Breaking down the latest Italy roster

Roberto Mancini announced his latest Azzurri squad on Thursday, giving many talents their first call-up to the senior national team. Regardless, familiar faces still figure in the former Inter tactician’s setup, including the likes of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci among others.

Let’s now take a deeper look at Mancini’s side.

Goalkeepers: Donnarumma, Meret, Cragno, Sirigu.

No surprises here as Italy’s four best goalkeepers all get a shot to prove their worth. Gianluigi Donnarumma goes into the camp as Italy’s undisputed number one while Cagliari’s Alessi Cragno finished the season in incredible form. Salvatore Sirigu is largely there for his experience and has always proven to be a trustworthy backup when needed.

The biggest question mark is Napoli’s Alex Meret. The young shot-stopper found himself relegated to the bench following Gennaro Gattuso’s appointment but has typically impressed when thrust into the limelight – notably in the Coppa Italia final against Juventus.

Verdict: Overall, Mancini made the right picks between the posts, even though Atalanta’s Pierluigi Gollini might feel short-changed. 9/10.

Defenders: Acerbi, Bastoni, Bonucci, Biraghi, Caldara, Chiellini, D’Ambrosio, Di Lorenzo, Florenzi, Luca Pellegrini, Spinazzola.

Mancini has tried to integrate many promising talents at the back, calling up Inter’s Alessandro Bastoni and Juventus-owned Luca Pellegrini. Napoli’s Giovanni Di Lorenzo features once more in the roster and is arguably the favourite for the rightback spot. Inter’s Danilo D’Ambrosio proved his worth under Antonio Conte last season, playing as a right wingback or on the right side of the back three. In this sense, the former Torino man offers Mancini versatility and can challenge Di Lorenzo.

Mancini has turned to a blend of experience and youth at center-back. While Giorgio Chiellini has been a great servant for the national team, the veteran defender was sidelined for most of this season with recurring injuries and should not take minutes away from an emerging talent. The same goes for Alessandro Florenzi, whose best years are behind him.

Francesco Acerbi and Leonardo Bonucci offer some much-needed leadership while Bastoni and Caldara will have their opportunities to crack the eleven. Expect Alessio Romagnoli to stake his claim for a starting spot when he returns from injury.

Verdict: Interesting blend of youth and experience, but Mancini could do without Florenzi and Chiellini. 7/10.

Midfielders: Barella, Bonaventura, Castrovilli, Cristante, Jorginho, Gagliardini, Locatelli, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Sensi, Tonali, Zaniolo.

The midfield is where it arguably gets the most interesting. Inter’s Nicolo Barella rightfully makes the team after an impressive debut season and deserves to start for Gli Azzurri. His teammate, Stefano Sensi, makes his return to the national team fold and has battled injuries for the most part of the second half of the season. If he can return to his early-season form, Sensi can play an important role under Mancini.

Emerging talents Gaetano Castrovilli, Nicolo Zaniolo and Sandro Tonali all make the team and will all be looking to take the next step. Zaniolo may feature in attack while Tonali will have to battle it out with Marco Verratti and Jorginho for the regista position.

Manuel Locatelli is also rewarded for his good season with Sassuolo but may find minutes hard to come by in the long run given how congested Italy’s midfield options are. The most intriguing inclusion, perhaps, is Roma’s Lorenzo Pellegrini. The Roma man established himself as a creative force in the midfield and offers something different from Italy’s midfield ranks.

Roberto Gagliardini and Giacomo Bonaventura are the only questionable inclusions, leaving one to wonder where exactly the duo fit in Mancini’s plans.

Verdict: As Verratti is missing through injury, these are the best midfielders available. Remove Gagliardini and Bonaventura and Mancini’s on to something here. 8/10.

Forwards: Belotti, Bernardeschi, Caputo, Chiesa, El Shaarawy, Immobile, Insigne, Kean, Lasagna, Orsolini.

Italy’s forward options leave a lot to be desired, bar a few names, but ultimately Mancini does a good job with his latest call-ups. Francesco Caputo gets his debut call-up after netting 21 goals. At 33 years old, the veteran hitman has at least another tournament in him and could be useful at Euro 2021.

Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti make the cut once more alongside Moise Kean and Udinese’s Kevin Lasagna. Immobile will be hoping to translate his domestic form to the national team with Belotti closely behind him in the pecking order. Kean and Lasanga round off Mancini’s ‘number nines’ but as of right now, remain outsider options.

Out wide, Mancini called up familiar faces – Insigne, Chiesa, Bernardeschi, Orsolini and El Shaarawy. The one glaring ommission is Sassuolo’s Domenico Berardi, who deserves to be there ahead of El Shaarawy and Bernardeschi.

What will be interesting is who Mancini deploys in his starting eleven. Insigne, Chiesa and Orsolini have arguably been in the best form while Bernardeschi has struggled. El Shaarawy offers experienced depth but will be hoping to return to playing football that matters. Otherwise, he should not be on the plane to Euro 2021.

Verdict: The Berardi exclusion is a tough one to swallow, but beyond the Sassuolo man, these are good call-ups. 7/10

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After postponement of Euro 2020 & Copa America: Realistic options for European football

It was like the secret that every football fan knew in advance, that Euro 2020 and the Copa America would not be taking place this summer. It was announced and confirmed by UEFA on Tuesday morning and was obviously the right and correct decision.

With the two major tournaments being delayed a year until the summer of 2021 it frees up the summer for domestic seasons to continue. The hope of course is that the seasons will be able to continue. In the Premier League for example the FA have penciled in a return date of the first week of April. But that decision was made  a week ago.

The problem is that domestic sport returning that early seems like a far stretch with the world in chaos and uncertainly over the Coronavirus, which isn’t supposed to hit its peak according to scientists until the summer, possibly in June. Once it does then things are supposed to start returning to normal.

So the worry is can domestic seasons be finished this season? Of course that will be up to every different association and it wouldn’t be a surprise if, for example. Serie A is declared null and void this season, with Italy being hit the worst out of European countries. Spain has also taken a hit. It is less so in England, where the country continues to take a very different stance than its European counterparts by trying to continue to live day to day whilst other countries are on total lock down.

So when does the delay become a problem? Well there was 2 months of the season to finish and with no major tournaments now in the summer that means domestic football could, in theory, continue. The new season could also be delayed maximum to mid September and there would need to be at least a five week gap between the end of the season and the new one.

That would mean that this season would need to end by at least the beginning of August and start at the beginning of June. Of course football could be kicking off sometime in April and if that happens, then all is well with the world again, that is the hope. The biggest fear is that the virus drags on or even gets worse before it gets better. One would hope though that with almost a 3 month safety net all domestic leagues could continue again this summer.

These are very uncertain times, something that no new generation or the one before it has faced before, so nobody really knows what will happen, but for once UEFA has tried to help the situation and so has Conmebal to try and make the right decisions.

 

 

Doku Catching The Eye Of Liverpool And Other European Giants

This summer is likely to be dominated by the European Championships. Thus explaining the buzz from betting sites who have already started to prepare odds and offers for Euro 2020. Still, we already see transfer rumours begin to surface. One of the latest surrounds Jeremy Doku, a player who could well be in demand in the coming months.

Doku, 17, is enjoying what is very much his breakthrough season at Anderlecht, the club which produced the likes of Youri Tielemans and Romelu Lukaku. He’s made twenty-three appearances in the Jupiler Pro League in the 19/20 campaign, starting on fourteen occasions. With three goals and four assists to his name, he’s proving himself a capable performer at Belgium’s highest level already at such a young age.

The winger, who can play on the right or the left, put in a sensational performance last time out for Anderlecht in their 7-0 home victory against Zulte Waregem. Doku was directly involved in three out of the four goals Frank Vercauteren’s side scored, bagging two himself and providing one assist. If his last eleven Jupiler Pro League games are anything to go by, Doku appears to have established himself as a first-team regular, which will only allow him to showcase his ability to the likes of Liverpool and other European teams.

Liverpool are long term admirers of the Belgian U21 international, but they may have to stay patient due to Doku’s current contractual situation with Anderlecht. Doku penned a new deal with the club on February 21st, which sees him tied down now until the summer of 2022. However, there is also a suggestion that when Doku turns 18 on May 27th, a new long-term deal will be signed to secure his future with the Belgian outfit.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who is renowned for developing and trusting youth players, knows consistently evolving his squad will be the key to long term success. Takumi Minamino and Sepp van den Berg, who are 24 and 17 respectively, have joined the club in the 19.20 campaign, and the German has also shown he is keen to allow the younger players at the club to progress along the way.

Doku could be the perfect addition to the current Liverpool squad long term, primarily as the Borgerhout born winger is used to playing in a similar setup to the one Klopp employs with his teams. And, while Doku may remain at Anderlecht for several more seasons, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. His development will receive a boost, just as we saw with Youri Tielemans, who made a move at the right time and continues to impress with Leicester City.

So, for now, Liverpool and other European sides will have to be patient, and so will Doku. But, he’s undoubtedly one to watch for the future and a player who will make a move to one of the bigger clubs in Europe’s top leagues in the next couple of years.

Top European clubs to have most players at Euro 2020

This will be a unique European tournament. For Euro 2020, there is no single host country, but 12 different cities around the continent playing host to matches.

Europe’s top clubs are naturally well represented at the Euros. This year’s tournament should be no exception, but which clubs are set to have the most international players involved at the finals?

Assuming all are fit and well to take part in Euro 2020, the following are our predictions:

Chelsea

English Premier League outfit Chelsea could lead the way at the Euro finals with the most representation at the tournament. A case can be made for 14 players from the Blues being involved.

Spain goalkeeper Kepa, France trio Olivier Giroud, N’Golo Kante and Kurt Zouma, Denmark and Germany defenders Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger, Italy midfielder Jorginho, Croatia counterpart Mateo Kovacic, Belgium striker Michy Batshuayi, and as many as five England players, could all be at Euro 2020.

The likely inclusion of so many players from Stamford Bridge in national teams’ Euros squads is largely down to the nurturing of young talent done in West London since Chelsea legend Frank Lampard came in as manager last summer.

Bayern Munich

Bundesliga big boys Bayern Munich are always well-represented at major tournaments like the Euros and World Cup. Euro 2020 should be no exception with 13 predicted first team players set for summer duty.

Naturally, many of those are German. Manuel Neuer, Niklas Sule, Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry are all in Die Mannschaft’s setup.

There are four France internationals at Bayern: Benjamin Pavard, Lucas Hernandez, Corentin Tolisso and Kingsley Coman. As World Cup holders, Les Bleus are among the favourites at 6/1 in the international football betting on Euro 2020 with bet365.

Completing the likely Euros involvement from Munich are Spain midfielder Thiago Alcantara, Poland frontman Robert Lewandowski, Croatia winger Ivan Perisic and Austria’s versatile David Alaba.

Real Madrid

Another of Europe’s top clubs, Real Madrid, look sure to have around a dozen of their players involved at Euro 2020. Spain makes up the biggest proportion of those with four: defensive duo Dani Carvajal and Sergio Ramos, midfielder Isco and winger Marco Asensio.

France duo Ferland Mendy and Raphael Varane join Belgium duo Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard, who faces a race to be fit after a fractured ankle, as locks for inclusion.

Germany playmaker Toni Kroos, Wales star Gareth Bale and Croatia’s Luka Modric could be joined by Luka Jovic if Serbia reach the tournament finals.

Barcelona

El Clasico rivals Barcelona are another rich source of international footballers. Potentially on their way to Euro 2020 from Camp Nou are Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto for Spain.

France trio Antoine Griezmann, Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti, recent out of transfer window arrival Martin Braithwaite of Denmark and Portugal full-back Nelson Semedo are others set to go to the Euros.

The Catalonia based contingent is completed by Germany goalie Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic and Netherlands counterpart Frenkie de Jong. That makes 11 Barcelona players on course for Euro 2020.

Euro 2020 draw: A group-by-group guide to next summer’s tournament

The draw for the group stage of the 16th edition of the European Championship took place in Bucharest on Saturday, as the 20 already-qualified countries learned their fate. There are still four spots to be determined at next March’s play-offs, but we now know who the vast majority of sides will be playing in the first round of next summer’s pan-European competition.

Continue reading

Has Euro 2020 qualifying been too predictable with ultimately too many miss matches?

Euro 2020 qualification is shaping up with all of the big guns qualifying easy, but have the bigger nations just had it too easy this time?

UEFA has increased the competition from 16 teams to 24, their excuse is that more nations who normally don’t qualify will get that chance and Finland have reaped that reward as an example. Wales are their too. But at the same time increasing by 8 teams also means it is very unlikely that we will get any shocks. For example the Netherlands have failed to qualify for a couple of major competitions this decade and Italy not being at the 2018 World Cup was a major surprise. Increasing teams chances also means that the bigger nations can have off days and still qualify.

England are a good example of how qualifying for the competition has basically become mundane, boring and predictable. Yes if you’re an England fan you would love the fact that the nation scored 11 goals in their last two qualifying games and didn’t ship any in their 7-0 win over Montenegro and 4-0 victory over Kosovo. But once you see that a whole domestic weekend of Premier League football had to be shifted in order to see such a miss match it just makes no sense.

England are not the only ones. There has been huge victories for the likes of Portugal and Spain and Italy recorded a 9-1 win over Armenia. Talk about competitive football.

In truth it is hard not to think that qualifiers exist for two reasons: Gate receipts and for UEFA to spread their brand and sponsorship. The solution seems an easy one not to have a qualification process. Qualifying has simply become too easy for the big nations whilst other nations are producing miss matches. Yes lesser footballing nations need that competitive football and they will get that with the UEFA Nations League, a rather silly idea but better than friendlies. Though let’s remind ourselves that friendlies still exist.

So just have no qualification and have all European national sides qualify for the competition proper. True it means the likes of San Marino could get hit for 10 goals in the competition proper, but the match would still feel more important being in a major competition than tucked away on a Monday night in Group E.

Qualification is here to stay though and it is just a thought. For now international football seems quite redundant as long as it’s not one of the major competitions- it is an advert in the blockbusting and interesting movie that is domestic football.

UEFA need to show zero tolerance to racism after Bulgaria-England game

It was suspected that it would happen before the game and then it did. England played Bulgaria away from home and the nations black players had been warned that racist chanting could happen during the game. But this time there was a plan of action at hand.

Sure enough the racist chants bellowed out throughout the stadium in under 30 minutes and it was heartening to see something different happen- the game stopped, the referee abide, talked to England manager Gareth Southgate and also a group of racist fans were led out of the stadium. Finally some action whilst the game was going on had occurred. Black players who have had to endure vile chants usually monkey gestures were taking that fight back.

One had to feel sorry for Tyrone Mings, who had earned his place finally in the England team. This was his debut for the national side and it should have been a memorable and proud one. Sure England won 6-0 and Mings played his part but it all got overshadowed by the racists.

After the game UEFA charged both sets of fans- England for chanting during the Bulgarian national anthem and Bulgarian fans even if in the minority and their racist and also Nazi salutes. But what will be the outcome?

Simply put UEFA have been pretty useless at dealing with racism. Getting the worlds best players to partake in anti racist messages does not work, banners do not work, adverts do not work, fines do not work, banning certain fans does not work. having sections of the ground closed off does not work and even playing behind closed doors does not work. So what is the solution.

Maybe simply there is none. Racism has been with us for centuries why would it go away in 2019? It won’t and to think it will is living in dreamland. But Bulgaria need to be punished as does any other nation and football club by that matter. The punishment needs to be to stop that supply- that means to actually stop the football club or nation operating. In effect suspending a business.

Bulgaria should be thrown out of the Euro 2020 qualifying and then banned from partaking in the qualifiers for the next World Cup. With every other friendly game played outside the country. It might seem harsh but a message needs to be sent.

As for clubs, stop the fines and start docking points. As much as 10 points, punish those clubs if they are on the verge of European football and those 10 points drop them out of contention or could be the difference between being relegated or not.

No matter what colour you are or religion, you have the right not to be harassed on a football field and in the wider spectrum society. We will never get rid of racism, but we need to reduce it, and the only way of doing that is by having a zero tolerance attitude.

Five takeaways from Italy’s latest Euro 2020 qualifiers

Italy wrapped up their latest set of Euro 2020 Group J qualifiers with a 2-1 victory Sunday evening over second-place Finland, with Ciro Immobile putting away his first goal for the Azzurri since September 2017 and Jorginho converting the decisive match-winner from the penalty spot.

With wins over Armenia and Finland, Roberto Mancini’s men maintained their perfect record in the qualifying phase with 6 victories and have moved closer to securing a spot in next summer’s competition.

Here are five takeaways from Italy’s latest matches. Continue reading

Top Premier League Goalkeepers in 2018/19: Jordan Pickford

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England’s number 1 goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was able to play some pivotal moments in Everton’s up and down season which saw the Mersey siders finish the season strong after a slow and poor start could have caused an early exit for new manager Marco Silva.

All eyes were on Pickford to see if he could ‘earn’ Everton some valuable points and he ended up keeping 14 clean sheets, 2 better than Hugo Llroris who finished above him in the rankings.

Pickford’s season started out as a nightmare as he saw Everton not only struggle for points but also kept conceding goals and it meant than in his first six games he had yet to earn a point and in fact was on -10 points.

Pickford’s first points of the season didn’t actually come until the end of September, when at Goodison Park, the Toffees were able to beat Fulham 3-0 thus earning Pickford 7 points for his clean sheet.

The Everton keeper’s best period of the season started in mid March and ran through to the beginning of May where from 7 league games he kept 6 clean sheets and Everton found a new belief, finishing the season strong and beating the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United. Indeed the club beat United 4-0 and that was seen as one of the biggest surprises of the season and a wake up call for them.

Pickford was also involved in the 0-0 game against Liverpool. This is a match that Everton fans will remember for some time given that it was the last time that Jurgen Klopp’s team dropped points during the season and thus, in theory, Everton stopped Liverpool from winning the league, something that Pickford and the club and fans would be very happy about given the rivalry between the sides.

Pickford wasn’t without criticism this season and that is a given. Simply put because he is England’s number 1 there will always be the spotlight on him. His worst match came against Tottenham just before Christmas where Everton, at home, were thrashed by Mauricio Pochettino’s side 6-2 in an embarrassing game for the Toffees who certainly came unstuck and as a result Pickford earned -10 points. Indeed had Pickford never experienced that game he would have finished 3rd in the rankings.

The conclusion was that Pickford finished 5th and 19th overall for goalkeepers in Europe. He finished with a points total of 53, this is his best of his career so far and he will be looking to impress next season with England manager Gareth Southgate watching on as Euro 2020 gears up.

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UEFA have got it wrong fining Montenegro just €20,000 after racist chants against Raheem Sterling

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After England international Raheem Sterling was subjected to vile racist abuse in England’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro the Manchester City playmaker said “It sounds harsh, but which fan will risk racist behaviour if it might relegate their team or ruin their title bid? Small fines do no damage to clubs and countries, but one group of people who do have the money to make them take notice are sponsors. The next time that a club or governing body fails to act appropriately against racism, I would love to see that company pull its money out and make a moral stand. I don’t know how long it will take for things to change but we have to start now. I don’t want the next generation of black players to have to put up with this evil.”

So it seems a slap in the face that UEFA have announced that Montenegro will face a fine of just 20,000 euros, a figure that is totally affordable to the nation. But wait there’s more they will also play their next match against Kosovo on June 7th behind closed doors. And that is that. Case closed.

UEFA have ended up handing out a very standard fine, something we have seen for the past 15-20 years in European football. If racist chants against black players were happening years ago and these type of fines were applied, why is it that nothing has changed in 2019?

UEFA’s decision to hand such a small fine and a one match behind closed doors is simply mindboggling, it makes absolutely no sense. It also takes Sterling’s words and throws it in the nearest bin- it feels as though himself and other countless black players have been silenced. The small fine will not stop racist chanting happening again. And Sterling was right to pick out sponsors that is UEFA’s life blood. Could you imagine McDonald’s pulling out of football- now that would make UEFA think.

So what should UEFA have done? They had two choices. The first would have been to  keep to a fine but instead make it 10 times more and get the national side to play half of their remaining games behind closed doors, but let away fans in.

The second would be simply to have kicked the team out of the competition. This seems incredibly harsh because at the end of the day it isn’t the players fault, but it would have set such a brutal barrier as to have a zero tolerance attitude on racism.

Instead and sadly Montenegro have been fined just like other clubs and nations over the years, a small amount that feels like a slap on the wrist- and an open letter to make racism boil over once again in the future.