Ciro Immobile’s on fire: Putting the form of Europe’s hottest striker in context

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It’s not often that a striker’s form gets so good that it’s almost embarrassing.

But that was exactly how it felt on Sunday when Joaquin Correa was tripped inside the Udinese box to give Lazio their second penalty kick of the first half.

At that point, Lazio were cruising with a two-goal lead. Both goals had, of course, been scored by Ciro Immobile.

The second of those was from the penalty spot, which Immobile dispatched expertly – an underrated part of his game, and not the only one. Continue reading

Award night results and Paratici’s words

Today was awards’ night both both on the European stage and in Italy: Cristiano Ronaldo came in third as far as the Balloon d’Or was concerned, while Matthijs De Ligt was 15th and won the Kopa trophy as best U-21. Domestically, Cristiano Ronaldo was elected the Serie A’s MVP for last season and, like Miralem Pjanic, Giorgio Chiellini and Joao Cancelo was voted into the team of the year.

Juventus’ chief football officer Fabio Paratici weighed in on the current affairs during the soiree: “In previous seasons, we have been even in fourth position at this point of the year and then we managed to come back. We are only in December, we are doing well and collected a lot of points, while Inter have done super well.” Continue reading

Serie A Game of the Round – Juventus vs Sassuolo

Juventus’ first faux pas at home came at the hands of Sassuolo in a great match, which had the proper amount of fun and signifcance, with no disrepect to the fantastic Cagliari-Sampdoria thriller.

The Bianconeri came into the fixture having won four in a row, the most recent out thanks to a late surge against Atalanta, while the Emiliani were pipped at the post by Lazio last week and in general had showed improvements over the last four rounds.

Maurizio Sarri picked Gonzalo Higuain and Federico Bernardeschi over Paulo Dybala and Aaron Ramsey up front, with Cristiano Ronaldo made the XI for the second game in a row after knee injury. Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round 14 vs Sassuolo

Despite getting an early lead, Juventus again waited to be in a hole before playing with some purpose, but this time could not pull off the comeback and overcome a woeful defensive day and were thus held to a tie by Sassuolo.

Leonardo Bonucci (3 points): the veteran centre-back hit the net with a sneaky and probably deflected strike and was not necessarily at fault into the collapses on the two goals. The first one generated on a corner kick on the other end so most of the team failed to track back, then Jeremie Boga did the rest with a gem. On the second one, Matthijs De Ligt started things off with an errant pass that he should have avoided in the first place, Juan Cuadrado did not settle it and then Gianluigi Buffon had a senior citizen moment on a routine shot. Surely the worst showing by the back-line since the Napoli game at the beginning of the season. Alex Sandro returned from his injury but was very lacklustre and slow in general. Continue reading

Sarri previews the Sassuolo game

Coach Maurizio Sarri opened the presser before the Sassuolo game with some injury updates: “Alex Sandro practiced fully yesterday so he is fine medically, we will evaluate his form. Federico Bernardeschi is okay and he is very useful for his defensive work. He has great technical skills, that is why we want more from him.”

On Cristiano Ronaldo and the attack: “Those who have three bad strikers are in trouble, not us. Cristiano is an immense resource, he has to improve from a conditioning standpoint, but that is normal. Continue reading

Serie A Round 14 Fantacalcio Player Trends: Stock Down

With another action-packed match-day in store for us, it’s time to look ahead and get your fantacalcio sides ready. Juventus will be hosting Sassuolo as Inter take on SPAL. With just one point separating the two sides, Antonio Conte’s men will be looking to maintain the pace with the Italian champions.

With match-day 14 upon us, here are FIVE players you should consider dropping from your elevens. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Robin Olsen (GK, Cagliari, Value 13.65) – The former Roma goalkeeper has been in sensational form to begin the season, putting last year’s woes behind him, but has since been suspended for the next four match-days. It comes at an unfortunate time for both him and Cagliari as the Sardinians are competing for European places.

In addition, the Swedish international has been rock solid between the posts and has established himself as a crucial piece to Rolando Maran’s setup. For the time being, use the 13M on a backup keeper and perhaps a creative midfielder.

Federico Chiesa (FWD, Fiorentina, Value 13.99) – There’s currently a power struggle going on between Federico Chiesa and Fiorentina. The Italian international has reportedly set his sights on a move to one of Italy’s top dogs, with Inter and Juventus both expressing interest. Determined to make Chiesa the face of their rebuild, however, Fiorentina owner Rocco Commisso is reluctant to sell the young winger. Chiesa was frozen out of the side in their most-recent defeat, with Montella claiming that he was out of shape mentally and physically.

This week, Montella confirmed that Chiesa will miss the side’s upcoming clash against Lecce with a thigh injury, as well. The 22-year-old has not been at la viola’s training ground all week, fuelling speculation that he may be on his way out. At 13.99M, you would be wise to freeze Chiesa out of your fantacalcio sides yourself. I hear Atalanta have a few interesting forwards…

Sami Khedira (MID, Juventus, Value 10.92) – The former German international started the season well, but has since slowed down, with many calling for him to be benched. In Juventus’ most recent Serie A win against Atalanta, Khedira was anonymous and was a constant liability down the bianconeri’s right-hand side. While the penalty he conceded was rather unfortunate, it was merely the tip of the iceberg of his poor performance.

With Rodrigo Bentancur impressing in mid-week and Emre Can eager to prove himself, it may be  time for Sarri to look elsewhere in Juventus’ midfield ranks and bench the much-maligned Khedira. Regardless, his price-tag is still too high for a player who simply does not produce. For example, you can afford Juan Cuadrado for the same price. Are you braver than Sarri?

Rodrigo De Paul (MID, Udinese, Value 9.21) – Continuing with the theme of struggling midfielders, Udinese’s Rodrigo De Paul makes this week’s list. The Argentine international was supposed to break through this season, emerging as a crucial player for the Zebrette, but nothing of the sort has taken place. With Udinese hovering over the relegation zone, De Paul is going to need to step up. In his 10 appearances this season, the 25-year-old has one goal and one assist – a far cry from last season’s impressive tally of nine goals and eight assists.

Given the side’s lack of creativity in the middle of the park, the Udinese man is burdened with much of the offensive work in the final third. While his fortunes should change, Udinese take on a high-flying Lazio side this weekend. As a result, it would be wise to keep De Paul out of your elevens for the time being.

Kalidou Koulibaly (DEF, Napoli, Value 8.53) – Since establishing himself as one of the league’s elite defenders, Koulibaly’s stock has never been lower. With the ongoing player mutiny at Napoli, the partenopei have struggled for results and their rearguard has suffered. In fact, Napoli have only managed to keep one clean sheet in their last eight games – a scoreless draw against Genoa. While Koulibaly has largely been solid over this stretch, he hasn’t been blameless either and has been committing mistakes with more regularity, indicating that his head may be elsewhere.

Napoli’s performance against Liverpool was encouraging and could serve as a turning point in their season, but with the tense atmosphere at the club unlikely to change, it could go either way. Despite his immense quality, I would temporarily swap Koulibaly out of my side, especially considering the threat Bologna pose on the counter through Riccardo Orsolini.

Juventus Top Perfomers – UCL Round 5 vs Atletico Madrid

Juventus reached their first objective of the season by securing the top spot in their Champions League group with a one-nil victory over Atletico Madrid that was accompanied by one of the best team’s showings in a while.

Matthijs De Ligt: he was bound to be the pick anyway because he always sticks out a little bit more than his partner in crime Leonardo Bonucci and then cemented it with an outstanding block on Joaquin Correa, who had slipped past the back-line, shooting the gap in a hurry and simply bum-rushing the opponent. The defence gave up just one clear-cut chance, although Alvaro Morata was likely offside on that incredible whiff, even when the Colchoneros switched to a ludicrously offensive lineup, confirming that it tends to perform better when under pressure. Wojciech Szczesny is oozing confidence these days and did not have to do too much, while the duo of fullbacks for the evening, Danilo and Mattia De Sciglio, did not mess anything up but rarely bothered attacking, so the standard ‘compitino’. Continue reading

Questions that will shape January Transfer Window in Serie A

Will there be enough playing time at Inter to tempt Kulusevski?

Serie A’s breakout player of the season had a clear vision for what he wanted to get out of the 2019/20 season after excelling in Atalanta’s youth system- his priority was to play regularly at professional level on a team that could get the most out of him. Parma checked all of the boxes and there’s no doubt the Swedish midfielder has made the most out of the opportunity in the first third of the season.

So while Inter are rather interested in bringing him in January as a way to bolster Conte’s squad while anticipating the competition for such an exciting asset, It remains to be seen if Kulusevski is willing to take a gamble and leave a team where he can start every game rest of the way.

 Inter would likely be able to convince Parma to let him go by offering a player or two (Politano and or Di Marco) especially since they are also interested in signing his teammate Darmian. Atalanta have made numerous deals with Inter in recent years and would be more than happy to make a significant capital gain on a player currently not on their squad.

Will Milan desperately need more experience?

Except for the dreadful match against Lazio, overall Milan have looked better under new manager Pioli but the results are still lacking. Certainly a point against Napoli under normal circumstances would be nothing to sneeze at, but considering that the partenopei are dealing with as much chaos as the guest on the birthday party featured on “Parasite, maybe a bit more was to be expected especially when you consider Milan’s position in the standings.

Does the fact that the rossoneri are much closer to the relegation zone than a spot in European competitions next season give them more urgency to bring in some veterans to get the team on track? Or does Milan see this as a lost season standing wise where the focus is just to develop their young players as long as there’s no danger of a shocking relegation? The next few games will likely determine this.

Will Juventus be forced to integrate more of their surplus players?

The bianconeri spent the last few weeks of the summer transfer window trying to offload veterans to lower their enormous wage bill. Their inability to get it done forced them to exclude Emre Can and Mario Mandzukic from their Champions League list, while new addition Adrien Rabiot has struggled so much to find consistent playing time that there’s talk he could be sold in 2019.

But considering the age of Juventus’ squad, there’s chance some injury or Sarri coming to his senses with Khedira that we could see a fairly significant radical change in the pecking order. But if the status quo remains, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Can, Mandzukic and Perin all leaving in January as Juventus tries to lower their wage bill before the end of their fiscal year. 

Will Napoli be able to start cleaning house in January?

“If things didn’t end badly, they wouldn’t end at all” is how you can sum up Mertens and Callejon’s current situation. The two pillars of the club dating back to the Benitez administration have expiring contracts, and even before the squad mutiny and public threats of lawsuits from De Laurentiis, it seemed rather likely this would be their final season under the Vesuvius.

Napoli have to figure out if making a push for a Champions League spot is worth it and if Mertens and Callejon can help them get there at the cost of losing them for nothing in June. Two summer acquisitions have also the chance to make the decision easier- Lozano and Elmas could become Mertens and Callejon’s permanent replacements sooner rather than later. 

Will Roma get enough of a boost from their returning players? Will they need to make some January signings?

Adriano Galliani would be in heaven if he were in charge at Roma- with so many key players returning from injury in recent weeks (Under, Pellegrini, Mkhitaryan, Cristante to just name a few) he could tell us how he doesn’t need to do any work in January because there are so many players who feel like new additions. 

You have to hand it to Fonseca, the fact that he kept Roma right in the mix for a Champions League spot despite a catastrophic spell of injuries is rather impressive. But does the fact that so many are coming back make sporting director Petrachi less likely to make moves in January? At the beginning of the season center back looked like a massive need, but Smalling has arguably been best new addition in Serie A and Mancini has established himself after a slow start, and his ability to play in the midfield gives Fonseca even more options on top of all the players returning from injury.

With Florenzi itching to get more regular playing time in light of the upcoming Euros, Petrachi will however be very active on the wing back marker with Hysaj as a logical target. Roma could also use another striker because Kalinic has not surprisingly not made an impact and Dzeko showed signs of slowing down after a very fast start.

Will the battle to avoid relegation make it impossible for Udinese to move Rodrigo De Paul?

The Friulani are just 3 points above the relegation and are still waiting to name the permanent replacement for manager Tudor who was sacked a few weeks ago. Can they afford to consider losing their best player in January considering their place in the standings? This is the decision Genoa had to make last year with Piatek, and while on one hand Preziosi got a great return on a striker who is really struggling now, the team had to wait until the conclusion of the final match of season to avoid relegation.

While De Paul did sign an extension about a month ago, Udinese sporting director Marino did recently state the club doesn’t have the resources to turn down a huge offer for him. The Argentine international has been linked to Inter, Napoli and Fiorentina.

Juventus Top Performers – Round 13 vs Atalanta

Juventus succeeded in a game that they truly had no business winning, thanks to 15 minutes of fury and a Pipita-led comeback, thus avoiding the first blemish of the season and defending the top spot in the standings.

Matthijs De Ligt: he was properly dominating, uncorking his best display of the season when the team needed the most. The back-line was under heavy fire for about an hour, but his slides and blocks kept things from unravelling. Atalanta broke through once, but he and Leonardo Bonucci defended with great attention in the box, preventing the score from getting out of hand. The captain had some misplaced passes and did not stand out as much, but he was solid as well. Mattia De Sciglio instead was again underwhelming and severely bested by the more energetic Hans Hateboer on the flank and way too soft while trying to stop the cross that led to the goal. Continue reading

Did Juventus fail to learn lessons from last summer with Bonucci and Cuadrado’s extensions?

Albert Einstein once famously said that “insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result” which applies to all sorts of walks of life. This mantra has become very popular with those looking to turn their lives around, but it applies to all sorts of walks of life including football transfers and signings.

More and more clubs are learning that signing older players to long term deals is usually a great way to hamstring your club financially, while focusing on younger players helps you lower your wages while providing assets to make significant capital gains down the road.

Juventus saw this first hand last summer when they were able to make a massive plusvalenza on Moise’ Kean since he was a home grown player while struggling so significantly to move the likes of Sami Khedira, Blaise Matuidi, Gonzalo Higuain and especially Mario Mandzukic that they strongly considered selling Paulo Dybala to make a big enough capital gain to cover the cost of having such an expensive squad.

While both Matuidi and Khedira found themselves frequently starting so far this season and Gonzalo Higuain had a very surprising renaissance, the squad is so bloated that Emre Can and Mario Mandzukic were kept off the Champions League squad and Adrien Rabiot has struggled to find regular playing time (things could have been even worse had Aaron Ramsey been able to stay healthy).

So with all of this in mind, you can make a case Juventus is engaging in some insane behavior since they are repeating same behavior with the announcement of extensions for Leonardo Bonucci through 2024 and Juan Cuadrado through 2022 (both players have the same agent by the way) despite the fact they are 32 and 31 respectively. On top of that because of their bloated squad, Juventus is carrying a massive wage bill which is now even higher because both Bonucci and Cuadrado

But is there a case to be made that these extensions do have some appropriate reasoning behind it? At bare minimum they have to be better decisions than last year’s puzzling decision to give new deals to Sami Khedira and Mario Mandzukic? Safe to say the latter is certainly true since at least Bonucci and Cuadrado have been amongst the best players at their respective positions this season which certainly could not be said for Khedira and Mandzukic last year.

Bonucci has certainly come a long way in the past eighteen months. He was a pariah with many fans of the club because of his one season at Milan and upon his return, he was often a liability on defense. When Juventus signed Mathijs De Ligt this summer and acquired the rights to Mehdi Demiral after previously parking him at Sassuolo because they didn’t have a non EU slot available, many expected Bonucci to leave when the first links to Paris St Germain emerged.

Paratici and Sarri have to be thrilled that those talks went nowhere and Bonucci stayed. On top of Chiellini suffering a torn ACL, Demiral looked completely overmatched when he started against Hellas Verona, which aren’t exactly known for having a potent attack, De Ligt has had some fairly significant growing pains adapting to a new league and living up to his price, and despite his former mentor Sarri joining the club- Daniele Rugani is as much an afterthought as Juventus as “Solo” is with Star Wars fans.

Bonucci has been one of the best center backs in all of Serie A this season and has kept the captain armband during Chiellini’s absence even when Gigi Buffon started- a clear sign he’s been fully accepted back at the club after his sabbatical at Milan. But it does remain to be seen how Bonucci’s contract will look like in 2022 and 2023 when he’ll be well into his mid 30s earning over 6 million after taxes.

Juan Cuadrado went from being a super sub to becoming Joao Cancelo’s replacement. There’s a lot of concern when the Portuguese international left Turin because he was such a devastating offensive weapon, arguably the only spark of creativity in Allegri’s pragmatic and predictable offense.

Cuadrado has more than made up for what Joao Cancelo provided offensively, while being nowhere near as much as a liability defensively as his predecessor who had to be benched in key matches because there was serious concern he would make a costly mistake. Now Cuadrado has been so effective that there’s talk Juventus will sell Mattia De Sciglio, who started over Joao Cancelo in those key matches last season, since he has nailed down the starting job.

Considering how thin the market at right back in, giving Cuadrado a new contract until 2022 doesn’t seem that bad because just a few months before the only realistic options to replace Joao Cancelo included overpaying for Trippier, bringing back Dani Alves who had off field issues previously at Juventus or hoping Hysaj could turn his career around.

So while on the surface it looks like Juventus is repeating the same behavior with contract extensions to older players, there are enough mitigating circumstances to say Paratici is right to gamble he can prove Albert Einstein wrong.