Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round Five

Atalanta: Matteo Pessina returned in Champions League from a late-season patellar dislocation. Ruslan Malinovskyi had an old scar in his adductor flare up and missed the previous game, but he is set to be available SaturdayCristiano Piccini (knee) could return sooner rather than later, while Pierluigi Gollini (knee) is at least two weeks away.

Benevento: Nicolas Viola has resumed practicing after his meniscus surgery and made the squad list. Gabriele Moncini and Federico Barba are out again to muscular problems and are joined in that regard by Iago Falque.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round One


Fiorentina: despite not changing all that much, the Viola have brought in some new interesting pieces during the transfer market window, such as Sofyan Amrabat, who is suspended in this one, Giacomo Bonaventura and Cristiano Biraghi, who seems poised to stay after a solid season at Inter. However, their coach and attack are the same, which means we can expect something akin to what happened in the restart, where Franck Ribery and Gaetano Castrovilli served as the main playmakers, Federico Chiesa was the most consistent scorer, while Christian Kouame, Dusan Vlahovic and Patrick Cutrone, all capable but otherworldly strikers, fight for one spot. The ex-Genoa forward seems to have separated himself from the pack a little during the summer. Bonaventura is supremely sneaky.

Suggested picks: Chiesa, Ribery, Kouame. Continue reading

Paulo Dybala is Juve’s MVP

It caused quite a stir this week when Juventus’ Paulo Dybala was named as Serie A’s MVP for the 2019/20 season. Many argued that Papu Gomez, pivotal to Atalanta’s on going fairy-tale story, should’ve been the correct recipient of the award for another brilliant season in which he provided 16 assists in 36 league games for La Dea.

Of course a large contingent of Cristiano Ronaldo fans flooded social media bemoaning the league’s decision to hand the award to his Juve teammate and not to the Portuguese striker, pointing out how his 31 goals in Serie A effectively sealed the club’s latest title in their streak of unbroken dominance.

Whilst there is an element of truth to those claims, there can be little argument that in a season of uncertainty for new coach Maurizio Sarri, Dybala has unquestionably been the one constant throughout. The Argentine was Juve’s MVP this season, which makes it all the more startling considering how Dybala started it.

The club made little attempt to disguise the fact that they intended to sell Dybala last summer. Juve shopped him around the biggest clubs in Europe, hoping to balance the books and layoff some of the expenditure involved in the Ronaldo deal from the prior summer. A transfer to the Premier League seemed closest, with Manchester United and Tottenham interested. Rumours circulated that Juve were demanding in the region of €70-80m.

However Dybala put the brakes on any potential move. Despite Juve’s apparent desire to offload him, he was happy in Turin, and refused any offer that was forthcoming. “I have not experienced an easy summer,” he told Tuttosport last August. “Obviously hearing your name with every team you don’t want to go to is not a nice thing, but this is football. But I wanted to stay here, I wanted to continue my career at Juventus.”

Despite hoping Dybala would stay, Sarri struggled to implement the 26-year-old into his starting XI in the earliest parts of the season. He was left unused in two of the opening three league games of the season, and got a mere 14 minutes in the encounter against Napoli. It seemed like in Sarri’s 4-3-3 system, there was no room at the inn.

However Dybala became the beneficiary of Douglas Costa’s fragile limbs, and was slowly integrated back into the starting XI in the aftermath of the Brazilian’s injury against Fiorentina. A first goal of the season arrived in the Derby d’Italia in early October – a scorcher that gave Samir Handanovic little chance – and Dybala never looked back.

With Sarri attempting to overhaul Juve’s style of play from his more pragmatic predecessors Antonio Conte and Max Allegri, their performances were often stodgy, lacking in rhythm and dynamism. Games were often won through moments of individual brilliance from Dybala or Ronaldo. A case in point was the game against Milan in mid-November, when Dybala made a mockery of Alessio Romagnoli on the edge of the penalty box before sliding the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma to seal a 1-0 victory over the Rossoneri.

As is always the case against the perpetual champions in Serie A, teams would entrench themselves in their own half of the field and invite untold pressure. With Ronaldo usually operating on the left hand side or on the periphery of the opposition’s box and often double-marked, Dybala would therefore float between the right and central positions, searching for minute pockets of space to manoeuvre in. Like all great Argentine No.10s, his low centre of gravity made all the difference when faced with a wall of opposing defenders.

Dybala was the biggest casualty of Ronaldo’s arrival in Turin, in 2018/19 he posted his worst stats since arriving at the club: 10 goals and two assists from 42 games in all competitions represented a personal nadir. Allegri struggled to accommodate Dybala and Ronaldo in the same starting XI, and there is a belief that relations were so poor between Allegri and Dybala towards the end of last season that had the former stayed at the club, the latter might’ve moved on.

This season however, Dybala has personally contributed to 31 of Juve’s goals in all competitions, and such has been his elevation in importance to the side that the club is sweating on his physical status ahead of tonight’s crucial Champions League Round of 16 second leg against Lyon.

“I love his way of playing,” new signing Dejan Kulusevski told Tuttosport in a recent interview. “He invents magic that is usually only seen on the PlayStation.”

As the club aim to end their prolonged agony of winning the Champions League for the first time since 1996, Sarri will hope that Serie A’s newly-crowned MVP still has more magic tucked up his sleeve.

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Juventus Top Perfomers – Coppa Italia vs Roma

Juventus punched their ticket to the Coppa Italia semi-finals courtesy of the prairies left by Roma in the first half and will face the winner of the Milan-Torino contest.

Leonardo Bonucci: one player in each role made it to stat-sheet so compiling the list is not exactly rocket science. The captain quite miraculously avoided the offside trap on the second ball after a set piece to notch yet another goal in what is becoming a prolific season for a defender. It was instead Daniele Rugani who stood out for his work in the back with a pair of timely reads, general precision and also a little more physicality than usual. Gianluigi Buffon was unlucky on the goal but avoided troubles with a great coming out on an unguarded Alessandro Florenzi in a one-on-one situation deep into the second half, preventing a major turn of the worst. The one-handed save in the final minutes was even prettier but not as significant. Danilo got hurt pretty early, while Alex Sandro turned his usual solid but unspectacular shift it. Continue reading

Who has more at stake in return leg against Atletico Madrid?



Their insurmountable lead in Serie A and surprising elimination in the Coppa Italia, makes Juventus’ upcoming match against Atletico Madrid even more important than their previous return legs in the Champions League during recent seasons. On Tuesday night the bianconeri will look to come back from a 2-0 deficit for the first time in their history against an opponent who loves nothing more than defending a lead. 

While the challenge is massive, so were the expectations going into this season. But who has more at stake when Juventus take to the pitch at Allianz Stadium?

 Juventus Press Conference


Massimiliano Allegri 

While the Tuscan manager is used to being criticized for his defensive and bare minimum approach, this season he has turned into a human piñata, especially on social media. Certainly Allegri deserves a lot of credit for raising the bar at the club in Europe (he often likes to remind the media and fans that Juventus was struggling against Swedish and Danish clubs prior to his arrival) and you can make a case he’s a victim of his own success, but in the match at the Wanda stadium there’s no doubt he got outcoached and it’s fair to say he hasn’t been able to get the most out of his remarkable impressive offensive weapons through out the season- he especially hasn’t been able to make Dybala fit in with Ronaldo.

But while Allegri’s popularity with Juventus has plummeted like Tesla’s stock after Elon Musk appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast, he’s held in very high regard from non Serie A fans and is certainly a very marketable name should he need to find a new job in the summer. Allegri has proven that he could take Juventus from B to C after Antonio Conte had gotten them back on track, he has shown he can handle star players (and even discipline them when necessary in an effective way if you look at Bonucci’s desire to return to the club) and his management of the media is second to none in Italy- a very important skill at top clubs anywhere.

Should Juventus be eliminated on Tuesday, Allegri will certainly receive a lot of blame in the short term but to those outside of the Juve bubble, the story line will be that he’s a great manager who just happened to lose to Atletico, a team with an excellent track record in Europe and a top coach.







Cristiano Ronaldo


I know what many of you are thinking- how can CR7 have anything at stake on Tuesday considering that he’s already won 5 Champions League and that Real Madrid have struggled since his departure? But in his case, a premature elimination in Europe’s biggest competition would mainly be a massive squandered opportunity.

While bringing in Ronaldo has already had substantial benefits to Juventus’ brand globally, on the pitch he was brought in to elevate the team in the Champions League- a competition where he has arguably been the best player ever. Winning one at Juventus, a club that is mainly known for the finals they lost and a general vibe of disappointment, would certainly elevate the way Ronaldo is perceived historically and in his endless debate with Leo Messi- it would be somewhat similar to what winning a title in Cleveland did for Lebron James despite the fact he had already won in Miami.

Now Ronaldo will have other opportunities to win a Champions League at Juventus since he signed a multi year deal, but it’s also hard to see an easier path to the cup than this current edition since Real Madrid and PSG are already out and one between Liverpool and Bayern Munich won’t make it to the next round. Age is also a huge factor, while Ronaldo is in great shape he’s also 34, a decline in the later years of his contract is almost inevitable and nothing would help his legacy more than winning a Champions League at Juventus as their best player.

Ronaldo certainly has a devoted fan base that transcends clubs, but after the loss to Atletico there’s already a contingent of Juventus supporters who are now wondering if acquiring Ronaldo was worth it in the first place- especially should it also result with sacrificing Dybala in the summer.






In this case I’m referring to the senior management team of Andrea Agnelli, Fabio Paratici, Pavel Nedved and the club’s image. As previously mentioned, acquiring Ronaldo brought some big benefits off the pitch (marketing, financial and a strong relationship with an influential agent like Jorge Mendes) but it also made winning ten scudetti in a row, which can be achieved at the end of next season, almost an after thought for their supporters.

Juventus took the “if you can’t beat him, just acquire him” approach and brought in Ronaldo to finally get over the hump in the Champions League. In doing so they made a massive investment in a player about to enter his mid 30s and substantially increased their wage structure. An early elimination in the Champions League would also take away a very substantial revenue stream which benefitted them substantially the two times they made the finals. In addition adding Ronaldo also overshadowed the fact the management team didn’t do enough to improve the midfield, an elimination would bring that in spotlight front and center.

While Juventus’ management has historically always publicly stated that domestic success is the priority and the Champions League is a crap shot, that changed at the beginning of the season. You can point to the fact that facing Atletico Madrid in the round of sixteen after winning their group stage is further proof that you need some luck in the Champions League, but that will not be enough even when Juventus wins their ninth scudetto in a row.

Real Madrid still haven’t stepped out from under Ronaldo’s shadow

There was a sense of confusion, bafflement, around the Santiago Bernabeu as the full time whistle blew on Real Madrid’s 3-0 home defeat to Barcelona, on their 2018/19 Copa del Rey campaign, on Wednesday night. The home supporters had seen their team ragdoll their fiercest rivals for the majority of the 90 minutes, yet it was they who ended up on the wrong end of the emphatic scoreline.

Indeed, the statistics at full time made for bemusing reading. Real Madrid managed 14 shots on goal compared to Barcelona’s four. What’s more, many of those efforts from Real Madrid were high quality chances. Vinicius Junior in particular was presented with a number of opportunities to find the net.

Cristiano Ronaldo

When it mattered most, Real Madrid lacked cutting edge. They had been in good form coming into the Copa del Rey semi final. Their first leg draw at Camp Nou set them up nicely to make the final of a competition they haven’t won in five years. And yet Barcelona showed them up when the pressure was on.

This is where Cristiano Ronaldo was so important for Real Madrid in years gone by. The kind of performance turned in by Los Meringues on Wednesday night wasn’t especially unusual, it’s just that previously they had Ronaldo to drag them through, to get them over the line.

Nine months after his departure to Juventus, Real Madrid still haven’t stepped out from under the shadow of their former Portuguese forward. A few weeks ago, it seemed that Karim Benzema was filling the void, scoring six goals in a run of five games, but that streak has since come to a halt.

Vinicius has widely been labelled the Ronaldo replacement at the Santiago Bernabeu, and with good reason. The emergence of the Brazilian teenager was a turning point in Real Madrid’s season. He has given them a forward thrust that they had been previously lacking. Many of their attacking moves flow through him.

However, Vinicius is still a teenager and there’s only so much he can do on his own. The majority of the opportunities he spurned on Wednesday night were of his own making. Relying on him to create and score is not a sustainable plan for Real Madrid in the post-Ronaldo age. The defeat to Barcelona exposed the problems that they are still facing.

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Allegri Opting For Caution Against Atletico Madrid

Juventus Training Session

With their crucial Round of 16 clash approaching, it appears Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri will go for pragmatism when the bianconeri take on Atletico Madrid on Wednesday. Rather than sticking with his three-pronged attack, the former Milan tactician has reportedly been tinkering with Joao Cancelo at right midfield and Mattia De Sciglio at right back in a 4-4-2 – leaving Paulo Dybala on the bench in the process.

Allegri has opted for caution in the past, and has often used this defensive 4-4-2 in away clashes in the Champions League. With Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira occupying the two central midfield positions, Blaise Matuidi typically shifts wide on the left, blocking the opposition’s right flank.

Up top, the tactician is reportedly going to field Mario Mandzukic alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. While a 4-4-2 would essentially mirror Atletico’s formation and would go a long way in nullifying their offensive firepower, this setup has backfired for Allegri in the past before. Against Real Madrid in the Champions League final, the Italian manager went for a similar formation, with Dani Alves occupying the right wing.

His pragmatism worked initially against the Spanish giants, however, as soon as Zinedine Zidane made some tactical tweaks at half-time, his 4-4-2 and by consequence, Juventus’ European dream, soon fell apart. The bianconeri found themselves consistently on the back foot, and had nothing to show for in the final third.

On Wednesday, Allegri cannot afford a similar performance and must find a way to achieve defensive solidity without sitting too deep and playing too safe. An away goal at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium could go a long way in this tight affair and might prove to be the difference over two legs.  While having players like Paulo Dybala, Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi come off the bench against tired legs could sway the tie, one of them needs to start against Los Colchoneros. 

Considering Mandzukic’s flexibility and ability to play on the left both in the offensive and defensive phases, Allegri should field Dybala alongside Ronaldo. The Argentine has played his best football when deployed in a partnership and has recently developed a blossoming relationship with the Portuguese superstar. Coming off an impressive performance and a thunderbolt of a goal against Frosinone, now would be a good time to provide La Joya continuity. Against a defensively staunch Atletico Madrid side, Juventus will need all the creativity they can get to break their deep block.

With Ronaldo attracting much of the centre-backs’ attention, Dybala will have the license to roam between the lines and could carve out space for himself – either to fire strikes or find a teammate in space. As Ronaldo and Dybala wreck havoc centrally, Mandzukic will have ample opportunities to let his presence be known in the eighteen-yard box going up against Santiago Arias.

As it stands now, Allegri’s reported setup will stifle his side in the final third and will inevitably isolate Ronaldo and Mandzukic – forcing Juve to go wide to Cancelo. Considering Godin’s aerial presence and Jan Oblak’s command of his box, filtering in crosses from the wing – a common Allegri tactic – will fail miserably. With the clash approaching, time will tell if Allegri’s caution will be repaid or whether another European disaster is on the horizon for Juventus.

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Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 14


Standings implications: Juventus continue to roll and toppled Fiorentina, but Napoli outlasted Atalanta away. Roma showed great character against and the big match of the round ended in a 2-2 draw. Milan put together a gritty comeback against Parma: a valuable result that allowed them to leapfrog Lazio, which got halted by Chievo. Sampdoria finally got a win trouncing Bologna, which are officially in trouble. SPAL and Empoli shared the spoils in a very well played game, similarly to Frosinone and Cagliari. Torino downed Genoa with two quick goals at the end of the first half, while Sassuolo-Udinese was scoreless. Continue reading

Looking back to how Cristiano Ronaldo emerged as a centre-forward at Real Madrid


On the 4th January of 2016, a new era began at the Santiago Bernabeu, where Zinedine Zidane was announced as the new manager of Real Madrid on a two-and-a-half-year deal. The departure of Rafa Benitez was simply inevitable, as his short and unconvincing time at the club had to come to an end.

At the time of the announcement, there were a lot of mixed thoughts on the decision made by Los Blancos, with the majority being filled with excitement as the Frenchman aimed to extend his legacy at the club by bringing in success as a manager. However, the rest of the footballing world felt the appointment was a huge risk, with Zidane lacking managerial experience and tactical knowledge.

During his time as the coach of Real Madrid, Zidane went on to one La Liga title, three Champions League trophies and one Spanish Super Cup as well as a number of individual awards. The European dominance along with winning the club’s 33rd league title in 2017 would not have been possible had the coach kept Cristiano Ronaldo on the left flank instead of moving him up top as a lone forward.

Focusing more on Ronaldo, he first started to acknowledge this new role under Benitez, when Karim Benzema was suffering from a few injury issues. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner faced a number of problems whilst playing in this position, with the main one being the side was not built around him, and Benitez’s defensive style of play did not work well with Real Madrid’s free-flowing system.

On the other hand, once Zidane was introduced into the managerial picture, Ronaldo became the perfect number nine in Europe due to his movement on and off the ball and his pure instincts. The best example to show that he adjusted to a new approach and style is the 3-0 victory over rivals Atletico Madrid in November 2016, when his hat-trick summed up his growth as a centre forward.

The 4-4-2 diamond formation got the best out of both strikers in Benzema and Ronaldo, with the former playing as the deep-lying forward who would combine with the midfielders, whilst the latter would remain in the final third of the pitch and come up with the goods for when his side needed him the most. Overall, the improvements became evident as the trophies started to come in.

Ronaldo’s transition from being a dazzling winger to a dominant and ruthless forward became much easier, when Portugal coach Fernando Santos started playing him up front alongside either Ricardo Quaresma or Luis Nani. Playing in the same role as well as a similar formation at both club and international level has allowed the Madeira-born star to adapt and thrive within this new change.

It’s definitely not easy to pick out an international game that proved Portugal were on top of their game and the opposition. Though, the most recent and memorable competitive fixture that comes to mind is the World Cup match between Portugal and Spain, where Ronaldo’s incredible hat-trick allowed his team to pick up a vital point early in the tournament as they went past the group stages.

Throughout the closely-watched game, Portugal were defensively sound and composed to a certain level whilst Ronaldo’s influence on the pitch gave Santos’ men some hope that they would get something out of this match. In the end, the test of patience pulled through as Portugal earned themselves an invaluable point and Ronaldo went on to steal the headlines for the next few days.

Overall, it is fair to say that two to three managers have helped Ronaldo to become the centre-forward he is today. Although he is playing as a left-winger for Juventus at this moment of time, the Italian side will be relying on his individual brilliance in strike as the Serie A and Champions League campaign goes on, especially given that they are aiming to complete the treble this season.