Assessing the market for wingbacks in Serie A

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After goal keepers and center backs, let’s assess the wing back market in Serie A. Let’s start by looking at the current depth chart for the top teams in the league:

Juventus- on paper the bianconeri are in great shape at the position after acquiring Cancelo last summer and signing Alex Sandro to an extension during the season. In addition, Spinazzola showed flashes of being a starting caliber wingback at a top club while De Sciglio is an adequate backup. However, should Allegri stay on at the club, it’s not out of the question Cancelo is sold and replaced with a more defensive right back.

Napoli- we witnessed a transition at the position for the partenopei. Hysaj and Ghoulam can no longer be considered the starters and while Malcuit is an intriguing option at least offensively, in order to take a leap forward Napoli simply can’t rely on Mario Rui as much. Napoli have been heavily linked with Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier.

Inter- it’s probably not a good sign that despite bringing in numerous new faces (Vrsaljko, Asamoah, Soares) the nerazzurri’s best wing back ended up being D’Ambrosio. Asamoah may be energized by Conte’s expected arrival but on the opposite side of the pitch, we’ll almost certainly see a new addition with Manchester City’s Danilo at the top of the list.

Atalanta- going into the season Gosens and Hateboer were the most underrated starting wingback duo in Serie A , but thanks to Atalanta’s great season they are no longer under the radar. Castagne has taken an extra step in his development and looks to be a star in the making. Even though they’ll be competing on multiple fronts, Atalanta will probably have to replace at least one of these three.

Milan- the rossoneri are so deep at this position that I had honestly forgotten they still had Strinic on the squad. Calabria and Conti are both starting caliber right backs and compliment each other quite well skill set wise, on the left side both Rodriguez and especially Laxalt have failed to live up to expectations.

Roma- the giallorossi invested heavily in Karsdorp two years ago and gave Florenzi a rich extension during the season. Kolarov continues to be one of their most important players at 33, while Santon can only be considered a backup. Luca Pellegrini could be the long term answer at left back.

Lazio- after Marusic took a substantial step compared to last season, sporting director Tare’ brought in Romulo in January. Just like Kolarov at cross town rivals Roma, the biancocelesti still heavily rely on a 33 year old in Lulic at the left wing.

 

Here are the wingbacks currently in Serie A who are expected to be in the transfer news headlines:

Joao Cancelo- could the talented Portuguese wingback leave Juventus after just one season same way he did at Inter? Should Allegri stay in Turin that is not out of the question and despite investing 40 million on him less than a year ago, Juventus could turn a profit when you consider how scarce the right wing back market. Joao Cancelo could be a great fit in the Premier League should he change teams once again.

Timothy Castagne- it will be interesting to see if Atalanta chooses to sell Gosens in the summer and give the starting job to Castagne or sell the most precious asset since Castagne has clearly higher upside and value. The 23 year old Belgian international has already scored 4 goals this season and has all the tools needed to be a starting left back on a top team in the near future. Castagne has already been linked to both Milan and Inter as well as teams abroad.

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Manuel Lazzari- it wasn’t particularly surprising to see SPAL turn their season around once the 25 year old wing back returned from an injury earlier this year. At times it felt like manager Semplici’s offensive game plan was to give the ball to Lazzari to see if he could make it down the flank for a pin point cross. Lazzari has been previously linked to Napoli but would also be a great fit at Inter playing for Conte or at Lazio where he would be a considerable upgrade over Marusic/Romulo.

Nicola Murru- the former Cagliari left back has been in our lives for so long that it’s hard to believe he’s only 24, He’s now ready to make the leap at a bigger club after completing the next phase in his development at Sampdoria. Murru could be an intriguing fit at Lazio, Napoli and Roma.

Diego Laxalt- obviously Higuain and Caldara ended up being massive disappointments for Milan this season for different reasons, but Laxalt isn’t that far behind in this ranking of underachievers. The Uruguayan performed very well in the World Cup last summer following a strong season at Genoa, he looked more than ready to take a leap at a club like Milan. Laxalt would be an ideal fit on a club that uses a 3 man center back defense so his own coverage liabilities can be minimized.

Ola Aina- Torino acquired him in the summer on loan with an option to buy set at 10 million euro and considering his strong performances, there’s no doubt Torino will exercise this right- but there maybe teams with deep pockets looking to pounce on opportunity to sign a left back with Serie A experience who won’t turn 23 until October of this year for an even higher amount.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo- the Empoli left back made the most of his first season in Serie A and will certainly remain in Italy’s top division even if his current club gets relegated. Di Lorenzo could be a great option for a team like Atalanta, Torino, Fiorentina and Sampdoria should they decide to sell their current starter.

Cristiano Biraghi- the former Inter youth team product had an excellent start to the season which culminated with making his debut on the senior Azzurri squad. But with Fiorentina collapsing in the second half of the season, there has been a lot less buzz surrounding Biraghi’s name.

Rogerio/Lirola- the two Sassuolo wingbacks have quite a bit of experience in Serie A despite being 21 years old. Squinzi’s club shrewdly acquired Lirola outright from Juventus for 7 million last year, while Rogerio has already been linked to Chelsea during the January window as a potential replacement for Emerson Palmieri. Look for at least one of them to move to a bigger club this summer.

 

 

Is Jose Mourinho nearing the PSG job?

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Love him or dislike him football doesn’t quite feel the same without the special one Jose Mourinho involved in it, and no Russian punditry doesn’t count. It is obviously only a matter of time before Mourinho is back in management, but with what club will it be for?

With the Premier League and La Liga seemingly ruled out for the time being it seems that Mourinho’s next move could either be to go Italy, he is loved at Inter Milan or perhaps a new fresh challenge in France’s Ligue 1.

A few weeks ago Mourinho was being linked to French giants Lyon, this made sense given that the PSG job looked like a total no- no given how strong the club had been under coach Thomas Tuchel in his debut season.

The problem with Lyon is that they have regularly been a good 20 points off of PSG’s pace. Could the presence of Mourinho and a fresh cheque book really make a difference and end PSG’s dominance in France? It would make for a great challenge for Mourinho, who has never really taken a risk in football since joining Inter Milan a decade ago.

But time is short and quick in football and now Tuchel at PSG is under pressure. Since news broke of Mourinho possibly going to Ligue 1 PSG were knocked out of the Champions League by Manchester United, a team in transition and a team PSG had beat in England in the 1st leg 2-0. PSG had bottled it once again ran the headlines and to be frank it felt like they did.

Then the club missed out on a domestic double by losing the Coupe de France final to unfancied Rennes, all of a sudden PSG won just one trophy this season and have lost countless times as the season comes to an end. It has been a bittersweet one for Tuchel even if PSG did win the league.

The cracks are there that weren’t a few months ago, indeed coming into the new year Tuchel and PSG seemed like the perfect fit. No body is talking about it but surely the threat of Mourinho lurks around the corner for Tuchel.

At the same time Mourinho has had two complete meltdowns in his last 2 jobs and PSG must be weary of that. Has Mourinho learned from those experiences and more importantly is he willing to learn. Just for the circus of it all having Mourinho in Paris seems great for football, but Tuchel may well still be the right man for the club if they give him time.

 

Assessing the run-in: Why Milan v Lazio is a true Champions League shoot-out

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Lazio’s last trip to San Siro raised their hopes of Champions League qualification to a new high.

Less than a fortnight ago, a superb 1-0 win over Inter made Simone Inzaghi’s side frontrunners to burst into the top four, but things change quickly in football.

The damaging week which followed, where they picked up just one point from games against SPAL and Sassuolo, means the Aquile return to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on Saturday needing another big win, this time against AC Milan, to revive their flagging form.

Despite the recent disappointments, the Biancocelesti remain firmly in the mix, with just three points separating them from the Rossoneri in fourth and a game in hand against Udinese to come next week. Continue reading

Where would Conte fit best next season?

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Everything is breaking his way. His successor at his former club gets routinely mocked at home matches making his previous tenure look better in retrospect and there are potentially many openings at the top clubs in his home country. In many ways it’s hard to imagine Antonio Conte’s sabbatical season going any better when it comes to how he’s perceived and where he could go next.

Conte certainly has the qualities that many of the top teams with an expected coaching vacancy are looking for- he has a long track record of getting clubs back on track dating back to his time before he became Juventus’ manager and he knows both Serie A and the Italian media very well. 

But where does it make more sense for him to go next should he decide to return to Italy? Let’s look at the potential fits and likelihood the job will be available in the first place

 

Juventus

 

The last two managers to win the Champions League with the bianconeri, Giovanni Trapattoni and Marcello Lippi, both eventually returned to the club despite leaving Turin to go coach bitter rivals Inter. While Conte at least went to the national team and then abroad, it doesn’t feel like this is the right time for him to go back to Juventus. 

For one Max Allegri keeps saying he wants to be the Bianconeri’s version of Sir Alex Ferguson, and secondly the club seems more interested in keeping him after the impressive second leg against Atletico Madrid (but an elimination against underdog Ajax may change that). But even if Allegri leaves, it doesn’t feel like there’s much of an appetite for another defensive manager, especially one who unlike the current manager has yet to fully excel in the Champions League- the trophy the club is mainly focused on.

Likelihood job is available: 25 percent

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Inter

 

While having Beppe Marotta as the CEO isn’t necessarily a distinct advantage for the nerazzurri considering the rocky relationship between the two at Juventus, this is Conte’s likeliest destination. With Suning’s financial stability and the Financial Fair Play restrictions about to end, Conte would be able to count on the support in the transfer market he consistently craves.

Inter have already signed Diego Godin on a Bosman which would give Conte a new version of the BBC assuming Milan Skriniar stays alongside De Vrij- an outcome that seems rather likely. Should he follow in Trapattoni and Lippi’s footsteps, Conte wouldn’t have to go through a significant rebuild like at Roma and Milan or face huge expectations like winning the Champions League at Juventus. 

While Spalletti has a good chance of qualifying for the Champions League for a second season in a row and has a long term contract, he has openly clashed with Marotta over Icardi and Perisic and his hand picked addition Nainggolan has so far been a significant bust. Spalletti looks to have overstayed his welcome.

 

Likelihood job is available: 60 percent

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Milan

 

Before the derby against Inter, Gattuso looked to have earned the opportunity to start next season as Milan’s manager- but a recent streak of disappointing results, coupled with an uninspired offensive system have changed that perspective.

By joining the Rossoneri, Conte wouldn’t be able to expect significant additions via the transfer market because of Financial Fair Play and his style of play isn’t exactly in line with the club’s DNA. On the plus side, Conte is the master of taking clubs from A to B and he would have the opportunity to build the team in his image.

 

Likelihood job is available: 50 percent

Roma

 

The giallorossi are the likeliest to have a job opening as even if Claudio Ranieri were to able to get the team to the Champions League, there’s a chance he would step aside to give a chance to a younger manager to help his beloved Roma.

At Roma, regardless if they make the Champions League or not, Conte would face an even bigger rebuild than at Milan. As someone who has openly complained about the transfer moves of his employers, you don’t need much of an imagination to picture how he would react to the departure of players like Manolas. In addition Conte has become one of the highest paid managers at his recent jobs and it’s hard to envision Roma being able to pay him in line with his previous earnings.

Likelihood job is available: 85 percent

Jose Mourinho should avoid Ligue 1 and go back to Inter Milan where he is loved

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The Special One Jose Mourinho is still head hunting for a job after being sacked at Manchester United last December. Just a few weeks after his departure Mourinho was being linked to a return to his native Portugal, possibly with Benfica.

Of course the thought of Mourinho coaching Benfica after his success with Porto never looked like being a realistic option. That would be like Mourinho returning to Italy to coach AC Milan after his incredible success at rivals Inter. All you do in that process is tarnish fans memories of what had been before and it rarely works out with a smile on your face.

But let’s face it football misses Mourinho, even the negative side of Mourinho, glum face, no wins and arguments with players and officials. Modern day football has enough room for Mourinho and lets not forget his incredible successes. Say what you will about Mourinho, his presence does win trophies.

The latest news on Mourinho has come from left field and does feel like a surprise. Apparently he is interested in coaching in France’s Ligue 1. But with the PSG job unavailable, what other options does Mourinho have? Well there is Lyon who have always been a huge club and have had a solid season and have very decent players. They are currently in 3rd place trying to chase down 2nd placed Lille. But they are also 25 points behind PSG.

Lyon of course dominated French football in the 2000s winning 7 titles in a row but the money that PSG has now has changed the ball game in France. The other club he is being linked to is an even greater surprise- Monaco. Now of course Monaco did win Ligue 1 in 2017, but they are a selling club and much of that team has disappeared including the great Kylian Mbappe who was snapped up by PSG. Now Monaco are just trying to survive in Ligue 1.

Of course the destination of Monaco would greatly suit Mourinho but it is questionable whether he will be able to add to his trophy haul by going there. Plus how much disrespect can one man in Leonardo Jardim be shown? Sacked earlier in the season to make way for Thierry Henry. He was brought back in just a few months later when it was clear that Henry was not cut out for the job. Are we seriously suggesting he will be tossed aside once more to make way for Mourinho?

If the truth be told Mourinho should avoid Ligue 1 and go back to Inter Milan. Inter do have a lot of problems but at the same time they have shown great signs this season and if he was given a decent transfer budget together with the contacts he has maybe he could make something of it once again in Milan. Just think for a second how loved Mourinho is at Inter and love is what he really needs at this time.

It was evident again this past weekend when he was reunited with Inter when an all star team played an all star Tottenham side to open up Tottenham’s new season. Mourinho was the happiest that the public had seen him in quite a while.

The bottom line is that managing Inter and being back in Serie A would not be an easy job, and the club would have to challenge a Ronaldo led Juventus. But at the same time he would walk into  a city and club that 100% respect him.

Does he leave the memories as they are or does he come back for a second helping. In part when he did with Chelsea he got immediate success with another league title, but by the end of his reign there it had turned nightmarish and that is something that even after 3 years has not left Mourinho’s legacy.

Key Players in the race for a Champions League spot in Serie A

While last season Serie A had the most competitive title race of the major European leagues, this time around the scudetto race is as predictable as the ending of a Friends episode. But the competition for the last two Champions League spots is quite intriguing with 5 teams in the mix, the following players will likely have the biggest impact on how their squads fare in the final stretch of the season

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Mauro Icardi

 

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received goes like this “the best cure for negative thought, is taking positive action”. Considering the roller coaster the now former captain has been on in the past few weeks, he certainly could use a few decisive goals to get himself back in the good graces of his club’s fans and/or re establish his value on the market.

 

Inter find themselves in the same position in the standings as when Icardi left the squad to heal what the club essentially described as a phantom injury, so while they do need his contributions to nail down their second consecutive, the Argentine striker needs a strong end to the season even more than they do. He did catch a lucky break now that his replacement Lautaro Martinez suffered an injury while playing for Argentina during the international break, so Icardi could play a part in a big moment sooner rather than later.

 

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Paqueta

 

While Piatek has received more attention since joining Milan, the Brazilian midfielder has also been a tremendous addition to Gattuso’s squad. When the deal to acquire him from Flamengo  was completed, many pointed out that it was a gamble for Leonardo to invest over 30 million euro for a player with no experience in Europe, never mind Serie A,  at a time that Milan was dealing with Financial Fair Play issues.

Needless to say you don’t hear that criticism anymore because Paqueta’ has brought many of the attributes that have been lacking in Milan’s midfield for a few years- pace and ball skills. If that weren’t enough, Paqueta’ recently got to wear the iconic number ten jersey on the Selecao. While Calhanoglu has been a bit better recently, Suso continues to be in a slump- there’s no one on Milan beyond Paqueta’ who can create something from nothing at the moment.

PierLuigi Gollini

 

Atalanta find themselves in hanging on in the race for a Champions League spot in large part thanks to their offense. The devastating trio of Zapata, Ilicic and Gomez has to however offset a below average defense which has conceded 39 goals in 28 matches (as a frame of reference Lazio has conceded 29 with one less game played).

Gasperini recently gave the starting job to Gollini after Berisha was the starter in the first half of the season. The former Aston Villa keeper has a distinguished pedigree since he’s been part of the Azzurri’s youth teams since 2012, should Gollini live up to his potential Atalanta will still be in the mix for a Champions League spot for weeks to come.

Federico Fazio

 

During his second press conference as Roma’s manager, Claudio Ranieri described the Argentine defender as “un pezzo 90” (which loosely translates to an elite player). While you can certainly understand why a coach, especially one who was just appointed, would want to hype his players and help them get some confidence, Fazio has been a massive liability this season.

Should Ranieri decide to stick with a 4 man defense, he really doesn’t have many other alternatives, especially while Manolas is recovering from an injury, and Fazio is still a better option than Juan Jesus and Marcano. However the former Leicester manager could use a radical solution to his team’s defensive woes- move to a 3 man center back, the formation where Fazio had his best stretch in Serie A.

Ranieri could move De Rossi to the back line alongside Fazio and Manolas since he does have a deep midfield with the likes of NZonzi, Cristante, Zaniolo, Pellegrini and even Pastore. But regardless of the formation, Ranieri will need Fazio to step up in order to get Roma back to the Champions League next season.

Luis Alberto 

Luis Alberto 

 

While Miilinkovic Savic got torched by many for his very disappointing first half to the season, the former Liverpool striker struggled even more. Last season Luis Alberto was arguably the most improved player in Serie A,  but so far his 2018/19 campaign saw him regress to 3 goals- 8 less than his tally previous year.

But in the last match before the international break, Luis Alberto scored two goals to go with an assist- if he can keep these types of performances up, Lazio does have a chance to make up the 6 points they have less than Milan in the standings- especially when you consider they have to make up one match against Udinese.

Fiorentina’s Youngsters Face Tough Inter Test

Having earned another vital win last week, Fiorentina’s young side face a tough test this weekend as they welcome Inter to the Stadio Artemio Franchi. The Viola are undefeated since a 1-0 loss against Parma on December 26, recording four draws and four wins – over Torino, Chievo, AS Roma and SPAL – in the eight games since that date.  Continue reading

Can Gattuso make fallen Serie A giants AC Milan a force once again?

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There seems to be a buzz around the San Siro of late and that is due largely to AC Milan’s out going coach Gennaro Gattuso. Gattuso was always one to stuck on the field and that attitude hasn’t changed a bit as he intends to be outspoken outside of it. But you can only be that self confident and get away with it if you start producing results on the pitch and that is what Gattuso intends to do.

The past few years have been hard on AC Milan who were so used to dominating world football in the 80s and 90s and even in their declining years and the declining years of Serie A which gave up the great footballing names for La Liga in Spain, Milan were a force to be reckoned with. Witness their 2 Champions League titles in 2003 and 2007 as evidence of that.

But soon after the club were having to play in the Europa League and they haven’t won Serie A since 2011. Indeed apart from the Supercoppa Italiano in 2016, the clubs last major trophy was that Serie A title in 2011.

It is difficult to think that Milan who have won the European Cup (Champions League) on 7 different occasions are also rans in the competition now. They don’t even qualify for Europe’s premier competition and yet are one of the most successful teams to have ever competed in it. This is where Gattuso steps in and he wants to change the clubs losing mentality of the past few years and bring with it a new golden generation of players.

Gattuso is seen as a club legend having joined them in 1999 and stayed until 2012 making well over 300 appearances. He also has a lot of respect from the fans since after retiring he made his way up the managerial ranks, first as coach of the other 19 side and then took charge in winter of 2017 after the sacking of Vincenzo Montella.

His current win rate of 47% needs to be improved but he has still won 32 of the 67 games he has been in charge of and has impressed the Milan board so much that his contract has been extended until 2021. Gattuso could well be a success story at Milan, in short he is one of them which goes a long way.

This season Milan will not win the league and they are actually a whopping 24 points behind leaders Juventus. At the same time the club are in 4th place, which would be good enough to qualify for the play offs of the Champions League. But there are 3 clubs chasing them. Their next target is to overtake Inter, their fierce rivals in the league who have a 4 point advantage over them. Do that and Gattuso makes his statement to the club and fans that his team are going places. Next season could get very interesting for the old veterans of football.

Grading the early transfer moves in Serie A

 

Diego Godin

Diego Godin to Inter Grade A

For the second year in a row Inter have been able to close the deal for one of the top center backs on the market, especially impressive when you consider that just like Stefan de Vrij, Godin is also arriving on a Bosman transfer. Slowly but surely the nerazzurri are building a formidable backline which was arguably the biggest strength of their treble winning team.

Godin gives Inter a lot of flexibility and opens the door to two potential dominoes- one very positive and another that rightfully makes their fan base uncomfortable. Having Godin at San Siro makes the job more attractive for Diego Simeone while also giving Marotta and Paratici to ponder their options with Milan Skriniar, who has yet to agree to an extension, from a position of strength.

But aside from the potential ramifications of the deal, there’s no doubt that this is a statement signing for the nerazzurri- they are set to acquire one of the five best center backs in the world at time that he was linked to numerous top clubs outside of Italy.

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Aaron Ramsey to Juventus Grade B-

The Welsh midfielder is set to sign a multi year deal with the current Serie A champions after being linked to numerous top clubs in recent weeks, especially Paris St Germain. So for the second year in a row, the bianconeri have signed a midfielder still in his prime from the Premier League after completing the deal for Emre Can. But just like with the German midfielder, odds are Juventus will have to wait until next season to add him on a Bosman signing.

Ramsey will bring many of the attributes Juventus lost after Claudio Marchisio suffered his knee injury, but the question remains if he’ll be able to stay healthy and adapt to Serie A- which has been rather challenging for two previous British players at Juventus, Ian Rush and David Platt. Now granted that was a long time but there’s a no doubt, Ramsey will face a very different reality in Turin compared to London. Considering the high wages Ramsey is expected to receive, which will have a domino effect on the requests of some of his new teammates, this deal does come with some risk for the Old Lady.

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Sebastian Walukievicz and Valter Birsa to Cagliari 5 million combined Grade B+

The Sardinian club have been quite active in the early stages of the January transfer window and have addressed both a long and short term need. After signing two veterans to bolster Maran’s defense in Ragnar Klavan and Darijo Srna last summer, Cagliari closed the deal for highly rated Polish center back Sebastian Walukievicz who had also been linked to Genoa (who has a knack for discovering up and coming players especially recently) and Borussia Dortmund- they now have time to get him used to Serie A before potentially cashing in on Filippo Romagna in the summer.

Birsa on the other hand will help immediately. The former Milan trequartista had been one of the most impactful players in the race to avoid relegation in previous years, he also had his best seasons playing for Cagliari’s current coach Maran at Chievo. If that weren’t enough, they weakened considerably a team who is also competing for salvation for a very reasonable transfer fee.

 

Luis Muriel to Fiorentina Grade B

The Colombian striker first arrived in Serie A back in 2010 so it’s rather wild to realize he’s still only 27. While he never fulfilled the potential that had drawn comparisons to the Brazilian Ronaldo during his stint at Udinese, he’s proven to be an above average striker in Serie A where his speed is particularly valuable- he’ll have an opportunity to play significantly considering that Giovanni Simeone and especially Marko Pjaca (who could leave in the coming weeks) have struggled this season.

Muriel was also linked to Milan, but Fiorentina was able to leverage his close relationship to sporting director Pantaleo Corvino who brought him to Lecce back in 2011. They acquired him on a low risk/high reward loan with option to buy deal.

Gabbiadini

Manolo Gabbiadini to Sampdoria 3 million loan plus 9 million for option to buy Grade B

After a strong start in the Premier League, the former Napoli striker struggled to find consistent playing time at Southampton. Gabbiadini had been itching to return to Serie A, but he must be particularly pleased to be rejoining to Sampdoria where he had the best half season of his career back in 2015.

Gabbiadini should be an intriguing option for manager Marco Giampaolo since his versatility should make him a more natural fit next to Fabio Quagliarella than Gregoire Defrel, a player who could be taking the opposite path and head to the Premier League before the January window closes.

Luciano Spalletti hoping to lure Diego Godin to Serie A

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Serie A giants are working on a deal to bring Atletico Madrid captain Diego Godin to Italy next season, with the Uruguayan’s contract set to expire in the Spanish capital this summer.

Godin, 32, was a transfer target for Manchester United in the summer of 2018, however he opted to remain in Spain – citing family reasons for his decision.

Media reports in both the UK and Spain have claimed that Godin is unhappy with the club’s delay in offering him a new contract, after eight and a half trophy laden years with Los Colchoneros.

Continue reading