Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 26 – Late Games

CROTONE-TORINO

Crotone: Simy bagged his eighth goal of the season, in pretty lovely fashion too, in the Atalanta game, but that was about it for their offensive production in a very demanding match-up. Adam Ounas, who was their top guy lately, and Samuel Di Carmine were late scratches and it is unclear whether they will be available for this one. Sans Ounas, they would lean hard on Junior Messias, who is seeking to snap out of a scoring slump. They get some pizzazz back in the midfield as Salvatore Molina and Milos Vulic are good to go, although it is uncertain how much playing time they will be able to handle. If one recovered, he would be among the top three options, instead the spot goes to Arkadiusz Reca (1 goal, 3 assists), who continues to wreak havoc down the left flank. Pedro Pereira is not as flashy, but he too has set up three teammates. Continue reading

Top Three Surprises: Serie A 2020-2021

As is the case any season, Serie A has been chock full of surprises this year, with a number of players breaking onto the scene. Whether it is a budding young talent making a name for himself, or a team punching above their weight, Italian football has not been short on surprising storylines this season.

Without further ado, let’s take a deeper look and break down the most intriguing happenings of what has been a crazy year thus far:

1) Cagliari are…bad? 

When the Sardinian outfit appointed Eusebio Di Francesco this past summer, Cagliari was expected to take the leap in quality. The Italian tactician went into the job with an impressive resume – despite his failures with Roma. His fluid 4-3-3 was supposed to be a perfect fit with Cagliari’s talented roster. Today, the club is on the brink of relegation, sitting five points adrift safety, while Di Francesco has since been sacked.

Cagliari added Diego Godin to its ranks this past summer, adding some much-needed depth at the back. The arrivals of Radja Nainggolan and Daniele Rugani were supposed to steady the ship in January after a rocky start to the campaign, but nothing of the sort has happened.

The club’s only consistent performer remains Joao Pedro, who has led the charge with 11 goals. Giovanni Simeone has struggled for form himself, last finding the back of the net in October. Simply put, a side that boasts their talent – including a midfield three of Nandez, Nainggolan, and Rog – has no business near the relegation zone. If Cagliari cannot turn it around, they might just be the most talented team to go down in recent history.

2) Davide Ballardini might know a thing or two about calcio. 

David Ballardini has regularly been used as a stop-gap option for clubs facing relegation. Naturally, when Genoa had a bumpy start to the new year, the veteran tactician was brought in, kicking off his fourth spell with the club. As was the case in the past, expectations were low.

After all, Genoa’s roster has little quality across the board after notable departures year after year. What has transpired over the last months in Liguria has been nothing short of a total shock. I Grifoni are currently among Italy’s most in-form sides and have since pulled themselves out of the relegation zone.

Led by Ballardini, Genoa has lost just once in their last 10 games and is currently riding a seven-game unbeaten run. After bouncing around calcio’s lower tiers, it appears Ballardini has finally found a place to (temporarily) call home, even if it took him four spells. You can never get too comfortable with Enrico Preziosi at the helm.

3) Is Nicolo Barella Italy’s best midfielder? 

If the past season showed us anything, it is that before this year, Nicolo Barella was severely underappreciated. The Italian international has been the catalyst behind Inter’s title charge, pulling all the right strings in the middle of the park. Operating on the right-hand side of a midfield three, Barella has formed a deadly partnership with Achraf Hakimi and Romelu Lukaku.

The former Cagliari captain has taken his game to the next level, which begs the question: Is he currently Italy’s best midfielder? Marco Verratti might have something to say about that, but the PSG man has never been able to translate his impressive exploits to the national team.

Beyond his great play, Barella has demonstrated he is ready to be a leader, constantly barking out orders on the pitch. Led by a former midfield dynamo in Antonio Conte, Barella has the perfect role model on the sidelines, helping him mould his game accordingly. Is Barella the first name on Roberto Mancini’s team-sheet? I’ll let you decide.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 24 – Late Games

CROTONE-CAGLIARI

Crotone: as expected the Juventus clash proved to be too hard for them to overcome, even though Junior Messias got few shots off and Adam Ounas tried to get something going with his mazing runs. The duo will lead the way again here in a much easier fixture. Messias has bagged seven goals thus far, while Ounas scored on his second appearance with the Squali and will be facing his former team, which did not trust him too much. Samuel Di Carmine has quickly unseated Simy but has not really shined thus far. The coach initially tweaked his system in the past game, but the changes were not that profound. Salvatore Molina returned from a lengthy absence and he was dynamic early in the season (one goal, four assists). Milos Vulic has not made the stat-sheet but he has been very busy over the last couple of matches and could be due. Left-back Arkadiusz Reca (one goal, three helpers) has been one of their most consistent players. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 23 – Early Matches

FIORENTINA-SPEZIA

Fiorentina: to nobody’s surprise, Dusan Vlahovic was again Fiorentina’s lone scorer in the past round, notching his seventh goal in the past 11 rounds. Franck Ribery was ruled out late and replaced by Christian Kouame, who had a decent but unfruitful display. With the Freshman still sidelined, that spot is up for grabs between Kouame, Valentin Eysseric and Jose Maria Callejon as neither has really separated himself from the pack. Kouame is the one with the highest break-out potential. Giacomo Bonaventura is coming on as he has posted one goal and one assist in the past four rounds, while Gaetano Castrovilli is continuing his disappearing act even though they rely on him a lot. Cristiano Biraghi (one goal, four helpers) has been a nice weapon throughout the season but he has not picked up bonuses in a long while. Kevin Malcuit and Aleksandar Kokorin would have some value if the coach decided to give him good minutes as they are in dire need of an offensive spark. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 22 – Top Matches

SPEZIA-MILAN

Spezia: Vincenzo Italiano shook things up against Sassuolo, going with Kevin Agudelo as false-nine over Andrej Galabinov and, while the bouncy attacker did not score, the solution worked out pretty well as he added an element of unpredictability and a ton more pace. It could be the solution here again as it does not look like M’Bala Nzola will be ready to start. Diego Farias is likely to be sidelined, which will allow Daniele Verde to stay in the XI, but so far he has had success mostly in Coppa Italia. Emmanuel Gyasi’s starting job instead has never really been in question and he returned to the stat-sheet after months in the previous match: he is now up to two goals and four assists. Their second leading scorer Tommaso Pobega (three goals) is back from suspension and their midfield does not have the same punch without him, even though Matteo Ricci has been a nice assist-man and Giulio Maggiore is decently involved in their offense, but not as effective as the Milan loanee. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 19 – Remaining Games

BENEVENTO-TORINO

Benevento: they surely had a weird faux pas versus Crotone for a team that had been mostly steady so far. Moreover, their most prolific guy as of late, Marco Sau, got sent off from the bench and the always lively Roberto Insigne hurt his ankle, which makes him very questionable for this match. The only positive note was that Iago Falque managed to return after a long time on the shelf and bagged a lovely goal, the first of his campaign, but he has generally fared well whenever available to play. He remains an option even though the coach stated that he is not ready to start. The injuries could thrust him into a major role this one, while Gianluca Caprari, who was banged up going into the previous contest, will surely return to the XI: he is their leading scorer with four goal. Gianluca Lapadula is their tip of the spear but has not hit the net since early November. With Pasquale Schiattarella and Gaetano Letizia missing, Riccardo Improta and Artur Ionita are set to be their secondary playmakers, but they have not picked up many bonuses so far. Aggressive midfielder Andres Tello could have a big role as well. Continue reading

Cagliari 0-2 AC Milan: Three things we learned as Ibrahimovic brace seals important win

Milan restored their three-point margin at the top of the Serie A standings this evening, beating Cagliari by two goals to nil away from home. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the big hero with a brace and despite a red card in the second half, the Rossoneri managed to hold on and secure another clean sheet. 

It didn’t take long for Ibrahimovic to get back on the scoresheet, winning a penalty after just six minutes. Although Franck Kessie is the penalty taker, the Swede felt confident and decided to take it himself. A good decision, as he sent the goalkeeper the wrong way and easily slotted in the first goal.  Continue reading

Cagliari vs. AC Milan: Serie A Round 18 – Team news, stats and prediction

After what has been a very impressive first half of the season, Milan will take on Cagliari away from home in the penultimate game of the winter Scudetto race. Currently three points ahead of city rivals Inter, with head-to-head in their favour, a win would be enough to secure that title. 

Of course, being crowned winter champions matters very little in terms of the actual Scudetto. Having said that, in 88 editions, only one team has failed to finish in the top three when leading the league at the half-way mark. This gives the Rossoneri a 98.6% of qualifying for the Champions League, for which they only need top four.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 18 – Top Matches

LAZIO-ROMA

Lazio: Ciro Immobile took a little back-seat in the Parma game, where two other fellow attackers shined, Luis Alberto, who broke the deadlock with his third goal in the last five matches, and Felipe Caicedo, who found the target for the second round in a row, moving to six total in the season. The Golden Boot recipient had scored in all the previous five tilts. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic dished his fifth assist to add to his two goals, as his role is slightly different this year, but he has maintained a decent level of production. Manuel Lazzari cashed in on his good moment with his second assist of the season, catching up with fellow wing-back Adam Marusic in that regard. Joaquin Correa (one goal, one assist) could be back at least in limited fashion in this one, but Caicedo has filled in admirably. The Sergeant tends to deliver in big matches.

Recommended picks: Milinkovic-Savic, Immobile, Alberto.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 16 – Remaining Games

CAGLIARI-BENEVENTO

Cagliari: the Sardinians hanged with Napoli for about an hour before the opponents pulled away, condemning them to another poor result. Joao Pedro equalized with his ninth goal of the season, but other than that it was a rather paltry offensive performance as Giovanni Simeone and Riccardo Sottil were stymied. Gaston Pereiro looked fine for somebody that has not played in months and he could gain some traction with Adam Ounas on the mend. Help is on the way as Radja Nainggolan will be available in this one and the coach stated that he is going to play in a dynamic role. Nahitan Nandez will replace Marko Rog and therefore will not have as much as freedom as he has had in most games so far. Nainggolan was a force last season as no.10 but the scheme is different now, so they might have to come up with something new to accommodate all their best players. Gabriele Zappa has not been great in the last three or four matches, while Charalampos Lykogiannis is suspended.  Continue reading