Politano: “We’re focused and determined to do well”

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During an exclusive interview with Sky Sport, Inter winger Matteo Politano looked ahead to this weekend’s match against Sassuolo. Saturday’s encounter with the Neroverdi does of course hold special significance for the 25-year-old given the fact he spent three years playing for them in Reggio Emilia. Here is what he had to say as he prepares to face his former teammates at San Siro: Continue reading

Clinical finishing masked Inter’s defensive instability versus Benevento

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“I’m happy. I think that it was an excellent team performance, even if we did allow them more room in the second half. But this is normal given what the scoreline was. We’re happy that we put in a good performance. In addition to our excellent attitude, we were really clinical today: we didn’t manage to score against Pordenone. The important thing was our performance, even if we did concede two goals. From my point of view, it was important to get myself ready after not playing a competitive match for such a long time.” Continue reading

Kean Proves Worthy of More Minutes

Juventus started the new year with a convincing win against Bologna in the Coppa Italia, a competition they have now won four times in a row. With many of the bianconeri’s starters watching from the sidelines including the likes of Ronaldo and Dybala, the side’s fringe players got some much needed minutes to prove themselves and largely impressed in the win. Leonardo Spinazzola was a constant threat down the left, Emre Can was tidy in the midfield alongside Pjanic, and Bernardeschi was even able to pocket himself a goal. Yet the real storyline was undoubtedly Italian wonder-kid Moise Kean. 

The 18-year-old got his first start of the season, and made the most out of it snatching a goal early in the second half off a ricochet on Douglas Costa’s shot. Demonstrating his killer instinct within the 18-yard-box, Kean made no mistake and poked it past a helpless Da Costa before he could intervene. It was his second goal in a Juventus shirt, both coming against Bologna. After just over an hour of leading the line, the U-21 Italian international made way for Ronaldo, and will be pleased overall with his performance.

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Five New Year’s resolutions for Lazio in 2019

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Lazio enter the new year with a spring in their step, having rediscovered a winning formula and returned to the top four in time for bells.

But before they return to competitive action with the visit of Novara in the Coppa Italia on Saturday, here are some suggested resolutions that would make the year ahead a memorable one for Simone Inzaghi and his players.

Reach the Champions League

The undisputed No.1 target for the club is to achieve the goal that so agonisingly eluded them on the final day of the 2017/18 season: qualify for the Champions League. It has been 11 years now since the club’s fans have been able to hear the famous anthem ring around the Stadio Olimpico in the group stage, with some near misses coming in the interim period. Continue reading

Juventus crowned Serie A Champions for 6th consecutive season!

Juventus not only made history but reaffirmed the club’s status as Italy’s best club after securing a sixth consecutive Serie A title. Frankly, there was never a doubt about Juve’s status as Italy’s best during this season, or as Serie A’s premier club for that matter.

It would be wrong to single out one or even two players as this was a group effort and almost every single Juve starter played a key role in this success. To begin with, Gianluigi Buffon was exemplary both as a goalkeeper and as a leader of the team. He did have a couple of mishaps with both the Azzurri and Juve, yet in typical fashion he responded with some impressive displays, particularly against Lyon in the Champions League.

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Defensively, it would be hard to find any football pundit who would argue against the Old Lady’s defensive unit being the best in the world. While Leonardo Bonucci has many admirers, among them Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola, his fellow centre-back Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli are as good if not better when it comes to fulfilling their defensive duties. Chiellini often dives first in to challenges and does not hesitate to sacrifice his well-being for the good of the team while Barzagli, even at 36-years-old, remains one of the best at anticipating the opponent as well as reading one-on-one situations.

It is perhaps in midfield where many expected Juve to crumble but the returning Claudio Marchisio has slowly but steadily returned to his consistent best while growing in stature with every game he plays. Juve’s management will be pleased to know that Marchisio will have a full summer to rest, recover & then train properly to return to his best. He is almost like a new signing. Speaking of new signings, former Roma schemer Miralem Pjanic has been one of the most underrated midfielder in both Italy & Europe this season.

While his stats, 5 goals and 8 assists in league action, do not scream at you, Pjanic has been pivotal for Juve’s success, particularly the club’s return to the final of the Champions League two years after the defeat to Barcelona. What makes Pjanic even more instrumental is the fact he sticks to playing simple football, keeps this Juve side ticking with his fast and slick passing while also remaining deadly from set-pieces.

In attack, Juve spent a fortune to secure Gonzalo Higuain’s signing and he repaid the club’s faith with 24 league goals along with some critical goals away at both Monaco, in Europe, and Napoli in Coppa Italia. Without Higuain, Juve might not be talking Treble today… And he still has the opportunity to silence his critics one more time in Cardiff when Juve take on Real Madrid.

As for Juve’s other attacking options, Paulo Dybala has matured into one of world’s best young attackers while Mario Mandzukic remains, as per his coach Massimiliano Allegri’s words, pivotal for the success of the formation employed since the defeat to Fiorentina in Serie A. Mario’s willingness to sacrifice for the sake of the squad has served not just as an example for his teammates to follow, but has also given Juve’s starting XI a sense of balance. Fans have seen Mandzukic track back countless times and that in itself is the greatest sign of how dedicated the Croatians striker has been to the Juve cause.

It would be wrong to end without mentioning the two flying Brazilian full-backs Alex Sandro and Dani Alves. The duo have become two of the most dynamic and important full-backs in the world. While Sandro continues to improve and grow into perhaps the world’s best left-back, Alves has proven his critics wrong and reaffirmed himself as the world’s best right-back at the moment.

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While Barcelona felt his time was up, Alves eagerly took on the new challenge of playing in a different league for one of the world’s elite clubs. While he stumbled early on and struggled to adjust, it was perhaps his injury which served to reignite the fire in the Brazilian. Prior to his injury, Barca might have felt justified in letting him ago, yet ironically Alves returned stronger than ever post-injury & gave Man of the Match performances on more than one occasion, particularly in the Champions League.

Juve fans will not forget his contribution against former club Barca, and will certainly remember his role in the two matches against Monaco in the semi-final of the Champions League. Alves scored from a stunning volley in the return leg against Monaco, a 2-1 victory for Juve, and then followed that up with another volley in the 2-0 win versus Lazio in the Coppa Italia.

While Alves deserves a lot of credit for his efforts and bounce back after early season struggles, no man deserves more respect and appreciation than coach Massimiliano Allegri. Mad Max was an unwelcome figure when he first joined Juve yet he has worked diligently the past three years not only to earn the respect of the fans but to prove to his critics that he is more than a capable coach.

To win the domestic double for three seasons in a row is an achievement we might not witness again in our life-time. It is truly the stuff of legends. Allegri’s legend continues to grow and if Juve do complete the treble in Cardiff, then it would be difficult not to consider him as the world’s best coach at the moment while solidifying his status as one of Juve’s best coaches in history.

While many stress on his willingness to change and his tactical flexibility, as highlighted by the change in formation following the league defeat to Fiorentina, Allegri’s greatest attributes are too many to recount. For one, he stepped in to replace Antonio Conte, an act in itself deemed to be foolish as in hindsight it would have been impossible to envision enjoying so much success under Allegri.

It is unlikely that the most optimistic of Juve fans would have expected Allegri’s Juve to win the domestic double for three seasons in a row. Add to that a Champions League final in 2015 and another final to be played in Cardiff, and it becomes even more difficult to express how great Juve has been since Allegri took over.

Pick you Juve stars, including Buffon, Bonucci, Dybala and others when you play www.fantasy-champions-league.com

Will Juve fulfill Buffon’s dream by winning the Champions League? All eyes will be on Cardiff on June 3rd…

 

Was Coppa Italia showing a false dawn for Milan?

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Saturday’s Coppa Italia Final ended as a tale of what might have been for Milan. Even Massimiliano Allegri had to admit his Juventus side had to battle back to eventually get the better of the Rossoneri.

Needing a win to ensure they returned to Europe – ‘where they belong’, deemed club officials – it was a hungrier Milan from the offset. Coach Cristian Brocchi and his team knew what was at stake.

Five-time winners of the Coppa Italia, but without a trophy since 2011, Milan played well but could not puncture a miserly Juventus rearguard. A game of few genuine chances, Carlos Bacca came close with an overhead kick in extra time. Otherwise, it was the one area Milan were lacking in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.

It left the Rossoneri conflicted. The result hurt, but the performance was promising. “I saw the right attitude, I saw something of mine in the team and their performance, but am also so disappointed by the result,” Brocchi said afterwards.

Captain Riccardo Montolivo stated if Milan had played like that during the season then they would have finished higher than seventh. Meanwhile, President Silvio Berlusconi – critical of the team under both Sinisa Mihajlovic and Brocchi – praised them. “Milan played a very good game. I complimented the players and told them it was the best I’ve seen them play in the last two years.”

Brocchi’s future is said to hang in the balance of the pending Chinese sale. The new owners would like to install Sevilla’s Unai Emery. Berlusconi, who bit the bullet on Brocchi, would like to remain as President and therefore make vital club decisions, like keeping the former midfielder in the job.

Perhaps Milan have seen something in the Coppa showing. But was it a false dawn? Yes, it was a more positive Rossoneri. Yet it’s also the same side which took just two points in three consecutive weeks from Carpi, Verona and Frosinone – all three relegated sides. It’s also the team which went down without a whimper in the final round against Roma when European qualification was on the line.

The potential new investors don’t see a future with Brocchi. They have a point. It looks the same type of appointment as Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi. They did not end well. The club hierarchy wanted a return to Europe this term and Mihajlovic, for all his faults, was on course for sixth. That would have been enough.

It was a good showing on Saturday, but can it make up for weeks of poor outings?

Coppa Italia Final shows why Morata is important for Juventus

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Deadlocked at 0-0 as the first period of extra-time drew to a close, Saturday’s Coppa Italia Final appeared destined for a penalty shootout. Milan had played well, but lacked the cutting thrust to penetrate the Juventus defence. The Bianconeri had been below their best as they chased back-to-back domestic doubles.

Massimiliano Allegri later told reporters: “In extra time I had two choices, taking it to penalties or try to break the game open. I tried to break it open and fortunately it went well!”

His weapon was Alvaro Morata. The Spaniard came off the bench in the 108th minute. He opened the scoring just two minutes later. Left free at the back post he turned Juan Cuadrado’s cross past Gianluigi Donnarumma, with virtually his first touch.

Juventus celebrated under the Curva Nord with their supporters, then the realisation hit. Was this Morata’s last goal in a Bianconeri shirt? If so it was the perfect farewell, as Juve would lift the Coppa Italia for the 11th time.

Real Madrid have a buyback option on the Spanish international and it is thought they will seek to exercise it and then on-sell Morata. Chelsea and Arsenal are believed to be interested.

But Allegri told Rai on Monday that Morata must stay in Turin. “He’s a young guy and needs to stay at Juve for a few years, he needs to grow. But I have very strong options in attack.”

With Zinedine Zidane’s team involved in this weekend’s Champions League Final, Juventus director general Giuseppe Marotta has stated nothing will be decided beforehand. It may require Juve stumping up further cash to satisfy Real. For his part, Morata refused on Saturday to comment on his future.

He has been pivotal for Juventus in his two seasons, especially in the Champions League. Last term he scored against Borussia Dortmund, in both legs against Real and in the Final with Barcelona. This season he scored at Manchester City and very nearly helped Juve past Bayern Munich in a superb display.

Saturday’s final also showed what Morata offers in these one-off clashes. He scored less this term than last – 15 to 12 – but is a dangerous figure. Morata gives Allegri another dimension. That’s why he was introduced as the final substitute ahead of Simone Zaza. And at only 23, the striker still has plenty of room to improve.

Morata has saved some of his best and most important performances for Europe. For a Juventus side hoping to end a 20-year drought in the competition, hanging on to him is vital.

Preview of Europe’s Top Domestic Cup Competition Finals

Due to be played today are the finals of many of Europe’s domestic cup competitions.

In Germany & Italy, Bayern Munich & Juventus respectively, are each aiming to secure domestic doubles. PSG have the opportunity to clinch a second successive French domestic treble, whilst Manchester United aim to win their first piece of silverware under Louis Van Gaal.

All of the five finals have the potential to be highly entertaining, closely contested affairs, although there is a favourite in each, as identified in the following previews.

Coupe de France – PSG v Marseille – Zlatan Ibrahimovic is set to play his final game for PSG as the Parisian side will aim to clinch a second successive domestic treble when they face Marseille in the Coupe de France final. The Swede – who is PSG’s record goal scorer – has already scored three times against Marseille in the league this season, to help his side to a pair of 2-1 victories over their final opponents, who overcame Sochaux in the semi-finals, whilst PSG beat Lorient. Although Marseille are the leading all time winners of the Coupe de France with ten titles, victory for PSG would match that haul and win the trophy for a second year running, after Edison Cavani scored the only goal of last year’s final as Laurent Blanc’s side defeated Auxerre 1-0.

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As vital to PSG’s prospects for victory as Ibrahimovic is, equally important to Marseille’s chances of recording a surprise win is their in-demand Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi.

DFB Pokal – Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund – At the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich meet Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Pokal final, as Pep Guardiola aims to end his reign as manager of the Bavarian giants with a win to secure a league and cup double. Ironically Dortmund achieved just that in 2012, when managed by Jurgen Klopp, as they beat Bayern 5-2 in that year’s final. The fierce rivals also contested the 2014 with Bayern lifting the cup virtue of winning 2-0 after extra time.

Whilst Bayern reached the final courtesy of a semi-final win over Werder Bremen, Dortmund did so by sweeping aside Wolfsburg.

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Just as the final marks the end of Guardiola’s Bayern career, it will be the last time Matt Hummels plays a competitive game for Dortmund as the German international’s transfer to Munich has already been confirmed. Nevertheless Hummels is determined to help Dortmund overcome his future employers. “I will give it everything I’ve got to go home with the cup.”

In switching to Bayern, Hummels is set to follow the path taken by former Dortmund teammates Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze, the latter of whom will not feature for Guardiola’s team, due to being sidelined with a rib injury.

Coppa Italia – Juventus v AC Milan – At the Stadio Olympico in Rome, Juventus will aim to become the first side to complete an Italian domestic double for two consecutive years when they face AC Milan in the Coppa Italia final. The Turin giants, managed by former Milan manager Max Allegri, have won Serie A for the fifth year in a row and now turn their attention to winning a second successive Coppa Italia after beating Lazio 2-1 in last year’s final.

In contrast to Juve enjoying great domestic success over the past five years, Milan have stuttered and failed to win a single trophy during the same stretch. Should Christian Brocchi’s side manage to end that barren spell and win a first piece silverware since 2011, that would help to avenge a disappointing 7th place finish in Serie A, whilst securing direct qualification to European competition for next season.

The team that Brocchi fields to try to achieve that may be without first choice full backs, Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonelli, as there is a doubt over the fitness of both players.

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Allegri similarly has team selection worries with which to contend. Sami Khedira, Martin Caceres & Claudio Marchisio are out injured, whilst Leonardo Bonucci is suspended.

The stage is set for an intriguing encounter between Italy’s two most successful sides, as Juve seek to add to a haul of 60 trophies, whilst Milan will try to add to their 33 domestic titles.

FA Cup Final – Manchester United v Crystal Palace – To be played at Wembley between Manchester United and Crystal Palace, is the final of the oldest football association cup.

Manchester United last won the competition in 2004, whilst their final opponents have never lifted the trophy.

The game is a repeat of the 1990 final, which went to a replay. After a 3-3 draw, United overcame Palace 1-0.

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Louis Van Gaal is aiming to lead United to their first piece of silverware since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, which would help to offset the disappointment of the club failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Meanwhile under the guidance of Alan Pardew, Palace comfortably retained their Premier League status by finishing in 15th place and reached the final after beating Watford 2-1 in the Semi-Final, whilst United overcame Everton by the same score line after extra time.

Former Manchester United winger Wilfried Zaha is set to return for Palace after a three game absence due to injury, with United welcoming back Matteo Darmian, Morgan Schneiderlin, Marcos Rojo and Marouane Fellaini. The giant Belgian scored in United’s semi-final win and should he play, is likely to engage in a fierce battle with his Palace counterpart Miles Jedinak.

Just as the goals of Connor Wickham are vital to Palace, so too are those of Marcus Rashford for United, with each player set to spearhead the attack’s of their respective team’s.

Juve chase history as Milan seek to salvage their season

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The contrast between the two Coppa Italia finalists is stark. On the one hand is Juventus, the club which has dominated Italian football for the past five seasons. Victory in Saturday’s Final will be the culmination of another successful campaign, another reminder they rule the Serie A roost.

Then there’s Milan. Beset by issues on the field, the bench and the boardroom, it has been another season to forget for the Rossoneri. But should they down the Turin club in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico it can add a ray of sunshine to an otherwise gloomy 2015-16.

It’s the fourth time Italy’s most successful clubs are appearing in the Final. Twice, the trophy has gone back to Turin, most recently in 1989-90. Juventus are the reigning Coppa champions after downing Lazio in last season’s Final. Form suggests the trophy will head back on the plane with them.

Serie A winners by nine points, the Bianconeri did have a blip at Verona a fortnight ago, but it was their only defeat in the final 28 matches of the season. They recovered in emphatic style, thumping five past Sampdoria on the weekend. They are red-hot and on course for what would be a historic first ever double double.

But in a one-off encounter on neutral turf, will form be the determining factor? Milan hope not. The final day defeat at home to Roma condemned the Rossoneri to seventh spot. They must win to qualify for Europe. That’s the equation for Cristian Brocchi’s team.

A loss hands the final Europa League position to sixth-placed Sassuolo. It would also sentence Milan to a fourth-consecutive trophyless season. Brocchi was reportedly furious with their performance against Roma. He said in midweek his aim is to restore the ‘Milanista mentality’. That mentality includes lifting trophies, so to get one over Juventus can be a boost for next season. The players know how important victory is, even if it will be tough to stop the Bianconeri juggernaut.

Brocchi could have M’Baye Niang available for selection, the striker missing the last three months through injury. However, defenders Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonelli are set to miss out. Juve will certainly be without the suspended Leonardo Bonucci. But they still have a lot of depth and have won the last eight meetings between the sides.

Chasing history, Juventus are favourites to win their 11th Coppa Italia. But Milan know a lot is resting on Saturday’s clash. They cannot let this chance slip.

Amazing Sassuolo season could yet see fine reward

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Juventus know they will have the support of one particular club in this weekend’s Coppa Italia Final. The fate of the final Europa League position will be decided this Saturday when the Bianconeri face Milan in Rome. A win for Cristian Brocchi’s side gives them a spot on the continent.

Should Juve triumph, the place will instead go to the team which finished sixth. After defeating Inter last weekend that position went to Sassuolo. European qualification would be the high point for Eusebio Di Francesco’s team, in what is only their third season in the top flight.

Three wins in six unbeaten matches opened the season. Sassuolo sat as high as third, but after a first loss would fall to eighth. It was as low a position as the Neroverdi would occupy over 38 weeks. Di Francesco’s team was also only one of five to condemn Juventus to a defeat.

Sassuolo did struggle to a seven-match winless spell in January and February, but managed to remain in European contention throughout. They confirmed sixth with four successive victories to end the campaign. Sassuolo have done their part, now need a favour from Juventus.

It’s a case of mixed emotions for President Giorgio Squinzi. He has never shied from his Milan fandom, but is hoping to best the Rossoneri on this occasion. “It’d be the icing on the cake. I feel bad for [Silvio] Berlusconi, but it would be the right result. We deserve the Europa League for an incredible year.”

Di Francesco is also eyeing a ‘deserved’ opportunity. “I’d be a hypocrite if I said I wasn’t cheering on Juventus,” the coach said.

Europe or not, he and the players deserve praise for their campaign. It started with the sale of star striker Simone Zaza to the Turin giants. While he departed, Domenico Berardi remained. It put a hole in the team, but Di Francesco is one of Italian football’s brightest upcoming tacticians.

His dynamic 4-3-3 was built on a solid defence – Serie A’s fourth best – which included Paolo Cannavaro and Francesco Acerbi. Captain Francesco Magnanelli set the tempo in midfield, while Gregoire Defrel replaced Zaza. Rather than rely on one or two for goals – last season Berardi struck 15 and Zaza 11 – Sassuolo’s highest scorers this term had seven apiece. They were Defrel, Berardi and Nicola Sansone.

Europe is now out of their hands, but Sassuolo should be proud of what they achieved this season.