Three Takeaways From Sarri’s First Season At Juventus

Maurizio Sarri’s first season with Juventus did not exactly go to plan, with the Bianconeri losing two finals and stumbling to their ninth consecutive Scudetto. After securing the league title against Sampdoria, the Italian champions now have their sights set on overturning a narrow first-leg deficit against Lyon in the Champions League.

With the season officially behind us, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on Sarri’s first year in charge. Here are three takeaways from the season that was:

1) Individual brilliance reigns supreme. 

Much was expected from Sarri in his first season, but the veteran tactician disappointed and was regularly bailed out by individual brilliance in the final third. Beyond some encouraging signs of ‘Sarriball’ at different stages in the season, Juventus often relied on the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala to lead them to the title. Moving forward, Sarri will be hoping the Bianconeri acquire technical players, which will help him further implement his playing philosophy. The additions of Dejan Kulusevski and Arthur will help in this respect, but Juventus arguably need another midfielder.

If Juve’s top brass is hopeful of every seeing Sarriball at the Allianz Arena, they will need to bolster the side and the midfield in particular, starting with this summer.

2) Shaky defense responsible for dropped points. 

Juventus have struggled at the back this season, conceding 38 goals on the season with two games to play. In fact, no Bianconeri side has conceded more over the last ten years, dating back to Luigi Del Neri’s Juventus, who finished 7th place. Their lapses in concentration have cost Sarri’s men crucial points throughout the year, dropping a league-leading 18 points from winning positions.

Sarri has had to make do with middling fullbacks and even converted Juan Cuadrado to right back at the beginning of the season. With Alex Sandro failing to hit his former heights and Danilo struggling when called upon, Juve’s defense was as vulnerable as they have ever been. Matthijs de Ligt and Leonardo Bonucci formed an uncompromising partnership at the heart of defense, but were often let down by their fullbacks. Next season, Sarri will be hoping for a more solid Juve side, otherwise, their domestic dominance may just come to an end.

3) Juventus need to cut their deadwood. 

If one thing was made clear this season, it’s that few teams around the world have more deadwood than Juventus. The Bianconeri have a number of players on inflated wages contributing little to nothing on the pitch. Sami Khedira featured under 1000 minutes on the season, collecting 6 million euros a year. Bosman signings Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot make 14 million euros between them and combined for a mere four goals on the season. Gonzalo Higuain, the side’s third-highest earner, regressed significantly this year, netting seven goals.

Moving forward, this is something Juventus are going to have to address and cut ties with mediocre players on increased wages. Recent reports suggest that the club is pondering a mutual termination of Khedira’s contract while Higuain is weighing a return to Argentina. Beyond them, the Bianconeri’s top brass has important decisions to make in the middle of the park. Ramsey has not looked sharp when called upon while Rabiot has kicked into another gear in recent weeks. Given their high wages, it may be difficult to find a suitor, just one season after acquiring them.

In any case, Paratici will  be a busy man this summer as he will be looking to rejuvenate this Juventus side and decrease their wage will significantly. The former Sampdoria director is off to a strong start so far, but is arguably just getting started.

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Dejan Kulusevski taking Serie A by storm

When Juventus spent nearly 40 million euros on Dejan Kulusevski, many were left scratching their heads in the January transfer window. The Swedish international had only just broken onto the scene at the Ennio Tardini with Parma and was only just starting to make a name for himself. Today, Juve’s move for Kulusevski looks to be the bargain of the summer, with the Parma forward emerging as one of the league’s elite talents.

Kulusevski has been in fine form in recent weeks, netting three goals and one assist in his last three games. The Parma man has come back from the halt in play in phenomenal shape and has since established himself as a true counterattacking force. Kulusevski’s recent goal brought him to 10 strikes on the season, becoming the first foreign player under the age of 21 to reach double figures for goals in a Serie A season since Mauro Icardi and Erik Lamela in 2013.

As a big-money move to Juventus beckons, Kulusevski will be eager to take the next step in his career and offer some much-needed creativity and unpredictability in the final third in Turin. Maurizio Sarri’s first season in charge hasn’t exactly gone to plan with the Bianconeri stumbling to their ninth consecutive title.

Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo have demonstrated signs of a budding partnership since the restart but lack a winger to tie it all together. In many ways, Kulusevski fits the bill. The Parma man is capable of playing anywhere across the front three and will slot in seamless on the right-wing alongside Dybala and Ronaldo. Recent reports suggest Juventus are considering playing Kulusevski as the side’s number ten but that would warrant a formation change.

Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi have both been given opportunities to make the right-wing spot their own, but for whatever reason, have not been able to cement their place in the starting eleven. The latter netted his first goal in Serie A in two years highlighting his inconsistency while the Brazilian is constantly battling injury problems. In this sense, the right-wing spot is there for the taking next season.

Kulusevski regularly looks to take on his man and is unafraid to drive at the opposition’s defense in possession. While Roberto D’Aversa’s counter-attacking football suits his pace, it will be interesting to see the Swede in Juve’s measured buildup play. The 20-year-old starts from a wide area but often drifts centrally to collect possession. Few players in Italy possess a better final ball than Kulusevski, with the winger trailing only Luis Alberto, Papu Gomez and Lorenzo Pellegrini for most assists this season.

Next season, Kulusevski will need to adjust quickly to life in Turin and will be hoping to form a deadly partnership with Dybala and Ronaldo. The Swedish international is at his best combining in tight spaces and fits Sarri’s playing philosophy. Sarriball may not have taken off this season, but the addition of Kulusevski will definitely help in that respect.

As the season draws to a close, Juventus will be monitoring Kulusevski’s progress closely and will be hoping to integrate him into their starting eleven upon his arrival. Whether he can translate his impressive form with Parma to a big club remains to be seen, but at the moment, Kulusevski is on the right path to stardom.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 37

PARMA-ATALANTA

Parma: Dejan Kulusevski willed them to victory, again, versus the lowly Brescia with an assist and a scorcher and he is finishing his stay in style, while Gervinho has been pretty paltry in recent matches, scoring just once in the last seven. Gianluca Caprari took advantage of his increased minutes and converted a PK, while among the other back-ups Luca Siligardi has been the liveliest. Roberto Inglese is tough to trust since his minutes are still spotty. Juraj Kucka returned from a short absence and he and Jasmin Kurtic are surely capable of doing damage offensively. Matteo Darmian is coming off his first goal of the season and also Riccardo Gagliolo notched one lately but their fullbacks will have their hands full defensively in this one.

Suggested picks: Kulusevski, Kucka, Caprari. Continue reading

Serie A Best Fantasy XI – Round 36

Wojciech Szczesny (7 points): the amount of goalie that blanked the opponents was again numbered and out of the four that managed, the Juventus one had the busiest performance as Sampdoria put up a fight to try to spoil the Bianconeri’s title celebration, but he rejected them with timely saves.

Elseid Hysaj (9 points): an uncharacteristically sparkling performance for the defensive-minded Napoli full-back, who broke the deadlock against Sassuolo with a nifty strike from outside the box for his first ever Serie A goal and sprinted down the left flank to wreak havoc multiple times. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 36 – Early Games

MILAN-ATALANTA

Milan: the Rossoneri came out on top again versus Sassuolo, exploiting the one-man advantage like the veteran team they are. Zlatan Ibrahimovic netted a brace to snap out of a short slump and Hakan Calhanoglu continued to do his thing with two more assists. The Turk has been raining hellfire for a while now, while Ante Rebic’s scoring binge has abated a little bit, but he obviously remains a strong option. They will not have two key men in Ismael Bennacer and Theo Hernandez and their replacements are not on the fantasy radar. Alexis Saelemaekers and Franck Kessie also found the target recently, but in easier match-ups. Giacomo Bonaventura has picked up few bonuses but he is a risky play because of his sporadic minutes.

Suggested picks: Calhanoglu, Ibrahimovic, Rebic. Continue reading

Serie A Best Fantasy XI – Round 35

Pietro Terracciano (7 points): he got the nod in the previous round due to a process of elimination, instead he fully deserved against Inter, stopping the opponents multiple times with great saves and a little help coming from the woodwork and putting together a man-of-the-man performance.

Bruno Peres (8 points): not one but two goals for the Brazilian fullback, who is loving life in a very offensive role in Roma’s newly-hatched scheme and punished SPAL on two occasions with deep cuts in the box and sharp finishes. He is looking like his old Torino self. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 35

ATALANTA-BOLOGNA

Atalanta: they were stymied a bit by their mini clones of Verona, but Duvan Zapata still came through, scoring for the third game in a row, and they had few chances to win it especially with Mario Pasalic, who was coming off a hat-trick. Ruslan Malinovskyi was not as effective in the Josip Ilicic’s role, while he had shined as pure no.10, in lieu of Alejandro Gomez, and that is something to monitor because El Papu does not rest often, while Ilicic is in poor conditions and will be managed cautiously. Luis Muriel might be a better candidate for that spot, while Pasalic is always very involved offensively whenever he is fielded. No doubts on the flanks this round around since Hans Hateboer is suspended and both Robin Gosens and Timothy Castagne are strong options.

Suggested picks: Zapata, Gomez, Muriel. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 30

JUVENTUS-TORINO

Juventus: the Bianconeri are thriving offensively thanks to the great form of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala, who scored in three consecutive matches. Douglas Costa contributed off the bench versus Genoa and he can be a factor even if he rarely plays full matches because of his injury history. Juan Cuadrado picked up an assist in the past match and he has been effective despite the more defensive role. Rodrigo Bentancur is in outstanding form but is not very prone to picking up bonuses. Their run of clean sheets was interrupted by a consolation goal, but they will be facing a sputtering attack in this one. Continue reading

Serie A Fantay Preview – Round 29

TORINO-LAZIO

Torino: the Granata had a nice reaction after falling in an early hole versus Cagliari, but an untimely penalty did them in. Andrea Belotti has found the target for two straight matches and has been excellent missed penalty aside. Simone Zaza is unlikely to be present, but Simone Verdi and especially Cristian Ansaldi, two of their most talented players, saw minutes in the past match and could be ready to start, unlocking few options up front, first of all the advancement of Alex Berenguer. Ansaldi had a positive impact after he subbed on, Verdi might need more time and had been struggling prior to the lockdown. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Picks – Round 26

Marco Silvestri: Verona and their stifling defence will visit an undermanned Sampdoria squad on Monday. The Scaligeri have not given up more than one goal in the past eight rounds.

Kostas Manolas: Napoli can be very stingy when they want to be, as evidenced by the Barcelona clash, and Torino have been incredibly subpar offensively over the last two months. Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Mario Rui have more upside than the Greek centre-back, but it is possible that the coach rotates the squad a bit. Continue reading