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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Federico Bernardeschi’s time at Juve is up

It was a rare sight on a night that has become routine over the last decade. In the 66th minute Cristiano Ronaldo bore down on the Sampdoria goal from his usual left hand position of the field, nearing the periphery of the penalty area, the Portuguese cut inside before lashing a shot that was spilled by Samp stopper Emil Audero.

Audero desperately tried to regain the loose ball before Federico Bernardeschi, with all the anticipatory instincts of a modern-day Pippo Inzaghi, steamed towards the ball ahead of opposition left-back Tommaso Augello and fired home Juve’s second, sealing not just the victory, but their ninth straight title. It was the winger’s first league goal since September 2018, a collector’s item. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 37

PARMA-ATALANTA

Parma: Dejan Kulusevski willed them to victory, again, versus the lowly Brescia with an assist and a scorcher and he is finishing his stay in style, while Gervinho has been pretty paltry in recent matches, scoring just once in the last seven. Gianluca Caprari took advantage of his increased minutes and converted a PK, while among the other back-ups Luca Siligardi has been the liveliest. Roberto Inglese is tough to trust since his minutes are still spotty. Juraj Kucka returned from a short absence and he and Jasmin Kurtic are surely capable of doing damage offensively. Matteo Darmian is coming off his first goal of the season and also Riccardo Gagliolo notched one lately but their fullbacks will have their hands full defensively in this one.

Suggested picks: Kulusevski, Kucka, Caprari. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 36

Standings implications: Juventus did not squander the second chance to wrap up the title race and took home the ninth Scudetto in a row with a two-nil win against Sampdoria. Inter leapfrogged Atalanta in second position with a comfortable win over Genoa, while the Goddess shared the spoils with Milan. Roma gained two points over the Rossoneri in the race to the fifth spot as they topped Fiorentina. Napoli helped those two team out by defeating Sassuolo in a bizarro game and there are no longer doubts regarding who will qualify to Europa League, it is just a matter of positioning. Parma eked out one in Brescia. With Lecce losing to Bologna in heart-breaking fashion, everybody is safe besides Genoa, even tough Torino could not beat SPAL, while Udinese bested Cagliari.

Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 34

Atalanta: Luis Muriel quickly resumed practicing after suffering a fortunately mild head injury in a domestic accident. Josip Ilicic will be held out as he keeps working on his fitness. 

Bologna: Andrea Poli and Federico Santander were available for the last game after some time on the shelf. Mattia Bani (calf) is done for the season, Jerdy Schouten (thigh) will try to return for the final couple of matches.

Brescia: goalie Jesse Joronen is back, unlike Enrico Alfonso (hip). Andrea Cistana is ramping up his activity in practice and might be back soon. Emanuele Ndoj is back on the shelf.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 28 – Early Games

Juventus-Lecce: the Bianconeri are a very top-heavy team and further reaffirmed it against Bologna, where their two starts Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala both found the target. The surprise was Federico Bernardeschi showing signs of life after a long while and he will probably get the call again as Douglas Costa needs to work on his fitness. Aaron Ramsey could also see his minutes increase and he remains a wild factor fantasy-wise. Juan Cuadrado and Rodrigo Bentancur are okay choices out of their midfield given the inevitable workload. Lecce have the worst defence in the League, so it is a plum match-up.

Suggested picks: Ronaldo, Dybala, Bernardeschi.  Continue reading

Federico Bernardeschi: Time for redemption?

With Juventus struggling in the final third, Federico Bernardeschi may just be presented with an opportunity to redeem himself. After an indifferent finish to last season, Bernardeschi faded and failed to establish himself as a set-starter. When Maurizio Sarri was hired, however, many expected the former Fiorentina man to take the next step in his career, something that until now has not happened.

In 17 Serie A appearances this season, Bernardeschi is yet to register an assist or score a goal. That’s over seven hundred minutes of football with nothing to show for. Despite this, the 26-year-old could yet turn it around. After failing to implement the 4-3-3 successfully at the start of the season, Sarri turned to a more narrow 4-3-1-2 and deployed Bernardeschi as the side’s trequartista. 

While he may seem suited to the role given his technique, Bernardeschi needs space to operate and is far more effective from a wide position. When he plays for Italy there, the Juventus man looks more threatening and creates many chances.

As a result, the Juventus winger has looked out of place in the hole and offers close to nothing in the final third. Fast forward to match-day 26 and Sarri is now turning back to the 4-3-3, presenting Bernardeschi with a unique opportunity for redemption.

In Juventus’ last three games, Cuadrado has been deployed on the right alongside Dybala and Ronaldo. The Colombian international has injected some much-needed pace and unpredictability in the final third, but one problem remains. With Cuadrado in the front-three, Juventus’ right-back options leave a lot to be desired. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sarri starts Bernardeschi in the front-three with Cuadrado returning in defence.

In the past, Bernardeschi demonstrated he can play with Ronaldo and showed early signs of a budding partnership. Factor in Dybala’s mobility and ability to interchange at will, and Bernardeschi could thrive on the right-hand side of a front-three. Since returning from injury, the 26-year-old has made cameo appearances and is slowly finding his rhythm again.

Douglas Costa is another player that could feature alongside Ronaldo and Dybala, however, the Brazilian struggles to stay fit. As a result, expect Bernardeschi to get more minutes than his counterpart. If the former Fiorentina man seizes his opportunities, he may just finish the season as Juve’s starting right-winger.

Right now, the side desperately needs a spark in attack and could use Bernardeschi back at his best. When the 26-year-old was at Fiorentina, he was a constant counter-attacking threat and had a keen eye for goal. Until now, the Juventus faithful haven’t seen this side of him. As the season wears on and with crucial games upon us, expect Sarri to try and revitalize Bernardeschi and give him a new lease on life. While he may be on his way out this summer as it’s been widely reported, this end of season run-in presents Bernardeschi with an opportunity for redemption. It’s up to him if he takes it.

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Lyon Defeats Highlights Juventus’ Woes in Plain Sight

While yesterday’s narrow defeat still gives Juventus a decent shot at progressing, the bianconeri’s lacklustre performance was vastly concerning and brought to light the side’s major issues. After the hosts scored an early goal, Lyon opted to defend in a deep, compact block and did so expertly. The French side conceded very little and emerged victorious keeping a clean sheet.

This season, Juventus have encountered a number of issues breaking down sides defending in their own penalty area and struggled to create anything of note last night. In fact, it took over eighty minutes for the Italian champions to register their first shot on target. Sarri’s men may still progress to the next round, but if last night highlighted anything, it’s that this Juventus side is NOT built to go toe-to-toe with Europe’s elite.

For one, Juventus’ defence lacks depth out wide. After selling Leonardo Spinazzola and loaning out his replacement Luca Pellegrini, Alex Sandro is the only senior left-back on the roster. Since last season, the Brazilian’s form has declined and offers close to nothing in the final third. Last night, Sandro looked gassed and struggled to beat his man.

On the opposing wing, Danilo did not fare much better. After pushing Cuadrado forward in his natural position, Sarri turned to Danilo for the right-back position. Since joining from Manchester City, the former Real Madrid man has regularly been sidelined and has struggled for form.

When he’s not injured, Danilo represents Juventus’ biggest liability, either at the back or in the final third. Last season, the now-departed Joao Cancelo made the right-back role his own and was arguably the side’s best performer in the first half of the season. Even if they progress past Lyon, Juventus’ questionable depth and options at full-back will come back to haunt them.

Beyond their stuttering fullbacks, Juventus’ biggest problem lies in the midfield. Miralem Pjanic is on the steep decline and hasn’t looked like himself for years while new recruit Adrien Rabiot is typically a passenger in the midfield when given the nod. Outside of Bentancur, Juventus’ midfield lacks drive and incision in the final third and often plays on the peripheries of games. Last night was no different.

Aaron Ramsey, Juventus’ other midfield recruit, is yet to establish himself as a set-starter but is slowly improving. After a top-notch performance on the weekend, the Welshman was inexplicably left out of the eleven by Sarri, leaving Juventus with three extremely similar midfielders on the pitch. If the bianconeri are to have a shot at progressing past Lyon and making a deep European run, Ramsey will need to be at the heart of it. The former Arsenal man is one of the side’s only midfielders that makes runs into the box, opening space for his teammates. Without him on the pitch, opposing sides are happy to drop off, conceding possession outside their penalty area.

The reality is, however, whatever setup Sarri goes with will have its own flaws. The side is poorly constructed and lacks pieces in key areas. If the tactician fields Dybala with Higuain and Ronaldo, Juve will lack balance and offensive options off the bench. If Sarri goes with the 4-3-3, it alienates the bianconeri’s best player Paulo Dybala and shoehorns him into a wide role. If he goes with the 4-3-1-2, he doesn’t have an out-and-out trequartista to make it work. He tried with Douglas Costa and Bernardeschi, and had no success. All this with one decent fullback.

While Ronaldo may very well put the team on his back like he did last year against Atletico Madrid, Juventus’ issues are there for everyone to see and Lyon know the tie is there for the taking. Their full-backs are sub-par, their midfield is anonymous and their roster, as a whole, is unbalanced.

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Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 25

Atalanta: Berat Djimsiti was a late scratch for the Champions League game but he is simply dealing with a bruised quad and so he could be available on Sunday. Tomas Sutalo continues nursing a foot edema.

Bologna: Stefano Denswil and Jerdy Schouten were red carded last week. Gary Medel (hamstring) and Roberto Soriano (thigh bruise) are the closest to recovering, but this week is too early for them. Mitchell Dijks (foot) and Ladislav Krejci (knee) will not be back before the end of the month, same for Federico Santander (hip) and Nicola Sansone (hamstring). Mattias Svanberg picked up a thigh strain and will miss three-to-four weeks. Continue reading

Sarri set to shake things up once more

Going into a crucial stretch in the season, Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri is weighing his options and is reportedly considering shaking things up in the final third. In an attempt to introduce more dynamism into the side, the former Napoli tactician will deploy Paulo Dybala as a false nine and will shift Juan Cuadrado from defence into the attack. We saw glimpses of this setup this past weekend against Brescia and according to Gazzetta dello Sport, is something Sarri will persist with this match-day against cellar-dwellers SPAL.

With an important game against Lyon coming up, the pressure is on Sarri to get Juve into the quarter-finals comfortably and look to make a deep European run. The veteran tactician previously had success with a false-nine setup at Napoli when he deployed Dries Mertens there.

While Dybala and Mertens are different players in their own way, both are extremely technical and do a good job at linking the midfield to attack. More importantly, they’ve both proven to be deadly finishers. As la Joya is set to play closer to goal, expect more involvement from Dybala. If anything, a central role suits the former Palermo man better and will undoubtedly help Juve create more chances in the final third.

When Sarri was initially hired, many expected Dybala to occupy this role, but it has since taken 24 match-days to get there. In recent times, Juventus have struggled in the final third and have typically relied on individual brilliance to see them through. Recognizing this, Sarri is keen on making changes.

Beyond shifting Dybala into a central position, Sarri is reportedly moving Cuadrado out of defence and into the attack. After the side failed to adequately replace Joao Cancelo, Sarri used the Colombian international at right-back. Initially, the position switch worked wonderfully, but injuries to key men in the attack mean Sarri’s forced to shuffle the deck once more.

Cuadrado has played in Juve’s front-three in their last two games and has added some much-needed unpredictability and speed up top. Other than his ability to beat his man, the former Fiorentina winger stretches opposition defences regularly and is a counter-attacking threat. Until this switch, Sarri fielded his typical 4-3-1-2 formation, which sorely lacked width and pace.

The formation switch also suits Juve’s current attacking options better than Sarri’s narrow ‘Christmas Tree’. While Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa are still out injured, a 4-3-3 gives them the opportunity to play out wide in their natural roles, rather than being pigeon-holed into a central position. With Ronaldo drifting in from the left-wing and Dybala interchanging, Cuadrado, Douglas Costa or Bernardeschi will all have a chance to stake a claim for the final place in the front-three. The increased competition will likely help the wingers hit new heights.

As Juventus look to compete on three fronts, simply put, they will need to create more chances. Sarri’s latest shuffle may not work, but it’s definitely worth a shot, and if anything, suits Juventus’ attacking options way better than their current setup.

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