Three Juventus Players Set to Be Reborn Under Sarri

With the Massimiliano Allegri era officially over, the Juventus brass identified Maurizio Sarri as the man to lead the revolution at the club. While the past five seasons under Allegri were largely successful, there were clear signs of stagnation, especially amongst some of the side’s key performers. With the former Chelsea boss now at the helm, however, expect a rebirth of sorts for many of these players. Here are three Juventus men that are worth keeping an eye on going into the new season.

Alex Sandro (left back)  

When the Brazilian first joined the bianconeri, he was regarded as one of the best fullbacks in the world, and lived up to the hype early on offering some much needed offensive enterprise and flair from the left. However, over the course of the last two seasons, Alex Sandro’s progression has come to a screeching halt, and the former Porto man has looked a shade of his former self.

Luckily for the for the 28-year-old, Sarri tends to get the most out of his offensive fullbacks. At Napoli, Sarri’s tactical setup meant Faouzi Ghoulam played an important role in the final third, and reached a new level under the veteran tactician. Through the use of offensive overloads, Sarri’s fullbacks see plenty of the ball in the opposition’s half, and are seen as much more than mere defenders; a luxury that was not afforded to the Brazilian under Allegri.

At Chelsea, it was much of the same. Whether it was Marcos Alonso or Emerson, both defenders played an integral role in the final third, and progressed as players. Under Sarri, expect Alex Sandro to put his recent woes behind him and re-emerge as one of football’s elite left backs.

Paulo Dybala (attacking-midfielder)

Last season, the Argentine looked out of sorts whenever called upon, and regularly failed to impact proceedings under Allegri. Whether he was playing as the side’s main striker or on the wing, Dybala never fully looked like himself and had his worst season yet in bianconero, netting five goals in Serie A action. Much of this falls on Allegri’s pragmatic outlook, however, la Joya must assume some responsibility and soldier on in the upcoming season.

In Sarri’s first press conference, he quickly outlined that Dybala, alongside Ronaldo and Douglas Costa, will play a key role for him in the final third. At Napoli, the tactician got the best out of Lorenzo Insigne, Callejon and Higuain and turned them into the league’s most feared offensive trios. If his exploits with Insigne are anything to go by, a Napoli player most similar to Dybala, expect the Argentine international to have a big season in Turin.

While it’s still unclear where exactly Dybala will feature given Ronaldo’s presence, he will undoubtedly play a key role in Sarri’s progressive setup, and could finally focus on putting his creativity to use to open up opposition’s defences rather than tracking back. Big season ahead for Juventus’ crown jewel.

Douglas Costa (winger)

The Brazilian, much like Dybala, had a tumultuous season under Allegri riddled by injury problems, and disciplinary concerns. While it was recently reported that the former Bayern man is of interest to French giants PSG, Sarri quickly quashed those rumours and indicated the winger is someone he’s extremely keen on working with.

Given his electric nature, Douglas Costa will fit like a glove in Sarri’s 4-3-3 and will offer some much needed pace and unpredictability in the final third. However, there’s one concern: Sarri’s tactical scheme is one of rigidity and repetition, which may pose an issue to a mercurial player like Douglas Costa.

In any case, if Sarri is able to bridge that gap and demonstrate to him the merits of his setup, expect Douglas Costa to be on his A game next year and torment defences.

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Roberto Mancini Puts Italy on the Right Track

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Since being appointed as Italy boss, Roberto Mancini has set Gli Azzurri on the right path, and has guided them to four wins out of four in their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign thus far. 

In their most recent clashes, Italy travelled to Athens to take on Greece, and dispatched their European counterparts within thirty-three minutes, by a score of 3-0.

In their next game against Bosnia, Mancini’s men fell behind early, but mounted a second half comeback to prevail by a score of 2-1. Under Gian Piero Ventura, the side lacked character, and would have likely dropped points in a game like this. With these two wins, Italy now find themselves comfortably in first place, scoring 13 goals, and conceding one in the process. In addition to getting results, this is the best football Italy have played in recent memory, and have demonstrated an identity.

Once again, Mancini was rewarded for sticking with the highly technical midfield of Nicolo Barella, Jorginho, and Marco Verratti, and now has his side well on their way to the upcoming Euros. Together, the trio provide a blend of youth, experience and quality on the ball, and offer the national team some much needed creativity in the final third.

While many initially doubted the midfield’s defensive awareness given their smaller frames, Verratti, Jorginho and Barella have demonstrated they are capable of offering solidity to their back four. Given their similar profiles, Verratti and Jorginho often interchange roles at the base of the midfield, and don’t give their opponents a reference point.

With Barella making late, unmarked, runs into the box, it makes for a truly malleable midfield; something the Azzurri have sorely lacked over the past four years. The Cagliari captain’s drive has been rewarded, and already has two goals on the qualifying campaign.

Much like it’s the case in the midfield, Mancini has not shied away from taking risks with his front three. Since his appointment, the former Inter tactician has called up a number of up and coming talents, including the likes of Moise Kean and Federico Chiesa among others.

In the past, Ventura was afraid to take risks, and typically stuck with Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti up front, despite their struggles. When both strikers were misfiring, Italy did not have a plan B, and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades. Rather than having set starters, like his predecessor, Mancini has mixed and matched at will, and has used a plethora of forwards across the front line. This keeps the Italian forwards on their toes, and ensures no one gets complacent. Moreover, if Italy are struggling in the final third, Mancini is able to turn to different solutions.

One player that has benefitted immensely from Mancini’s reign has been Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne. The diminutive forward was reduced to a bit-part role under Ventura, and largely struggled to make an impact on the pitch when called upon. Under Mancini, Insigne has established himself as a crucial player, and has scored two goals in his last two games. In addition, his assist to Verratti against Bosnia helped Gli Azzurri seal all three points.

On the defensive end, on the other hand, Mancini has decided to maintain the status quo and has typically gone with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. However, the Italian tactician has tinkered with his fullbacks, alternating between Leonardo Spinazzola, Emerson and Gianluca Mancini. While Mancini is a centre-back, he offers the Azzurri tactical flexibility from the right-hand side of defence, and often drops as a third centre-back when in possession. With the Atalanta man dropping centrally, it allows the left-back to get forward and overload with his winger.

While it’s still early days for Gli Azzurri, the future looks bright under Roberto Mancini. Using a blend of experience, and youth, the Italian tactician has demonstrated character both in his selections, and tactical setups. With no one’s place in the team secured, Italy have – for the first time in a while – shown hunger, and a desire to return to the top.

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Assessing the Market for Wingers in Serie A

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After previously reviewing the market for goalkeepers, defenders and midfielders, it’s now time to take a look at the winger market in Serie A. Let’s first take stock of the current options available to the top Italian teams going into the summer window:

 

Juventus- Douglas Costa got off a fast start before becoming an after thought following some injuries and an off field issue (on top of the spitting incident), Bernardeschi showed pretty good chemistry with Ronaldo although his stats were underwhelming, Mandzukic continues to often play on the wing. Cuadrado struggled with a severe injury in second half of the season, while Cancelo’s defensive limitations could see him playing in a more advanced position next season.

Napoli- Callejon is now 32, Insigne started the season playing as a second striker, Younes showed flashes the few times he played and Ounas made the most of the opportunities given to him by Ancelotti- which were more frequent than under Sarri but still probably not enough for a 22 year old looking to break out. Simone Verdi continued to battle with injuries and is probably at best a super sub moving forward.

Inter- while Perisic did perform better in the final stretch of the season, he continued to disappear for months at a time. Politano was a very pleasant surprise and the best new addition along with De Vrij- he will certainly be redeemed from Sassuolo after his first season on loan with option to buy. Candreva continues to be hit like a pinata by Inter fans on Twitter

Atalanta- we covered Hateboer, Gosens and Castagne in the wing back article since they cover that role in Gasperini’s formation.

Milan- Suso and Perisic had similar seasons but at least peaked when it matters most. Castillejo wasn’t nearly as impactful as Deulofeu and could return to Spain, Bonaventura continues to rehab from his surgery while Calhanoglu hasn’t yet shown he can be a quality/consistent starter moving forward.

Roma- as great as El Shaarawy was this season, it’s not a good sign that he was clearly the club’s best winger (and probably best player period) over highly rated prospects like Cengiz Under and Justin Kluivert.

Lazio- we covered most of their players at this position in the wingback section since Simone Inzaghi runs a similar system to Gasperini’s but Angel Correa could play as a winger with a new manager and was the club’s best player in second half of the season.

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Federico Chiesa- Fiorentina’s disastrous season makes him much more likely to leave, but has his value taken a hit since he’s the signature player on the most underachieving Serie A team of the season? Napoli had previously offered close to 50 million to acquire him and could still use him, while Chiesa has also been linked to Juventus and Inter. Chiesa is obviously very talented and only 21 years old, but this season he was more known for diving than scoring goals or delivering assists.

 

Douglas Costa- there are few players more electrifying in Serie A than the Brazilian international, but between the spitting incident in the match against Sassuolo and deciding to go to Neymar’s birthday party right after being involved in a car accident, it remains to be seen if Juventus, a club known for not tolerating these sorts of things, decide to hold on to him. But considering that they invested significantly to acquire him on a permanent basis from Bayern Munich (another club who got fed up with his off field antics) just last summer, he’s not a player they can turn a plusvalenza on easily despite his considerable skills.

 

keita 

Keita Balde’- while Inter will certainly redeem the rights to Politano, it’s unlikely they’ll pay Monaco over 30 million to keep the former Lazio winger permanently- but considering their excellent relationship with his new agent, they could look to extend the loan. Keita struggled at first because he didn’t get much of a summer retreat and later battled injuries so another team could try to capitalize his considerable talent.

Ivan Perisic- Inter may regret not selling him after his excellent World Cup but at least his late season contributions could help them clinch a Champions League spot (I’m writing this a few days before final match of the season). Perisic has been linked to Premier League teams for the past two years and as recently as January when he came close to joining Arsenal and with Conte arriving, it’s likely that the nerazzurri will go for a more natural fit in 3 5 2.

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Cengiz Under- following Roma’s deep run in the Champions League last season, the Turkish winger was being mentioned as a player worth 50 million but the giallorossi decided to keep him after cashing in on Alisson, Strootman and De Rossi so he could be part of their young core. While Under didn’t have nearly as a good a season, Arsenal and Spurs continue to be mentioned as possible destination for him.

Suso- the former Liverpool winger has a 40 million exit clause and Milan have been trying to negotiate a new deal to increase it or eliminate it altogether, but so far Suso is requesting to be paid as much as Donnarumma and it’s hard to imagine the rossoneri wanting to pay him nearly that much.

Hakan Calhanoglu- the Turkish international best chance at staying is for Gattuso to be confirmed as Milan manager, if not it’s likely he’ll either head back to the Bundesliga or the Premier League where he has been linked to Leicester City.

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Lorenzo Insigne- after a stellar start to the season, Napoli’s home town star struggled considerably and looked more like the player we are (unfortunately) accustomed to seeing on the Italian national team. Insigne recently formalized his relationship with Mino Raiola as his agent, but while a transfer can’t be completely excluded, it’s more likely he’ll sign a new contract with Napoli and become arguably the biggest “bandiera” left in Serie A after Chiellini.

Rodrigo De Paul- after three seasons at Udinese, the former Racing winger/attacker is ready to take the next step in his career especially considering he also made his debut on Argentina’s national team. Napoli and Inter have been heavily linked to him and both clubs have an excellent relationship with Udinese.

Riccardo Orsolini- few players were more impactful in the second half of the season than the Bologna winger whom Juventus still own. The 22 year old could be used as part of a package by the bianconeri to acquire a bigger name (perhaps Chiesa or Milinkovic Savic) and should absolutely be considered an intriguing player for the Azzurri’s senior squad.

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Papu Gomez/Josip Ilicic- Atalanta’s current captain must be thrilled he never left to go play in the Middle East considering his club’s stellar season. Could he look for a huge pay day at the age of 31? It’s hard to envision that should Gasperini stay and if they qualify for the Champions League. Ilicic on the other hand has just one year left on his contract and has already agreed to personal terms with Napoli, it will be up to Atalanta to decide if they want to give him a raise after a stellar season.

 

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 37

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Juventus: Leonardo Bonucci has recovered from his ankle sprain, Daniele Rugani from hamstring soreness and even Mario Mandzukic was able to practice fully late in the week after dealing with a patellar tendon problem for a while. Moise Kean has shaken off the flu. Giorgio Chiellini has picked up yet another calf ailment, but he is available. Miralem Pjanic is fine after twisting his ankle last week.

Napoli: Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have good chances to return after skipping one with muscle fatigue. Nikola Maksimovic and Amadou Diawara are close to healing from their foot infractions. David Ospina is still in Colombia for personal reasons, while Adam Ounas remains questionable after missing one. Continue reading

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

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 35

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Juventus: Paulo Dybala (quad), Douglas Costa (calf), Mario Mandzukic (knee) and Rodrigo Bentancur (thigh) remain on the shelf and have been joined by Daniele Rugani and Alex Sandro due to new thigh injuries. Martin Caceres has recovered. Emre Can was removed late from the squad list due to a muscular ailment.

Napoli: Lorenzo Insigne and Allan have both recuperated. Nikola Maksimovic (toe) and Amadou Diawara (foot) stay sidelined.

Inter: Matias Vecino has been ruled out due to a thigh contracture.  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

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 29

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Juventus: Cristiano Ronaldo picked up a thigh strain while playing with Portugal and is unlikely to play in the next three games. Sami Khedira has been cleared to practice after a heart problem, but it will take him a little longer before playing. Douglas Costa (quad, calf), Juan Cuadrado (knee) and Andrea Barzagli (calf) remain sidelined, while Mattia De Sciglio has recovered from a thigh pull.

Napoli: Fabian Ruiz will be available after a tough flu. Lorenzo Insigne was on track to play but suffered a relapse of a thigh contracture.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 29

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Juventus-Empoli: the Bianconeri are coming off their first Serie A loss this season, against Genoa, while they dropped points just twice at home thus far. The Azzurri defeated Frosinone in Aurelio Andreazzoli’s return match, nabbing the second win in the last 13 rounds. They have lost in five of the last six away games. The Old Lady will be without Cristiano Ronaldo, who got hurt while playing with Portugal, and Douglas Costa, who remains sidelined. Therefore, Federico Bernardeschi, Moise Kean, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic will lead the charge and try to alleviate the absence of the Portuguese star. They could be helped by the fact that the Tuscans have one of the leakiest defenses in the League. Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 28

Empoli v UC Sampdoria - Serie A

Juventus: none among Mattia De Sciglio (thigh), Andrea Barzagli (calf), Dougls Costa (quad, calf), Sami Khedira (heart) and Juan Cuadrado (knee) is expected back this week. The first one is the closest to recovering. Cristiano Ronaldo will be rested. 

Napoli: Lorenzo Insigne was scratched from the XI in Europa League due to a muscular problem in the warm-up. Vlad Chiriches subbed off for the same issue, while Amadou Diawara has a foot infraction: they have all been given a 20-day prognosis. Fabian Ruiz has the flu.

Milan: Cristian Zapata is back in the squad list after spending time on the mend with a thigh strain. Continue reading