Three Things Napoli Should Do to Get Back on Track

Going into the new season, much was expected from Napoli under Carlo Ancelotti. Having added Kostas Manolas, Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Hirving Lozano among others, the partenopei were expected to make a Scudetto push after consecutive seasons as runners-up. However, nothing of the sort has taken place and Napoli are currently languishing below mid-table and have replaced Ancelotti with Gennaro Gattuso. Here are three things Napoli should consider to get back on track.

1) Squad revolution: Sell, sell, sell! 

Most of the current Napoli side have been with the club for the greater part of the decade, and have experienced incredible highs and lows. For example: Winning 1-0 in a title decider against Juventus away from home, only to lose the following game to Fiorentina and squander their lead at the top. This undoubtedly remains in the psyche of most of their players.

After a rough start to the season, the club’s veterans turned against Ancelotti and demanded change from the upper hierarchy. Moreover, many of their ageing stars on expiring deals are asking for pay-rises due to their past exploits with the club. Exploits they probably won’t be able to recreate, if we’re being honest. Football works in cycles and one thing is clear: This cycle is over for Napoli and it’s time for a rebuild. Sell Insigne, Mertens, Hysaj and anyone in between. Out with the old and in with the new. That sounds equally exciting as it sounds scary.

2) Stick with Gattuso

This may seem like a stretch especially after the rough start to his tenure, losing four of his first five games, but Napoli would be wise to stay with Gattuso. With a full pre-season under his belt and an entire summer to sign players he wants, the former Milan tactician will have the weapons he needs to make a push for the title next season. In addition, most of his current players appear to have their heads elsewhere and could use a move away and start fresh.

While this season won’t amount to much, it will be a good opportunity for Gattuso to acclimate himself to his new surroundings and establish players he can count on. This will undoubtedly come in handy moving into the new season. In his final season at Milan, the World Cup winner almost got the rossoneri into the Champions League with a far worse roster. Given time and a roster upheaval, Gattuso will prove to be a good fit for Napoli.

3) Establish your core. 

Speaking of finding players to count on, Napoli’s top brass should use the rest of the season and evaluate their squad. Who is sellable and who is untouchable? After this year’s shocking performances, you can argue only Meret, Koulibaly, Di Lorenzo and the newcomers are off-limits. The rest should and arguably will be on the market for the right price. Fabian Ruiz, for example, has shown signs of brilliance but doesn’t look as implicated as he could be for the Napoli cause. Reports suggest Barcelona and Real Madrid are keeping tabs on the Spanish international and could present a bid upwards of 50M for the midfielder.

Another player’s future to consider is Lorenzo Insigne. While the diminutive playmaker is one of the last true bandiere in Italy, it may be time for a move away. After all, he did lead the mutiny against Ancelotti and hasn’t exactly performed on the pitch. As a result, the list of sellable players should far exceed the “untouchables.” In any case, Napoli’s season does present a silver lining: A unique opportunity to reboot and start a new cycle. Hopefully, for them, this one will be filled with silverware and that elusive Scudetto.

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FA CUP: Game of the weekend: Liverpool v Everton

Once the draw for the 3rd round of the FA Cup was made all attentions were drawn to the Merseyside derby which would pit Liverpool against old rivals Everton. Usually the cup draw which has no seeds can have some eye catching matches but the only real genuine one was this game.

Liverpool were installed as favourites and that came as no surprise given that they are leading the league by 13 points and haven’t lost a single league match in a year. Add to the fact that the game was drawn at Anfield and Everton seemed to have very little chance of winning the game. The Toffeemen have no wins at Anfield since 1999, a generation ago now.

Jurgen Klopp’s team have also been so dominant, Liverpool just simply win games and don’t stop this season and Everton seemed to have no chance in this match. That is until Klopp hinted that he would rest most of his senior players and opt to play the youngsters. Suddenly Everton had vested interest because the last time Klopp chose the youngsters was in the Carabao Cup last month when they lost to Aston Villa 4-0, suddenly there was hope, or that is supposed to be how the script would run.

However whilst Everton started brightly and exposed this young Liverpool side, Adrian in goal, he who once played for West Ham made some crucial saves. At half time it was 0-0 and the signs started to look predictable for Everton. Cast an eye to the bench of Liverpool who had both Jordan Henderson and Sadio Mane ready to come on and work their magic. In the end neither player was needed.

Curtis Jones scored a peach of a goal curling the ball into the top corner to put Liverpool in front after sustained pressure and that continued even after the goal went in. The Liverpool reserves were now fully on top of this game against a proper Everton side and they weren’t about to give up a 20 year undefeated record here against their rivals. They were simply better and yet they shouldn’t have been. For Everton is it now something very psychological as to why they keep under performing against Liverpool, even their youngsters? True there were four fringe senior players on the field for the Reds, but this was all about youth.

Klopp did give a start to Divock Origi which was the right choice given that the player has an uncanny ability to score against Everton, he has downed the team with goals in the last two meetings.

The match ended 1-0 to Liverpool and Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti looked devastated, because this was a game that the club should have won. That’s the season over for Everton now whilst for their rivals it is just beginning, they could win a unique treble and go unbeaten in the league. Their grounds might be next to each other but their ambitions are light years apart.

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Carlo Ancelotti is not the manager Everton are looking for

Everton have been without a manager for two weeks after sacking Marco Silva once the club had dropped into the relegation zone. But no Everton fan could have predicted that the next man coming in would be Carlo Ancelotti- but is the Italian the right manager for Everton?

In Silva’s absence Duncan Ferguson a bona fide club legend stepped up and was given the care taker job. From the minute Ferguson took his position inevitably Everton have looked like a different team. Suddenly they are good enough to beat Chelsea, to draw away to Manchester United and to take Leicester to penalties in the Carabao Cup.

But enough of the players what about the Scotsman Ferguson who bleeds Everton blue blood- he loves the club and it shows. No one will forget his touchline joy with two ball boys when Everton scored against Chelsea- and went on to win the game 3-1. Against Manchester United in his 2nd game in charge he took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, except it wasn’t sunny, it was windy and rainy. But that is Ferguson all over, he wants to involve himself in the game as much as he can without playing on the actual pitch. For any Everton fan it would have been a joy to witness the last few weeks of what has been a miserable season so far for the club.

In post match interviews Ferguson has sounded like a fan given the caretaker job- but underneath it all he is a professional and has so much pride having this chance to manage the club. However he has filled fans hearts they will know himself that the club are going through that honeymoon moment and sure enough the penny will drop and the club will go back to poor form. They need investment and they also need a manager with proven skills. Ferguson is building his up, and it seems only natural he will step aside for whoever comes in. That man seems to be Carlo Ancelotti.

Ancelotti has won over 15 major trophies as manager. He has won Champions Leagues with AC Milan and Real Madrid, countless league titles with Juventus and won the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich. He has of course coached in the Premier League and won the double for Chelsea. In short he would be massive for the club, and he is one of the best managers the game has witnessed in the last 20 years no doubt about it.

The problem is will Ancelotti and Everton be a good fit? Everywhere Ancelotti has gone he has already had world class players at his disposal and then a generous owner who has given him many millions. True Everton owner Farhad Moshiri does have some deep pockets, and Everton are one of the highest spending clubs in the league- but they have sold many players too to raise funds. It seems unlikely that Ancelotti will be given upwards of £200m in the summer- that is evidently what it will take to move Everton onto the next level.

In one sense Anceotti should be congratulated. He is taking a step down and a risk to go to a club like Everton who have flirted in recent seasons with the bottom half of the table. At the same time one wonders if Ancelotti’s best days are behind him? He was sacked as manager of Napoli after they lost distance in Serie A and his normal win rates of between 65-70% diminished to just 50% under Napoli.

Ancelotti will come into the club and should raise the standard, no doubt about that, but it may not last as long as one would hope. He needs to come in and understand the clubs philosophy, the players he has, the owners, the fans- this takes time and it could well be a difficult six months until the summer where he will have proper transfer funds. So would it not be better to stick with Ferguson until then at least? Or would it be better not to pay Ancelotti a kings ransom which he will surely get and look for a more hungrier, younger manager with a proven win rate?

Look at Arsenal a club in crisis who have reportedly lost interest in the highly experience Ancelotti for Mikel Arteta, who has no first team coaching experience but is being mentored by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

In getting in Ancelotti and saying good bye so quickly to Ferguson it just seems that we were given some insight to a football free from the powers of money and Premier League marketing. Everton had taken a time travel machine but of positive vibes. Before you can say suited and booted they are back with a classy Italian in charge. Hopefully he will be able to understand the club and his job quick enough not to be picking up an early P45.

He deserves all of the plaudits and hopefully if Ancelotti is indeed appointed as manager he can really move the club up to the next level, one just wonders if this move is a smart one or a vanity one?

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Napoli moves on from Ancelotti to pivot to Gattuso

I often like to say that we should never apply the standards of clubs like Juventus, Inter or Milan to Napoli since the region where they play is truly unique and because the club simply does not have the revenues to compete with the classic powerhouses in Serie A.  This was confirmed to be true when president Aurelio De Laurentiis decided to sack Carlo Ancelotti right after a 4-0 win in the Champions League that qualified the team out of the group stage with an undefeated record for the first time in the club’s history.

Let’s be clear, Ancelotti is a true gentleman, one of the few managers who has been able to win significantly without being a hard ass with his players, so it’s very tempting to make him the victim in this situation when you consider that De Laurentiis isn’t afraid to be vulgar, abrupt and thin skinned, which he confirmed with the fact Ancelotti went to the post game press conference following the 4-0 win to say he would meet with him the following day only to be sacked, and that the squad went into full mutiny mode by refusing to go on a club imposed retreat about a month ago which started this, but life isn’t often in just black and white with heroes and victims.

Just like at Paris St Germain and especially at Bayern Munich, Ancelotti failed to live up to expectations at Napoli who find themselves 17 points behind league leaders Inter and eight points behind Cagliari for the final Champions League spot in Serie A. Certainly qualifying out of the group stage in Europe’s top club competition is impressive, but it’s not like the partenopei had any chance of winning the cup with the Mickey Mouse ears while on the other hand finishing in Serie A’s top four, to get the revenues from participating in said competition, is the bare minimum objective and one that should be a shoe in for a team featuring top players like Koulibaly, Allan, Fabian Ruiz, Mertens and impressive new additions that bolstered positions of need like Di Lorenzo and Manolas.

To be fair to Ancelotti, replacing Maurizio Sarri, who embraced the identity of the city of Napoli as well as almost anyone since De Laurentiis took over, was going to be very difficult. Ancelotti was seen as the ideal profile to reassure a group that had just lost a scudetto in shocking fashion to Juventus despite getting to 91 points (a record for a team that didn’t win the title) and while last season they never came close to keeping up with the bianconeri, they had shown enough to believe they could make one last run at a trophy with the current core.

In the summer, De Laurentiis retained all of his top players, broke his transfer fee record on a single player by signing Lozano and the squad had enough depth to compete in all fronts. But the wheels came off quickly, after a disappointing stretch and before the season was fully compromised, De Laurentiis decided to send the team on retreat- a decision Ancelotti publicly stated he didn’t agree with, shortly after the players- led by Insigne and Allan- went into full mutiny mode by refusing to go on retreat.

For the second time in a row, following his experience at Bayern Munich, Ancelotti’s training methods and (lack of ) intensity were questioned by his players. It got to the point that some assumed Ancelotti saw his job at Napoli as an opportunity to keep his loyal staff employed and continue to groom his son to become a top manager- at this point you have to wonder if he’s only really suited for a national team- where his ability to strive in a single elimination tournament like Champions League- at this stage of his career.

Napoli have never been the same in Serie A since and now Rino Gattuso finds himself replacing one of his former managers. The 2006 World Cup champion has been patiently waiting for the right opportunity since leaving Milan at the end of last season, seen the significant struggles by his successor Marco Giampaolo, Gattuso started being viewed in a better light as a manager when you consider he had the rossoneri in contention for a Champions League spot.

Gattuso has always been a loyal company man and was also willing to take a short term contract until end of the season (with a vested option for 2020/21 in case he qualifies for the Champions League), so he really was an ideal solution for De Laurentiis who is reticent to pay multiple coaches because of his fiscal discipline and just dealt with a manager disagreeing publicly with the decision on the retreat.

Gattuso will almost certainly go back to Sarri’s good old 4 3 3 formation after Ancelotti experimented with different looks, and you have to wonder if De Laurentiis will even be more motivated to bring in Zlatan Ibrahimovic to fully change the subject and re energize the team. During the season, Gattuso had been offered both the Genoa and Udinese jobs when they sacked their managers, he now gets a much juicier opportunity in a truly unique place in Serie A.

Napoli’s season on the brink

Recovering from a massive disappointment is hard enough in life but doing so while you are also trying to make the leap from very good to great, is truly a Herculean task. This is essentially the situation Napoli have found themselves in following Maurizio Sarri’s departure to Chelsea, and while the club has on paper made almost all the right moves, you simply can’t plan your way out of battling issues that are mainly mental.

Despite this challenging situation, I was very tempted to pick Napoli to win the scudetto when the season started. They kept all of their best players, added Kostas Manolas to replace Raul Albiol who had missed most of the previous season, made a big sacrifice to add Hector Lozano to an already stacked front line, acquired one of the most impressive players at a very scarce position on the market with Di Lorenzo and bolstered their bench with impressive Turkish prospect Elmas and veteran striker Llorente.

The assumption was that going into a second year with Ancelotti would give the team an advantage over Juventus who were going through a very significant philosophical change from Allegri’s pragmatic style to the vaunted offensive juggernaut known as Sarriball. But instead Napoli find themselves way behind Inter who now look like Juventus’ main antagonist for the foreseeable future and also trailing Roma, Lazio, Atalanta and incredibly Cagliari who defeated the partenopei at the San Paolo in the match that started their tailspin.

Napoli’s struggles are even more puzzling when you consider how well they operated on the transfer market since losing the scudetto to Juventus in dramatic fashion. While Manolas, Lozano, and Llorente were quite the haul of established players this summer, in recent years president De Laurentiis and sporting director Giuntoli hit grand slam homeruns on Fabian Ruiz and Alex Meret, two players who are now worth considerably more than when they were acquired and are now elite players at their positions league wide.

Even Arkadiusz Milik who arrived to replace Higuain has done his part when he’s been healthy, so it’s hard to fault the team’s philosophy and execution on the transfer market. What has held Napoli back this season are the veterans who have formed the core of the team in recent years- Allan, Koulibaly and Insigne.

Since Arturo Vidal’s departure from Juventus, Allan has held the title of the best box to box midfielder in Serie A (you can make a case for Nainggolan but he hasn’t been as consistent and healthy) but his performances fell off a cliff following his failed transfer to Paris St Germain last January. Napoli demanded a massive return for the Brazilian international since they knew that signing their top choice to replace him, Niccolo’ Barella, would cost a small fortune- in retrospect not selling Allan at right time also hurt Napoli in another way since Barella has been a key player for Inter who have no surpassed Napoli as Juventus’ main antagonist.

A player struggling after participating in the Africa Cup is nothing new since in recent years, we saw Gervinho and Benatia come back from that tournament and be a shell of their usual selves. But Koulibaly has been so outstanding in recent years, that many assumed he would get back on track after a few games under his belt. Except for his brilliant performance against Liverpool, Koulibaly has been a liability for Ancelotti on top of receiving an uncharacteristic two game suspension.

Home town hero Lorenzo Insigne has had his share of issues in 2019. His agent Mino Raiola met with the club multiple times this year to resolve a few disputes mainly centered around playing time. Insigne was sent to the stands for a Champions League match and confirmed in an interview while with the Italian national team, that he has had his share of disagreements with Ancelotti on a few topics but mainly his position on the pitch.

If that weren’t enough drama, De Laurentiis has been essentially publicly negotiating extensions for Callejon and Mertens, two of the best new additions to Serie A this decade. While it’s understandable that Napoli’s president wants to ensure he’ll be paying them for what they can do in the future rather than just reward them for their (considerable) past performances, his stance has created even more tension around the team, while alienating two key players for Ancelotti.

So despite doing all the right things on the transfer market, spending significantly to keep numerous key players, Napoli find themselves as essentially Serie A’s version of the Atlanta Falcons- a team that has never fully recovered from losing the Super Bowl to the Patriots in dramatic. The hangover effect has also been worsened by Napoli’s inability to make the leap from good to great- at this point there’s even a chance Napoli won’t qualify for the next Champions League, a scenario that would have been unimaginable at the start of the season. Ancelotti’s status at the club is now on the brink…

Koulibaly set for summer transfer tug of war

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With the Serie A season almost over, gossip pages in both Italy and elsewhere in Europe and going to need something to fill their pages over the summer months.

Transfer speculation is set to dominate, with the biggest story already well underway – where next for Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaily?

The Sengalese international has remained open ended on his future when asked this season, consistently stating that he and his agent would sit down with the club in May to decide on the future.

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Napoli’s season is on the brink- did Sarri see this coming?

 

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On paper the plan made perfect sense. Hiring Carlo Ancelotti to replace Maurizio Sarri was a big statement for Napoli- he’s of course a big name manager in the football world who just with his arrival elevated the club’s brand. Following the James Bond themed announcement of his hire, the former Milan and Real Madrid manager embraced the city from day one and on the pitch immediately showed he was determined to avoid his predecessor’s mistakes.

Even before fatigue could accumulate, Ancelotti started rotating his players, as a matter a fact he used twelve different lineups to start the season. But that wasn’t the only thing Carletto did differently than his predecessor- he also showed a lot of tactical flexibility with formations while also keeping some of the best elements of Sarriball.

While last season Napoli prioritized winning the scudetto over all other competitions, Ancelotti’s version of the partenopeisaved their best performances for Europe. Even though they were eliminated in this edition of the group of death of the Champions League, Napoli’s performances against Liverpool at the San Paolo and in France against Paris St Germain, gave many a lot of hope they could actually win the Europa League where ironically they could face their former manager Maurizio Sarri.

Considering that by the start of 2019 Juventus had a huge lead in Serie A, the partenopei had all of their eggs in the Europa League basket, but after last night’s loss to Arsenal in London, their season is on the brink of turning into a failure when they take to the pitch against the Gunners to try to overturn the 0-2 deficit.

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In a way Maurizio Sarri saw this coming. After surpassing the 90 points threshold last season and not winning the scudetto, something that had never happened in Serie A’s history, Sarrireportedly felt that he had taken this group of players as far as they could go and that the only way was down- he decided it would be best to move on rather than oversee the decline of his hometown club.

There also were growing expectations in the city of Naples after such an intriguing title race against Juventus, the bar had been substantially raised and nothing short of winning a significant trophy (Coppa Italia wasn’t going to cut it) was going to cut it with the fans. Unless Napoli can somehow overturn the result from the first leg, for many this will be considered a very disappointing season when you consider how much bigger the gap with Juventus is points wise.

Taking a step back in Serie A was to be expected also because of Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival at Juventus, but there also quite a few internal reasons at Napoli that Sarri almost certainly saw coming. In the NFL the team that loses the Super Bowl typically doesn’t even make it to the playoffs the following, in part because of the hang over effect of losing after getting so close to the promised land.

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While Napoli received a significant spark from new additions Fabian Ruiz and goal keeper Alex Meret, quite a few of the veterans on the squad took a step back. Hysaj went from being considered one of the best right backs in Serie A to being almost irrelevant, while Callejon is still very generous with his effort, he’s nowhere near as effective as he was under Sarri, Ghoulamand Albiol have dealt with injuries most of the season and even stand outs like Insigne and Allan have struggled in the new year after a very impressive start under Ancelotti, even Zielinski and especially Diawara failed to become replacements for Hamsikand Jorginho respectively.

To continue this trend, we’ve seen Arkadiusz Milik and Nikola Maksimovic- who for different reasons struggled to find space under Sarri- be arguably the only two Napoli players who improved on their performances under Ancelotti compared to the previous regime.

If the idea that Napoli’s current squad would inevitably take a step back this season was truly Sarri’smain motivation to move on, he’s so far being proven right- the only way to turn this narrative around is to go all the way in the Europa League- starting with the return leg against Arsenal when Napoli’s season will be on the brink.

Kalidou Koulibaly: One of the classiest centre-backs in Serie A

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After completing his £6.5million move from Genk to Napoli in the summer of 2014, Kalidou Koulibaly has gone on to forming an incredible reputation about himself as one of the best centre-backs in Italy and Europe. And it’s only taken the Senegal defender a couple of years or so to achieve this delightful result.

The 27-year-old is now reportedly being linked with a move to a few Premier League sides in Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, with the expected price tag being a figure around £100million. However, the local and reliable reports in Naples suggest that the defender is very happy in Serie A at the moment.

Former AC Milan player and Croatia midfielder, Zvonimir Boban, was full of praises towards the rise of Koulibaly within his early years at the club. “For me, he’s among the best in the world and he can still improve,” the Sky Italia pundit had revealed. “He’s matured in everything; character, technique, he now comes out with the ball in such an impeccable way and is always physically dominant.”

Meanwhile, Italian football expert James Horncastle a few seasons ago, called him the new Lillian Thuram due to his aesthetically pleasing style of play and attitude on and off the pitch. The 1990s footballing legend, was the one and only idol and role model for Koulibaly, especially during his days as a youngster and that he has always wanted to achieve a similar career path to the French international since then.

Born in Saint-Die-des-Vosges, he started his senior footballing career off at French side Metz, where he spent two years within the Ligue 2 division before moving abroad to Belgium to play in the Belgian Pro League. At the time, he took part in playing for the U20 France national team and made 11 appearances at that level as he was educated and raised in the North East of France.

At Genk, the young defender was given the chance to prove himself at a club that are well known for their history of scouting and developing talented players before they are sold off to bigger teams. This was the unbelievable result for the previous individuals in Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne and Christian Benteke, with Koulibaly going on to join this list of players after he had joined Napoli in 2014.

Koulibaly’s dreams came true during the 2014-15 campaign as he achieved just over 25 league appearances in his debut season for Napoli. However, manager Rafael Benitez experienced an unexpected outcome with his team being defensively awful despite improving on the other side of the pitch by being clinical and ruthless on the counter-attack. Due to the side’s lack of organisation and communication in defence, it took the raw centre-back quite some time for him to settle into the team.

One year on, everything was much different for Napoli, with the club making a managerial change of replacing Benitez with Maurizio Sarri, someone who made sure that Koulibaly was in the starting line-up on a weekly basis. He only missed five league games throughout that campaign as Napoli mounted a competitive challenge to Juventus. On top of that, he finished the season as one of the most improved players within the top five leagues of Europe, which allowed him to gain more awareness as a defender.

Throughout the 2016-17 season as a while, Koulibaly completed the fourth most short passes whilst compared to all defenders in Serie A despite making fewer appearances than the likes of Davide Astori, Matias Silvestre and team-mate Elseid Hysaj. Given the entertaining and fascinating style of play that Napoli used to represent under Sarri, this is surely an incredible statistic as there is no margin for error, otherwise the opposition can pounce on highline and score constantly from the counter-attack.

Now, in 2019 and playing under Carlo Ancelotti, he still remains as Napoli’s best defender as well as one of the best centre-backs within the league. Although the change of formation and the slight change of the system when the side act on and off the ball, the Senegalese international amazingly completes his day to day job whilst constantly covering the left-back area when Mario Rui or Faouzi Ghoulam are out of position.

Standing at six foot five inches tall, Koulibaly is known for his physical attribute as well as his imposing height to win aerial duels on both sides of the pitch. After the arrival of Sarri, the rise of ‘K2’ was taken to the next level as his positioning and excellent passing with both feet got better and better. Also, he now sticks very close to his opponent rather than leaving them completely free for most of the game which prevents him from being forced into making a foul and receiving a booking.

In the meantime for his country, the 27-year-old was given his debut for Senegal during his second season as a Napoli player. Making his first appearance in a 2-0 victory over Namibia in an African Cup of Nation qualifier in September 2015, he has gone on to achieving just over 30 caps for his national team. Just a few days before he made his debut, Koulibaly switched federations and decided to leave France for the Senegal national football team. At the end of 2016, he received an individual honour of making it into the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Team of the Year award.

Whether he stays at Napoli for the rest of his career is another question, however, it would not be a surprise if the Senegalese one day ends up playing for either Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid. No matter what is in store for Koulibaly from now till the end of his time as a footballer, he will definitely be seen as one of the most complete centre-backs in this era.

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 11

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Just a pair of juicy match-ups on deck this week, while the top teams will try to take advantage of cozy fixtures on paper.

Napoli-Empoli: the Partenopei were not super sharp versus Roma, they salvaged a draw but could have probably done more if they did not put themselves in the predicament of having to come back. It was the first time they dropped points at home. Empoli have not won since the first game, but they certainly put up a fight against Juventus before Cristiano Ronaldo decided to win it. Continue reading

Results in big games could define Milan’s season

Milan are not winning the Scudetto this season. That’s categorical but not out of place. Juventus continue to be favourites for the league title with an array of stars and the depth of their squad. And Napoli, despite a 3-0 defeat at Sampdoria before the international break, are a more talented and experienced side with a knowledgeable manager in Carlo Ancelotti.

However, it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities for the Rossoneri to end the season ahead of Roma, Inter and Lazio. A 2-1 win over the Giallorossi at the San Siro, proved that Milan are capable of putting the rest of the chasing pack to the sword.

In their win over Roma, the Rossoneri displayed characteristics of a group that never gives up until the final whistle. It paid off when Patrick Cutrone finished a brilliant pass from Gonzalo Higuain by the edge of the 18 yard box. Milan had been in control of large spells of the game, creating numerous goal scoring opportunities, even after taking the lead through Franck Kessie. Previous games show Gennaro Gattuso’s men have a habit of getting comfortable anytime they score. And it was evident in their first game against Napoli at the San Paolo. The players must have learnt from their collapse in the second half of that game.

Winning breeds confidence and there is a psychological value from putting one of your competitors to bed in a fierce contest. It gives you an edge in the subsequent game against the opponent that has just been conquered, and a feel good factor going into the following fixtures. The victory over AS Roma is a morale booster for the Diavolo as they warm themselves into the season.

Big teams are judged based on their performances in marquee games, hence Milan’s output in matches involving key contenders for a champions league spot could define their campaign this season. Lazio, one of the main candidates for a top four position have lost two of the most important games so far. One against Napoli at home in their first fixture and Juventus away in the second. Whiles Inter have managed four points from a possible nine.

Milan have a relatively kind schedule in their following five games before their next big meeting against International Milan at the San Siro on the 21st of October. The team will play Cagliari, Atalanta, Empoli, Sassuolo and Chievo Verona prior to that, and it will do a lot for their confidence if the Rossoneri win all five matches.

But these days matches involving Atalanta cannot be described as a low profile game, as Gian Piero Gasperini men continue to be a hard nut to crack. Despite losing some key players such as Franck Kessie and Roberto Gagliardini, the Bergamo side managed to bloody the noses of few big teams including Roma, Lazio and AC Milan last season. Atalanta took four points off Milan in the last campaign and will not be bullied by the departure of defensive stalwart Mattia Caldara and Midfielder Bryan Cristante, when they play Milan away at the Giuseppe Meazza on the 23rd of September.

The game against Inter in October promises a lot of goals as both teams have scored 16 times in their last five Serie A meetings. Among the two, Milan have proven to be the most prolific, finding the net on nine occasions whiles the Nerazzurri have managed seven. Their last encounter ended in a goalless draw. On paper, Inter appears a much stronger side with Radja Nainggolan in midfield, but Franck Kessie will relish another physical battle against the Belgian. It’s expected that Luciano Spalletti men will attack with a lot of crosses from the wings as has been their strength. Milan on the other hand, will try to work the ball through the defense of their opponent. It will also be an encounter that will answer who has the best attack with Gonzalo Higuain leading the line for Gattuso’s men.

Milan will play Lazio a week after hosting Juventus on November 11th. The last time the Diavolo recorded a victory over Juventus was two seasons ago when young Manuel Locatelli sent in a screamer into the left far corner. The Bianconeri’s superiority has always counted against the Rossoneri and its important Gattuso’ men keep a clean sheet when they meet at the San Siro.

AC Milan are far from the ideal team as there still exist some deficiencies in defence. The team struggles to deal with set pieces, weak in aerial duels and poor in defending against long shots. Milan were exposed when AS Roma rallied back to level the score through Federico Fazio in their last outing.

Despite losing the first game against Napoli, there seems to be an air of optimism surrounding the Rossoneri, but they need to improve on their big game results to have a successful season.

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