unbridled.

Suggested picks: Caputo, Berardi, Djuricic.

Crotone: the Pitagorici could not keep up with Genoa and Milan in the first matches and the going will not get any easier here, also considering their injury problems, as it is manifest that they need Ahmad Benali’s playmaking and leadership in the midfield. The coach has kept Junior Messias there to have more offensive punch, but it is not the same thing. Denis Dragus got the start to replace Emmanuel Riviere up front and was sprightly, the main problem though is that their fulcrum Simy has yet to get going and most of their offense goes through him. Nicolò Zanellato and Luca Cigarini generally take more care of the dirty work in the midfield. They added Pedro Pereira and Arkadiusz Reca on the flanks last week: the latter figures to be a bigger factor when it comes to attacking, but Andrea Rispoli and Salvatore Molina, who already had an assist, are no slouches on that regard.

Suggested picks: Messias, Simy, Dragus.

UDINESE-ROMA

Udinese: the Zebrette lost the second game in a row, this time against the lowly Spezia, and once against struggled to come up with convincing offense. Kevin Lasagna missed a pair of chances like in the opener, but that was about it on open play. Stefano Okaka and Ilija Nestorovski have not had a much impact so far, while they are almost completely depleted in the midfield, where they were forced to field 18-year-old Martin Palumbo, on top of other youngster Mamadou Coulibaly. Roberto Pereyra could be a decent factor, but it is not certain he will be available for this one due to bureaucratic elements. Therefore, Rodrigo De Paul will remain almost the sole source of playmaking, even should he be forced to play again in front of the defence. Thomas Ouwejan looked pretty promising when he subbed in Wednesday, certainly more enticing that Marvin Zeegelaar.

Suggested picks: De Paul, Lasagna, Okaka. 

Roma: he missed a pair of sitters, but the Giallorossi inevitably looked much better with Edin Dzeko back in the lineup and his quality flick-ons and passes started up several interesting sorties against Juventus. Jordan Veretout cashed in, and also canned a PK, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan was denied by the goalie. The major development is that Paulo Fonseca kept Pedro in the formation and moved Lorenzo Pellegrini to the pivot position, where Amadou Diawara and Bryan Cristante generally play. Therefore, the Spaniard is set to be one of their main weapons, while the Italian midfielder loses some shine as he is more far away from the box, but his playmaking could come through anyway, especially in easier matches where they are expected to attack consistently, like this one. He notched nine assists last season. It is pretty strange that Mkhitaryan still has not scored since he had few tasty chances.

Suggested picks: Dzeko, Mkhitaryan, Pedro.

BENEVENTO-BOLOGNA

Benevento: the Sanniti have been surprisingly shoddy in the back to begin the season, although keeping up with Inter might be difficult for anybody. However, they have been more productive than expected on the other end and while the goals in the opener were rather fluky, two by Luca Caldirola, one by Gaetano Letizia, the output coming from Gianluca Caprari (brace) and Gianluca Lapadula (one assist) should be more sustainable. The two already looked in sync, even though Lapadula’s minutes are being monitored due to lack of fitness: Gabriele Moncini has not really grabbed the brass ring in relief and so Lapadula is set to lead the charge whenever healthy. They added Iago Falque earlier this week and he can be a big weapon if in good conditions, but he will have to beat out last year’s starter Roberto Insigne, who is a substantial part of their offense. Some rotation could lead to good minutes for Marco Sau, who had 13 goals last year. The two box-to-box have not been particularly involved in the offensive proceedings.

Suggested picks: Caprari, Lapadula, Insigne.

Bologna: the Felsinei broke through in the derby with Parma thanks to a magnificent Roberto Soriano (two goals, one assist), but they had shown interesting stuff late versus Milan as well, despite the poor result. They are among the most proactive and productive sides among the minnows. Andreas Skov Olsen and Rodrigo Palacio joined Soriano in the stat-sheet in the last game, which is not great news for Riccardo Orsolini, which seems to have a long-standing beef with coach Sinisa Mihajlovic that is trying to make his flourish, and Nicola Sansone, who has seen little playing time in the early going. Musa Barrow is likely due after few attempts in the first two matches. Aaron Hickey played great in his debut and might quickly unseat Mitchell Dijks at left-back, while Lorenzo De Silvestri is always a steady hand. Jerdy Schouten has been splendid so far, but his role is pretty defensive.

Suggested picks: Barrow, Soriano, Palacio.

PARMA-VERONA

Parma: as if things were not going badly enough for the Ducali, Roberto Inglese and Andreas Cornelius both picked up last-minute injuries before the last game and so they were forced to field a very light attack. Gervinho, who did not have his signature burst right after a small physical problem, and Yann Karamoh did not do the trick and Andrea Adorante is the only pure centre-forward left. Hernani scored, on a Gaston Brugman sly feed, but only because of a defensive blunder. The Brazilian midfielder had not hit the target last season despite often firing away from distance. They will indeed get back Jasmin Kurtic after a technicality kept him out for the second game in a row, so that should lift them a little since they were forced to field Jacopo Dezi in the previous game. He and Jasmin Kucka might be biggest threats than their strikers all things considered. They need reinforcements from the transfer market.

Suggested picks: Gervinho, Kurtic, Kucka.

Verona: the Scaligeri will never be the most explosive team, but they tend to find a way to get the job done, especially because their stifling defence allows them to pick up good results even when they do not shine offensively. Samuel Di Carmine subbed off and will be out this week, but Andrea Favilli bagged the game-winning goal, his first Serie A one. They are adding some pieces since Darko Lazovic was able to make an appearance, but Federico Dimarco was surely serviceable on the left flank, and Ebrima Colley fared well in limited minutes. Antonin Barak has strong upside used as attacking midfielder and Adrien Tameze has been very promising. With different protagonists, they are getting back to the formula that propelled them last season, aided by the playmaking of Miguel Veloso and Mattia Zaccagni.

Suggested picks: Favilli, Barak, Zaccagni.

MILAN-SPEZIA

Milan: the Rossoneri took care of busines against Crotone, with Franck Kessie converting a penalty kick and Brahim Diaz netting his first goal in the Peninsula. They have another easy match-up on tap, however they will be undermanned and likely spent because. Ante Rebic injured his elbow in the past game and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is iffy due to COVID-19. It will likely up to youngster Lorenzo Colombo to lead the attack, while Rafael Leao should be ready for more playing time with one more week of practice under his belt following a long quarantine. With all the absences, Hakan Calhanoglu will have an even bigger role and, while he has been great in Europa League, he has not found the target in Serie A play yet. Samu Castillejo and Alexis Saelemaekers will have to make to make their presence felt in the final third more and they could unleash Theo Hernandez to get a boost.

Suggested picks: Calhanoglu, Colombo, Castillejo.

Spezia: the Aquilotti confirmed to be a pesky team in the Udinese game, what was a little stunning was to see Andrej Galabinov being this effective (three goals) after he failed to reach the double digit in the last three years. Emmanuel Gyasi picked up an assist, while Daniele Verde was fairly bubbly down the right flank and he is more at ease there than Kevin Agudelo, but the latter can play in a number of spots. Matteo Ricci has already had an helper and a goal called back, while Giulio Maggiore and Paolo Bartolomei have been more subdued and they have yet to fully explore all the new additions to the midfield. Tommaso Pobega and Lucien Agoume could be pretty interesting, but the hierarchies have yet to fully take form and they might just roll with last year’s starters anyway.

Suggested picks: Galabinov, Gyasi, Verde. 

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Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round Two

Results: Roma and Juventus shared the spoils in an entertaining fixture to cap off the Sunday slateNapoli demolished Genoa, Milan easily got past Crotone, while Verona nipped Udinese to stay perfect in the season. Inter furiously rallied back late against Fiorentina, while Lazio breezed past Cagliari and Atalanta toyed with Torino, so the three ‘top four’ teams that had their opener delayed were all successful. Among the newly promoted teams, Benevento got off to a brilliant start as they mounted a glorious comeback against Sampdoria, tough sledding instead for Spezia, which run into an in-form Sassuolo. Bologna trounced Parma on Monday night.  Continue reading

Milan sign Sandro Tonali

On Wednesday, Milan completed the acquisition of one of the brightest Italian prospects: Sandro Tonali from Brescia. While he was close to joining Juventus in January and then for months looked for poised to move to Inter, Milan swooped in late and acquired him with the formula of a €10M season-long loan with a €15M option to buy plus €10M potential add-ons and the 10% of a future sale upward of €30M, so at least €3M. The player will earn €2M per year.

Tonali made his Serie A debut in the recently concluded season after flourishing over the previous two campaigns in the second league. He was one of the few positive notes for the Rondinelle amidst all the struggles and coaching changes and tallied one goal and seven assists, mostly thanks to his prowess on set pieces, and often managed to pull the strings and produce momentum-changing solo runs within matches. Continue reading

Bakayoko, Brahim Diaz and Tonali – Milan could secure all three as persistent rumours emerge

After what was a few slow weeks since the 2019/20 season was concluded, Milan are making waves on the transfer market. At least in the newspapers, thus far. In addition to the renewal of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which more or less has been confirmed by the Swede, the Rossoneri are ready to make some important signings. 

Stefano Pioli’s men did well to finish in sixth place this past season and inarguably was one of the best top two Italian teams in the post-lockdown period. Not just in terms of the standings, which show that Milan finished in second place this year, but also their style of play and the new-found mentality in the squad. Continue reading

Does Brahim Diaz have a future at Real Madrid?

It’s now one year since Brahim Diaz made his debut for Real Madrid. At the time, the midfielder’s signing from Manchester City was viewed as quite the coup for the Spanish giants. Brahim might have struggled for first team opportunities under Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium, but this was a player who seemingly had a bright future in the game.

The initial impression made by the youngster was a good one. Real Madrid suffered a dismal second half of the 2018/19 season, but Brahim was one bright spark for them. Heading into the summer, it seemed that he would be a part of Zinedine Zidane’s plans going forward. That no longer looks to be the case, though.

This season, Brahim has played just 41 minutes for Real Madrid. Even taking into account the appearances made towards the end of last season, he has received just 435 minutes of first team football in a year. That is not nearly enough for a player at this stage of his development. He needs to play.

For Brahim, this has raised the possibility that he could be loaned out in the January transfer window. Of course, Real Madrid already have a number of bright, young talents out on loan – Martin Odegaard is at Real Sociedad, Achraf Hakimi is at Borussia Dortmund and Takefusa Kubo is at Real Mallorca – and so this wouldn’t be a decision without precedent. What’s more, the success of the aforementioned trio proves the success of this programme, with Odegaard one of the best players in La Liga this season.

This would suggest that Real Madrid still have high hopes for Brahim. Odegaard, for instance, is still considered a key part of the club’s future, but is out at Real Sociedad to gain first team experience. A similar sort of move for Brahim would surely serve him well and return him to the Santiago Bernabeu a more hardened professional and more rounded player.

However, other reports claim Real Madrid would be open to offloading Brahim entirely, seemingly unconvinced that he will ever be good enough for them. This would be a hasty decision, particularly given how few first team opportunities he has been handed this season. Brahim has never been given the chance to show what he can do in a winning team. Getting rid of him now would be a waste.

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Brahim Diaz is back from injury and Real Madrid might need him immediately

Within just a few months of arriving at the Santiago Bernabeu, Brahim Diaz had played as many games for Real Madrid as he had in three years for Manchester City. The 20-year-old midfielder isn’t a Galactico and wasn’t given the usual ticker-tape reception upon his arrival in the Spanish capital. Signed for just €17 million in January, Brahim was meant to be one for the future, but he made an immediate impression.

The midfielder missed the vast majority of Real Madrid’s pre-season with a persistent hamstring injury and then suffered an abdominal strain just as he was getting close to a return in late August. Finally, however, it seems that Brahim will be an option for Zinedine Zidane again. The Frenchman might need him immediately.

Real Madrid’s midfield has been difficult to work out over the early part of the season. Their season as a whole to this point has defied deciphering. Zidane finds himself under intense pressure. It seems that just one more adverse result will be enough to force Florentino Perez to pull the trigger with Jose Mourinho reportedly waiting in the wings to take over at any time.

Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric have all played well at points, but they have also suffered almighty dips in form. Fede Valverde has forced his way into the first team fold. The young Uruguayan has publicly made the point that he deserves even more game time, but he is the only player Zidane can bring into his midfield to freshen things up and rotate.

This is where Brahim might come in from this weekend. The 20-year-old caught the eye in the final games of last season, finding the net and notching an assist in the five starting appearances he made in La Liga. His drive and energy through the centre of the pitch could certainly be of use to Real Madrid at this moment. It could give the likes of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard the supply line they need.

Brahim certainly isn’t the sole solution to Real Madrid’s problems. Despite the good first impression he made over the second half of last season, the 20-year-old is still one for the future, but he could help ease the logjam that has developed in Zidane’s midfield. He could bring something different.

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Brahim Diaz joining Real Madrid leaves more questions than answers

Brahim Diaz

Real Madrid have confirmed the signing of Manchester City teenager Brahim Diaz on a six-and-a-half year deal, but is it right move for the club and, more importantly, is it the right move for the player?

Diaz, 19, joined City’s youth system from Malaga in 2013 but his contract in Manchester was due to expire this summer. For a number of months he had been telling reporters that he wanted a move way to guarantee more first-team football elsewhere, which he believed would help aid his development as a player. Continue reading