SPAL-Juventus: after winning three games in a row, against Roma, Frosinone and Lazio, SPAL were bested by Cagliari, but their recent streak gave them a little breathing room over the last three positions. Juventus toppled Milan last week, winning for the eighth time in the last nine matches and they are one point away from clinching the title. For the Estensi, Andrea Petagna has been a rock all year long, showing to be a much more prolific striker compared to his time at Atalanta. Manuel Lazzari is their main playmaker off the right flank and has picked up eight assists thus far. Jasmin Kurtic is also occasionally able to collect some bonus points, while they have not got much out of the second-striker role, as Mirco Antenucci, Andrea Paloschi and Sergio Floccari have combined for just six goals. Continue reading
Few tilts were high-scoring and intense up until the final whistle in this round and Juventus-Milan was the most meaningful one out of the bunch. The Bianconeri came into the game looking to get closer or possibly clinch the title with an advantageous combination of results that would have to start with a win, while the Devil were seeking to rebound after three unsatisfactory results, as they had recently lost to Sampdoria and Inter and tied with Udinese.
Standings implication: Juventus overwhelmed Cagliari, while Napoli fell to Empoli and therefore the Bianconeri could potentially clinch the title in the weekend. In the Champions League race, it was a positive round for Inter, which thumped Genoa on the road, and Atalanta that demolished Bologna, while Milan had a disappointing tie with Udinese and Lazio were outlasted by SPAL. The Biscione built a little lead while the Orobici are one point behind the Rossoneri.
Torino returned to winning ways against Sampdoria, while Roma again failed to take home the W as they equalized with Fiorentina. The Granata pulled even with the Nation’s Capital teams and distanced Sampdoria. As it is often the case in this time of the year, the relegation strugglers are starting to get some surprise victories: SPAL and Empoli gained points on Udinese and Bologna. Frosinone snatched their first home win of the season, but it might be too late for them as they are * behind the 17th position. Continue reading
Milan-Udinese: the Rossoneri slowed down just as things were starting to get really interesting, as they were defeated by Inter and Sampdoria after they had managed to surpass the Nerazzurri riding a five-game winning streak. They also have to look behind at the onrushing Atalanta and Lazio. Udinese came out on top in Igor Tudor’s second debut, besting Genoa after two losses to Juventus and Napoli, although their home numbers were solid also before the firing of Davide Nicola. Milan have had troubles feeding Krzysztof Piatek in the last two matches and they do not really have a second reliable scoring option because Suso and Hakan Calhanoglu are more creators and have not had much feeling with the goal recently. Samu Castillejo did not deliver in Genoa despite the opportunity to start. Lucas Paquetà and Franck Kessie were benched after international duties, but they should be back in the XI here and could provide a decent boost. The Brazilian starlet might play closer to the guy and Patrick Cutrone could get to start over Suso in a different scheme. Continue reading
Juventus-Empoli: the Bianconeri are coming off their first Serie A loss this season, against Genoa, while they dropped points just twice at home thus far. The Azzurri defeated Frosinone in Aurelio Andreazzoli’s return match, nabbing the second win in the last 13 rounds. They have lost in five of the last six away games. The Old Lady will be without Cristiano Ronaldo, who got hurt while playing with Portugal, and Douglas Costa, who remains sidelined. Therefore, Federico Bernardeschi, Moise Kean, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic will lead the charge and try to alleviate the absence of the Portuguese star. They could be helped by the fact that the Tuscans have one of the leakiest defenses in the League. Continue reading
Since being appointed Italy boss after the World Cup debacle, Roberto Mancini has done well to implement a distinct style of play, and identify key players for his setup moving forward. With the defence and midfield all but set, barring a few adjustments, the attack remains Mancini’s last puzzle. While the former Inter tactician has introduced the likes of Federico Chiesa and Moise Kean into the fold, some of Mancini’s choices in the final third have been questionable, to say the least.
In Mancini’s latest selections, Vincenzo Grifo and Leonardo Pavoletti both got the call to represent their nation. The latter, a 30-year-old mid-table journeyman, won’t be on the international scene for much longer and failed at the only big club he was at, while Grifo has only played eight games in league action this season thus far for Freiburg and has never demonstrated to be anything more than a decent squad player.
After years of struggling for options in the final third, Mancini is finally blessed with various talents in the attacking department, be it with Bernardeschi, Chiesa, and Kean among others. Now is not the time to experiment with players who are on the wrong side of 30 or haven’t been consistent in front of goal.
Regardless of their form this season, neither Pavoletti or Grifo will represent Italy next summer, and neither deserves to take valuable experience away from the nation’s budding forwards. What is more puzzling is that the in-form Andrea Belotti was left home, despite his recent resurgence.
The Torino forward has lead the line exceptionally well, and has propelled I Granata into an unlikely race for European football. While he’s had better goal tallies in past seasons, Belotti has become a more well-rounded forward under Walter Mazzarri and is ready for another go on the international scene. At 25 years old, Il Gallo is about to enter the prime of his career, and is an excellent option for Mancini.
Another player who could have also gotten the call ahead of Pavoletti and Grifo was Mario Balotelli. Despite some previous attitude concerns, Supermario’s has been Italy’s most consistent forward over the years, and has done well in Marseille, scoring four goals in his last six games. Mancini had this to say about Balotelli’s exclusion.
“Balotelli still isn’t in peak condition, he’s improving but I expect a lot from him and he can improve further. In general, all of the technical players are improving and this is comforting for me.” (Source: Twitter – @Azzurri)
The reality is that, much like Balotelli, Grifo hasn’t played much for Freiburg, and yet still received a call-up. Had Mancini cited previous indiscipline as his reason, it would have made Balotelli’s exclusion understandable. Regardless, Supermario deserves one more run with the Nazionale, and will likely get the chance next time around.
While Mancini has done relatively well at blending youth with experience, another player who should have, at the very least, been part of the training camp is Milan’s Patrick Cutrone. Since breaking onto the scene, the Milan forward has demonstrated all the raw abilities of a top forward, and has a knack for being at the right place at the right time.
At just 21 years old, Cutrone, alongside Juventus’ Moise Kean, are easily Mancini’s best long-term bets. Since Krzysztof Piatek’s arrival, however, Cutrone has found playing time hard to come by. Despite this, he deserves a shot with the national team, and could prove useful at the upcoming Euros if given consistent playing time.
Moving forward, Mancini can’t keep turning to the likes of Pavoletti and Grifo as they are taking away development time from Italy’s potential, long-term number nines. Let’s face it, neither will make the final squad while Belotti, Balotelli and Cutrone all have a great shot. The ball’s now in Mancini’s court.
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Goals galore in few matches in a very exciting Serie A weekend, which culminated in a riveting Derby della Madonnina that easily took home the coveted shout-out.
Milan approached the game looking to carry on the momentum that led them to snatching the third position away from the crosstown rivals with five straight wins. Inter prevailed in the last two Serie A matches, but just endured a bitter elimination from Europa League by the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt.
Gianluigi Donnarumma: the starlet is in great form and Milan have been able to keep a clean in five of their last seven fixtures, while Chievo have failed to score in five straights.
Alex Sandro: he will be suspended for the return leg of the Atletico Madrid clash, therefore he should be out there against Udinese. Either way, one Juventus defender could be a good pick in this round since the Zebrette have not found their target in their last five away games. Continue reading
Juventus-Udinese: despite being under siege for the whole second half, the Bianconeri survived in Napoli and further broaden their lead atop of the standings. Despite the results in the domestic league, where they have won four in a row and seven in the last eight and are still undefeated, the squad seems to be trending down in the last couple of weeks. The Zebrette are coming off two massive wins over Chievo and Bologna, which allowed them to jump to the 15th position and move seven points clear of the final three spots. Miralem Pjanic and Joao Cancelo are suspended and coach Massimiliano Allegri is expected to heavily rotate the squad ahead of the second leg with Atletico Madrid, but they are not particularly deep. Continue reading
Cagliari-Inter: the Sardinians are coming off a 0-1 loss to Sampdoria, where they were offensively challenged, and have prevailed just once in the past seven games, where they have been beaten five times. Inter had a crazy one with Fiorentina last week, where they were pipped at the post due to a questionable penalty. They had defeated Parma and the Blucerchiati in the two previous fixtures and need point to stave off Milan and Roma’s comeback. The Rossoblù have found the net in just one of their last five games and only with one player, Leonardo Pavoletti. Continue reading