Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 18

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Standings implications: Juventus were pretty lucky to grab a tie against Atalanta, however Napoli got beat by Inter and therefore the Bianconeri’s lead widened, while the Nerrazzuri and the Partenopei are now separated by five points. Both Roman teams looked pretty good in the midweek round as Lazio’s win in Bologna was never in doubt and the Giallorossi routed Sassuolo. Milan were held to a tie in Frosinone, so Sampdoria, which were the first to defeat Domenico Di Carlo’s Chievo, now lead the Europa League race. Torino remain in the mix after they handed a drubbing to Empoli, while Fiorentina laid an egg against Parma. SPAL and Udinese did not hurt each other, while Cagliari returned to winning ways against Genoa.

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Serie A Injury Report – Round 17

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Juventus: Sami Khedira should be back to the squad list after missing time with an ankle sprain. Joao Cancelo, Juan Cuadrado (knee) and Andrea Barzagli are not expected to return in 2018.

Napoli: Simone Verdi is likely to be called up as he has been working with the rest of the team for a week now. Mario Rui missed the last game due to muscle fatigue and has been excluded from the squad list again. Alex Meret has a sore shoulder that needs to be monitored. Allan has been ruled out due to back pain.

Inter: Kwadwo Asamoah is suspended. Matias Vecino (thigh) and Dalbert (calf) have been on the sidelines for the last few games, but they will be available. Joao Miranda is fatigued and is very likely to miss the game. Continue reading

Inconsistent Inter fail Roma test

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Inter Milan failed to put any distance between themselves and Napoli, in the race for second in Serie A, with a disappointing 2-2 draw against Roma.

Neither Luciano Spalletti’s side nor Carlo Ancelotti’s are in a position to challenge Juventus at the moment, with the Turin club already 11 points clear after 14 games of the season played.

Napoli can close that eight points, if they win against Atlanta on Monday night, and in turn put three points between them and Inter as the campaign approaches its half way stage.

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Serie A Injury Report – Round 13

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Juventus: Federico Bernardeschi and Sami Khedira will not play this week because of an adductor issue and an ankle sprain. Miralem Pjanic should be available after a little muscular ailment with Bosnia. Emre Can is recovering from thyroid surgery. The two German players could return within a couple of weeks, the Italian winger sooner.

Napoli: Simone Verdi worked his way back from a thigh problem, but rolled his ankle in practice and could miss some time. Amin Younes has shaken off the Achilles injury, but he had the same problem of his teammate, even though his one is considered milder. Alex Meret is dealing with a sore shoulder on top of going through a bumpy rehab from a forearm fracture. Dries Mertens got a bruise in practice. Continue reading

In form Inter Milan continue dominant Serie A form

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Inter Milan are the most in form side in Serie A, with Luciano Spalletti’s registering their seventh straight league win on Saturday.

They saw off Genoa in style at the San Siro on Saturday, with an emphatic 5-0 victory, keeping them in second place in the table, ahead of Napoli on goal difference, and six points behind leaders Juventus.

Whilst Max Allegri’s side are still unbeaten so far this season, in domestic and European competition, they did drop points in a 1-1 draw against Genoa in October.

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Federico Chiesa Must Cut Out Diving Habit

During Week Five of Serie A, the VAR system was working exactly as it should. Examples in Inter’s 1-0 win over Sampdoria, Fiorentina’s 3-0 victory over SPAL and a 1-0 loss for Atalanta at the hands of AC Milan demonstrated just how accurate the technology can be in helping the match officials.

Yet while the system is extremely well-designed, the referees that have VAR at their disposal have since proven to be less than adequate in its deployment. The Viola were furious after VAR changed a decision without a “clear and obvious error” in their match with Inter in Week Six, referee Paolo Mazzoleni reversing the choice not to award the San Siro outfit after he went to have a look. The referee would also fail to award a second yellow card to Nerazzurri full-back Kwadwo Asamoah and missed a dive from Federico Chiesa, decisions that would result in the FIGC excluding the official from the following round of matches.

The Viola were at the centre of another row during their 2-0 win over Atalanta last Sunday when the home side were awarded a penalty, as winger Chiesa went down in the box. It was the second call for a spot-kick in that match as Fiorentina’s appeals for handball were waved away early on. Whether the official had the previous denials in his mind or not is impossible to tell, but replays have demonstrated that Chiesa did take a dive in the aforementioned incident, and Paolo Valeri inexplicably failed to consult VAR.

“VAR works and must be applied properly,” Referees chief Marcello Nicchi told Gr Parlamento. “The protocol is the one we approved last year and the referees are applying it. Every now and then someone may not use it, but [Nicola] Rizzoli will take care of that. Those who don’t adhere to the rules will sit out.”

 It was a clear reference to Valeri’s failure, but the matchday official is not the only one that must be held to account. Fiorentina have proven themselves to have been positive in the face of much adversity, but Chiesa in in danger of tarnishing their glowing reputation as a young and likeable side if he continues to simulate fouls in the box.

The 20-year-old clearly has a great deal of talent – coveted by sides across Europe in every recent transfer window – but still has a lot to learn. Those who regularly watch the Tuscan outfit will have seen that Chiesa both shines and struggles in equal measure during the 90 minutes, and can easily become frustrated when things don’t go his way.

His natural ability is evident, however decision-making is a skill very much still in progress. This is something that will not have escaped astute boss Stefano Pioli, and he will certainly be taking steps to rectify the issue as an act of diving – whether fully intentional or not – is completely at odds with his approach. However, any problems within this fully united group are kept in-house, the Coach having built up the trust of the players through some very difficult times.

Such a philosophy will see Pioli avoiding verbal punishment of wrongdoing in public, which is what was seen in his post-match comments on Sunday. “Chiesa? He’s young and I think he’ll grow without any problems because he has the numbers and potential of a champion,” the Coach revealed to ViolaNews. “One thing I want to say is that he’s a good lad, always looking for one-on-ones, and takes many shots. He’s not a diver. I didn’t like [Gian Piero] Gasperini talking about him in those terms. I don’t talk about players who aren’t mine.”

Of course Pioli has intimate knowledge of the player that no-one outside of the club could possibly have, and perhaps he would rather name the behaviour as bad rather than issuing the label to the player himself. Such talk would deny Chiesa of the opportunity to improve, and it seems likely that his recent habit for going over too easily will be worked on in order that supporters see an improvement in the coming weeks.

Even Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo once had the reputation of a player who dived, something that the number seven has vastly reduced since his days at Manchester United. “I have tried to address it [diving] myself with some of my players over the years,” revealed Sir Alex Ferguson to the Telegraph in 2014. “When Cristiano first joined us he had that dramatic action but he listened very carefully that you can’t do that and he improved tremendously and has been an even better player because of it.”

The legendary Red Devils boss deployed an approach that must now be replicated by Stefano Pioli, but don’t be too surprised if you don’t hear any criticism of his young star in the press.

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Luciano Spalletti should shoulder blame for Inter’s earlier wobbles.

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If you cast your mind back to how Luciano Spalletti’s team started last season, you realize that Inter Milan have been less productive this season. Before their one zero win over Sampdoria last Saturday, the Nerazzurri had amassed just four points from four games and sat 15th position on the league rung. That is nine points short of what they achieved after match day four in the previous campaign.

There are a couple of factors that have accounted for this bad start, and one of them could be laid right at the doorstep of the manager Luciano Spalletti. Spalletti has been doing a lot of tinkering with his team selection and system, which hasn’t helped them much. It’s quite understandable that the Italian tactician wants to his new recruits to bed into his method and assimilate his ideas very early in the season, but the lack of consistency in his approach has been problematic.

Now let’s photograph some of Luciano Spalletti’s confusion with clear illustrations.

In Inter’s opening fixture against Sassuolo at the MAPEI Stadium, the manger played a back four which comprised of João Miranda and Stefan de Vrij as center back pair, whiles Dalbert Chagas and Danilo D’Ambrosio played as laterals. In the midfield, Luciano Spalletti opted for Matías Vecino  alongside Marcelo Brozović with new signing Lautaro Martínez playing behind Mauro Icardi. The captain had Kwadwo Asamoah supporting him from the left wing and Matteo Politano on the other side. Inter dominated possession but was on par with Sassuolo on the number of shots on targets and corners. In the end, the home side held onto Domenico Berardi’s 27th minute penalty kick.

At home to Torino at San Siro, Luciano Spalletti altered his starting line-up and changed the system to a back three. Miranda was pulled out for M. Škriniar alongside S. De Vrij and Danilo D’Ambrosio to form a trio at the back. Š. Vrsaljko and Asamoah played as wing backs whiles Perisic and Politano attacked the flanks with Icardi as the target man. He maintained the midfield duo of Brozovic and Vecino.  Inter squandered their two goal lead before the interval as Torino rallied in the second half to level the score.

Against Bologna, Spalletti returned to a back to four and made three chances to the previous line- up. M. Škriniar and S. de Vrij continued their centreback partnership. D. D’Ambrosio and Asamoah played as lateral defenders. Roberto Gagliardini took the place of Vecino with Radja Nianggolan playing behind Keita Balde Diao. Inter produced an assured performance in the second period of that game, scoring three goals through Nainggolan, Perisic and substitute Antonio Candreva.

It’s normal for coaches to rest players in a league game ahead of a Champions League fixture, and given Inter’s absence in the European Competition for the past seven years, it was imperative that they started with a win on home soil. And before that, was a home game against promoted side Parma who are proving to be tough customers for the established teams in the league. Spalletti maintained a chunk  of the players in the previous game but still made two changes with Dalbert Henrique taking the place of Asamoah and Candreva coming in for Politano.

The change of players and systems means the manager is not wedded to one particular approach, but it sends the message that Luciano Spalletti is yet to find the right permutation for the team. Nainngolan is a huge character in midfield, dominant and very demanding. The Belgian is all about strength, passion, technique and athleticism. Playing him behind Icardi or Keita doesn’t seem to be the ideal fit. Nainggolan has proven to be a threat from A distance with his long range shots, but he is not a reliable creative player. He can function better in tandem with Brozovic in the middle of the pitch.

In Kwadwo Asamoah, Spelletti has got a versatile player capable of operating both as a left back and a winger, but Asamoah’s favorite position, the role he revels in, is playing behind the attack. Inter’s midfield is currently oversubscribed with the manager having to rotate between Borja Valero, Vecino and Gagliardini. However, the Ghanaian will be a vital component in the Nerrazurris charge for a successful league campaign.

It would have been ideal for inter to have approached the Tuesday’s Champion league game against Totteham Hotspurs in a much healthier position. The Nerazzurri didn’t look like a team prior to the 2-1 win over the English side. They looked disjointed and uninspiring, with their defending a bit abject this season. Luciano Spalletti’s comments after overcoming Spurs was quite significant about his team’s performance “We weren’t at the level, in a couple of areas, which we had prepared to be. Some phases of the game could have been managed better. “A victory like this, after having come from behind, gives us a lot of enthusiasm and allows us to believe more about the future’’

We can’t say how far Inter will go into the Champions League, but after showing determined spirit to come from behind to secure a very important victory they could go far. The win over Spurs proved to be a shot in the arm for Spalletti’s men as they continued with another victory away to Sampdoria on Saturday. Hopefully Inter will make up for their early stutters to close the gap on their opponents in the league.

Support for the manager was beginning to sag after a year, but winning two games on the trot should blow the doubt and lift confidence around the team. Talent wise, Inter are the best of the chasing pack, but Spalletti’s team need to be a real title threat by churning out consistent performances. The manager’s lack of clarity of how to deploy his players in the right system is what contributed to their poor start.

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Serie A Player Status and Injury Updates – Round 4

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The international break has been pretty rough this time around.

Juventus: Miralem Pjanic was stomped on with Bosnia, but he is fine. Andrea Barzagli had a calf problem in practice.

Napoli: Piotr Zielinski (ankle) and Dries Mertens (shoulder) suffered small injuries, but they are fine and could both start. Vlad Chiriches tore his ACL with Romania and will be out for five-to-six month. Faouzi Ghoulam was cleared to practice after a long rehab following a kneecap fracture and might be able to play in a month. Alex Meret is a couple of weeks away from a full recovery from an arm fracture. Continue reading

Serie A must continue purchase of World Class players to enhance image

Seven years ago, one French Club, Paris Saint Germain invaded Serie A and plundered the league’s top stars from its top teams. Jérémy Ménez, Javier Pastore, Thiago Motta, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marco Verratti, Thiago Sliva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Later, Marquinhos and Edison Cavani joined the fray. PSG’s incursion was propelled by current owners, Qatar Sports Investments, spearheaded by Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

It wasn’t just the ability of the oil rich investors to price away the best talents from other clubs as was the case with Neymar last season, but it exposed how vulnerable and financially weak clubs in Italy were at that particular period. Let’s look at it from this perspective, the strength of a league is predicated on the strength of its clubs. Thus, Serie A became weak in the eyes of its opposing leagues.

It’s worth to note that, during those trial moments, Juventus were putting in place the right structures, both administratively and infrastructure (The Allianz Stadium). They managed to sign the likes of Carlos Tevez from Manchester City, Arturo Vidal from Bayer Leverkusen, got Andrea Pirlo on a Bossman and a world class potential in Paul Pobga. The results are six scudetti on the bounce and two Champions League finals in the last five years. They continue to attract some of the best talents in Douglas Costa, Blaise Matuidi and Emre Can.

This season,the backdrop to Juventus campaign is the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo. Portuguese Captain is a symbol of perseverance, whiles his great achievements and showy personality drags the media to his orbit. A report this year from D’Marie Analytics, a social media research firm estimates that a post by Ronaldo across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter is worth a cumulative $728,973.35, making him both the most valuable soccer player and athlete overall.

And of course, commercially, there are all sorts of financial spin offs when you sign Cristiano Ronaldo, from merchandise to image rights.

According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Ronaldo’s debut match against Chievo attracted 2,330,234 unique viewers, with an audience share of 11.9 percent. That’s a 68 percent increase in viewers on Juve’s first match of last season, when they faced Cagliari at home. It is also the fourth-highest total since the Italian branch of Sky launched, surpassed only by the Derby d’Italia in 2013 and 2016, and Roma-Juventus in August 2015. Another Broadcast giant ESPN signed a multi-year deal to broadcast Serie A in the United States It’s difficult to quantify how much of this attention is contributed by the competitiveness of the league after Napoli gave Juventus a hard fought for the scudetto last season.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s entrance has brought the sheen that Serie A needs.

It is however important for the other top teams Inter Milan, Napoli, AC Milan and AS Roma to leverage on the current attraction to lure elite players to their abode.

The two San Siro outfits, AC Milan and Inter are beginning to recover their financial muscle after the change of ownerships from Italian families to foreign Investors, as well as Roma. Things are beginning to look up for AC Milan under the current owners Elliot Hudge Fund Management who have brought back Leonardo in the position of Sporting director, alongside Paolo Maldini as sporting strategy and development director.

AC Milan’s transfer activities have not triggered the kind of excitement that greeted the appointment of their former heroes. Paolo Maldini’s name seems to have overshadowed their purchases in the summer and rightly so because names likes, Tiémoué Bakayoko, Alen Halilovic, Samu Castillejo and Diego Laxalt do not generate euphoria. But the Rossoneri take consolation in the signature of Gonzalo Higuain and Mattia Caldara.

Inter Milan managed to sign Radja Nainggolan from AS Roma and Kwadwo Asamoah from Inter whiles keeping Ivan Peresic and their priciest asset, Captain Maruo Icardi. The reports about Luka Modric wanting to join the Nerazzurri drew a lot of enthusiasm around the club and showed further proof of the kind of players that Serie A are missing. Though the player decided otherwise, it was a sign of ambition on the part of the Nerazzurri.

Despite the acquisition of Javier Pastori and Steven Nzonzi by AS Roma this summer, the Giallorossi have lost world class goalkeeper Alison Becker to Liverpool and Kevin Strootman to Marseille. Whiles Mauricio Sarri and Jorginho have joined Chelsea from Napoli. Last year, three players from Serie A mounted the FIFPro World XI podium. Two of them, Dani Alves and Gialuigi Buffon are currently PSG players. Cristiano Ronaldo may be on the podium in the next FIFA Mens Best Player Award Event but it will be based on his performance at Real Madrid.

Serie A need a continue purchase of world class players to continue enjoying the attention it’s currently attracting.

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Serie A Player Status Updates – Round 3

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Juventus:  Miralem Pjanic is fine after subbing off in the second half last week, Mattia De Sciglio might be able to make the squad list.

Napoli: Mario Rui is expected to recover from the little muscular problem he had against Milan, while Fabian Ruiz remains questionable due to muscle fatigue. Alex Meret (arm) is unlikely to play, but he is close to returning.

Roma:  Alessandro Florenzi suffered a knee trauma, but it is nothing major. He, Diego Perotti, still dealing with an ankle sprain, and Antonio Mirante, for some neck pain, have been ruled out for the Milan game. Continue reading