Juventus Top Performers – Round Four vs Crotone

Juventus once again rallied the troops after a red carded and produced its best football down in ten men, but all in all are left with more questions than answers for what happened in the first hour of the match, where Crotone often had the upper-hand.

Merih Demiral: nobody in the back had a squeaky clean performance, but the Turkish international was the most active man and often made up for the systemic deficiencies with his explosivity. Like in the Roma clash, the Bianconeri gave up way too many chances in the box and left too much room to counter. The back-line was either too exposed and had arrayment issues, leaving big gaps between one man and the other. Leonardo Bonucci had a horrid start with a late tackle in the box (although it could have deserved a second look), then improved as the game progressed. Danilo took a clear step back compared to the first two outings and Arkadiusz Reca often had his way down his flank. Gianluca Frabotta was decent overall. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Four – Top Matches

NAPOLI-ATALANTA

Napoli: they did not get to play the third game because of well-known reasons, but the first two were pretty indicative. Victor Osimhen has yet to score, but he has had a major impact anyway and he is bound to break through soon. In the meantime, Dries Mertens has led the charge (two goals, two assists), helped by the resurgent Hirving Lozano, who has kept up the momentum from the restart. The injury to Lorenzo Insigne and Piotr Zielinski and Elijf Elmas getting COVID might slow down the deployment 4-2-3-1 in full force, but that should be the way forward and the arrival of Tiemoué Bakayoko cements it. The absences could give Matteo Politano and/or Stanislav Lobotka a bigger role than usual and the former scored in the Genoa romp. If Atalanta do not adjust the way they defend, they could make some sweet music on counters.

Continue reading

Cristiano Ronaldo tests positive for COVID-19: Pirlo’s dilemma

Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday and will need to self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days. The former Real Madrid man was on international duty for Portugal’s latest UEFA Nations League clashes when he got the news and will miss the Bianconeri’s upcoming affairs, leaving rookie manager Andrea Pirlo with quite the dilemma.

The Italian champions embark on an extremely congested fixture list after the international break that will see Juventus play 17 games in 66 days. Ronaldo will arguably miss the next two weeks of action, including games against Crotone and Hellas Verona in addition to his side’s Champions League opener against Dynamo Kiev. The biggest question mark, however, remains Juve’s intriguing battle with Barcelona. Pirlo’s men take on the Spanish giants on October 28th and will want his star man for a potentially group-defining battle.

According to protocol, Ronaldo will need to test negative twice before returning to Torino. As a result, Juventus will likely be missing their talisman for the foreseeable future, leaving a gaping hole in their frontline. In any case, the Bianconeri’s summer business has significantly bolstered their offensive ranks and offer Pirlo a multitude of options in Ronaldo’s absence.

For one, Paulo Dybala is slowly returning to action and should step up without Ronaldo in the lineup. La Joya will look to offer a creative spark in the final third in Pirlo’s new-look system and help Juve hit the ground running in Europe. Dybala has thrived in a two-striker setup in the past and should slot in seamlessly. The main concern for Juve is not rushing the 26-year-old back into action too soon and aggravate his injury.

Beyond Dybala, Pirlo has a plethora of attacking options. Summer arrival Dejan Kulusevski has made an instant impact since joining from Parma, netting a goal on his debut. The Swedish international possesses a very similar skill-set to Dybala and is always looking to carve open the opposition’s defense. Pirlo has experimented with Kulusevski at wingback, but as the former Parma man gains more familiarity in his system, expect him to slot into the front two. A Dybala-Kulusevski front two is intriguing but ultimately lacks a dominant presence to hold up play. Both players like to drop deep or drift wide and arguably need to play off a striker.

That’s where Alvaro Morata comes in. The former Chelsea man joined the side this summer and will be eager to open his account on the season. Juve’s upcoming game against the newly promoted Crotone is a good opportunity to do so and Morata should get the nod. The 27-year-old has played in a front two alongside Dybala in the past and will look to rekindle that partnership in Ronaldo’s absence. Morata showed glimpses of his speed in his debut against Roma but will need to be better in and around the area.

The last question mark is Juve’s deadline day arrival, Federico Chiesa. Pirlo is yet to deploy a front three, indicating Chiesa’s future is arguably at wingback. Should the rookie tactician elect to play a front three, the former Fiorentina man is the obvious option out wide and should offer Juve some much-needed unpredictability in the final third.

All in all, Ronaldo’s absence does not come at the worst time. It may be early days, but his temporary quarantine offers many of Juventus’s budding stars the opportunity to assert themselves in the lineup and break through. Kulusevski, Morata, and Chiesa all have what it takes to step up and offer Pirlo a truly versatile front three. The Bianconeri’s schedule – bar the Barcelona game – is not exactly daunting, giving Pirlo further flexibility to experiment with his new-look frontline.

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Andrea Pirlo learns tough lesson in first test against Roma

Andrea Pirlo’s managerial career has gotten off to an impressive start, opening the season with a convincing win against Sampdoria. Most recently, Juventus came from behind twice to draw Roma, doing so with a man down for the better part of the second half. While four points out of a possible six is a good start for the rookie tactician, Juve’s draw against Roma demonstrated Pirlo still has a lot to learn on the touchline.

The former midfielder deployed an unconventional formation, starting Juan Cuadrado at left wingback and Dejan Kulusevski on the opposite wing. Alvaro Morata joined Cristiano Ronaldo up front with Aaron Ramsey roaming dangerously behind them. Weston McKennie and Adrien Rabiot were tasked once more with dictating the tempo and breaking up play, and both largely struggled.

In many ways, Pirlo got it wrong. His decision to shift Kulusevski wide and field Morata from the start simply did not work, and the Spaniard struggled to impose himself. Kulusevski’s influence in the final third was reduced from the wide position and needs to play more centrally; be it alongside Ronaldo or in Ramsey’s free-roaming role.

Beyond getting the front two wrong, fielding Cuadrado at left wingback was an odd choice altogether. The Colombian international has rarely featured on the left and looked out of place for the most part of the game. Last week, Cuadrado did not have his best game, but still filtered in dangerous crosses from the familiar right side. Moving forward, Pirlo will need to find an answer in Alex Sandro’s absence. Whether it’s Mattia De Sciglio or Gianluca Fabrotta remains to be seen, but Cuadrado simply isn’t the solution.

Ultimately, the biggest difference was the midfield battle. The duo of McKennie and Rabiot were excellent against Sampdoria but were largely left to fend for themselves against Roma. As a result, Juve’s backline was exposed on many occasions on the break. The Giallorossi bypassed them with ease throughout the ninety minutes, passing through the double pivot at will.

Pirlo persisted with both McKennie and Rabiot regardless, with the latter eventually picking up his second yellow. The decision to keep Rabiot on the pitch despite his yellow and overall poor performance highlighted Pirlo’s inexperience and is a lesson that will serve him well in the future.

As a whole, the Juventus manager will be happy with his side’s first two games. Pirlo has them learning a new system, alternating freely between a back three and four and for the first time in two seasons, they are committing many men forward. There will undoubtedly be growing pains with this new system but at the very least, the early signs are encouraging.

It won’t get any easier for Juventus next week as they take on Gennaro Gattuso’s high-flying Napoli. The Partenopei have gotten off to a phenomenal start to the season and are as good a test as any for Pirlo’s new-look Juventus. It may be early days, but Juventus are heading in a clear direction under Pirlo – even if the Azzurri legend will make mistakes along the way.

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Grading Juventus’s Mercato Dealings

Juventus was extremely active this offseason, rejuvenating its ageing roster with a number of key arrivals. Fabio Paratici aimed to reduce the Bianconeri’s wage bill and was ultimately successful, shaving 30 million euros compared to last season. 

It may have taken until the final days of the mercato for many of Juve’s deals to be done, but the Italian champions were able to shake up their stuttering midfield and add some much-needed speed to their attack. Paratici’s inability to sign a fullback may come back to haunt him, but all in all, it was a decent transfer window for Andrea Pirlo’s men.

Let us take a deeper look at Juve’s mercato dealings:

IN: Arthur, Weston McKennie, Dejan Kulusevski, Federico Chiesa, Alvaro Morata, Rolando Mandragora (option exercised and loaned back to Udinese)

OUT: Gonzalo Higuain, Blaise Matuidi, Miralem Pjanic, Mattia De Sciglio (loan), Daniele Rugani (loan with option to buy), Douglas Costa (loan).

Juventus wasted no time revamping its midfield this summer, swapping Miralem Pjanic with Brazilian international Arthur. The former Roma midfielder struggled in his final season under Maurizio Sarri and desperately needed a change of scenery. As a result, Paratici took advantage of a unique opportunity to swap Pjanic for the 24-year-old. In many ways, Juventus emerged as winners from this deal. Paratici was able to get a younger midfielder, all while swapping out a struggling one. In addition, the reported fees involved should impact both sides’ balance sheets positively.

Beyond Arthur, the Bianconeri surprised the masses and secured U.S Men’s National Team midfielder Weston McKennie. The former Schalke man initially joins on a three million euros loan deal with Juventus possessing an option to make the move permanent for a further 18 million euros. Rookie tactician Andrea Pirlo is eager to see his side press higher up the pitch and McKennie’s arrival helps in this respect. Moreover, the formula is advantageous and represents yet another low-risk, high upside transaction.

Looking forward to the attack, Juventus added some important depth to Pirlo’s offensive ranks. The Bianconeri had been linked with a plethora of strikers, including Edin Dzeko and Luis Suarez among others, but ultimately it was Alvaro Morata who joined. Much like McKennie, Juve paid a modest loan fee up front, this time of 11 million euros, with the option to sign him in the summer for 45 million euros. Morata is already familiar with the league, having played for Juve before, and is younger than the strikers previously linked with the club. Moreover, the Spanish international has proven to be a willing runner and will press the opposition unselfishly. Once again, the formula of the deal allows Juve to reassess his signing next summer and is another example of shrewd business.

The last signing Paratici made is Federico Chiesa. The Fiorentina winger joins the Bianconeri’s deep ranks of forwards and offers the side unpredictability in the final third. Juventus sorely lacked speed on the counter last season and went about adding it diligently this window. Between Dejan Kulusevski, Morata and Chiesa, the Italian champions have a new-look frontline; one that is capable to hurt the opposition on the counter. 50 million euros is a steep price, however, once again, it is important to look at the formula.

Juventus will pay two million this year, eight the next, and then the final 40 million euros to complete the deal. The Bianconeri were able to defer the purchase all-while adding a quality player. The only concern is potentially stunting his development. Will the Italian international play as a wingback or compete for minutes along fellow summer arrival Kulusevski? Simply put, there’s only room for one of them. The Swedish international was initially signed in January but only joined this summer. Kulusevski has already hit the ground running and could just emerge as the signing of the summer.

While Juventus’ signings were impressive, their outgoing mercato ultimately disappointed. David Beckham’s Inter Miami FC did Paratici a huge favor, securing Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi off his hands, while the sporting director struggled to permanently rid the side’s deadwood. De Sciglio, Douglas Costa, and Rugani will all likely rejoin the side following their loan deals, postponing the inevitable to next season. In this sense, Paratici failed.

The Juventus sporting director also fell short in his pursuit of a fullback. Juventus currently lack a quality option out wide and will rely on Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro for much of the season. Chiesa is not a wingback, despite playing there at times, and is at his best in the front three. Much of Juve’s success will depend on Pirlo’s ability to make up for the lack of fullback, deploying crafty solutions in his 3-5-2.

Overall, Juventus fans should be happy with the mercato as a whole. The club was able to add some fresh legs in the midfield, all-while reinvigorating the attack with hungry faces. However, Paratici’s failure to add quality fullbacks could prove to be crucial in the later stages of the Champions League. Otherwise, his inability to sell was disappointing, but eventually managed to part ways with many of Juve’s declining players.

Mercato rating: 6.5/10. 

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Three – Top Matches

ATALANTA-CAGLIARI

Atalanta: the Bergamaschi took it to Lazio as well, making the second game in a row with four goals scored, as the machine is still working like a charm. Alejandro Gomez not only pulled the strings, but also scored twice and was joined in the stat-sheet by Hans Hateboer and Robin Gosens. Hateboer has already matched his entire production for the 2019/2020 campaign, while Gosens opened his tally. Ruslan Malinovskyi got the start this time and dished an assist, while Luis Muriel almost hit the net off the bench. The only negative aspect of the young season is that Duvan Zapata has not really looked dominant and might need some time to be in peak shape, but they surely have the manpower to work around that. The flank game has been particularly terrific so far. Mario Pasalic might feature in a less offensive position going forward since they are stacked with attackers but short on midfielders and his output could suffer.

Suggested picks: Gomez, Muriel, Gosens. Continue reading

Aaron Ramsey looks to continue resurgence against Roma

When Aaron Ramsey joined Juventus from Arsenal last summer, much was expected from the Welshman. The 29-year-old was brought in to address the Bianconeri’s continued midfield woes but failed to make an impact under Maurizio Sarri. This season, however, Ramsey looks rejuvenated and is ready to hit the ground running. 

Ramsey is your prototypical mezz’ala and thrives playing on the outside of a midfield three. The former Arsenal man is at his best roaming dangerously in the final third and making late, unmarked runs deep into the opposition’s territory. After arriving last summer, Ramsey struggled in Sarri’s rigid system and was largely tasked with relaying possession in predictable patterns.

It may only be one game under rookie manager Andrea Pirlo, but the former Juventus legend appears to have completely shaken things up in Turin. The Italian champions defend in a compact 4-4-2, and commit many men forward, ultimately transforming their setup into a hybrid 3-2-5 of sorts. Ramsey has been among the biggest benefactors in this setup, and looked extremely dangerous in Juventus’s season opener against Sampdoria.

Operating from the left-hand side of the midfield three, the former Arsenal man was a constant threat and wandered dangerously in support of Cristiano Ronaldo and Dejan Kulusevski. Ramsey arguably played his best football since joining the club, creating four clear-cut chances throughout. Ronaldo was not his typical lethal self in front of goal, otherwise, the former Arsenal man would have finished the game with three assists.

Beyond contributing in the final third, Ramsey’s newfound freedom ensures he’s present in Juve’s pressing schemes high up the pitch. The Welshman regularly led the Bianconeri’s press, forcing the Blucerchiati into many unnecessary turnovers. Last season, Ramsey was constrained to sitting deep on the right-hand side of the midfield three, and largely let games pass him by.

Pirlo’s footballing philosophy remains mostly unknown until this point, but one thing’s for certain: The Juventus tactician relies heavily on the mobility of his midfielders and asks them to be constantly on the move. Ramsey thrives in similar setups and played his best football at Arsenal when given the license to get forward in support of their front-line.

Ramsey was interviewed by Sky Italia this week and touched upon the recent changes under Pirlo.

“We have a new coach, a new staff, new ideas, and the players are very involved in this,” Ramsey said. “I think we have more fun than last year. The training sessions are hard but there is also a little bit of joy. We started well but we still need to improve.”

While he may be deployed in the midfield on paper, Ramsey acts as a defacto trequartista for most of the game in Pirlo’s setup. Ronaldo lingers dangerously around the 18-yard box occupying the opposition’s defense, while Kulusevski and Ramsey are largely tasked with linking it all together. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see where exactly the Welshman fits in Pirlo’s plans when the whole roster is fully fit.

“In this team, there are many great players, we call all play and help the team reach their goals. I’m happy to be able to play together with these top-quality attackers,” added the Welshman.

It may have taken him a full season to acclimate himself to his new surroundings, but Ramsey appears reborn under Pirlo. The 29-year-old is slowly carving an important role for himself in the middle of the park and will only improve as the season wears on. Pirlo’s fluid system offers his midfielders the ability to get forward, all-while contributing to the press.  The biggest question mark, however, remains Ramsey’s fitness issues. If the Welsh international manages to stay fit, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be a crucial piece to Pirlo’s formation.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Two – Top Matches

TORINO-ATALANTA

Torino: the Granata did really not show anything new in the Fiorentina game even though Marco Giampaolo is supposedly going to bring a ton of changes, but that will take time and likely a couple of new players to come to fruition. They created just a pair of changes, with Andrea Belotti fully in the thick of it as per usual, while Simone Zaza rubbished a tasty one. They might be better off signing a new striker. The coach went with Alex Berenguer in the hole and then voiced doubts about Simone Verdi’s playing in that position, however there is not really any other place for him in the formation, so he will have to adapt. Soualiho Meite and Karol Linetty were not very involved offensively, mostly because the match-up was not easy, but this upcoming one is worse.  Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round One versus Sampdoria

Juventus came out of the gate with a sharp performance and did not spoil Andrea Pirlo’s debut, easily taking home three points in the season opener versus Sampdoria.

Leonardo Bonucci (9 points): the defence held up while spending sixty plus minutes in the same position where they often caved too easily last season and, even though the Blucerchiati picked it up in the second half, never looked overwhelmed. Bonucci was in his element as linchpin of a sort of three-man line, as he could patrol the middle of the field and had the liberty of uncorking long passes. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round One

The schedule was missing three games because of postponements and that was a factor, but overall the quality and the intensity of the play was down compared to what happened in the restart as several teams looked sluggish after the break and in general the defences had their ways over the attacks.

Results: among the supposed title contenders, Napoli and Juventus got off to a good start as the Partenopei pulled away late in Parma, while the Bianconeri manhandled Sampdoria. Milan breezed past Bologna on Monday night. Fiorentina eked out one at home versus Torino. Roma shared the spoils with Verona in a snooze-fest, while Sassuolo-Cagliari had the same result, but more action. Genoa looked good while humbling Crotone.  Continue reading