Three Things Napoli Should Do to Get Back on Track

Going into the new season, much was expected from Napoli under Carlo Ancelotti. Having added Kostas Manolas, Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Hirving Lozano among others, the partenopei were expected to make a Scudetto push after consecutive seasons as runners-up. However, nothing of the sort has taken place and Napoli are currently languishing below mid-table and have replaced Ancelotti with Gennaro Gattuso. Here are three things Napoli should consider to get back on track.

1) Squad revolution: Sell, sell, sell! 

Most of the current Napoli side have been with the club for the greater part of the decade, and have experienced incredible highs and lows. For example: Winning 1-0 in a title decider against Juventus away from home, only to lose the following game to Fiorentina and squander their lead at the top. This undoubtedly remains in the psyche of most of their players.

After a rough start to the season, the club’s veterans turned against Ancelotti and demanded change from the upper hierarchy. Moreover, many of their ageing stars on expiring deals are asking for pay-rises due to their past exploits with the club. Exploits they probably won’t be able to recreate, if we’re being honest. Football works in cycles and one thing is clear: This cycle is over for Napoli and it’s time for a rebuild. Sell Insigne, Mertens, Hysaj and anyone in between. Out with the old and in with the new. That sounds equally exciting as it sounds scary.

2) Stick with Gattuso

This may seem like a stretch especially after the rough start to his tenure, losing four of his first five games, but Napoli would be wise to stay with Gattuso. With a full pre-season under his belt and an entire summer to sign players he wants, the former Milan tactician will have the weapons he needs to make a push for the title next season. In addition, most of his current players appear to have their heads elsewhere and could use a move away and start fresh.

While this season won’t amount to much, it will be a good opportunity for Gattuso to acclimate himself to his new surroundings and establish players he can count on. This will undoubtedly come in handy moving into the new season. In his final season at Milan, the World Cup winner almost got the rossoneri into the Champions League with a far worse roster. Given time and a roster upheaval, Gattuso will prove to be a good fit for Napoli.

3) Establish your core. 

Speaking of finding players to count on, Napoli’s top brass should use the rest of the season and evaluate their squad. Who is sellable and who is untouchable? After this year’s shocking performances, you can argue only Meret, Koulibaly, Di Lorenzo and the newcomers are off-limits. The rest should and arguably will be on the market for the right price. Fabian Ruiz, for example, has shown signs of brilliance but doesn’t look as implicated as he could be for the Napoli cause. Reports suggest Barcelona and Real Madrid are keeping tabs on the Spanish international and could present a bid upwards of 50M for the midfielder.

Another player’s future to consider is Lorenzo Insigne. While the diminutive playmaker is one of the last true bandiere in Italy, it may be time for a move away. After all, he did lead the mutiny against Ancelotti and hasn’t exactly performed on the pitch. As a result, the list of sellable players should far exceed the “untouchables.” In any case, Napoli’s season does present a silver lining: A unique opportunity to reboot and start a new cycle. Hopefully, for them, this one will be filled with silverware and that elusive Scudetto.

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Ending Napoli curse could be watershed moment in Lazio’s Champions League chase

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It’s all too easy to get lost in football statistics nowadays.

For followers of Lazio, this has been truer than ever of late. Every match, every win, every goal, seems to set a new historic landmark or shatter some long-standing record.

Among the avalanche of numbers and information that has tumbled from the slipstream of the Roman club’s nine-match winning run in Serie A was an important moment for Simone Inzaghi.

The Lazio coach had never beaten his Juventus counterpart Maurizio Sarri until December’s thrilling 3-1 victory at the Stadio Olimpico, only to then go and repeat the feat just two weeks later to win the Supercoppa Italiana in Riyadh.

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Napoli moves on from Ancelotti to pivot to Gattuso

I often like to say that we should never apply the standards of clubs like Juventus, Inter or Milan to Napoli since the region where they play is truly unique and because the club simply does not have the revenues to compete with the classic powerhouses in Serie A.  This was confirmed to be true when president Aurelio De Laurentiis decided to sack Carlo Ancelotti right after a 4-0 win in the Champions League that qualified the team out of the group stage with an undefeated record for the first time in the club’s history.

Let’s be clear, Ancelotti is a true gentleman, one of the few managers who has been able to win significantly without being a hard ass with his players, so it’s very tempting to make him the victim in this situation when you consider that De Laurentiis isn’t afraid to be vulgar, abrupt and thin skinned, which he confirmed with the fact Ancelotti went to the post game press conference following the 4-0 win to say he would meet with him the following day only to be sacked, and that the squad went into full mutiny mode by refusing to go on a club imposed retreat about a month ago which started this, but life isn’t often in just black and white with heroes and victims.

Just like at Paris St Germain and especially at Bayern Munich, Ancelotti failed to live up to expectations at Napoli who find themselves 17 points behind league leaders Inter and eight points behind Cagliari for the final Champions League spot in Serie A. Certainly qualifying out of the group stage in Europe’s top club competition is impressive, but it’s not like the partenopei had any chance of winning the cup with the Mickey Mouse ears while on the other hand finishing in Serie A’s top four, to get the revenues from participating in said competition, is the bare minimum objective and one that should be a shoe in for a team featuring top players like Koulibaly, Allan, Fabian Ruiz, Mertens and impressive new additions that bolstered positions of need like Di Lorenzo and Manolas.

To be fair to Ancelotti, replacing Maurizio Sarri, who embraced the identity of the city of Napoli as well as almost anyone since De Laurentiis took over, was going to be very difficult. Ancelotti was seen as the ideal profile to reassure a group that had just lost a scudetto in shocking fashion to Juventus despite getting to 91 points (a record for a team that didn’t win the title) and while last season they never came close to keeping up with the bianconeri, they had shown enough to believe they could make one last run at a trophy with the current core.

In the summer, De Laurentiis retained all of his top players, broke his transfer fee record on a single player by signing Lozano and the squad had enough depth to compete in all fronts. But the wheels came off quickly, after a disappointing stretch and before the season was fully compromised, De Laurentiis decided to send the team on retreat- a decision Ancelotti publicly stated he didn’t agree with, shortly after the players- led by Insigne and Allan- went into full mutiny mode by refusing to go on retreat.

For the second time in a row, following his experience at Bayern Munich, Ancelotti’s training methods and (lack of ) intensity were questioned by his players. It got to the point that some assumed Ancelotti saw his job at Napoli as an opportunity to keep his loyal staff employed and continue to groom his son to become a top manager- at this point you have to wonder if he’s only really suited for a national team- where his ability to strive in a single elimination tournament like Champions League- at this stage of his career.

Napoli have never been the same in Serie A since and now Rino Gattuso finds himself replacing one of his former managers. The 2006 World Cup champion has been patiently waiting for the right opportunity since leaving Milan at the end of last season, seen the significant struggles by his successor Marco Giampaolo, Gattuso started being viewed in a better light as a manager when you consider he had the rossoneri in contention for a Champions League spot.

Gattuso has always been a loyal company man and was also willing to take a short term contract until end of the season (with a vested option for 2020/21 in case he qualifies for the Champions League), so he really was an ideal solution for De Laurentiis who is reticent to pay multiple coaches because of his fiscal discipline and just dealt with a manager disagreeing publicly with the decision on the retreat.

Gattuso will almost certainly go back to Sarri’s good old 4 3 3 formation after Ancelotti experimented with different looks, and you have to wonder if De Laurentiis will even be more motivated to bring in Zlatan Ibrahimovic to fully change the subject and re energize the team. During the season, Gattuso had been offered both the Genoa and Udinese jobs when they sacked their managers, he now gets a much juicier opportunity in a truly unique place in Serie A.

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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