Questions that will shape January Transfer Window in Serie A

Will there be enough playing time at Inter to tempt Kulusevski?

Serie A’s breakout player of the season had a clear vision for what he wanted to get out of the 2019/20 season after excelling in Atalanta’s youth system- his priority was to play regularly at professional level on a team that could get the most out of him. Parma checked all of the boxes and there’s no doubt the Swedish midfielder has made the most out of the opportunity in the first third of the season.

So while Inter are rather interested in bringing him in January as a way to bolster Conte’s squad while anticipating the competition for such an exciting asset, It remains to be seen if Kulusevski is willing to take a gamble and leave a team where he can start every game rest of the way.

 Inter would likely be able to convince Parma to let him go by offering a player or two (Politano and or Di Marco) especially since they are also interested in signing his teammate Darmian. Atalanta have made numerous deals with Inter in recent years and would be more than happy to make a significant capital gain on a player currently not on their squad.

Will Milan desperately need more experience?

Except for the dreadful match against Lazio, overall Milan have looked better under new manager Pioli but the results are still lacking. Certainly a point against Napoli under normal circumstances would be nothing to sneeze at, but considering that the partenopei are dealing with as much chaos as the guest on the birthday party featured on “Parasite, maybe a bit more was to be expected especially when you consider Milan’s position in the standings.

Does the fact that the rossoneri are much closer to the relegation zone than a spot in European competitions next season give them more urgency to bring in some veterans to get the team on track? Or does Milan see this as a lost season standing wise where the focus is just to develop their young players as long as there’s no danger of a shocking relegation? The next few games will likely determine this.

Will Juventus be forced to integrate more of their surplus players?

The bianconeri spent the last few weeks of the summer transfer window trying to offload veterans to lower their enormous wage bill. Their inability to get it done forced them to exclude Emre Can and Mario Mandzukic from their Champions League list, while new addition Adrien Rabiot has struggled so much to find consistent playing time that there’s talk he could be sold in 2019.

But considering the age of Juventus’ squad, there’s chance some injury or Sarri coming to his senses with Khedira that we could see a fairly significant radical change in the pecking order. But if the status quo remains, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Can, Mandzukic and Perin all leaving in January as Juventus tries to lower their wage bill before the end of their fiscal year. 

Will Napoli be able to start cleaning house in January?

“If things didn’t end badly, they wouldn’t end at all” is how you can sum up Mertens and Callejon’s current situation. The two pillars of the club dating back to the Benitez administration have expiring contracts, and even before the squad mutiny and public threats of lawsuits from De Laurentiis, it seemed rather likely this would be their final season under the Vesuvius.

Napoli have to figure out if making a push for a Champions League spot is worth it and if Mertens and Callejon can help them get there at the cost of losing them for nothing in June. Two summer acquisitions have also the chance to make the decision easier- Lozano and Elmas could become Mertens and Callejon’s permanent replacements sooner rather than later. 

Will Roma get enough of a boost from their returning players? Will they need to make some January signings?

Adriano Galliani would be in heaven if he were in charge at Roma- with so many key players returning from injury in recent weeks (Under, Pellegrini, Mkhitaryan, Cristante to just name a few) he could tell us how he doesn’t need to do any work in January because there are so many players who feel like new additions. 

You have to hand it to Fonseca, the fact that he kept Roma right in the mix for a Champions League spot despite a catastrophic spell of injuries is rather impressive. But does the fact that so many are coming back make sporting director Petrachi less likely to make moves in January? At the beginning of the season center back looked like a massive need, but Smalling has arguably been best new addition in Serie A and Mancini has established himself after a slow start, and his ability to play in the midfield gives Fonseca even more options on top of all the players returning from injury.

With Florenzi itching to get more regular playing time in light of the upcoming Euros, Petrachi will however be very active on the wing back marker with Hysaj as a logical target. Roma could also use another striker because Kalinic has not surprisingly not made an impact and Dzeko showed signs of slowing down after a very fast start.

Will the battle to avoid relegation make it impossible for Udinese to move Rodrigo De Paul?

The Friulani are just 3 points above the relegation and are still waiting to name the permanent replacement for manager Tudor who was sacked a few weeks ago. Can they afford to consider losing their best player in January considering their place in the standings? This is the decision Genoa had to make last year with Piatek, and while on one hand Preziosi got a great return on a striker who is really struggling now, the team had to wait until the conclusion of the final match of season to avoid relegation.

While De Paul did sign an extension about a month ago, Udinese sporting director Marino did recently state the club doesn’t have the resources to turn down a huge offer for him. The Argentine international has been linked to Inter, Napoli and Fiorentina.

Serie A’s Best Players Of The Season So Far

If you had to pick an adjective to describe the current Serie A season, “balanced” would probably be towards the top of the list when you consider Inter are only a point behind Juventus, we have six teams within five points of the Champions League zone while all three newly promoted teams have been far from pushovers. 

The balance we are experiencing is confirmed by the fact that it’s very difficult to come up with a definitive answer as to who has been the best individual player in the first third of the season. Cristiano Ronaldo is off to a slow start, Napoli’s best players have been impacted (and are responsible) from the chaotic start, while Inter have multiple candidates.

Let’s go through the stand out players, starting with those who are head and shoulders above their teammates so far which makes them even more valuable:

 

Ciro Immobile- while his teammate Luis Alberto has been outstanding this season, Lazio’s main striker is probably the safest best for Serie A player of the season so far. After coming off a disappointing 2018/19 campaign at least for his lofty standards in the Italian league, Immobile now already has fourteen goals making him a virtual lock for his fourth season with 20 or more which would tie him with the player he most reminds me of- the great Toto’ Di Natale. In addition to his fourteen goals, Immobile has also 5 assists.  

 

Alex Meret- the fact that keeper has been clearly Napoli’s best player so far this season truly sums up their struggles. The former Udinese player has been very busy since Koulibaly has been a shell of his former self since playing in the Africa Cup, Manolas has battled injuries and a once mighty midfield is leaking as much as a former member of the Trump administration. On the bright side, Meret has made the most of his opportunities and has been flat out brilliant- but Napoli better hope his opportunities to shine start dropping dramatically after the international break.

 

Gaetano Castrovilli- after previous experiences at Bari and Cremonese, the midfielder born in 97 finally made his debut in Serie A. Fiorentina actually intended to loan him out again, but he impressed Montella during the summer retreat and has now a strong hold on a starting role. Castrovilli has two goals to go with his three assists and is now part of Roberto Mancini’s quad on the Azzurri, he surpasses his more famous teammates because he’s been more consistent than Chiesa and Ribery’s three game suspension have really hurt Fiorentina. 

 

Domenico Berardi- after a series of somewhat disappointing seasons, everyone stopped calling him the Italian Robben. But while he has slowed down a bit after a gangbuster start to the 2019/20 campaign, Berardi already has two assists to go with seven goal and this is with Sassuolo having played one less match (against bottom of the table Brescia) this season because of president Squinzi’s death. It’s hard to believe because he’s been in our lives for so long, but Berardi is still only 25, maybe he’s finally ready to make a permanent leap.

 

Joao Pedro- at first, I thought Cagliari were this season’s version of Torino- a team that is very hard to play against and one that won’t beat itself. But in recent weeks, the Sardinian club look more like what Atalanta was like in the 2018/19 campaign. To Maran’s credit, Cagliari are now tied for third place with a plus eleven goal differential (the same as Juventus) after selling their best player Niccolo’ Barella to Inter and with their outstanding keeper Cragno and top goal scorer from last season, Pavoletti, both missing all the games so far with injuries.

While it would be easy to pick Radja Nainggolan to represent Cagliari because of name recognition and his recent performances, Joao Pedro has been more consistent and has more than adequately replaced Pavoletti by scoring 6 goals. After being linked to Atalanta last summer, Joao Pedro recently signed a well deserved extenstion.

 

Chris Smalling- after a great summer and start to the Serie A season, Edin Dzeko has slowed down partly because of fatigue and as a result of all the injuries to Fonseca’ midfield. On the other hand, Smalling has been steadily improving and now even looks like an upgrade to Kostas Manolas- the British defender also gets bonus points for doing all this while being a vegan in the Carbonara capital of the world.

Smalling has been an attentive defender and has even exceeded expectations with his ball distribution, which is very important for center backs in Fonseca’s system which typically builds from the back. Roma are already working on acquiring Smalling on a permanent basis after paying Manchester United 3 million for a one season loan. 

 

Individual dark horses- don’t let the fact that most of his goals came off penalties taint your opinion, Andrea Belotti has continued the momentum from second half of 2018/19 campaign into the new season and now looks entrenched as Mancini’s number 9 on the Azzurri. Dejan Kulusevski has been the best player under 20 in Serie A and is already being linked to Inter (he’s owned by Atalanta but currently on loan at Parma) while Luis Muriel still has amongst the highest goals per minute played average in all of Europe.

What’s missing from this list so far? Aside from a member of Milan’s squad, we have yet to single out anyone on the top two teams in the standings, but they are represented by collectives for different reasons:

 

Stefano Sensi, Stefan De Vrij and Lautaro Martinez- had the former Sassuolo midfielder stayed healthy through out the season, he might be at the top of the list for the entire league, but he has only 6 starts. De Vrij has more than made up for Skriniar struggling a bit in a three man defense and Godin having to get acclimated to a new league, while Lautaro Martinez has made a huge impact even when he didn’t score (think of the penalty he earned against Bologna). Lukaku and Barella are also worthy honorable mentions but they did also come in for massive transfer fees. 

Leonardo Bonucci, Miralem Pjanic, Juan Cuadrado and Gonzalo Higuain- while for Inter you can pick from so many options because the team has made a significant improvement from last season, at Juventus this list has more to do with Ronaldo’s less than stellar start, Ramsey and Douglas Costa missing significant time and Chiellini being hurt. 

Bonucci has been considerably better defensively although his long passing isn’t as important for Sarri’s system, Cuadrado has more than adequately replaced Joao Cancelo’s offensive output while also not being a complete liability defensively and Higuain is in the John Travolta in Pulp Fiction phase of his career. 

Sarri did say that his Juventus would never look like his old Napoli so while Pjanic isn’t playing exactly the Jorginho role, he has been outstanding while handling a much larger volume of passes

Can Inter’s great attacking duo deliver a title to Conte?

With so many teams moving away from a formation featuring two strikers, we are deprived of talking about duos who have great chemistry. In my lifetime I got to witness Maradona and Careca, Skuravy and Aguilera, Trezeguet and Del Piero, Batistuta and Totti and on and on, but it’s been awhile since we’ve been able to enjoy two radically different players complimenting each other as well as Lennon and McCartney.

On a somewhat related note, on Thursday’s Gazzetta dello Sport, Davide Stoppini compared Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku’s goal tally in their first ten matches together at Inter with the nerazzurri’s top scorers this decade- the only duo who surpassed them were Icardi and Perisic who have been shipped off on loan to ensure they wouldn’t taint Conte’s group.

But while raw numbers always give us an objective take on the performances of players within the same era, when it comes to Lautaro and Romelu I have flashbacks to Aldo Serena and Ramon Diaz, the two strikers who led Inter’s brilliant 1988-89 team to the scudetto with Trapattoni on the bench.

While Serena wasn’t as physically imposing as Lukaku (really what striker is?), his specialties were headers and opening space for his teammates, and back in 88-89 he had a perfect partner in Ramon Diaz- a small but very technical striker who arrived at Inter to replace Spillo Altobelli only after Rabah Madjer failed his medical but who only stayed for one season because they had Jurgen Klinsmann waiting in the wings.

While it remains to be seen if Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez can also lead Inter to a title, they have come a long ways to give Conte a guarantee upfront- an even more important development when you consider that Alexis Sanchez is currently rehabbing an injury, leaving them with no choice but to field them almost every game.

Romelu Lukaku was the main protagonist in one of the summer transfer window’s best soap operas since he was also linked to Juventus. He arrived in August after he had already stopped practicing with his Manchester United teammates, he didn’t have much time to get acclamaited to his new team as he prepared to play in a new league, but has already made a major impact by becoming the first Inter player to score 9 goals in his first 11 league matches matching the original Ronaldo’s tally back during the 1997/98 season.

Lukaku has so far lived up to the pressure of being the most expensive purchase in Inter’s history and the most costly transfer from the Premier League to Serie A. While he certainly has felt welcomed by his new manager Antonio Conte, who had tried to sign him at his two previous clubs, he has also had to deal with some ugly racist incidents and the pressure of replacing Inter’s best player of the post treble era in Mauro Icardi.

In many ways Lukaku has been the opposite of Icardi. While he’s been mocked for his first touch in recent years, he has been instrumental in building Inter’s run of play by opening spaces for his teammates and developing great chemistry with Lautaro Martinez, a player that Spalletti didn’t think could play at same time with Icardi because they were too similar. Off the pitch rather than being a distraction, he’s been a great ambassador for the club and a point of reference for his teammates.

Martinez had a fairly successful first season in Serie A despite some fears he could turn into the Argentinian version of Gabigol. He was also a protagonist at the recent Copa America where he developed good chemistry with Leo Messi which raised the expectations for what he could do under Antonio Conte. Martinez has shown he can make a big impact even when he doesn’t score, both with how he contributes to the run of play and by earning (well deserved) penalties in clutch moments. He has developed much more chemistry in just 3 months with Lukaku than he did after a full season with Mauro Icardi.

Can Lukaku and Lautaro do for Conte now what Serena and Diaz did for Trapattoni back in 1989 and help another former Juventus manager win a scudetto under the Madonnina? Both teams could count on great defenses (Zenga, Ferri, Bergomi and Brehme), a dynamic new addition in midfield in Berti and Sensi, the strikers Serena and Diaz scored 34 goals combined, a total Luataro and Lukaku are on pace to exceed, but Inter also had Matthaues in the midfield and while Serie A was stacked back then, this current Juventus will ensure no other team wins with 5 matches to go like Inter did back in 1989- regardless of how it ends, Inter have found a truly special combination upfront.

 

Which Serie A team could realistically sign Ibrahimovic?

Few players are able to attract as much attention as Zlatan Ibrahimovic. This isn’t just because of his ability as a player, or his colorful quotes but also because just like Roberto Baggio and the Brazilian Ronaldo before him, he simply doesn’t belong to one club but rather to all football fans. Now that his MLS’ phase has almost certainly come to an end, we’ll likely see him linked to numerous clubs in Europe. 

In a recent interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, Ibarhimovic left the door open to a return to Italy “I had unforgettable moments there, I’ll listen to everything” but which Serie A team is he likely to join? When assessing the options, let’s account for the fact Zlatan stated he wants a chance to compete for titles, the considerable influence of his agent Mino Raiola and the individual club needs:

 

Juventus- since being sold to Inter during the Calciopoli scandal, Ibrahimovic has been linked to a return to Turin. But this was back when Juventus struggled significantly to attract big name strikers and as it stands now they already have too many attackers on the squad. While Juventus have a great relationship with Mino Raiola, it’s hard to envision Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic on the same team.

Milan- let’s call a spade a spade, Zlatan and Raiola have almost certainly used rumors of a possible return to the rossoneri as leverage in negotiations with other clubs in recent years. While Boban has stated that he would like to add more veterans to his young squad, Ibarhimovic joining this Milan seems rather unlikely because he would stand in the way of Leao’s growth and the club’s attempts to get Piatek going. In addition, described the rossoneri as “a disaster, a lot of words and few facts. This isn’t the club we all fell in love with. Maybe today they have the wrong people who should be elsewhere”

Inter- the recent injury to Alexis Sanchez started the rumors of Ibrahimovic’s return to the nerazzurri. But when you consider how well Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku have played this season and how well they compliment each other, it’s hard to envision Ibrahimovic as anything more than a super sub on this squad. Ibrahimovic was very complimentary of Antonio Conte “I don’t know him personally, but everyone says he always gives 500% each day and in that regard we are the same” and his agent Raiola has done a lot of business with Beppe Marotta while the former Sampdoria director was at Juventus, but Inter feels like a very long shot.

Roma- the giallorossi have done business with Raiola in recent years and Ibrahimovic’s uber size personality would fit in the city very well. Beyond that though Roma already has an excellent older striker leading the line in Edin Dzeko so barring an injury to him it’s hard to see a natural fit from any sporting perspective.

Napoli- when asked if there was a Serie A team that intrigued him during his interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, Zlatan answered Napoli. He mentioned that he appreciated the recent documentary on Maradona and that he would love to replicate the loving bond between the city and the Argentine legend. On the bright side Napoli have started to do a lot of business with Mino Raiola, just last summer they acquired two of his high profile players in Kostas Manolas and Hirving Lozano but they are also stacked up front with Milik, Llorente, Insigne and Lozano.

Now De Laurentiis has left the door open to signing Ibrahimovic, but clearly stated it’s up to Zlatan. On one hand Milik has now scored three goals in his last two matches, but on the other Napoli continue to show a lack of killer instinct. On Sunday the squandered a huge opportunity to make up some ground on both Juventus and Inter and failed to beat SPAL- the question is will they still be in a possession in the standings that bringing in Ibrahimovic for second half of the season is actually worth it? They certainly could use his ability to take the pressure off the team with his quotes and personality. 

Bologna- now while Ibrahimovic did state that being able to win trophies is a significant factor in the choice for his new team, he did tell Gazzetta dello Sport he would make an exception for Bologna because of his relationship with Sinisa Mihajlovic, who promised him the rest of the team would run for him so he can just focus on scoring. Bologna are off to a fairly good start to the season and do have a North American owner in Joey Saputo who could be looking to make a significant splash- bringing him to Bologna after MLS might help his club’s branding in US and Canada.

 

Which Serie A team has the most margin for improvement this season?

The second international break of the season is a good opportunity for Serie A teams to take stock of their strengths and weaknesses. Both Milan and Sampdoria went beyond a self appraisal and decided to use the two week window with no games as an opportunity to make a coaching change, but for the rest this break is the ideal time to find ways to improve.

With that in mind, which top Serie A teams have the most margins for improvement? let’s rank them

 

 

Atalanta 

While many, including yours truly, genuinely believed there would be some regression after a stellar season that saw most of their top players perform at the highest level of their careers, Atalanta have been just as devastating in Serie A where they find themselves in third place and with the second highest goal differential in the league.

But unlike the other teams listed in this article, there isn’t much margin for improvement. Duvan Zapata will be out for three weeks following an injury during the international break, the defense has performed better than expected with Kjaer seamlessly replacing Mancini and goalkeeper Gollini earning a selection to the Italian national team. Atalanta will however now be able to play their home matches in Bergamo again after their curva was rebuilt and new addition Malinovski can continue to improve while Ilicic has yet to be as consistently brilliant as last season. Atalanta will have to continue to prove they aren’t a fluke rather than looking for ways to get better.

 

Inter

 

The nerazzurri won their first six Serie A matches of the season before losing to Juventus in a close match at San Siro. They have the best goal differential in the league with plus 10, have received some strong contributions from almost all their new additions especially Godin, Barella and Sensi while Handanovic, De Vrij and Brozovic continue to be some of the best players at their respective position in all of Serie A.

While the nerazzurri have performed at almost their peak level in the domestic league, there’s still some margin for improvement once Romelu Lukaku develops more chemistry with Lautaro Martinez. With D’Ambrosio’s recent injury we’ll also likely see Valentino Lazaro make his debut- the Austrian international has the potential to be an upgrade from what we’ve seen from Candreva to so far this season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lazio 

 

No top Serie A team went through less changes than the biancocelesti who brought back manager Simone Inzaghi as well we as all of their core players. With that in mind, they have fallen short of expectations since they are in sixth place because they are unable to consistently win the matches in which they are the favorites.

Luis Alberto, Milinkovic Savic, Acerbi and especially Immobile have performed at their top level which doesn’t leave much room for growth beyond hoping new center back Vavro and wingback Lazzari can become the impactful additions they were expected to become. Lazzari had gotten off to a strong start but then struggled enough to lose playing time to Marusic.

 

Roma

The giallorossi are one of the most exciting team to watch in Serie A because of their free flowing offense and their leaky backline. Roma should be a bit concerned with the fact Dzeko and Kolarov have been their two best players, but they can also point to some significant margins for improvement once Pellegrini, Under and Mkhitaryan return from their injuries and once Gianluca Mancini and Chris Smalling can get more reps playing together.

 

 

Juventus 

 

Right before the international break, Inter were reminded of the saying “if you want to be the champ, you have to beat the champ”. Juventus displayed their depth and ruthlessness at San Siro in the final Serie A match and reminded the rest of the league why they’ve won the last eight scudetti.

If that wasn’t frightening enough, the bianconeri have considerable margins for improvement- Sarri now has more time to implement his ideas and because of the depth of his squad, he can alternate between two formations. Douglas Costa is returning from an injury, Dybala has started to develop better chemistry with Cristiano Ronaldo, and speaking of the Portuguese striker, it’s only a matter of time until he goes on a scoring streak.

If that weren’t enough De Ligt can be considerably better than what he’s shown so far, Rabiot could eventually replace Matuidi and Chiellini will be back for the stretch run of the season.

 

Milan 

 

The rossoneri are three points away from relegation zone and four behind Napoli for the last Champions League spot so they have some clear margins for improvements while also having hope they can completely turn their season around. Their new manager Pioli has been in a similar situation when he took over at Inter a few years ago and it’s hard to imagine Paqueta’ and Piatek not turning things around in a new system.

Look for Pioli to get the most out of new additions Leao, Hernandez, Bennacer and Rebic while Caldara could be an upgrade over Musacchio as Romagnoli’s partner. A healthy Bonaventura would also feel like what Galliani would describe “as like a new addition”.

 

Napoli 

 

While the partenopei are in nowhere near as dire a situation as Milan, they have the most margin for improvement of any top team. Koulibaly has really struggled since missing the pre season because of the Africa Cup, Milik will finally be fully fit for the first time this season after rehabbing from a painful injury, while both Manolas and Lozano have yet to perform at the level expected from two of the most expensive additions in the club’s history. Ancelotti’s squad could also receive a significant boost from a return to form for Lorenzo Insigne and Faouzi Ghoulam.

 

Ranking the reasons to be optimistic about Inter

It’s only been five games and they had a fairly easy schedule to start the season, but no matter which caveat you want to add, there’s no doubt Inter couldn’t have had a better start to the season in Serie A. In addition to the results on the pitch, cross town rivals Milan are in a full blown crisis, Napoli suffered a deflating home loss to Napoli and Juventus has shown some cracks in their armor.

But can Inter sustain this success? Let’s rank the reasons why it’s likely they will:

 

Singular focus on Serie A

The home draw to Slavia Prague in the Champions League, the easiest match of the group stage is either part of the plan to “pull a Napoli and punt the Champions League” or a potential blessing in disguise to give Conte’s squad a better chance at a deep scudetto run. Should Inter be eliminated early in the group stage, they can put all their eggs in the Serie A basket earlier into the season.

 

Team can improve thanks to Valentino Lazaro and Alexis Sanchez

So far Inter have received a significant boost from their new additions. Stefano Sensi is arguably so far the most impactful new player on any Serie A team, Barella is living up to the hype of his substantial transfer fee after being eased into the starting lineup slowly, Lukaku has been decisive even when he doesn’t score, Godin has shown why he’s considered one of the best defenders of his generation and Biraghi played well in his first start against Lazio.

In the coming weeks we could see Valentino Lazaro get into the right wing back rotation and Alexis Sanchez will try to regain his Arsenal (or Udinese form) while giving a breather to the starting strikers. Lazaro was a fairly significant investment for the club, so look for Conte to try to turn him into his new Victor Moses, while Sanchez is a great low risk/high reward investment.

 

Depth

Lazaro and Sanchez will bring more depth to a team that has already had to use some of its backups this season. D’Ambrosio has played as a center back and rotated with Candreva on the right wing, Asamoah and Biraghi are both starting caliber players at left wing back, while Vecino has limitations as a player his physicality and nasty streak make him a good compliment to Sensi, Barella and Brozovic 

Politano can be a deluxe version of one of Conte’s favorite players Emanuele Giaccherini. The former Sassuolo winger has a knack for making an impact off the bench and he can play in multiple roles in Inter’s current formation. Even much maligned Ranocchia was useful at the start of the season while both De Vrij and Godin nursed injuries. 

 

Conte and Marotta

Inter has won countless August and September scudetti in recent years. They are often called the winners of the summer transfer windows and/or get off to a fast start only to collapse in epic fashion before the season even gets to its second half. But because of the changes at the top, there’s ample reason to believe things will be different.

Beppe Marotta brought a Juventus like business approach to Inter. Rather than coddling Mauro Icardi last season, he was publicly stripped of the captain’s armband and was shipped out of town along with Nainggolan and Perisic, two players who also brought numerous distractions. Marotta hasn’t been afraid to speak publicly during difficult moments (maybe something Milan’s current directors can learn from) and has taken the pressure off Conte by handling tough situations head on.

Marotta built a team in Conte’s image and now the former Juventus and Chelsea manager is in the conditions to succeed, the focus is on the group of players rather than individual stars and there’s plenty of quality through out the squad. 

In recent years I’ve described Conte as the type of manager that takes a team from A to B- someone you want to take over when your club has hit rock bottom. It will be interesting to see if he can now take the foundation Spalletti built to the next level- after his recent experiences, odds are he will. One thing that Conte has clearly already improved Inter on is defeating provinciali types- in recent years, the nerazzurri squandered numerous points against the bottom table teams and so far have won those matches convincingly. 

 

Defense

While Serie A is certainly no longer a league focused on catenaccio, the old adage that offense wins game and defense wins championships is often still true. Last season Inter had the most clean sheets in Serie A and they added a blue chip player in Diego Godin to fortify a strength, Handanovic has continued to look brilliant this season- particularly in the match against Lazio- and both D’Ambrosio and Ranocchia have responded well when called upon. Conte will also likely ease in Alessandro Bastoni in his center back rotation after his positive season on loan at Parma.

 

Simone Inzaghi made mistakes against Inter – but benching Ciro Immobile wasn’t one of them

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As the news filtered through a few hours before kick-off, no one could quite believe it: Ciro Immobile would start on the bench for Lazio against Inter. 

Immobile has started the new season at his lethal best, scoring four goals in his first four games ahead of the trip to San Siro, and another for Italy on international duty.

When the official line-up came out to confirm that Felipe Caicedo would partner Joaquin Correa in attack, there was a general assumption that it must have something to do with Immobile’s strop during Sunday’s win over Parma.

In that game, the striker scored the opening goal but threw a tantrum on his way back to the bench when his number came up in the second half. Continue reading

How Beppe Marotta became Serie A’s Mister Wolfe

There are so many unforgettable characters in “Pulp Fiction”, but none are as cool as Harvey Keitel’s portrayal of Winston Wolfe. He’s the classic fixer, the person rich people or criminals call to clean up a messy situation because of their ability to think clearly under pressure and to efficiently get out of even the most complex problems.

While I don’t imagine Beppe Marotta has ever wore a tux to a party that is taking place early in the morning like when we are first introduced to mister Wolfe, Inter’s current executive director is now Calcio’s version of Mister Wolfe. After a very successful spell at Sampdoria, he was one of the architects of Juventus’ resurgence post Calciopoli and is now building a very strong foundation for Inter who are desperate to return to the glory days of the treble after a difficult stretch of years.

The season just started and we know Inter are notorious for falling apart at the worse possible time, but if you also look at how disorganized Juventus has appeared since his departure, there’s a case to be made this has been Marotta’s best summer ever when you factor Conte, Godin, Lukaku, Sensi, Barella’s arrivals coupled with Mauro Icardi leaving but not for Juventus.

To be fair Marotta inherited Inter right when they were about to get out of Financial Fair Play hell. His sporting director Piero Ausilio and his predecessors in the executive director role deserve a lot of credit for making significant plusvalenze on home grown players, which allowed Marotta to spend considerably more this summer.

Certainly, Antonio Conte wouldn’t have come to Inter until he had guarantees they would be able to spend significantly on the transfer market, but Marotta convinced him to join him at Inter after the two of them had a falling out at Juventus (Conte famously never mentioned him during his farewell from the bianconeri) because of disagreements on the transfer market.

Everyone remembers the famous quote on not being able to afford the restaurant that costs 100 euro with a 10 euro bill, but this summer Marotta broke Inter’s transfer record twice by signing first Niccolo’ Barella and later Romelu Lukaku, who had become like Moby Dick for Conte since he had tried to sign him both at Juventus and Chelsea. Inter also signed Diego Godin to a very expensive Bosman deal to complete a new version of the BBC but it turns out that so far the nerazzurri’s best addition came from Sassuolo.

While at Juventus, Marotta developed a great relationship with Sassuolo’s director Carnevali- they completed many deals which benefitted both teams on the pitch and financially. But with the way Stefano Sensi has played since he arrived at Inter, you can make a case Marotta saved the best deal with the neroverdi for his new club (just picture how good Sensi would look in Juventus midfield right now).

Certainly the incoming players have been impressive, but Marotta’s best work may have come with the Mauro Icardi situation. He set the tone right away at Conte’s introductory press conference, he stated that the Argentine striker as well as Radja Nainggolan would not be part of the project (he later on added Ivan Perisic to the list) and while many assumed Marotta would eventually have no choice but to send him to Juventus, who went so far as not assigning number 9 to keep it ready for Icardi.

Certainly, it would have been better to sell Mauro Icardi on a permanent sale, but Marotta was able to get him out of the league altogether while working on a deal that would give Icardi a significant financial incentive by staying at PSG since his contract with the French club would pay substantially more than what Inter would give him should he return. 

Marotta was able to shed Icardi, Perisic and most of Nainggolan’s significant wages by sending them off on loan. Juventus would have liked to be able to do the same with the likes of some of their unwanted veterans since now their payroll is very bloated at a time that they are also in the red on their balance sheet, it’s safe to say that Paratici and Nedved have struggled a bit in their first summer transfer window at Juventus without Marotta.

After his strong contributions to Juventus’ rebuild, Marotta is well on his way to doing the same at Inter- he’s now become Serie A’s mister Wolfe.

AC Milan 0-2 Inter: Rossoneri outplayed as Giampaolo continues to disappoint

The long-awaited derby didn’t go exactly as planned for AC Milan, as the Rossoneri were outplayed by their city rivals for most of the game. Furthermore, the team lacked the spirit to turn the game around, while Giampaolo continues to disappoint with his team selection. 

The clash started as you would expect, with both sides having a go at each other to probe the ground. However, that phase quickly faded as the Nerazzurri took control of the game, which was the sight for a majority of the first half. In terms of chances, the away side dominated, while Milan continued to struggle. Continue reading

AC Milan vs. Inter: Team news, stats and prediction

The long-awaited derby between AC Milan and Inter will take place this evening, with kick-off scheduled for 20:45 Italy time. For both sides, it will be a very important game as always, though this one seems to carry a bit more importance as both teams are heading into a new era. 

For the Rossoneri, it’s up to Marco Giampaolo to send a signal to the fans, as his side unconvincingly beat Brescia and Hellas Verona by the odd goal. Therefore, this evening, the fans will be hoping for a clear game plan as facing Antonio Conte’s side will be no walk in the park. Continue reading