Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 36

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Atalanta-Genoa: the Bergamaschi keep soaring and bested Lazio in a seminal clash last week, garnering their third win a row and building a little lead over Roma in the race to get the fourth position. They have not been defeated since the beginning of March. The Griffon is coming off two 1-1 ties in a row, versus SPAL and Roma, squandering a massive late opportunity on Sunday. They are four points above the third-to-last position. Suspensions are piling up for Gian Piero Gasperini and he will not be able to count on two defensive centre-pieces, Gianluca Mancini and Andrea Masiello, and more importantly on Alejandro Gomez, which will also not allow him to rotate the squad much ahead of next week’s cup final. Josip Ilicic and Duvan Zapata will take on an even larger load than usual: the Slovenian genius has been slowed down by some nagging injuries, while the Colombian powerhouse continues to lay hurt on opponents. Continue reading

Crucial Summer Ahead for Juventus

After wrapping up their eighth consecutive Scudetto following their 2-1 win over Fiorentina, Juventus will now focus their efforts on addressing the issues plaguing their roster. While the bianconeri added two trophies to their haul this season, they failed in Europe losing to a superior Ajax side over the two ties, and were sent packing in the Coppa Italia against Atalanta. Both defeats spoke volumes of this Juventus side and demonstrated just how fragile the Italian champions are when pressed. Here are three fundamental questions they must answer come summertime if they are to achieve European glory.

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1) Massimiliano Allegri: In or out? 

Since their collapse in Cardiff, Juventus have not been the same, and look a side devoid of an identity. This season much of the same problems persisted. The bianconeri strolled to the Scudetto, barely challenging themselves in the process as their competitors consistently shot themselves in the foot. Frankly, most Serie A tacticians would have won the title with this roster.

What’s more frustrating for Juve is that Allegri has completely failed at instilling a consistent style of play, and largely depends on individual brilliance to see him through. And when all else fails, the Italian champions typically bombard the box with crosses, and hope for Mandzukic or Ronaldo to come through. When opposing sides pressed the bianconeri high, and played without fear, by contrast, Juventus struggled to put three passes together.

When the board meets with Allegri to discuss the past season, they should replay the Ajax and Atalanta games. In both instances, Juventus cowered deep in fear, while the bolder team was rewarded for their self-confidence. If Juve are to win the Champions League, they need a fearless leader, and one thing’s for certain: Allegri is not that. It’s the end of the Allegri era, as we know it.

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2) Project Fix The Defence. 

Since Antonio Conte brought back Juve from consecutive seventh place finishes, the bianconeri’s defence was always their foundation and backbone for success. With Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini, Juventus possessed arguably the strongest backline in the world, and kept opponents at bay with ease.

However, with Barzagli nearing retirement and Bonucci looking like a shadow of his former self since his controversial return, Juventus’ defence has been a weak point for the side and has held the team back. Factor in Alex Sandro’s continued struggles, and it’s clear to see: Without Chiellini, Juventus are a mess at the back.

Considering Daniele Rugani’s stagnation, and Bonucci’s regular lapses in concentration, it’s time Juventus revamp their defence. First of all, they shouldn’t hesitate to sell Rugani and Alex Sandro as soon as a good offer arrives. The former has been a disaster when called upon, and shirks at the first sight of a physical battle. Alex Sandro, by contrast, has lost most of his pace, and offers close to nothing in the final third.

With Cristian Romero already on his way from Genoa, and Leonardo Spinazzola improving with every week, the state of Juventus’ defence remains decent. However, they will need at least two reinforcements: a centre-back and a left back.

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3) Project Fix the Midfield.

Much like the defence, Juventus’ midfield is in complete disarray, and lacks a true leader. Since dismantling their midfield in 2015 by selling Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba, the bianconeri are yet to bolster the midfield sufficiently. At the moment, only Miralem Pjanic and potentially Emre Can are worthy starters, while the others are solid bench options at best.

Even Pjanic and Can, who on their day are world beaters, struggle to impose themselves, and aren’t meant to lead the midfield as seen through the Ajax clashes. Despite Aaron Ramsey’s arrival, Juventus are still lacking one profile in their midfield. A ball-winner capable of maintaining possession. What they would do for a prime Claudio Marchisio again? But Juventus could settle for Lyon’s Tanguy N’Dombele.

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Allegri talks ahead of the Milan clash

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Massimiliano Allegri previewed the bout with Milan earlier today: “Cristiano Ronaldo is feeling better, there are some positive indications considering we are five days away from the Ajax game. He is doing everything in his power and we hope he will be available. He will not be called up for tomorrow.”

On the Scudetto: “When we will secure it, it will be a great night and we will fully celebrate it. Winning eight titles in a row is not easy, we have some extraordinary numbers. Our accomplishments are bigger than the opponents’ demerits, because Napoli are keeping a Scudetto-worthy pace, but we are going faster. Kudos to them. It has not been easy, it required impressive daily work and mental fortitude.” Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 31

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Juventus: Mario Mandzukic (flu), Paulo Dybala (calf) and Leonardo Spinazzola (knee) have recovered from their problems, while Cristiano is sitll out. Sami Khedira, Douglas Costa and Juan Cuadrado have ramped up their activity and are close to returning, but they will not be called up in this round. Martin Caceres will miss three weeks with a thigh strain.

Napoli: Lorenzo Insigne is said to have almost recuperated from his thigh contracture and could be in the squad list in this round. David Ospina (head), Faouzi Ghoulam and Vlad Chiriches (thigh) should be in the squad in list, while Raul Albiol is not far away.  Continue reading

Allegri previews the clash with Cagliari

Juventus Press Conference

Juventus will quickly return on the pitch tomorrow and therefore Massimiliano Allegri talked to the press today: “Cristiano Ronaldo is working and we hope to have him back for the Ajax game, like Douglas Costa. We will know more about Sami Khedira on Wednesday, he might return against Milan. I think that Juan Cuadrado will be back in short order. Paulo Dybala will be evaluated later today, while Mario Mandzukic is under the weather and we will see whether he will be available. Mattia Perin will not travel with the team because he has a bruised shoulder. Leonardo Spinazzola has a knee problem, not on the surgically-repaired one, and will be out for 10/15 days. Andrea Barzagli should be at my disposal for the final games.” Continue reading

Three Things We Learned From Juventus’ Win

Today, Juventus overcame Empoli at the Allianz Stadium extending their lead over second-place Napoli to eighteen points, in anticipation of the partenopei’s clash against Roma tomorrow. While Allegri’s men did just enough to claim all three points, Juventus played poorly, and demonstrated their past midfield issues still loom large, as the visitors dominated the proceedings in the first half.

Despite this, it would only take super-sub and star-boy Moise Kean two and a half minutes after his introduction to break the deadlock, and bag the three points for Juventus. Here are three things we learned today about the Italian champions.

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1) Kean and Spinazzola must play more. 

Since the return leg against Atletico Madrid, Kean and Leonardo Spinazzola have gone from strength to strength making the most of their limited minutes, and have given Allegri quite the selection conundrum. With Alex Sandro’s decline in full force, Allegri must now turn to the former Atalanta man for the left back position, and allow him to earn the starting role all for himself. Entering a crucial stage in the season, Juventus cannot afford further subpar performances from Alex Sandro, who at times, is guilty of switching off defensively. After all, Spinazzola has been the superior player since the turn of the new year, at the very least, and is deserving of more minutes.

Much like Spinazzola, Kean must also be given more playing time. At the moment, he’s the side’s most in-form forward, scoring three goals in his last three games, including two on international duty. With Cristiano Ronaldo out, and Mandzukic struggling, it’s only right Kean is given consistent time. Until now, the Italian international hasn’t disappointed in the slightest, netting a goal every 40.33 minutes in Serie A.

2) Juventus midfield struggles on display, once again.

With the league all but wrapped up, Juventus have demonstrated signs of arrogance in Serie A action. Just before the international break, the bianconeri succumbed by a score of 2-0 to Genoa, and put in an overall atrocious performance at the Marassi. Against Empoli, Allegri’s men looked out of sorts in the first half, fielding five midfielders and just one striker in Mandzukic.

Despite outnumbering Empoli in the midfield, Juventus still struggled to impose themselves on the game, and watched as the Serie A minnows completely dominated the first half. Had it not been for some poor decision-making in the final third and profligacy in front of goal, Juventus could have found themselves down one early. Against a better side, they will be punished.

If Juve would like to focus solely on the Champions League in the latter stages of the season, it would be a good idea to wrap up the league as soon as possible. That way they can pour all their efforts into Europe’s elite competition. In any case, whatever happens this season, one thing’s for certain: Juve’s midfield is nowhere near good enough and is in dire need of reinforcements, starting with Aaron Ramsey.

3) Rugani needs to grow physically. 

Daniele Rugani has been rather inconsistent since being trusted with more minutes these past two seasons, and still has ways to go before he can compete for a starting position alongside Giorgio Chiellini. Regardless of his inconsistencies, the former Empoli man has showed glimpses of his true potential, and has always boasted an impressive sense of anticipation. Capable of reading the game well and instilling calmness at the back, Rugani is one of the nation’s highest rated defenders, but has stagnated a bit. Today, against a more technical strike-force, the young defender did well and stifled Empoli’s threat with ease.

However, every time Rugani goes up against a physical threat (See: Duvan Zapata) he struggles to cope, and makes the Juventus rearguard all the more vulnerable. With Bonucci and Chiellini ageing, and with Ajax’s Matthjis de Ligt looking set to sign with Barcelona, Rugani would be wise to make the most of this unique opportunity, and bulk up. A little more muscle, and tenacity to his game could go a long way, and could help him live up to the hype.

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Spinazzola speaks, Romero update and UEFA international ranking

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Leonardo Spinazzola spoke to Rai Sport and Tuttomercatoweb after his solid showing with Italy against Lichtenstein: “I am back and I can still improve a lot physically, I need this type of games to find the peak form. Cristiano Ronaldo told us that he is serene, he believes he will be back in ten days. We hope he will return in time for the next Champions League match.”

On the skirmish with Atalanta in January of 2018: “It was a particular moment, I do not want to revisit it. Juventus were looking for fullbacks and I believed I could help, I was feeling strong mentally too. I thought I could do the jump right away and move up my arrival. Anyway, I was happy to stay with Atalanta and we fared well in Europe too.” Continue reading

Mancini Prepares for Liechtenstein Clash

Following their impressive 2-0 win against Finland, Italy have proven they are ready to put their past issues behind them, and finally re-establish themselves as a threat on the international stage, starting with the 2020 Euros. Italy tactician Roberto Mancini has shown he’s ready to give youth a chance, all-while not undervaluing experience.

Today, Mancini held a press conference ahead of Gli Azzurri’s clash with Liechtenstein, and highlighted the importance of establishing an identity for the side, something that was lacking under Gian Piero Ventura’s guidance.

We have to keep growing and look to maintain the same identity as a team, no matter the opposition in front of us. We’re happy with the result: We want to bring back the enthusiasm to the national team, and what better way than through our play. We still have a lot of work to do,” said Mancini in the press conference.

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Since becoming Italy boss, Mancini has introduced a slick 4-3-3 with a highly technical midfield, including two registas in Jorginho and Marco Verratti. In doing so, the former Inter tactician ensures gli Azzurri are able to impose their possession-based game and dominate the opposition.

While results are often the compromise of good football, it hasn’t been the case for Mancini’s Italy, as they have registered four clean sheets in their last four games and have started their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign on the right foot.

I think a team that plays with a determined style of play over a series of games with success could establish their identity,” added Mancini.

Clearly, after Italy’s World Cup disaster and tame displays against Sweden that saw them get eliminated, Mancini’s number one priority was to introduce character. Thus far, he’s had success introducing the likes of Moise Kean and Nicolo Zaniolo while also turning to the experience of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Fabio Quagliarella.

Acting with balance of youth and experience in mind, Italy are playing their best football since Antonio Conte’s tenure, and will likely be a threat at the Euros. With a clash against Liechtenstein on the horizon, Mancini is ready to blood in more players and mix up his starting eleven once more.

“We’ll change 3-4 players from our starting eleven against Finland, perhaps even more,” said Mancini.

According to recent reports, Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli is rumoured to start in defence while Stefano Sensi is set to get a start in the midfield. Romagnoli has arguably been the best defender in Italy this season, and deserves a shot at usurping Leonardo Bonucci in the starting eleven. Sensi, on the other hand, has been in exceptional form for Sassuolo, and is an ideal deep-lying playmaker for Mancini’s 4-3-3 in the absence of Verratti or Jorginho.

Otherwise, Leonardo Spinazzola will start at right back after a string of top notch performances for Juventus while it’s likely that Fabio Quagliarella will get rewarded with the full ninety minutes after an impressive cameo against Finland.

While question marks were raised after Mancini’s appointment, the Italian tactician is proving to have the midas touch so far for gli Azzurri, introducing a clear style of play and identity to the national team for the first time in over two years.

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Juventus injury updates and ICC news

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Exactly one month after undergoing a heart ablation, Sami Khedira has passed the cardiology tests and has been cleared to practice, Juventus announced yesterday. The German international respected his initial timetable and could be at the coach’s disposal for the next game versus Empoli, although he will likely be eased into things after the health scare.

As anticipated last week by Massimiliano Allegri, Douglas Costa took some tests yesterday too, but, according to Tuttosport, he has not progressed enough to train fully and will continue to rehab for a week before another check-up. Continue reading

Juventus Finally Turn To Youth Ahead Of Crucial Stage

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It took a 16 point lead over second-place Napoli for it to happen, but Juventus have finally started giving their homegrown players a chance, and what an impact they’ve had so far. Following a narrow victory over Napoli, the bianconeri essentially wrapped up their eighth consecutive Scudetto, and could definitively pour all their efforts into the Champions League; especially now with Ajax in their way of a semi-final berth.

Prior to their clash against Atletico Madrid, Juventus hosted a relegation threatened Udinese. With their lead at the top secure, Allegri made the most of the opportunity and fielded Moise Kean and Leonardo Spinazzola from the start; two homegrown players. Until now, both players had played a bit-part role since returning to Juventus, and were rumoured to go out on loan to mid-table Serie A sides in the January transfer window to gain experience. In the end, both vetoed any proposed loan moves and opted to fight for their place.

It wouldn’t take long for Kean to make his impact felt in his first start in Serie A action this season, and notched a brace inside forty minutes with two smart finishes. The Italian international would even win the bianconeri a penalty, however, Kean, on a hat-trick, allowed Emre Can to take it. Safe to say, the 19-year-old proved he’s worthy of more minutes moving forward, especially considering the bianconeri’s 18-point cushion at the top. Thus far, the Italian international is averaging a goal every 35 minutes for Juventus, highlighting his instinctive nature in front of goal.

Spinazzola, by contrast, had a very strong outing against the Zebrette playing as a right-wingback. Despite playing on the opposite wing, the former Atalanta man was still able to demonstrate his turn of pace, successfully completing two dribbles in the process. Much like Kean, Spinazzola showed Allegri he’s ready to compete for a starting position, especially considering Alex Sandro’s decline over the last two seasons.

With the Brazilian suspended for the crucial second leg against Atletico Madrid, Allegri rewarded Spinazzola with a starting berth in the biggest game of the season. The Italian international did not let the pressure of the moment get to him, and made the most of his opportunity, tormenting Atletico’s Santiago Arias at will.

Before being subbed off for Dybala in the 67th minute, as Juventus looked for a winner, the 25-year-old was one of the bianconeri’s most impressive players on the night, and showed that Alex Sandro’s place in the starting eleven isn’t as secured as the Brazilian would like to think. After seven loan spells spanning from 2012 to 2018, it’s finally Spinazzola’s time to establish himself as a Juventus regular.

Kean, on the other hand, was given just over ten minutes to make an impact against Atletico, and he did exactly that. Against one of Europe’s elite defences, Kean looked extremely dangerous, pressing their defenders at neck-breaking pace as they tired. After an impressive run behind the Spaniards’ defence, the Italian international almost found the winner but fired his effort just wide with his weak foot. Nonetheless, much like his compatriot, Kean showed Allegri that he can compete at the highest level despite his inexperience and is ready to challenge Mario Mandzukic for more minutes.

Had Kean and Spinazzola not believed in themselves and stayed with the club in January, we could have been looking at a much different Juventus side today. After being forced by the circumstances to play them, Allegri has found further depth in these two homegrown talents. With a crucial stage in the season approaching and Champions League glory in their sights, it’s clear Kean and Spinazzola will only get more minutes to prove their worth, and rightly so. After all, they’ve earned it.

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