On the Rise: Sandro Tonali

Initially likened to a certain Andrea Pirlo because of his appearance and position, Brescia’s Sandro Tonali has since taken Serie A by storm. Playing at the base Eugenio Corini’s midfield trio in a traditional regista role, the U-21 international has taken to the top flight like a fish to water and has dictated proceedings.

Alongside the veteran presences of Daniele Dessena and Dimitri Bisoli, the 19-year-old is given the license to drive forward with and without the ball. After watching him play, it’s easy to forget he hasn’t even hit 20 years old yet. His most recent performances have attracted interest from Serie A’s elite as Juventus, Napoli, Inter, and Milan are all said to be keeping tabs on the player.

Fiorentina have also shown interest in the player and have sent scouts to watch him. In addition to having the pick of the litter in Italy, Tonali is being monitored by English giants Manchester United as well as Paris Saint-Germain.

Despite the uncanny resemblance to Pirlo and the fact that they both emerged from Brescia, comparing the two is lazy. They may play the same position, but do so very differently. While Tonali boasts an impressive range of passing, he’s more eager to drive with the ball at his feet than the legendary Milan midfielder. In his seven appearances this season, he’s already averaging 1.6 completed dribbles per game and has emerged as Brescia’s most important ball progressor with the ball at his feet.

Outside of possession, Tonali is like a bulldog. Always eager to win the ball back, the Brescia man is regularly nipping at the heels of the opposition. Due to his aggressive nature, Tonali’s play off the ball has drawn comparisons to a certain Gennaro Gattuso. High praise, indeed.

Beyond his energetic presence in the middle of the park, Tonali has demonstrated he can play the killer pass. Often times, younger players display promise but lack in end-product. This is not the case for Tonali. Having already registered two assists on the season, the Brescia midfield is unlucky not to have more. As his 2.3 key passes per game suggest, Tonali is regularly finding teammates in dangerous positions.

Whether it’s from open play or from a whipped in cross from a set-piece, Tonali’s right boot poses a considerable threat to opposition defences. As he gets more top flight action, expect Tonali’s assist and chances created tallies to keep increasing.

With every big club in Italy practically on his tail, it’s now time Tonali makes the right decision and join a side where he can play regularly. After all, he’s just 19 years of age and can’t afford to have his development stifled. From this perspective, Fiorentina is an ideal landing spot, provided they are capable of giving him regular minutes.

Milan, Inter and Napoli could be interesting options for Tonali, as well, but the 19-year-old should request guarantees before joining. The last thing he needs is cameo appearances off the bench at this stage in his career.

Regardless of his next move, one thing is clear: Tonali is Italy’s best midfield prospect and is the real deal. The Pirlo comparisons will only continue as his career goes on, yet the 19-year-old has shown he’s ready to carve out his own path. The ball’s now in his court.

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Roma’s Hot Seat: The Contenders

With Roma on the prowl for a new manager following a disappointing season in the nation’s capital, many of Italy’s tacticians have been linked with a move to the giallorossi. After missing out on the Champions League, the Roma brass are looking for fresh ideas, and start anew once more. Here are the current contenders for the job, including the favourites, a couple long-shots, and everyone in between.

1) Sinisa Mihajlovic (Bologna) 

The Bologna manager is arguably the likeliest to become Roma’s boss next season, and has demonstrated he has the personality to coach one of the league’s top clubs in the future. After replacing Pippo Inzaghi half-way through the season, the Serbian tactician steered Bologna to safety with ease, and made the most of their limited roster.

Instilling an offensive 4-2-3-1, Mihajlovic took Bologna to another level, and inevitably catapulted them from the relegation zone to a respectable tenth place finish. Prior to his arrival, Bologna looked a side devoid of an identity, and appeared set to go down to Italy’s second division.

Under his guidance, offensive talent Riccardo Orsolini stepped up, scoring four goals and registering one assist in his last six appearances, and gave a glimpse of what’s to come to the rest of the calcio world. Following his strong finish, Bologna exercised their option to purchase him completely from Juventus.

Other than getting Bologna firing on all cylinders in the final third, Mihajlovic, much like it has been the case his entire managerial career, introduced new-found solidity in the midfield with his double pivot, and laid the foundations at the club for next season. Should he join Roma, as it’s largely being reported, expect the Serb to do the same and continue his progression as a young manager.

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2) Marco Giampaolo (Sampdoria) 

The Sampdoria boss has long been regarded as one of the peninsula’s up and coming tacticians, and has continued his development at Sampdoria this past year. While this season ended in disappointing fashion for the blucerchiati finishing outside the European places, Giampaolo made strides forward, and continued to implement his possession-based game in Genoa.

Bringing his trademark 4-3-1-2 no matter the club he’s at, he may prove to be a good fit for a stuttering giallorossi side. This season, Roma lacked invention in the final third, and played much of the season looking lethargic in possession. However, just like Mihajlovic, Giampaolo is relatively untested at the highest level, and is yet to prove himself in the upper echelon of Italian football. With Roma looking to get back into the Champions League as early as next season, hiring Giampaolo is a risk they may not be able to afford.

It’s also important to note that Milan are also in the running for the tactician, and are arguably the front-runners for his signature. In any case, don’t expect Giampaolo to be the man to restore Roma to their former heights.

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3) The outsiders

Outside of Mihajlovic and Giampaolo, a host of other names have been linked to the Roma hot-seat, albeit less seriously. If recent reports are to be believed, Shaktar’s Paulo Fonseca has been coveted by the Roma management, and could be brought in this coming summer. Like Giampaolo, Fonseca values possession-based football, and has done wonders with his Ukrainian outfit in recent years, especially in the Champions League. Despite being a long shot for the time being, he’d be an impressive appointment, all things considered.

Another name linked to the side is Sassuolo’s Roberto De Zerbi. After impressing at Benevento in his first season in Serie A, De Zerbi was appointed as Sassuolo’s manager. Despite the neroverdi’s limited roster, the Italian tactician guided them comfortably to a 12th place finish, all-while playing progressive football with a strong Italian base. Much like the other candidates, De Zerbi is unproven but has demonstrated he’s one of the nation’s most forward-thinking managers.

Other names that have been vaguely linked to Roma are former Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso, who Francesco Totti is reportedly pushing for, and Jose Mourinho. However, these links should be taken with a heavy grain of salt, and are arguably meant more to sell papers than anything else.

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Gattuso out as Milan coach

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Gennaro Gattuso and Milan have mutually agreed to part ways after an 18-month tenure as head coach of the first team. The Rossoneri collected 68 points this season, the biggest haul in six years, but fell just short of reaching their seasonal target, which was qualifying to Champions League. The managed elected to step down after a recent meeting with CEO Ivan Gazidis. The director Leonardo has resigned on Tuesday too.

Gattuso confided to Repubblica: “Leaving the Milan’s bench is not easy, but it is a decision I had to make. It did not generate in a precise moment, but it was the sum of this 18 months as coach of a team that will always be special to me. I have gone through them with great passion, they were unforgettable. I will renounce to two years left on my contract because my history with the club will never be a matter of money.” Continue reading

Milan confident of overhauling Europa League rivals

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With the Serie A season approaching its final straight, the race for the Europpean places is set to go down to the wire.

With Juventus having already secured their title, and Napoli and Inter Milan looking strong to secure a Champions League finish, the battle for Europe is spread across seven sides.

Atalanta and Roma look set to fight it out for fourth place, and Champions League football for 2019-20.

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AC Milan delaying on Bakayoko transfer

AC Milan will wait until the end of the Serie A season before making a decision on whether to make Tiemoue Bakayoko’s move to the club a permanent one.

The French international has been an important figure in Gennaro Gattuso’s side this season, after joining on a season long loan from Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea back in August 2018.

He has played in 24 of Milan’s 30 Serie A games in 2018-19, with 10 in Europa League and cup action for the San Siro club.

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Can Gattuso make fallen Serie A giants AC Milan a force once again?

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There seems to be a buzz around the San Siro of late and that is due largely to AC Milan’s out going coach Gennaro Gattuso. Gattuso was always one to stuck on the field and that attitude hasn’t changed a bit as he intends to be outspoken outside of it. But you can only be that self confident and get away with it if you start producing results on the pitch and that is what Gattuso intends to do.

The past few years have been hard on AC Milan who were so used to dominating world football in the 80s and 90s and even in their declining years and the declining years of Serie A which gave up the great footballing names for La Liga in Spain, Milan were a force to be reckoned with. Witness their 2 Champions League titles in 2003 and 2007 as evidence of that.

But soon after the club were having to play in the Europa League and they haven’t won Serie A since 2011. Indeed apart from the Supercoppa Italiano in 2016, the clubs last major trophy was that Serie A title in 2011.

It is difficult to think that Milan who have won the European Cup (Champions League) on 7 different occasions are also rans in the competition now. They don’t even qualify for Europe’s premier competition and yet are one of the most successful teams to have ever competed in it. This is where Gattuso steps in and he wants to change the clubs losing mentality of the past few years and bring with it a new golden generation of players.

Gattuso is seen as a club legend having joined them in 1999 and stayed until 2012 making well over 300 appearances. He also has a lot of respect from the fans since after retiring he made his way up the managerial ranks, first as coach of the other 19 side and then took charge in winter of 2017 after the sacking of Vincenzo Montella.

His current win rate of 47% needs to be improved but he has still won 32 of the 67 games he has been in charge of and has impressed the Milan board so much that his contract has been extended until 2021. Gattuso could well be a success story at Milan, in short he is one of them which goes a long way.

This season Milan will not win the league and they are actually a whopping 24 points behind leaders Juventus. At the same time the club are in 4th place, which would be good enough to qualify for the play offs of the Champions League. But there are 3 clubs chasing them. Their next target is to overtake Inter, their fierce rivals in the league who have a 4 point advantage over them. Do that and Gattuso makes his statement to the club and fans that his team are going places. Next season could get very interesting for the old veterans of football.

Juventus chasing history in the Italian Super Cup

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Defending Serie A champions Juventus kick off 2019 with a double header of cup action, and the chance to write another chapter of history in their recent dominance.

Max Allergi’s side face a trip to Bologna on January 12th, in the first leg of their last 16 tie of the Coppa Italia, and then on January 16th they take on AC Milan in the Italian Super Cup final.

The match has already attracted attention, albeit controversial, as the Italian FA have sanctioned the game to be played in Saudi Arabia, at the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium, in Riyadh.

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Top Four On The Line As Lazio Clash With Milan

With an injury-riddled Milan coming into the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday, Lazio have to take full advantage and extend their lead in fourth place over the rossoneri by four points. As Alessio Romagnoli, Mattia Caldara and Mateo Musacchio can only look on from the sideline, Lazio talisman Ciro Immobile will look to have a field day against a makeshift Milan defence.

While, as of late, Milan have had Lazio’s number, remaining undefeated against them in their last three clashes, Gennaro Gattuso’s side face a tall task in the nation’s capital this time around. Going into the game without their first choice centre-back pairing as well as Giacomo Bonaventura and Gonzalo Higuain among other notable absentees, the rossoneri are reportedly resorting to a subdued 4-4-1-1 with Calhanoglu pairing Cutrone in attack. Lazio, by contrast, will be at full strength, and will likely field their usual 3-5-1-1 with Luis Alberto playing behind Ciro Immobile.

After a relatively inconsistent start to the season, Lazio have since picked up form, only losing once in their last seven games in all competitions. This upturn in form has seen them leapfrog both Milan and Roma in the standings for the fourth and final Champions League spot, something Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi will be holding onto dearly. After all, missing out on Europe’s elite competition last season meant stalwart defender Stefan de Vrij joined Inter in the summer.

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5 Reasons to Watch Serie A this Weekend

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After most Italian clubs performed well in European competitions this week, Serie A is back with an exciting slate of games. Here are five story lines to watch:

 

Can Gattuso get Milan back on track? Or is his sacking now just a matter of time?

Milan followed up the very disappointing performance in the derby with an even more embarrassing display against Betis on Thursday. But while Gattuso’s job appears to be safe for the time being, the rumors of Donadoni potentially replacing him are intensifying which makes me wonder if it’s a job requirement that Milan can only hire one of their former players to manage the team.

Gattuso needs to turn things around quickly, but Sunday evening’s match against Sampdoria presents a few challenges. While Giampaolo’s team is considerably better at home, they currently have the best defense in Serie A with only four goals conceded in large part thanks to new keeper Audero and Danish defender Andersen who has been one of the league’s revelations after the blucerchiati decided to keep him essentially inactive for his first year in Italy.

Can Napoli actually challenge Juventus for the title?

The home draw against Genoa abruptly ended the talk of Juventus potentially wining every match in Serie A this season. And while that scenario was as extreme and preposterous as the plot of a Michael Bay film, there are still legitimate concerns that unlike last season we won’t have a real scudetto race.

So far Carlo Ancelotti is starting to make a similar impact to what we saw Allegri do at Juventus- both managers have been much more successful in European competitions than their predecessors at their clubs. Napoli performed admirably against Paris St Germain on Wednesday and Ancelotti’s willingness to rotate players frequently should minimize the possibility of the partenopei being sluggish on Sunday night.

Napoli will face a wounded Roma. The giallorossi had won four in a row before the international break but then flopped against SPAL at the Olimpico, on the bright side for Di Francesco kickoff time is set for 2045 and Dzeko has scored 54 of his 80 goals at the club during night matches.

Is any non Chievo fan rooting for Ventura to turn things around starting with the match against Cagliari?

No.

Will Lazio get revenge on Inter? Or will two of their former players inflict more pain?

Remember Vecino’s last second goal the Olimpico to give Inter the last Champions League spot? Well I’m sure Simone Inzaghi, his squad and Lazio fans all do and they will look to get revenge during the Serie A Monday night game. In addition to losing that match to Inter, Lazio also saw their best defender Stefan de Vrij join the nerazzurri on a free transfer and to add salt to the wound, Spalletti rested the Dutch international against Barcelona so he should be particularly fresh when he faces his former team. It will be interesting to see if Inter gives a breather to Ivan Perisic, who is pretty banged up, in favor of another former Laziale, Keita Balde who is looking for his first breakout moment on his new team

But back to Lazio, you consider how poor Milinkovic Savic and Luis Alberto have been this season, it’s quite remarkable that Simone Inzaghi’s squad find themselves in fourth place- a lot of the credit goes to Ciro Immobile, who continues to be as much as a sure thing when it comes to strikers in Serie A, and de Vrij’s replacement Acerbi who has played so well he earned a callup to the Azzurri.

 

Can Belotti finally get going?

While Immobile continues to a guarantee in Serie A, his former teammate known as Il Gallo is starting to look like a one season wonder. Belotti has some exciting complimentary players up front in Soriano and especially Iago Falque, but it remains to be seen if his partnership with Simone Zaza can actually work at the club level.

Belotti will look to start a scoring streak when Mazzarri’s squad faces Fiorentina, a team that features one of the best defenses in Serie A with only 7 goals conceded. Nikola Milenkovic is becoming one of Serie A’s most sought after defenders, left back Biraghi earned two starts in a row on the Italian national team and Pezzella and Vitor Hugo have formed a very solid partnership after Davide Astori’s tragic passing.

 

Why Milan must focus on securing fourth place

 

AC Milan players applaud fans for their support.

AC Milan players applaud fans for their support.

Talking about AC Milan competing for any championship these days sounds odd to hear. The Rossoneri are years away from becoming the force that once conquered European club football. And on the domestic front, it’s difficult to imagine them breaking Juventus stranglehold of the league, at least, not in the nearest future.

After last Sunday the 1-1 draw against Cagliari, Milan Legend Paolo Maldini Summarized the current status of the team in a very reflective statement. “Being the anti-Juventus? Let’s be serious, we’re still a long way off being that. We’re aiming to reach the top four in the league and have a great run in the Europa League. Projects are important, but you can’t yet compare Milan to Juventus.”

One big take out from this comment is the admission by the former Iconic Milan Captain that, the Rossoneri will not win the Europa League. Sure, Milan are looking to have a great run in the competition, but how far can they go, quarter-final or Semi-final? And will that be a prudent use of their current strength or a focus discussion on securing fourth place in Serie A should be the way to go.

Despite the improvement in key areas this season, Milan’s performance last season suggest they need to choose between the Europa League and fourth place in Serie A. And for a club of Milan’s stature qualification for Champions league should be the Holy Grail.

Milan started very well in the qualification round of the Europa League last season, before witnessing some disappointing results and insipid display during the group stage. However, it became a platform for players such as Andre Silva  and Fabio Borini to make a case for a starting place in the team which did not quite materialised. The Portugal international, Silva, who is currently on loan at Sevilla could not translate his European form into domestic performance.

Gannaro Gattuso managed to take Milan to the round 16th of Europe’s second tier competition, but stumbled against English side Arsenal both at home and away grounds. Notwithstanding the Gunners ordeal during that time in their English Premier League, which read eight points behind fourth place, the chasm in quality, maturity and organisation was huge. Of course, Arsenal had a crop of players who had been together for quite a long time whiles the Rossoneri were going through what one will describe as a teething problem.

The Europa League could disrupt Milan’s domestic campaign, as it can put a strain on the squad. Compared to last season, Gattuso has got a bigger group of players must be tactful in how he rotates the lads whiles guarding against injuries. The inclusion of Samu Castilljo, Diego Laxalt, Tiémoué Bakayoko and Alen Halilović could provide the Diavolo cover in crucial moments. The team still awaits the return of right back Andrea Conti from rehabilitation after a long spell in the treatment room.

Milan kick start their campaign against Dudelange in Group F which also has the likes Real Betis and Olympiacos. They will qualify and possibly lead the group, but do they have the quality to compete against some of the big dogs who may fall from the Champions league. How would Milan fair against teams like Chelsea, Arsenal, Sevilla or even Olympiacos and Real Betis in the group stage.

From an administrative perspective participation in the Europa league is a great call because it comes with some financial incentives, whiles from a supporter’s point of view, this an opportunity to witness European football at the San Siro, especially, when their rivals from the blue side of the City, Inter Milan, are involved in the bigger one, the Champion League.

It’s early days yet but, Milan’s domestic form isn’t that great and Maldini had some few words on how the team can develop “What to improve? We have to try to accelerate the growth of experience, we have an opportunity and the results of the other teams show it. The team is not yet aware of how strong it is, many guys have not realized how much they can give. Dialogue with us directors could be important for them”.

Certainly, having a discussion with the squad could do a lot for their confidence and provide them with a sense of self believe, but the bigger problem is, there are a few reliable players in this group.

Milan must choose between spending their energies in finishing fourth in Seire A or risk being derailed by their participation in the Europa League as they do not have the quality to compete against the big guns in the competition.

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