Serie A Player of November – Radja Nainggolan

With a little delay due to the ongoing round, the results are in for the Player of the Month and Radja Nainggolan was the only Serie A representative to crack the EuroFantasyLeague XI in November.

It took him a while to gain an acceptable physical level following his sentimental decision to move back to Cagliari after Inter kicked him to the curb, but he has been uncontainable once he hit his stride.  Continue reading

Serie A Round 14 Fantacalcio Player Trends: Stock Down

With another action-packed match-day in store for us, it’s time to look ahead and get your fantacalcio sides ready. Juventus will be hosting Sassuolo as Inter take on SPAL. With just one point separating the two sides, Antonio Conte’s men will be looking to maintain the pace with the Italian champions.

With match-day 14 upon us, here are FIVE players you should consider dropping from your elevens. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Robin Olsen (GK, Cagliari, Value 13.65) – The former Roma goalkeeper has been in sensational form to begin the season, putting last year’s woes behind him, but has since been suspended for the next four match-days. It comes at an unfortunate time for both him and Cagliari as the Sardinians are competing for European places.

In addition, the Swedish international has been rock solid between the posts and has established himself as a crucial piece to Rolando Maran’s setup. For the time being, use the 13M on a backup keeper and perhaps a creative midfielder.

Federico Chiesa (FWD, Fiorentina, Value 13.99) – There’s currently a power struggle going on between Federico Chiesa and Fiorentina. The Italian international has reportedly set his sights on a move to one of Italy’s top dogs, with Inter and Juventus both expressing interest. Determined to make Chiesa the face of their rebuild, however, Fiorentina owner Rocco Commisso is reluctant to sell the young winger. Chiesa was frozen out of the side in their most-recent defeat, with Montella claiming that he was out of shape mentally and physically.

This week, Montella confirmed that Chiesa will miss the side’s upcoming clash against Lecce with a thigh injury, as well. The 22-year-old has not been at la viola’s training ground all week, fuelling speculation that he may be on his way out. At 13.99M, you would be wise to freeze Chiesa out of your fantacalcio sides yourself. I hear Atalanta have a few interesting forwards…

Sami Khedira (MID, Juventus, Value 10.92) – The former German international started the season well, but has since slowed down, with many calling for him to be benched. In Juventus’ most recent Serie A win against Atalanta, Khedira was anonymous and was a constant liability down the bianconeri’s right-hand side. While the penalty he conceded was rather unfortunate, it was merely the tip of the iceberg of his poor performance.

With Rodrigo Bentancur impressing in mid-week and Emre Can eager to prove himself, it may be  time for Sarri to look elsewhere in Juventus’ midfield ranks and bench the much-maligned Khedira. Regardless, his price-tag is still too high for a player who simply does not produce. For example, you can afford Juan Cuadrado for the same price. Are you braver than Sarri?

Rodrigo De Paul (MID, Udinese, Value 9.21) – Continuing with the theme of struggling midfielders, Udinese’s Rodrigo De Paul makes this week’s list. The Argentine international was supposed to break through this season, emerging as a crucial player for the Zebrette, but nothing of the sort has taken place. With Udinese hovering over the relegation zone, De Paul is going to need to step up. In his 10 appearances this season, the 25-year-old has one goal and one assist – a far cry from last season’s impressive tally of nine goals and eight assists.

Given the side’s lack of creativity in the middle of the park, the Udinese man is burdened with much of the offensive work in the final third. While his fortunes should change, Udinese take on a high-flying Lazio side this weekend. As a result, it would be wise to keep De Paul out of your elevens for the time being.

Kalidou Koulibaly (DEF, Napoli, Value 8.53) – Since establishing himself as one of the league’s elite defenders, Koulibaly’s stock has never been lower. With the ongoing player mutiny at Napoli, the partenopei have struggled for results and their rearguard has suffered. In fact, Napoli have only managed to keep one clean sheet in their last eight games – a scoreless draw against Genoa. While Koulibaly has largely been solid over this stretch, he hasn’t been blameless either and has been committing mistakes with more regularity, indicating that his head may be elsewhere.

Napoli’s performance against Liverpool was encouraging and could serve as a turning point in their season, but with the tense atmosphere at the club unlikely to change, it could go either way. Despite his immense quality, I would temporarily swap Koulibaly out of my side, especially considering the threat Bologna pose on the counter through Riccardo Orsolini.

A Great Sale- how Cagliari improved after losing Barella

When it comes to transfers, it’s very easy to get excited when a new addition arrives but player departures often bring disappointment and anger. In recent years Roma was mocked for being a supermarket, Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva’s move to Paris St Germain bookmarked the beginning of Milan’s decline, the triggering of Higuain’s release clause opened a significant wound, while the curse of the player’s will weakened Juventus’ midfield with Vidal and Pogba’s departures.

But there are instances where shrewd sales help clubs open new cycles. Napoli reinvested the proceeds of the Cavani and Lavezzi sales very well, Moggi turned Zidane into Buffon, Nedved and Thuram and Atalanta have built the current squad by previously selling the Conti, Kessie’, Cristante and Caldaras of the world. Interestingly this season’s surprise team in Serie A has been able to emerge despite selling their best player Nicolo’ Barella.

Cagliari were very patient with Barella who came up through their youth system and was a highly rated prospect since 2012 when he was named best young Italian midfielder for players his age. Barella started establishing himself in Serie A in 2016, made his debut with the Italian national team two years later and was linked to both Napoli and Chelsea last January. Cagliari decided to hold on to him a bit longer and were handsomely rewarded for their patience since Barella became a starter in the Azzurri’s midfield before fetching around 50 million for his transfer to Inter (12 million for loan, 25 million for obligation to buy plus 12 million in bonuses).

While Cagliari’s president Giulini softened the blow of losing Barella since he sold him to his favorite team Inter (of which he was a board member for 8 years) he was actually able to improve his club. The Sardinian club in fact reinvested the proceeds of the Barella sale very well, they acquired highly rated midfielder Nahtan Nandez for 18 million, which will look like a bargain should the former Boca Juniors continue to perform at this level. 

Nandez has been a rock in Maran’s midfield this season and will garner a large plusvalenza in the future to essentially repeat the Barella cycle, but he isn’t the only new addition making an impact. Cagliari also acquired Marko Rog on loan with option to buy, the Croatian international never fully settled under both Sarri and Ancelotti at Napoli, he has shown good improvements this season.

Caglairi had also planned ahead for Barella’s departure by acquiring Christian Oliva on loan with option to buy from Nacional last January- they exercised their option for 5 million and now the midfielder is finding space on Maran’s squad. Having the influx of cash from the Barella transaction also allowed Cagliari to take a flyer on bringing back Radja Nainggolan, whose had some sensational matches, as well as finding two quality replacements to replace the injured Alessio Cragno and Leonardo Pavoletti, who just happened to be Cagliari’s best players last season other than Barella.

Normally for a club like Cagliari replacing their starting keeper and leading goal scorer at the very end of the transfer window would spell doom for the upcoming campaign since by this time most clubs have already blown through their budgets. But having the cash flow from the Barella deal allowed them to get Giovanni Simeone, a more than adequate replacement for Pavoletti and a player with considerable upside. 

They say that the harder you work, the luckier you get and maybe that is the case with Robin Olsen. Cagliari had to scramble after Alessio Cragno suffered a significant injury to his shoulder at the beginning of August, and while Olsen has a good track record as Sweden’s keeper, he was as much as a liability as Rudy Giuliani on a cable news show while defending Roma’s goal in his first season in Serie A.

After Olsen’s expected move to Montpellier collapsed, Cagliari were able to acquire him at the end of the transfer window. Olsen has been very impressive and while he will likely cede the starting job back to Cragno, he’s a big reason the club is off to such a good start.

Cagliari have been able to make the most of the Barella sale. They planned ahead by previously acquiring Oliva and setting their sights on Nandez early, they weren’t afraid to gamble on reclamation projects with upside with Rog and Simeone and used their new fund cash flow to pay substantial salaries to veterans like Naingollan and Olsen- sometimes selling your best player is far from a blow. 

Serie A Club of the Week – Round 11

Cagliari snatched by far the best win over the weekend, toppling Atalanta away while keeping a clean sheet and therefore they easily take home in this matchday.

They came into the match riding an eight-game undefeated streak, but they had equalized three times in the last five fixtures. Rolando Maran gave a day off to Luca Cigarini and Nahitan Nandez in the midfield and started Christian Oliva and Lucas Castro, while Ragnar Klavan and Charalampos Lykogiannis filled in for the absent Luca Ceppitelli and Luca Pellegrini in the back. Fabrizio Cacciatore returned to the XI over Paolo Faragò. 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.

Are you a Serie A expert? Can you defeat the top Serie A Fantasy Managers? If you think so, play www.fantasyseriea.com now!

 

What to Watch For in Serie A: Round 8

Round 8 sees a jam-packed schedule of Serie A fixtures coming our way out of the international break, with plenty of fascinating storylines to sort through.

Let’s break down what you should be watching for this weekend around Italy’s top flight. Continue reading

The facts behind the figures: What we’ve learned about Lazio from the Serie A salary report

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At the start of the week, La Gazzetta dello Sport published its annual breakdown of each Serie A club’s wage bill for the season ahead.

Much of the reaction to the article has focused on Juventus’ massive financial advantage over the rest of Italy and the impact the summer mercato has had on Inter’s spending.

But there were plenty of intriguing sub-plots to be found behind the figures, not least at Lazio. For example…

On paper, a top-four finish would be an over-achievement…

This is by no means a secret, but the gulf in wage spend between Lazio and the teams they are expected to compete with for a top four place this season is significant.  Continue reading

Romelu Lukaku is the latest black player to be racially abused in Serie A

It was difficult this past week to know which was more shocking- the monkey chants being directed at Inter Milan forward Romelu Lukaku or the fans detailed statement to the player saying that thos very chants were not racist.

What is clear is that racism is rife in football and it seems when we zone in on the major European leagues that Italy’s Serie A heads them all.

There are so many stories here but if you did miss it Lukaku was racially abused by Cagliari fans who have a history of it, just ask Mario Balotelli. But in their defence came Inter’s fans, Lukaku’s own team fans who penned an open letter stating in more ways than one, that perhaps he doesn’t understand it but it wasn’t racist.

The penned letter said: We are really sorry you thought that what happened in Cagliari was racist. You have to understand that Italy is not like many other north European countries where racism is a REAL problem. We understand that it could have seemed racist to you but it is not like that. In Italy we use some ‘ways’ only to ‘help our teams’ and to try to make our opponents nervous, not for racism but to mess them up.

“We are a multiethnic fans organisation and we have always welcomed players from everywhere. However, we have always used that ‘way’ with other teams’ players in the past and we probably will in the future. We are not racist and so are not the Cagliari fans. You have to understand that in all Italian stadiums people cheer for their teams but at the same time they use to cheer against the opponents not for racism but to ‘help’ their own team.

“Please consider this attitude of Italian fans as a form of respect for the fact they are afraid of you for the goals you might score against their teams and not because they hate you or they are racist. True racism is a completely different story and all Italian football fans know it very well.”

If you got to the end of that statement with mouth still wide shut, well done. In effect then his own fans are telling him, not to mind that the monkey chants are directed to him, because of and only because he is black. It is this acceptance that is the reason that Italian football and possibly the wider culture is in decline.

Lukaku has not responded, he is now in an awkward situation where he even won’t get support from his own fans. Good luck to him because he will need all of the luck when racism is not seen as that big a deal. Could you imagine this happening in the Premier League, esspecially in this age?

There have been calls for black players to avoid playing in Serie A. That won’t help in any situation and is in fact playing into the so called fans hands. It’s basically what they want. Lukaku himself has said that the fight against racism in football is going backwards and he is partially right, because it has always been going backwards. UEFA has not helped at all. Dishing out meaningless fines does not work. Banning supporters and docking points would.

Lukaku had a fairly easy ride in England, now he will have to understand that even if he is a success in Italy he will be seen sadly as a second rate citizen.

Can the outrage culture solve Calcio’s racism problem?

There’s nothing more frustrating in life than wasted talent”- I must have used this quote from “Bronx Tale” easily twenty times to describe the Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano’s of the world in recent years, but now I can just apply it to Serie A as whole. 

After two thrilling weekends of games and a transfer window that saw the vast majority of the league’s best talents stay- Koulibaly, Skriniar, Milinkovic Savic, Dybala, Donnarumma, Chiesa just to name a few- we should be talking about Serie A as a league completely on the rise and a far cry of the days of catenaccio and watching top talents inevitably move abroad. But because of another very predictable and despicable racist episode in Cagliari, the focus isn’t on the great product but rather what is allowed around it.

Just today on Twitter I saw a huge North American site in Deadpsin and “soccer”’s top reporter Grant Wahl tweeting about the incident in Cagliari rather than the thrilling Juventus-Napoli match or Inter looking like a legitimate title threat with Antonio Conte at the helm- but as frustrating as that is, it’s completely warranted.

Anyone who follows Calcio closely isn’t surprised by what happened in Cagliari yesterday- sadly the Sardinian club’s home stadium has been the stage of numerous racist incidents at the expense of Matuidi, Muntari, Kean and now Lukaku. The latest example involves the former starting striker for Manchester United, a player with over 100 career Premier League goals who went out of his way to come play in Italy- this is not exactly a great first impression.

Predictably Cagliari issued a statement that was long on abstract ideas and didn’t provide any true details on what they will do- and keep in mind this is at least fourth time this has happened there in recent years. To be fair to them, I’ll post and you can judge

“Cagliari Calcio firmly rejects what happened Sunday night at the Sardegna Arena during the game vs. Inter Milan.

The Club underlines – once again – its intention to identify, isolate and ban those ignorant individuals whose shameful actions and behaviours are completely against those values that Cagliari Calcio strongly promotes in all their initiatives. Every single day. 

Cagliari vs Inter Milan was the right occasion to appreciate and enjoy positive cheer, never addressed against anybody: in fact inside our “Curva Futura” – the first dedicated sector in Italy built to host children – both Inter Milan and Cagliari supporters enjoyed a lovely evening together in the name of their passion for football. 

Cagliari Calcio does not want to underplay what occurred last night, endorses the respectable moral values of its people from all the stadium sections, but firmly rejects the outrageous charge and silly stereotypes addressed to Cagliari supporters and the Sardinian people, which are absolutely unacceptable.

Full solidarity to Romelu Lukaku and even stronger commitment toward annihilating one of the worst plagues that affects football and our world in general.  However, as we are aware that technology is not enough, we believe our commitment needs a real support by the rest of the football stakeholders: starting from all the true supporters, to all the stewards in the stands, from police and security agents, passing to media and as well through Lega Serie A and FIGC. Cagliari Calcio is asking you all a solid help to win a battle that involves everyone. No one excluded”

I’ve lived in Italy for 17 years as a foreigner, my wife is Italian and I go back frequently. It’s important to note that while Cagliari is the most blatant example of this behavior, it’s by no means the exception. I’ve covered at legth on my podcast how the history of Italy is laced with an “us versus them” way of looking at the world, so it’s not surprising that racism is such a hot topic there.

But there has also never been a desire to hold the people that engage in this behavior accountable- often the clubs are scared of the organized fan group and the federation has never treated this as a real problem. But there is hope that things that can change because of the times we live in.

I have often rallied against the outrage and self righteosuness culture that has developed in recent years. Social media platforms and traditional media know that if people are outraged over something, they will engage for a longer period of time. Algorithms are designed to get more stories that will outrage you in front of your eyes, once you feel outraged, you then can feel superior to the people you are outraged with and have many who see things the same away as you in your social media echo chamber to reinforce your self righteousness.

But while this phenomenon isn’t positive for society since it makes us focus much more on our differences and makes us more polarized, we can use it for a good cause here. I think it’s undeniable that there’s no place for moneky chants or blatant racism in stadiums, we need the social media justice warriors (even those who have no interest in sports) to keep raising attention on this issue and hold Italian football accountable. When it comes to racist incidents, clubs and the federation are just counting on people moving to the next story in news cycle, but hopefully enough people will continue to put pressure on them so that real change can arrive.

Serie A can learn a lot from the Premier League when it comes to handling this problem and social media can be the tool to help them realize this. Following the Heysel tragedy, English teams cracked down significantly on hooliganism, and in recent years they have held the fans who engage in racist behavior personally accountable for their actions by banning them from stadiums.

While stadiums now have the video cameras needed to identify the culprits, we need social media’s outrage culture to keep the pressure on to make things change- as they say “Twitter do your thing”, we can only talk about the great product on the pitch for Serie A in good conscience, if we do all we can to eridcate to horrible behavior around it. 

Serie A Weekly Transfer Market Recap

After two sleepy weeks, Serie A teams have resumed dealing and wheeling with some very interesting purchases over the last few days. Inter finally landed Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United, while Juventus cashed in on Joao Cancelo in a swap with Manchester City, getting back Danilo in the deal. Cagliari pulled off an unexpected one by adding Radja Nainggolan from Inter, then successfully completed the chase for touted prospect Nahitan Nandez from Boca Juniors and, all of a sudden, they have a very crowded and well-assorted midfield despite losing Nicolò Barella.

Milan continue to work on the roster and acquired young centre-back Leo Duarte from Flamengo. He emerged over the last year and a half in Brazil and will contribute to holding down the fort until Mattia Caldara returns later in the year. He will compete with solid but unspectacular Mateo Musacchio to play next to Alessio Romagnoli to open the season.

The week was pretty much dominated by midfielders: a year after letting him go for free, the new Fiorentina management brought back Milan Badelj on loan with option to buy from Lazio, then they snatched Erick Pulgar away from Bologna by exercising the relatively low release clause. The Chilean international was a standout last season and was deadly on penalty, which will come in handy considering the departure of Jordan Veretout. Despite the age difference, the two are pretty similar, so it will be interesting to see whether Vincenzo Montella will tweak his system to accommodate both and perhaps deploy one more attacker.

Genoa have found their new technical leader in Lasse Schone from Ajax who, despite the rather defensive position as pivot, put up great numbers thanks to his ability on set pieces and therefore will be one to look out for in the fantasy game. The Griffon also signed Riccardo Saponara on loan from Fiorentina, whom coach Aurelio Andreazzoli will try to turn into an offensive box-to-box in the Rade Krunic mold, and Colombian youngster Kevin Agudelo from Atletico Huila.

For one brilliant midfielder joining Serie A, another one left as Sampdoria agreed to sell Dennis Praet to Leicester City, who has been a linchpin of their squad over the last three seasons and grew constantly year after year. They acquired Morten Thorsby from Heerenveen and could gamble on a Jakub Jankto resurgence on top of obviously reinvesting the funds on a newcomer.

For once, Atalanta decided to go with an experienced guy rather than bet on potential and brought in Martin Skrtel from Fenerbahce to fill in the gap after Gianluca Mancini left. Gian Piero Gasperini is now back to having five reliable centre-backs to rotate.

A decent coup for Verona, as they won the race for free agent Darko Lazovic, who was pretty good last year at Genoa, where he notched three goals and four assists. He reunites with coach Milan Juric and will be able to play in a number of positions on both flanks. They also grabbed two of the best Serie B players from last season: Gennaro Tutino, on loan from Napoli, who had a terrific year in Cosenza, and Valerio Verre from Sampdoria, who shined in Perugia. They both reached the double-digit threshold and could be significant parts of the 3-4-2-1 tactic Milan Juric is currently using.

Brescia got busy too and signed two presumptive starters in Jaromir Zmhral from Slavia Prague and Giangiacomo Magnani from Sassuolo. The midfielder could be a sneaky fantasy asset, while the centre-back started last season very well but was eventually overshadowed by more talented teammates. Lecce instead added Cristian Dell’Orco, who was serviceable as left centre-back at Empoli in 2018/2019 and will probably end up playing left back for them, alternating with other buzzed about newcomer Brayan Vera.

A pair of players departed from Serie A: Roma sent Rick Karsdorp back to Feyenoord on loan, while Bologna shipped Adam Nagy to Bristol City. The Dutch right back had some okay stretches and at times challenged Alessandro Florenzi, but ultimately he could not stay healthy, while Nagy had become merely a back-up. The Felsinei will have to address the midfield in a meaningful manner.

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