Serie A Game of the Round – Juventus vs Sassuolo

Juventus’ first faux pas at home came at the hands of Sassuolo in a great match, which had the proper amount of fun and signifcance, with no disrepect to the fantastic Cagliari-Sampdoria thriller.

The Bianconeri came into the fixture having won four in a row, the most recent out thanks to a late surge against Atalanta, while the Emiliani were pipped at the post by Lazio last week and in general had showed improvements over the last four rounds.

Maurizio Sarri picked Gonzalo Higuain and Federico Bernardeschi over Paulo Dybala and Aaron Ramsey up front, with Cristiano Ronaldo made the XI for the second game in a row after knee injury. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Picks – Round 14

Thomas Strakosha: Lazio have one of the best statistical home defenses in the League and, in this round, they will host Udinese, which have instead scored the second-least goal thus far. The Albanian goalkeeper is not very talked about, but he is as reliable as they come.

Matthijs De Ligt: he is coming off his two best performances in black-and-white and could keep it rolling against Sassuolo, which are feisty but not indomitable. Juventus have allowed multiple goals at home just once. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 14

Juventus-Sassuolo: Cristiano Ronaldo came back midweek and now it will be interesting to see whether or not he will be load managed in Serie A player after the knee injury. Nevertheless, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala have been excellent in relief and have been able to contribute also when coming off the bench in their standard configuration. Douglas Costa got hurt again, which takes away their most explosive option at no.10, so it will Federico Bernardeschi and Aaron Ramsey running the show there for a while, but they both have not done damage in a while. Ramsey has the most upside in the duo. Khedira is fading and, while Rodrigo Bentancur and Blaise Matuidi are serviceable contributors, they are not strong fantasy options. It could be instead the right kind of match-up for Miralem Pjanic to have a meaningful offensive role, while Juan Cuadrado has been a pretty good fullback for a while now. Continue reading

Serie A Best Fantasy XI – Round 13

Samir Handanovic (7 points): just three clean sheets in this round and finally Inter managed to keep one, with the usual solid contribution from their captain, who somehow batted away tap-in in the first half that could have perhaps reopened the game.

Chris Smalling (11 points): Roma risked very little in the back against Brescia, but really shined on the other end, as he scored one on a corner kick and also assisted his defensive partner with a quality flick-on. Continue reading

Higuain and Sarri set the stage for the Atleti clash

Gonzalo Higuain and Maurizio Sarri held a joint-presser ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Atletico Madrid, with the player taking the floor first: “I am happy, not only for deciding to stay here but for how the management and the teammates treated me when I came back. I had wonderful years here. The season is going well but I do not want to settle, I still have a lot to prove.”

On the duel with Paulo Dybala: “The game-by-game choice has to accepted and we have to fully take advantage of every opportunity. We gave our best every time we played and we are satisfied with that. The coach helped us out. Both he and Cristiano Ronaldo are great players, I am fine featuring next to either of them. I try to adapt to their skillsets and do what I can.” Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 13

Standings implications: Juventus and Inter continue to forge ahead at the same pace, as the Bianconeri successfully turned around late the demanding match-up against Atalanta, while the Beneamata had an easy time handling Torino. Lazio extended his winning streak to five matches in dramatic fashion, thus defending the third spot from the ambitions of Roma, which instead housed Brescia. Milan and Napoli shared the spoils in a predictably underwhelming contest. Verona’s strong season continued with a one-nil win over Fiorentina, while Bologna and Parma shared the spoils in a thrilling Derby. Sampdoria outlasted Udinese. Cagliari lost some ground since they threw away a two-nothing lead against Lecce. SPAL and Genoa drew in the Monday night game, which really left nobody satisfied.  Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round 13 vs Atalanta

Juventus succeeded in a game that they truly had no business winning, thanks to 15 minutes of fury and a Pipita-led comeback, thus avoiding the first blemish of the season and defending the top spot in the standings.

Matthijs De Ligt: he was properly dominating, uncorking his best display of the season when the team needed the most. The back-line was under heavy fire for about an hour, but his slides and blocks kept things from unravelling. Atalanta broke through once, but he and Leonardo Bonucci defended with great attention in the box, preventing the score from getting out of hand. The captain had some misplaced passes and did not stand out as much, but he was solid as well. Mattia De Sciglio instead was again underwhelming and severely bested by the more energetic Hans Hateboer on the flank and way too soft while trying to stop the cross that led to the goal. Continue reading

Solving Sarri’s Attacking Conundrum

Since returning from the first international break, Juventus have looked lethargic in the final third and have struggled to find the back of the net. In a majority of the biaconeri’s wins, one goal has separated them from their opponent and they have rarely played the opposition off the pitch. While much was promised when Maurizio Sarri was hired, we are yet to see Sarriball in full flow. Currently, the former Napoli tactician is faced with a selection headache in the final third and is under immense pressure to make his front-three fire on all cylinders.

Right now, Cristiano Ronaldo is experiencing a rough patch and has arguably played his worst football in recent memory. Sarri has not shied away from tough decisions and has subbed off the Portuguese superstar in Juventus’ last two wins. Despite reports suggesting Ronaldo was carrying a knock, the former Real Madrid man joined up with Portugal for the international break and scored a hat-trick.

Alongside him, Sarri has typically opted for one of Gonzalo Higuain or Paulo Dybala. In Sarri’s ‘Christmas-Tree’ (4-3-1-2) formation, an out-and-out number nine is of the utmost importance and Higuain has thrived since returning. Whether he’s linking up the attack with deft touches around the box or creating space for himself to score, Higuain has epitomized what a modern number nine is and is almost undroppable.

Much like Higuain, Dybala has benefitted greatly from Sarri’s arrival and has put last season’s woes behind him. Most recently, la Joya scored a crucial goal against Milan, gliding past their captain Alessio Romagnoli as if he wasn’t there. Before these match-winning exploits, Dybala notched a brace against Lokomotiv Moscow and has regularly been Juventus’ best player this season. Given his good form along with Higuain’s importance to Sarri’s tactical schemes, it’s difficult to leave one of them on the bench.

Yet, in the name of balance, it needs to be done. Otherwise, with Dybala, Higuain and Ronaldo all on the pitch, Sarri fears Juve would be overrun in the midfield. He briefly used the trio together against Inter but promptly brought on another midfielder into the fold to regain control.

Factor in Douglas Costa’s return to fitness and electric nature on the ball and it’s clear Sarri is faced with quite the selection conundrum in attack. Should he play a 4-3-3 to accommodate the Brazilian? On the other hand, who should he drop between Higuain and Dybala? Finally, and perhaps most crucially, how does he get the most out of an out-of-form Ronaldo? These are all questions Sarri will be pondering deeply over the course of this international break and will largely come to define this season.

Despite the headaches these issues may give him, it’s a positive problem for Sarri. After all, who wouldn’t want an attack as deep and as versatile as Juve’s? The important thing now, however, is piecing it all together all-while maintaining defensive solidity and balance. Sounds easy, right? Wrong.

As Sarri has shown, this prospect is much more difficult than it seems and is a delicate situation to approach. Over the course of the next months, Sarri’s handling of the situation will dictate how far Juve will go and will shape the future of Juventus’ attack.

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Sarri updates on injured players and more in pre-Milan presser

Maurizio Sarri assessed the status and the performances of few of his players in the press conference before the clash with Milan: “They are a good team that did not start off well, but this matters relatively in a single game. We have to play with a different intensity in the back compared to the game in Moscow and in order to do that we have to take the field in slightly different manner.”

On Cristiano Ronaldo: “I still do not know because he was with the medical staff yesterday. We will see later today and then tomorrow morning. He is not dealing with anything serious, just some pain in his knee that causes him some troubles during the games.” Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 12

Inter-Verona: while Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku continue to be very reliable, the Beneamata are getting additional pieces back, as Matias Vecino scored in Champions League and Stefano Sensi looked pretty good in his stint off the bench. The two are certainly better fantasy options than Roberto Gagliardini, who filled in while they were sidelined, and the ex Sassuolo player, in particular, was fantastic at the beginning of the season. Valentino Lazaro was okay against Brescia and his skill-set is interesting, especially against the minnows where he would not need to defend a lot. Matteo Politano got hurt in Dortmund, so the first man up off the bench in the attack would be Salvatore Esposito. Verona have scored just nine times so far, so their back-line is certainly in play despite the ongoing clean sheet-less run. Continue reading