Balotelli Hits out at league: “They Waited for Juventus to Go First.”

Mario Balotelli has never been one to shy away from speaking his mind and most recently, lambasted the league’s indecision regarding the ongoing outbreak of the Coronavirus. Since the outbreak, Supermario was very vocal and wanted the league to suspend the games with immediate effect. Serie A, however, allowed for the Derby d’Italia to be played before eventually suspending the games until April 3; a decision Balotelli rejected wholeheartedly.

In typical fashion, the enigmatic striker took to Instagram live to blast the league claiming they favored Juventus. “They had to wait until Juventus went back on top before stopping the league,” said Balotelli. “In all honesty, I hope Serie A doesn’t start up again until there are no more cases. I got so angry at the start when I urged everyone to stop and people insulted me for it. Maybe now they’ve finally realised the situation,” stated Supermario. 

Before the Derby d’Italia, Juventus found themselves two points behind Lazio in second-place with a game in hand. With their win, Maurizio Sarri’s men leapfrogged Lazio, pulling themselves temporarily in first with twelve games to play. However, one head-to-head clash between the two sides remains before the season comes to a close.

One option that FIGC President Gabriele Gravina put forward to decide key positions if the games couldn’t be played was to go off the current table to discern a winner. In this case, Juventus would be crowned champions with Lazio, Inter, and Atalanta rounding off the remaining Champions League spots.

Otherwise, the other two options would be to assign no winner and void the season or make Italy’s top four compete in playoffs. Simply put, any of the three options have their respective short-comings, leaving someone dissatisfied. In any case, a decision will need to be made sooner rather than later.

Shortly after Balotelli’s controversial comments, Brescia distanced themselves from their striker’s claims, stating his comments do not reflect the club’s position in any way. In an official press release, they said:

“Brescia officially distances themselves from Mario Balotelli and his hypothesis about the league’s potential favoritism. Specifically, on his Instagram live later disseminated on Youtube, Balotelli alluded to the league favoring Juventus for the title. Brescia would like to underline that this opinion is strictly personal and does not in any way reflect the club’s views.” 

In any case, clarity will be provided shortly as a number of factors remain. For one, what will happen to Euro 2020? If the tournament is postponed, there may be a chance that the remaining Serie A fixtures could be played.

As Italy looks to curtail the outbreak of the Coronavirus, let’s make one thing clear – at a time like this, football is secondary. In this sense, Balotelli is not wrong. Whether they void the season or not, it simply doesn’t matter at this delicate time. With the number of reported cases rising every day within Italy, what’s important is curbing the outbreak and then depending on where we are, figure out the rest of the season.

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Sarri set to shake things up once more

Going into a crucial stretch in the season, Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri is weighing his options and is reportedly considering shaking things up in the final third. In an attempt to introduce more dynamism into the side, the former Napoli tactician will deploy Paulo Dybala as a false nine and will shift Juan Cuadrado from defence into the attack. We saw glimpses of this setup this past weekend against Brescia and according to Gazzetta dello Sport, is something Sarri will persist with this match-day against cellar-dwellers SPAL.

With an important game against Lyon coming up, the pressure is on Sarri to get Juve into the quarter-finals comfortably and look to make a deep European run. The veteran tactician previously had success with a false-nine setup at Napoli when he deployed Dries Mertens there.

While Dybala and Mertens are different players in their own way, both are extremely technical and do a good job at linking the midfield to attack. More importantly, they’ve both proven to be deadly finishers. As la Joya is set to play closer to goal, expect more involvement from Dybala. If anything, a central role suits the former Palermo man better and will undoubtedly help Juve create more chances in the final third.

When Sarri was initially hired, many expected Dybala to occupy this role, but it has since taken 24 match-days to get there. In recent times, Juventus have struggled in the final third and have typically relied on individual brilliance to see them through. Recognizing this, Sarri is keen on making changes.

Beyond shifting Dybala into a central position, Sarri is reportedly moving Cuadrado out of defence and into the attack. After the side failed to adequately replace Joao Cancelo, Sarri used the Colombian international at right-back. Initially, the position switch worked wonderfully, but injuries to key men in the attack mean Sarri’s forced to shuffle the deck once more.

Cuadrado has played in Juve’s front-three in their last two games and has added some much-needed unpredictability and speed up top. Other than his ability to beat his man, the former Fiorentina winger stretches opposition defences regularly and is a counter-attacking threat. Until this switch, Sarri fielded his typical 4-3-1-2 formation, which sorely lacked width and pace.

The formation switch also suits Juve’s current attacking options better than Sarri’s narrow ‘Christmas Tree’. While Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa are still out injured, a 4-3-3 gives them the opportunity to play out wide in their natural roles, rather than being pigeon-holed into a central position. With Ronaldo drifting in from the left-wing and Dybala interchanging, Cuadrado, Douglas Costa or Bernardeschi will all have a chance to stake a claim for the final place in the front-three. The increased competition will likely help the wingers hit new heights.

As Juventus look to compete on three fronts, simply put, they will need to create more chances. Sarri’s latest shuffle may not work, but it’s definitely worth a shot, and if anything, suits Juventus’ attacking options way better than their current setup.

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Brescia appoint Diego Lopez after firing Corini again

Despite an official confirmation of Eugenio Corini earlier in the immediate aftermath of the last game against Bologna, Brescia have indeed made their fourth coaching change of the season and are onto their third different gaffer, as the Corini was sacked again and Diego Lopez was hired as his replacement.

Corini won the first two matches, versus SPAL and Lecce, when he was re-called after his substitute Fabio Grosso got the axe, but then went on to lose five of the following seven bouts, equalizing twice, with Parma and Cagliari. Continue reading

Brescia 0-1 AC Milan: Fourth consecutive win for Pioli’s men as Rebic saves the day again

AC Milan managed to secure their fourth consecutive win in all competitions this evening, beating Brescia away from home. However, the game was far from easy for the Rossoneri as the home side controlled the play, creating several chances to really threaten their opponents. 

Brescia completely owned the first 15 minutes of the game, managing to play out of Milan’s pressure and thus gaining even more confidence as the minute passed. After just two minutes, Simon Kjaer was booked for the Rossoneri as he brought down Torregrossa, which meant he had to be careful the entire game.  Continue reading

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

AC Milan are gearing up to take on Brescia away from home this Friday, following the dramatic 3-2 win against Udinese last time out. The Rossoneri could grab their fourth consecutive in all competitions, which would further confirm that they are on the right path. 

Certainly, Stefano Pioli’s men have stepped up in recent weeks. In particular, two factors are behind the sudden change in form: the manager’s formation change – from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 – and the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Both combined, in addition to a few other tweaks, have really sprung some life into this team.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 18

Brescia-Lazio: it did not take much, but the Rondinelle are playing way better after the return of Eugenio Corini and have rediscovered a pair of weapons that had not produced in the first handful of games, such as Ernesto Torregrossa and Nikolas Spalek. Torregrossa is a more natural fit next to Mario Balotelli and, while not overly prolific, he can hit the net from time to time. The Slovenian no.10 instead had struggled to find his footing in the top league, but he is getting there. His emergence, on top of injuries to other midfielders, pushes Romulo to a less offensive position, where he is not as appealing fantasy-wise. Dimitri Bisoli is also faromg  better lately, while Balotelli has corrected his attitude and found the target twice in the past month and is obviously their featured guy up front. Stefano Sabelli is always very frisky for a right-back. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Serie A Club of the Round – Brescia

The most dominant display of the weekend belonged to Brescia, which was the only club to obtain a shut-out win in a seminal clash against Lecce.

In his second game back after being re-hired and coming off a win over SPAL, Eugenio Corini confirmed his go-to XI in toto but for Andrea Cistana, who was suspended, and Jesse Joronen, who is dealing with a head injury. They were replaced by Massimiliano Mangraviti and Enrico Alfonso, while Ernesto Torregrossa got the nod again next to Mario Balotelli up front. However, they lost Emanuele Ndoj to an injury after thirty minutes, when the match was still scoreless, and he was replaced by Nikolas Spalek, who turned out to be the deciding man in the contest. Continue reading

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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