Are Rugani & Diawara running out of chances to live up to their reputations?

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Hope springs eternal is what I often think about of when I see an exciting new prospect starting to establish himself in Serie A. It’s human nature to always look with excitement to the next great thing, we can easily project different attributes on the blank canvas of a player who has a small sample size of games under his belt.

Just think of how recently Nicolo’ Zaniolo has been anointed as the new Totti, or how many new Maldinis and Buffons we have crowned in recent years. But the reality is that for every Gigio Donnarumma, there are countless examples of Hachim Mastour type prospects who simply fizzle after receiving a lot of hype at the start of their careers- as Jay Z rapped on “Takeover” some players “had a spark when they started, but now you’re just garbage”.

Before we go any further, let me be clear- I don’t think Daniele Rugani and Amadou Diawara are garbage players by any means, but it’s certainly possible that because of the very distinguished starts to their careers, the way they are perceived today doesn’t fully mesh with reality. 

Most of the takes on their performances include the phrase “if they got more opportunities, they would be playing better”- but is this reality or are they not getting more opportunities because they aren’t performing well? Interestingly there are many parallels between the two.

Let’s start with Rugani, who despite not turning 25 until next summer is already playing in his fifth Serie A season. The Italian international has been pegged as the building block for Juventus’ defense in the post BBC world since he made the most of his opportunity playing for Maurizio Sarri at Empoli. Rugani’s career trajectory has however taken a turn for the worse, since he’s fallen behind Alessio Romagnoli in the conversation for the next great Italian defender.

The recent story line on Rugani is that he’s getting his best opportunity to establish himself at Juventus now that Mehdi Benatia left in the middle of the season. While the Moroccan international’s departure in it of itself only made him the first backup, the subsequent injuries to Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini made him the top player at the position at least on a temporary basis.

Needless to say so far Rugani hasn’t made the most of this opportunity since Juventus gave up 6 goals in back to back matches against Atalanta and Parma. Now Rugani defenders have pointed to the fact it’s unfair to judge him in these matches since he was forced to partner with Mattia De Sciglio, who was playing out of position, and Martin Caceres who had just arrived from Lazio- while that is a fair point, it’s also important to remember that not long ago Rugani was pegged as the player to lead Juventus defense and Romagnoli is doing so at a comparable age at a high pressure club like Milan.

In addition, Rugani was already given a juicy opportunity to establish himself as a starter at Juventus when Leonardo Bonucci left for Milan. Rugani was given first crack at being Chiellini’s partner at the start of the 2017/18 season and eventually lost his starting spot to Benatia- a change that brought a massive improvement to Allegri’s defense.

While Rugani is set to sign an extension, which will also help sustain or potentially increase his transfer value, there’s now already talk that Juventus will make at least two significant additions at the center back position next summer with De Ligt, Milenkovic, Manolas and Genoa’s Romero all on Paratici’s list- not exactly an endorsement of Rugani’s future at the club.

 

Just like Rugani, Amadou Diawara has been in our lives for a long time despite being born in 1997. The Guinean midfielder broke out at Bologna, the club that discovered him in Italy’s lower divisions, in 2015- he combined excellent passing abilities with remarkable calmness on the pitch and defensive prowess. After one season under Roberto Donadoni he was sold to Napoli where he started off as Jorginho’s understudy.

Diawara’s development wasn’t helped by Maurizio Sarri’s refusal to rotate frequently, give playing time to prospect and the current Chelsea’s manager devotion to Jorgino- Diawara faced a trifecta of challenges in his efforts to reach the next level in his career. At least the former Bologna midfielder scored his first goal as a professional against Manchester City in the Champions League under Sarri.

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Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival and Jorginho’s departure for Stamford Bridge were supposed to jump start Diawara’s career. The former Milan manager took the opposite approach of his predecessor and used twelve different starting lineups in his first twelve matches at the club, he even went so far as rotating his keepers frequently to show he would give an opportunity to everyone.

But while existing Napoli players like Ounas, Milik and especially Nikola Maksimovic made the most of their new opportunities and new additions like Kevin Malcuit and Fabian Ruiz quickly unseated previous starters, the same cannot be said for Diawara who has yet to put in a vintage performance like he used to give frequently at Bologna.

During the January window, Napoli fielded offers for Diawara but while they were never going to loan him to Milan, no Premier League club came close to meeting De Laurentiis’ valuation of 40 million euro. While the winter window did not provide him a new team, Diawara should have even more opportunities now that Marko Rog was loaned out and Marek Hamsik is on his way to China- it’s now time for him to make the most of it because while hope springs eternal, you can only live off your reputation for so long before someone else becomes the hot prospect.

Squad Overhaul on the Horizon at Juventus

With Juventus conceding six goals in their last two games, question marks have been raised about Massimiliano Allegri and his side’s ability to deliver the Champions League for the first time in 23 years. In just over two weeks time a clash against La Liga giants Atletico Madrid awaits where the stakes could not be higher. A round of sixteen exit would be a disastrous end to an indifferent campaign for the bianconeri; a campaign in which European success was stressed from day one at Villar Perosa. Despite signing Mr. Champions League himself – Cristiano Ronaldo – the Italian champions look no closer to winning Europe’s elite competition than they were last season. In fact, you could argue their chances at winning it all are lower. If Juventus’ recent woes are anything to go by, it means a squad overhaul is on the horizon.

After whimpering out of the Coppa Italia in embarrassing fashion against Atalanta, Juventus hosted newly-promoted Parma. For the first time since March 2012, the bianconeri lined up without one member of their famous ‘BBC’ trio and fielded a hardly inspiring centre-back partnership of Daniele Rugani and latest acquisition Martin Caceres. Since Mehdi Benatia’s departure, reports have surfaced that the Juventus brass would entrust Rugani with a bigger role moving forward, however, it’s safe to say, the defender failed in his first real test.

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Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 22

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Standings implications: Napoli were finally able to cut into Juventus’ lead atop of the standings, since they bludgeoned Sampdoria at home, while the Bianconeri squandered a two-goal lead versus Parma at the Stadium. Roma and Milan tied in a key match-up for the Champions League race and they both got closer to Inter, which dropped the ball at home versus Bologna. However, Atalanta and Lazio both closed the gap with their narrow wins on Monday. SPAL and Torino shared the spoils in what was fittingly the games with most fouls this season, while Empoli and Chievo did the same early on Saturday on a result that does not really help anybody. Ties galore on Sunday, as Genoa-Sassuolo and Udinese-Fiorentina both finished 1-1, slowing down the road teams in their quest for a Europa League berth. Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round 22

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Juventus bizarro run continues as the squad did more than enough to defeat Parma, but somehow conceded three goals despite the limited sorties by the opponents and therefore find themselves down in the dumps again few days after the elimination from Coppa Italia.

Daniele Rugani (2 points): the wacky back-line the coach was forced to field because of the simultaneous injuries to Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci held up for about an hour, then fell apart. The goals came on collective errors rather than individual blunders, the third one in particular, where few players had the opportunity to clear the ball before it got to Gervinho for an easy strike. Rugani and Martin Cacers often did not look on the same page positioning-wise and, even if the Ivorian striker netted a brace, they suffered more Roberto Inglese’s savviness in the box than the speedster’s bursts. Continue reading

Allegri: “We are looking for continuity in our results”

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A pretty spirited Massiliamo Allegri talked to the press early on Saturday and addressed the upcoming arrival of Martin Caceres to replace Medhi Benatia: “He is certainly not a second choice, we strongly wanted him. Benatia asked to leave, he made a different decision than what we wanted and the management decided to let him go. We evaluated few profiles and we are lucky that Caceres accepted. I am glad because he knows the environment and he is reliable and will complete an already strong department. Andrea Barzagli will return in three or four weeks, then we will be all set. Caceres can give us a lot, he is ready and does not have to learn the language. When he left, I said that he was as good as our own. He can easily play as centre-back, I think he is better there at this point of his career. He is also a positive guy and that helps.” Continue reading

Injury updates, Higuain transfer’s formula and Rugani’s agent speaks

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The squad might be pretty short-handed in Rome, as Miralem Pjanic and Joao Cancelo are dealing with calf ailments. Pjanic got hurt in Jeddah and was suspended for the previous match. They both practiced partially in the last couple of days, like Sami Khedira, who got good news from the check-up on his knee as the issue is minor, but he is most likely out for the upcoming fixture.

Giorgio Chiellini brought the eight Supercuppa in the Juventus museum yesterday and commented to the club’s TV: “We are happy for starting off the year in this fashion. Our goal is to keep winning, but in the meantime we are satisfied with this trophy, which we earned.” Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round 20

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A perfect result for Juventus, which easily tamed an opponent that had proven to be feisty recently but never really posed a serious threat on Monday.

Daniele Rugani (9 points): not a very busy night for the defender, who obviously got a big boost from the late goal, where he was left all alone in the six-yard box. It was a very attentive display by the whole back-line, with the contribution by the two midfielders as well, and scoring early helped the squad maintain the balance, since it never needed to attack recklessly. While Giorgio Chiellini and Alex Sandro have generally always been rock-solid thus far, the most positive indications come from Mattia De Sciglio and Mattia Perin, who had some problems in their respective last performances, but were pretty much perfect in this one. Continue reading

Serie A Team of the Week – Round 20

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Serie A returned in full force with a gorgeous weekend of football. Here are the top performers.

Samir Handanovic (7 points): just five clean sheets in this round, by Inter, Sassuolo, Milan, Juventus and Atalanta. The veteran goalie had the best showing, denying two close range attempts by Kevin-Prince Boateng and Jeremie Boga to preserve the tie. Gianluca Donnarumma was not far behind.

Gianluca Mancini (9 points): he has already scored five goals thus far, which is more than most midfielders. He added a new wrinkle on Sunday, as he did not do damage on a set piece, but simply followed an offensive action by his side, then his teammates fed him with a solid cross. Continue reading

Injury updates, Dybala and Sandro speak, Juventus continue fight 2006 Scudetto

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Medhi Benatia was supposed to start against Bologna, but he bowed out after the warm-ups and the club informed it was due to a thigh adductor ailment, whose severity was not fully disclosed but it will keep the defender on the mend for the Supercoppa as well. Daniele Rugani was not even on the bench due to a knock, but he resumed practicing partially yesterday and he and Joao Cancelo are in the squad list for Jeddah. The team has yet to issue an official update on Mario Mandzukic, but he is rumoured to be facing a three-to-four week absence with his thigh injury. Continue reading

Paratici comments on Ramsey, Mbappé and more

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Fabio Paratici is in Dubai for the Globe Soccer Awards and weighed in on few players while speaking to Sky yesterday. He begun by expressing his hopes for the new year: “My first desire is for this season to be equal or better than the last six or seven. Champions League has become our goal, we earned that over the years. After the last four or five editions, we feel like we are ready to take on the challenge with more self-awareness.”

On the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo: “If you have the best in the world on your side, everybody’s confidence rises. But our quality was already very good, we have always been in the upper echelon and performed well in Europe recently. We have had great players in our roster and now we have Cristiano.” Continue reading