What to Watch For in Serie A: Round 8

Round 8 sees a jam-packed schedule of Serie A fixtures coming our way out of the international break, with plenty of fascinating storylines to sort through.

Let’s break down what you should be watching for this weekend around Italy’s top flight. Continue reading

Lazio need Joaquin Correa to sharpen his blunt edges – and fast

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As he watched his penalty cannon off the crossbar, Joaquin Correa’s head sank into his hands.

He wanted this – no, he needed this – to go in.

Correa desperately wanted to dedicate a goal to his grandmother, who passed away recently.

He wanted to be the man to secure a hard-fought win for Lazio against Bologna, after seeing his side come back from behind twice.

But most of all, he needed the goal to help change the narrative that has been building this season: that the Argentine lacks a clinical edge.

Continue reading

Rare Lazio comeback produces more questions than answers ahead of trip to Celtic

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The contrast was startling.

After a drab, eventless first half in a must-win Europa League fixture against Rennes on Thursday, Simone Inzaghi turned to his bench early in the second.

He made a double substitution, bringing on rested star men Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in the hope of injecting some life into his team’s performance.

The strategy didn’t get off to the best of starts when the hosts almost immediately conceded the opening goal, but it soon paid off as Alberto set up Milinkovic-Savic for the opener before the Serbian’s cross found the head of Ciro Immobile to complete the comeback. Continue reading

Simone Inzaghi made mistakes against Inter – but benching Ciro Immobile wasn’t one of them

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As the news filtered through a few hours before kick-off, no one could quite believe it: Ciro Immobile would start on the bench for Lazio against Inter. 

Immobile has started the new season at his lethal best, scoring four goals in his first four games ahead of the trip to San Siro, and another for Italy on international duty.

When the official line-up came out to confirm that Felipe Caicedo would partner Joaquin Correa in attack, there was a general assumption that it must have something to do with Immobile’s strop during Sunday’s win over Parma.

In that game, the striker scored the opening goal but threw a tantrum on his way back to the bench when his number came up in the second half. Continue reading

So much for ‘Year Zero’: Like a moody teenager, presumptuous Lazio refuse to learn lessons

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Old habits die hard. But what if they refuse to die at all?

That, sadly, appears to be the reality facing Lazio after a week in which a familiar trait reared its ugly head twice in the space of five days.

In mirror-image matches, Lazio took the lead away to technically inferior sides, SPAL in Serie A and Cluj in the Europa League, before whimpering to a pair of 2-1 defeats.

Technically inferior they may be, but those teams taught Simone Inzaghi’s men a lesson in the importance of desire and character.

But what’s the point in even attending lessons if you’re not going to learn? Continue reading

Serie A Round 4 Fantacalcio Player Trends: Stock Down

Match-day three has come and gone and it’s now time to look ahead to the next round of fixtures. Inter look to remain perfect in the Derby della Madonnina against Milan while Juventus will be hoping to return to winning ways against newly-promoted side Hellas Verona. The in-form Napoli will also take on Serie A new-boys and will be travelling to Lecce. Otherwise, free-scoring sides Bologna and Roma lock horns at the Dall’Ara in what promises to be an enthralling affair.

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

Gervinho (ATT, Parma, Value 15.9) -The former Arsenal man hasn’t had the best of starts to the Serie A season scoring just one goal in his first three affairs. In Parma’s last game against Cagliari, Gervinho looks devoid of any ideas in the final third and was wasteful in front of goal. This week’s fixtures see Parma go up against a Lazio side looking to redeem themselves from their slip-up against SPAL. As a result, expect Parma to find themselves on the backfoot for much of this game, like it’s been the case for the first three games of the season.

While it’s still early days, Parma’s lack of creativity and invention in the final third may just cost them points and catapult them into a relegation dog-fight. And frankly, it will cost you fantasy points if you persevere with Gervinho. At 15.9 million, there are undoubtedly better options than the Ivorian.

Rodrigo De Paul (MID, Udinese, Value 16.9) - Much like Gervinho, the Argentine midfielder is playing on a side that will surely be among the candidates for relegation. If that weren’t enough to persuade you from dropping De Paul, the Udinese midfielder recently got sent off for slapping Inter winger Antonio Candreva in his side’s most recent defeat. With De Paul suspended for Udinese’s next game, it’s as good a time as any to make use of your free transfer between rounds and swap him out of your team.

While De Paul will come back strong from the sending off, at 16.9 million the midfielder is frankly not worth the trouble. Especially when you consider you can get Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and save 1.4 million, just to name one example.

Douglas Costa (ATT, Juventus, Value 10.6) - The Brazilian was initially my bargain pick for this year’s edition of fantasy Serie A but he has since seen his value rise as he’s established himself as a set starter in Turin. Despite his positive performances and his two assists against Napoli, you would be wise to temporarily shift Douglas Costa out of your sides as he’s recently picked up an injury sidelining him for the better part of two weeks.

With Paulo Dybala and Federico Bernardeschi waiting in the wings, the bianconeri have no shortage of options to replace the former Bayern Munich man. As a result, expect Douglas Costa to be eased into action slowly. Until then, there’s good value out there for 10.6 million.

Lucas Paqueta (MID, Milan, Value 8.3) - Initially, the Brazilian international was supposed to be a match-made in heaven for Marco Giampaolo’s 4-3-1-2. Capable of playing behind the strikers or on the left-hand side of the midfield three, Paqueta, in theory, fits like a glove in the Milan manager’s setup. However, reality is a different beast altogether and Paqueta has since fallen out of favour with Giampaolo.

The former Sampdoria tactician recently claimed that Paqueta has to be “less Brazilian” and simplify his game, to which the midfielder responded immediately via Instagram. As a result, expect the former Flamengo man to be in the dog-house for the time being.

Luis Alberto (MID, Lazio, Value 15.5) - The Spaniard was a difficult inclusion, however, given his high valuation, the former Liverpool man had to make the list. After two impressive performances against Sampdoria and Roma, Luis Alberto struggled to make an impact against SPAL.

With Lazio taking on CFR Cluj in the Europa League this week, expect Simone Inzaghi to rotate his eleven. Considering the biancocelesti’s multitude of options in the midfield and final third, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Luis Alberto given some rest against Parma. For 15.5 million, you can do better.

The facts behind the figures: What we’ve learned about Lazio from the Serie A salary report

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At the start of the week, La Gazzetta dello Sport published its annual breakdown of each Serie A club’s wage bill for the season ahead.

Much of the reaction to the article has focused on Juventus’ massive financial advantage over the rest of Italy and the impact the summer mercato has had on Inter’s spending.

But there were plenty of intriguing sub-plots to be found behind the figures, not least at Lazio. For example…

On paper, a top-four finish would be an over-achievement…

This is by no means a secret, but the gulf in wage spend between Lazio and the teams they are expected to compete with for a top four place this season is significant.  Continue reading

Serie A’s Blue & Red Chip Players

Now that the transfer window is (FINALLY) over, we can fully assess the squads for the top Serie A teams. When ranking teams and breaking down their player personnel, I always use a method that NFL general manager Mike Lombardi employed both as an executive and analyst: name the blue and red chip players.

A blue chip player is a true difference maker, an elite player at his position who could start regularly for a title contender. A red chip player on the hand is someone who could be a significant contributor on a team that is competing for a Champions League spot. While putting together this year’s version of this column, I once again avoid putting players new to Serie A in the blue chip category because we don’t know how they will adapt to a new league.

 

So without further due, let’s take a look at how many blue chip and red chip players each top Serie A team has:

 

Juventus 

 

Blue Chip: Szczesny, Chiellini, Ronaldo, Douglas Costa 

Red Chip: De Ligt, Bonucci, Alex Sandro, Pjanic, Khedira, Ramsey, Rabiot, Dybala, Bernardeschi, Matuidi, Mandzukic, Can, Higuain, Buffon

The bianconeri are so deep that their main backups would likely contend for a Champions League spot if they had their own team so it’s not surprising to see a long list of blue chip players which could have also easily featured also Cuadrado and  Demiral. 

Douglas Costa’s speed and dribbling ability make him “fuori categoria” in Serie A (a player that is so unique there’s hardly any comparison in the league). Szczesny has been so good since arriving in Italy that those familiar with Serie A never thought for a second that Buffon was returning to Juventus to be the starter, while Ronaldo and Chiellini are still elite players at their positions despite their age. 

Last year many would have had Pjanic as a blue chip player (not me though), but his value is diminished since he doesn’t take as many free kicks with Ronaldo on the squad. Dybala went from being arguably the most valuable player on the transfer market in all of Serie A to someone who has to compete with Higuain for playing time while Khedira is a blue chip player in the eyes of pretty much any manager he ever had.

 

 

 

Napoli

 

Blue Chip: Koulibaly, Allan, Fabian Ruiz, Callejon

Red Chip: Mertens, Meret, Manolas, Zielinski, MIlik, Insigne, Lozano

Aside from Ronaldo, it’s hard to argue against Fabian Ruiz being the best player who joined Serie A from abroad last season. Napoli were able to hold on to Koulibaly and Allan who just like Fabian Ruiz could be starters on Juventus, while Callejon continues to reinvent himself and add to his game- Ancelotti has already used him a central midfielder during summer friendlies.

Aside from Dino Zoff, you can make a case that Meret has everything needed to be Napoli’s best keeper ever, while Manolas is a more than adequate replacement for Albiol. Milik is coming off a season in which he scored 18 goals in Serie A with no penalties, while Lozano looks like the perfect jolly for Ancelotti to use in different ways to compliment his front line. 

In order for the partenopei to truly contend with Juventus, they’ll need two out of Ghoulam (who was a red chip player before his injury), Malcuit and Di Lorenzo to exceed expectations this season.

 

Inter

 

Blue Chip: Handanovic, Skriniar, De Vrij, Brozovic

Red Chip: Lukaku, Godin, Barella, Sensi, Lautaro Martinez, Politano

Clearly Inter have a blue chip manager who will make players like Candreva look like red chip players most of the time, but let’s try not to be influenced too much by Conte. Inter have been able to won their first two games with Ranocchia and D’Ambrosio starting, but they’ll be even better with De Vrij- a Bosman signing who should get more praise as an incredible addition- and Godin are also starting (he was the one new addition from abroad I wanted to make a blue chip right away).

Brozovic was the nerazzurri’s most important player last season- when he performed well, they almost always won. He’ll now be joined by Sensi and Barella in a midfield with a lot of quality but very little size. Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez are difference makers on their own, but also look to be a duo that compliments each other rather well. Conte insisted on holding on to Politano and he could be quite valuable as both a wing back and a second striker.

 

Milan

 

Blue Chip: Romagnoli, Donnarumma 

Red Chip: Paqueta, Piatek, Bennacer, Suso, Bonaventura 

Say what you will about Galliani but on his watch Milan acquired Romagnoli and launched Donnarumma, two elite players at their respective positions. Since then Fassone, Leonardo and now Massara/Maldini/Boban have acquired young players who have the potential to become blue chippers- especially Paqueta, Piatek and Bennacer. The good news is that new manager Marco Giampaolo has a great track record of taking players to the next level, but doing so at Milan is a bit more complicated than at Sampdoria where there is much more built in patience.

 

Roma

 

Blue Chip: Dzeko

Red Chip: Zaniolo, Pellegrini, Kolarov, Mkhitaryan, Florenzi, Pau Lopez

 

None of the teams mentioned so far lost as many quality players as the giallorossi with Manolas, De Rossi and El Shaarawy departing. Considering he’s coming off a season in which he scored nine goals, it’s probably generous to put Dzeko as a blue chipper, especially when you consider his age, but he does impact matches in many different ways. On the bright side for Roma, Zaniolo has a everything needed to become a top player and while I didn’t list Diawara and Veretout, they have the characteristics to be quite functional in Fonseca’s system plus Pau Lopez already looks like a massive upgrade to Olsen. 

 

Atalanta

 

Blue Chip: Papu Gomez

Red Chip: Freuler, Toloi, Ilicic, Zapata, Muriel, Castagne 

 

In many ways, Gasperini is a poor man’s version of Conte- not just because of the formation they use, but also because of their ability to make average players look like difference makers. Ilicic and Zapata had career seasons at Atalanta last season and it’s very likely Muriel will follow their path. Freuler is one of the most underrated midfielders in Serie A, he’s the player many think Diawara is to this day. Look for Castagne to take a leap this season and it will be interesting to see how the defense adapts to Mancini’s departure- if Kjaer or Palomino perform like red chippers then Atalanta can once again compete for a Champions League spot. 

Lazio

 

Blue Chip: Milinkovic Savic, Acerbi, Lucas Leiva

Red Chip: Immobile, Luis Alberto, Lazzari, Correa

I’ve been known for overrating the biancocelesti, but they have a more impressive core of players than Roma and Milan in my honest opinion. Acerbi made everyone forget how good De Vrij was at Lazio, Milinkovic Savic was able to win award for best midfielder in Serie A In objectively a down season while Immobile already has 3 seasons with 20+ goals in Italy. Lazzari was already devasting at SPAL but now has so much more talent in a system he knows like the back of his hand while Correa can build on his outstanding second half of last season.

 

Miscellaneous teams

 

Blue Chip: Quagliarella, Sirigu

Red Chip: Belotti, Chiesa, Izzo, Nkolou, Cragno, Pavoletti, Pezzela, Milenkovic, Gervinho, Schone   

 

They say form goes out the window at the Rome Derby – and recent history backs up the cliché

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We’re not used to this. The Derby della Capitale, Italy’s most ferocious rivalry, is just two days away . And we’re still in August.

This is the fixture that can define a season for Lazio and Roma, the game that fans traditionally spend months mentally preparing for at the dawn of a new season.

Not this time, as Lega Serie A decided to shake things up by scheduling the capital clash in the second week of the season, the first time it will ever take place so early.

Given the timing of the game, all the hard evidence we have to go on so far is the opening weekend of fixtures, which ended in contrasting emotions for the two clubs. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Two

Milan-Brescia: the first game under Marco Giampaolo presented the same issues the Rossoneri suffered from last season, primarily keeping the ball up front and feeding their main striker. They managed to get only some limited offensive forays without never building a constant assasult. A faux pas that could lead to some tactical and personnel change, with Suso possibly returning to the flank and Ismael Bennacer and Rafael Leao getting the nod from start. If they can turn it around, it could be a decent spot for Krzysztof Piatek, but it is tough to trust them right now. The Rondinelle showed to be solid right away in a fairly tough road game in Cagliari: last year’s design worked and the defense held up. If that continues to be the case, Alfredo Donnarumma will be one to watch, he scored 26 goals in Serie B, same as Dimistri Bisoli, who is their most dangerous midfielder, while Sandro Tonali’s fantasy production is a little shakier because it hinges on set pieces. Continue reading