Sarri, Bernardeschi and Rabiot react to the Tottenham friendly

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Maurizio Sarri gave multiple soundbites to Sportitalia and Sky after the friendly against Tottenham: “It was a difficult game for us, against a team that has had the same group for years and that has a different level of physical preparation right now. They looked faster and more explosive in the second half, but it is normal at this stage. If we want to play our football, we have to improve in defending higher on the pitch, because in the first 30 minutes we tracked back too much and therefore counter-attacking was complicated. We moved the ball better after the break, we had 20 quality minutes, scoring twice. We were naïve on some lost balls, which generated the goals.” Continue reading

Mauro Icardi to Juventus: The Pros and the Cons

Recently it’s been reported that Juventus are heavily interested in Inter forward Mauro Icardi and will turn their attention to the Argentine forward after wrapping up their deal for Matthijs de Ligt. The 26-year-old has fallen out with the nerrazzurri, and is no longer in Antonio Conte’s plans for the upcoming season.

Inter sporting director Giuseppe Marotta recently went as far as proclaiming this in the media. In an interview, Marotta said: “When building a project, you have to find the right profiles. Both players (Icardi and Nainggolan) know full well they are not part of our plans.” 

While these comments may drop the striker’s valuation, it indicates one thing: Inter are prioritizing the squad over individuals. However, these claims do open up an avenue for a bargain for Juventus; but is Icardi worth it?

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On one hand, Icardi is one of the most lethal strikers in the world and can hurt the opposition with limited touches. Much like Cristiano Ronaldo, the Argentine doesn’t need many opportunities to score, and is proven at the European level as well. In this sense, pairing him with Ronaldo could prove to be a masterstroke, especially with Paulo Dybala pulling the strings behind them.

If Sarri plans on alternating between a 4-3-3 and 4-3-1-2, two formations he’s used throughout his managerial career, the move for Icardi makes plenty of sense. However, if the former Chelsea tactician plans on going with one striker, Icardi’s arrival will undoubtedly stunt the growth of Moise Kean; something Juventus can ill afford. Kean is one of the peninsula’s most highly-rated forwards and the bianconeri will be looking to make him a centrepiece of the side for years to come.

In a two-striker formation, however, there will be plenty of time to go around for Ronaldo, Icardi and Kean. Meanwhile, Dybala, Federico Bernardeschi and Aaron Ramsey are all capable of playing behind them as the side’s trequartista. As a whole, that’s an elite front-line, which unlike this past season, compliments each other.

On the other side of the debate, Icardi has typically been a negative locker room influence, and resorts to off-field antics when things don’t go his way. When he was stripped of the Inter captaincy, the Argentine sidelined himself with many dubious injuries and refused to train. Then, of course, there’s his agent and wife, Wanda Nara. Nara’s influence on Icardi over the years has only grown and she has shown no regard for Inter this past season.

Much like Icardi, Nara is quick to voice her discontent in public and often plays games on social media. The main fear is that this divisive duo may disrupt the harmony in Juventus’ locker room. With that being said, Icardi has never been part of a team with real leaders, and in Torino, he will have to answer to Gianluigi Buffon, Cristiano Ronaldo and Giorgio Chiellini among others. Rather than being tasked with leading the team like he was at Inter, Icardi’s sole focus will be on scoring goals.

The move to Juventus will also represent much more for Icardi. As Inter’s fiercest rivals, the former Sampdoria man will be joining the bianconeri with a point to prove. It’s not every day that one of the best strikers in the world is outcasted from a new coach’s plans. This chip on his shoulder will undoubtedly spur him to new heights and let’s not forget, Juventus have a decent track record with difficult characters. See: Carlos Tevez.

While Icardi has zero goals in open play in 2019, a red flag of its own, a lot of his poor form can be attributed to the fallout between him and Inter. Once he makes the switch, expect to see an eager and refreshed Icardi.

In terms of price, Inter are reportedly looking for 70 million euros for their star striker. However, due to Marotta’s recent comments, Juventus are confident they can close the deal for much less. If reports are to be believed, the Italian champions will soon table a bid in and around the 40-45 million euro range, and will look to close the deal closer to that mark than Inter’s valuation.

Considering the situation and Icardi’s willingness to join Juventus, the bianconeri would be foolish not to make a move. The Argentine is available cheaply, and is an elite number nine that could propel them to the next level. When presented with this type of opportunity on the mercato, you take it. Ronaldo has shown no signs of slowing down, but he won’t be able to lead the Juventus front-line forever either while the 26-year-old is frankly in his prime. Icardi’s arrival, in this sense, works both in the long-run and in the short-term. There’s a reason these rumours have emerged as much more than pure conjuncture. With the ball firmly in their court, Juventus are a few sales away from making Icardi to Juve a reality.

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Bernardeschi opens up and Buffon weighs in on Juventus matters

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Federico Bernardeschi continues to be one of the most talkative players and his interview to Fashion Illustrated was published yesterday: “I became a man at Juventus, one that tries to learn and improve every day. The passion for football is innate. I was told that I was already chasing after the ball at three, it was love at first sight and I can consider myself lucky now since my job is my greatest passion and enjoyment. I am interested in fashion and music too.”

On his career: “When I was eight, I commuted almost every day to practice in the Empoli’s youth academy. My parents and I made big sacrifices. I saw it as something entertaining, but it was a lot of travel. Continue reading

Bernardeschi endorses Sarri

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Federico Bernardeschi spoke to the journalists from the Italy headquarters in Coverciano and weighed in on the coaching search: “We have excellent officials at the club, so whoever will be chosen will be up to the task and will bring something more for each player. In my mind Maurizio Sarri is a worthy candidate, but I have no idea whether he will be our new manager.”

In a past interview the current Chelsea trainer showered Bernardeschi with praise, calling him a superstar in the making and one of the best Italian talents next to Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne. Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 38

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Juventus: Blaise Matuidi and Federico Bernardeschi are suspended, while Joao Cancelo and Mario Mandzukic both fractured their nose in the same week and are unavailable for Sunday. Alex Sandro is dealing with a rib contusion. Douglas Costa (calf), Mattia Perin (shoulder) and Sami Khedira (knee) remain sidelined as expected. Cristiano Ronaldo will be rested, while Wojciech Szczesny has suffered a knee injury.

Napoli: Allan and Kalidou Koulibaly are disqualified. Amadou Diawara looked close to returning from a foot fracture for a pair of weeks, but he was again unable to make the squad list, like Adam Ounas that is banged up and David Ospina, who is still in Colombia. Mario Rui is out with an undisclosed injury.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 37

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Sassuolo-Roma: the Neroverdi were handed their first loss since April last week by Torino, even though they certainly put up a fight, despite not being in need of points. The Giallorossi defeated Juventus with a late surge, garnering their fourth win in the last six rounds, tying in the other two and staying close to the fourth spot. Sassuolo have found the target in five of the last six rounds and La Lupa have not been great defensively on the road: they have spread the wealth around since Domenico Berardi was the only one to bag one in multiple matches. Jeremie Boga, Stefano Sensi, Manuel Locatelli and all the defenders contributed scoring-wise: Boga and Sensi have been their most lively contributors in the last few fixtures. The Giallorossi are getting a lot from Stephan El Shaarawy and Edin Dzeko, while the latest tactical change, if confirmed, would help the likes of Nicolò Zaniolo, Cengiz Under and Justin Kluivert, as the last two would see more minutes. Lorenzo Pellegrini is iffy due to a thigh ailment and his absence could allow Bryan Cristante to have a big role.

Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 35

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Juventus-Torino: the Bianconeri have no more achievements to pursue in Serie A, but they still showed up at San Siro last week and equalized in the second half after a poor start. They have yet to drop one at home. The Granata continue to be in the hunt not only for a Europa League berth: the fourth spot is four points away. They have defeated Milan and Genoa in their last two contests and have lost just once in the past 14. Cristiano Ronaldo scored last week and Miralem Pjanic has contributed with two assists recently. Federico Bernardeschi and Moise Kean are alternating next to the Portuguese ace, but neither is in supreme form, while Juan Cuadrado is starting to look sprier and Joao Cancelo is coming back on too. Continue reading

Allegri Set to Experiment in Final Games

With their season all but wrapped up, Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri is ready to take the opportunity and experiment with his roster. In recent press conferences, the Juventus tactician has alluded to the fact that he’s ready to try new things with his eleven, and will reportedly start doing so with the Inter game. This season, Allegri has altered his eleven almost every single game, which in turn, lead Juventus to play without a clear identity regularly. With the pressure now on Allegri more than ever, it’s of paramount importance that he finally nails down his best formation, and setup ahead of the new season.

In his pre-match press conference before the Inter game, Allegri told reporters the following:

“Bernardeschi is forced to play as a forward but I want to see if he can play as a central midfielder in the future. It’s an experiment that excites me. The other variation I want to try is that of Cancelo as a mezz’ala. Other than that, seeing Emre Can in defence is nothing new.”

As Allegri suggested here, Bernardeschi’s future could be as a mezz’ala. The former Fiorentina man has featured centrally at times this season with success. With Juventus lacking quality in the middle of the park, an issue that plagued the side in the Champions League, Bernardeschi’s quality has been a welcomed addition in the midfield, and has offered some much needed innovation from deep.

Cancelo, on the other hand, started the season wonderfully, and was a constant menace down the right-hand side early on. However, as the season wore on, the Portuguese international slowed down, and struggled to impose himself on games. In addition, Cancelo proved to be a defensive liability at times, switching off in crucial moments.

As a result, Allegri often opted for Mattia De Sciglio, and is now considering using Cancelo in the midfield. While this idea is an interesting one, Cancelo’s future is, without a doubt, at right back and deserves to prove himself there. The former Valencia man, like any other young defender, will make defensive mistakes, and will need to learn from them. When he was in form, he was one of Juve’s best players bar none, and deserves a shot to recreate that form next season. As a result, this midfield experiment should hopefully be just that; an experiment.

As for Emre Can, his future may, in fact, lie in defence. The Juventus faithful were first given a glimpse of this in their Champions League encounter against Atletico Madrid, when the German dropped back from midfield as Juventus’ third centre-back alongside Bonucci and Chiellini. In doing so, Can nullified Alvaro Morata’s threat and arguably had his best performance in bianconero. This tactical wrinkle bore fruits, and is something Allegri will have on his mind moving into next season. When the former Liverpool man first broke out through the German ranks, it was in defence. Next season, expect to see more of Can at the back, especially considering Juve’s recent struggles back there.

While claiming their eighth consecutive Scudetto early was anticlimactic, it gives Allegri a unique opportunity to experiment with his side in ways that weren’t possible before. Whether it’s Bernardeschi in midfield or Can in defence, expect to see a different Juve next season.

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What should Juventus do with Paulo Dybala?

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With reports linking Juventus to moves to up and coming offensive stars like Fiorentina’s Federico Chiesa, and Benfica’s Joao Felix, it begs the question: Where does Paulo Dybala fit in Massimiliano Allegri’s plans for next season? La Joya is coming off his worst season in bianconero, and has largely struggled to fit into Allegri’s tactical schemes this year. When he isn’t dropping deep into the midfield, Dybala often finds himself wide on the right looking for time and space.

What his inevitably leads to is the Argentine international picking up the ball far away from the goal, with little possibility to make the most of his creativity in the final third. With Cristiano Ronaldo occupying a central position, Dybala has found it hard to carve out a consistent place for himself in the starting eleven, and will need to adapt moving forward. While his output and overall play suffered immensely, Juventus would be foolish to give up on the 25-year-old at the first sign of adversity, and instead re-think his best position.

After all, Dybala was dubbed the heir to Alessandro Del Piero, and was awarded the number ten jersey with this in mind. In 36 appearances in all competitions this season, the former Palermo man notched 10 goals, and four assists; his worst return since his first season in Serie A back in 2012.

While it would be easy to discard him and sell him to the highest bidder, Juventus should avoid that at all costs, and look to incorporate him more into their setup. Basic economics state that it’s foolish to sell an asset at their lowest value. Following this indifferent season, the only way for the Juventus man is up.

This season Dybala’s role was largely on the periphery of the first team, and he was rarely given the license to dictate play. At times, he cut a frustrated figure and disappeared in games, however, Juventus should not forget about the natural talent he has at his disposal. We’re still talking about a player that scored 19 goals in league play in his first season, and a further 22 last season. In addition, the Juventus board would be suffering from short-term memory loss if they have already forgotten his man-of-the-match displays in the Champions League against Barcelona, and Tottenham.

Given the results-oriented nature at Juventus, Allegri opted not to take any risks, and rather than letting Dybala play through his struggles, the former Milan tactician went with Mario Mandzukic and Federico Bernardeschi. While both players are crucial pieces to the Juventus machine, neither possess the natural talent Dybala does. Given that they are willing runners, both featured consistently in Juve’s big games, yet fail to offer what Dybala could in the final third. If Juventus are to hit that next level, something they failed to do this season, they will need La Joya playing his best football.

Even though Mandzukic and Bernardeschi are arguably better fits alongside Ronaldo in Allegri’s current setup, the Juventus boss didn’t bother trying any alternatives, and instead trying fitting in a circle in a square peg. When that didn’t work, Dybala was relegated to a bench role, and his struggles continued. Next season, Allegri will either need to change his tactical setup or he will risk wasting Dybala’s talents two years running.

At Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane got the best out of Ronaldo alongside Benzema with Isco behind them pulling the strings in a 4-3-1-2. Allegri should take notes, and use Dybala in similar fashion to the Spaniard. While it is increasingly difficult to incorporate a trequartista into modern tactical schemes, Juventus cannot afford to leave Dybala out of the lineup consistently.

On Dybala’s end, on the other hand, he’ll need to improve. That goes without saying. At times, the former Palermo man looked tuned out of games, and let his frustrations get the better of him. If Fabio Paratici’s words are anything to go by, however, Dybala and Allegri will need to coexist next season, and thrive together once more.

“Of course Dybala will stay. He is a Juve player and it’s obvious he will certainly remain,” said the Juventus sporting director.

Following one of their worst seasons in recent times, Juventus and Allegri will need to go back to the drawing board, and re-evaluate Dybala’s best position. Otherwise, it’ll only be a matter of time before Dybala is moved, and Juventus are back to square one.

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Dybala Set to Start Against Ajax

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With Mario Mandzukic out injured, reports suggest that Paulo Dybala could get the start alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Federico Bernardeschi. Until now, la Joya has struggled to impose himself on games, and has looked an awkward fit in Allegri’s various formations this season.

Instructed to drop deep to receive the ball, Dybala has often been on the periphery of games, and has largely struggled to impact the proceedings from an unfamiliar deeper role. With the score tied at one all, and going back to the Juventus Stadium, the return leg against Ajax is a great opportunity for Dybala to make a statement, and prove doubters wrong. Recently, there’s been reports linking Dybala with a move away due to his recent struggles; something that he’ll be eager to quash as soon as possible.

Against Ajax, Allegri is reportedly fielding Dybala as the out-and-out striker, a position he’s rarely played this season. When given the opportunity to play closer to the goal, the Argentine international has not disappointed, scoring six goals in ten games. Going up against Matthjis de Ligt won’t be easy, but if anyone has the skill-set to drag him out of position, it’s Dybala. In doing so, the former Palermo man could open up spaces for Ronaldo to attack. In the first leg, de Ligt was a rock at the back, and marshalled Mandzukic wonderfully when necessary.

Moreover, with Emre Can returning, and acting as the shield for the back four, Miralem Pjanic will be given the license to get forward; a luxury he was not afforded in the first leg. With the Bosnian international getting forward to dictate play, Dybala won’t be forced to drop as deep as he normally does, and he’ll be able to make the most of his ability in and around the eighteen-yard box.

When Pjanic is allowed to play in a more advanced role, the team plays noticeably better, as evidenced in the return leg against Atletico Madrid. Against Ajax, expect it to be no different as the former Roma man will look to get forward with more regularity. The importance of Can’s return cannot be emphasized enough, and it will have a massive impact on the team, as well as Dybala’s game as a whole. Rather than being forced to act as the side’s creator, Dybala could focus on hurting Ajax in the final phase.

Mandzukic’s absence, by contrast, will be felt, however, given his recent form it may be for the best. While Mandzukic sacrifices himself for the team, and unselfishly goes into aerial duels, the Croatian has been largely ineffective these past few weeks, and could do with a spell on the sidelines to recover ahead of a crucial stage in the season.

In theory, Mandzukic’s rugged style of play attracts defenders, and opens up space for his teammates – namely Ronaldo. However, if the first leg was anything to go by, Mandzukic struggled immensely to acclimate himself with the pace of the play and frankly isn’t suited to play against Ajax.

Dybala, by contrast, is a far more technical player and could interchange nicely with Ronaldo and Bernardeschi. As a result, it will be difficult for Ajax to cope with Juventus’ attack if there’s no consistent reference point throughout. In addition, the Argentine has proven time and time again that he’s ready for the biggest stage, scoring crucial goals in the Champions League against Barcelona, and Tottenham. Factor in Nicolas Tagliafico’s suspension, and things get harder for the Ajax rearguard playing away from home.

With all to play for in Turin, Allegri is turning to a familiar face in Dybala to help see his side through. While it hasn’t been his best season in bianconero, the quality is still there and it would be foolish to give up on him now. Against Ajax, he will be afforded a massive opportunity to make a statement; an opportunity Dybala cannot squander.

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