Three Midfield Options for Juventus

Four months into the Maurizio Sarri era and Juventus remain undefeated, both in domestic and European play. While most of the bianconeri’s wins have been close affairs, there have been glimpses of Sarriball in full flow. Paulo Dybala has returned to his typical lofty standards while Gonzalo Higuain has redeemed himself following indifferent loan spells. At the back, Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt have formed a formidable partnership, backstopping the Italian champions. In midfield, however, concerns remain.

Beyond Miralem Pjanic, Sarri has rotated Blaise Matuidi, Sami Khedira and Rodrigo Bentancur among others but is yet to establish his best midfield three. After all, other than the Bosnian international, they all lack the necessary quality to play for Sarri. As a result, Juventus need reinforcements in the middle of the park. Here are three names within Serie A they can target when the window reopens in January.

Sandro Tonali (Brescia) - The midfield maestro has been in sensational form since making the step up to the top flight and would fit like a glove in Sarri’s possession-based system. In many ways, Tonali could play in the Jorginho-role as a regista while Pjanic is pushed higher up the pitch, making further use of his creativity. While many have likened his play to that of Andrea Pirlo due to his passing range, he’s no slouch defensively and is tenacious without the ball.

Given his quality on the ball and his desire to win it back off it, he should be a no-brainer for Juve. Factor in that he hasn’t even hit 20 years old yet and he’s the ideal long-term solution to the bianconeri’s midfield woes. Juventus are said to be keeping tabs on the midfielder and will reportedly pursue his signature this summer.

Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma) - While the Roma midfielder isn’t for sale, he’s exactly the type of player Juventus need in the middle of the park. Equally capable of covering ground as he is picking a deadly ball, Pellegrini is the definition of a modern midfielder. This season, Pellegrini already has registered six assists in eight Serie A games and has taken his game to the next level under Paulo Fonseca.

At just 23 years of age, Pellegrini has a long career ahead of him both domestically and internationally. Juventus were reportedly keeping tabs on the player in the past and their sporting director Fabio Paratici is said to be a big fan of the Roma man. Juventus and Roma have done business in the past and have demonstrated they are willing to work together on the transfer market. It may be unlikely, but few players fit Sarri’s Juve better than Pellegrini.

Gaetano Castrovilli (Fiorentina)Sticking with the theme of technical Italian midfielders, Fiorentina’s Castrovilli is another player Juventus should seriously consider. Rather than focusing their efforts and budget on his teammate, Federico Chiesa, the bianconeri would be wise to monitor Castrovilli’s progression. Since emerging onto the scene, the 22-year-old has won over the viola faithful with his industrious nature and is slowly evolving his game.

While he still has improvements to make across his game, Castrovilli is a good dribbler and could hurt the opposition in possession. Without the ball, the Fiorentina man is responsible and is eager to put in a shift. In many ways, his game is eerily reminiscent of young Claudio Marchisio. However, let’s pump the brakes for now. For one, he has a long way to go and most importantly, Fiorentina are unlikely to give Juve another one of their home-town boys.

All three players are youthful, technical players who would allow Sarri to further implement his footballing philosophy at Juve and are arguably available for the right price. Tonali may be the likeliest of the three given his team, but Juve would be foolish not to consider Pellegrini or Castrovilli.

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Serie A Round 15 Fantacalcio Player Trends: Stock Down

League leaders Inter will be looking to extend the gap at the top when they take on Roma in a few hour’s time. Juventus, on the other hand, will be traveling to Roma’s cross-town rivals Lazio and are eager to return to winning ways. However, Ciro Immobile and co. are in sensational form and will arguably have something to say about that. Otherwise, Napoli take on Udinese and Atalanta host Hellas Verona.

With match-day 15 upon us, here are FIVE players you should consider dropping from your elevens. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Matthijs de Ligt (CB, Juventus, Value 14.21) – After a phenomenal performance against Atletico Madrid, the Dutchman got the nod against Sassuolo and put in a display to forget. Turkish international Merih Demiral will be wondering what he has to do to get into the side. While the former Ajax man is still young and growing pains are a part of the process, he’s proven to be error-prone this season, costing Juventus both goals and penalties.

With the Dutchman struggling for form and a high-powered Lazio coming up, I would temporarily swap de Ligt out of my fantacalcio side.

Krzysztof Piatek (FWD, Milan, Value 12.00) - When the side’s left-back is the joint top goalscorer on a whopping three goals, you know Milan currently have a striking problem. Since his breakthrough year, the Polish international has looked a shade of his former self and hasn’t found the back of the net since his strike against Lecce back in October. That’s six games without a goal.

At 12 million euros, you can do better and select a player who’s actually in-form. Whether it’s the number nine curse at Milan, a complete lack of service, or his own wastefulness, Piatek is not someone you want in your sides moving forward.

Cristiano Ronaldo (FWD, Juventus, Value 17.36) - Speaking on misfiring forwards, Ronaldo is yet another player who hasn’t exactly played his best football this season and has struggled to attain his typically lofty heights. While there are reports that the former Real Madrid man is nursing a knee injury, Ronaldo has looked a step behind the pace and often finds himself firing shots from unlikely ranges. As of right now, it’s Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain scoring the important goals for Juve and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon.

His star-name and past experience may attract you but based on current form, there are better options for his 17.36 million euro price-tag. It may be difficult, but you probably need to drop Ronaldo.

Kostas Manolas (DEF, Napoli, Value 10.73) - When the Greek international joined Napoli, he was supposed to add defensive solidity and form a fearsome partnership with Kalidou Koulibaly. Fifteen match-days into the season and nothing of the sort has taken place. In fact, Napoli’s defence has taken a step-back if anything this season, conceding 18 goals already and only have one clean sheet in their last nine games in all competitions.

While Manolas is not the only one to blame, the former Roma man’s elevated price-tag means he’s a luxury not worth purchasing. Consider replacing him with high-flying fullbacks or the man who took his place in the nation’s capital, Chris Smalling.

Sandro Tonali (MID, Brescia, Value 12.00) - While the midfield maestro has been Brescia’s only bright-spot this season, he has struggled in recent weeks. Since Fabio Grosso’s appointment, Brescia have conceded ten goals, scoring none, and lost all three games. Grosso has since been replaced with the man he took over from, however, that arguably won’t change Brescia’s fortunes.

As a result, you would be wise to temporarily use the 12 million elsewhere and wait until Corini steadies the ship once more.

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Brescia fire Grosso and turn back to Corini

With the team squarely at the bottom of the of the standings and coming off three straight losses, Brescia president Maurizio Cellino decided to revert last month’s questionable decision on Monday, announcing the firing of Fabio Grosso and the return on the bench of Eugenio Corini.

The squad had not responded to the coaching change as they were soundly defeated by Torino, Roma and Atalanta: they conceded ten goals while failing to score a single one. During matches, the Curva repeatedly asked for the return of the manager that led to the promotion last season. Continue reading

Serie A Round 13 Fantacalcio Player Trends: Stock Down

The international break came and went and it’s now time to look ahead at this weekend’s clashes with a particular focus on your fantacalcio sides. In this weekend’s big clashes, Juventus are travelling to Bergamo to take on Atalanta while a struggling Napoli side will be locking horns with Milan. Otherwise, Antonio Conte’s Inter will be looking to keep the pressure on Juve with a win against Torino.

With match-day 13 upon us, here are FIVE players you should consider dropping from your fantacalcio side. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Adrien Rabiot (MID, Juventus, Value 4.5) – The French midfielder has struggled for playing time and continuity since joining Juventus and will likely be sidelined for a couple more games through injury. When the former PSG man joined the Italian champions, much was expected from him. With Juventus struggling for technical options in the middle of the park, many thought Rabiot was a perfect fit for Sarri. Since the beginning of the season, however, the former Chelsea tactician has opted for the veteran presences of Blaise Matuidi and Sami Khedira in his place.

As a result of his lack of playing time, rumours have surfaced that Rabiot is looking at alternatives across Europe. Despite his low price-tag, keep him out of your sides for the foreseeable future.

Dries Mertens (ST, Napoli, Value 13.93) – The Napoli hitman started off the season in sensational form but has since slowed down in recent weeks. With a player revolution on the cards in southern Italy, expect Napoli’s woes to continue. While Milan haven’t exactly epitomized defensive solidity, their most recent performance against Juventus was encouraging and they’ll look to continue that against Napoli.

Given Ancelotti’s wide range of options on the bench, be-it through Fernando Llorente or Arkadiusz Milik, it’s possible Mertens is subbed out early if his indifferent form continues. At 13.93M, it’s a good idea to look elsewhere for now.

Nikola Milenkovic (DEF, Fiorentina, Value 18.69) – After a good run of form, Vincenzo Montella’s viola have been brought back down to earth. Following their 1-1 draw against Parma, Fiorentina took on a high-flying Cagliari side and got dominated from the first minute, losing 5-2. While they are favourites on paper against Hellas Verona, the newly-promoted side have demonstrated that they are no pushovers scoring goals against Inter and Juventus.

Factor in their defensive commitment and this won’t be an easy game for Fiorentina. Given Milenkovic’s elevated price-tag and his side’s recent struggles at the back, you would be wise to temporarily swap him out of your fantacalcio sides.

Luis Muriel (ST, Atalanta, Value 16.49) – The Colombian striker, much like Mertens, started the season in top form and was finding the back of the net with ease. However, in recent times, his goalscoring touch has left him and he hasn’t scored in his last three games. With a game against Juventus on deck, it won’t get much easier for Muriel.

The bianconeri have conceded the least amount of goals in Italy and have looked increasingly solid at the back as the weeks have passed. Despite Atalanta’s free-scoring nature, expect this game to be a tight affair. As a result, it’s difficult to justify Muriel’s 16.49M price-tag.

Mario Balotelli (ST, Brescia, Value 6.96) - Supermario hasn’t enjoyed the best of times since his homecoming and has struggled to find the back of the net this season. In addition to his goalscoring woes, Balotelli was recently racially abused by Hellas Verona’s faithful; abuse that has reportedly weighed on the former Milan man even beyond the pitch. 

This week, Balotelli also had a training dispute with new manager Fabio Grosso and was sent home early. Considering all these factors, it appears Balotelli needs time to regain his focus. At 6.96M, it’s worth looking into other low-cost options.

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Coaches in Italy still refuse to believe in fans racist chants after Balotelli almost walks off

The problem with racism in Serie A reached new heights at the weekend when Verona took on Brescia. Mario Balotelli who has been repeatedly subjected to racist taunts much of his whole career when in Italy was again targeted.

The incident happened in the second half when Balotelli went over to take a corner and the section of Verona fans started doing the monkey chant. Rightly disgusted Balotelli kicked the ball in the air and then threatened to walk off the pitch. After a few minutes of whistles and jeers and with both sets of players from both sides convincing him to stay on he did just that.

But racism is going nowhere in Italy, in fact it is getting worse and this was highlighted by both coaches after the game. Where in England you would expect a manager in the post match press conference to speak up against racism, in Italy it feels that coaches do not see the problem.

The monkey chants were clearly audible and yet Verona coach Ivan Juric said: “I’m not afraid to say, today there was nothing. Lots of whistling and teasing against a great player, but there was nothing else. I have also taken so many insults over the years, I know what it means, but today there has been nothing. On the reason of the reaction you have to ask him. When there is racism, I will have no problem saying so because it sucks, even if it comes from my fans. But today I heard nothing. We don’t create a case where there isn’t, it would be a lie.”

How Juric had the gall to say such words is up to him, but what it did was underline that in Italy they do not hear or see a problem such as racism in football. His statement like many others before him seemed to want to make light of the incident and sweep it under the carpet. Perhaps and hopefully in the coming days with video evidence he will change his mind.

It is worrying when a situation is obvious and the coaches and presidents of clubs do not speak up. After the game Balotelli went to social media to thank his teammates but at the end of the day he must be disappointed with Juric’s comments. Aren’t we supposed to be taking steps forward and not backwards? However when UEFA do very little to educate and reinforce racism- banners do absolutely nothing- then we are left at a stalemate.

In England racism has almost disappeared from the stands. Yes of course it is there, but who remembers Balotelli having to stop a game and getting visibly upset when he played in the Premier League? Perhaps he needs to check again if playing in Italy is the right career move for him. However being Italian why shouldn’t he play in his home country, why should he run? The real problem is inside the football dressing rooms and outside the stadiums, sadly it seems that nothing is going to change quickly.

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Brescia appoint Grosso after sacking Corini

Brescia fired Eugenio Corini on Sunday night after the loss to Hellas Verona and announced today the hiring of Fabio Grosso. The Rondinelle are in the middle of a three-game losing streak, as they have been defeated recently also by Genoa and Inter. They are penultimate in the standings, having collected just seven points so far by downing Cagliari and Udinese away and tying with Fiorentina.

The Biancoblu had their best performances against the top teams, as they were in the match until late versus Juventus, Napoli and the Nerazzurri, always losing by just one goal, but that did not translate into positive results in easier contests, which doomed Corini, even though he led them to the promotion with a dominant season last year. Continue reading

One to Watch: Christian Kouamé

After an impressive debut season, Christian Kouamé was tipped to take Serie A by storm in 2019-2020. Alongside Andrea Pinamonti, the Ivorian was expected to form one of the league’s most youthful and dangerous duos in attack. The duo lived up to the hype early on, combining to devastating effect in their opener against Roma. Kouamé followed up his goal against the giallorossi with another impressive performance against Fiorentina, putting in a man-of-the-match display and adding another goal to his tally.

The 21-year-old would find the back of the net once more against Cagliari, starting his season in brilliant fashion with three goals in four games. However, following their convincing defeat at the hands of Cagliari, Genoa went winless in their next four games and Kouamé struggled. In his next four starts, the Ivorian played the full ninety minutes in all games and failed to score in any of them.

Genoa’s 5-1 defeat against Parma was the last straw for President Enrico Preziosi and he promptly sacked Aurelio Andreazzoli for former midfielder Thiago Motta. Motta was previously coaching PSG’s U-19 side and has been labelled a progressive tactician in his brief managerial career.

In Motta’s first game in charge, Kouamé started on the bench and came on for Sinan Gumus with over twenty minutes to play. In his cameo appearance, the 21-year-old was electric and helped Genoa overcome a one-nil deficit to claim the three points. Outside of his match-winner, a fantastic scissor-kick, Kouamé was a constant threat in the final third and didn’t give Brescia’s defenders a moment’s rest.

With I Grifoni up a goal, Brescia tried taking the game to them and left open spaces in behind. Kouamé took full advantage of this and registered his first assist on the season on Goran Pandev’s goal. In just 25 minutes of action, Kouamé displayed exactly why he comes so highly-rated around the peninsula. Whether he’s driving in possession or making the most of his incredible turn of pace, Kouamé makes for an increasinly dangerous striker.

This season, the Genoa forward has demonstrated that he could be efficient in front of goal, as illustrated by his four goals on the season already. One knock against Kouamé last season was that he couldn’t create his own chances. Much like his finishing, this is an element of his game that has since improved significantly compared to years past. Currently, Kouamé is averaging just under two shots per game and is also establishing himself as a creative threat with just under 1.5 key passes per game.

Moving forward, Genoa are going to need Kouamé to maintain his positive exploits in front of goal if they want to avoid relegation. Under Thiago Motta it will be interesting to see the young forward develop, especially considering the tactician’s desire to play attacking football. In any case, Kouamé is definitely one to keep an eye on as the season wears on and into the January transfer window. Capable of creating chances or taking them for himself, Kouamé will undoubtedly be atop most club’s wish-lists when the mercato reopens.

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On the Rise: Sandro Tonali

Initially likened to a certain Andrea Pirlo because of his appearance and position, Brescia’s Sandro Tonali has since taken Serie A by storm. Playing at the base Eugenio Corini’s midfield trio in a traditional regista role, the U-21 international has taken to the top flight like a fish to water and has dictated proceedings.

Alongside the veteran presences of Daniele Dessena and Dimitri Bisoli, the 19-year-old is given the license to drive forward with and without the ball. After watching him play, it’s easy to forget he hasn’t even hit 20 years old yet. His most recent performances have attracted interest from Serie A’s elite as Juventus, Napoli, Inter, and Milan are all said to be keeping tabs on the player.

Fiorentina have also shown interest in the player and have sent scouts to watch him. In addition to having the pick of the litter in Italy, Tonali is being monitored by English giants Manchester United as well as Paris Saint-Germain.

Despite the uncanny resemblance to Pirlo and the fact that they both emerged from Brescia, comparing the two is lazy. They may play the same position, but do so very differently. While Tonali boasts an impressive range of passing, he’s more eager to drive with the ball at his feet than the legendary Milan midfielder. In his seven appearances this season, he’s already averaging 1.6 completed dribbles per game and has emerged as Brescia’s most important ball progressor with the ball at his feet.

Outside of possession, Tonali is like a bulldog. Always eager to win the ball back, the Brescia man is regularly nipping at the heels of the opposition. Due to his aggressive nature, Tonali’s play off the ball has drawn comparisons to a certain Gennaro Gattuso. High praise, indeed.

Beyond his energetic presence in the middle of the park, Tonali has demonstrated he can play the killer pass. Often times, younger players display promise but lack in end-product. This is not the case for Tonali. Having already registered two assists on the season, the Brescia midfield is unlucky not to have more. As his 2.3 key passes per game suggest, Tonali is regularly finding teammates in dangerous positions.

Whether it’s from open play or from a whipped in cross from a set-piece, Tonali’s right boot poses a considerable threat to opposition defences. As he gets more top flight action, expect Tonali’s assist and chances created tallies to keep increasing.

With every big club in Italy practically on his tail, it’s now time Tonali makes the right decision and join a side where he can play regularly. After all, he’s just 19 years of age and can’t afford to have his development stifled. From this perspective, Fiorentina is an ideal landing spot, provided they are capable of giving him regular minutes.

Milan, Inter and Napoli could be interesting options for Tonali, as well, but the 19-year-old should request guarantees before joining. The last thing he needs is cameo appearances off the bench at this stage in his career.

Regardless of his next move, one thing is clear: Tonali is Italy’s best midfield prospect and is the real deal. The Pirlo comparisons will only continue as his career goes on, yet the 19-year-old has shown he’s ready to carve out his own path. The ball’s now in his court.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 5

Brescia-Juventus: two questions loom large on the game, one for each side. Mario Balotelli is eligible to return after the suspension, but his conditioning might be a problem after skipping the summer preparation, so he might be initially be kept on the bench. Cristiano Ronaldo has been ruled out due to muscle fatigue and it is new situation under Maurizio Sarri; they also do not have Douglas Costa, so they lack a pure left-wing player. Federico Bernardeschi could certainly be adapted there, but he has struggled so far, so the coach might try new solutions, like for instance fielding Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain together. Whoever ends up starting up front will have to shoulder a bigger load sans Ronaldo. Continue reading

Serie A Match of the Round – Brescia vs Bologna

No proper head-to-head clashes in this round, where Fiorentina-Juventus was the match with the highest profile but ended with in a zero-zero. It was instead goals galore in most of the other ones and in particular in Brescia-Bologna, which was the funniest contest out of the weekend.

The Rondinelle had collected three points thus far due to a road win in Cagliari and a loss to Milan, while the Felsinei were at four as they shared the spoils with Verona but then beat SPAL late. Eugenio Corini picked Alessandro Matri to partner Alfredo Donnarumma as Ernesto Torregrossa is hurt and put the newcomer Romulo in the hole replacing Nikolas Spalek. Continue reading