Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 25

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Milan-Empoli: the Rossoneri are coming off a humungous win over Atalanta, the second in a row after they had disposed of Cagliari and they have not lost since in 2019, maintaining a slim advantage over Roma in the Champions League race. The Azzurri snapped an eight-game famine on Sunday, where they had picked up only two points and lost seven times. The Devil will not have Suso due to a suspension, which opens up minutes for either Samu Castillejo or Fabio Borini. Needless to say, Krzysztof Piatek continues to be amazing and his clutchness is remarkable because he does not get as many feeds as other top Serie A strikers. Hakan Calhanoglu finally bagged one last week and they will rely more on their playmaking with Suso on the stands. Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 19

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Juventus: Blaise Matuidi and Medhi Benatia missed the last game, but they will be available to play. Federico Bernardeschi has been called up after missing time with a thigh pull. Rodrigo Bentancur is suspended. Juan Cuadrado underwent knee surgery and could be on the shelf for three months. 

Napoli: Lorenzo Insigne and Kalidou Koulibaly were handed two-game bans. Marek Hamsik subbed off against Inter due to a thigh injury and will try to recover for the first game of 2019. Continue reading

Serie A Injury Report – Round 18

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Juventus: Federico Bernardeschi has a thigh ailment and he is likely to miss the next two games. Juan Cuadrado will not undergo knee surgery, but his timetable is uncertain. Blaise Matuidi is under the weather and out for the Bergamo trip. Moise Kean has a hamstring ailment. 

Napoli:  Allan is set to return after missing one due to back pain. Mario Rui is back to the squad list.

Inter: Radja Nainggolan has been suspended by the team for disciplinary reasons. Joao Miranda is out again due to muscle fatigue.

Lazio: Ciro Immobile and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic are fatigued and might sit initially. Luis Alberto subbed off against Cagliari, but just for cramps. Milan Badelj is iffy with a muscular problem. Valon Berisha and Riza Durmisi will not be available.  Continue reading

Serie A Injury Report – Round 17

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Juventus: Sami Khedira should be back to the squad list after missing time with an ankle sprain. Joao Cancelo, Juan Cuadrado (knee) and Andrea Barzagli are not expected to return in 2018.

Napoli: Simone Verdi is likely to be called up as he has been working with the rest of the team for a week now. Mario Rui missed the last game due to muscle fatigue and has been excluded from the squad list again. Alex Meret has a sore shoulder that needs to be monitored. Allan has been ruled out due to back pain.

Inter: Kwadwo Asamoah is suspended. Matias Vecino (thigh) and Dalbert (calf) have been on the sidelines for the last few games, but they will be available. Joao Miranda is fatigued and is very likely to miss the game. Continue reading

Serie A Injury Report – Round 16

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Juventus: Joao Cancelo has a torn meniscus and will return after the break. Juan Cuadrado hyperextended his knee against Young Boys and he will not play in the weekend, while Medhi Benatia (knee soreness) has recovered. Rodrigo Bentancur is suspended, Sami Khedira will not come back from his ankle injury. Andrea Barzagli is out with a quad strain.

Napoli: Mario Rui subbed off against Liverpool due to a muscular injury that has yet to be evaluated, while Simone Verdi should make the squad list after being on the mend for a good chunk due to a pair of injury, the latest being an ankle sprain. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 7

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A seminal Serie A weekend is approaching, featuring the Derby della Capitale and Juventus-Napoli.

Roma-Lazio: the Giallorossi shook off at least part of the negativity surrounding them by routing Frosinone on Wednesday, which is not particularly difficult these days, but they needed it. They had won just in the opening round. The Biancocelesti keep feasting on the minnows and are coming off four wins in a row. La Lupa has been so inconsistent so far, but 4-2-3-1 with Javier Pastore in the hole and Steven Nzonzi and Daniele De Rossi screening the defence might ultimately be the way to go, at least in big matches. Stephan El Shaarawy has been their most trustworthy player so far, but Cengiz Under broke through on Wednesday and he does not need a lot to get hot. 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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Serie A Match of the Round: Napoli vs Milan

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There were more than a few compelling games this week, but Napoli-Milan had the most prestige. The Partenopei came into the game looking to build on their comeback win against Lazio and to down another top team, while Milan were making their seasonal debut because the previous game against Genoa was postponed.

No surprise in Carlo Ancelotti’s choices as he mostly confirmed the starting XI, again with Arek Milik spearheading the trident and Dries Mertens as super sub, while David Ospina was selected over Orestis Karnezis on goal. Continue reading

Serie A Player Status Updates – Round 38

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No shortage of injuries and suspensions heading into the final game.

Juventus: Sami Khedira got pulled last minute against Roma due to a muscular issue and he should not be available, same for Giorgio Chiellini and Benedikt Howedes, who have been on the shelf for a while now. Massimiliano Allegri has ruled out also Juan Cuadrado. Despite what the coach said, Federico Bernardeschi is the only one not in the squad list.

Napoli: Vlad Chiriches has undergone surgery to stabilize the shoulder that has given him a lot of problems in the past few years.

Roma: Radja Nainggolan in disqualified, while Cengiz Under got a knock on the ribs and he is very questionable. Gregoire Defrel and Rick Karsdorp are out with severe injuries, Bruno Peres is doubtful with a muscular one. Alisson has some soreness in his hip flexor and will not play.  Continue reading