Roberto Mancini Puts Italy on the Right Track

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Since being appointed as Italy boss, Roberto Mancini has set Gli Azzurri on the right path, and has guided them to four wins out of four in their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign thus far. 

In their most recent clashes, Italy travelled to Athens to take on Greece, and dispatched their European counterparts within thirty-three minutes, by a score of 3-0.

In their next game against Bosnia, Mancini’s men fell behind early, but mounted a second half comeback to prevail by a score of 2-1. Under Gian Piero Ventura, the side lacked character, and would have likely dropped points in a game like this. With these two wins, Italy now find themselves comfortably in first place, scoring 13 goals, and conceding one in the process. In addition to getting results, this is the best football Italy have played in recent memory, and have demonstrated an identity.

Once again, Mancini was rewarded for sticking with the highly technical midfield of Nicolo Barella, Jorginho, and Marco Verratti, and now has his side well on their way to the upcoming Euros. Together, the trio provide a blend of youth, experience and quality on the ball, and offer the national team some much needed creativity in the final third.

While many initially doubted the midfield’s defensive awareness given their smaller frames, Verratti, Jorginho and Barella have demonstrated they are capable of offering solidity to their back four. Given their similar profiles, Verratti and Jorginho often interchange roles at the base of the midfield, and don’t give their opponents a reference point.

With Barella making late, unmarked, runs into the box, it makes for a truly malleable midfield; something the Azzurri have sorely lacked over the past four years. The Cagliari captain’s drive has been rewarded, and already has two goals on the qualifying campaign.

Much like it’s the case in the midfield, Mancini has not shied away from taking risks with his front three. Since his appointment, the former Inter tactician has called up a number of up and coming talents, including the likes of Moise Kean and Federico Chiesa among others.

In the past, Ventura was afraid to take risks, and typically stuck with Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti up front, despite their struggles. When both strikers were misfiring, Italy did not have a plan B, and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades. Rather than having set starters, like his predecessor, Mancini has mixed and matched at will, and has used a plethora of forwards across the front line. This keeps the Italian forwards on their toes, and ensures no one gets complacent. Moreover, if Italy are struggling in the final third, Mancini is able to turn to different solutions.

One player that has benefitted immensely from Mancini’s reign has been Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne. The diminutive forward was reduced to a bit-part role under Ventura, and largely struggled to make an impact on the pitch when called upon. Under Mancini, Insigne has established himself as a crucial player, and has scored two goals in his last two games. In addition, his assist to Verratti against Bosnia helped Gli Azzurri seal all three points.

On the defensive end, on the other hand, Mancini has decided to maintain the status quo and has typically gone with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. However, the Italian tactician has tinkered with his fullbacks, alternating between Leonardo Spinazzola, Emerson and Gianluca Mancini. While Mancini is a centre-back, he offers the Azzurri tactical flexibility from the right-hand side of defence, and often drops as a third centre-back when in possession. With the Atalanta man dropping centrally, it allows the left-back to get forward and overload with his winger.

While it’s still early days for Gli Azzurri, the future looks bright under Roberto Mancini. Using a blend of experience, and youth, the Italian tactician has demonstrated character both in his selections, and tactical setups. With no one’s place in the team secured, Italy have – for the first time in a while – shown hunger, and a desire to return to the top.

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Where next for Federico Chiesa?

With the summer transfer window now open, Fiorentina winger Federico Chiesa is attracting interest from Italy’s elite, as well as a host of other European giants. Coming off his best season with la viola, it’s only natural that the 21-year-old is turning heads. However, in recent times, Fiorentina’s brass have come out and denied rumours linking their star with a move away.

The statement is as follows, as per Football Italia: 

“We have read continuous news about Chiesa’s future and where he will play next season. The current owners would like to point out that Federico is a Fiorentina player, linked to the club by a long contract, and therefore, as far as we are concerned, Chiesa will play in Florence next season. He must be a symbolic player for the team we will build.”

This season Chiesa had his most productive season in Florence, scoring 12 goals and registering three assists in all competitions. The Italian international mostly featured on the right wing as an out-and-out winger or in a deeper role as a wing-back, but also made cameos on the opposite wing and even centrally.

Due to his versatility, Inter and Juventus have enquired about the 21-year-old but are yet to submit a formal bid to Fiorentina. Bayern Munich are also said to be interested in Chiesa. Let’s now assess the Fiorentina man’s options going into this summer.

1) Inter

After recently appointing Antonio Conte, Inter are now ready to begin their summer transfer window, and have reportedly identified Chiesa as one of their targets. Given Conte will introduce his trademark 3-5-2 shortly, the Inter tactician will need two-way wide players capable of making the difference. Chiesa represents exactly this, and will likely slot in wonderfully on the right-hand side in Milano.

While the winger has demonstrated that he’s capable of delivering the goods in his final third all-while remaining defensively responsible, he’s always played his best football when tracking back wasn’t his priority. Currently, neither Matteo Politano or Antonio Candreva fit the bill of a traditional Conte wide man, hence the Chiesa links remain in play. Riddled of their Financial Fair Play concerns, except Inter to emerge as a major player in the Chiesa sweepstakes.

2) Juventus

Juventus have been keeping tabs on the Fiorentina winger for the better part of one year now, and will reportedly use the summer transfer window to lure him to Turin. However, with Douglas Costa, Federico Bernardeschi and Juan Cuadrado still at the club, Juve’s wide areas are heavily populated and Chiesa will find playing time hard to come by.

Given Juve’s need to bolster their midfield and defence, 70 million euros on a winger would be money poorly spent. Moreover, the bianconeri are still without a manager, and will hold off on any major purchases for the time being. In any case, Juventus are arguably not the best fit for the young winger as he’ll need consistent playing time to progress his game. Despite this, much like Inter, the Italian champions will likely table a bid for Chiesa shortly.

3) Bayern Munich 

According to the Gazzetta dello Sport, the German giants have recently seen their offer  rejected by Chiesa, as the winger prefers to remain in Serie A. As Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are set to hang up the boots in Bavaria, Bayern Munich are now targeting a number of wingers to bolster their ranks.

Bayern are said to be interested in Manchester City’s Leroy Sane, but are keeping tabs on Fiorentina’s Chiesa, as well. While Bayern’s offensive style of play would suit Chiesa, leaving Italy at this stage in his career may not be the best bet. Despite the early rejection, don’t rule them out just yet.

In any case, Chiesa would be wise on holding off a move for the time being, and use the following year to develop his game further. Currently, there are concerns over the winger’s decision-making and end product, and he could really use another season in Tuscany.

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Assessing the Market for Wingers in Serie A

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After previously reviewing the market for goalkeepers, defenders and midfielders, it’s now time to take a look at the winger market in Serie A. Let’s first take stock of the current options available to the top Italian teams going into the summer window:

 

Juventus- Douglas Costa got off a fast start before becoming an after thought following some injuries and an off field issue (on top of the spitting incident), Bernardeschi showed pretty good chemistry with Ronaldo although his stats were underwhelming, Mandzukic continues to often play on the wing. Cuadrado struggled with a severe injury in second half of the season, while Cancelo’s defensive limitations could see him playing in a more advanced position next season.

Napoli- Callejon is now 32, Insigne started the season playing as a second striker, Younes showed flashes the few times he played and Ounas made the most of the opportunities given to him by Ancelotti- which were more frequent than under Sarri but still probably not enough for a 22 year old looking to break out. Simone Verdi continued to battle with injuries and is probably at best a super sub moving forward.

Inter- while Perisic did perform better in the final stretch of the season, he continued to disappear for months at a time. Politano was a very pleasant surprise and the best new addition along with De Vrij- he will certainly be redeemed from Sassuolo after his first season on loan with option to buy. Candreva continues to be hit like a pinata by Inter fans on Twitter

Atalanta- we covered Hateboer, Gosens and Castagne in the wing back article since they cover that role in Gasperini’s formation.

Milan- Suso and Perisic had similar seasons but at least peaked when it matters most. Castillejo wasn’t nearly as impactful as Deulofeu and could return to Spain, Bonaventura continues to rehab from his surgery while Calhanoglu hasn’t yet shown he can be a quality/consistent starter moving forward.

Roma- as great as El Shaarawy was this season, it’s not a good sign that he was clearly the club’s best winger (and probably best player period) over highly rated prospects like Cengiz Under and Justin Kluivert.

Lazio- we covered most of their players at this position in the wingback section since Simone Inzaghi runs a similar system to Gasperini’s but Angel Correa could play as a winger with a new manager and was the club’s best player in second half of the season.

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Federico Chiesa- Fiorentina’s disastrous season makes him much more likely to leave, but has his value taken a hit since he’s the signature player on the most underachieving Serie A team of the season? Napoli had previously offered close to 50 million to acquire him and could still use him, while Chiesa has also been linked to Juventus and Inter. Chiesa is obviously very talented and only 21 years old, but this season he was more known for diving than scoring goals or delivering assists.

 

Douglas Costa- there are few players more electrifying in Serie A than the Brazilian international, but between the spitting incident in the match against Sassuolo and deciding to go to Neymar’s birthday party right after being involved in a car accident, it remains to be seen if Juventus, a club known for not tolerating these sorts of things, decide to hold on to him. But considering that they invested significantly to acquire him on a permanent basis from Bayern Munich (another club who got fed up with his off field antics) just last summer, he’s not a player they can turn a plusvalenza on easily despite his considerable skills.

 

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Keita Balde’- while Inter will certainly redeem the rights to Politano, it’s unlikely they’ll pay Monaco over 30 million to keep the former Lazio winger permanently- but considering their excellent relationship with his new agent, they could look to extend the loan. Keita struggled at first because he didn’t get much of a summer retreat and later battled injuries so another team could try to capitalize his considerable talent.

Ivan Perisic- Inter may regret not selling him after his excellent World Cup but at least his late season contributions could help them clinch a Champions League spot (I’m writing this a few days before final match of the season). Perisic has been linked to Premier League teams for the past two years and as recently as January when he came close to joining Arsenal and with Conte arriving, it’s likely that the nerazzurri will go for a more natural fit in 3 5 2.

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Cengiz Under- following Roma’s deep run in the Champions League last season, the Turkish winger was being mentioned as a player worth 50 million but the giallorossi decided to keep him after cashing in on Alisson, Strootman and De Rossi so he could be part of their young core. While Under didn’t have nearly as a good a season, Arsenal and Spurs continue to be mentioned as possible destination for him.

Suso- the former Liverpool winger has a 40 million exit clause and Milan have been trying to negotiate a new deal to increase it or eliminate it altogether, but so far Suso is requesting to be paid as much as Donnarumma and it’s hard to imagine the rossoneri wanting to pay him nearly that much.

Hakan Calhanoglu- the Turkish international best chance at staying is for Gattuso to be confirmed as Milan manager, if not it’s likely he’ll either head back to the Bundesliga or the Premier League where he has been linked to Leicester City.

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Lorenzo Insigne- after a stellar start to the season, Napoli’s home town star struggled considerably and looked more like the player we are (unfortunately) accustomed to seeing on the Italian national team. Insigne recently formalized his relationship with Mino Raiola as his agent, but while a transfer can’t be completely excluded, it’s more likely he’ll sign a new contract with Napoli and become arguably the biggest “bandiera” left in Serie A after Chiellini.

Rodrigo De Paul- after three seasons at Udinese, the former Racing winger/attacker is ready to take the next step in his career especially considering he also made his debut on Argentina’s national team. Napoli and Inter have been heavily linked to him and both clubs have an excellent relationship with Udinese.

Riccardo Orsolini- few players were more impactful in the second half of the season than the Bologna winger whom Juventus still own. The 22 year old could be used as part of a package by the bianconeri to acquire a bigger name (perhaps Chiesa or Milinkovic Savic) and should absolutely be considered an intriguing player for the Azzurri’s senior squad.

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Papu Gomez/Josip Ilicic- Atalanta’s current captain must be thrilled he never left to go play in the Middle East considering his club’s stellar season. Could he look for a huge pay day at the age of 31? It’s hard to envision that should Gasperini stay and if they qualify for the Champions League. Ilicic on the other hand has just one year left on his contract and has already agreed to personal terms with Napoli, it will be up to Atalanta to decide if they want to give him a raise after a stellar season.

 

Serie A Fantasy Picks – Round 38

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Salvatore Sirigu: Torino have kept the second highest numbers of clean sheets in Serie A thus far, trailing only to Inter in that category, and will look to finish well the season against Lazio even though there is not much on the line.

Aleksandar Kolarov: he has accounted for eight goals, by far the best clip by any defender, and will try to further pad his stats against Parma as Roma need to be victorious to have a minimal chance to grab the fourth spot, but will also try to overtake Milan to avoid the Europa League playoffs. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 38

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Atalanta-Sassuolo: the Goddess survived Juventus’ second half push last week and returned from Turin with a precious point that allowed them to catch Inter and maintain a narrow lead over Milan. They have not lost since February 23rd and triumphed in eight of the following 12 rounds. Sassuolo are right in the middle of the pack but played spoiler last week by drawing with Roma. They have been defeated just once in the last eight matches, tying in five occasions. Josip Ilicic scored at the Stadium after being shut out for few weeks and also their rock Duvan Zapata and Alejandro Gomez will be popular picks since the Neroverdi are not the stingiest bunch. Neither are the Bergamaschi to be honest: the locals have spread the wealth in terms of scoring, but in general Domenico Berardi, Jeremie Boga and Stefano Sensi have been their best contributors in the final months. Hans Hateboer’s suspension makes it clear that Timothy Castagne and Robin Gosens will man the flanks: the former is more interesting since he is listed as a defender and in the midst of a prolific run. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 36

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Atalanta-Genoa: the Bergamaschi keep soaring and bested Lazio in a seminal clash last week, garnering their third win a row and building a little lead over Roma in the race to get the fourth position. They have not been defeated since the beginning of March. The Griffon is coming off two 1-1 ties in a row, versus SPAL and Roma, squandering a massive late opportunity on Sunday. They are four points above the third-to-last position. Suspensions are piling up for Gian Piero Gasperini and he will not be able to count on two defensive centre-pieces, Gianluca Mancini and Andrea Masiello, and more importantly on Alejandro Gomez, which will also not allow him to rotate the squad much ahead of next week’s cup final. Josip Ilicic and Duvan Zapata will take on an even larger load than usual: the Slovenian genius has been slowed down by some nagging injuries, while the Colombian powerhouse continues to lay hurt on opponents. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Picks – Round 34

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Salvatore Sirigu: he is having a brilliant season and Milan’s attack has sputtered quite a bit lately, failing to score more than once in five straight contests.

Aleksandar Kolarov: the Giallorossi will be down some offensive pieces on Saturday, so they might rely more than usual on the veteran left back, who has often popped up in the stat sheet. Cagliari also have the second-worst road offense in the League.

Gianluca Mancini: he is poised to have an even more significant role since Rafael Toloi went down with an ankle injury. Udinese have bagged just 12 goals in away games thus far and the Italian youngster has already done a lot of damage attacking on set pieces. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Picks – Round 32

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Pierluigi Gollini: the young goalkeeper has been trustworthy since snatching the starting job away from Etrit Berisha and he could be able to bring in some points since Empoli are not as effective on the road.

Cristian Ansaldi: he is having a really strong season and Torino as a whole have been pretty outstanding defensively. They will tangle with Cagliari this week, which have the second-worst away attack in the League. He could have a pretty significant offensive role too since both Andrea Belotti and Iago Falque will be sidelined. Continue reading

Fiorentina bring back Montella after Pioli’s resignation

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Stefano Pioli has stepped down from his position as Fiorentina coach, leaving the club after 20 months. He had taken over in the summer of 2017, signing a two-year contract, and was widely expected to be replaced at the end of the season and of his deal. After some pondering, they announced their decision to bring back Vincenzo Montella on a contract till June 2021 on Wednesday. L’Aeroplanino already spent three years here on the bench from 2012 to 2015.

The ownership and the management had openly criticized the recent results of the squad with two separate statements on Sunday and on Monday, then the coach elected to resign on Tuesday.  Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 31

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Juventus: Mario Mandzukic (flu), Paulo Dybala (calf) and Leonardo Spinazzola (knee) have recovered from their problems, while Cristiano is sitll out. Sami Khedira, Douglas Costa and Juan Cuadrado have ramped up their activity and are close to returning, but they will not be called up in this round. Martin Caceres will miss three weeks with a thigh strain.

Napoli: Lorenzo Insigne is said to have almost recuperated from his thigh contracture and could be in the squad list in this round. David Ospina (head), Faouzi Ghoulam and Vlad Chiriches (thigh) should be in the squad in list, while Raul Albiol is not far away.  Continue reading