Standings implications: Atalanta defeated Lazio and can the smell Champions League since Roma equalized against Genoa and Torino shared the spoils with Juventus. They are also one point away from Inter, who tied with Udinese. Milan outlasted Bologna and pulled even with the Giallorossi three points awai from the fourth place. The Biancocelesti dropped to minus seven, so barring something crazy they can only aim for Europa League. Napoli clinched the second position with a late comeback. Empoli bested Fiorentina and cut Udinese’s lead to two points and the Griffon’s one to four, thus rekindling their hopes. Frosinone have been mathematically relegated as Sassuolo completed the comeback late, while SPAL are officially safe after pummeling Chievo. Parma and Sampdoria drew in a meaningless but entertaining bout. Continue reading
The top teams were successful but unconvincing in this round, as they all nipped their opponents with a 1-0 results. The shout-out goes to the only other side besides Juventus that got a W on the road: Sassuolo, which did it keeping a clean sheet and scoring multiple goals in Frosinone.
They had now brought home the full spoils in a month, tying in three of their last four fixtures, but had a very clinical display here. Roberto De Zerbi, still dealing with the absence of his top guy Kevin-Prince Boateng, stuck to his guns and went with his best available men. The only surprise was Manuel Locatelli playing over Mehdi Benatia in the midfield, while Stefano Sensi got another start as deep-lying playmaker, as position he looks more and more at ease in. Continue reading
Serie A is renowned for its strong defending and this year is no different. In a culture that values that side of the ball so highly, it is inevitable that centre-backs prosper and new youngster manage to establish every season. The best one so far has been Milan Skriniar: there was a little scepticism when Inter picked him as the lone reinforcement in that area, but he has been granitic. An all-around player with no clear flaws. The couple with Joao Miranda is among the league’s finest, if it not the best already. He is averaging 1.5 tackles, 1 interceptions, 5 clearances and 0.8 blocked shots per game, per WhoScored. He has drawn comparisons to a young Nemanja Vidic and Walter Samuel.
Mattia Caldara started the season late because of a summer injury and the U-21 European Championship, but he immediately went back to being the leader of the stout Atalanta backline. A rugged defender, he is a force in the air as his many goals testifies. He is averaging 1.7 tackles, 2.2 interceptions, 3.7 clearances and 0.8 blocked shots per game, per WhoScored. It will be his final season with the Bergamo club as Juventus already scooped him up a year ago.
His partner in the Bianconeri’s defence in the future will be Daniele Rugani. Massimiliano Allegri has been reluctant to thrust him in a bigger role, but in his limited appearances he has performed better than Andrea Barzagli and Medhi Benatia. He is more of a finesse player compared to Skriniar and Caldara, but his physical game has improved over the last two seasons. The duo with Giorgio Chiellini will eventually end up being Juventus’ go-to pairing in big games. He is averaging 0.4 tackles, 0.6 interceptions, 3.2 clearances and 1 blocked shots per game, per WhoScored.
Alessio Romagnoli has struggled at the start of the season, due to a tough summer where he had to deal with a meniscus injury and because the whole new Milan defence has not gelled yet. However, he remains squarely among the best Italian prospects in this role. There is no reason why a Mateo Musacchio-Leonardo Bonucci-Romagnoli backline should not work: the process simply takes some time. He is averaging 0.8 tackles, 1 interception, 4.2 clearances per game, per WhoScored.
One rookie quickly rose to the upper echelon of young defenders: Torino’s newcomer Lyanco. It is not easy for youngsters to win over Sinisa Mihajlovic right away, but he managed to do just that. He is only 20-years-old and he has immense potential. He has beaten out Emiliano Moretti and Kevin Bonifazi for the starting job, unfortunately he has suffered an ankle sprain that will sideline him for a while.
There are a couple names in the smaller clubs that are worth monitoring. Sampdoria worked hard this summer to get Gianmarco Ferrari from Sassuolo, but Marco Giampaolo so far has preferred Vasco Regini over him, not so subtly inviting him to practice harder. He is talented and should end up playing a lot. Francesco Vicari is in a tough situation at Spal, but he is holding his own as anchor of the defence and he is one of the few highpoints of the Ferrara team.
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The relegation race in Serie A is mostly going as planned: the freshly promoted teams, Benevento, Hellas Verona and Spal, are knee-deep into it, alongside a couple of sides that have gravitated in those positions in the past, such as Cagliari and Genoa. The only mild surprises are Udinese and especially Sassuolo, which were expected to be a tad better and avoid troubles. The season is long and they will probably pull away in the upcoming months, leaving the battle to the first five.
There have already been a couple of head-to-head matches down there and Crotone showed they have a little advantage over the other contenders. In the last two games, the Sharks easily defeated Benevento at the Scida stadium and then came away from Ferrara with a tie. Two massive results. Spal built last season’s promotion on their home performances and they will struggle mightily if they do not rack up points at the Mazza stadium: they still looked better than a couple of competitors, but their road map is clear and the opportunities are slim. Hellas Verona and Benevento have looked very disorganized and have been heavily hit by the injury bug.
Crotone lost a good amount talent in the summer, because their best players were either on loan, such as Diego Falcinelli and Lorenzo Crisetig, or because they sold them before or during the season and then temporarily took them back, like Gianmarco Ferrari and Leonardo Capezzi. However, they have worked well in the summer and managed to replace almost all of them.
Crotone confirmed Davide Nicola on the bench, and they could not have done otherwise after the incredible late comeback last season. As a result, they have a clear idea of who they are and what they need to do. They have a basic tactic and a straightforward game plan: they will be end up being outplayed by better teams more often than not, but they always put up a fight and have more experience in these situations. They are scrappy.
In the summer, they brought in several players, almost in a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” type of mentality. Arlind Ajeti seems to have overtaken Leandro Cabrera as starting centre-back: he does not have Ferrari’s upside, but he is a gritty defender. Marco Davide Faraoni is more solid than Mario Sampirisi. Rolando Mandragora has been as good as anticipated: a highly touted prospect at Genoa, he suffered a couple of big injuries, but now that he is being given consistent playing time he is back on track. The midfield duo with Andrea Barberis is sneaky interesting. They could find at least one more solid contributor in the crop of remaining newcomers: Daniel Pavlovic, Oliver Kragl, Stefan Simic, Giovanni Crociata and Aristoteles Romero.
The one area they definitely need to improve is in the attack: they scored only four goals, all in the last three games. The coach is still searching for the right combination, but it has been difficult to replace Diego Falcinelli. The returning Ante Budimir has not been as efficient as in Serie B, Marcello Trotta has surprisingly been given little playing time, and Simy is mostly an off-the-bench, late game weapon, but he does have intriguing skills given his size. The coach seems to prefer having a pure centre-forward and a second-striker, but Aleksandar Tonev and Andrea Nalini have both spent time on the shelf and have not find the right condition yet. If Budimir does not work, Nalini-Trotta could be the most explosive couple or they could try Adrian Stoian there as well. Unfortunately, Marco Tumminello suffered an ACL tear: they desperately wanted a youngster who could provide a spark and maybe play more carefreely, without being burdened by the standings. They missed out on Patrick Cutrone, but the Roma striker looked promising and already scored: he could be helpful down the stretch.
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Juventus provided us with a masterclass in defending during the week in the Champions League, however, it’s back to Serie A action and we study five defenders that should be earning your fantasy football team some points this weekend. Continue reading