Sarri previews the Coppa Italia match against Udinese

Coach Maurizio Sarri was back in front of the journalists to discuss the tomorrow’s Coppa Italia game against Udinese: “Matthijs De Ligt is coming back to peak form and the Roma match is a proof of that. Daniele Rugani is an important player and I hold him in high regard.”

“It is not easy to recover after a big game but we have to do that, we spent a lot physically and mentally on Sunday. We want to move forward, so we have to find the proper motivations and strength to recharge the batteries. Every competition we are in is an objective of ours.” Continue reading

Sarri gears up for Roma bout

Coach Maurizio Sarri set the stage for the Roma clash in the usual pre-game presser: “It is a difficult game where we will be looking for consistency. We have often had different stretches with different interpretations. We are getting better, we have to follow up what we did against Cagliari. The level of the opponent is very high, so it will be a diverse game.  Some rotation could be in order considering the busy schedule, they will come naturally with three matches in a week.” Continue reading

Ramsey comments on Wenger, Juventus move, EPL vs Serie A

Aaron Ramsey gave an interview to Sky Sport earlier today and begun by praising Arsene Wenger: “He was a great coach, one of the best. He won a lot of trophies with Arsenal, changing Premier League with his style and way of thinking. He made sure you would not be afraid of going outside of your comfort-zone. He believed in you and gave the youngsters the opportunity to prove their worth. He is a great man. If you had an issue, he was always there for you, ready to help and listen.” Continue reading

Ending Napoli curse could be watershed moment in Lazio’s Champions League chase

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It’s all too easy to get lost in football statistics nowadays.

For followers of Lazio, this has been truer than ever of late. Every match, every win, every goal, seems to set a new historic landmark or shatter some long-standing record.

Among the avalanche of numbers and information that has tumbled from the slipstream of the Roman club’s nine-match winning run in Serie A was an important moment for Simone Inzaghi.

The Lazio coach had never beaten his Juventus counterpart Maurizio Sarri until December’s thrilling 3-1 victory at the Stadio Olimpico, only to then go and repeat the feat just two weeks later to win the Supercoppa Italiana in Riyadh.

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Atalanta’s Progress: By the numbers

Last season, Atalanta sent shock-waves throughout Italian football and qualified for the Champions League, finishing ahead of Italy’s traditional giants Inter, Roma, and Milan among others. Along with European football comes the luxury of a pitfall of cash and unique opportunities for growth that Atalanta have taken full advantage of.

Beyond their Champions League cash, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have been extremely proactive on the transfer market, selling their players for incredible profits. Dejan Kulusevki, for example. The Swedish international has only played three times for them in his entire career and was sold for nearly forty-five million euros. Let’s take a deeper look at the numbers.

According to Calcio e Finanza, Atalanta have already cashed forty million euros from the Champions League and could make more depending on their two-legged affair with Valencia. Given recent form, it’s not entirely improbable they progress to the final eight.

While Champions League money is always welcomed, it’s not as sustainable as other sources of revenue for the club. After all, will they qualify for Europe’s elite competition every season? They’re hoping so, but probably not.

As a result, Atalanta have enacted a model wherein they sell their top-performing young players to Italy’s big clubs after breakout seasons. Kulusevski to Juve, Gagliardini to Inter, Cristante and Mancini to Roma, Conti and Kessie to Milan, and the list goes on. In this sense, they maximize their profits. While certain cases will have them thinking they moved on their players a season too early, that’s always better than feeling they sold a player a season too late.

Just ask Torino’s Urbano Cairo. After Andrea Belotti’s breakout season, Torino reportedly got offers ranging between 50 to 75 million euros for their hitman. Cairo played hard-ball, kept Belotti and has since missed out on a unique rebuilding opportunity by turning down those offers. Today, Belotti won’t fetch anywhere near the previously reported price-tags. Atalanta, on the other hand, have a knack for selling players at the right time. In fact, their track record speaks for itself.  Most of their departed players, bar a few, have struggled to recreate their past form at their new clubs.

According to Transfermarkt’s numbers, the Bergamo-based club are set to cash in a further 110 million euros this season, in addition to Musa Barrow’s reported sale of 20M. That’s 130M on players that have either already been replaced or have never featured regularly for them.

With their squad lacking a few additions to take the next step, it will be interesting to see what Atalanta does with that money. Will they abandon their current philosophy and go for more-experienced players in hopes of making the leap alongside Italy’s elite or will they continue with their own model that has worked wonders for them?

If last transfer window was anything to go by, it will arguably be a mix of both, with a particular focus on experienced players. See: Luis Muriel and Ruslan Malinovskyi. As another transfer window beckons, Atalanta’s activity will be worth monitoring. They have the money and a vision: but can they deliver on it?

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Juventus Top Performers – Round 18 vs Cagliari

Juventus kicked off 2020 in glorious fashion by finally playing up to their full potential and romping Cagliari at home, with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the way.

Merih Demiral (5 points): the Rossoblù hit the bar twice, one late and one when the game was one-nothing, but all in all a stout showing by the back-line, which did not have to labour thanks to the overall attitude of the squad, which kept possession ad nauseam and did a nice job in stopping the counters early. The young Turk always stands out little more than Leonardo Bonucci with his explosiveness and fast recoveries when somebody slips by. An okay outing for Alex Sandro as well down the left, albeit he did not do that much. Continue reading

Sarri assesses few players in pre-game presser

Maurizio Sarri began the presser before the Cagliari tilt by detailing what they did during the break: “We worked on several mistakes we made. We focused on ourselves before studying the Sardinians late in the week. We need to improve our mentality, because in most game we made more error there than tactical or technical ones.”

On Matthijs De Ligt: “He had a complicate period because of a shoulder and adductor issues. He played a lot, he is super young, while Merih Demiral was in optimal shape, so we were in position to rest him. De Ligt is improving, we will see tomorrow.” Continue reading

How far have Milan fallen when they are resigned to signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic at 38?

Even though AC Milan won the Serie A title in 2011 they have had a poor decade in football where they have seen major stars leave the team and Juventus take over their mantle as the strongest side in Italy.

Indeed whilst not as quite bad this Milan team is very near how poor the club were back in the 1970s. You used to look at Milan teams and your jaw would drop in the quality that was on the field; Ruud Gullit, Carlo Ancelotti, Paolo Maldini, Marco van Basten, Andriy Shevechenko, Andrea Pirlo the list is endless because Milan of the 80s and 90s and even into the 2000s were as strong and brimming of quality like Barcelona and Real Madrid.

But the 2010s were not kind to the team, football seemed to leave them behind and apart from the odd special result Milan have been quite forgetable on the European stage. They haven’t even played in the Champions League now for several years, even though that competition was supposed to be ingrained into their DNA, after all they have won it 7 times.

Currently the club are in 11th place and 21 points behind the league leaders and we are only at the half way stage of the new season. What will be even more grinding is that the club in front are their arch rivals, Inter Milan, a club where they share the same ground. Indeed everyone seems to have moved into Milan’s territory, even Inter who have, for long periods, been in Milan’s shadow and yet of course out of the two Milan’s they are the last to have won the Champions League when they triumphed in 2010.

As January announces itself Milan have hit back, well kind of. They have signed one of the great strikers of the modern game in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Now let’s not dot around here, Ibrahimovic is a superb player, the clubs he plays for win games, win titles, win trophies and he always scores lots of goals, most of them contenders for the season. But Ibra as he is fondly known is 38 years old.

When his signing was announced there were no groans or media backlash, even at 38 the fans have got behind the player and their club. From the moment he has arrived in Milan he has been treated like a superstar, crowded by fans, with his name chanted. At 38 the Swedish player is expected to be the messiah and save the club.

His goal scoring instinct will ensure that he scores goals for the club though it is questionable how many he will be able to get. Surely the objective this season will be a European finish, the club are 8 points adrift of a Europa League position, so it isn’t impossible, But being 14 points behind a Champions League position seems a little too far this season.

One wonders if Ibrahimovic’s transfer isn’t something different? Firstly to become the voice and guide in the dressing room and then possibly get into management and for this first job to be with Milan. If his advancing years takes away his goals, we still have an incredible character, a true leader who may well be able to shape Milan’s future like he did with his goal scoring boots when he first signed for the club more than a decade ago.

The jury is out but not in Italy where the player simply can’t fail with the fans. If anything the very fact he is back at the San Siro will give this very average Milan side a boost. But how far have the club fallen getting excited over a veteran Ibrahimovic? Maybe they know something we don’t?

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Kulusevski to Juventus: all the angles in the deal

The January window started with a bang in Serie A with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan and Juventus closing the deal for Dejan Kulusevski. The players arrive to their new teams with very different priorities- Ibrahimovic will hopefully be an immediate shot in the arm to help get the rossoneri off the canvas, while Kulusevski is by definition an addition for the long term since he isn’t expected to be part of Juventus’ squad this season.

Interestingly Ibrahimovic is going to essentially replace a player who this time last year was viewed in a very similar fashion to the way we perceive Kulusevski today. Piatek took Serie A by storm in the first half of last season, he was linked to clubs in the Premier League before Milan won the race to sign him by offering Genoa 35 million payable in one installment (the same amount Juventus is paying but over five years with addition bonuses of up to 9 million).

But while there is risk with paying substantially for a player who has a small sample size of great performances at the professional level and Juventus has a more immediate need for an established midfielder, there are many reasons why Juventus fans should be very pleased with this acquisition.

While PIatek is a one dimensional player who relies on service for his teammates to excel, Kulusevski has shown great speed, durability, dribbling ability and ability to elevate his performances on the biggest stages and against the top teams. While in recent years, quite a few clubs have regretted doing business with Atalanta, at least Kulusevski didn’t become a household name playing in Gasperini’s system which has made quite a few players look better than they were.

A lot has been made about Juventus spending so much on a player that doesn’t address an immediate need, but that could be seen as a flawed argument when you take into account that Kulusevski came up as a central midfielder before playing as an offensive winger at Parma. Interestingly Juventus referred to him as a midfielder twice in the opening paragraphs of the press release to announce his arrival and there are scouts who believe Kulusvski could develop into the next De Bruyne.

As previously mentioned, 35 million plus 9 million in bonuses is certainly a gamble and if we go by transfer fee alone, Kulusevski is the most expensive midfielder Juventus ever acquired. But that is a flawed way to look at cost when you account for fact his wages (a reported 2 million net of taxes in the first few years) which are considerably lower than the likes of Ramsey, Rabiot and Can whose annual cost is individually superior to Kulusevski’s despite coming in as Bosman signing with no transfer fee to amortize.

A more rightful concern than cost, is however Juventus’ track record with young talents. In recent years we’ve seen many of them acquired only to be used as financial tools down the road- the sales of Audero, Mandragora and Orsolini helped finance the Ronaldo acquisition while we’ve seen the likes of Leali, Caldara and Gabbiadini never contribute to the bianconeri on the pitch after being sent out on loan.

However, if you look closely at the track record of other young players on Juventus in recent years there are also reasons for optimism that at bare minimum Kulusevski will get a fair chance to establish himself. Paulo Dybala had become a starter under Allegri by the middle of his first season in Turin despite being in his early 20s, and while he was almost sold last summer, he’s now once again a key player at the club. Rodrigo Bentancur went from being a throw in the Tevez deal to a full time starter under Sarri and arguably part of Juventus’ long term core alongside De Ligt and now Kulusevski.

Even though both Daniele Rugani and Federico Bernardeschi have flopped at Juventus, they were both given ample opportunities to become starters at the club. Rugani got first crack at replacing Bonucci a few years ago, while Bernardeschi played regularly under Allegri and has often found himself in the starting lineup this season.

Regardless of which position you envision Kulusevki playing in Turin, there are plenty of opportunities for his skill sets to make an impact since Juventus lacks fresh legs who bring pace and game changing moments. As a winger or trequartista, he’s more reliable that the often injured Douglas Costa and Ramsey and he’s been way more productive than Bernardeschi this season. Kulusevski also has the tools to be an option as a mezzala alongside Bentancur and Pjanic.

The acquisition would also likely be seen in a different light had Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici not had such a difficult stretch. Ramsey, Rabiot and Danilo have flopped, two players he tried to sell in Higuain and Dybala had strong first halves of the season while De Ligt has had his fair of struggles- the final straw was the way Mandzukic was handled in recent months, so it’s easy to understand why Paratici currently doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt from the fan base- but Kulusevski is a gamble worth taking.