Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 24

SPAL-Juventus: Luigi Di Biagio devised a new system in his debut, arraying his men with a 4-3-3. While they failed to get the win, they attacked more than usual and Andrea Petagna bagged the ninth goal of his campaign. Federico Di Francesco has always been playing in very offensive role, but he is more comfortable out wide and the trident was completed by Mattia Valoti in that case, although Gabriel Strefezza will have his chances too. The duo gets a bump thanks to the coaching change, likewise Mirko Valdifiori, who resurfaced and can be a decent weapon on set pieces, as a matter of fact he picked up an assist with a corner kick. Simone Missiroli is back at box-to-box like earlier in his career, joining the sneaky Lucas Castro. On the downside, Arkadiusz Reca, and Mohamed Fares when he will be ready, will feature as fullback, so few meters behind what they were accustomed to doing. Scoring has been one of their main issues so far, as they have no reliable contributors behind Petagna. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Picks – Round 24

Wojciech Szczesny: with the top two defences (Inter and Lazio) facing off against each other, it makes sense to look at the next in line and the Bianconeri, who have been way better at home, have a plum match with Brescia coming up.

Alessio Romagnoli: trusting the Milan back-line has been an hit-and-miss affair, although they have given up only an acceptable 13 goals at home and they will host the reeling Torino, which have scored just twice in the past four matches and looked just a tiny bit better in the first game under the new coach. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 23

Standings implications: Juventus took a very bad-looking tumble in Verona and the two chasers pounced, as Inter mounted an epic comeback in the Derby and Lazio eked it out against Parma. The Bianconeri and the Nerazzuri have the same amount of points and the Biancocelesti are just one behind. Atalanta found a way to defeat Fiorentina away, while Roma lost again, at the hands of Bologna, so the Goddess are back in sole possession of the fourth spot. The Scaligeri and the Felsinei both leapfrogged Cagliari in the race to sixth one. Three precious wins in the relegation zone, as Lecce torpedoed Napoli, Genoa nipped the Sardinian and Sampdoria sunk Torino, while Brescia were victims of a late goal versus Udinese and SPAL got dropped again by Sassuolo. There is now a little cushion between the bottom two teams and the rest of the pack.

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De Zerbi’s Sassuolo Starting to take Shape

When Roberto De Zerbi was hired by Sassuolo, much was expected from the veteran Italian tactician. After all, like Maurizio Sarri, De Zerbi emphasizes the importance of positional play and attractive football above all else. In his first season with the club, the neroverdi finished in mid-table and showed glimpses of the football De Zerbi was hoping to implement. This season, Sassuolo are once again safe from the drop, and appear to be slowly hitting form.

Sassuolo are unbeaten in their last three and most recently dispatched Roma, scoring four past the giallorossi. While De Zerbi’s men have a well-rounded roster filled with young talents across the board, it’s the exploits of their front-four that has made the difference.

The Domenico Berardi and Jeremie Boga partnership is one of the league’s most devastating one-two punches out wide and both are comfortable taking up central positions, much to the dismay of their markers. Filip Djuricic and Hamed Junior Traore have taken turns playing as the side’s trequartista and have done an excellent job linking the midfield to attack.

In recent times, Djuricic has taken his game to the next level as evidenced by his goal and assist and overall impressive outing against Roma. When the Serbian is not on his game, Juventus loanee Traore duly steps in and is already up to three goals on the season. The 19-year-old made a name for himself at Empoli last season and is one of the league’s most promising young talents.

Veteran striker Ciccio’ Caputo leads the line to devastating effect and has built off last season, where he made a name for himself, netting 16 goals for the relegated Empoli. This season, the 32-year-old has already registered 10 goals and is well on his way to besting last year’s tally. If he can continue his goalscoring exploits, he may just be an outside bet for Mancini’s Euro 2020 roster. After all, beyond Immobile, Italy lack true goalscorers and Caputo could come in handy despite being on the wrong side of thirty.

When Sassuolo’s front four are on form, they’re difficult to stop and interchange positions wonderfully in De Zerbi’s free-flowing system. Behind them, Manuel Locatelli and Pedro Obiang, two well-rounded registas, provide the platform and passing range the side needs to stretch the opposition. Both players are tidy in possession and are unafraid to jump into the tackle when need be. If Sassuolo can keep this core together and De Zerbi can keep implementing his ideas, the neroverdi may just make a European push as of next season.

While their defence remains error-prone, it features young players with high upside like Jeremie Toljan, Marlon Santos, Fillippo Romagna and Georgios Kyriakopoulos. Turkish defender Mert Müldür is another young defender worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses even if he hasn’t featured much as of yet. Given their inexperience at the back, Sassuolo most recently added Vlad Chiriches to their rearguard, in hopes of adding stability and leadership to an overall impressive core.

As the season draws to a close and with safety from the drop no longer a concern, De Zerbi can freely introduce his ideals and set a solid foundation for years to come. While they are far from achieving what Atalanta have done under Gian Piero Gasperini, gli Orobici have provided a blueprint Sassuolo can follow. In many ways, De Zerbi’s men have what it takes as they possess a host of budding young talents ready to take the next step in their careers.

With De Zerbi at the helm, the neroverdi have one of the league’s most progressive managers and are primed to take the leap from the mid-table to contending for European places. Whether they can keep hold of their manager and young players is another story altogether. But one thing’s for sure: Sassuolo are on the right track and remain one of the peninsula’s most interesting young sides.

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Serie A Best Fantasy XI – Round 22

Wojciech Szczesny (7 points): just three clean sheets in this round, by Juventus, Inter and surprisingly Lecce. The Polish goalkeeper had the busiest performance among those involved, especially in the first half of the Fiorentina game, where he batted away a point-blank deflection by Federico Chiesa and answered the bell on a pair of potent long-range efforts.

Matthijs De Ligt (9 points): the Dutch defenders bagged his second goal of the season with a header on a corner kick and contributed to stymieing Fiorentina with the usually muscular performance. Continue reading

Serie A Match of the Round – Sassuolo vs Roma

Sassuolo-Roma was the highest scoring match of the week alongside Sampdoria-Napoli and had a very weird development, as the Neroverdi manhandled La Lupa in the first half, but then Edin Dzeko and company tried to mount a furious comeback after intermission, only to be railroaded by red card to Lorenzo Pellegrini and a stunner by Jeremie Boga. It all made for a very entertaining bout.

The home team had picked up four points in the previous two fixtures against Sassuolo and Torino, while Roma had done the same following two losses, versus Genoa and Lazio. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 22

Standings implications: the top three teams were all successful in this round with multi-goals win, as Juventus and Inter tamed Fiorentina and Udinese, while Lazio annihilated SPAL. Atalanta only partially took advantage of Roma’s tumble in Sassuolo (2-4) as they could not get past Genoa at home (2-2), so they now share the fourth place. A slow round also in the race to an Europa League berth: Cagliari and Parma shared the spoils in a head-to-head match on Saturday and Milan and Verona did the same on Sunday. In this case there is a three-way tie, with the Scaligeri two points behind, alongside Bologna, which instead nipped Brescia. Lecce destroyed Torino and was the only team to prevail in the relegation zone: they are three points clear of the last three positions. It was not necessarily pretty, but Napoli followed up the Juventus win by defeating Sampdoria, closing in on European zone.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 22

Sassuolo-Roma: an early red card took the Neroverdi out of the Sampdoria game pretty early, but they still came away with a decent point, even though they were understandably unable to do much on offense. In the previous round, Domenico Berardi and Jeremie Boga propelled them past Torino the previous week and they have an intriguing front-line when everybody is healthy and on his day, since they are quite moody, the concerns are more on the other end and the suspension of Federico Peluso adds to those. Francesco Caputo has not scored since mid-December after a fast start, while their duo of no.10s Hamed Traore and Filip Djuricic, who generally alternate, have been able to do a decent amount of damage. Manuel Locatelli and Pedro Obiang/Francesco Magnanelli rarely attack due to their defensive position, they have combined for just one goal, while Jeremy Toljan and Grigoris Kyriakopoulos are decent fullbacks, but the match-up is pretty hard. Continue reading

Player Focus: Jeremie Boga

This season Serie A has seen a number of breakout stars make a name for themselves and attract interest from Europe’s elite. Sassuolo attacking midfielder Jeremie Boga is no different, and has established himself as one of the peninsula’s creative threats. Capable of beating the opposition with skill or finishing from range, Boga is a multi-faceted forward and is versatile enough to occupy multiple positions.

Under Roberto De Zerbi, the former Chelsea youth product has primarily featured from the left-wing but often drifts in centrally, interchanging positions with Juventus loanee Hamed Junior Traorè. Most recently, Sassuolo’s front-four combined to devastating effect against Torino, scoring two quick-fire goals and propelling them to victory over the Granata.

Boga would finish the game with a wonderfully taken goal and an assist on Berardi’s winner. Playing alongside Traorè and Berardi, Boga has really come into his own and has since been shortlisted by Italy’s elite, including Napoli and Milan among others.

While his end-product was a concern in the past, the Ivorian international has taken the step up this season and has already notched five goals for the neroverdi. Among those five goals is a carefully dispatched chip over the legendary Gianluigi Buffon in a draw against Juve and a perfectly-hit top corner effort against Torino’s Salvatore Sirigu most recently.

In addition to his increasing output, no player in Italy beats their man with as much ease as Boga does. Currently, the 23-year-old is averaging 4.3 successful dribbles per game and is proving to be a constant menace, be-it on the wing or through the middle. For context, Fiorentina Gaetano Castrovilli is the next player on the list with 3.1 successful dribbles per game. While his incredible turn of pace helps him on the counter, Boga’s main success with the ball at his feet comes from his innovation. Whether he has a tight angle or he’s given time and space, Boga is regularly scanning the field for the most dangerous option.

In the past, consistency has been an issue for the Sassuolo forward, but he has since hit his stride with Sassuolo. Playing under a progressive manager in De Zerbi, Boga has made the most of the freedom afforded to him and has filtered between the lines with regularity.

Francesco Caputo, Sassuolo’s number nine, is extremely mobile and often swaps positions with Boga, affording the winger further room in the eighteen-yard box. In this case, the player’s tactical versatility comes to the fore. Whether he’s stretching the opposition’s defence wide on the counter or finding a pocket of space in behind the midfield, Boga’s positional awareness is proving to be his ultimate asset.

Moving forward, many teams will be keeping tabs on Boga’s progress and will shortly be knocking at Sassuolo’s door with official bids. The important thing for the 23-year-old now is maintaining this level week in, week out and demonstrate he’s ready to take the next step in his career. Then it’s all about picking the right team to continue his development. While it’s still early days for Sassuolo and Boga, all the signs are pointing to a big-money move this summer.

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Serie A Fantasy Picks – Round 18

Samir Handanovic: the match-up against Napoli is not that inviting fantasy-wise, but Inter boast the best statistical defence in the League by a decent margin and the Partenopei had not bagged two goal in a game in a long while before the last fluky one versus Sassuolo. It could be a low-scoring affair, giving an edge to defences and goalkeepers.

Chris Smalling: Roma have not conceded more than once in the past five fixtures and they will tangle with Torino this weekend, which are not a very explosive side. Smalling is also always a threat on set pieces. Continue reading