Inter go 7 points clear of champions Juventus with 17th win of the season

Inter look on course to win their first league title in 11 years as they beat Genoa 3-0 at the weekend. Romelu Lukaku yet again was on hand to open up the scoring in a pretty much one sided game that they didn’t look like losing.

Inter got off to the best possible start as they were in front against Genoa within 60 seconds. Lautaro Martinez set up Lukaku who still had plenty of work to do but he lashed his shot into the net, and it was a superb goal to get the game going.

Matteo Darmian and Nicolo Barella had chances to double the lead in the first half and Barella’s chance came off the cross bar. But the first half would end 1-0 to the home side. Inter had dominated the first half and had 7 shots on target to Genoa’s two and they look hungry for more goals too.

Goals did follow in the 2nd half and this time Darmian made no mistakes as he was set up by Lukaku and just past the hour mark it was 2-0 to Inter and there was no coming back from that by the away side.

A few minutes later Alexis Sanchez made it 3-0 and it was game over. Although not before a VAR review but thankfully the goal stood. Inter are 4 points clear at the top after Milan also won at the weekend. But the big news was that Juventus had their game in hand in midweek and they could only draw 1-1 at Verona. They followed that up yesterday by beating Spezia 3-0 but the old lady are now seven points behind Inter and have now played the same games. One has to wonder if Juventus’ domination of the league is over?

Inter’s top scorer Romelu Lukaku had this to say after the game: We faced some defeats in these kind of games last season and we want to improve. I am really happy with the victory. Now we must focus on Parma, it’s not going to be an easy game. We want to show our opponents that we are here. We must focus on one game at a time. It was an important match after two back to back victories. We scored three goals and kept a clean sheet, perfect.”

Pirelli waving goodbye

In other news Pirelli the infamous shirt sponsors of Inter will be no more. With talk of Inter being sold in the summer and negotiations taking place it has been confirmed that the club will have different shirt sponsors from next season. Pirelli has had a strong association with Inter and they have been their official shirt sponsor for the past 27 years.

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Juventus Top Performers – Round 25 vs Spezia

After surviving to a poor first half, Juventus successfully flipped the switch in the second one and received a major boost from the bench, taming a feisty opponent like Spezia and extending their victorious run at home.

Federico Bernardeschi (2 points): as weird as it may sound, the much-maligned winger changed the course of the game off the pine with two deep runs down the left flank and two quality balls towards the middle. The first one was met on the near post by Alvaro Morata, giving him an assist, while Federico Chiesa was denied by the goalkeeper on the first attempt on the second one but literally smashed home the rebound. The ex-Fiorentina man bagged a key goal but he was a little sloppy and not so vigorous down the flank prior to that, so the best midfielder among the starters was Dejan Kulusevski, who continuously challenged the defense with his technical runs. He dished two bonbons in the six-yard boxes but his teammates were unable to capitalize. Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur were outhustled and outrun but were fine in the offensive phase. Continue reading

How to fix Juve’s problems

A winning cycle must come to an end. Even a highly successful management team makes mistakes. Modern football puts emphasis on having at least a couple of elite midfielders and having quality fullbacks to achieve success on the big stage. All three statements above are accurate.

The same statements above are also applicable to Juventus in one way or another, yet our focus today is not on the statements above but rather on what can be done to halt this decline by Juve.

Before discussing some of the ways to address Juve’s problems, have a look at a sample of the fine products and designs by https://twitter.com/Striped_Hearts.

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What can be done (realistically & in general) to fix Juve’s problems:

1. Offload the players who are injury prone: 

For a club of Juve’s stature, the medical staff is either poor or management has turned a blind eye on the medical history of a number of players. Aaron Ramsey, Mattia De Sciglio and Douglas Costa are injury prone players and have often had fitness problems. They must be moved whether via simple sale or as part of a deal to get a better player.

France’s Lyon could be a club interested in one or more of the players above, and Juve have shown interest in signing Lyon’s Houssem Aouar. Aouar fits the criteria the Bianconeri are desperately looking for: he is still only 22 years old, he has experience in the Champions League and he has shown potential whenever he played in Europe.

For those claiming he has little experience, Houssem has already played as a regular for Lyon for almost four seasons now. Still, on his own Aouar would not be enough to rejuvenate the squad.

2. Sell the players who are underperforming:

That is a tricky one because Juve have several players who are either not performing well or have been far too inconsistent to be trusted with playing against the bigger sides in Serie A or to compete in a match in the Champions League. This list includes the likes of Rodrigo Bentancur, Adrien Rabiot, Alex Sandro, Leonardo Bonucci and so forth. Bonucci will likely remain with the club and Giorgio Chiellini is not included in this list because he will likely retire this summer or the next one as a Juve player.

3. Begin again the search for Bargain deals:

Juve’s current successful cycle was based on a solid foundation with smart financial moves and bargain signings- whether on a free transfer or for a relatively low fee. Juve went away from that approach from the moment they signed Gonzalo Higuain in their desperate quest to establish themselves as a force in Europe. Higuain could not deliver the Champions League but that was always going to be a difficult task when the club was losing quality players almost every summer and the midfield issues were often given less attention than required.

The club’s best midfield signing in the last four to five years- Miralem Pjanic- is no longer with the club yet even the Bosnian midfielder struggled during his last season with the club before being traded for Barcelona’s Arthur. Otherwise most off the signings range from the poor to the mediocre at best when assessing their quality and influence- Hernanes, Stefano Sturaro, Mario Lemina and Roberto Pereyra just to name a few.

4. Reality must prevail & a thorough plan must be applied

It is very easy to sit down and pretend the likes of Ramsey and Douglas Costa can demand a decent fee because it is well established that both players have had a number of fitness problems and they are already over 30-years-old.

What management must do is to sit down and carefully assess the profile of every squad member- the benefits of keeping such a player as opposed to selling him or loaning him out. Under the current economic climate, greatly affected by Covid-19, this will make matters even more difficult for the club.

Juve must strengthen the midfield with two quality signings- players who can retain possession but also pass forward and create as opposed to just passing sideways and backwards. In addition, Juve must sign on elite full-back. Danilo as a full-back was disappointing last season yet this campaign- under Andrea Pirlo- he has been consistent. The issue is Danilo is not playing as a full-back hence that could partially explain why he has become more consistent.

Juan Cuadrado has been deployed as a right-back but he turns 33 before the end of this season. The fact Cuadrado has been the club’s best full-back is a testimony to how mediocre Juve’s full-backs are. De Sciglio is on loan at Lyon, Danilo has been used more centrally and Alex Sandro has been in and out of the squad due to injury but he does seem like a player who is worn-out. Gianluca Frabotta is just 21-years-old and has the desire to improve but he is still far from a consistent or proven entity.

If this happens to be Fantasy Serie A football then one can surely offload Alex Sandro, Bonucci, Rabiot, Ramsey, Bentancur, Rugani, Douglas Costa and De Sciglio but reality says otherwise. It will not be easy to sell some of the names mentioned above.

Of course many Juve fans would also like to see Federico Bernardeschi gone; however, what the fans desire is not always something easy to implement. He is the perfect example of a player who has lost his way and seems to be playing without any confidence. The last match worthy of note for Bernardeschi happens to be the famous 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid when CR7 registered his emphatic hat-trick after being taunted in Madrid.

This summer will be a decisive one and most certainly some of the names mentioned above must be shown the exit door.

The Andrea Pirlo Dilemma: Back or replace him?

When Andrea Pirlo was handed the reins this offseason, it came as a huge surprise across the calcio world. After all, the World Cup winner had no prior experience at the top level and was still in the midst of completing his coaching licenses. Fast forward six months later, and Pirlo’s inexperience is becoming increasingly clear.

Injuries have not helped the rookie tactician, but Pirlo has made many questionable choices in his debut season. The Italian champions are set to relinquish their stranglehold over Serie A to arch-rivals Inter, while they already have one foot out of the Champions League. Once the season comes to an end Juventus will have a big decision to make: Should they back Pirlo or fire him?

Thrusting a rookie manager into the spotlight without fully backing him is a recipe for disaster. Year after year, Juventus neglects its stuttering midfield and persists with overvalued bosman deals. See: Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey. While both have flashes of brilliance, neither are good enough on a consistent basis to form a world-class midfield unit.

It would be completely unfair to criticize Pirlo without first mentioning that Fabio Paratici has done him no favors himself. The Juventus sporting director has done close to nothing to revitalize the midfield or other areas of concern. Beyond the middle of the park, Juve’s fullbacks leave a lot to be desired. Alex Sandro is on his final legs, Gianluca Frabotta is simply not ready, while Danilo is a backup at best.

Pirlo has had to adapt in this respect, promoting Frabotta from the second team. Decisions to sell Joao Cancelo and Leonardo Spinazzola have undoubtedly come back to haunt Juventus this season. While Paratici has made a number of mistakes on the transfer market, it doesn’t totally absolve Pirlo from the blame.

The rookie tactician has regularly demonstrated he is stubborn in his ways, persisting with a 3-5-2 when it clearly doesn’t suit his players. Pirlo has shoehorned Dejan Kulusevski up front, while deploying the side’s most dangerous player – Federico Chiesa – at right wingback. Both players would be better suited to a more conventional 4-3-3 and offer the Bianconeri some much-needed unpredictability in the final third.

Pirlo’s decisions in the middle of the park have not been much better either. Rodrigo Bentancur and Adrien Rabiot continue to feature, despite their inability to dominate proceedings week in, week out. Injuries have ravaged Juventus’ midfield core in recent weeks, but Pirlo still has alternatives on the bench.

Weston McKennie can be used from a deeper role as was the case in Juve’s 3-0 win over Barcelona, while Nicolo Fagioli is ready for a bigger role. At a time where the side’s midfielders shy away from dictating play, Fagioli would be a breath of fresh air. Beyond Arthur, the young Italian is one of few players who is comfortable in possession and willing to progress the ball forward. A midfield duo of McKennie and Fagioli with Kulusevski or Ramsey roaming in front of them should be tried before the all-important clash against Porto.

All this leads us back to the initial question: Should Juventus fire Pirlo or back him? Well, it’s tough to say. In many ways, the second half of the season could serve as his final audition. If the rookie manager shows he is willing to adapt and shake things up, Juventus would be wise to back him and accept the growing pains. That being said, if Pirlo continues to persist with a losing formula, it would be difficult to justify significant spending to fit his system.

At the end of the day, Juventus is in desperate need of an overhaul, which is very much out of Pirlo’s hands. The rookie boss can’t be faulted for what he doesn’t have, but if his first season in charge is anything to go by, Pirlo has a lot to learn.

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Juventus Top Perfomers – Round 24 vs Verona

In what often looked like more of a chess match than a football one, Juventus kept it together for about an hour, but then ran out of gas and allowed Verona to get back into the game, to the point that the opponents were more deserving to win thanks as they created more chances in the final stretch.

Federico Chiesa (2 points): he was a trooper in this one, as he served both as a right-back, since none were available in this one, but also did not shy away from attacking. Like the rest of his teammates, he was effective until about midway through the second half, then the chain on that flank came apart and generated the equalizer. Before that, though, he set up Cristiano Ronaldo thanks to a very smart channel run and an even batter square ball for the onrushing teammate. Dejan Kulusevski showed glimpses of his best some with some very powerful and technical sprints that could have easily resulted in clear-cut scoring opportunities if just a little more touch or simply better luck on his dishes. Continue reading

Who should replace Gennaro Gattuso?

Napoli took aggressively to this past transfer window, securing Victor Osimhen for a record fee. The southern-based club was largely expected to challenge for the title this season but has since failed to deliver. While recurring injury problems have undoubtedly played their part, Napoli has simply not been good enough. As their struggles persist, reports suggest Gattuso will not last past this season.

Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis is yet to offer him a contract renewal, highlighting his lack of faith in the World Cup winner. A number of high-profile names have been linked to the Napoli hot-seat, including Massimiliano Allegri, Vincenzo Italiano, Maurizio Sarri, Rafa Benitez, and most recently Luciano Spalletti.

Let’s start with Allegri. Napoli would be lucky to have the former Juventus boss on its touchline, but his arrival remains unlikely. Allegri is reportedly holding out for his next opportunity and has his sights set on a move to England. While he would definitely bring some much-needed stability to Napoli, the chances of him arriving are slim to none.

Beyond Allegri, a sensational reunion with Maurizio Sarri has been reported. As the old Italian saying goes, “la minestra riscaldata non e mai buona.” Reheated soup is never good. The veteran tactician had his shot and brought Napoli as far he could take them. The season he spent in Turin with Juventus will not help his chances either, but as a whole, Napoli should stay away from Sarri. Their side is vastly different from the one he lead and would require a total shift in the way they play.

The same logic applies to Rafa Benitez. The only reason the Spaniard is being linked back with a move to Napoli is due to the familiarity he already has with the club. The former Liverpool boss is not a great fit with the club’s current project and would not be able to deliver the consistency they so desperately crave.

That leaves us with the final two options: Spezia’s Vincenzo Italiano and Luciano Spalletti. In many ways, these are arguably Napoli’s best two options to replace Gattuso. On one hand, Spalletti has a proven track record of results in Italy, most recently delivering Champions League football with Inter. While on the other, Italiano has impressed with Spezia and appears ready to take the next step to a bigger club.

Spalletti definitely offers more guarantees, but Italiano would introduce a fresh style of play, opting for an aggressive pressing system. At the end of the day, the final decision will come down to De Laurentiis. The Napoli president has proven he can swing either way – going with experienced options in the past in Benitez or Ancelotti or going the unproven route by hiring Sarri off the back of his breakout year with Empoli.

An article on Napoli’s managerial situation would not be fair without giving Gattuso a fair shake. Who knows – the Partenopei can still turn their fortunes around, string a positive run of results, and finish the season strongly. Crazier things have happened. Gattuso has already proven he can steady a sinking ship, leading Napoli to a Coppa Italia triumph last season, but appears to be in his final days.

Napoli would be wise to start considering alternatives starting with Spalletti and Italiano. While Benitez and Sarri are both on the table, going back with your ex is seldom a good idea. Let’s face it – neither would be able to lead Napoli to new heights. Elsewhere, securing Allegri would be a masterstroke, but the veteran tactician reportedly sees his future elsewhere.

With just 15 games to go and a big decision looming large, De Laurentiis has a lot to consider. Whether he opts for an experienced bench boss or the new kid on the block remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: He is not short on options.

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The curious case of Paulo Dybala

When Andrea Pirlo took over this offseason, many expected the Italian tactician’s arrival would breathe new life into Paulo Dybala. The Argentine international was in dire need of a shakeup after an indifferent season under Maurizio Sarri. Dybala was always an awkward fit in his rigid system and struggled to make an impact, whether he was deployed as a false nine or from the right-wing.

Dybala has not fared much better this season, despite yet another managerial change. As contract talks continue to stall, and La Joya’s woes drag on, it begs the question: What should Juventus do with Dybala?

La Joya has featured sparingly this year and has been regularly sidelined with recurring injuries. When he has played, Dybala has disappointed netting just three goals in 16 appearances. The former Palermo man has since been usurped in the lineup by summer arrival Alvaro Morata, as he represents a better fit in attack alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. Dybala’s fitness, or lack thereof, is another concern.

Dybala has seen his season ravaged by injuries, robbing him of the consistency he needs to make an impact. The 27-year-old has missed Juve’s last 14 games in all competitions, highlighting his inability to stay fit. According to reports, Dybala has asked for a significant pay raise that would see him earn in the top 15 footballers worldwide. When considering his past few seasons and his consistent injury problems, Juve would be foolish to agree.

Juventus’ top brass has rightfully been reluctant to meet Dybala’s demands, with both parties entrenched in a stalemate going into what could be a defining summer. Let’s be clear – Dybala’s talent is not in question. When in form, few players offer Juventus the same creativity La Joya could. His assist against Milan typified his brilliance, teeing up Federico Chiesa with an inch-perfect backheel assist.

The issue is, however, is that those moments are too few and far between. If Dybala is unwilling to lower his demands and put pen to paper on a modest contract, Juve would be wise to start considering alternatives. Recently, it’s been reported that the Italian champions will invest heavily this summer to bolster their midfield. Names like Paul Pogba, Houssem Aouar, Rodrigo De Paul, and Manuel Locatelli have been thrown around, but the reality is, without a major departure, any of their signings remains unlikely.

Juventus’s stuttering midfield has long been the side’s Achilles heel, culminating in early Champions League exits. As their grip on Italian football loosens, the Bianconeri can no longer afford to ignore its midfield. When will Paratici and co. accept that Rodrigo Bentancur and Adrien Rabiot are simply not the answers?

You might be asking, why mention Juve’s midfield in an article about Dybala? Well, if Juve is unable to agree to terms with La Joya, they would be smart to use the funds they’re saving on two midfield stars. Whether it’s Pogba and Aouar or Locatelli and De Paul, any combination of these four works.

In an ideal situation, Juve would be able to keep Dybala and add these reinforcements. But in a post-pandemic world where funds are tight, you have to play the hand you’re dealt. After witnessing two seasons of this version of Juve, I think it’s pretty clear it’s not working. Let’s not mince words – This is the worst Juve in 10 years. Beyond Ronaldo, De Ligt, and a few others – make no mistake about it – there are no untouchable players in Turin.

As yet another disappointing Round of 16 exit looms large, Juve must reconsider its roster, get creative, and take to the transfer window diligently once more. The deal for Weston McKennie is a perfect example to follow. The club’s books might be in the red, but there is no reason why Juve can’t improve its roster with crafty solutions.

In the past, Juventus’ sporting directors, whether it was Giuseppe Marotta or Paratici, have often said it’s nearly impossible to improve the team. Nowadays, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Juventus has some big decisions to make this summer – starting with the Paulo Dybala dossier.

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Andrea Pirlo must learn from his mistakes ahead of crucial stretch

Andrea Pirlo’s first season as a manager has not been without its highs and lows. The rookie tactician claimed his first trophy, leading Juventus to its ninth Italian Supercup while also guiding the Bianconeri into the Coppa Italia final. But as yet another early elimination from the Champions League looms, Juventus and Pirlo are about to enter a make-or-break stretch.

The Italian champions currently find themselves eight points behind Inter, albeit with a game in hand. With just 15 games to go, Juventus will need to string together quite a run to cut into Inter’s lead atop the table and win their 10th consecutive Scudetto. In Europe, it doesn’t get much easier for Pirlo following his side’s disappointing outing in the first leg against Porto.

Individual errors and complacency may have cost Juventus against Porto, but Pirlo’s inexperience at the highest level was very much on display last Wednesday. The World Cup winner has persisted with Dejan Kulusevski up front, even when it is abundantly clear the young Swede is better suited to a deeper role. The former Parma man was rendered completely uninfluential by Porto’s deep block and was inevitably subbed off.

Only when Alvaro Morata entered the pitch did Juventus look dangerous – a lesson Pirlo should take note of ahead of the crucial second leg. With Paulo Dybala sidelined for the foreseeable future, Pirlo would be wise to get Morata back into the swing of things with regular football.

Beyond getting his frontline wrong, Pirlo has some tough decisions to make in the middle of the park. Rodrigo Bentancur has struggled in recent weeks, while Adrien Rabiot is far too inconsistent to be a regular starter. Arthur’s injury could not have come at a worse time for Juventus, but Pirlo must adapt.

When Juventus put Barcelona to the sword 3-0, the Italian champions did so with Arthur and Weston McKennie in the double pivot. Aaron Ramsey was tasked with roaming dangerously in the final third, effectively acting as a hybrid trequartista. Recently, however, Pirlo has abandoned this setup, deploying McKennie in an advanced position.

While the U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder is extremely dangerous in the box, there is no reason why he can’t get forward from the double pivot. In addition to making late runs, deploying McKennie from a deeper position can make the most of his defensive awareness and industry. Rabiot and Bentancur are often guilty of being far too passive, a problem that can be addressed with the former Schalke man.

Given Juve’s increased injury problems in the middle of the park, the final midfield spot should come down between Ramsey and Kulusevski. The Welshman excels in an advanced position, while Kulusevski’s technique and ball progression would make him an excellent fit for the role. As the advanced midfielder is expected to slot in on the left-hand side, Kulusevski’s speed and counter-attacking threat should mean he edges out Ramsey for the role.

Juventus’ long list of injuries has not helped Pirlo, but as a crucial stretch in the season approaches, he must find his best starting 11. If his side’s last games are anything to go by, it is abundantly clear that he must stop using Kulusevski as a second striker and revert to his previously successful formula in the midfield.

While it would be incredibly harsh to sack a first-year manager after failing to deliver a deep run in the Champions League, especially when the upper brass hasn’t exactly helped – there are no excuses for Pirlo not to progress past Porto. The rookie boss must demonstrate he has learned from his mistakes and lead Juventus – at the very least – to the quarterfinals.

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Juventus Top Perfomers – Round 23 vs Crotone

Juventus perfected their aim for about 30 minutes of the Monday’s match versus Crotone, then hit the net twice and did not mess about in the easiest match-up of the season and making up some ground on Milan and Roma in the standings.

Cristiano Ronaldo (8 points): he bagged a brace but could have, and maybe should have, had an even bigger day as he missed the mark on a pair of chippies from inside the box. In any case, he set the tone with his intensity and leadership and found the target twice with headers, an easy one thanks to majestic timing in attacking and toeing the offside one, while he leaped onto the stratosphere for the second one. He looked extra-motivated, maybe for the recent short dry spell. Alvaro Morata looked pretty spry and seems to have gotten past his stomach bug.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 23 – Late Games

PARMA-UDINESE

Parma: they did manage to score against Verona, thanks to a successful penalty kick by Juraj Kucka, but they lost again and their offense left a lot to be desired. The midfielder has tallied their last three goals. Yann Karamoh looked decently spry in his return to the XI, while Gervinho and Andreas Cornelius are stuck in an endless slump and the former is in pretty lackluster form. Joshua Zirkzee had a pair of chances after subbing in but did not exploit them. Valentin Mihaila was the liveliest out of their youngsters, but so far the coach has been very conservative in giving minutes to them. Jasmin Kurtic has hit the net a couple of times in the season and he is not shy when it comes to bomb away from distance. If they somehow managed to play more proactively, their fullbacks Andrea Conti and Giuseppe Pezzella would have some interest. Continue reading