Summer Shopping: Serie A’s Top Five Targets

With the year winding down to a close, most Serie A sides already have one eye on the summer transfer window. While this past season may not have gone to plan for most of Serie A’s elite, a majority of them are just a couple of additions away from being serious competitors. Here’s one player for each of the league’s top five. For brevity, Atalanta and Lazio among others have been excluded.

1) Juventus: Tanguy NDombele (Lyon)

After yet another European failure, it’s time Juventus address their midfield issues once and for all. Lyon’s Tanguy NDombele is among world football’s hottest prospects in the middle of the park, and has demonstrated he’s ready to play for a bigger club. Just this season, NDombele went head-to-head with both Barcelona and Manchester City’s deep midfield ranks, and did not look one bit out of place.

Just recently, Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas came out and said he’d willingly sell NDombele to Juventus ahead of other suitors, provided “his friend” Andrea Agnelli pays up. The Frenchman would slot in seamlessly alongside Ramsey and Pjanic, however, it remains to be seen if NDombele is a concrete target for Juventus.

2) Napoli: Donny van de Beek (Ajax) 

The Ajax midfielder may not get as much credit as his fellow compatriots Frenkie de Jong, and Matthijs de Ligt, but he’s proven to be just as important for them between the lines. van de Beek burst onto the scene this season, and emerged as a essential aspect to Erik ten Hag’s tactical schemes, roaming between the opposition’s lines at will, and getting himself into dangerous scoring positions. Outside of his crucial goals against Juventus and Tottenham, van de Beek is good with the ball at his feet like most Ajax graduates, and would slot in wonderfully into Napoli’s midfield.

Since Hamsik’s departure, the partenopei have lacked a driving force in the midfield, and van de Beek could prove to be exactly what’s needed. Alongside Fabian Ruiz, expect the Dutchman to wreck havoc. Napoli could also use a fullback, but that goes without saying.

3) Inter: Timothy Castagne (Atalanta)

Inter are one of the most well-rounded outfits in Serie A outside of Napoli and Juventus, and don’t require much tweaking this summer. With Mauro Icardi and Lautaro Martinez up top, and the trio of de Vrij, Skriniar and Godin at the back, Inter are simply lacking a manager to put it all together. Should Antonio Conte arrive as it’s being reported, he will undoubtedly field a back three, with his traditional wing-backs in a 3-5-2 setup.

With both the back-line and strike partnership more or less sorted as well as the midfield, Inter could use another wingback as they are unlikely to redeem Vrsaljko or Cedric. Here’s where Atalanta’s Timothy Castagne comes in. The Dutchman has been a key element to Gasperini’s side over the years as a wing-back, and is a traditional Conte player. Castagne’s play is eerily reminiscent of a prime Stephan Lichtsteiner, however, blessed with more end-product. As a result, I expect him to become a priority for Marotta, whether or not Conte arrives.

4) Roma: Juan Musso (Udinese)

This past summer Roma tried replacing Alisson with Swedish international Robin Olsen, and Serie A journeyman Antonio Mirante. Neither have proven to be a long-term solution to the departed Brazilian, leaving the giallorossi without a reliable number one going into next season. Luckily, there are a number of up and coming shot-stoppers in Serie A that Roma could turn to.

While Alessio Cragno and Alfred Gomis are interesting options, Roma should look no further than Udinese’s Juan Musso. The Argentine has gone from strength to strength this season, and has made the number one spot his own in Friuli with a string of impressive performances. In the past, Roma have shown a propensity to take a risk on goalkeepers on the cusp, and should do the same with Musso. They won’t regret it.

5) Milan: Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) 

Where to begin with Milan? The rossoneri could use a creative midfielder, a left winger and arguably another centre back. Ajax’s Ziyech checks off two of these boxes and should be made a priority in Milanello. With just a 25 million euro release clause, Ziyech is both cost-effective, and has the potential to become a world class player in the near future.

As he’s typically deployed as a ball dominating, out-and-out winger, his signing would take off some of the creative burden from the likes of Suso, Paqueta, and would even allow Calhanoglu to feature centrally more regularly. Not to mention, Ziyech has tormented elite opposition this season, be it in the Champions League or in the Eredivisie. Milan shouldn’t say no to his teammate David Neres either if Ziyech isn’t feasible.

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Ajax’s rollercoaster of a week

Erik Ten Hag

Every week seems to be an important one for Ajax at the moment, but this one was even more significant than most. It started in the Champions League and ended with an Eredivisie tie against NAC Breda which was made more significant by PSV’s result the day before.

Wednesday’s Champions League tie at home to Real Madrid was Ajax’s first knockout game in the competition since the 2004/05 season. They weren’t intimidated by the occasion at all though, as they dominated large periods of the play. They created chances as well, with Dušan Tadić hitting the post and Hakim Ziyech having a clear chance saved well by Thibaut Courtois.

Ajax were even the first to have the ball in the net, though it was ruled out for offside. A corner was sent into the box by Ziyech, Matthijs de Ligt won the initial header which popped up in front of Courtois. The Belgian stopper wasn’t able to catch the ball, as it his his shoulder and Nicolás Tagliafico was the first to react, heading it into the net. However, when VAR was used following the incident it was adjudged that Tadić had impeded Courtois from an offside position when the Argentine headed the ball in.

Despite being on top, Ajax hadn’t managed to get themselves on the score sheet and were punished for that on the hour mark. Vinicius Junior drove with the ball at his feet, worked his way into the box before cutting across both centre backs and laying the ball off to Karim Benzema who finished the move off clinically to make the score 1-0 to Real Madrid.

Ajax struck back in the 75th minute when David Neres was played in behind the Madrid defence and cut the ball back to Ziyech. When the ball reached the Moroccan he made no mistake, side footing the ball past Courtois. However, Real Madrid retook the lead in the 87th minute when Daniel Carvajal’s ball across goal was converted by Marco Asensio. There was some controversy with this though, as Lucas Vasquez appeared to foul Frenkie de Jong off the ball during the build up which wasn’t reviewed by VAR. This means that Ajax now go to Madrid with a deficit to make up.

Once the game was over Ajax’s thoughts will have turned to the Eredivisie despite their frustrations. That means keeping an eye on PSV’s results as well as getting wins of their own at the moment, as Ajax went into the week seven points behind the league leaders.

PSV’s match against Heerenveen was yesterday and gave Ajax plenty of encouragement. The leaders went two goals down for the second game in a row. However, PSV had equalised with a late goal last time out and did so again this time around. This time it was a 95th minute strike from substitute Donyell Malen which earned PSV a draw. Despite them managing to salvage a point, the result meant there was still an opportunity for Ajax to close the gap by two points.

Ajax had to be patient in today’s game, as they were frustrated by NAC Breda’s deep defensive line in the early stages, but they eventually won comfortably. They were gifted their opener in the 38th minute when Ziyech’s free kick was handled by Dorian Dervite in the penalty area. Tadić stepped up to take the penalty and converted it, even with Benjamin van Leer diving the correct way.

The game opened up for Ajax once the first goal went in and they ended up winning 5-0, as Tadić got another, Kasper Dolberg got on the score sheet and NAC Breda deflected two efforts in which were called as own goals.

Ajax will be hoping to close the gap even further when they face ADO Den Haag next Sunday.

Roma eye Ajax double-swoop

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After the arrivals of Ante Ćorić and Ivan Marcano, Roma sporting director Monchi is still hard at work to improve the Giallorossi this summer after a successful season. The latest chatter regarding potential arrivals in the Eternal City involve Ajax pair Justin Kluivert and Hakim Ziyech. The respective situations of the pair are unique, but nonetheless, Roma Continue reading

Five underrated young footballers every team should aim to buy

Olympique Lyon vs PSG

With Euro 2016 all but over, the summer transfer market will hit another gear. A couple of clubs have already registered some big moves, with the Premier League clubs’ spending topping €350 million after one week.

However, it doesn’t always require a bunch of cash to land a quality player. Therefore, let’s look at five underrated players every team should aim to buy.

Idrissa Gueye (Aston Villa)

In the summer of 2015, Leicester City were snubbed by Gueye, who opted to join Aston Villa. Consequently, the Foxes turned their attention to a player named N’Golo Kante, while Gueye was relegated with the Villains. However, the 26-year-old was a bright spot for Villa, making 35 Premier League appearances and registering similar stats to Kante.

Gueye made 3.2 tackles per game compared to Kante’s 3.7 and provided 4.1 interceptions comparted to Kante’s 4.6. On top, he proved to be a better passer, more successful dribbler and was better in aerial duels. With Villa relegated, Gueye could possibly be snapped up with a discount, after joining the club for €9m.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Bayern Munich)

Joining the senior squad of a top club like Bayern isn’t easy for an 18-year-old. Consequenlty, Hojbjerg was sent on loan the past two seasons, one at Augsburg and one at Schalke 04. The 20-year-old played a key part in Augsburg’s magical 2014/2015 season, when they finished fifth in the Bundesliga, and made 23 appearances for Schalke last season.

With his 3.7 tackles and interceptions per game, the Denmark international proved to be a steady midfield force, even at his young age. He was very highly rated by Pep Guardiola and even made 15 Bundesliga and three Champions League appearances for the German champions in his young career. Hojbjerg is hungry for a chance to shine…

Nabil Fekir (Olympique Lyon)

During the 2014/2015 season, not many players in Ligue 1 impressed more than Fekir. The 22-year-old provided 13 goals and 12 assists for Lyon, being able to play multiple positions upfront. Fekir even made his senior international debut in March 2015, netting his first goal for France in just his third cap.

However, Fekir suffered a painful knee injury in September 2015 and missed a great part of the season. he didn’t play a single game in Lyon’s Champions League campaign and only made his return in April, playing a total of 117 minutes in five appearances. This could have lowered his transfer value, because a player returning from injury is always a risk.

Hakim Ziyech (FC Twente)

Financially, Dutch club FC Twente are a mess and only avoided relegation because of it after winning an appeal against the KNVB’s decision. The fact that Twente didn’t relegate due to footballing reasons, has everything to do with their star player Hakim Ziyech.

The 23-year-old Moroccon provided 17 goals and 10 assists for his club last season in the Eredivisie. That made him responsible for 56 per cent of Twente’s 48 league goals. He made the most key passes of anyone in the Dutch top flight and completed the second-most dribbles. With Twente’s financial issues, Ziyech is primed to leave for a bigger club in need of some creativity.

Amadou Diawara (Bologna)

If you’re only 18 year old and you’re coming off a Serie A season in which you made a total of 34 appearances, there must be something great about you. That’s the story of Amadou Diawara. The Guinea midfielder played the full 90 minutes on 27 ocassions and was a key player in Bologna’s solid first season back in Italy’s top flight.

Diawara made 2.2 tackles per game, that’s the same level as Paul Pogba. Meanwhile, he registered 2.7 interceptions, beating veteran players like Lucas Biglia, Milan Badelj, and Daniele De Rossi. Like Swiss talent Breel Embolo, Diawara could make a big move soon, but considering his young age, the fee could be pretty low for a future superstar.