Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 13

Atalanta-Juventus: after producing at an historic pace through the first ten weeks, the Goddess failed to score in their last two matches against Sampdoria and Cagliari. Josip Ilicic and Ruslan Malinovskyi are suspended, but the Slovenian attacker has appealed, but they will get a boost from the return of Duvan Zapata, who is expected to feature at least in limited capacity. He notched six goals in seven appearances before getting hurt. Luis Muriel is no longer red-hot, as he has not found the target in the last three rounds, but he will be again their main scoring option from the jump. Alejandro Gomez is going through something similar, but he always has loads of potential as an assist-man. Mario Pasalic is likely to move to the hole and he can pretty sneaky there. Robin Gosens has been their best wing-back so far, but also Timothy Castagne has hit the net once. Continue reading

Serie A Team of the Round – Torino

Cagliari fumbled away a glorious fantasy haul by giving away not one but two late cheap goals against Fiorentina. Therefore, the team that earned the best result in this round was Torino, which crushed Brescia on the road in the first game with Eugenio Corini at the helm. The Granata had not won in six rounds coming into the contest, but had fared decently in last week’s Derby with Juventus.

Walter Mazzarri picked Bremer over the other options in the back, selected Ola Aina as right wing-back, fielded both Sasa Lukic and Soualiho Meite with Daniele Baselli out of commission and trotted out Simone Verdi next to Andrea Belotti, as Simone Zaza and Iago Falque are both on the mend. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Ten

Brescia-Inter: Eugenio Corini has had some reservations in using Alfredo Donnarumma and Mario Balotelli together, but Florian Aye, while tactically precious, has not been productive and so the more predictable duo should be the way to go moving forward. However, they have combined for just one goal in the last three matches and they will face one of the best back-lines in the League. Daniele Dessena’s injury ended up hurting Romulo’s fantasy stocks in the short-term, since he is being used as box-to-box, at least until one between Emanuele Ndoj and Jaromir Zmhral manages to unseat Nikolas Spalek, who has not been effective as no.10. Sandro Tonali is coming off his first Serie A goal and constitutes is half of their offense. Continue reading

Serie A Transfer Market Weekly Recap

Little time left in the window and the clubs are putting the finishing touches on the rosters and getting rid of surplus players. The biggest move of the week was once again made by Inter, which signed Alexis Sanchez on loan from Manchester United and also acquired Cristiano Biraghi from Fiorentina in a swap with Dalbert. The Red Devils sent also Chris Smalling to Roma, who temporarily leaves Old Trafford after eight seasons and was regular in the last three. His experience will give him an edge over the younger options, but it would not particularly surprising to see Federico Fazio lose the starting job at some point. Continue reading

Serie A Match of the Round – Roma vs Milan

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There were a couple of compelling and down-to-the-wire matches in this round, but the most anticipated one did not disappoint, even though it was not the highest scoring one, so Roma-Milan gets the shout-out.

Roma were coming off four hellish days, as they wasted a three-nothing lead against Atalanta in Serie A play and more importantly were smoked by Fiorentina in Coppa Italia. The vultures have started gathering over Eusebio Di Francesco’s head, even though the recent results were actually fine, but obviously a 1-7 loss in a big black eye. Quite the opposite for Milan, who immediately reaped the benefits on their investment on Krzysztof Piatek, who carried them past Napoli in the domestic cup, and had tied with the Azzurri in the previous round. Continue reading

Serie A Match of the Round – Milan vs Juventus

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Milan-Juventus was the most anticipated match coming into the round and it did not disappoint, even though the score ended up being a little lopsided. As if there were not enough storylines already, one arose even before the start as Massimiliano Allegri elected to keep Leonardo Bonucci on the bench, sparing him a date with a very hostile environment. His replacement Medhi Benatia had a mixed performance.

The Bianconeri came into the game trying to maintain their lead over Napoli, which were victorious on Saturday, and looking to bounce back after a disappointing loss against Manchester United in Champions League. Milan had prevailed in five of their last Serie A fixtures, twice thanks to Alessio Romagnoli in the final minutes. Continue reading

Serie A Match of the Round – Udinese vs Milan

romagnoli

Most of the fixtures were lopsided in the weekend, but Udinese-Milan, albeit decided by a single goal, was intense and certainly a ton of fun. The Bianconeri were coming off a 2-2 tie against Genoa on the road, which gave Julio Velazquez some breathing room after four losses in a row. The Devil prevailed in the midweek make-up game against the Griffon and therefore racked up four wins in the past five games.

The Argentinian coach tinkered with his system, using Ignacio Pussetto as trequartista, giving Hidde Ter Avest his first start on the flank and deploying Rodrigo De Paul in the midfield over a more defensive option. Continue reading

Serie A Match of the Week – Milan vs Sampdoria

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There were few interesting match-ups in this round and, while Napoli-Roma had the most magnitude, Milan vs Sampdoria had the highest entertainment value.

The Rossoneri came into the game looking to bounce back after two tough losses in the past four days in the Derby della Madonnina and against Real Betis in Europa League. The Blucerchiati were coming off a nil-nil tie against Sassuolo and are enjoying a nice start of the season, sustained by a rock-solid defense.

Gennaro Gattuso chose Diego Laxalt and Patrick Cutrone to replace the regular starters Giacomo Bonaventura and Hakan Calhanoglu, both dealing with some nagging injuries, and tilted his usual scheme to a regular 4-4-2. Continue reading

Why Milan must focus on securing fourth place

 

AC Milan players applaud fans for their support.

AC Milan players applaud fans for their support.

Talking about AC Milan competing for any championship these days sounds odd to hear. The Rossoneri are years away from becoming the force that once conquered European club football. And on the domestic front, it’s difficult to imagine them breaking Juventus stranglehold of the league, at least, not in the nearest future.

After last Sunday the 1-1 draw against Cagliari, Milan Legend Paolo Maldini Summarized the current status of the team in a very reflective statement. “Being the anti-Juventus? Let’s be serious, we’re still a long way off being that. We’re aiming to reach the top four in the league and have a great run in the Europa League. Projects are important, but you can’t yet compare Milan to Juventus.”

One big take out from this comment is the admission by the former Iconic Milan Captain that, the Rossoneri will not win the Europa League. Sure, Milan are looking to have a great run in the competition, but how far can they go, quarter-final or Semi-final? And will that be a prudent use of their current strength or a focus discussion on securing fourth place in Serie A should be the way to go.

Despite the improvement in key areas this season, Milan’s performance last season suggest they need to choose between the Europa League and fourth place in Serie A. And for a club of Milan’s stature qualification for Champions league should be the Holy Grail.

Milan started very well in the qualification round of the Europa League last season, before witnessing some disappointing results and insipid display during the group stage. However, it became a platform for players such as Andre Silva  and Fabio Borini to make a case for a starting place in the team which did not quite materialised. The Portugal international, Silva, who is currently on loan at Sevilla could not translate his European form into domestic performance.

Gannaro Gattuso managed to take Milan to the round 16th of Europe’s second tier competition, but stumbled against English side Arsenal both at home and away grounds. Notwithstanding the Gunners ordeal during that time in their English Premier League, which read eight points behind fourth place, the chasm in quality, maturity and organisation was huge. Of course, Arsenal had a crop of players who had been together for quite a long time whiles the Rossoneri were going through what one will describe as a teething problem.

The Europa League could disrupt Milan’s domestic campaign, as it can put a strain on the squad. Compared to last season, Gattuso has got a bigger group of players must be tactful in how he rotates the lads whiles guarding against injuries. The inclusion of Samu Castilljo, Diego Laxalt, Tiémoué Bakayoko and Alen Halilović could provide the Diavolo cover in crucial moments. The team still awaits the return of right back Andrea Conti from rehabilitation after a long spell in the treatment room.

Milan kick start their campaign against Dudelange in Group F which also has the likes Real Betis and Olympiacos. They will qualify and possibly lead the group, but do they have the quality to compete against some of the big dogs who may fall from the Champions league. How would Milan fair against teams like Chelsea, Arsenal, Sevilla or even Olympiacos and Real Betis in the group stage.

From an administrative perspective participation in the Europa league is a great call because it comes with some financial incentives, whiles from a supporter’s point of view, this an opportunity to witness European football at the San Siro, especially, when their rivals from the blue side of the City, Inter Milan, are involved in the bigger one, the Champion League.

It’s early days yet but, Milan’s domestic form isn’t that great and Maldini had some few words on how the team can develop “What to improve? We have to try to accelerate the growth of experience, we have an opportunity and the results of the other teams show it. The team is not yet aware of how strong it is, many guys have not realized how much they can give. Dialogue with us directors could be important for them”.

Certainly, having a discussion with the squad could do a lot for their confidence and provide them with a sense of self believe, but the bigger problem is, there are a few reliable players in this group.

Milan must choose between spending their energies in finishing fourth in Seire A or risk being derailed by their participation in the Europa League as they do not have the quality to compete against the big guns in the competition.

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Game changers could catalyze Milan’s Champions League berth

Prior to the commencement of the season, the area that needed the most improvement for AC Milan was the striking department. As Nikola Kalinic and Andre Silva failed to impress in their debut season for the Rossoneri, the mantle fell to 20 year-old Patrick Cutrone, who produced 18 goals in all completions last season.

To be fair to Andre Silva, he didn’t see enough minutes on the pitch, and it looked like his first Milan manager Vincenzo Montella, had earmarked him to for the Europa League competition, whiles preferring Kalinic to the league, probably based on his experience in Serie A. To the surprise of many Milan’s attack had the most departures this season. Nicola Kalinic has left for Atletico Madrid, Andrew Silva is currently on loan at Sevilla whiles Carlos Bacca made his loan move to Villareal permanent.

The acquisition of Gonzalo Higuain is a big improvement in the striking department as the Argentine has got a pretty goal scoring record compared to his predecessors. His success will, however depend largely on the framework around him .Cutrone, meanwhile, is set to play an important part of the season as he continues to blossom into a shining star. The young Italian once again proved his value to the Club as he came on in the 84th minute to secure Milan their first win of the season over AS Roma at the San Siro.

Gattuso had previously stated publicly, that he needed a left winger to add to his offensive unit. Someone who could provide a more attacking edge going forward .And more importantly a backup for Suso. Last season, Milan didn’t appear to have much firepower to turn things around in difficult situations, and lacked the composure and maturity to respond when a goal down. There was a lack of confidence on the bench, the likes of Andre Silva, Fabio Borini, and Manuel Locatelli except for one, Patrick Cutrone. The reserve unit failed to impact games.

Now, Fabio Borini, despite his lack of technical proficiency, cannot be questioned when it comes to application and having the right attitude. His ability to track back to help the defense whiles occasionally providing excellent delivery into the box contributed five goals and seven assist in all completion last season. The problem is, he’s not a reliable and consistent performer. Portuguese international Andre Silva was a better player in the few games that he started, as he looked confused as to where to function alongside Cutrone or Kalinic anytime he came on as a substitute. The only moment Silva truly affected a game was his first League and match winning goal away to Genoa after coming off the bench.

This Season, the Rossoneri boast a better quality on the bench. AC MIlan have bolstered their attacking options by signing Diego Laxalt from Genoa and Samu Castijlleo from Vilarreal and Alen Halilovic from Hamburger SV. These are not World class, but an upgrade in the context of their previous campaign. Halilovic who has been purchased to give Suso a bit of a respite may find playing time in the league hard to come by, but could be useful in the Europa League.

Diego Laxalt can play as a left back as we witnessed at the just ended World Cup for his country Uruguay. And compared to Ricardo Rodrigues, the former Genoa left midfielder provides a bit more attacking impetus with his aggression than the Swiss International.

In the 2-1 win over Roma, Milan’s attack came to live in the when Cutrone, Laxalt and Castillejo joined the fray in the second period, as they helped to galvanize the home side’s offensive play. Castillejo could be a hugely significant player for the Diavolo with his trickery and pace on the flanks. Gattuso was effusive of the former Villareal winger in his comments, “Castillejo gives us a different alternative, and he and Laxalt changed things on Friday. Samu came on with a competitive ferocity I had not seen before in training, he seemed a little indifferent to me. Instead, on Friday he showed the qualities that made us sign him. When he wants to win back the ball, he does so with great vehemence.”

The Spanish international could serve as another viable tool in the Italian’s arsenal. Castillejo scored six goals and provided seven assist in La Liga last season in 30 appearances.

Gattuso needs to maximize the talents available to him by assimilating the new players and re-inventing established ones such as Suso,Hakan Calhanoglu and Giacomo Bonaventura, whiles hoping others find top gear. The AC Milan manager has already floated the idea of playing his two strikers, Higuian and Cutrone together as they study and understand each other. Higuain is a better role model for the 20 year-Old Italian.

It is rare for teams to be successful without decent backups, and Milan’s game changers will help to secure qualification for the Champions league football. As Gennaro Gattuso said “Important players have arrived and both Laxalt and Castillejo have shown it. When they play together, Castillejo and Laxalt can break up the game in 15-20 minutes”.

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