Hazard and Higuain’s Huddersfield link-up gives Maurizio Sarri hope in top-four battle

It has been a turbulent few weeks for Chelsea, but fans of the club will hope that Saturday’s 5-0 demolition of Huddersfield Town proves to be a turning point in their season. Maurizio Sarri had come under intense scrutiny following last week’s 4-0 thumping by Bournemouth, a result which allowed Arsenal and Manchester United to move closer to the final Champions League qualification spot, but the manner of their victory at Stamford Bridge has relieved the pressure on the Italian – at least for now.

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Three January signings to keep a close eye on within the Premier League

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With the January transfer window coming to an end, it will surely not be one for the Premier League experts and pundits to constantly talk about, especially when you see that only most of the teams in the bottom half of the league brought two or more players compared to the sides in the top half.

The main loan deals in Denis Suarez to Arsenal, Youri Tielemans to Leicester City and the deadline-day move of Chelsea’s Michy Batshuayi to Crystal Palace stole most of the headlines within the English media. However, there were a couple of moves that have gone completely off the radar, which will allow the players to adapt to life in English football before kicking off at their new club.

With no further ado, it is time to look at the three January additions to importantly look out for…

Gonzalo Higuain (Chelsea)

After scoring a brace in his first Premier League match at Stamford Bridge, Gonzalo Higuain will have won over majority of the Chelsea supporters as they regain their position in the top four once again. Although some will feel that it is only one good performance and against a poor Huddersfield side, his movement on and off the ball was top notch as well as his clever linkup play with Eden Hazard.

Remembering Maurizio Sarri’s men are still in the Europa League and the FA Cup, having a striker like the former Napoli and Real Madrid forward is the perfect option to have, given that Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud have been unconvincing over the last couple of months. In the end, if Higuain exceeds all expectations, he could become Sarri’s main number nine for the next few years.

Miguel Almiron (Newcastle United)

As Newcastle United are sitting uncomfortably above the relegation zone by two points, they will be more than happy with the arrivals of central-midfielder Miguel Almiron and left-back Antonio Barreca on a loan deal. Focusing more on the newest club-record signing, he was closely linked with the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur before his move to St James Park was official.

During his two incredible seasons at Atlanta United in the MLS, Almiron showed the capability and intelligence to play in any of the areas within midfield, from the number ten role behind the centre-forward to either flanks. Not only that, the Paraguayan international has proven himself to be useful in terms of retrieving the ball for his side, through his work rate and ability to press when required.

Samir Nasri (West Ham United)

Samir Nasri is no stranger when it comes to English football, having already spent three seasons at Arsenal before going on to play for Manchester City for five years. Although he had tried to revive his career with a loan move to Sevilla and then a permanent transfer to Turkish side Antalyaspor, things went from bad to worse, as he received an 18-month ban from the UEFA for doping illegally.

However, he has received a second chance in his professional career and at West Ham United, where he will be looking to play regularly and hope to become one of Manuel Pellegrini’s important starters within the line-up. Despite the fact that he is currently on the sidelines with a minor knock and is expected to return next week, he will aim to see out the remainder of the season on a high note, and then see if the Hammers are willing to offer him a two or three-year contract deal.

Why Maurizio Sarri needs Gonzalo Higuain to hit the ground running at Chelsea

In the end, the decisive goal came from the boot of a defender. After Eric Dier and Lucas Moura had failed to convert from 12 yards, it was down to David Luiz to score the winning penalty in Thursday night’s shoot-out against Tottenham Hotspur. The Brazilian made no mistake, slotting home the final spot-kick to book Chelsea’s spot in the final of the League Cup at their expense of their London rivals.

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Serie A Weekly Transfer Market Recap

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The transfer market finally heated up this week as Milan replaced Gonzalo Higuain, who flew to Chelsea via Juventus, with Krzysztof Piatek. An unpleasant surprise hit fantasy managers on Monday, as Kevin-Prince Boateng moved to Barcelona. The ex-Milan man had success as false-nine this season at Sassuolo, before missing a chunck of the season with a pelvic injury. He has scored four times in 11 appearances and was a precious asset since he was listed as midfielder.

It took him three separate stints at Las Palmas, Eintracht Frankfurt and Sassuolo, but he managed to return in a big-time club after his time at Milan. He first played in this new position in La Liga. Continue reading

Alvaro Morata’s Atletico Madrid move stalls

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Alvaro Morata’s move to La Liga title challengers Atletico Madrid is yet to be completed, with both sides saying they are still some way off an agreement for the 26 year-old.

The Spanish international looks certain to end his stay in West London, but time is running out ahead of the closing of winter transfer window at the end of January.

Atletico have confirmed that they are interested in bringing Morata back to Madrid, where he spent five years at rivals Real Madrid, across two separate spells, however manager Diego Simeone confirmed that nothing is yet agreed between them.

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Injury updates, Higuain transfer’s formula and Rugani’s agent speaks

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The squad might be pretty short-handed in Rome, as Miralem Pjanic and Joao Cancelo are dealing with calf ailments. Pjanic got hurt in Jeddah and was suspended for the previous match. They both practiced partially in the last couple of days, like Sami Khedira, who got good news from the check-up on his knee as the issue is minor, but he is most likely out for the upcoming fixture.

Giorgio Chiellini brought the eight Supercuppa in the Juventus museum yesterday and commented to the club’s TV: “We are happy for starting off the year in this fashion. Our goal is to keep winning, but in the meantime we are satisfied with this trophy, which we earned.” Continue reading

Milan replace Higuain with Piatek

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Milan announced on Wednesday the arrival of Krzysztof Piatek from Genoa, who agreed to a four-and-a-half year contract with the Rossoneri. After exploring some formulas and inserting some players in the deal, they two sides opted for a standard transfer for a rumoured €35M fee plus bonuses, all in just one installment, which is pretty unusual.

The Pole unlikely took Serie A by storm after his €5M move from Cracovia Krakow, scoring nine goals in the first seven matches. He slowed down once Milan Juric took over from Davide Ballardini, but resumed being productive with Cesare Prandelli at the helm. Continue reading

Depleted Atletico Madrid look to close the gap on Barcelona

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Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone will be hopeful that his side can close the gap on La Liga leaders Barcelona, with a win at bottom of the table Huesca this weekend.

With the Catalan side not playing until Sunday night, at home to Leganes, Atletico have a chance to narrow the gap between first and second place from five points to two, in Game Week 20.

The former Argentine international could not have asked for an easier game in theory, with their hosts ten points adrift of safety in the Spanish top flight, and with just one win in their last 18 league games.

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Chiellini on the Supercoppa: “We want to buck the recent trend”

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The Supercoppa was treated by the League and the press like a Champions League game, so also a player, in this case the captain Giorgio Chiellini, held a presser late yesterday: “We have changed a lot compared to three years ago and we definitely care about this trophy. It arrives in the middle of the season, so it is a little different than experiencing it in August, but it is still important. We have to prove it with the facts because we missed out of few editions lately and that is a shame.”

On the environment: “We have not seen a lot, besides the hotel, the airports and the training ground. I had already played in Riyad for a friendly. Continue reading

Higuain & Chelsea, between public quotes and body language

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For someone who strongly believes you shouldn’t put any stock on what is said publicly about transfers, I have caught myself engaging in some odd behaviors following some recent quotes coming from Milan’s sporting director and coach. Typically when persons in their positions, in addition to players and agents, are asked about transfer rumors, they resort to maintaining the status quo like “player X is staying’, or “I’m just focused on the season and I’m committed to my team” etc.

But  after Leonardo spoke at Milanello earlier this week and said the following about Gonzalo Higuain “He has to make a decision and take his share of the responsibility. Not this continual “yes, no, I’m not sure” followed by “He had a tough moment, he has to put it behind him and get to work. There’s no point following rumours and gossip. He is right here right now. Seeing as he is here, he needs to get down and actually do something for this team” I found myself rewatching some recent Milan matches to analyze Higuain’s body language the way historians break down the video of JFK getting shot.

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While there had been a lot of rumors linking Gonzalo Higuain’s to Chelsea where he would be reunited with Maurizio Sarri, not only a father figure to the Argentine striker but also the manager who get the most out of him, his celebration after scoring against SPAL gave me pause.

In addition to all the hurdles for this deal to happen (Juventus owning his rights, Milan investing 18 million just to have him on loan this season and needing an adequate replacement to get to the Champions League in addition to their own FFP issue which would make it hard to find a suitable replacement, not to mention Chelsea’s reluctance to invest substantially in players over 30) Higuain celebrating in that fashion which I dubbed the “blue ball” release because he seemed to have unloaded all of his frustration after finally ending his scoring draught, somewhat convinced it was inevitable he would finish the season at Milan.

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But then came Rino Gattuso’s quotes on Saturday after the win in the Coppa Italia against Sampdoria “Higuain? When a player makes certain choices then it becomes hard to convince him. But one can try. At this moment, he’s a Milan player, we’ll hold on to him tightly and I don’t know what will happen” which were rather shocking, especially since Milan has a big game coming up against Juventus for the Italian Super Cup. But while we can certainly accuse Gattuso of being limited tactically, we have to all admire how transparent he is what he says.

Those who follow Serie A closely remember what Gattuso had said about Leonardo Bonucci last summer, the statements after the Sampdoria match were eerily similar. As a result last night I found myself analyzing a picture Jose Mauri posted on Instagram featuring numerous Milan players, including Higuain, on the plane to Doha as if I was trying to decipher the meaning of a scene in a David Lynch.

Now other than realizing that Diego Laxalt will be able to start a successful Offsprings cover band if the whole football thing doesn’t work out, I couldn’t draw too many conclusions but it still made me think further about Higuain’s situation. While there are many hurdles to making a deal to Chelsea happen, especially during the January transfer window, where there’s a will there’s typically a way. 

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On top of Gattuso’s quotes after the match against Sampdoria, there was another important development in that match- home grown striker Patrick Cutrone scored a brace off the bench to help Milan pass the round. Could Milan decide they don’t need a big and expensive name to come in prior to agreeing to let Higuain leave? Would a complimentary piece be enough or do the rossoneri just see Cutrone as a super sub? If so, can Leonardo channel the spirit of his mentor Adriano Gallaini and convince Genoa to give them Piatek in January on a deal that doesn’t impact their FFP?

alvaro morata chelsea

Do recent games give Chelsea even more urgency to bring in an upgrade over Alvaro Morata, a player who coincidentally Milan appear to even less intrigued by compared to a few weeks ago? If so the key would be to find a deal that works for Juventus- the current Serie A champions were hoping Higuain would play well enough for Milan so that they would redeem his rights next season- would Chelsea be willing to do so by banking on fact Sarri can get Higuain going? Or could the clubs structure a deal similar to the Juan Cuadrado multi year loan deal to avoid a loss on the amortized value? These are all the questions that quotes and body language brought to my mind.