Serie A Club of the Round – Napoli

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An easy call for club of the week this time around, as Napoli quickly disposed of Frosinone on Saturday. As he often does, Carlo Ancelotti looked ahead, at the decisive Champions League clash with Liverpool coming on Tuesday, and spared some of his best men: Raul Albiol, José Callejon, Fabian Ruiz and Dries Mertens. Sebastiano Luperto, Adam Ounas and Arkadiusz Milik drew the start.

It was an evening of debuts and returns, as Alex Meret was between the sticks for the first time after being sidelined by an early forearm fracture, Faouzi Ghoulam got the first start in over a year and Amin Younes played his first minutes with the Azzurri after recovering from an Achilles tear. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 15

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The next round features one of the games of the season, Juventus-Inter, and few other juicy match-ups.

Juventus-Inter: the Bianconeri got the better of Fiorentina, extending their winning streak to five fixtures, but in that occasion they were not as dominant as the final score showed. Against Roma, Inter dropped points for the second time in a row on the road and, despite scoring twice, they never looked in control. The same thing happened in Bergamo, but they are extremely opportunistic, so they can never be counted out. Cristiano Ronaldo added one to his tally with a penalty in Florence, while Rodrigo Bentancur continues to impress. Mario Mandzukic is generally money in big matches, while Douglas Costa has the potential to be a factor off the bench. Despite being useful in other areas, Paulo Dybala’s offensive stats in Serie A have been subpar. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 14

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The next Serie A slate is pretty tasty on paper.

Fiorentina-Juventus: the Viola are having a weird season. They started off decently, showing well especially at home, where they are still undefeated and have a sound defense, but they have struggled to score recently. They have not netted more than one since late September and they have drawn in their last five matches, against Cagliari, Torino, Roma, Frosinone and Bologna. On the other hand, the Old Lady is cruising with 12 wins in the year, four in a row after the tumble against Genoa, but it will be tested before the break. Fiorentina’s offensive problems stem primarily from Giovanni Simeone and Marko Pjaca’s poor form, as they have combined for just three goals so far. Federico Chiesa is always doing stuff, but he has not bagged many as well. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 13

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The next round could be a little one-sided for the top clubs, but surprises are always around the corner in Serie A and there still a couple of juicy games on deck.

Juventus-SPAL: the Bianconeri prevailed in the always tense match-up with Milan, surviving a penalty but appearing pretty dominant overall. They have won in 11 of the first 12 games, setting a new Serie A-point record to start the season. SPAL looked a little better against Cagliari, but squandered a two-zip lead and had to settle for a tie. They had lost in six of the previous seven fixtures. Mario Mandzukic returned to the starting XI with an immediate goal, then Cristiano Ronaldo bagged another one. Continue reading

Serie A Team of Season (So Far)

The last international break of the year takes place with about a third of the Serie A season in the books, enough time to come up with an ideal eleven with what we’ve seen so far. Suffice to say this is a subjective exercise that is likely to cause a lot of second guessing. But let’s put fear of criticism aside and focus on picking the ideal starting eleven:

Keeper- Alessio Cragno

 

We have a seen a significant turnover at the position for top teams. Buffon is now shockingly at Paris St Germain, Pepe Reina is now a backup at Milan and Roma cashed in on Alisson, the best player at the position last season.

While the more hyped Alex Meret hasn’t been able to play for Napoli yet after suffering an injury to his arm during the summer retreat, Alessio Cragno has become a regular on Mancini’s selections for the Azzurri thanks to his strong performances for Cagliari. He received significant competition from Parma’s Luigi Sepe for the vaunted starter spot on Amoyal’s top 11, leading me to wonder if Napoli would have been just better off starting him dating back to last season.

Honorable mentions- Sirigu, Sepe

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Right Back- Cancelo

When the former Inter “defender” arrived in Turin, his agent Jorge Mendes just smiled when a fan asked him if Cristiano Ronaldo would be joining him at Juventus. That started the narrative that Cancelo was essentially the tax Juventus had to pay to the super agent to land CR7, but now the Portuguese international is rightly considered one of the best wing backs in all of Serie A- he’s the player Juventus was looking for when they signed Mauricio Isla from Udinese and later Dani Alves.

Spal’s Lazzari is now more than ready for a top team, while De Silvestri has been one of Torino’s most consistent players of the season so far.

Honorable mention- Lazzari, De Silvestri

 

Left Back- Cristiano Biraghi

The former Inter youth team product has strived playing for Pioli and is the current starter on the Italian national team. He edges out Asamoah, who has slowed down after a great start at Inter and Alex Sandro who is showing signs he’s regaining the form from his first season at Juventus. 

Honorable mention- Asamoah, Alex Sandro

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Center Backs- Kalidou Koulibaly, Stefan De Vrij

I was recently asked who is the best Bosman signing of the past ten years in Serie A, and while Pirlo is still the obvious answer, we could see De Vrij get in the conversation pretty soon. It’s very rare to sign a defender of his caliber who is just at the beginning of his prime without paying a transfer fee, and his performances this season have shown his trademark elegance and efficiency- he’s an ideal partner for Skriniar, who continues to be one of the elite defenders in Italy.

After losing Higuain because Juventus exercised his exit clause a few years ago, Napoli’s president De Laurentiis decided there was no way he was going to lose Koulibaly during the same window. It’s starting to look like losing the Senegalese defender would have been an even bigger loss than Higuain.

You all know about Chiellini, so let’s highlight fact that Sampdoria has done great work grooming Joaquim Andersen- the Danish center back sat out his first season in Serie A and is now starting to be linked to clubs like Juventus and Inter.

Honorable mention- Skriniar, Chiellini, Andersen, Acerbi

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Midfield- Allan, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Nicolo’ Barella

We’ve seen a changing of the guard here with Hamsik, De Rossi and Nainggolan slowing down. While Allan had already emerged as a force for Napoli under Sarri, the fact that Jorginho is gone is giving him more of a spotlight. He’s become the best box to box midfielder in Serie A since Arturo Vidal’s first two seasons at Juventus.

The injury to Pastore gave Lorenzo Pellegrini an opportunity to play in a more advanced position and he couldn’t have done more to take advantage of it. Cagliari must be thrilled they decided to hang on to Barella for another season, his value has skyrocketed because of his performance in Serie A as well as the Italian national team where he looks like a good compliment to Jorginho and Verratti.

Benassi has managed to score as many goals as Chiesa/Pjaca/Simeone combined, as Brozovic goes so does Inter and former Monaco midfielder Meite’ has more than doubled his transfer value since arriving in Italy.

Honorable mention- Meite’, Brozovic , Benassi

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Strikers- Ciro Immobile, Krzysztof Piatek, Lorenzo Insigne

While Piatek hasn’t been able to score since Ballardini was sacked, he has been one of the best story lines in all of Calcio this season. Immobile has kept Lazio afloat despite De Vrij’s departure and more importantly Milinkovic Savic and Luis Alberto getting off to dreadful starts. For the last starting spot I was very undecided between Suso, who has adapted to Gattuso’s style brilliantly after a tough second half to last season, and Insigne but I give a slight edge to the Neapolitan striker since he also adapted to a new role under Ancelotti.

Honorable mention- Suso, Ronaldo, Icardi, El Shaarawy

 

Serie A Fantasy Picks – Round 12

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Salvatore Sirigu: the veteran goalie has had a solid season so far and the Torino’s back-line has been decent overall, even though clean sheets have been hard to come by. They will try to achieve that versus Parma, which have failed to score in the past three games, mostly because of the imperfect conditions of Gervinho and Roberto Inglese.

Ibrahima Mbaye: the fullback has found the target for two straight matches, which could help him secure a starting job even after Federico Mattiello comes back from injury. While he is highly unlikely to make it to the scoresheet three times in a row, Bologna could take advantage of the fact that Chievo have scored in just two of their six home fixtures so far. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 12

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The next slate before another international break is pretty juicy.

Genoa-Napoli: the Griffon have not won in four games and the effects of the coaching change have not been palpable, since they continue to concede a lot. They lost twice in San Siro last week and the schedule does not do them any favor. The Partenopei easily romped Empoli last week and have won three out of their last four games, looking splendid at times. Krzysztof Piatek has not scored for four games in a row, which is unlikely to be a coincidence, and their last goals under Milan Juric have been pretty random, by Cristian Romero on a free kick, by Romulo on a penalty and by Daniel Bessa on a defensive mishap. Continue reading

Mertens returns to starring role for Napoli

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-GENOA-NAPOLI Napoli’s impressive 5-1 Serie A demolition of Empoli last weekend showed how they are returning to dominant form in Italy.

They now look set to pick up their annual pursuit of rivals Juventus, who are chasing an eight consecutive Serie A title, with Napoli trailing in third, by six points.

The biggest news for Carlo Ancelotti’s team also been the explosive nature with which they have beaten teams in recent weeks – with talisman Dries Mertens at the heart of it. Continue reading

Serie A Team of the Week – Round 11

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Samir Handanovic (7 points): five clean sheets in the weekend, by Inter, Milan, Frosinone, Parma and Sassuolo, but there was no particularly superb performance by any goalie, so Handanovic gets the nod by default because he has earned the most points so far in the season and he is also the most owned in the bunch.

Alessio Romagnoli (8 points): it is hard to believe that a centre-back could be involved in late goals in two games in a row, but this was the case for the Milan captain. The one versus Genoa was more impromptu, while in Udine he followed a fast-break and punished an howler by the back-line with a powerful strike from inside the box. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 11

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Standings implications: the top three teams did not stutter in favourable match-ups. Inter and Napoli pummeled Genoa and Empoli, while Juventus had to dig deeper against Cagliari, but maintained their lead. Fiorentina and Roma shared the spoils in a result that helps neither. Lazio smoked SPAL, but Milan kept up with an improbable late goal in Udine. Torino looked very impressive again on the road as Sampdoria were their latest victims. Sassuolo tamed Chievo very easily despite being away. Atalanta keep climbing the standings and mounted a comeback against Bologna.  Continue reading