On the Rise: Gaetano Castrovilli

Every Serie A season a new wave of talents break onto the scene and steal the headlines. This season has been no different as countless youngsters have staked their claim to make a name for themselves. Fiorentina’s Gaetano Castrovilli is one of these players. Making the most of his regular minutes under Vincenzo Montella, the 22-year-old has now established himself as a key member of la Viola’s eleven.

Typically fielded as a mezz’ala (outside of the midfield three), Castrovilli is able to make the most of his enterprise and drive his team forward. Currently, the midfielder’s 2.6 dribbles per game is the fourth most in Serie A and is a clear sign Montella turns to him to progress the ball in the midfield. 
When he’s not driving with the ball at his feet, Castrovilli has proven to be a willing runner without it. In many ways, his game is eerily similar to that of Juventus legend Claudio Marchisio. He’s at his most dangerous making late, unmarked runs into the box and has proven to have a knack for being at the right place at the right time.
In possession, the Fiorentina man is equally as impressive and plays positively whenever given the chance. Castrovilli is currently averaging 1.4 key passes per game and is becoming a creative threat in the middle of the park. Alongside Milan Badelj and Erick Pulgar, the 22-year-old has carved out a role for himself as the ‘runner’ of the midfield trio, offering industry both in and out of possession. In Badelj, Castrovilli and Pulgar, la Viola currently possess one of the league’s most technical midfield units, capable of covering ground and protecting their defence in the process. 
Most recently, the young midfielder notched his first goal in Serie A in Fiorentina’s 3-1 win over Milan. Castrovilli was excellent against the rossoneri and gave the viola faithful a glimpse of what’s hopefully to come from him.
Considering newly-appointed Fiorentina president Rocco Commisso wants to usher in a new era in Tuscany, predicating the importance of quality and youthful Italians, expect Castrovilli to become a center-piece of his vision. Alongside Federico Chiesa, the 22-year-old can help his side put last season’s woes behind them and kick off a new era. 
Montella has had success with young players in the past and we’re already starting to see his impact on the side. Currently, Fiorentina sit two points out of fourth place having already played Napoli, Juventus, Atalanta and Milan. Moreover, despite the results not always going their way, Montella’s men have looked the better side in most, if not in all, of these games. As their schedule gets easier, expect la Viola to keep climbing up the table with Castrovilli emerging as a key man.
If the 22-year-old is able to maintain this level, a national team call-up shouldn’t be too far away. While Italy’s midfield ranks are currently congested with the likes of Stefano Sensi, Marco Verratti and Jorginho, gli Azzurri lack a true mezz’ala beyond Inter’s Nicolo Barella. Having already qualified to Euro 2020, expect Mancini to experiment and Castrovilli to get a chance with the senior setup.
After all, he’s earned it. 
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Italy 2-0 Greece Euro 2020 Qualifying: The Azzurri player ratings

Italy have done it! After the 2018 World Cup qualifying disaster, Roberto Mancini and his reborn Azzurri have officially qualified for next summer’s Euro 2020 with a 2-0 win over Greece.

Jorginho and Federico Bernardeschi goals sealed a hard fought win over a compact, organized Greece side, making it a perfect 7 wins from 7 in Group J play.

Here are the player ratings for the Italians. Continue reading

Italy boss Roberto Mancini spoiled for choice in the midfield

The biggest talking point in Italy camp this international break is, ahead of two Euro 2020 qualifiers, how a berth can be achieved in this round, and with two matches to spare.

Since day 1 on the job for CT Roberto Mancini after the sacking of Gian Piero Ventura, clinching a spot in this tournament was deemed the first step in the Azzurri’s restoration project towards a revival to reclaim what was once theirs – a seat at the adult table with the world’s powers.

Sitting comfortable and cozy atop the Group J table with a perfect 6-0 record, the Italians have been elevated all over the pitch through some impressive performances, though it would be remiss to not hone in on the special happenings which lie in the midfield. Continue reading

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

SSC Napoli v AC Chievo Verona - Serie A

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