Fantasy Serie A: Players to watch in matchday 9

Matchday nine is officially upon us with a number of intriguing matchups on deck. League leaders Milan take on Fiorentina, while the high-flying Sassuolo will host a struggling Inter side. Elsewhere, reigning champions Juventus take on the newly-promoted Benevento and will be hoping to continue their recent resurgence.

Here are three players you might want to add to your fantacalcio sides ahead of the upcoming matchday:

Alex Sandro – Juventus (4.5): The Brazilian has returned to action after his long injury layoff, and is slowly establishing himself as a starter in Andrea Pirlo’s new-look Juventus. Equally comfortable a left wingback as he is at left centerback, expect Alex Sandro to feature prominently this season. The former Porto man most recently made his Champions League debut against Ferencvaros, marauding the left flank at will.

As he looks to put his injury problems behind him, Sandro will be hoping to reach his former heights. With Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini sidelined for the foreseeable future, Alex Sandro should get regular minutes. At 4.5 million euros, adding the leftback to your team is a no brainer.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Roma (4.5): The Armenian international has taken Serie A by storm this season, propelling Roma into an unlikely title race after eight matchdays. Mkhitaryan has hit the ground running this year, netting five goals and four assists to kick off the season, emerging as a catalyst in the final third for Roma.

The former Manchester United man was at the heart of the action in Roma’s most recent triumph in the Europa League, drawing a penalty. Jordan Veretout converted with great aplomb from the spot, leading Roma to an important three points. As the Giallorossi travel to Napoli to take on Gennaro Gattuso’s men, Mkhitaryan will need to be at his best this weekend.

Much like Sandro, the 31-year-old represents a low-cost option that will likely generate a number of fantacalcio points. Include him in your sides before his price skyrockets! On current form, it is only a matter of time.

Aleksey Miranchuk - Atalanta (5.5): The 25-year-old has taken time to adapt to Atalanta’s setup, but is starting to make an impact in Bergamo. Miranchuk already has two goals to his name in under 50 minutes of action and is ready to stake his claim for a bigger role within Gian Piero Gasperini’s side.

Atalanta’s offensive ranks may be congested at the moment, with Duvan Zapata, Papu Gomez, and Josip Ilicic the preferred starters, but Miranchuk will have his opportunity to impress. Atalanta’s upcoming clash against Hellas Verona is a good chance for Gasperini to rotate his men and give Miranchuk some meaningful minutes. Gli Orobici are coming off a big win against Liverpool in midweek and will be hoping to give their starters some rest ahead of the final two matchdays.

The Russian international has impressed in his limited supersub appearances and should get the nod against Verona on Sarturday. At 5.5. million euros, Miranchuk is good value for money; especially in a free-scoring Atalanta side.

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Improving Inzaghi proves a point as Lazio rotate their way to eight-game unbeaten run

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If anyone deserves a bit of festive cheer, it’s Simone Inzaghi.

It’s remarkable that the Biancocelesti boss has any of those luscious locks left on his head and hasn’t torn them out in frustration by now, because even by the standards of this most unpredictable and disrupted of seasons, he’s had a rough ride.

The 44-year-old came in for some criticism when Serie A returned after lockdown last season, as his side slipped from one point off top to fourth place.

He struggled to effectively rotate his squad and manage the energy levels of his key players as Lazio’s form nosedived.

Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round Eight versus Cagliari

For once this season, Juventus did not mess about in the Cagliari fixture, controlled the pace from start to finish with minimal dips in focus and intensity and took home with a well-deserved shutout victory.

Merih Demiral (7 points): a duo of young and explosive studs makes more sense for the slightly reckless way Juventus defend in the new regime, although they were more balanced than usual in this one, then it surely helps that Matthijs De Ligt was in pristine shape in his first game back after shoulder surgery, looking as dominant as ever. Continue reading

Andrea Pirlo set to lead Juventus in post-BBC era

Andrea Pirlo has overseen an overhaul at Juventus this past summer, shipping out the likes of Blaise Matuidi, Gonzalo Higuain, and Miralem Pjanic among others. Juve’s mini-revolution has not been without its challenges, with the Italian champions drawing four of its first seven games under the rookie manager.

As the fixtures begin to pile up going into the holiday season, Pirlo will have to steady the ship and start stringing together positive results. The World Cup winner, however, will do so without the security blanket that is Juve’s BBC.

Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, and Giorgio Chiellini came together to form one of football’s most uncompromising defenses in the past, leading Juventus to unprecedented heights with the legendary Gianluigi Buffon behind them. Barzagli has since retired, while Chiellini is almost definitely heading into his final season. The veteran defender has continuously struggled with injuries in recent weeks, regularly keeping him sidelined.

Bonucci, on the other hand, is arguably the only member of the BBC to occupy an important role in Pirlo’s Juve, featuring in 10 games in all competitions already. The Italian international has since picked up an injury that will keep him out of action for the foreseeable future. In many ways, Bonucci’s absence will force Pirlo to turn to Juve’s budding young defenders and lead the side into a post-BBC era.

Merih Demiral has stepped up admirably in Chiellini’s absence, offering the side some much-needed physicality in their own defensive third. Replacing Chiellini will be almost impossible given his importance in the locker room, but the Turkish international has demonstrated he is ready for a bigger role. The only question mark remains his long-term fitness, considering he is just coming off a length stop. In any case, Demiral has been rock solid when called upon and will only see his opportunities increase as the season wears on.

Matthijs de Ligt is another one of Juve’s young stars gunning for a bigger role at the back. The Dutchman established himself as an undisputed started under Maurizio Sarri, emerging as one of Serie A’s elite defensive talents. De Ligt, however, suffered from recurring shoulder injuries, forcing him to undergo surgery over the summer. The former Ajax man has missed Juve’s first seven games in league action this season but is expected to make his debut against Cagliari.

de Ligt and Demiral’s recent progression alleviates some pressure on Juve’s aging core and will eventually lead to them being fazed out. Given their importance, this transition will not happen overnight, but when the time comes, the two young defenders are more than ready.

Juve’s upcoming clash against Cagliari will be the first time the duo play alongside each other and will serve as an early litmus test for their growing partnership. If de Ligt and Demiral can offer Pirlo solidity at the back and inspire confidence, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be Juve’s first-choice defenders. After all, they represent the future for the club and will be slotting in, long after the BBC hangs up their boots.

While Demiral acts as a vice-Chiellini, de Ligt’s impressive passing range and comfort in possession make Bonucci expendable. The former Milan man occupies an important role in Juve’s buildup, but de Ligt has proven he is more than capable of playing out from the back. When the Dutch international was at Ajax, he regularly jumped into midfield and looked to break lines.

It is a delicate moment in the season for Pirlo and Juventus. On one hand, Juve desperately needs results, while on the other, the rookie tactician is faced with the tall task of integrating Juve’s young stars. In any case, both have proven they are more than ready to step up and lead the Bianconeri into the post-BBC era.

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How stoppage-time killer Caicedo has made Lazio comeback kings of Europe

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The finale of Lazio’s Serie A clash with Juventus last weekend was about as Hollywood as football gets. 

With the Roman club trailing 1-0 and a matter of seconds left on the clock, coach Simone Inzaghi grabbed Adam Marusic to turn him upfield, just as the wing-back was about to send a throw-in into his own half that would’ve ended the game.

The throw reached Joaquin Correa, who danced his way through two Juve defenders, dribbled past another and found Felipe Caicedo with a short pass.

From that moment, there was no doubt what would happen next; the Ecuadorian, with his back to goal, swivelled and curled a low shot into the bottom corner with the last kick of the game. Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Champions League road game vs Ferencvarosi

Juventus again took the foot off the gas after getting an early lead, but it did no harm this time as Ferencvarosi mustered very little offense overall and literally self-combusted in the second half.

Wojciech Szczeny: nothing really to report the defensive end, as the rearguard held firm when it still matteted, barring a pair of miscues in the second portion of the first half, but the opponents had just one or two borderline dangerous shots. Nobody in the back stood out, so the nod goes to the goalie, who rushed out of the goal in a hurry to shoot the gap on an opponent that had stolen a backwards pass. He did not manage to keep a clean sheet as the Hungarian side scored a random consolation goal late, despite his strong save on the initial attempt, but Frank Boli vacuumed up the tap-in.  Continue reading

Three Things to watch in matchday 6

Serie A has returned in impressive fashion, with a number of teams separating themselves from the rest. Milan has picked up exactly from where they left off last season under Stefano Pioli emerging as legitimate Scudetto contenders, while Sassuolo continues to surprise. Napoli is worth monitoring as well, and is yet to lose on the field this season, while Juventus need to start recording results sooner rather than later.

And what better place to start than in matchday six? Here are three things to watch ahead of the next matchday:

1) Can Napoli overcome an in-form Sassuolo? 

Gennaro Gattuso’s men have started the season in sensational form, getting off to a near-perfect start after five games. Napoli’s upcoming clash against Sassuolo is a good barometer of the side’s progression, especially considering the Neroverdi’s storming start to the season. Sassuolo has since emerged as darkhorse contenders for the European spots, going unbeaten and claiming 11 points from its first five games. Francesco Caputo has been deadly in front of goal and will be raring to go against the Partenopei.

Napoli is just coming off an impressive win against Real Sociedad and will be looking to build on it. Sunday’s affair will be telling for both sides and will serve as an early litmus test to Napoli’s Scudetto credentials.

2) Can Juventus get its season back on track?

Juventus currently finds itself in an unusual position, trailing the league-leading Milan by four points. In fact, the Italian champions are yet to win a game on the field in Serie A since their opener against Sampdoria. A clash against the newly-promoted Spezia is a good opportunity to right the ship, but as their draw against Crotone showed, anything can happen.

Ronaldo’s inclusion remains questionable, despite testing negative for COVID-19 on Friday, but the Bianconeri should have enough firepower to get a result. While it is still early days, the pressure is slowly mounting on Andrea Pirlo in the hot-seat. A poor result against Spezia will only add further fuel to the fire.

3) Will Atalanta turn it around? 

Atalanta has shown early signs of slowing down this season, suffering two consecutive defeats against Napoli and Sampdoria. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have been uncharacteristically inconsistent in recent weeks, conceding seven goals in their last two games. Most recently, they came back from two goals down to draw against Ajax in their second Champions League game and will be hoping it can act as an early turning point for them.

Gli Orobici demonstrated they can handle competing on multiple fronts last season, but will now have to dig deep and do it all over again. Atalanta started its Champions League campaign in impressive fashion, picking up four points from two games, but will need to translate their European form to Italy. Crotone is no push-overs, going toe-to-toe with Juve, but if Atalanta wants to become top-four regulars, these are must-win games.

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Cristiano Ronaldo set to lead Juventus back into contention

Juventus has struggled in the early goings of this season, dropping points in Serie A against Hellas Verona and most recently losing to Barcelona. The Italian champions have had to make do without their talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been battling COVID-19. The Portuguese superstar has missed Juve’s last four games in all competitions but is nearing a return to action. On Friday, it was reported that Ronaldo tested negative for COVID-19, handing Juventus a much-needed boost ahead of a crucial stretch.

The Andrea Pirlo era hasn’t exactly gotten off to the roaring start they expected, with Juventus drawing three of their first five games in league action. The rookie tactician has taken an ambitious approach in his debut season, revolutionizing Juve’s set-up in favour of more fluid and attacking football. The transition has not been without its challenges, with the Bianconeri struggling to adapt to their new identity.

Before testing positive for COVID-19, Ronaldo started the season in sensational form, netting three goals in two games. Juve’s recent struggles have largely been in the final third, with the side being woefully inefficient in front of goal. Alvaro Morata has since seen five of his goals correctly ruled out by VAR for being marginally offside, adding to Juventus’s woes in front of goal.

Beyond Morata, Pirlo’s men lack an out-and-out finisher and rely heavily on creative profiles to spark their attack. Paulo Dybala has not been at his best since returning from a lengthy injury layoff, cutting a frustrated figure in his free-roam role. Dejan Kulusevski has shown flashes of his potential, scoring two well-taken goals so far, but has been rather inconsistent. At just 20 years old, it is only normal that it will take Kulusevski time before he finds his feet and emerges as a crucial piece to Pirlo’s setup.

Fellow summer arrival, Federico Chiesa, is in a similar position. The Italian international has blown hot and cold since joining Juventus, registering an assist on his debut, but later got sent off. Shortly thereafter, Chiesa made an immediate impact in his Champions League debut against Dynamo Kyiv, offering some unpredictability and width in the final third, but struggled immensely against Barcelona. As the season wears on, Pirlo will be hoping the young winger can diversify his game and begin offering sustained creativity from a wide area.

As Chiesa and Kulusevski need more time to adapt, Juventus will undoubtedly turn to its 30 million euros man Ronaldo. After all, that’s what he’s paid for. The former Real Madrid man is ruthless in and around the area and will relieve much of the pressure off of Juve’s young guns. Dybala and Ronaldo haven’t always clicked in the final third, enjoying varying degrees of success, but the five-time Ballon d’Or winner will nonetheless pick up the slack when La Joya is having an off-day.

Pirlo has not had this luxury yet, starting most games with at least four starters out of the lineup. The Italian champions are currently at a delicate point in the season and can’t afford to fall further behind the competition. Milan, Napoli and Inter have all proven they are ready to go the distance, adding further pressure on Pirlo to produce results.

The good news for the young tactician is that Juve’s full-strength lineup is slowly returning to action. Beyond the returns of key men, Juventus will be hoping Pirlo’s footballing philosophy is slowly sinking in. Juventus took a big risk fast-tracking him into the hot-seat, but Pirlo has not shied away from the challenge, aiming for an ambitious setup. The results may not be there just yet, but as Ronaldo nears his return to action, Juventus will be confident in their ability to turn it around.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Six – Top Matches

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Inter: Romelu Lukaku suffered a thigh injury that will cost him at least one game and the Nerazzurri will have to make up for the loss of their target man, something that rarely happened last year. Alexis Sanchez is dealing with a small problem as well, therefore Lautaro Martinez, who has slowed down after opening the campaign with three straight goals, will have to shoulder the attack, then they will hope Andrea Pinamonti can be decent right away. They also briefly used Ivan Perisic as second-striker in the last game. Stefano Sensi is back on the shelf with his customary muscular problems: Christian Eriksen had some flashes last week, but so far him and Marcelo Brozovic have produced nothing too exciting. Their best midfielder has been Nicolò Barella (two assists), while Arturo Vidal has mostly taken care of the dirty work. At some point Radja Nainggolan will get in on the action, but it has not happened yet. Fortunately, Achraf Hakimi (one goal, two assists) was a false positive and he will resume plowing the flank from the start here, while Ashley Young has shaken off the virus and will challenge Ivan Perisic, who has been solid (two assists) but has not really taken off. Their back-line has improved with Alessandro Bastoni back in the fold.

Recommended picks: Martinez, Perisic, Hakimi.  Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Champions League home game vs Barcelona

Juventus were handed the first loss of the season, at home no less, by a depleted Barcelona team that never really needed to get into second gear to create problems and whose laundry list of absences was very exploitable, but the Old Lady paid the price for a collective off-day of their most creative players.

Leonardo Bonucci: he bit the bullet coming off a small injury that in other times would have cost him some matches and he was surprisingly decent as started off with an incredible slide to block a shot and then thwarted some insidious actions simpluy with masterful positioning. Continue reading