The reinvigoration of Hirving Lozano

Not many sides have taken Atalanta apart quite like Napoli did last weekend. At this stage it’s no secret how much Gian Piero Gasperini has changed the entire fabric of the club since his arrival four years ago. La Dea are usually the ones handing out a 4-1 mauling, they don’t tend to be on the receiving end.

But on Saturday they were. Napoli simply blew their top-four rivals away in the opening 45 minutes with an intensity and attacking verve that’s usually Atalanta’s calling card. Gasperini’s men were thoroughly given a dose of their own medicine. Pivotal to their success in that opening period was Hirving Lozano, who scored twice in four minutes.

Lozano’s second, a wonderfully executed curling effort just inside the penalty box, was indicative of the confidence the Mexico international is now showing at the club. With four goals already this season, Lozano has equalled the tally of goals he scored in Serie A last season. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Ten

Brescia-Inter: Eugenio Corini has had some reservations in using Alfredo Donnarumma and Mario Balotelli together, but Florian Aye, while tactically precious, has not been productive and so the more predictable duo should be the way to go moving forward. However, they have combined for just one goal in the last three matches and they will face one of the best back-lines in the League. Daniele Dessena’s injury ended up hurting Romulo’s fantasy stocks in the short-term, since he is being used as box-to-box, at least until one between Emanuele Ndoj and Jaromir Zmhral manages to unseat Nikolas Spalek, who has not been effective as no.10. Sandro Tonali is coming off his first Serie A goal and constitutes is half of their offense. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 21


Sampdoria-Udinese: the Blucerchiati were pipped at the post in Florence last week, in a game that turned on its head a thousand times. They have won three straight at home. After three positive, or semi-positives, results Udinese took a tumble at home against Parma. They have managed to prevail just once on the road thus far. Fabio Quagliarella has found the target in ten straight appearances and is one shy of tying the record, so he is obviously a must-start, considering that the match-up is not that hard. Gaston Ramirez is suspended, so Riccardo Saponara will draw the start and could be worth a look. Even Jakub Jankto showed some life in the last game, but Karol Linetty might be able to return in the midfield. Continue reading

Serie A Match of the Round – Juventus vs Napoli


The most anticipated match-up of the early portion of the season did not disappoint and, for a change, was played at a fast pace and with a proactive attitude by both sides. Juventus came out on top by overwhelming Napoli led by their big-ticket summer acquisition, but the Partenopei confirmed their competitivity on Saturday, even though it will be tough for anybody to keep up with the seven-time Italian Champions in the standings.

The Old Lady came into the game having won every fixture, while Napoli dropped points just once as they were defeated by Sampdoria. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 2


After some flashes in the first match day, the second one is more intriguing on paper.

Juventus-Lazio: the Old Lady had to toil to defeat Chievo, but the attack confirmed to be deep and hard to contain, even though few players had an off game, while the defence needs some fine-tuning. Cristiano Ronaldo was electric, but teammates had troubles finding him and Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa suffered from the fact that the spaces were all clogged up. Among the forwards, Federico Bernardeschi certainly looked the most in-form. Perhaps things will be a little more open against better competition. The Portuguese was devastating on the wing, which is good news for Mario Mandzukic, his ideal partner in crime, and for Alex Sandro as well because he had much more room to operate. Continue reading

Serie A Game of the Round – Juventus vs Napoli


Juventus-Napoli was supposed to be the title decider, and it might very well turn out to be, even though the race is wide open considering the narrow gap in the standing. However, after few weeks where the Bianconeri were looking to run away, the Partenopei swung the momentum in their favour with a seminal result that was the logical consequence of a great team performance and a proactive mentality.

The Turin club came into the game looking to atone from an unsatisfactory draw against Crotone and to possibly seal deal and go up seven points. Napoli were coming off a double comeback against Udinese, which allowed them to stay close to the rivals.

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Napoli the most convincing team after seven games


After a very busy 20-day stretch, Serie A has reached the second international break, so it is the right opportunity to take a breather and examine where things are at, especially on top of the table. The start of the season has had more confirmations than surprises and the real contenders have already been able to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Napoli are alone on top of the standings as they have been perfect so far: 7 wins out of 7. It is the culmination of two years of work under Maurizio Sarri. The Partenopei take great advantage of the most prolific attack in Europe: Dries Mertens, José Maria Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne have insane chemistry and Marek Hamsik broke his unusual drought. They have scored at least three goals in every domestic game. The Azzurri had some troubles only in the home game against Atalanta and on the road in Ferrara, but they managed to come out of top in both occasions. Arkadiusz Milik has not been missed as they have so many weapons on the roster.

Juventus could have easily been on top as well, had they not fumbled away a win that was within reach in Bergamo: they had a 0-2 lead and also missed the 2-3 penalty late in the game. The Bianconeri have not necessarily looked as commanding as Napoli, but they got the job done most of the time. Without Leonardo Bonucci, the defence has not been as air-tight as in the past, but the high-powered offered is carrying them. Paulo Dybala is Serie A’s leading scorer, Gonzalo Higuain got out of the short slump and Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado have contributed greatly: they even have room for improvement once Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi will be fully integrated. Newcomers Blaise Matuidi and Rodrigo Bentancur have been very helpful in light of the injuries in the midfield.

Inter have collected as many points as Juventus: the Nerazzurri had an explosive start, dismantling Fiorentina and Roma at San Siro, but then tailed off a little, but only from the performance standpoint, because the satisfactory results kept coming. The last three wins against low-table teams have either arrived late or been narrower than expected: the attack has plateaued, but they have been able to manufacture random goals. They have great goalkeeping and a rock-solid defence and Milan Skriniar has been as stout as they could have hoped.

Lazio and Roma are slightly behind as they have already lost a game. The Biancocelesti succumbed against Napoli mostly due to defensive injuries, but their latest run has been nothing short of amazing: without most of their centre-back and half of their attack, as Felipe Anderson and Luis Nani have been non-factors due to physical ailments, they have been automatic against the smaller clubs. Simone Inzaghi and Ciro Immobile are the main actors, Luis Alberto is the revelation that solved a lot of problems upfront. Roma are surging: they have played one fewer match because the Sampdoria fixture has been postponed, but after the loss against Inter they have resembled their last season’s selves. Edin Dzeko is scoring at will and the backline is very solid. Eusebio Di Francesco has been able to come up with creative solutions to deal with a slew of injuries and their play has not suffered. If the teams on top slowed down, they could be in the running for Scudetto.

Serie A will return with a bang in two weeks: Juventus will host Lazio, Roma will square off at home against Napoli and it will be time for the Milan derby. The Rossoneri have quickly dropped out of the title race as they are dealing with chemistry and defensive issues, but the game against Inter could be an opportunity to gain some ground in the table and advance their candidacy for a Champions League spot, but they need to turn things around quickly.

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Napoli again lose Milik to a big knee injury


On Saturday, Napoli came up on top in the battle with Spal in Ferrara, however, they lost their centre-forward Arkadiusz Milik in the process. The exams revealed an ACL tear in the right knee and he had surgery to fix it on Wednesday. He suffered a similar injury on the other knee last season on October 8th: he returned in mid-February, but the coach Maurizio Sarri only used him in small cameos down the stretch because he was clearly behind the other players conditioning-wise. Napoli’s doctors described the recent injury as a “complex tear”, meaning that other parts of the knee were affected as well, but without giving further details. The timetable remains the standard six months.

Before going down in 2016, Milik had scored seven goal in nine matches as his quest to replace Gonzalo Higuain was going swimmingly. His absence prompted the manager to use Dries Mertens as a false-nine, after Manolo Gabbiadini failed to step up, and the results were extraordinary: the Belgian forward tallied 31 goals in the new role and finished second behind only Edin Dzeko in the Serie A top scorer chart. From the production standpoint, Napoli are equipped to replace Milik: at this point Mertes is a full-fledged center-forward and his combination of speed, technique and shooting skills makes him almost unguardable. He has already scored seven times in nine fixtures this season, abundantly outproducing the Polish player, who had played only 195 minutes so far, scoring twice.

However, that does not mean that they will not miss Milik at all: he brings to the table some characteristics that are unique in the roster, such as his physicality, his ability in the air and his nose for the goal in the box. His absence also takes away the possibility to deploy an uber-offensive 4-2-3-1 with Mertens as no.10 behind a striker: Marek Hamsik no longer has the burst to be threatening in the hole and a Callejon-Mertens tandem would feature two very similar players. This tactic contributed to the 2-3 goal against Spal.

Last season, they signed Leonardo Pavoletti in January as an insurance policy, but he ended up recording only 194 minutes and two starts behind Mertens. This summer, they held onto him and Duvan Zapata, who was returning from a productive stint at Udinese, until the Champions League playoff, but, since Milik looked good earlier on, they decided to cash in on both strikers, who were sold respectively to Cagliari and Sampdoria for a combined €27M, a sum that profusely justifies the moves. Unfortunately, that leaves them without a backup striker for the time being.

Mertens has been extremely durable, but he will too need a breather from time to time. The coach announced that José Maria Callejon will fill that role when need be: the Spaniard has rare tactical intelligence and did well in the few minutes he was used centrally on Saturday. This will of course open up some minutes on the right flank: Emanuele Giaccherini is the first in line after they elected to keep him this summer, but the newcomer Adam Ounas is much more exciting option. As always, youngsters are brought in slowly in Sarri’s system, so it will take a while before the former Bordeaux attacker is ready to start.

In a surprise deadline day move, Napoli did sign one more striker this summer: Roberto Inglese from Chievo, but they agreed to leave him in Verona for one more season. Over the last calendar year, he asserted himself as the Flying Donkey’s best centre-forward. The first move by Azzurri in January will be to try to anticipate his arrival. Riccardo Meggiorini is set to return from an ACL in mid-October and Mariusz Stepinski could have completed his adaptation process by then. Therefore Chievo Verona, also in the standings, could be in a comfortable enough position to let one of their cornerstones leave.

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