Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Three – Other Games

FIORENTINA-SAMPDORIA

Fiorentina: the Viola were rather unlucky to be pipped at the post by Inter, but on the offensive end they surely raised the bar compared to opener, primarily thanks to a superb Franck Ribery, who shredded the defence and dished two assists. However he is said to be banged up, so the others could have a bigger role in this case. Gaetano Castrovilli, who notched the second goal in a row, and Federico Chiesa capitalized, while Christian Kouame benefitted from a generous feed by Giacomo Bonaventura. The ex-Genoa striker has separated himself from Patrick Cutrone and Dusan Vlahovic as main centre-forward and should end up being their primary scorer, even though generally throughout his career he has fared better as second-striker. The Gigliati are pretty stacked offensively and Cristiano Biraghi has been exuberant down the left flank.

Suggested picks: Kouame, Chiesa, Ribery.

Sampdoria: the Blucerchiati thought they had the Benevento game in the bag, but the Sanniti had different plans. Despite the second-half collapse, the Blucerchiati produced more than against Juventus, as natural, and Fabio Quagliarella quickly opened his seasonal tally, followed up by Omar Colley’s first Serie A goal. The offense got a boost with the addition of Antonio Candreva as right winger, who provided an assist right away. Federico Bonazzoli and Jakub Jankto instead have not been great in the first two games, while the secondary option Morten Thorsby was supplanted by Valerio Verre in the midfield last week, who was pretty good at Verona, but featured in a much more advanced position. Tommaso Augello uncorked few decent crosses in the last game, while Manolo Gabbiadini hit the post immediately upon subbing in and might get the start this week. Jankto has been ruled out, which could lead to an extended run for newcomer Mikkel Damsgaard or last year’s late bloomer Kristoffer Askildsen.

Suggested picks: Quagliarella, Candreva, Gabbiadini.

SASSUOLO-CROTONE

Sassuolo: the Neroverdi predictably detonated in the Spezia match, taking advantage of a lousy defence, and could be in a similar spot this week given Crotone’s early struggles on that front. Jeremie Boga still has not cleared the COVID-19 protocol: Lukas Haraslin was limited by an injury in the last game, but Gregoire Defrel picked up the slack more than convincingly, while Filip Djuricic and Francesco Caputo quickly shook off an underwhelming opener and Domenico Berardi nailed a PK. Manuel Locatelli is already playing at an excellent level, but he is not so prone to picking up bonuses. As far as the full-backs go, where there is some potential, Rogerio is hurt and Grigoris Kyriakopoulos is not as impactful, while on the right Jeremy Toljan has so far played more than Mert Muldur, who is generally more exuberant, although a little unbridled.

Suggested picks: Caputo, Berardi, Djuricic.

Crotone: the Pitagorici could not keep up with Genoa and Milan in the first matches and the going will not get any easier here, also considering their injury problems, as it is manifest that they need Ahmad Benali’s playmaking and leadership in the midfield. The coach has kept Junior Messias there to have more offensive punch, but it is not the same thing. Denis Dragus got the start to replace Emmanuel Riviere up front and was sprightly, the main problem though is that their fulcrum Simy has yet to get going and most of their offense goes through him. Nicolò Zanellato and Luca Cigarini generally take more care of the dirty work in the midfield. They added Pedro Pereira and Arkadiusz Reca on the flanks last week: the latter figures to be a bigger factor when it comes to attacking, but Andrea Rispoli and Salvatore Molina, who already had an assist, are no slouches on that regard.

Suggested picks: Messias, Simy, Dragus.

UDINESE-ROMA

Udinese: the Zebrette lost the second game in a row, this time against the lowly Spezia, and once against struggled to come up with convincing offense. Kevin Lasagna missed a pair of chances like in the opener, but that was about it on open play. Stefano Okaka and Ilija Nestorovski have not had a much impact so far, while they are almost completely depleted in the midfield, where they were forced to field 18-year-old Martin Palumbo, on top of other youngster Mamadou Coulibaly. Roberto Pereyra could be a decent factor, but it is not certain he will be available for this one due to bureaucratic elements. Therefore, Rodrigo De Paul will remain almost the sole source of playmaking, even should he be forced to play again in front of the defence. Thomas Ouwejan looked pretty promising when he subbed in Wednesday, certainly more enticing that Marvin Zeegelaar.

Suggested picks: De Paul, Lasagna, Okaka. 

Roma: he missed a pair of sitters, but the Giallorossi inevitably looked much better with Edin Dzeko back in the lineup and his quality flick-ons and passes started up several interesting sorties against Juventus. Jordan Veretout cashed in, and also canned a PK, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan was denied by the goalie. The major development is that Paulo Fonseca kept Pedro in the formation and moved Lorenzo Pellegrini to the pivot position, where Amadou Diawara and Bryan Cristante generally play. Therefore, the Spaniard is set to be one of their main weapons, while the Italian midfielder loses some shine as he is more far away from the box, but his playmaking could come through anyway, especially in easier matches where they are expected to attack consistently, like this one. He notched nine assists last season. It is pretty strange that Mkhitaryan still has not scored since he had few tasty chances.

Suggested picks: Dzeko, Mkhitaryan, Pedro.

BENEVENTO-BOLOGNA

Benevento: the Sanniti have been surprisingly shoddy in the back to begin the season, although keeping up with Inter might be difficult for anybody. However, they have been more productive than expected on the other end and while the goals in the opener were rather fluky, two by Luca Caldirola, one by Gaetano Letizia, the output coming from Gianluca Caprari (brace) and Gianluca Lapadula (one assist) should be more sustainable. The two already looked in sync, even though Lapadula’s minutes are being monitored due to lack of fitness: Gabriele Moncini has not really grabbed the brass ring in relief and so Lapadula is set to lead the charge whenever healthy. They added Iago Falque earlier this week and he can be a big weapon if in good conditions, but he will have to beat out last year’s starter Roberto Insigne, who is a substantial part of their offense. Some rotation could lead to good minutes for Marco Sau, who had 13 goals last year. The two box-to-box have not been particularly involved in the offensive proceedings.

Suggested picks: Caprari, Lapadula, Insigne.

Bologna: the Felsinei broke through in the derby with Parma thanks to a magnificent Roberto Soriano (two goals, one assist), but they had shown interesting stuff late versus Milan as well, despite the poor result. They are among the most proactive and productive sides among the minnows. Andreas Skov Olsen and Rodrigo Palacio joined Soriano in the stat-sheet in the last game, which is not great news for Riccardo Orsolini, which seems to have a long-standing beef with coach Sinisa Mihajlovic that is trying to make his flourish, and Nicola Sansone, who has seen little playing time in the early going. Musa Barrow is likely due after few attempts in the first two matches. Aaron Hickey played great in his debut and might quickly unseat Mitchell Dijks at left-back, while Lorenzo De Silvestri is always a steady hand. Jerdy Schouten has been splendid so far, but his role is pretty defensive.

Suggested picks: Barrow, Soriano, Palacio.

PARMA-VERONA

Parma: as if things were not going badly enough for the Ducali, Roberto Inglese and Andreas Cornelius both picked up last-minute injuries before the last game and so they were forced to field a very light attack. Gervinho, who did not have his signature burst right after a small physical problem, and Yann Karamoh did not do the trick and Andrea Adorante is the only pure centre-forward left. Hernani scored, on a Gaston Brugman sly feed, but only because of a defensive blunder. The Brazilian midfielder had not hit the target last season despite often firing away from distance. They will indeed get back Jasmin Kurtic after a technicality kept him out for the second game in a row, so that should lift them a little since they were forced to field Jacopo Dezi in the previous game. He and Jasmin Kucka might be biggest threats than their strikers all things considered. They need reinforcements from the transfer market.

Suggested picks: Gervinho, Kurtic, Kucka.

Verona: the Scaligeri will never be the most explosive team, but they tend to find a way to get the job done, especially because their stifling defence allows them to pick up good results even when they do not shine offensively. Samuel Di Carmine subbed off and will be out this week, but Andrea Favilli bagged the game-winning goal, his first Serie A one. They are adding some pieces since Darko Lazovic was able to make an appearance, but Federico Dimarco was surely serviceable on the left flank, and Ebrima Colley fared well in limited minutes. Antonin Barak has strong upside used as attacking midfielder and Adrien Tameze has been very promising. With different protagonists, they are getting back to the formula that propelled them last season, aided by the playmaking of Miguel Veloso and Mattia Zaccagni.

Suggested picks: Favilli, Barak, Zaccagni.

MILAN-SPEZIA

Milan: the Rossoneri took care of busines against Crotone, with Franck Kessie converting a penalty kick and Brahim Diaz netting his first goal in the Peninsula. They have another easy match-up on tap, however they will be undermanned and likely spent because. Ante Rebic injured his elbow in the past game and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is iffy due to COVID-19. It will likely up to youngster Lorenzo Colombo to lead the attack, while Rafael Leao should be ready for more playing time with one more week of practice under his belt following a long quarantine. With all the absences, Hakan Calhanoglu will have an even bigger role and, while he has been great in Europa League, he has not found the target in Serie A play yet. Samu Castillejo and Alexis Saelemaekers will have to make to make their presence felt in the final third more and they could unleash Theo Hernandez to get a boost.

Suggested picks: Calhanoglu, Colombo, Castillejo.

Spezia: the Aquilotti confirmed to be a pesky team in the Udinese game, what was a little stunning was to see Andrej Galabinov being this effective (three goals) after he failed to reach the double digit in the last three years. Emmanuel Gyasi picked up an assist, while Daniele Verde was fairly bubbly down the right flank and he is more at ease there than Kevin Agudelo, but the latter can play in a number of spots. Matteo Ricci has already had an helper and a goal called back, while Giulio Maggiore and Paolo Bartolomei have been more subdued and they have yet to fully explore all the new additions to the midfield. Tommaso Pobega and Lucien Agoume could be pretty interesting, but the hierarchies have yet to fully take form and they might just roll with last year’s starters anyway.

Suggested picks: Galabinov, Gyasi, Verde. 

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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

Serie Best Fantasy XI – Round Two

Thomas Strakosha (7 points): among the four goalkeepers that managed to keep a clean sheet in this round, he was the one that was called into action the most and had a key save on a long-range effort by Marko Rog.

Adam Marusic (7 points): the Serbian fullback took over the left flank against Cagliari since Jony was recently sold and Mohamed Fares has yet to be announced. He was actually a force to be reckoned as he dished Manuel Lazzari a ball that just needed to be nudge in few minutes into the contest and linked up with Ciro Immobile to ice it in the second half. Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round Two versus Roma

In a game of many faces, Juventus’ plans felt overambitious from the get-go and they were almost completely undone by the glaring lack of balance, but they showed great resilience after the red card in the second half and came away with a tie against Roma.

Danilo (1 points): if Cristiano Ronaldo had not scored a brace, he would have been the man of the match, not only for the precise lob that set up the second goal, but also for full ninety minutes of very energetic defending as for long stretches he looked the only really apt for such an aggressive style in the back.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round Two

Results: Roma and Juventus shared the spoils in an entertaining fixture to cap off the Sunday slateNapoli demolished Genoa, Milan easily got past Crotone, while Verona nipped Udinese to stay perfect in the season. Inter furiously rallied back late against Fiorentina, while Lazio breezed past Cagliari and Atalanta toyed with Torino, so the three ‘top four’ teams that had their opener delayed were all successful. Among the newly promoted teams, Benevento got off to a brilliant start as they mounted a glorious comeback against Sampdoria, tough sledding instead for Spezia, which run into an in-form Sassuolo. Bologna trounced Parma on Monday night.  Continue reading

Serie A Predictions – Round Two

Torino-Atalanta: the Granata did not play very well versus Fiorentina and they will have to tackle a more difficult match-up in this one, albeit at home, while the Goddess will be making their seasonal debut and are unchanged compared to last year: 1-3.

Cagliari-Lazio: the Sardinians were sneaky and resilient in the Sassuolo tilt, where they were outplayed but somehow managed to get the lead. First match of the season for the Biancocelesti, who are pretty the same team they were last season, where they usually fared well against the minnows, at least before the resumption. It is a game that will say a lot about Cagliari’s status: 1-2. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Two – Remaining Games

SAMPDORIA-BENEVENTO

Sampdoria: the Blucerchiati tried to stay close in the Juventus clash but, despite a moderate surge at the beginning of the season half, they were not threatening. The coach kept initially Fabio Quagliarella and Gaston Ramirez on the bench and that was costly. The Uruguayan had some good plays upon subbing in and he is generally the stick that stirs the pot for them, as they do not have much creativity throughout the roster. Federico Bonazzoli struggled as main reference point, Fabio Depaoli, Mehdi Leris and Jakub Jankto did not much of note. However, in an easier match-up, Jankto and Morten Thorsby could be more proactive. Continue reading

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

A new dawn is upon us: Pirlo’s debut as Juve coach in 3-0 win over Sampdoria

Somehow unable to shake the ludicrous notion that the complete absence of any managerial experience could well lead to the players running around like headless chickens- basically a catastrophe. No chance, though I suppose it is prudent to at least harbor some doubts when diving close to fully and deeply into the unknown. And yet this unknown, which so many pundits have spoken and written of, is more a concept, than a logical appraisal.

All of the players in the squad know how to play football. They have long been trained by various managers, in various systems and all understand the flow and tactics of the game. None of them need to be filled with precise instructions on the eve of each game, to ensure they know where to run and what to do when they reach the point of contact with the action.

This would only matter if Pirlo had the ill sense to expect them to learn afresh a complicated system which had never been applied anywhere but the manager’s head. No, he is far from arrogant or stupid enough to make unreasonable demands. And instead – in the short time he has been with and had the squad together – he has effected some small but significant adjustments to a basic 3-5-2, pretty much kept the players in the positions where they are most comfortable and mainly focused upon building the enthusiasm and belief, the revival of hope and hunger, which came about merely from the departure of Sarri and arrival of Pirlo.

Perhaps that is a little too simplified, as we do have some new players in the squad, and yet largely this was the same group of players as Sarri was given to work with last campaign. Which is not meant to reduce the praise and value of the new recruits, more making a case for the the position that our issues last term – which I covered in depth and with steady despondency – were not solely or even mainly rooted in a lack of quality…

Player ratings

Szcescny: Hardly more than a spectator for the first half but was very much called into action late on in the second, making a series of decent saves, one of which was incredible, when a deflection of Bonucci was pawed off the goal line. His ability as a shot stopper from close range has never been in question. Would like to see him show more command of his box and regain that unerring concentration of the 18/19 season. 7/10

Gianluca Frabotta: A surprise starter with many including myself pleading for Pellegrini who seems set for Genoa and assuming that our old friend De Sciglio would be found on the team-sheet…but no, Pirlo pulled a surprise in selecting the 21 year old left-back who had made last season twenty appearances for the U23s in their league campaign and six in the march to Serie C Coppa Italia victory.

He began not gingerly but carefully, a little stiff perhaps to the occasion, as to be expected when making his full bow in such an important game. And yet as the match wore on he grew in confidence, began to get forward with more determination, put in a few decent crosses, even tested the keeper one on one. A steady and impressive performance 7/10

Leonardo Bonucci: I have long been a detractor of using Leo in a back four, adamant that his finest form has always shown in a back three. And whilst it would be wrong to suggest he was instantly back to his very best, this was a strong and positive step into the new system.

The goal he scored helped his cause and balanced out a fluffed clearance when he bizarrely aimed his head at a ball he could have chested and of course the unfortunate deflection which almost resulted in an own goal…other than that he was comfortable throughout, looked a considerably better fit with two other defenders in the rearguard when stepping forward and I swear I saw him get up the field and stay up the field as our highest player briefly! I up his rating from a 6.5 to a 7, not so much for the goal, but for a flick over a players head then lay-off which brought a smile to my haggard countenance! 7/10

Giorgio Chiellini- It’s superb to simply see him back and physically able to perform. I will retain my expectations of his body proving unwilling to perform week in, week out and be happy whenever we see him involved and in fine form as he was throughout this tie 7/10

Danilo: The Brazilian receives far too much criticism from people when he rarely does much wrong. Operating as a hybrid CBR he was solid, even threatened on goal and did not leave us short on any forage of the opponent into our read third. 7/10

Cuadrado: Preferable to see him higher up the field where he can be more comfortable and dangerous, Juan fared well enough. Nothing special and I remain hopeful that we can upgrade that position as he is our best there and his best is often well below what any elite side seeks to find on the flank. 6.5/10

Weston McKennie: As Pirlo mentioned in his press conference, ‘the american’ misplaced a few passes early doors, but regardless, put himself about brilliantly, tried to support and worked damn hard to defend the center. Was also a menace in aerial combat, made a few lovely tackles and for a debut, this was very promising indeed. 7/10

Adrien Rabiot: Happy to find the Frenchman picking up where he left of last season. Bossed the midfield along with Mckennie, the double pivot working well, made a few stray passes but seems to have such momentum, if a pass goes to an opponent, he is soon upon them to win it back. As good as we have seen him, clearly like every other player, enjoying the early reign of our new mister 7/10

Aaron Ramsey: The best player on the field from start to finish. Unbelievable transformation from lackluster, unfit, lost soul of last season to a world class attacking midfielder who was ubiquitous, absolutely outstanding in every area of his game. Combative, creative, dynamic with as much flair as grit…Even when clearly losing his legs after 60-70 minutes, he still managed to put on the assist for Ronaldo. It is a huge IF…but IF…we can keep him fit, he adds world class talent and technique and experience to our ability to create from deep, connect midfield with attack. 8.5/10

Ronaldo: Worked hard as always and was perhaps a little surprised to have so much of a supporting cast in the final third and whilst taking his goal very smartly indeed, as was the case often last year he missed a fair few chances. The argument of course is how many of those chances does he make himself? Still, hardly a stellar outing yet far from poor. 7/10

Dejan Kulusevski: I have been lauding this kid for months now, even going so far as to suggest he might prove as potent a signing as Zidane…not to suggest he has the same level, but similar in terms of for many a relative unknown, no fanfare accompanied his signing. And yet…clearly from last season and his form before at various youth levels, Dejan is a special talent. Operating as a CF with license to roam, he opened the scoring with a well placed pass of a shot into the box, then carried on creating openings, charging deep to make tackles, retrieve and move the side up the field intelligently and swiftly. This was a splendid debut for the kid who is likely to improve and can play across the front line and in midfield. Great head on his shoulders and wonderful technique in those big feet 7.5/10

Substitutes:

Mattia De Sciglio: Hard to judge but did manage to test the keeper and avoided any glaring errors – usual story with Mattia 6.5/10

Rodrigo Bentancur: N/A

Douglas Costa: Quick mention on Little Doug, who I saw lose the ball in our half, and just walk off in the opposite direction to the ball without any care of what developed behind him, as his team mates then picked up the chase to retrieve. I hope Pirlo noted this as it was in stark contrast to every other player who was involved and indicative to me of Costa’s attitude since joining the club. I felt it was insulting to the fans, to the club, to the new boss and to the rest of the squad

Merih Demiral: N/A

Overall I was very happy with the opening game against a tricky opponent. Far more reasons to be cheerful and to remain excited than to worry.

The new lads all showed definite promise. We still have Sandro, Dybala, Demiral, Arthur, Bentancur and now Morata to include in the mix so will likely only get stronger as a unit.

It is important however to note that without some last ditch defending and top notch saves we could have drawn this 2-2. For Samp had their chances in the second period, they had their period of pressure and forced us back and what I saw resurface was just a hint of calamity a step away in defense when hit with speed on the counter.

This is to be expected. We have not become a completely different team just by changing coach and with a week or two of training together. A period of adjustment is to be expected and there will be disappointing results. This is as important for the team and Pirlo to learn and build from as the victories and strong performances.

What I feel strongly confident of suggesting however is that the change in coach has made a significant difference already. In the energy, enthusiasm, confidence and freedom of the side. And this cannot be down to Pirlo proving already a tactical genius.

Yes, we must take into account the new players involved – Kulu and Mckennie gave much to gain this result – but 12 of the 15 involved had played under Sarri last season.

The importance of a positive human connection on emotional and mental levels is rarely given enough value in discussion. Many of these players love Pirlo, most seemed to despise or in the least dislike Sarri…Character is essential to lead. This difference has already helped us become a better team.

Briefly on Morata…

I was not particularly excited to learn of our interest in Suarez. Concluded Dzeko would be fine if a stop-gap measure when my focus is more inclined towards building a new side and identity. In short, I was very happy indeed to learn of Morata’s return.

The move has many critics which I can understand, to some degree, though do question what player these frowning Juventini expected us to bring in. There is no guarantee of a starting place (but surely the likelihood of considerable playing time) in a side which has a coach with no experience and was very much in a shambles late last season. Also, there is Dybala to consider alongside the heavy preference of Ronaldo demands in regards to his playing time and role.

With all these considerations, to bring back Alvaro, still at a great age, for a 10m loan fee and reasonable wages seems a great piece of business to me. I remember feeling saddened by his departure as he always gave his all, scored some important goals and ever proved a man who works for the team brilliantly. He loved the club and seemed devastated to depart.

His form for the other sides he has featured for since – Real, Chelsea, Atletico and of course Spain – is high level. He is nowhere near the failure some are making him out to be. Add to this his emotional and sporting bond with the club and I remain very pleased with the move.

Still feel we have need for a stronger RWB than Juan and the hapless (of the last TWO seasons) Freddy Bernardeschi, yet this may well be addressed. There is also the lingering rumors of Aouar amid further departures. The Mercato is perhaps not yet finalized.

Essentially, we have made some very positive acquisitions, began to move out the dead wood and have plenty of talent to come into the reckoning as fitness and sharpness is gained.

Our new adventure under Pirlo has begun strongly. Leaving me still bubbling with more youthful excitement than I can remember at this early stage of the season for many moons.

Forza Juve! And remember to follow Daniel on twitter @thegutterpoet