Serie A Best Fantasy XI – Round One

Antonio Mirante (7 points): the Roma coach picked him over Pau Lopez, who was really uneven in the resumption, and the veteran had a pair of big-time saves that preserved the result in the challenging game against Verona, keeping his first clean sheet of the season. Unless Paulo Fonseca did it just to send a message to the Spaniard, it will be tough to take the starting job away from him on a performance basis alone.

Leonardo Bonucci (9 points): he looked re-energized and uber confident featuring in something similar to a three-man defence and with his buddy Giorgio Chiellini next to him. He stymied multiple attempts with great timing, launched a pair of interesting long balls and scored the pivotal second goal for his side with a tap-in on a corner kick. Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round One versus Sampdoria

Juventus came out of the gate with a sharp performance and did not spoil Andrea Pirlo’s debut, easily taking home three points in the season opener versus Sampdoria.

Leonardo Bonucci (9 points): the defence held up while spending sixty plus minutes in the same position where they often caved too easily last season and, even though the Blucerchiati picked it up in the second half, never looked overwhelmed. Bonucci was in his element as linchpin of a sort of three-man line, as he could patrol the middle of the field and had the liberty of uncorking long passes. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round One

The schedule was missing three games because of postponements and that was a factor, but overall the quality and the intensity of the play was down compared to what happened in the restart as several teams looked sluggish after the break and in general the defences had their ways over the attacks.

Results: among the supposed title contenders, Napoli and Juventus got off to a good start as the Partenopei pulled away late in Parma, while the Bianconeri manhandled Sampdoria. Milan breezed past Bologna on Monday night. Fiorentina eked out one at home versus Torino. Roma shared the spoils with Verona in a snooze-fest, while Sassuolo-Cagliari had the same result, but more action. Genoa looked good while humbling Crotone.  Continue reading

Why a return to a back three makes sense for Juventus

Juventus took the controversial decision to sack Maurizio Sarri and replace him with the relatively unproven Andrea Pirlo this past summer, after a disappointing season. The Bianconeri may have retained their Scudetto, but ultimately fell short against Lyon in the Round of 16 of the Champions League.

Sarri was a firm believer in his preferred 4-3-3 and rarely budged from his playing philosophy, despite his side’s lackluster play. While not much is known about Pirlo’s coaching style or formation, all signs are pointing to some form of a return to a back three. Media outlets have speculated that Pirlo will deploy a back three in possession, which will later transform into a back four when they lose the ball.

As of right now, this is Juve’s reported XI going into their season opener against Sampdoria:

Szczęsny; Danilo, Bonucci, Chiellini; Cuadrado, Bentancur, Arthur, Rabiot, Pellegrini; Kulusevski, Ronaldo.

In theory, Pellegrini would drop at left back when Juventus lose the ball, with the remaining midfielders forming a bank of four ahead of their backline. Matthijs de Ligt’s return would hand the Bianconeri a huge boost, as well, while Merih Demiral will slowly be eased into action following his injury.

The back three ensures Pirlo gets the most out of Bonucci and Chiellini, who have thrived in this system before while giving de Ligt and Demiral the license to get forward in possession. Danilo struggled last season, but could benefit from a deeper role, as the Brazilian will no longer be tasked with contributing offensively.

Beyond the back three, this formation offers a crafty solution to Juve’s fullback conundrum. The Italian champions simply do not have the quality out wide to compete with Europe’s elite, but the 3-5-2 helps remedy this. Cuadrado has typically excelled in this position, while Luca Pellegrini will be raring to go on Sunday. The former Cagliari man will be looking to make the most of Alex Sandro’s recent setback and cement himself as Juve’s starting leftback. Pellegrini has demonstrated he can get forward with ease and with Chiellini behind him, he will have all the guidance he needs in his defensive third.

Federico Bernardeschi and Alex Sandro are two players who will be hoping to get their careers back on track after mediocre seasons and the 3-5-2 could just revitalize the duo. The former has experience in this setup during his time at Fiorentina, while Sandro was at his very best as a wingback under Conte.

The midfield is where it gets interesting for Pirlo. As of right now, Rodrigo Bentancur, Arthur, and Adrien Rabiot are his preferred trio, but Juve’s latest signing Weston McKennie is worth monitoring. Arthur will reportedly start as the side’s regista after convincing Pirlo in training and will largely be tasked with dictating play. Rabiot, on the other hand, finished the season in exceptional form and will be eager to hit the ground running once more.

The biggest question mark, however, remains Bentancur. The Uruguayan international has played his best football at the base of the midfield, but Arthur is currently the preferred man there. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see Pirlo juggle the two and potentially introduce McKennie into the fold for one of them.

Up front, Ronaldo and Dybala enter the season at the preferred duo, but the latter’s latest injury will hand Dejan Kulusevski a chance to stake a claim for a spot in the eleven. The Swedish international has emerged as one of the league’s brightest young talents and could force Pirlo’s hand with a strong start. As Kulusevski gains familiarity in his system, the rookie tactician may just be forced to deploy a three-man attack to accommodate him alongside Dybala and Ronaldo.

Given his propensity to work hard without the ball, a 3-4-3 with Kulusevski tracking back, similar to Gian Piero Gasperini’s system, is not entirely out of the question. Edin Dzeko’s reported move to Juve will also prove crucial, as the Bosnian international offers a much-needed physical and creative presence in the final third.

If last season showed us anything, it’s that tactical rigidity got Juve nowhere. The Bianconeri played mediocre football and struggled to create chances. Pirlo’s appointment is by no means a sure thing, but at the very least, the rookie tactician is ready to experiment, starting with their opener against Sampdoria.

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Three Question Marks For Andrea Pirlo

When Juventus announced the decision to sack Maurizio Sarri, few expected the Italian champions to appoint Andrea Pirlo. The former midfielder was just hired to lead their U23 side and is yet to complete his coaching licenses at Coverciano. In many ways, Juve’s decision to fast-track Pirlo into the first team seemed like desperation more than anything. Regardless, the World Cup winner will be eager to hit the ground running in Turin and propel the Bianconeri to new heights.

After crashing out in the Round of 16 against Lyon, more questions than answers were raised about Juventus and their current squad. Here are three things Pirlo will have to adjust immediately if he wants to get his coaching career off on the right foot.

1) Number Nine Conundrum. 

In attack, only Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala are set starters. The duo was responsible for over half of their goals in Serie A this season and netted 50% of Juve’s goals in the Champions League. Moving forward, Pirlo will not want to be so reliant on Dybala and Ronaldo. Due to this, the Bianconeri are still in the market for a more physical presence in the final third to help them lead the line. Mario Mandzukic’s departure has left a gaping hole upfront; one which Higuain simply can no longer fill. Juventus have since been linked with Napoli’s Arkadisuz Milik, Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette, and Luis Suarez among others.

With Gonzalo Higuain’s future looking further and further away from the club, Pirlo will need an alternative to Dybala and Ronaldo off the bench. Parma loanee Dejan Kulusevski will undoubtedly help in this respect, but Juve’s offensive depth still leaves a lot to be desired at the moment. Considering Douglas Costa’s injury proneness and Bernardeschi’s lack of end product, the number nine position is of serious importance.

Mercato suggestion: Alexander Isak.

2) Who joins Bentancur and Arthur in the midfield? 

Much like Juventus’ attack, their midfield lacks one final piece. Rodrigo Bentancur stepped up admirably this season and despite slowing down late in the year, the Uruguayan will definitely be important in the middle of the park for Pirlo. Then, of course, there’s Arthur. The Brazilian was brought in a swap deal for Miralem Pjanic and has all the tools to become a set starter under Pirlo. Arthur has proven to be a great progressor of the ball and has all the qualities to slot in wonderfully alongside Bentancur; which leaves the third and final midfield spot.

The candidates: Adrien Rabiot, Aaron Ramsey, Mr. X.

Well, Blaise Matuidi is off to enjoy the sun in Miami while Sami Khedira’s contract will be terminated shortly. This leaves last summer’s arrivals Rabiot and Ramsey. The former finished the season strongly and as of right now, should be favored to the Welshman. Ramsey has failed to get going since joining and battled injuries all season. While Sarri’s system demands rigidity, not much is known about Pirlo’s tactics. Regardless, it’s safe to say Juve’s midfielders will enjoy more freedom both in and out of possession, something that will definitely help Ramsey.

Lastly, Juve could bring in another midfielder. Pirlo is reportedly keen on adding a more creative midfielder to his ranks. The Bianconeri have been linked with Rodrigo De Paul and Luis Alberto in recent times, two midfielders who would definitely come in and start right away.

3) Out with the old, in with the new? 

The last debate for Pirlo will be whether he will look to revolutionize Juve’s rearguard or not. Matthijs de Ligt will surely play a key role while Leonardo Bonucci offers some much-needed experience and familiarity. However, Merih Demiral has proven he’s ready to seize any opportunities and has the talent to displace Bonucci. In fact, it wouldn’t be implausible to see the Turkish international start alongside de Ligt.

At fullback, Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado go into the new season as favorites to start. As the new season approaches, it will be interesting to see if Pirlo will call upon Pellegrini at leftback. The young Italian has shown glimpses of his talent and is ready to challenge Sandro out left. At rightback, there’s no denying Juve desperately needs to bolster their ranks and could very well sign a player before the new season.

In any case, Pirlo will oversee a potential revolution and will have tough decisions to make.

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Serie A Fantasy Team of the Year

No major surprises among the 11 selections, which mirror pretty well how the fantasy season has gone.

Samir Handanovic (63 points): it has been a pretty challenging year for defenses, especially in the restart, and nobody really put up elite numbers when it comes to conceded goals. Inter surrendered the least, 36, which is pretty pedestrian if we compare it with previous seasons, but six fewer than any other team, as Lazio allowed 42 and Juventus 43. Handanovic came in second with his 13 clean sheets, on a par with Gianluigi Donnarumma, trailing Udinese’s Juan Musso by a single unit. Continue reading

Serie A Injuries and Suspensions Report – Round 35

Atalanta: Hans Hateboer is suspended, while Josip Ilicic again was left out to work on his conditioning.

Bologna: Mitchell Dijks is disqualified, Jerdy Schouten (thigh) remains sidelined.

Brescia: Nikolas Spalek is out due to yellow-card accumulation, Simon Skrabb is questionable with a bruised ankle. Jesse Joronen returned in the last game. Time is running out for Andrea Cistana. Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 34

Atalanta: Luis Muriel quickly resumed practicing after suffering a fortunately mild head injury in a domestic accident. Josip Ilicic will be held out as he keeps working on his fitness. 

Bologna: Andrea Poli and Federico Santander were available for the last game after some time on the shelf. Mattia Bani (calf) is done for the season, Jerdy Schouten (thigh) will try to return for the final couple of matches.

Brescia: goalie Jesse Joronen is back, unlike Enrico Alfonso (hip). Andrea Cistana is ramping up his activity in practice and might be back soon. Emanuele Ndoj is back on the shelf.  Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round 29 vs Genoa

Juventus pulled the plug a smidge too early in the Genoa game, failing to extend their streak of clean sheet, but other than that it was a very mature performance, the best one after the resumption, coronated by three superb goals by their star attackers.

Leonardo Bonucci: another solid outing by both centre-backs, with the Italian one beating out Matthijs De Ligt because the Dutch teammate had a careless pass late in the box that could have been picked off by an opponent, leading to all sorts of troubles. The duo stood up to two very physical strikers, countering with their own muscularity and not letting up until the final 15 minutes. Nothing out of the ordinary for Wojciech Szczesny and Danilo, as the latter did not mess anything up this time. Continue reading

Serie A Top Fantasy XI – Round 27

Robin Olsen (7 points): four clean sheets in the 27th round and therefore four goalies managed to rack up points, as David Ospina, Salvatore Sirigu and Wojciech Szczesny join the Cagliari player in such list. Sirigu had a very strong outing as well, but Olsen just edges him thanks to a fantastic late save on Andrea Petagna, where he threw himself in front of the striker to deny a clear-cut opportunity. It is not outlandish to think that he will supplant Alessio Cragno.

Faouzi Ghoulam (7 points): only one defender scored in this matchday, Fiorentina’s German Pezzella, but they conceded once, therefore the three spots are reserved to members of the teams that blanked their opponents. Ghoulam played just a handful of minutes but picked up an assist with a venomous corner kick towards the far post, which was successful met by Hirving Lozano for the two-nil against Verona. Continue reading