Gennaro Gattuso showing signs of growth at Napoli

From coaching under immense financial hardship at Crete and leading Pisa to Serie B promotion to taking up one of football’s most difficult bench jobs at former club Milan and missing out on a UEFA Champions League spot by one point, Gennaro Gattuso has experienced more than the average boss at just 42. His coaching career to date has been a roller-coaster, the kind where you have everyone sending mixed signals on how frightening it can be and how you contemplate stepping out of line to sit it out. But for the fierce Calabrese general, he has never been the one to turn back and run away from his battles. Instead, he has always stared his fears square in the eyes, no matter the circumstances.

When Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis came calling for the Italian to replace Carlo Ancelotti last December, a man he holds in high regard, another new challenge awaited him at the Casa Volturno training ground. Aware of what he was stepping into upon putting pen to paper and accepting the job of bringing balance at the San Paolo, Gattuso knew if he was to succeed in this new role, his group were going to have to fight, sacrifice and spit blood to revitalize the Partenopei.

Initially, Gattuso seemed in over his head, failing to disguise his flaws and those of the current squad this season, losing 4 of 5 in the league and falling into the bottom half of the table. However, he has completely reversed this downward spiral, winning 7 of 10 in all competitions, including wins over Juventus, Lazio and Inter – the latter two which have them one result away from clinching a Coppa Italia berth.

Throughout this stretch, Gattuso has been able to elevate those who were otherwise fumbling and struggling for form under Ancelotti, including Spanish international Fabian Ruiz.

The 23-year old broke out in a big way in his first season at the club, eventually earning regular runs in the starting XI after moving from strength to strength and having a tremendous impact. Yet, too often he was used in areas under Ancelotti where his best talents failed to shine through. Recently though, he has found the magic wand of a left foot he wields and the vision to split lines which has put him back on track as one of Italy’s brightest midfield players, something which will certainly sound the alarms for clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona who have been linked extensively with a summer move for the ex-Real Betis man.

Newcomer Diego Demme, who has seemingly taken Allan’s starting spot after the Brazilian came under criticism of Gattuso after his training approach failed to meet expectations, is also providing the kind of balance in the midfield that frees up Ruiz and Piotr Zielinski to have a real say in attacking areas.

But Gattuso’s impact has sparked more than just a few, with his presence having a trickle down effect on the entire squad who are not only putting in solid collective efforts, but also buying into the way their new boss wishes to perform with the ‘grinta’ for which he personified throughout his own career. Now that he has his squad fighting and willing to get their hands dirty, Gattuso has shown improvement in the tactical aspects of his job, just as we saw in the 1-1 draw with Barcelona.

His 4-1-4-1 operated by design, allowing Napoli to play with numbers behind the ball as Barcelona expectedly held the upper-hand in possession and strike the Catalans on the rare counter-attack just as Dries Mertens did. Many will argue Napoli hunkered down and absorbed too much, and preferred to have been the aggressor as Barcelona’s been susceptible to getting split open on many occasions this season. Nonetheless, it was a solid tactical display from a manager whose main critics have always lamented his limitations and it is a result that suggests he can do more than motivate.

Gattuso has never been one for excuses. He has always honestly addressed the media and never deflects blame onto his players. There is accountability, ownership of any wayward results and off-kilter performances. He demands professionalism, and equal commitment to the cause. As a result of this, he has won over the Napoli fans and is beginning to get the best out of an underachieving squad who are now working to correct the wrongs of the earlier season to get back where they need to be amongst the Serie A elites.

Is he tactically limited? Perhaps. Does he have the CV of a top coach or one that proves he can hold down a job? No. Does his football style look pedestrian at times? Certainly. But is he evolving as a manager in this game? We think so.

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Sassuolo vs Napoli: Team news, stats and prediction

After spoiling AC Milan’s 120th birthday festivities last weekend at the San Siro, and winning midweek vs Brescia, Sassuolo return home to host Gennaro Gattuso’s Napoli where they hope to continue feeding the coin in the Azzurri’s rollarcoaster season. 

Life in Naples did not get off to a roaring start for new boss Gennaro Gattuso last weekend. Gervinho and Dejan Kulusevski sawed the Partenopei open for two goals, with the Ivorian delivering a gut wrenching blow in the dying embers of the match to pick up the 2-1 win for Parma. Certainly, the Calabrese will look to rebound quickly and please his new boss Aurelio De Laurentiis with a positive result this Sunday against a Sassuolo side on the rise.

TEAM NEWS

As Gattuso enters week two on the job, he is without question still feeling out the roster and trying to determine who fits best in his system. Though the 4-3-3 should remain largely unchanged, it will see at least one personnel switch at the back with Kalidou Koulibaly out for projected starter 23-year old Sebastiano Luperto.

The world class Senegalese defender has not enjoyed a strong season, uncharacteristically prone to errors and out of the form that stirred quite the debate on who was the best central defender in Europe today. After coming off with a hamstring injury, Koulibaly will need to be picked up by Luperto or Maksimovic and help restore some order to matters in the back where Napoli have leaked in far too many goals this season.

In the midfield, we can expect the same three of Piotr Zielinski, Allan and Fabian Ruiz to get starting nods, with perhaps the possibility of the Spaniard occupying the deeper role. Ruiz registered four shots last weekend vs Parma, two of which tested Luigi Sepe’s net. Spraying the ball around at 95% clip, expect the success of Napoli’s performance to rest on the shoulder of Ruiz.

Up front, Hirving Lozano is projected to replace José Callejon on the right wing, with Arkadiusz Milik and Lorenzo Insigne maintaining their starting positions from last weekend. Regardless of who spearheads Napoli’s attacking assault, they simply must improve their finishing and efficiency, concerns that have persisted for much of the campaign. In defeat to Parma, the San Paolo outfit launched 33 shots, only 8 of which found the target and 1 the back of the net. Napoli are getting in the right positions, but lack cutting edge and end product to make it all count.

Projected Sassuolo XI (4-2-3-1): Pegolo; Muldur, Romagna, Ferrari, Kyriakopoulos; Magnanelli, Locatelli; Berardi, Djuricic, Boga; Caputo.

Projected Napoli XI (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Luperto, Rui; Allan, Ruiz, Zielinski; Lozano, Milik, Insigne.

STATS

In previous years, Napoli would have been the heavy favorite in this fixture, but both times and performances have surely changed. As for Sassuolo, Roberto De Zerbi’s young side is hitting quite the patch of form, even if they have not been picking up wins. During these previous four matches, the Neroverdi earned draws against the following sides: Juventus (A, 2-2), Cagliari (H, 2-2) and AC Milan (A, 0-0). They also enter this challenge having won midweek 2-0 over Brescia.

Here are a few more key facts below:

  • Napoli are unbeaten in their previous 6 meetings with Sassuolo, winning 3 and drawing 3.
  • The Partenopei have failed to pick up a win in their last 8 Serie A matches.
  • Sassuolo have conceded at least 2 goals in 5 of their last 6 home matches in Serie A.

PREDICTION

It is becoming increasingly difficult to read what type of Napoli will show up each weekend. There is a certain sharpness they have lacked the entire season under Carlo Ancelotti and the one match Gattuso has been in charge. If it is not the defence committing costly errors, it is the midfield or attacking letting them down. Collectively however, Napoli simply have left much to be desired and until they turn in a performance more in line with previous seasons, it is hard to expect them to handle matters at Mapei Stadium in convincing fashion. Having said all this, there is belief in Gattuso getting a reaction from his men after losing at the death last Saturday, which is why this has the potential to be a scrappy fight and one with plenty of goals. Napoli’s back four will have their hands full with Jeremie Boga, Domenico Berardi and Francesco Caputo, but this will be where the winless streak is snapped.

Sassuolo 2-3 Napoli

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What to Watch for in Serie A: Round 16

In the wonderfully enthralling world of Serie A calcio, it can be incredibly difficult to keep up with the current news, developing storylines, team performances and individual efforts on a weekly basis. This is where we come in.

As we head into round 16 of play on Italian soil, and rapidly approach the midway point of the 2019/20 season, we will begin to establish what is worth keeping an eye on and what should be less of a priority.

Here are five things to watch for in Serie A this weekend. Continue reading

SPAL vs. AC Milan: Previewing the Champions League decider

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This evening, AC Milan will take on SPAL away from home, in what will be their final game of the season. As expected, it will also be a very important one, as the Rossoneri are in need of a win in order to keep their Champions League dream alive. 

Since Juventus failed to beat Atalanta last weekend, the Bergamo side still have the upper hand against Milan, currently sitting one point ahead of Gattuso’s men with 66 points in third place. Inter, meanwhile, are in fourth with the same amount of points. In other words, it’s not only in the Rossoneri’s hand this evening, as they will need help from either Sassuolo or Empoli. Continue reading

Champions League Race: A Comprehensive Breakdown

With the Champions League race going down to the wire in Serie A, the final match-day promises to make for exciting viewing. Atalanta, Inter and Milan are separated by a mere point, while the possibility of Roma sneaking in can’t be discounted either.

At the moment, it is Gasperini’s men, and Spalletti’s nerazzurri that control their own fate, while the other two sides are on the outside looking in – albeit a little too close for comfort. As entry to Europe’s elite competition promises a pitfall of cash and prestige, achieving Champions League football is of the utmost importance, and could have serious repercussions on any of these sides’ transfer windows.

Let’s being with Gasperini’s Atalanta. Against all odds, gli Orobici find themselves in third, and control their own destiny in their final game. Win, and they qualify for the Champions League. After an impressive season that saw them play high-flying football, and reach the Coppa Italia final, Atalanta could cap it off with a berth in next season’s Champions League.

While technically they are the home side for this clash, Atalanta have recently been remodelling their stadium, conveniently relocated all their remaining home games to Sassuolo. As luck would have it, Atalanta’s last game is, of course, against Sassuolo.

The neroverdi have nothing to play for, but have always proven to be a difficult opposition. However, in their first game, Gasperini’s men dispatched them rather easily, pumping six past Sassuolo. With Duvan Zapata, Alejandro Gomez, and Josip Ilicic firing on all cylinders, they should have enough to beat the “visitors”.

Inter, on the other hand, take on Empoli at the San Siro. With Empoli languishing in and around the relegation zone, the Tuscan-based outfit will be fighting for their life, and won’t be easy to overcome. In fact, Aurelio Andreazzoli’s men have been one of the league’s most in-form sides, winning their last three games. As a result, this clash won’t be as straightforward as the table suggests, and the nerazzurri will need to be at their best.

Inter’s cross-town rivals, Milan, will be travelling to the Stadio Paolo Mazza to take on SPAL 2013. After months of being in the top four, the rossoneri now find themselves in fifth, however, just one point back of Atalanta and Inter. Should Gattuso’s men claim the victory, and either of their competitors drops points, Milan will be making their long-awaited return to Champions League football. If they don’t, however, they will be kicking themselves, as they were in the driver’s seat for the most part of the season.

While Milan will need some help to qualify, at the very least, their odds are better than Roma’s. Ranieri’s men will need a small miracle to qualify on the final match-day. They’ll need to beat Parma by five clear goals, while Milan and Inter lose, and Atalanta avoid defeat. Unlikely.

Otherwise, they’ll need to win, while all of their other competitors lose their games. Another unlikely scenario. Much like Milan, Roma have themselves to blame for this, and have been dropping points to the league’s provinciali all season.

In any case, whichever way this race ends, there will be fireworks. Either Gasperini’s Atalanta cap off their phenomenal cinderella season in impressive fashion, or both Milan giants will be returning to Europe’s elite competition together. And Roma, well, best of luck. You’ll need it.

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Fiorentina 0-1 AC Milan: Calhanoglu header keeps Rossoneri in Champions League race

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AC Milan were under pressure this evening against Fiorentina, as Atalanta won their game earlier today, forcing the Rossoneri to grab all three points in order to stay within reach of a top-four finish. 

Fortunately for Gattuso’s men, they managed to snatch a victory at Artemio Franchi, which is their first at that stadium since 2014. In other words, a very important signal to send as the Champions League race is coming to an end. However, despite the win, they will have to depend on other teams to slip up in order to get what they want.  Continue reading

Is sending Bakayoko back to Chelsea the right choice for AC Milan?

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Just a few weeks ago, the redemption of Bakayoko seemed like a must for AC Milan ahead of next season. However, in recent days, new reports suggest the opposite, with the Rossoneri reportedly re-evaluating the situation. 

The claims came about as it was revealed that Bakayoko had arrived an hour late for training this week, which subsequently led to the squad being sent into a training retreat ahead of Monday’s clash with Bologna. Gattuso was upset with the behaviour of the players, and the Frenchman’s actions was the final straw. Continue reading

Torino 2-0 AC Milan: Champions League looking tough for the Rossoneri

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AC Milan are on thin ice in the race for a spot in next year’s Champions League, following a terrible display away at Torino this evening, resulting in a 2-0 loss and a red card for their captain Alessio Romagnoli. 

The Rossoneri looked very scrappy from the start, failing to get their play up and running against a hard-working Torino side, who were energized by the home crowd. In fact, within the first 16 minutes, Milan had accumulated three yellow cards as Torino made the most out of a sluggish opposition. Continue reading

Parma 1-1 AC Milan: Scrappy performance results in useless draw for the Rossoneri

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AC Milan failed to do what was needed, as Parma managed to find an equaliser at the death. However, one could argue that the home side deserved the point, as Gattuso’s men looked uninspired for the entire game. 

The Rossoneri had a chance to make a leap in fourth place, increasing the distance between themselves and Roma as well as Atalanta, who will face Inter and Napoli respectively this round. However, in classic Milan fashion, they failed to do so, putting in a terrible display overall.  Continue reading