Fan Zone: Gregory on Nedved, Buffon, Dybala & more Juve talk

Gregory Caltabanis is an established writer and reporter who covers extensively European football, but what matters for the purposes of this Q&A is Gregory’s unfaltering allegiance to Italian giants Juventus.

Gregory is part of the @FantaCalcioGame team as well! They run the most popular Fantasy Serie A Game, but for now let’s go straight to the Q&A with Gregory offering lots of interesting takes on legends such as Pavel Nedved and Gianluigi Buffon.

1) Who are your 3 all-time favorite Juve players (ranked by preference) and why?

Pavel Nedved: My all-time favorite Juve player is undoubtedly Nedved. One of the first games I saw as a kid was Juve against Milan in 2005 and all I remember seeing was a player with blonde locks run effortlessly down the left wing. Of course, it was Nedved. From that point forward, I always watched Juve and became a fan. The rest is history.

Gianluigi Buffon: After Nedved, I would have to say it’s Buffon. Buffon has been with the team since I’ve followed them and is the main reason I’m a goalkeeper to this day. Beyond saving countless goals, he’s a class act both on and off the field. I’ll never forget his save on Zidane’s header in 2006.

Paulo Dybala: The last one is a bit difficult, but I have to go with Dybala. I know he’s not up there yet with Alessandro Del Piero and other legends, but Dybala is one of the reasons I’m still passionate about the team today. He’s always respected the shirt and is arguably the first worthy number 10 we’ve had since Del Piero. I hope he stays with Juve for the long haul.

2) From active players, pick your favorite Juve player by position: one each from defense, midfield and attack. Why did you pick them?

DEF: My favorite defender is 100% Merih Demiral (Gregory says it emphatically!). Since he’s joined, I always thought he would be very important for our success. It’s a shame the serious injury halted his progress, but I’m confident he’ll come back stronger. Demiral embodies everything that Juve should seek in a player. He’s confident, plays with an edge and has that fighting spirit. I’ll be ordering my Demiral jersey very soon.

MID: It has to be Rodrigo Bentancur. I’ve had my doubts about him over the years, but he’s stepped up this season and looks to be evolving into an important player for us. Like Demiral, he plays with an edge to his game which I feel we lack sometimes. I’m looking forward to seeing him make further progress when play hopefully resumes.

STR: It’s an obvious one- Paulo Dybala. You really get the sense that he loves Juve and fights for the shirt every time he steps onto the pitch. It goes without saying, but his left foot is incredible. It’s just amazing to watch him play. Now, if only Fabio Paratici shared the same opinion, we’d be better off.

3) Your choice for most important Juve victory in your lifetime? Why?

Without a doubt, when we knocked out Real Madrid 3-2 on aggregate in 2015. While the win against Inter in 2018 was huge, for me the Real result announced Juve’s return on the world stage and showed the rest of Europe “we are back.” After all, we just took out Real Madrid. The final didn’t go our way, but I can’t recall a win I’ve celebrated more.

4) Choose your all-time favorite Juve match, and why?

Against Inter and on their home turf just over two years ago. At times, it felt like the game and the title were slipping away but as soon as Dybala stepped onto the pitch, it changed everything. I’ll never forget Gonzalo Higuain’s goal to complete the comeback. Made it that much sweeter that it was against Inter at the San Siro.

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5) Where do you rank Sarri among the current generation of Italian coaches? How about among coaches worldwide?

I’d put him in the top five, but I wouldn’t rank him in the top tier of Italian managers at the moment. Conte is in a class of his own, in my opinion. Other than last year, I’d put Allegri in the same tier as Conte. Beyond them, I rate Gasperini highly but it would be interesting to see how he does outside of Atalanta.

Worldwide, I think he’s a top ten manager. If I had to rank them, I’d say this is my top ten: Klopp, Guardiola, Simeone, Conte, Zidane, Allegri, Nagelsmann, Sarri, Tuchel, Gasperini.

6) What’s Juve’s objective for this season? Is it Serie A, the Champions League, or both?

Definitely both. When you have Cristiano Ronaldo on your team, the objective always has to be the Champions League. While I don’t think the team is well equipped for a deep European run, a player like Ronaldo can make the difference in a big game. It would be a waste of his final years if Juve didn’t push for European glory.

7) Perhaps a tough one here but pick two from Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba, and Vidal for your midfield, and why?

I love Marchisio and it’ll be hard to leave him out, but I have to go with Pirlo and Vidal. Pirlo is the ultimate Regista and is needed to dictate play. Obviously, it helps he can score a free-kick from just about any angle. As for Vidal, he’s your classic box-to-box midfielder and is not afraid to jump into tackles. Few midfielders impressed me more than prime Vidal and let’s not forget, he could score, too. Juve’s current midfield is really lacking his type of profile.

8) Where are Juve’s weaknesses? Some say right-back, others say left-back, or many mention the midfield. Your take?

It has to be the midfield. This may anger some, but Miralem Pjanic is a complete liability both in and out of possession. Juve can do much better in his position and I think they’ll look to replace him this summer. Blaise Matuidi is necessary to press and offer defensive support, but ultimately he’s far too limited. Remember his turnover against Napoli?

I think this Juve side needs at least two signings in the middle of the park and should arguably offload two or three guys (Sami Khedira, Pjanic and perhaps Adrien Rabiot) As I said before, this midfield lacks fight and demonstrates zero Grinta.

Of course, our depth at full-back is worrisome particularly with Alex Sandro slowing down, but for now, I think Sandro and Juan Cuadrado can manage the situation. Hopefully, Pellegrini comes back in the summer and competes for the left-back position.

9) In your opinion who is the best player (not necessarily your favorite) to ever wear the Juve shirt?

It has to be Del Piero. Record goalscorer and record appearance holder, few match Del Piero’s resume with the club. He’s won it all with us and has inspired many to support Juve over the years. At the height of Italian football, he was one of the best and led Juve to many trophies.

Del Piero set the standard for our number ten jersey and raised the bar for everyone after him. Perhaps Buffon is in it with a shout, but I have to give this one to Pinturicchio.

Federico Bernardeschi: Time for redemption?

With Juventus struggling in the final third, Federico Bernardeschi may just be presented with an opportunity to redeem himself. After an indifferent finish to last season, Bernardeschi faded and failed to establish himself as a set-starter. When Maurizio Sarri was hired, however, many expected the former Fiorentina man to take the next step in his career, something that until now has not happened.

In 17 Serie A appearances this season, Bernardeschi is yet to register an assist or score a goal. That’s over seven hundred minutes of football with nothing to show for. Despite this, the 26-year-old could yet turn it around. After failing to implement the 4-3-3 successfully at the start of the season, Sarri turned to a more narrow 4-3-1-2 and deployed Bernardeschi as the side’s trequartista. 

While he may seem suited to the role given his technique, Bernardeschi needs space to operate and is far more effective from a wide position. When he plays for Italy there, the Juventus man looks more threatening and creates many chances.

As a result, the Juventus winger has looked out of place in the hole and offers close to nothing in the final third. Fast forward to match-day 26 and Sarri is now turning back to the 4-3-3, presenting Bernardeschi with a unique opportunity for redemption.

In Juventus’ last three games, Cuadrado has been deployed on the right alongside Dybala and Ronaldo. The Colombian international has injected some much-needed pace and unpredictability in the final third, but one problem remains. With Cuadrado in the front-three, Juventus’ right-back options leave a lot to be desired. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sarri starts Bernardeschi in the front-three with Cuadrado returning in defence.

In the past, Bernardeschi demonstrated he can play with Ronaldo and showed early signs of a budding partnership. Factor in Dybala’s mobility and ability to interchange at will, and Bernardeschi could thrive on the right-hand side of a front-three. Since returning from injury, the 26-year-old has made cameo appearances and is slowly finding his rhythm again.

Douglas Costa is another player that could feature alongside Ronaldo and Dybala, however, the Brazilian struggles to stay fit. As a result, expect Bernardeschi to get more minutes than his counterpart. If the former Fiorentina man seizes his opportunities, he may just finish the season as Juve’s starting right-winger.

Right now, the side desperately needs a spark in attack and could use Bernardeschi back at his best. When the 26-year-old was at Fiorentina, he was a constant counter-attacking threat and had a keen eye for goal. Until now, the Juventus faithful haven’t seen this side of him. As the season wears on and with crucial games upon us, expect Sarri to try and revitalize Bernardeschi and give him a new lease on life. While he may be on his way out this summer as it’s been widely reported, this end of season run-in presents Bernardeschi with an opportunity for redemption. It’s up to him if he takes it.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 26

Lazio-Bologna: the only game between two teams that actually played last week. The Biancocelesti extended their superb run by grinding out a W versus Genoa, thanks to the usual Ciro Immobile goal and two unlikely heroes coming through, Adam Marusic, who has started over Manuel Lazzari in two matches in a row, and Danilo Cataldi. While Sergej Milinkovic-Savic scored against Inter, the bonuses for their other two fantasy stars, Luis Alberto and Joaquin Correa, have not been there in recent rounds, leaving Felipe Caicedo as the only serviceable option besides the capocannoniere. Jony has taken over for the injured Senad Lulic and, while he is a high-volume crosser, he has come up with just one assist so far. It could be another ripe day for their offense considering that the Felsinei have a soft defence. Continue reading

Sarri set to shake things up once more

Going into a crucial stretch in the season, Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri is weighing his options and is reportedly considering shaking things up in the final third. In an attempt to introduce more dynamism into the side, the former Napoli tactician will deploy Paulo Dybala as a false nine and will shift Juan Cuadrado from defence into the attack. We saw glimpses of this setup this past weekend against Brescia and according to Gazzetta dello Sport, is something Sarri will persist with this match-day against cellar-dwellers SPAL.

With an important game against Lyon coming up, the pressure is on Sarri to get Juve into the quarter-finals comfortably and look to make a deep European run. The veteran tactician previously had success with a false-nine setup at Napoli when he deployed Dries Mertens there.

While Dybala and Mertens are different players in their own way, both are extremely technical and do a good job at linking the midfield to attack. More importantly, they’ve both proven to be deadly finishers. As la Joya is set to play closer to goal, expect more involvement from Dybala. If anything, a central role suits the former Palermo man better and will undoubtedly help Juve create more chances in the final third.

When Sarri was initially hired, many expected Dybala to occupy this role, but it has since taken 24 match-days to get there. In recent times, Juventus have struggled in the final third and have typically relied on individual brilliance to see them through. Recognizing this, Sarri is keen on making changes.

Beyond shifting Dybala into a central position, Sarri is reportedly moving Cuadrado out of defence and into the attack. After the side failed to adequately replace Joao Cancelo, Sarri used the Colombian international at right-back. Initially, the position switch worked wonderfully, but injuries to key men in the attack mean Sarri’s forced to shuffle the deck once more.

Cuadrado has played in Juve’s front-three in their last two games and has added some much-needed unpredictability and speed up top. Other than his ability to beat his man, the former Fiorentina winger stretches opposition defences regularly and is a counter-attacking threat. Until this switch, Sarri fielded his typical 4-3-1-2 formation, which sorely lacked width and pace.

The formation switch also suits Juve’s current attacking options better than Sarri’s narrow ‘Christmas Tree’. While Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa are still out injured, a 4-3-3 gives them the opportunity to play out wide in their natural roles, rather than being pigeon-holed into a central position. With Ronaldo drifting in from the left-wing and Dybala interchanging, Cuadrado, Douglas Costa or Bernardeschi will all have a chance to stake a claim for the final place in the front-three. The increased competition will likely help the wingers hit new heights.

As Juventus look to compete on three fronts, simply put, they will need to create more chances. Sarri’s latest shuffle may not work, but it’s definitely worth a shot, and if anything, suits Juventus’ attacking options way better than their current setup.

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Serie A Fantasy Picks – Round 25

Thomas Strakosha: since they scored twice against Inter, Lazio now boast the best statistical defence in the League with their 21 conceded goal. Genoa are improving, but the Biancocelesti back-line is a good bet for this round.

Milan Skriniar: Inter instead have not looked the same defensively sans Samir Handanovic between the sticks. Perhaps the captain will be back on Sunday, in any case the Sampdoria clash could be the right one for them to bounce back and Skriniar is an ex-Blucerchiato.   Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 24

SPAL-Juventus: Luigi Di Biagio devised a new system in his debut, arraying his men with a 4-3-3. While they failed to get the win, they attacked more than usual and Andrea Petagna bagged the ninth goal of his campaign. Federico Di Francesco has always been playing in very offensive role, but he is more comfortable out wide and the trident was completed by Mattia Valoti in that case, although Gabriel Strefezza will have his chances too. The duo gets a bump thanks to the coaching change, likewise Mirko Valdifiori, who resurfaced and can be a decent weapon on set pieces, as a matter of fact he picked up an assist with a corner kick. Simone Missiroli is back at box-to-box like earlier in his career, joining the sneaky Lucas Castro. On the downside, Arkadiusz Reca, and Mohamed Fares when he will be ready, will feature as fullback, so few meters behind what they were accustomed to doing. Scoring has been one of their main issues so far, as they have no reliable contributors behind Petagna. Continue reading

Serie A Best Fantasy XI – Round 24

Juan Musso (7 points): a pretty good number of clean sheets in this round as seven defences managed to stymie the opponents. Udinese’s Argentinian goalie had the best save of the weekend, actually a double one as he parried away a point-blank header going to the ground with cat-like agility and then had the alertness of slapping away the ball before a tap-in. Parma’s Simone Colombi had a sensational save as well on an attempted chip shot.

Adama Soumaoro (8 points): on top of stopping an in-form Bologna team, three Genoa defenders picked up bonus point for their contribution on the other end. The spot on behalf of the trio goes to the newcomer Soumaoro, who has taken full advantage of Cristiano Romero’s absence to show his worth and scored with a clinical sliding finish, on feed by Andrea Masiello (7 points) no less. Domenico Criscito (9) instead canned another penalty late to round up the score. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 24

Standings implications: Lazio emerged victorious in the crunch game with Inter, thus surpassing the Nerazzurri in second position and staying one point behind Juventus, which did their job versus Brescia. Roma put up a fight in Bergamo, but Atalanta still rallied back and took home a monumental victory in the Champions League race as they have built a six-point lead over the direct rival.

Parma re-entered the conversation for the sixth spot by railroading Sassuolo and caught Verona in the standings, then Milan answered on Monday night. The Scaligeri and Udinese did not get in the way of the respective targets with a nil-nil tie, but it will not be long before the Zebrette will have to resume watching underneath them. Genoa and Lecce continue streaking by toppling Bologna and SPAL, putting all the other relegation zone competitors in high alert, especially Sampdoria, which were trounced by Fiorentina and are now in 17th position, so sandwiched between the two.

Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round 24 vs Brescia

Even if the score was not too one-sided, Juventus controlled the Brescia game from start to finish, taking care of business in a favourable match-up.

Giorgio Chiellini (5 points): nothing too interesting to report from the performance of the defenders, as they were challenged just once or twice by a very timid and resigned opponent. As a matter of fact, Daniele Rugani and Leonardo Bonucci had their highlights on the other box and the young centre-back was denied a goal only by a sensational save. Danilo and Alex Sandro took advantage of the narrow formation of the adversaries to motor down the flanks more than usual and a decent amount of success while doing that. The best news was the return on the pitch of the grizzled captain, who takes home a token spot while he begins to gear up for the battles that are ahead. Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Coppa Italia semis vs Milan

Juventus showed modest improvement compared to their last two road showings and managed to obtain a positive result out the San Siro clash with Milan despite letting the opponents have their way for the majority of the game.

Gianluigi Buffon: the back-line for the most part did an okay job in holding in check the opponents, which did not manifactured many clear-cut chances despite having the lion’s share of possession, then the veteran goalie stepped up when he needed to, with a pair of strong saves, in particular on an Ante Rebic’s effort under the bar in the first half and then coming out on the Croatian attacker after intermission. Continue reading