Sarriball still loading in Turin

Despite replacing Massimiliano Allegri’s conservatism with Sarriball, Juventus still looked lethargic in attack and shaky at the back. At times, the bianconeri had all eleven players behind the ball, conceding the entire pitch to Parma. While Roberto D’Aversa’s men will prove hard to break down this season, they’re no Real Madrid and Juventus should have looked to remain on the front foot.

Juventus started the game with no new signings in the lineup and went with Douglas Costa, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Gonzalo Higuain up front. The trio did just enough to secure the three points, despite their Portuguese superstar proving wasteful.

Ronaldo’s inefficiency in front of goal was surprising, but Juve’s lack of movement was even more worrying. When Miralem Pjanic was in possession, the Bosnian international rarely had options and was typically forced to spread the ball wide.

Maurizio Sarri has identified the player as his regista, however, the former Roma midfielder doesn’t look suited to the role. Pjanic is the type of player that likes to dribble with the ball at his feet, while Sarri’s ideal regista takes a maximum of two touches before relinquishing it. Take Jorginho, for example. The Chelsea midfielder is constantly involved in his side’s buildup play and is regularly on the move out of possession.

Pjanic, by contrast, needs to be the one playing the final ball in the final third, otherwise, his creativity is wasted. The reality is, he couldn’t be more different than Jorginho. This is one crucial, fundamental difference between Sarri’s sides in the past and Juventus today. However, let’s be clear: Sarri will have an easier time instilling his philosophy when Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey become regulars.

In attack, Sarri will encounter further headaches. While Higuain or Dybala suffice as strikers, Ronaldo and Douglas Costa aren’t exactly ‘Sarriball’ wingers. Both like to take on the opposition and tend to drift around the pitch freely.

As it concerns Ronaldo, that shouldn’t be an issue as he will be handed carte blanche like Eden Hazard was at Chelsea. However, with Ronaldo moving positions at will, the other winger must be disciplined positionally. For all his strengths, that’s not the first quality you tend to associate with Douglas Costa. The Brazilian is electric in possession and is Juventus’ best one vs one winger, but usually floats around the pitch. At Napoli, Jose Callejon acted as this wide-man as Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens interchanged positions.

The Spaniard’s second-post runs were a crucial aspect to Sarriball and will be something the veteran tactician will be hoping to introduce via Douglas Costa. Otherwise, he will likely turn to Federico Bernardeschi on the bench.

Until the bianconeri’s attack are comfortable with the intricacies of Sarri’s system, the Juventus we see from week-to-week will be closer to their former boss than their current one. Sarri himself mentioned it would take him six months before his football is in full flow, and it’s clear to see why. While it’s still early days, the notable differences between Juventus’ roster and Sarri’s former sides are still a cause for concern. After all, as good as Pjanic and Douglas Costa are, he’s arguably a regista and a winger away from his ideal eleven.

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Frank Lampard’s best eleven at Chelsea

Chelsea’s two-window transfer ban certainly makes things interesting for the start of Frank Lampard’s era at the club.

The former club-legend midfielder arrived this summer from Derby County, taking charge instead of the outgoing Maurizio Sarri who returned to his beloved Serie A, replacing Max Allegri at Juventus.

Lampard will have to rely on what talent is already at Stamford Bridge until next summer at least.

So, what is Lampard’s strongest eleven from the players available to him? The Blues lost Eden Hazard to Real Madrid this summer so it really does feel like the dawn of a new era at the club. Continue reading

Roberto Mancini Puts Italy on the Right Track

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Since being appointed as Italy boss, Roberto Mancini has set Gli Azzurri on the right path, and has guided them to four wins out of four in their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign thus far. 

In their most recent clashes, Italy travelled to Athens to take on Greece, and dispatched their European counterparts within thirty-three minutes, by a score of 3-0.

In their next game against Bosnia, Mancini’s men fell behind early, but mounted a second half comeback to prevail by a score of 2-1. Under Gian Piero Ventura, the side lacked character, and would have likely dropped points in a game like this. With these two wins, Italy now find themselves comfortably in first place, scoring 13 goals, and conceding one in the process. In addition to getting results, this is the best football Italy have played in recent memory, and have demonstrated an identity.

Once again, Mancini was rewarded for sticking with the highly technical midfield of Nicolo Barella, Jorginho, and Marco Verratti, and now has his side well on their way to the upcoming Euros. Together, the trio provide a blend of youth, experience and quality on the ball, and offer the national team some much needed creativity in the final third.

While many initially doubted the midfield’s defensive awareness given their smaller frames, Verratti, Jorginho and Barella have demonstrated they are capable of offering solidity to their back four. Given their similar profiles, Verratti and Jorginho often interchange roles at the base of the midfield, and don’t give their opponents a reference point.

With Barella making late, unmarked, runs into the box, it makes for a truly malleable midfield; something the Azzurri have sorely lacked over the past four years. The Cagliari captain’s drive has been rewarded, and already has two goals on the qualifying campaign.

Much like it’s the case in the midfield, Mancini has not shied away from taking risks with his front three. Since his appointment, the former Inter tactician has called up a number of up and coming talents, including the likes of Moise Kean and Federico Chiesa among others.

In the past, Ventura was afraid to take risks, and typically stuck with Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti up front, despite their struggles. When both strikers were misfiring, Italy did not have a plan B, and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades. Rather than having set starters, like his predecessor, Mancini has mixed and matched at will, and has used a plethora of forwards across the front line. This keeps the Italian forwards on their toes, and ensures no one gets complacent. Moreover, if Italy are struggling in the final third, Mancini is able to turn to different solutions.

One player that has benefitted immensely from Mancini’s reign has been Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne. The diminutive forward was reduced to a bit-part role under Ventura, and largely struggled to make an impact on the pitch when called upon. Under Mancini, Insigne has established himself as a crucial player, and has scored two goals in his last two games. In addition, his assist to Verratti against Bosnia helped Gli Azzurri seal all three points.

On the defensive end, on the other hand, Mancini has decided to maintain the status quo and has typically gone with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. However, the Italian tactician has tinkered with his fullbacks, alternating between Leonardo Spinazzola, Emerson and Gianluca Mancini. While Mancini is a centre-back, he offers the Azzurri tactical flexibility from the right-hand side of defence, and often drops as a third centre-back when in possession. With the Atalanta man dropping centrally, it allows the left-back to get forward and overload with his winger.

While it’s still early days for Gli Azzurri, the future looks bright under Roberto Mancini. Using a blend of experience, and youth, the Italian tactician has demonstrated character both in his selections, and tactical setups. With no one’s place in the team secured, Italy have – for the first time in a while – shown hunger, and a desire to return to the top.

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Mancini Prepares for Liechtenstein Clash

Following their impressive 2-0 win against Finland, Italy have proven they are ready to put their past issues behind them, and finally re-establish themselves as a threat on the international stage, starting with the 2020 Euros. Italy tactician Roberto Mancini has shown he’s ready to give youth a chance, all-while not undervaluing experience.

Today, Mancini held a press conference ahead of Gli Azzurri’s clash with Liechtenstein, and highlighted the importance of establishing an identity for the side, something that was lacking under Gian Piero Ventura’s guidance.

We have to keep growing and look to maintain the same identity as a team, no matter the opposition in front of us. We’re happy with the result: We want to bring back the enthusiasm to the national team, and what better way than through our play. We still have a lot of work to do,” said Mancini in the press conference.

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Since becoming Italy boss, Mancini has introduced a slick 4-3-3 with a highly technical midfield, including two registas in Jorginho and Marco Verratti. In doing so, the former Inter tactician ensures gli Azzurri are able to impose their possession-based game and dominate the opposition.

While results are often the compromise of good football, it hasn’t been the case for Mancini’s Italy, as they have registered four clean sheets in their last four games and have started their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign on the right foot.

I think a team that plays with a determined style of play over a series of games with success could establish their identity,” added Mancini.

Clearly, after Italy’s World Cup disaster and tame displays against Sweden that saw them get eliminated, Mancini’s number one priority was to introduce character. Thus far, he’s had success introducing the likes of Moise Kean and Nicolo Zaniolo while also turning to the experience of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Fabio Quagliarella.

Acting with balance of youth and experience in mind, Italy are playing their best football since Antonio Conte’s tenure, and will likely be a threat at the Euros. With a clash against Liechtenstein on the horizon, Mancini is ready to blood in more players and mix up his starting eleven once more.

“We’ll change 3-4 players from our starting eleven against Finland, perhaps even more,” said Mancini.

According to recent reports, Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli is rumoured to start in defence while Stefano Sensi is set to get a start in the midfield. Romagnoli has arguably been the best defender in Italy this season, and deserves a shot at usurping Leonardo Bonucci in the starting eleven. Sensi, on the other hand, has been in exceptional form for Sassuolo, and is an ideal deep-lying playmaker for Mancini’s 4-3-3 in the absence of Verratti or Jorginho.

Otherwise, Leonardo Spinazzola will start at right back after a string of top notch performances for Juventus while it’s likely that Fabio Quagliarella will get rewarded with the full ninety minutes after an impressive cameo against Finland.

While question marks were raised after Mancini’s appointment, the Italian tactician is proving to have the midas touch so far for gli Azzurri, introducing a clear style of play and identity to the national team for the first time in over two years.

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Italy 2-0 Finland: Player Ratings for the Azzurri

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On Saturday at the Stadio Friuli in Udine, Italy managed to secure the 2-0 win over Finland in Group J of Euro 2020 Qualifying thanks to Nicolò Barella and Moise Kean opening up their accounts for the Azzurri.

Here are the player ratings from the victory. Continue reading

The EPL’s likely starting lineups for this weekend

Ross Barkley

This weekend we have another full schedule of ten EPL matches to look forward to. Here are the predicted lineups for every EPL game.

Crystal Palace v Brighton

Crystal Palace XI: Guaita, Wan-Bissaka, Dann, Tomkins, Van Aanholt, Kouyate, Milivojevic, Schlupp, Townsend, Batshuayi, Zaha

Brighton XI: Ryan, Montoya, Dunk, Duffy, Bernardo, Propper, Stephens, Bissouma, Knockaert, Andone, Jahanbakhsh

Questionable: n/a

Out: Speroni, Sakho, Souare (Crystal Palace); Balogun, Gross (Brighton)

Marek Hamsik’s curtain call opens the door for Amadou Diawara at Napoli

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Bombshell transfer news struck post-match of Napoli’s 3-0 win over Sampdoria at the Stadio San Paolo as Carlo Ancelotti revealed to the media “talks are in progress over a potential move” for Slovakian Marek Hamsik.

The eyebrow-raising Italian boss went on further to explain the Partenopei “will work to satisfy his wishes,” but according to Sky Sport’s Gianluca Di Marzio, it seems like president Aurelio de Laurentiis has already.

Di Marzio has reported the 31-year old, who has been a folklore hero in Naples for 12 years and is the club’s all-time leader in goals and appearances, will join Chinese outfit Dalian Yifeng for a fee of €15 million. He is expected to earn €9 million per season under a new three-year contract. Continue reading

Why a shift to 4-2-3-1 could solve Chelsea’s midfield woes

In truth, last Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur flattered Chelsea. The gulf in class between the two teams at Wembley was much vaster than a two-goal margin would suggest, as Spurs comprehensively outplayed their London rivals to climb above them and into third place in the Premier League table.

Chelsea were exposed defensively against Mauricio Pochettino’s men, with David Luiz particularly shaky up against a lively front three of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min. The post-mortem has focused more on the makeup of the Blues’ midfield, though, after Jorginho was effectively shackled by Alli and N’Golo Kante again looked uncomfortable in a No.8 role.

Continue reading

Italy improving under Mancini, but supporters must pump the breaks

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After banging in the stoppage-time goal at the back post thanks to substitute Kevin Lasagna’s initial glancing header from the corner, Fiorentina’s Cristiano Biraghi’s late-game heroics were enough to see Italy past Poland 1-0 on Sunday, escaping relegation from Group 3 in the UEFA Nations League.

The 26-year old celebrated his first international tally by throwing up a “13″ towards the heavens in honor of the late Viola captain Davide Astori. Surely, it was a unifying moment for Italy and Italians everywhere who swarmed the match-winner and finally had something to rally around after 12 months of heartbreak.

Continue reading

Why the Premier League could possibly go to Liverpool or Chelsea

Last Sunday’s display from Chelsea and Liverpool could be christened as the best game so far this season. Both teams exhibited creativity in attack and resilience at the back. The season is still young, but on the evidence of what we witnessed could any of these two beat City to the league title this season?

Liverpool probably made the best recruits in the English Premier league this summer, bolstering their midfield with Naby Keita and Fabinho and another creative option in Xherdan Shaqiri. The Merseysiders have a world class goalkeeper in Allison Becker, who continue to provide great reflexes in the post. Liverpool have enough quality to compete against anyone for the league title this season and they’ve shown that in their last seven league games.

We saw how they conquered Tottenham Hotspurs at Wembley. It wasn’t just about the results, but the football on display has been mesmerizing. And talk of performance their 3-2 victory over Paris Saint Germain was a testament of their mental fortitude.

Not only have Jurgen Klopp reinvigorated the side that lost to Real Madrid in the Champions League finals last season, there seems to be an oomph about them this season. Established players James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum, Roberto Firmino, and Jordan Henderson et al are playing at a level a notch higher that we saw in the previous campaign.

This season Mohammed Salah is not showing the same sophistication with opportunities that have come his way. The Egyptian has scored three goals from a total of 20 shots on target. But Sadio Mane seems to have taken much of the responsibility when it comes to goals. So far adorning the number 10 jersey has yielded four, with Roberto Firmino on two.

James Milner has proven that he still cut it for the premier league with his tireless work in midfield, but Gini Widnaldum is currently Liverpool’s most improved player so far this season. The Netherlands international is playing with a lot confidence, hardly giving the ball away. And guess what, he doesn’t look flustered by the presence of Naby Keita on the bench.

The decision to bring Daniel Sturridge back from loan has proven to be an astute one. In the absence of Roberto Firmino, Sturridge can step up and play an important part in Liverpool’s campaign this season as we’ve seen him score vital goals against PSG in the Champions League and Chelsea in the league.

One significant decision by Kloop, is the center back partnership between Van Dyke and Gomes. The pair have started all seven of Liverpool league games and have conceded just three so far. They share the tag of the best defense with the league leaders, Manchester City.

Chelsea

The great thing about Chelsea this season is the arrival of Mauricio Sarri. His style of play is one that Eden Hazard thrives in, and the Belgian is currently in red hot form as he is beginning to replicate his 2015 performance that won him the PFA player of the year. Also, Hazard is buoyed up his inclusion in the FIFPro World Eleven. The Chelsea forward had a great World Cup tournament with his country, winning the bronze medal.

Chelsea meanwhile occasionally telegraphs fear at the back as Antonio Rudiger and David Luis sometimes struggle against quicker attackers. But in midfield enforcer Jorginho, Matteo Kovacic and Ngolo Kante, Chelsea should be able to dominate and control games. There are still concerns about how Sarri is using a Kante’ in midfield. Despite the French man’s reputation as being destructive, the Italian manager prefers a ball playing holding midfielder in Jorginho who currently top the charts for the number of passes in the league and the most in a game.

Willian and Pedro are great attacking outlets for Chelsea. The Spanish forward has found the net three times while the Brazilian ability to carve open compact defense is proving crucial for Chelsea in when in search of a goal. Chelsea do not boost a striker with the quality of Sergio Aguero as both Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud are not quite reliable. Sarri may require a proven goal scorer in the January transfer window.

Manchester City are favorite based on their performance last season and Pep Guadiola’s reputation for winning back to back league titles, but the Citizens look beatable this season and it’s hard to envisage them go on a winning run as we saw last season. It will take a Miracle for Manchester United to win the league this season as tensions between Mourinho and Pogba is beginning to have a debilitating effect on the other players. The red devils will probably be fighting a Champions League spot.

Meanwhile Arsenal seems to have turned the corner after their earlier struggles, but despite winning their last four games are not convincing given the defensive vulnerabilities and how wasteful they can be in th attack. Tottenham Hotspur will be hoping to maintain fourth spot by the end of the season.

As it stands Chelsea and Liverpool look set to deny Manchester city a second straight league cup.

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