Three Things to Watch in the Derby d’Italia

With the Derby d’Italia coming up, albeit behind closed doors, the implications couldn’t be bigger. With a win, Inter pull themselves within three of Juve with a game in hand on the Italian champions. A loss for the nerazzurri, however, could spell the end of their title challenge. Juventus, by contrast, will be looking to bounce back after a tough defeat against Lyon and will be keen on keeping Lazio at a distance.

The biancocelesti are in fine form and are currently just one point behind Juventus. Without further ado, here are three things to look out for in the latest iteration of the Derby d’Italia.

1) Where is Christian Eriksen?

Since joining Inter, Eriksen has been eased into Conte’s set-up and often comes on as a super-sub. Against Milan, the former Tottenham man started on the bench and impacted the proceedings from a more advanced role in the second half. Considering Conte’s rigid 3-5-2 formation, it will be interesting to see if the veteran tactician deploys Eriksen from the start against Juve.

While he has used him in the hole behind Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Conte is not exactly a risk-taker and typically opts for defensive solidity. Against Juventus, expect Eriksen to play a crucial role, however, it remains to be seen whether it’s off the bench or from the start. As the season wears on, the Danish international will see his influence on the side slowly increase, but hopefully for Inter, it won’t be too late.

For now, Eriksen’s progression is definitely something to keep an eye on.

2) Juventus’ midfield dilemma continues. 

You could have written this section three years ago and it still would have been true. Since Pogba and Vidal left Juve, their midfield has not been the same, an issue the bianconeri are yet to address. Beyond bosman signings, reinforcements in the middle of the park have been few and far between, something which has come to haunt Juventus today.

We’re going into match-day 26 and it still seems Sarri is unsure of his best midfield trio. Does it include Ramsey and Rabiot? Is Pjanic the bianconeri’s best option at regista or is it Rodrigo Bentancur? Questions that as of right now have no answers, which is deeply concerning. After fielding Rabiot and Bentancur alongside Pjanic in mid-week, expect Sarri to shuffle his deck once more in hopes of finally establishing his preferred midfield.

The Derby d’Italia is as good an opportunity as any for a midfielder to stake a claim for a starting role and Sarri will be hoping the enormity of the game will spur on his uninspired midfield. Until now, they’ve been lackluster and that needs to change.

3) Will the lack of fans impact the game? 

After the Coronavirus spread to Italy, it was announced that most games in Northern Italy will be played behind closed doors. While the logic makes sense and avoids further pandemic, it will undoubtedly be odd in this clash. The whole season has been building up to this Derby d’Italia and now the fans won’t even be able to be there.

Fans play a crucial role at establishing atmosphere in a stadium and spurring their team onto victory. Without them at the Allianz Stadium, it will be interesting to see just how the game will be affected. Will it still feel like a title race? Does it give Inter the advantage or will the calm give Juve the upper hand?

While it will definitely be strange to see an empty Derby d’Italia, the game itself promises to be an enthralling affair between two of Italy’s best sides. Lazio will be looking on eagerly.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 26

Lazio-Bologna: the only game between two teams that actually played last week. The Biancocelesti extended their superb run by grinding out a W versus Genoa, thanks to the usual Ciro Immobile goal and two unlikely heroes coming through, Adam Marusic, who has started over Manuel Lazzari in two matches in a row, and Danilo Cataldi. While Sergej Milinkovic-Savic scored against Inter, the bonuses for their other two fantasy stars, Luis Alberto and Joaquin Correa, have not been there in recent rounds, leaving Felipe Caicedo as the only serviceable option besides the capocannoniere. Jony has taken over for the injured Senad Lulic and, while he is a high-volume crosser, he has come up with just one assist so far. It could be another ripe day for their offense considering that the Felsinei have a soft defence. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 24

SPAL-Juventus: Luigi Di Biagio devised a new system in his debut, arraying his men with a 4-3-3. While they failed to get the win, they attacked more than usual and Andrea Petagna bagged the ninth goal of his campaign. Federico Di Francesco has always been playing in very offensive role, but he is more comfortable out wide and the trident was completed by Mattia Valoti in that case, although Gabriel Strefezza will have his chances too. The duo gets a bump thanks to the coaching change, likewise Mirko Valdifiori, who resurfaced and can be a decent weapon on set pieces, as a matter of fact he picked up an assist with a corner kick. Simone Missiroli is back at box-to-box like earlier in his career, joining the sneaky Lucas Castro. On the downside, Arkadiusz Reca, and Mohamed Fares when he will be ready, will feature as fullback, so few meters behind what they were accustomed to doing. Scoring has been one of their main issues so far, as they have no reliable contributors behind Petagna. Continue reading

Serie A Match of the Round – Lazio vs Inter

Lazio-Inter was the most anticipated match going into round 24: it was pretty tight but still had a decent amount of action, so it takes home the shout-out in combination with its potentially huge significance in the title race.

The Biancocelesti were handed their last loss in the first meeting between the two sides back in September and then proceeded to go on a still ongoing terrific run, although they had slowed down a bit lately with two draws in the past four contests. The Nerazzurri were instead coming off two Ws, the first versus Udinese and then a crazy one in the Derby. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 23

Atalanta-Roma: the Goddess continue to add to their offensive arsenal, as Duvan Zapata is returning two his usual pre-injury numbers (two goals and three assists in the last four games) and Ruslan Malinovskyi came through last week. The Ukrainian attacker seems to have surpassed Luis Muriel as first option off the bench. Josip Ilicic did not score against Fiorentina, but still had a great performance and he has been en fuego for a while. The one small negative is that, with their front-line now featuring two quality scorers, Alejandro Gomez is back at looking more to feed them rather than finishing on his own: as a matter of fact he set up two goals last week and has not hit the net since in six weeks. Timothy Castagne came back and he is a bigger offensive weapon than the more diligent Hans Hateboer, but they will likely continue to alternate, while Robin Gosens on the opposite flank is slowing down a bit after a gorgeous January. Mario Pasalic fumbled away a pair of sitters in Florence. Rafael Toloi (one goal and six assists) has been their most intriguing defender. Continue reading

Serie A Match of the Round – Inter vs Milan

The Derby della Madonnina delivered in terms of entertainment value and was a classic tale of two halves, as Milan dominated before the break, but then Inter turned the table and earned a potentially massive win as far as the title race is concerned.

The Nerazzurri were looking to get definitely back on track, as they had won last week versus Udinese, but had tied three times in a row before that. Milan instead, after a three-game winning streak, had equalized with Verona. Continue reading

Three Things to Look Out For in the Derby Della Madonnina

With Inter and Milan locking horns in the latest instalment of the Derby Della Madonnina in match-day 23, both sides will be going in with differing objectives.

On one hand, Antonio Conte’s men, the official ‘anti-Juve’, will be looking to keep pace at the top with the Italian champions while the rossoneri will be eager to close down a seven-point gap between them and top four.

While earlier in the season it looked like Milan would be in for another indifferent year, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s arrival has coincided with a return to form. Since their 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Atalanta, Pioli’s men are unbeaten in their last seven in all competitions. Inter, by contrast, have struggled since the turn of the new year and have drawn three of their last four Serie A clashes.

Here are three things to look out for on Sunday!

1) Midfield battle – Conte’s 3-5-2 vs. Pioli’s 4-4-2. 

Since assuming the reins, Pioli has implemented a basic 4-4-2 formation and is slowly getting the most from some of the club’s misfiring players, including Ante Rebić and Samu Castillejo. While the results have been there, Milan, at times, have been overrun in the midfield as Pioli’s 4-4-2 is rather flat. Against Brescia, for example, Milan were left exposed and were lucky to walk away with all three points.

As has been the case since he’s coached Juve, Conte tends to load up the middle with three midfielders, one regista and two mezz’ale, who tend to do most of the running and offer defensive cover between the lines. In possession, these interior midfielders like to sit in half-spaces in the final third to receive the ball in dangerous areas.

Christian Eriksen’s arrival will only help in this respect and the Danish international will be licking his lips at the prospect of carving open the rossoneri’s rearguard. If Milan are to have a shot in this game, Pioli will need to alter his tactical setup and ensure Inter don’t gain numerical superiority in the middle of the park all-while keeping a particular focus on Eriksen who will likely be fielded right behind both strikers.

2) Christian Eriksen – 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2? Trequartista or mezz’ala? 

The worst-kept secret of the January mercato was Eriksen’s transfer to Inter, but after weeks of rumors, it finally got done. Now that he’s with the nerazzurri, however, question marks remain over where he will feature. In his first appearances with the club, Conte has altered his preferred 3-5-2 for a more fluid 3-4-1-2 with Eriksen occupying the trequartista role behind the strikers.

In the past, Conte has been reluctant to shift away from his rigid shape and typically perservered with his tried-and-tested 3-5-2. When he had Pirlo, Vidal, Marchisio and Pogba at Juve, it was the Frenchman who, at times, featured higher up the pitch in a 3-5-1-1. While it’s unlikely he does that with Eriksen, it remains a possibility.

The Derby della Madonnina will be the first real test for an Eriksen-led Inter and it will be interesting if Conte persists with him in an advanced role. After all, a mezz’ala role doesn’t exactly suit the former Tottenham man and isn’t why he was signed. With a big three points up for grabs, Eriksen is definitely one to watch.

3) Ibrahimovic-Leao face their first real test. 

Since Ibrahimovic’s arrival, the big Swede has formed an effective partnership with Rafael Leão and the duo have established themselves as Pioli’s undisputed front-two. With the former PSG man holding up play, Leão plays in a support role and makes the most of his turn of pace and ability to take on his man. Until now, Milan have had success with the Leão-Ibra partnership, but they have yet to be put to the test by an elite defence.

Taking nothing away from their opponents, Milan have played Cagliari, SPAL, Udinese, Brescia, Torino, and Verona. While each side represents their own challenges, none of them, bar Verona, come close to Inter when it comes to defensive solidity. It will be interesting to see the Ibra-Leão partnership go to work against Conte’s back-three in what is undoubtedly their first real test since coming to be.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 23

Roma-Bologna: the Giallorossi are in a funk and have played just one convincing game out of the last five. They will be without Lorenzo Pellegrini due to suspension and it is a massive loss considering that he is the mastermind of their offense. They should get Henrikh Mkhitaryan back from injury and perhaps even starting considering the hole at no.10. The other option is likely Diego Perotti and they seem to always be awarded a penalty when he is out there. Edin Dzeko has scored in three straight games and they will face a pretty suspect back-line. Cengiz Under took a step back versus Sassuolo, but he is always pretty assertive when he decides to play, while Justin Kluivert has not done much since coming back from injury, but should improve over time. Paulo Fonseca has elected to keep Aleksandar Kolarov on the bench in the last two matches for tactical reasons, but the decision has not really moved the needle so the stud left-back should soon be back in the XI. Continue reading

Top Three Winter Mercato Moves

While a few days remain before the transfer window is shut, there has been no shortage of activity within Italy throughout the winter mercato. Napoli have completely retooled their side while Milan are making the most of the window to off-load deadwood and reduce their wage bill. Inter, on the other hand, are actively looking for the final pieces of the puzzle to topple Juventus.

Here are the top three moves of the winter mercato until now.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Milan: When it was announced Ibrahimovic would be joining MIlan, many scoffed at the idea initially. After all, he had just finished playing in MLS and was nearing 40 years old. Despite his relatively high wages, the Swedish international is exactly what the doctor ordered in Casa Milan and his arrival has coincided with the rossoneri’s best form of the season.

Since returning to Milan, Pioli’s men have won five in a row and booked their ticket to the Coppa Italia semi-finals against Juventus. Some players are simply synonymous with winning and Ibra is one of them. The former PSG man has lead a quiet revolution and has introduced a winning mentality to the club. For this alone, he’s arguably the signing of the winter mercato. 

Christian Eriksen – Inter: It may have well taken them all month, but Inter finally got their guy. Giuseppe Marotta had been in negotiations with Tottenham for the better part of the month and finally decided to pay the price for the Danish international. Considering Conte’s men are lacking experience in the midfield, Eriksen’s arrival is a no-brainer.

A natural number ten, Eriksen will look forward to linking up with Lukaku and Martinez and form one of Italy’s most fearsome trios in the final third. With Sensi, Barella, and Brozovic pulling the strings behind them, Marotta has arguably built the best midfield in the league. Eriksen is merely the cherry on top of the cake and could prove to be the difference-maker in the title race.

Diego Demme – Napoli: This signing is one that has flown under-the-radar in Italy, but is one of the shrewdest deals of the winter mercato. The partenopei have looked extremely vulnerable throughout the season as their midfield has oftentimes left their defence exposed. Whether it was Fabian Ruiz, Elmas or Allan playing as the side’s deepest midfielder, Napoli always looked suspect defensively. Demme’s arrival adds some much-needed steel in the middle of the park at a particularly low-price and already looks to be paying off.

The veteran midfielder looked extremely at home in front of Napoli’s back four in their most recent win against Juventus. The 28-year-old regularly broke up play and shielded Napoli’s rearguard brilliantly. If he maintains this, Demme will go down as the signing of the winter.

Honourable mentions:

- Christian Koume to Fiorentina (Question marks remain over his ACL recovery)

- Duncan to Fiorentina. (Sassuolo man is slowly becoming a consistent creative outlet.

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Inter land Eriksen and sell Politano to Napoli

On Tuesday, Inter announced the acquisition of Christian Eriksen from Tottenham. The Nerazzurri took advantage of the fact that the Danish star had an expiring contract and wanted to leave and made him their highest player on the roster next to Romelu Lukaku, as he will earn a €8M base wages with €2M of potential bonuses, doubling his previous salary After a lengthy negotiation with the Spurs, they matched the €20M asking price to have him right away. Continue reading