The many hurdles Gattuso overcame to get Milan back on track

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Let me take you back to last November. Milan couldn’t keep a clean sheet to save their lives and then In the span of a few weeks, the rossoneri lost Lucas Biglia, Giacomo Bonaventura, Alessio Romagnoli, Mattia Caldara and Mateo Musacchio to injuries forcing Gattuso to reinvent Ignazio Abate as a center back, give a bigger role to Bakayoko (who had been such a flop there was talk he would go back to Chelsea in January) and hope Gonzalo Higuain would carry his team on his back despite him being less than fully fit.

Be honest, did you think Milan had any chance of qualifying for the Champions League back then? If dealing with all of those injuries wasn’t enough, Gattuso had to also manage all the drama surrounding Higuain, who constantly looked like someone who had just been told his dog died, a player who left Milanello even faster than his former Juventus teammate Leonardo Bonucci and integrate Paqueta and Piatek into his squad on the fly.

Even for a manager with a lot of experience, this would have been a lot to ask- never mind one who had only coached in Serie A for about a calendar year and who had been hired from the club’s previous regime. While we often focus on Gattuso’s limitations tactically and his penchant for some ill timed substitutions, it’s now time to give him some credit.

Gianluigi-Donnarumma

It took awhile, but now Milan find themselves with one of the best defenses in Serie A. After a very problematic season on and off the pitch in 2017/18, Gigio Donnarumma is living up to being the highest paid goal keeper in Serie A- he’s also made sure the Azzurri don’t skip a beat in the post Buffon era. Davide Calabria has shown so much improvement that despite coming back from an injury, the highly rated Andrea Conti will have to wait a bit more to play regularly.

New captain Alessio Romagnoli has ended the debate on who is better between him and Daniele Rugani and is now considered the future leader of the Azzurri’s backline. Despite Mattia Caldara’s injury, Gattuso has been able to give Romagnoli a strong defensive partner by rotating Musacchio, Zapata and Abate very well. If Milan can now get either Ricardo Rodriguez or Diego Laxalt going they would be all set on defense for years to come.

Tiémoué-Bakayoko

For the past few seasons, the midfield has been a big pain for the rossoneri. But Gattuso has been able to turn the unit around by working closely with Bakayoko and turning him back into the player who made the Champions League team of the season at Monaco. Milan’s manager used the carrot and the stick approach with Bakayoko by criticizing him publicly while also working with him individually and he has now turned him into a player who looks like a bargain despite having an option to buy of around 40 million euro.

Speaking of transfer values, when the Paqueta deal was made official, many pointed out that it was a huge risk for Milan to invest 30 million plus bonuses on a young player with no Serie A experience at a time that the rossoneri were financially hamstrung because of Financial Fair Play. Fast forward to six weeks later and Paqueta has brought the unpredictability that Milan lacked in the midfield in recent years.

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Paqueta hasn’t of course been the only brilliant January addition at Milanello. Piatek has drawn comparisons to Shevchenko after his brilliant start at the club, and now looks like a bargain at 35 million euro despite Milan failing to land the speedy winger their fans were demanding in the last week of the transfer window. It’s not easy for a manager to integrate one starter mid season, but Gattuso has been able to do so with a player completely new to the league and one who had just arrived last summer.

Like many others, I was rather skeptical when Milan hired Gattuso to replace Montella- he just seemed destined to be another former club legend after Clarence Seedorf and Pippo Inzaghi who would end up as a sacrificial lamb. But what Gattuso lacks in experience, he has more than made up with his ability to motivate his players- most of which look ready to jump in a fire for him.

Despite all the challenges with injuries, integrating new players, off field drama, Gattuso has the team right where the club expected at the start of the season- they’re very much in contention for a Champions League spot, have a legitimate chance at winning the Coppa Italia, especially with Juventus and Napoli being eliminated- when you consider all of these factors, it’s hard to envision Gattuso not getting the chance to start next season as Milan’s coach- he has shown he deserves the opportunity to grow alongside his young team.

 

Genoa and Piatek finding Serie A life difficult

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The early form of Genoa was one the biggest stories from Serie A in the opening weeks of the season, with Ivan Juric’s side a regular fixture in the top ten.

After the first seven games of the 2018-19 season, they were sitting in sixth, following  wins over Empoli, Bologna, Chievo and Frosinone.

Much of this positivity was down to the goal scoring exploits of 23 year old striker Krzysztof Piatek, who netted 12 goals in first eight games in Italian football.

Signed from Cracovia in the summer, he took Serie A by storm in the opening two months of the campaign, earning a call up, and a goal on his competitive debut with the Polish national team.

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Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 13

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Standings implication: Juventus had an easy time against SPAL and Inter got back on track by spanking Frosinone,so they both gained ground on Napoli, which were astonishingly held to a tie at home against the lowly Chievo. Lazio equalized at the buzzer in the meeting with Milan. Roma against sputtered, this time in Udine. Genoa and Sampdoria shared the spoils in the Derby della Lanterna. Parma got a quality win over Sassuolo. Fiorentina did not found the deciding goal in Bologna and had to settle for a nil-nil draw. Empoli mounted a furious comeback to best Atalanta. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 11

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Just a pair of juicy match-ups on deck this week, while the top teams will try to take advantage of cozy fixtures on paper.

Napoli-Empoli: the Partenopei were not super sharp versus Roma, they salvaged a draw but could have probably done more if they did not put themselves in the predicament of having to come back. It was the first time they dropped points at home. Empoli have not won since the first game, but they certainly put up a fight against Juventus before Cristiano Ronaldo decided to win it. Continue reading

Allegri’s presser ahead of Juventus-Genoa

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Massimiliano Allegri talked to the press today after the break to introduce the clash with Genoa and started off informing on the condition of his players: “They are fine, somebody has fewer minutes in his legs. Leonardo Spinazzola played an hour in a friendly. Mattia De Sciglio is okay, same for Douglas Costa. We hope to have Sami Khedira back for the second game against Manchester United here at home.”

On Paulo Dybala: “He is available to play, I will have to evaluate the form of the midfielders and then I will decide how many attackers to field. The only player who will rest for sure is Giorgio Chiellini.” Continue reading

5 Reasons to Watch Serie A this Weekend

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At least this international break was slightly less dreadful for Calcio fans since the Azzurri finally won their first match under Roberto Mancini,  but I’m sure everyone is just as excited as I am that we get Serie A back this weekend. There are as always numerous intriguing story lines including…

 

Can Piatek keep up his scoring streak against top opponents?

It’s hard not be incredibly impressed when someone scores 13 goals in 8 games in a league some still have the audacity to call “boring and defensive”, but it’s also important to break down the level of competition which Adam Digby did recently with a series of tweets. Piatek (pronounced PIOOONTEKK) scored a poker against Lecce and except for a goal against Lazio, his victims include Empoli, Parma, Frosinone, Sassuolo, Bologna and Chievo.

We’ll have a much better gauge of Piatek’s ability after he gets through his next few games starting with Juve on Saturday followed by Milan, Inter, Napoli and the derby against Sampdoria. The market for the Polish striker could radically change if a higher level of competition makes him look mortal.

Will Radja Nainggolan use his feud with Pallotta as fuel in the derby?

Last week I was chatting with someone within Roma and we discussed the Belgian international’s sale. While I pointed out he had seen better days and I understand why the giallorossi would move on, they also pointed out that since the club decided to go with a youth movement with the likes of Kluivert, Coric and Cristante to go with Schick and Under, it would have been very difficult to preach about discipline and professionalism to these youngsters with someone like Nainggolan on the team. So his departure from Italy’s capital was already on my mind…

Then came the Ninja’s interview on Gazzetta dello Sport where he attacked his former president Pallotta, he mentioned that the Boston entrepreneur only came to be with the team once a year and that he didn’t have a good pulse for the team. Pallotta responded by saying that sometimes having distance gives you better perspective. It will be interesting to see if this back and forth will motivate Nainggolan even more as he gets ready for his first derby della Madonnina.

Can Barella become Cagliari’s new Nainggolan?

Speaking of Nainggolan, he’s probably the highest profile player to be sold within Serie A during the January transfer window in the past few years- and now Cagliari may be involved in a similar deal with Niccolo’ Barella who is also establishing himself on Italy’s midfield alongside Verratti and Jorginho.

Barella has been previously linked to Milan (a club who could really use him and where he would be a set starter) as well as Inter, a club the Sardinian team’s president is very familiar with since he used to be one of their board members. But Barella also has estimators abroad, Arsenal have scouted him and if he continues to play this well that list could grow quite substantially.

Will Ancelotti continue his bizarro Sarri imitation? 

Comic book fans know that Bizarro was the inverted version of Superman and that he came from a planet where “good” means “bad” and so on. You can make a great case that Ancelotti has been the bizarre version of his predecessor, and while Sarri always stuck with same lineup, Napoli have now trotted out a different lineup for each match.

But the different lineups aren’t the only thing that Ancelotti has done to distance himself from the Sarri era, Napoli are actually committed to competitions outside of Serie A. So it will be very interesting to see how Ancelotti approaches the match against Udinese with the showdown against PSG looming.

 

Can Ventura get his mojo back at Chievo?

I know this may sound like a foreign concept to some, but two things can be true at the same time. Sure Ventura did a very poor job with the Azzurri, and no matter what he does next, he’ll always be remembered for failing to get Italy to the World Cup for the first time in 60 years.

But it’s also true that the Italy currently isn’t producing much talent- prior to Ventura’s regime, Italy didn’t get out of group stage for two consecutive World Cups and Mancini had to get to his sixth game to finally get a win- Conte’s run at the last Euro was an anomaly, more based on the former Chelsea’s manager ability to create a great group and get the most out of journey man players like Giaccherini, Eder and Pelle’.

Now Ventura has the perfect opportunity to start to change the narrative of his career- he joins a club who still has negative points after the deduction for the inflated plusvalenze scandal, and he’s no stranger to the battle to avoid relegation.

 

Genoa sack Ballardini and bring back Juric

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In a rather surprising news on Tuesday, Genoa have announced the dismissal of coach Davide Ballardini and the return of Milan Juric. The Grifone have currently four wins and three losses and are in 12th position in the standings, but president Enrico Preziosi had voiced his displeasure with the direction of the team after the bad home loss against Parma in the weekend. In particular, he was reportedly unconvinced of the manager’s defensive plans, since they have already conceded 14 points.

Ballardini was appointed last November, replacing Juric, and led them to a serene season, where they finished in 12th position, 16 points above the relegation line. Continue reading