Mauro Icardi to Juventus: The Pros and the Cons

Recently it’s been reported that Juventus are heavily interested in Inter forward Mauro Icardi and will turn their attention to the Argentine forward after wrapping up their deal for Matthijs de Ligt. The 26-year-old has fallen out with the nerrazzurri, and is no longer in Antonio Conte’s plans for the upcoming season.

Inter sporting director Giuseppe Marotta recently went as far as proclaiming this in the media. In an interview, Marotta said: “When building a project, you have to find the right profiles. Both players (Icardi and Nainggolan) know full well they are not part of our plans.” 

While these comments may drop the striker’s valuation, it indicates one thing: Inter are prioritizing the squad over individuals. However, these claims do open up an avenue for a bargain for Juventus; but is Icardi worth it?

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On one hand, Icardi is one of the most lethal strikers in the world and can hurt the opposition with limited touches. Much like Cristiano Ronaldo, the Argentine doesn’t need many opportunities to score, and is proven at the European level as well. In this sense, pairing him with Ronaldo could prove to be a masterstroke, especially with Paulo Dybala pulling the strings behind them.

If Sarri plans on alternating between a 4-3-3 and 4-3-1-2, two formations he’s used throughout his managerial career, the move for Icardi makes plenty of sense. However, if the former Chelsea tactician plans on going with one striker, Icardi’s arrival will undoubtedly stunt the growth of Moise Kean; something Juventus can ill afford. Kean is one of the peninsula’s most highly-rated forwards and the bianconeri will be looking to make him a centrepiece of the side for years to come.

In a two-striker formation, however, there will be plenty of time to go around for Ronaldo, Icardi and Kean. Meanwhile, Dybala, Federico Bernardeschi and Aaron Ramsey are all capable of playing behind them as the side’s trequartista. As a whole, that’s an elite front-line, which unlike this past season, compliments each other.

On the other side of the debate, Icardi has typically been a negative locker room influence, and resorts to off-field antics when things don’t go his way. When he was stripped of the Inter captaincy, the Argentine sidelined himself with many dubious injuries and refused to train. Then, of course, there’s his agent and wife, Wanda Nara. Nara’s influence on Icardi over the years has only grown and she has shown no regard for Inter this past season.

Much like Icardi, Nara is quick to voice her discontent in public and often plays games on social media. The main fear is that this divisive duo may disrupt the harmony in Juventus’ locker room. With that being said, Icardi has never been part of a team with real leaders, and in Torino, he will have to answer to Gianluigi Buffon, Cristiano Ronaldo and Giorgio Chiellini among others. Rather than being tasked with leading the team like he was at Inter, Icardi’s sole focus will be on scoring goals.

The move to Juventus will also represent much more for Icardi. As Inter’s fiercest rivals, the former Sampdoria man will be joining the bianconeri with a point to prove. It’s not every day that one of the best strikers in the world is outcasted from a new coach’s plans. This chip on his shoulder will undoubtedly spur him to new heights and let’s not forget, Juventus have a decent track record with difficult characters. See: Carlos Tevez.

While Icardi has zero goals in open play in 2019, a red flag of its own, a lot of his poor form can be attributed to the fallout between him and Inter. Once he makes the switch, expect to see an eager and refreshed Icardi.

In terms of price, Inter are reportedly looking for 70 million euros for their star striker. However, due to Marotta’s recent comments, Juventus are confident they can close the deal for much less. If reports are to be believed, the Italian champions will soon table a bid in and around the 40-45 million euro range, and will look to close the deal closer to that mark than Inter’s valuation.

Considering the situation and Icardi’s willingness to join Juventus, the bianconeri would be foolish not to make a move. The Argentine is available cheaply, and is an elite number nine that could propel them to the next level. When presented with this type of opportunity on the mercato, you take it. Ronaldo has shown no signs of slowing down, but he won’t be able to lead the Juventus front-line forever either while the 26-year-old is frankly in his prime. Icardi’s arrival, in this sense, works both in the long-run and in the short-term. There’s a reason these rumours have emerged as much more than pure conjuncture. With the ball firmly in their court, Juventus are a few sales away from making Icardi to Juve a reality.

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Atalanta Demonstrate Ambition Ahead of Champions League debut

When Atalanta clinched top four on the final match-day of the season, the critics were out. With vultures circling their side after an impressive year, it looked likely that Gli Orobici’s carefully constructed roster would be dismantled piece by piece. The fear, of course, was that Atalanta, with many key players on their way out, would embarrass Italy on the world stage. However, nothing of the sort appears to be happening.

First, Roma were heavily interested in Gian Piero Gasperini, offering him a long-term deal in the nation’s capital. Opting to lead the side into Europe’s elite competition for the first time ever, the veteran tactician quickly rebuffed their advances. Since joining Atalanta, Gasperini has revived his managerial career, and has transformed the side into a high-flying attacking machine. It’s only right the former Inter manager sees this experience through to the fullest, and leads the side into their first Champions League campaign ever.

In a recent press conference, Gasperini spoke about Roma’s interest. “It would’ve been difficult to leave Atalanta right now,” said Gasperini. “It would’ve almost been a betrayal. Roma were tempting, but what we achieved kept me here,” added the tactician, as per Football Italia.

After keeping their leader aboard, the next step was securing the futures of their regulars. In the early goings of the transfer window, Napoli made strong moves for Josip Ilicic and Hans Hateboer, and reportedly agreed to terms with both players. Despite their interest, the club pushed hard for their stays and both players inevitably decided that remaining in Bergamo was their best option for the upcoming season.

Then, it was Gianluca Mancini that was on every team’s shortlist. Roma, among others, were interested, but the Italian international now appears set to stay. Mancini broke out last season under Gasperini, and established himself as one of Gli Orobici’s leaders in the locker room. His presence at the heart of defence and fearlessness will be much needed in Europe, especially considering Atalanta’s group will be no cakewalk. Currently, the Bergamo-based outfit are in pot four, meaning there’s a strong possibility they will be drawn with at least one of the likes of Manchester City, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, and current holders Liverpool.

But this doesn’t scare Gasperini or Atalanta one bit. When asked about who he wants to play, the 61-year-old had no doubts. “The best. That’s what we want,” said Gasperini. “If I had to choose, I’d go to Madrid against Real Madrid because they have a historic stadium. And then England. Our chances aren’t very high, so it’s better to go and play with the best,” added the tactician.

As the weeks passed, every one of Atalanta’s standout players were linked with moves away, yet June has now come and gone, and their side is still completely intact. In fact, Atalanta have recently confirmed the arrival of Luis Muriel. After a successful loan spell with Fiorentina that saw him bag nine goals in 23 appearances in all competitions, Gli Orobici identified the forward as a priority and quickly put pen to paper on an 18 million euro deal with Sevilla.

The 28-year-old will fit like a glove in Gasperini’s high-press system, and will be deadly on the counter-attack alongside Papu Gomez, Duvan Zapata, and Josip Ilicic. Last season, Atalanta scored the most goals in league play with an astonishing 77, and look set to continue their offensive ways. While depth was previously a concern now that they’ll be competing on three fronts, Muriel’s arrival now gives Gasperini’s more options in the final third, and will allow him to rest Zapata when need be.

With just one month of the summer transfer window gone, the early signs are positive for Atalanta. They’ve kept their coach, rejected advances from many of Italy’s top sides for their key performers, and are slowly improving their roster with standouts from fellow mid-table sides. While it may be premature, Atalanta could very well go from being Italy’s surprise package to Europe’s latest darlings in just one summer.

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Top Ligue 1 Strikers in 2018/19: Neymar

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Several books could be written on Neymar’s season with PSG, and this was supposed to be the season that Neymar helped the French champions to the Champions League trophy, the one the club are really after. What happened was that Neymar replicated last season and missed key games as the league ran down. It was a frustrating season for Neymar even if PSG did end up winning the Ligue 1 title again.

Most of this frustration was off the pitch. The Brazilian’s niggling injuries didn’t help- he played just 17 league games this season. Then he was outspoken about UEFA when Manchester United arguably did get the run of the luck when they dumped out PSG in Paris, he swore on social media and was handed with a 3 game ban. This means that whoever he is playing for next season he won’t play in 50% of the group games.

Then Neymar was involved with a Rennes fan after Rennes had upset PSG and won the Coupe de France. He appeared to hit the fan and after returning from injury he was suspended for another 3 games meaning that he didn’t even finish the season off properly with the club.

This was the nightmare season for Neymar in many ways, and yet he was still good enough to basically play half a season and finish as the 4th best striker in Ligue 1. He finished the season with 72 points and was able to score an incredible 15 goals from his 17 games and assisted in a further 7 goals. When he played PSG kept 6 clean sheets and no matter his temperament off the field on it he was almost impeccable receiving only 2 yellow cards.

What is remarkable about Neymar’s season is that the first 13 games that he played he always earned points. His best personal game was against Guingamp at the beginning of 2019 when PSG ran riot and won 9-0. Neymar helped himself to 2 goals and assisted in another in a very easy win.

On two occasions he earned zero points but he never finished a game this past season on minus points. His last contribution was against Angers on May 11th when PSG won 2-1 and he scored a goal and assisted in the other.

The question is, was that Neymar’s last game for PSG? It is no secret that the Brazilian wants away and wants to re-join Barcelona again for next season. Could PSG complain after spending over 200m euros on him, because they would make a profit on the player if they did sell him.

Despite some negative aspects surrounding Neymar, his showmanship and hard work rate have still been held high in France and it is difficult to judge a striker that scores goals. He has played 37 games in the league over two seasons and scored 34 goals. Injuries aside he has been one of the best players to grace the game in Ligue 1 in recent history.

What does the future hold? This summer will turn into a Neymar saga it appears.

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Is Ajax’s Matthijs de Ligt really worth €400,000 a week?

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Death and taxes are two things certain in this life, the other is Ajax selling their best players before they have got full use of them. Frankie de Jong is already a Barcelona player and it seems almost certain that Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt will be leaving in the summer.

French champions PSG have emerged as the forerunners to buy the player and they have reportedly made an offer of around €60m euros to Ajax with future add on’s for the young prospect. It doesn’t stop there though and PSG have reportedly offered de Ligt wages of 400,000 euros a week. This is a stunning amount and PSG obviously mean business if this is indeed true. It seems like it is as when the news broke PSG did not rush to deny it.

But let’s take a few steps back here and ask is de Ligt a player that most of us had not heard of at the beginning of the season worth so much?

True Ajax have just won the Dutch league and followed that up with the cup and it is true that de Ligt has had a good season. With Ajax in the league he was part of a defence that conceded 29 goals all season and kept 15 clean sheets.

But what has really turned PSG and other European superpowers onto the 19 year old was his performances in the Champions League. His team knocked out Real Madrid who had won the competition for 3 years running and then ended Cristiano Ronaldo’s dream by dumping out Juventus. However they couldn’t overcome a passionate Tottenham side who beat them on the away goal rule. Therein lies a problem.

And the problem is a normal one- de Ligt for all his greatness is still a teenager and is still sometimes naïve. He has a tendency to make basic errors- that doesn’t mean he isn’t a good defender, but one should question the money that PSG want to offer Ajax for a player who hasn’t won anything out of the Dutch league and is still so young.

Of course PSG’s answer would be that he will only get better- but surely that is the risk at stake. True everything does point to de Ligt having a fantastic future in football. He is currently captain of Ajax, which in itself is stunning given his age and he is now a regular starter for the Netherlands. And yet it could still not work out as it should for the player.

PSG have laid down a marker and that amount of wages per week has made de Ligt sit up and think. Think because it is fairly obvious that he has Barcelona or Real Madrid more on his mind than PSG. But will he take the money? Both Barca and Madrid one would feel are unlikely to offer de Ligt that type of money at 19- but then again in the world of football who really knows?

 

 

 

Van Dijk and Alisson the stars of Liverpool’s Champions League success

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Madrid has often been where Champions League legends are made, and that proved to be the case for Liverpool. This year’s Champions League final won’t go down as one of the best, indeed in many aspects, it was among the worst, but Liverpool won’t mind one bit.

This side have battled their way back throughout the Champions League this season, and it was no different in the final. The natural rhythm, tempo and desire were lacking from Jurgen Klopp’s side. Instead, they had to battle, scrap and find something much deeper to ensure they were lifting a sixth European crown by the evening’s end. This Liverpool side have transformed under Klopp this year. The swashbuckling, cavalier team of the past has made way for one that has much more about it. Continue reading

No need for despondency at Tottenham, who are well ahead of schedule

Following a lengthy three-week build up, Tottenham Hotspur’s chances of winning the Champions League were significantly damaged within just 22 seconds of the first whistle on Saturday night.

After Liverpool had raced forward in an attempt to get their noses in front early on, Moussa Sissoko was penalised when Sadio Mane’s cross struck his outstretched arm. Sissoko may have been a little unfortunate to see the ball ricochet off his chest and then hit his arm, but extending it away from his body to that extent was a needless risk that gave Mohamed Salah the opportunity to draw first blood in the second minute.

That strike made Spurs’ task harder, but there was still plenty of time to get back into the match and they will have drawn inspiration from their sensational comeback from three goals down on aggregate in the semi-finals against Ajax. This time, though, there was to be no dramatic turnaround. Mauricio Pochettino’s men enjoyed plenty of possession for the remainder of the encounter without ever sufficiently testing Alisson in the opposition goal. And although Liverpool, who made sure of victory with a well-taken goal by Divock Origi in the closing stages, did not play particularly well either, the onus was on Tottenham because of the scoreline.

Games as big as the Champions League final often lead to sweeping conclusions, and although Liverpool can legitimately point to the result and argue that the end justified the means, the Madrid showpiece could have turned out very differently had Sissoko kept his arm by his side. That is not to say that Tottenham would have triumphed but for that incident – who knows, they could have lost by an even bigger margin had Liverpool needed to chase the match – but it is important to remember that minor episodes can have major effects and it would be wrong to lose perspective with regards to where Tottenham are currently at.

In Pochettino’s first campaign at the helm, Spurs missed out on Champions League qualifications. They then finished as runners-up to Leicester City in 2015/16 and Chelsea in 2016/17, before securing two more top-four finishes in the last two seasons. This represents a phenomenal stretch of consistency given that Tottenham’s net spend and wage bill are substantially lower than the teams they are competing with, namely Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and, their victors this weekend, Liverpool. Despite the disappointment of defeat in Madrid, it is important to remember that the north Londoners are still well ahead of schedule.

“Now it’s impossible to talk and we will all be very disappointed,” Pochettino told reporters at the Wanda Metropolitano. “The season was fantastic. We need to feel proud. I feel so proud of all the players, the fans and the club. We can’t give the last moment, the last game of the season, a massive reward for our fans.

“It’s not about tactics and today before 30 seconds a penalty that changed the plans completely. It had a massive impact for the team which we had to manage but the team was great, because of course it was difficult after.

“When that happens, it’s so painful but at the same time we need to be calm in the way that we talk and analyse the things because the season was fantastic and we need to feel proud. To finish in the top four and play in the Champions League final for the first time in the history of the club. It’s a thing that is going to be painful because we lost the final but in the same time we need to be positive.”

Pochettino later refused to commit his future to the club when invited to do so, but it is likely that he did not want to discuss such a big question in the immediate aftermath of the game. It would be a surprise if the Argentinian departed at this stage, but he is right to seek assurances from Daniel Levy about the club’s objectives going forward. Tottenham have had a fantastic five years, but they must ensure that their first ever Champions League final appearance is the start of something, not the end.

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Fabinho the key for Liverpool in the Champions League Final

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Of the numerous impressive individual performers across this past season for Liverpool, Fabinho fell under the radar somewhat. The Brazilian earned credit but not to the extent some of his teammates received.

Yet, by the end of the campaign, Fabinho was as important a player as any in the starting line up. Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are the types of players that shone brightly. Fabinho was as important as them but did it in the quiet, efficient manner that separates the best defensive midfielders from the rest. And when Liverpool take on Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League Final in Madrid on Sunday, it is Fabinho who will play a pivotal role. Continue reading

SPAL vs. AC Milan: Previewing the Champions League decider

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This evening, AC Milan will take on SPAL away from home, in what will be their final game of the season. As expected, it will also be a very important one, as the Rossoneri are in need of a win in order to keep their Champions League dream alive. 

Since Juventus failed to beat Atalanta last weekend, the Bergamo side still have the upper hand against Milan, currently sitting one point ahead of Gattuso’s men with 66 points in third place. Inter, meanwhile, are in fourth with the same amount of points. In other words, it’s not only in the Rossoneri’s hand this evening, as they will need help from either Sassuolo or Empoli. Continue reading

Where next for Simone Inzaghi?

Simone Inzaghi

Since being appointed as Lazio’s interim head coach in 2016, Simone Inzaghi has transformed the biancocelesti into one of the league’s most compact sides, and has consistently delivered silverware, winning the Supercoppa in 2017 against Juventus, and most recently claiming the Coppa Italia this season after dispatching Atalanta. The two trophies are indicative of Inzaghi’s good work at the club, but it may be time for the Italian tactician to consider his future, and evaluate the possibility of joining one of Italy’s elite.

With both Juventus, and Milan considering him for their managerial vacancy, Inzaghi would be wise to wait before committing his future to Lazio. While club president Claudio Lotito and Inzaghi have an excellent rapport – to a point where the former views his tactician as ‘his son’ – it’s time Inzaghi demands more.

Given the current roster at his disposal, it’s clear Inzaghi’s gotten the most out of them, and has arguably seen his side peak. If they are to build off their two trophies, and consistently qualify for the Champions League, an aspiration shared by the entire club, they will undoubtedly need reinforcements. Going into next season, Lazio could arguably use another centre-back, a wing-back, and another striker to compete with Immobile and Caicedo.

Since Inzaghi’s hiring, Lotito has been conservative in the transfer market, and has opted for minor reinforcements rather than a complete squad upheaval. While this helps build chemistry, Lazio will need to dip into their transfer funds if they want to compete with the Milan clubs, and fierce rivals Roma. As the competition grows, so does their need to spend.

If Lotito guarantees Inzaghi a higher salary and more say on the transfer market, the Italian tactician should heavily consider remaining at Lazio for the foreseeable future. However, the managerial vacancy at Juventus may complicate affairs.

The bianconeri are far and away the best side in Italy, and don’t look like they’ll be slowing down anytime soon. Armed with Cristiano Ronaldo, coaching Juventus is an enticing prospect for any manager, let alone an up and coming Italian one like Inzaghi. Given his positive relationship with Fabio Paratici that goes back to their childhood, the Lazio tactician could emerge as a front-runner for the role. His experience in Serie A will undoubtedly put him near the top of Juve’s list, but he’s not there alone.

In recent times, Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri and Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino have also been linked to the vacancy. In any case, joining Juventus would allow Inzaghi to take the next step in his career, and is a unique opportunity to grow his trophy case and reputation within the peninsula.

Milan, on the other hand, are frankly a less enticing option at the moment, but their appeal cannot be discounted. Despite their recent struggles, the rossoneri remain one of the league’s sleeping giants, and have improved significantly since last season. A lot, however, will depend on Champions League qualification, and whether or not, they will pip Inter or Atalanta to the final spot.

If they manage to claim top four, and promise to reinforce in key areas notably centre-back and left-wing, Inzaghi may be tempted to abandon his Lazio post for greener pastures.

While managing the biancocelesti has given Inzaghi the exposure and the necessary experience to take the next step from the primavera, managing one of Juventus or Milan may be an opportunity he can’t afford to turn down at this point in his career. After all, there aren’t many top class managers currently on the market, and by mere process of elimination, Inzaghi may find himself in contention for the jobs.

Much like he has done his entire career, expect Inzaghi to seize the opportunity and continue to propel his managerial career forward. That is, unless, Lotito makes him an offer he can’t refuse…

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Champions League Race: A Comprehensive Breakdown

With the Champions League race going down to the wire in Serie A, the final match-day promises to make for exciting viewing. Atalanta, Inter and Milan are separated by a mere point, while the possibility of Roma sneaking in can’t be discounted either.

At the moment, it is Gasperini’s men, and Spalletti’s nerazzurri that control their own fate, while the other two sides are on the outside looking in – albeit a little too close for comfort. As entry to Europe’s elite competition promises a pitfall of cash and prestige, achieving Champions League football is of the utmost importance, and could have serious repercussions on any of these sides’ transfer windows.

Let’s being with Gasperini’s Atalanta. Against all odds, gli Orobici find themselves in third, and control their own destiny in their final game. Win, and they qualify for the Champions League. After an impressive season that saw them play high-flying football, and reach the Coppa Italia final, Atalanta could cap it off with a berth in next season’s Champions League.

While technically they are the home side for this clash, Atalanta have recently been remodelling their stadium, conveniently relocated all their remaining home games to Sassuolo. As luck would have it, Atalanta’s last game is, of course, against Sassuolo.

The neroverdi have nothing to play for, but have always proven to be a difficult opposition. However, in their first game, Gasperini’s men dispatched them rather easily, pumping six past Sassuolo. With Duvan Zapata, Alejandro Gomez, and Josip Ilicic firing on all cylinders, they should have enough to beat the “visitors”.

Inter, on the other hand, take on Empoli at the San Siro. With Empoli languishing in and around the relegation zone, the Tuscan-based outfit will be fighting for their life, and won’t be easy to overcome. In fact, Aurelio Andreazzoli’s men have been one of the league’s most in-form sides, winning their last three games. As a result, this clash won’t be as straightforward as the table suggests, and the nerazzurri will need to be at their best.

Inter’s cross-town rivals, Milan, will be travelling to the Stadio Paolo Mazza to take on SPAL 2013. After months of being in the top four, the rossoneri now find themselves in fifth, however, just one point back of Atalanta and Inter. Should Gattuso’s men claim the victory, and either of their competitors drops points, Milan will be making their long-awaited return to Champions League football. If they don’t, however, they will be kicking themselves, as they were in the driver’s seat for the most part of the season.

While Milan will need some help to qualify, at the very least, their odds are better than Roma’s. Ranieri’s men will need a small miracle to qualify on the final match-day. They’ll need to beat Parma by five clear goals, while Milan and Inter lose, and Atalanta avoid defeat. Unlikely.

Otherwise, they’ll need to win, while all of their other competitors lose their games. Another unlikely scenario. Much like Milan, Roma have themselves to blame for this, and have been dropping points to the league’s provinciali all season.

In any case, whichever way this race ends, there will be fireworks. Either Gasperini’s Atalanta cap off their phenomenal cinderella season in impressive fashion, or both Milan giants will be returning to Europe’s elite competition together. And Roma, well, best of luck. You’ll need it.

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