Dejan Kulusevski ready to hit the ground running at Juventus

Juventus has been linked with a plethora of attacking players in recent times as the new season approaches. Andrea Pirlo has reportedly put a new number nine on top of his transfer list, indicating he’s eager to shake up the Bianconeri’s stuttering frontline. The Italian champions relied heavily on Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala in the final third, with the duo combining for over 50 per cent of Juve’s goals in all competitions last season. While their pursuit of a striker rages on, it is a January signing that will arguably have the biggest impact.

When Juve splashed 35 million euros on Dejan Kulusevski this winter, many were left wondering who exactly the 20-year-old is. After all, he had only six months of regular first-team football under his belt with Parma and despite his impressive performances, Kulusevski was relatively unproven.

The Swedish international has now joined Juventus officially and will slot in wonderfully in Pirlo’s new-look front three. Kulusevski established himself as a creative force while on loan at Parma, breaking onto the scene as one of the league’s deadliest counter-attacking threats. The former Parma man initially came through Atalanta’s youth ranks as a creative midfielder and largely featured as a trequartista.

Due to his incredible turn of pace, however, Roberto D’Aversa deployed him on the right-wing. Kulusevski slotted in seamless from a wide position and regularly drifted in centrally, in a free-roam role. At Juventus, the 20-year-old will arguably occupy a similar role and will have ample opportunities to make the right-winger role his own. Douglas Costa has struggled with injuries since joining from Bayern Munich and has simply not looked like a good fit with Ronaldo and Dybala. Bernardeschi, by contrast, failed to make an impact when called upon and will mostly act as attacking depth.

Kulusevski’s vision and wide range of passing will ensure he fits right in alongside Juve’s high-powered front three in a complementary position. The former Parma man is unselfish out of possession and has proven to be a willing runner, as well and will need to bring those qualities to the fore next season. While not much is known about Pirlo’s coaching philosophy, the rookie tactician indicated he wants his side to win the ball back as quickly as possible and press the opposition high. In this sense, Kulusevski is an ideal fit up front and could offer some much-needed defensive cover to Cuadrado when needed.

Another aspect working in Kulusevski’s favour is his impressive versatility. Beyond playing on the wing, the Swedish international has already played significant minutes in middle of the park, be it as a mezz’ala or as a trequartista. Juventus has had issues in the midfield for the better part of three years now and could deploy him on the outside of a midfield three. Given Juventus will be competing on many fronts, Kulusevski may feature in various positions depending on what Pirlo is looking for.

While there are more questions than answers going into the new season for Juve, Kulusevski is one of the few certainties. The former Parma man has demonstrated he’s more than a simple flash in the pan and will be eager to translate that form to a big club. In many ways, Kulusevski will be hoping to follow Dybala’s career path rather than Bernadeschi’s and emerge as a key man for Pirlo. Given the ongoing pandemic and the shortened transfer window, Kulusevski’s signing has fallen off the radar, but make no mistake about it: The 20-year-old is more than ready to hit the ground running in Turin and has all the tools to establish himself as Juve’s X factor in the final third.

Beyond his

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Juventus’ Top Three Mercato Priorities

With the season just ten days away, Juventus are scrambling to rejuvenate their roster and offer rookie manager Andrea Pirlo significant reinforcements. As the season approaches, Fabio Paratici will be eager to conclude all his mercato business sooner rather than later, starting with the hunt for a new number nine.

Let’s take a deeper look at Juventus’ mercato priorities going into the new season:

1) Sell the deadwood. 

The common theme this transfer window for almost any Italian team has been ‘buy before you sell’. Weston McKennie arrived from Schalke for virtually nothing, while Arthur was swapped for Miralem Pjanic. This indicates that Juventus’s transfer kitty is limited this year unless they can move on unwanted players.

Blaise Matuidi has already joined Inter Miami while Gonzalo Higuain will soon follow, according to reports. Sami Khedira is another player Juventus are eager to part ways with, but the German international is determined to prove his worth to Pirlo. Beyond the former Real Madrid man, Paratici has been unable to move on Douglas Costa, who has spent the better part of the last two seasons sidelined with injuries. Aaron Ramsey is yet another Juventus man whose future is worth monitoring, after failing to make an impact last season despite high wages.

Before the Juventus faithful can dream of a big signing, these are exactly the types of players they need to move on. It won’t be easy and the clock is ticking for Paratici.

2) A new number nine

Juventus parted ways with both Mario Mandzukic and Moise Kean last summer and have failed to replace either ever since. With Higuain declining and on his way to Major League Soccer, Pirlo requested a new number nine for his setup. Edin Dzeko and Luis Suarez are the two most recent strikers linked with a move to Turin, with the Uruguayan emerging as the favorite.

Juventus will reportedly pay Barcelona three million euros with potential bonuses rising to 16 million euros, and will offer Suarez a three-year deal. The entire operation will reach around 45 million euros between wages and transfer fees if recent reports are credible. While Juventus need a number nine and Suarez fits the bill, this is a move that reeks of desperation and resembles the Bianconeri’s past mishaps on the transfer window.

There is currently a dearth of quality number nines available, making Suarez one of Juve’s only realistic options. Paratici’s hands may be tied, but he may regret this move a year or two down the line.

3) One surprise signing? 

After securing a number nine, Juventus could use another profile, be it at fullback or in the midfield. Reinforcing at fullback seems to be down Paratici’s list of priorities, but Real Madrid’s Sergio Reguilon could be an interesting opportunity. The Spanish giants have made it clear he’s available and he could be available at a decent price. Reguilon’s arrival could make Alex Sandro expendable, freeing up some much-needed transfer budget.

Beyond their fullback needs, Juventus could arguably use another creative midfielder. The likes of Rodrigo De Paul and Luis Alberto have been previously linked with a move to Turin, indicating a move for a midfield maestro may be on the cards. In this sense, Lyon’s Houssem Aouar should be a priority and is reportedly available at a decent price. If Juventus can broker a deal for the French international, it would go a long way at addressing their lack of dynamism and creativity in the middle of the park.

However, let’s be clear – any surprise move is completely contingent on selling their deadwood, something Paratici has struggled with since assuming his position.

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Juve may struggle to offload Douglas Costa

Towards the end of July, Juventus’ Brazilian winger Douglas Costa went viral. It wasn’t however for any of the reasons one would associate with Costa: no lightening quick ‘elastico’ that beguiled an opponent, no mazy dribble that simultaneously beat several opposition defenders, nor was it for the occasional wonder goal that he’s capable of.

No, the 29-year-old’s choreographed TikTok videos with his girlfriend, Nathalia Felix, are what spread around the digital globe. Whilst the videos are indeed slightly entertaining, and even one in which Costa appears to ‘swallow’ his partner, highly creative, it’s a damning indictment of the direction Costa’s career is heading in.

Whilst not necessarily deemed a flop at Juve, the Brazilian has been blighted by injuries: 10 different injuries in his three seasons has seen Costa miss an accumulated 47 games. The perception of the winger in Italy is that he simply hasn’t been on the pitch with enough consistency to be judged a success or failure.

Bought alongside Federico Bernardeschi in the summer of 2017 to give then-coach Max Allegri further weapons in attack following the catastrophic defeat to Real Madrid in the final of the previous seasons’ Champions League. Costa had been earmarked as someone who could supply Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala with the service they craved, a player who could dribble past opponents in remarkably tight spaces at dizzying speed. A player of Costa’s skillset was a feature their squad lacked.

A somewhat productive first season ended in four goals and 12 assists from only 18 starts in Serie A as Juve won another domestic double under Allegri. The turning point in his time with the club came against Sassuolo early in the next season, when Costa – who had only been on the pitch for 25 minutes – was sent off for spitting at Federico Di Francesco after a coming together between the pair. Costa was handed a four-game suspension by the league, and it’s arguable his career at Juve has never really recovered.

As Maurizio Sarri replaced Allegri last summer, Costa was viewed as an integral part of Sarri’s 4-3-3 system, and started in the opening three games. Yet Costa’s kryptonite – muscular injuries – struck again. He pulled up only eight minutes into the third game against Fiorentina in Florence, and didn’t start another league game until the return fixture – in February.

The current iteration of Costa has been reduced to little more than an impact sub; someone who can terrorise fatigued defenders late in games with a moment of magic. A prime example of this was his solo effort against Lokomotiv Moscow in the Champions League last November, when he danced through several weary Russian limbs before slotting the ball under goalkeeper Guilherme to snatch an unwarranted victory for Juve.

With Juve needing to embark on a major squad overhaul following their meek exit in the Champions League to Lyon, Costa’s name has been perpetually mentioned as one of the high-earners the club want to shift on. Juve’s management acknowledge that whilst there is a serious talent in Costa, his susceptibility to injury means they can’t count on him for large portions of a season.

In recent days he’s been linked to Manchester United as a potential substitute in case the Jadon Sancho move collapses, however the English side are rightly sceptical given his fitness issues. As he approaches his 30th birthday, Costa will be a risky investment for any potential suitor.

Furthermore, his €6m-a-season deal with Juve has another two years left to run, and the club will be desperate to offload the winger, who may let him go for less than their reported asking fee of €30m if they struggle to also shift fellow big-earners such as Sami Khedira, Aaron Ramsey and Higuain.

A move away would benefit all parties, but whether there is a club with any genuine interest in him remains to be seen.

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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 33

ATALANTA-BRESCIA

Atalanta: their supersonic offense spiked Juventus, with Duvan Zapata returning to the stat-sheet after three games, Ruslan Malinovskyi smashing one home in brilliant fashion and Alejandro Gomez and Luis Muriel setting up their teammates. Josip Ilicic is not all the way back but looked a bit better. It is an embarrassment of riches and, in a pristine match-up, a lot could come down on who rests and who gets to start, but Muriel being out all but assures Zapata will be in the XI. Robin Gosens quickly recovered from a thigh injury but might still be spared, however Timothy Castagne and Hans Hateboer are as big fantasy weapons as the Dutchman. Mario Pasalic would be palatable if starting.

Suggested picks: Zapata, Malinovskyi, Ilicic. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 32

LAZIO-SASSUOLO

Lazio: the Biancocelesti had scrapped their way into two wins after the resumption, but they had generally looked off and everything came crashing down in Lecce. Ciro Immobile, other than drilling a penalty kick, has not been the same player he was prior to the stoppage and he has not been in synch with Luis Alberto. The issues were then exacerbated by key injuries, the latest one to Joaquin Correa. Sergej Milikovic-Savic, like Alberto, bagged one recently but has not been as dominating as in the past. Felipe Caicedo returned to the box score after a while in Lecce and he is poised to take on a massive role. The form is lacking, the talent is not, so they can snap out of it in any given moment. Manuel Lazzari has arguably been their most consistent player recently.

Suggested picks: Caicedo, Lazzari, Immobile.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 31

LECCE-LAZIO

Lecce: another losing effort caused by the nth defensive collapse, but the Giallorossi looked a tiny bit better offensively versus Sassuolo, as Diego Farias returned to the XI and was livelier than Filippo Falco and Riccardo Saponara and Khouma Babacar did a little bit more than usual. The goals came on corner kick and then through the usual penalty kick by Marco Mancosu and it is pretty crazy how many fouls they manage to draw in the box. Antonin Barak has yet to recapture is best form after an injury, but he remains their most appealing non-Mancosu midfielder.

Suggested picks: Mancosu, Farias, Babacar. 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 Injury and Suspension Report – Round 26 – Second Half

Brescia: Ales Mateju will miss this round due to yellow-card accumulation, as, by letter of the law, all suspensions in Serie A are served in the next match. Ernesto Torregrossa, Romulo have recovered from the small injuries that had sidelined them recently and will play against Sassuolo. Andrea Cistana hurt his ankle in practice, Sandro Tonali has a sore quad and they will both be sidelined. 

Fiorentina: Dalbert is disqualified, while Franck Ribery returned to full training following his massive ankle sprain, but he will need some time to get his conditioning up.

Genoa: Stefano Sturaro is trying to shake off some muscle fatigue and he is questionable, like Marko Pajac, who has spent time on the shelf with a sore tibia. Paolo Ghiglione (thigh) is progressing but this week is likely too early. Continue reading