Serie A Team of the Week – Round 20

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Serie A returned in full force with a gorgeous weekend of football. Here are the top performers.

Samir Handanovic (7 points): just five clean sheets in this round, by Inter, Sassuolo, Milan, Juventus and Atalanta. The veteran goalie had the best showing, denying two close range attempts by Kevin-Prince Boateng and Jeremie Boga to preserve the tie. Gianluca Donnarumma was not far behind.

Gianluca Mancini (9 points): he has already scored five goals thus far, which is more than most midfielders. He added a new wrinkle on Sunday, as he did not do damage on a set piece, but simply followed an offensive action by his side, then his teammates fed him with a solid cross. Continue reading

Serie A Club of the Round – Atalanta

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Atalanta scored five goals in the season opener against Frosinone and the result did not change few months later in Ciociaria, so they earn the coveted club of the week award. Gian Piero Gasperini replaced the injured Remo Freuler with Marten De Roon, chose the Berat Djimsiti and Gianluca Mancini over José-Luis Palomino and Andrea Masiello in the back and preferred Timothy Castagne to the dinged up Robin Gosens on the left flank.

It did not take long to the Goddess to establish their superiority, as Duvan Zapata had a big chance six minutes into the game, but Marco Sportiello and a defender cleared the ball before it could cross the goal-line. The start of the goal fest was simply delayed by few minutes: at the tenth one, Mario Pasalic connected with Mancini, who had decided to attack on that action, and the centre-back outjumped an opponent for his fifth goal of the season. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 20

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Standings implications: Napoli bested Lazio on Sunday night, as the Biancocelesti keep struggling against elite competition. However, Juventus answered versus Chievo, so the situation stays the same atop of the standings. Inter were unable to get the best of Sassuolo, actually the guests had more chances in that game. Roma allowed Torino to erase a 2-0 lead, but still came up victorious with another surge. Atalanta bodybagged Frosinone, while Fiorentina tied late versus Sampdoria. Milan overcame some absences to upend Genoa. Parma continue to pick up road wins and Udinese were their latest victim. SPAL and Bologna shared the spoils in the Emilian Derby, while Cagliari and SPAL did the same in two clashes relevant for the relegation race.

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Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 19

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Standings implications: nothing changes in the upper echelon after the final game of 2018, as the top three teams did not look particularly impressive, but all came away with wins as Juventus and Napoli outlasted Sampdoria and Bologna and Inter beat Empoli on the road. Lazio and Torino shared the spoils in a very nervous games and this result allows Milan, who finally came through against SPAL, and Roma, which blitzed Parma, to close the gap for the fourth spot. In the Europa League race, Atalanta pummeled Sassuolo, while Fiorentina drew with Genoa. In the lower districts, Udinese outfaced Cagliari and Chievo finally earned their first win of the season by besting Frosinone in a battle of sad sacks.   Continue reading

Serie A’s Rising Stars of the Season

I have found that the easiest way to rank teams at the start of the season is to look at how many blue chip and red chip players they have. A blue chipper is good enough to start for a title challenger, while a red chipper is an above average player at his respective position. Of course, as the new season unfolds some new players take a leap and start fitting these criteria- with this in mind, let’s take a look at the emerging stars in Serie A:

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Patrick Cutrone- Milan’s new management team showed a lot of faith in the 20 year old striker by not adding another attacker to go with Higuain after Carlos Bacca and Andre Silva headed to la Liga. While Higuain’s back problems and recent suspension made them regret this decision, this development has nothing to do with Cutrone’s performances.

The rossoneri’s youth team product has drawn comparisons to both Pippo Inzaghi for his ability to sniff out scoring opportunities  and Mario Mandzukic for his work rate and demeanor, I simply like to say Patrick Cutrone is Italian for “Makes Things Happen”.

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Nicolo’ Zaniolo- Inter’s sporting director Piero Ausilio did everything he could to keep the 19 year old midfielder while negotiation the deal for Radja Nainggolan. But Monchi simply refused to part ways with the Belgian international without getting back Zaniolo, while also never considering the idea of giving Inter a buy back clause.

While many of Roma’s signature acquisitions have struggled the past two years, Zaniolo has already started two matches against Real Madrid (and showed a lot of progress the second time around) and put in a great performance against his former club Inter. So far we have seen Zaniolo play more in a trequartista role, but his future will likely be as a mezzala and as a key player for the Italian national team.

Ola Aina/Soualiho Meite’- while Simone Zaza and Roberto Soriano’s return to Serie A was the headline of the granata’s mercato this summer, the two new players to have made the biggest impact are youngsters new to Italian football. Torino has so far won the swap deal with Monaco involving Antonio Barreca (who could return to Serie A in January) and Soualiho Meite’, who has become a constant starter in Mazzari’s midfield.

On the other hand Ola Aina made the best of Cristian Ansaldi’s injury and become one of the most dynamic left wing backs in Calcio- it’s almost certain that Torino will exercise their option to acquire him permanently from Chelsea next summer.

Christian Kouame’- Genoa will likely get back to top part of the mid table should both Piatek and the Ivorian striker produce at the same time. While the Polish striker strived under Davide Ballardini, he struggled when Ivan Juric replaced him, but that coaching change is what launched Kouame’ who has terrorized Serie A defenses in the past few months. At least now they‘ll be on a level playing field with new manager Cesare Prandelli.

While Piatek has so far mainly shined for his finishing, Koaume has more variety to his game- he combines excellent dribbling skills with above average passing and heading ability, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Koaume’ is the one with a bigger market next summer… 

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Joaquim Andersen/Nikola Milenkovic/William Troost Ekong- while everyone knows about Koulibaly, Skriniar, De Vrij, Manolas, Chiellini and Bonucci (all players who won’t be sold in January by the way) there’s also a new breed of exciting center backs in Serie A.

After spending a season on the sidelines to acclimate himself to Italian football, Andersen has become Sampdoria’s best defender. The 22 year old Dane has adapted well to Giampaolo’s back line which is quite demanding when it comes to maintaining tight lines and has shown a lot of maturity on and off the pitch.

While a lot was expected from Fiorentina’s attack, the defense has been the consistent bright spot. Milenkovic has shown excellent versatility since he has performed well as a right wing back despite his height and previous experience as a center back- he has also managed to score as many goals as Chiesa and Simeone.

Udinese found a gem in Turkey when they discovered William Troost Ekong, the Nigerian center back has been a consistent starter under both Velazquez and new manager Davide Nicola and is already a target for numerous clubs in Serie A and abroad. 

Gianluca Mancini-  could the 22 year old be the next installment of Gasperini’s fool’s gold? In recent years we have seen numerous former Atalanta players struggle once they left Bergamo so there may be come second guessing when observing the center back’s impressive performances.

Mancini has essentially replaced Mattia Caldara this season, not only is he performing well in the 3 man back line, just like Caldara he has also shown a penchant for scoring goals. After becoming a regular on the Under 21 look for Mancini to get a selection to the Azzurri’s senior squad in 2019. 

Serie A Match of the Round – Empoli vs Atalanta

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There was not a lot of juice in this week’s round, where the two most anticipated matches Lazio-Milan and Genoa-Sampdoria were hard-fought, but low scoring. The most entertaining fixture turned out to be a unforeseen one, Empoli-Atalanta.

The Azzurri came into the game looking to build on the win over Udinese in Giuseppe Iachini’s debut, while Atalanta were coming off four straight victories, including the brilliant one over Inter, where they had their best performance of the season.

Iachini switched from the 4-3-1-2 they have been using so far to a 3-5-2 he is more accustomed to, basically replacing Miha Zajc with a defender, Frederic Veseli, and picked Manuel Pasqual over Luca Antonelli on the left wing.

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Serie A Club of the Round – Atalanta

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There were a pair of dominant displays in the weekend, in particular by Roma and Atalanta, but since the score was the same, the Goddess gets the shout-out as they did it against a way more competitive team. They always seem to put up a good fight when facing Inter, but their performance on Sunday went beyond the rosiest expectation.

Gian Piero Gasperini mostly stuck with the XI that has been working lately, promoting Duvan Zapata after the deciding display against Bologna, with Alejandro Gomez in the hole and Josip Ilicic as second striker. Rafael Toloi was able to recover from an ankle roll and started, but bowed out before the end of the match. Continue reading

Serie A Team of the Week – Round 12

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There are plenty of surprise appearances in the latest edition of the team of the week.

Wojciech Szczesny (7 points): just to highlight how painful it is to pick goalies and defenders, there was only a clean sheet this week, which arrived in an unpredictable spot and only because the Pole parried away a penalty by Gonzalo Higuain.

Alex Sandro (7 points): the Brazilian fullback deservedly gets the token spot for the whole Juventus back-line, which could have crowded the XI since Giorgio Chiellini and Joao Cancelo hauled in five points. Sandro topped them because he sent in a pinpoint cross to assist the first goal. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 12

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There were certainly some surprising results in the last round before another international break.

Standings implications: Juventus bested Milan in the last Sunday game, while Napoli prevailed in the soggy battle in Genoa and have re-assumed sole control of the second place since Inter came crashing down hard in Bergamo. Roma finally put together a brilliant performance against the wheezing Sampdoria. Atalanta leapfrogged few teams in the Europa League race since Fiorentina conceded late and was held to yet another 1-1 tie in Frosinone and Parma snatched a quality road win versus Torino. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 11

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Standings implications: the top three teams did not stutter in favourable match-ups. Inter and Napoli pummeled Genoa and Empoli, while Juventus had to dig deeper against Cagliari, but maintained their lead. Fiorentina and Roma shared the spoils in a result that helps neither. Lazio smoked SPAL, but Milan kept up with an improbable late goal in Udine. Torino looked very impressive again on the road as Sampdoria were their latest victims. Sassuolo tamed Chievo very easily despite being away. Atalanta keep climbing the standings and mounted a comeback against Bologna.  Continue reading