Empoli Trio Set for Big Moves

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Despite being relegated to Serie B in heart-breaking fashion, Empoli’s roster contained many up and coming talents. Following their relegation many Serie A side are looking to claim their best players on the cheap.

Just last week, Napoli signed Giovanni Di Lorenzo – who had his best season yet, scoring five goals and registering three assists – while Empoli’s underrated midfield trio has since been dismantled.

Today, it was reported that Juventus signed Hamed Traore for 12 million euros and will loan him out immediately to Sassuolo. Fiorentina reportedly signed him in the January transfer window, but forgot to deposit his contract with the league. Juventus took full advantage of their mistake, and snapped up the midfielder immediately.

The 19-year-old had a phenomenal season under Aurelio Andreazzoli, and established himself as one of the league’s most enticing midfield prospects. Equally capable of defending as he is attacking, Traore looks to be a complete midfielder, and will undoubtedly make the move to Juventus in the near future if he keeps developing.

At Sassuolo, Traore finds himself in an ideal situation and will play under yet another progressive manager in Roberto De Zerbi. As a result, expect Traore to continue his progression next season.

Outside of Traore, Rade Krunic also made the move to one of Italy’s elite. Milan signed the Bosnian midfielder for 8 million euros, and will reunite with his former manager Marco Giampaolo. While Krunic isn’t exactly the big-money move Milan fans wanted in the midfield, he will offer some much needed depth and creativity to the side. Capable of playing as a mezz’ala or behind the striker, if need be, Krunic will get plenty of minutes to prove himself.

In his 33 appearances this season, the midfielder scored five goals – two of which were wonder-strikes against Sassuolo and SPAL. Other than his ability to find the back of the net, the former Empoli midfielder registered seven assists, highlighting his directness and ability to pick a defence apart at will. At just 25 years old, and given he’s already familiar with Giampaolo, expect Krunic to only improve from here, and make the most of his move to Milan.

Ismael Bennacer, on the other hand, is still at the club for the time being, but it’s only a matter of time before the midfielder leaves. Currently, Genoa are favourites for his signature, however, it’s important to note that Arsenal hold the right to match any accepted offer. In the past, a number of English and French clubs have been linked with the Algerian midfielder, therefore don’t rule out foreign interference yet.

Playing at the base of the midfield, Bennacer dictated tempo at will for Empoli. His five assists are but one indicator of his immense talent, and range of passing. While signing with Genoa would represent a lateral move, it’s only a matter of time before the 21-year-old makes the leap to a big club. In addition, reuniting with Andreazzoli, would give him a sense of familiarity he’ll need to keep developing.

With Krunic and Traore already gone, it hasn’t taken long for Empoli to cash in on their talents. As the summer transfer window rolls on, expect the Tuscan-based outfit to continue profiting on their scouting exploits.

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Roma’s Hot Seat: The Contenders

With Roma on the prowl for a new manager following a disappointing season in the nation’s capital, many of Italy’s tacticians have been linked with a move to the giallorossi. After missing out on the Champions League, the Roma brass are looking for fresh ideas, and start anew once more. Here are the current contenders for the job, including the favourites, a couple long-shots, and everyone in between.

1) Sinisa Mihajlovic (Bologna) 

The Bologna manager is arguably the likeliest to become Roma’s boss next season, and has demonstrated he has the personality to coach one of the league’s top clubs in the future. After replacing Pippo Inzaghi half-way through the season, the Serbian tactician steered Bologna to safety with ease, and made the most of their limited roster.

Instilling an offensive 4-2-3-1, Mihajlovic took Bologna to another level, and inevitably catapulted them from the relegation zone to a respectable tenth place finish. Prior to his arrival, Bologna looked a side devoid of an identity, and appeared set to go down to Italy’s second division.

Under his guidance, offensive talent Riccardo Orsolini stepped up, scoring four goals and registering one assist in his last six appearances, and gave a glimpse of what’s to come to the rest of the calcio world. Following his strong finish, Bologna exercised their option to purchase him completely from Juventus.

Other than getting Bologna firing on all cylinders in the final third, Mihajlovic, much like it has been the case his entire managerial career, introduced new-found solidity in the midfield with his double pivot, and laid the foundations at the club for next season. Should he join Roma, as it’s largely being reported, expect the Serb to do the same and continue his progression as a young manager.

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2) Marco Giampaolo (Sampdoria) 

The Sampdoria boss has long been regarded as one of the peninsula’s up and coming tacticians, and has continued his development at Sampdoria this past year. While this season ended in disappointing fashion for the blucerchiati finishing outside the European places, Giampaolo made strides forward, and continued to implement his possession-based game in Genoa.

Bringing his trademark 4-3-1-2 no matter the club he’s at, he may prove to be a good fit for a stuttering giallorossi side. This season, Roma lacked invention in the final third, and played much of the season looking lethargic in possession. However, just like Mihajlovic, Giampaolo is relatively untested at the highest level, and is yet to prove himself in the upper echelon of Italian football. With Roma looking to get back into the Champions League as early as next season, hiring Giampaolo is a risk they may not be able to afford.

It’s also important to note that Milan are also in the running for the tactician, and are arguably the front-runners for his signature. In any case, don’t expect Giampaolo to be the man to restore Roma to their former heights.

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3) The outsiders

Outside of Mihajlovic and Giampaolo, a host of other names have been linked to the Roma hot-seat, albeit less seriously. If recent reports are to be believed, Shaktar’s Paulo Fonseca has been coveted by the Roma management, and could be brought in this coming summer. Like Giampaolo, Fonseca values possession-based football, and has done wonders with his Ukrainian outfit in recent years, especially in the Champions League. Despite being a long shot for the time being, he’d be an impressive appointment, all things considered.

Another name linked to the side is Sassuolo’s Roberto De Zerbi. After impressing at Benevento in his first season in Serie A, De Zerbi was appointed as Sassuolo’s manager. Despite the neroverdi’s limited roster, the Italian tactician guided them comfortably to a 12th place finish, all-while playing progressive football with a strong Italian base. Much like the other candidates, De Zerbi is unproven but has demonstrated he’s one of the nation’s most forward-thinking managers.

Other names that have been vaguely linked to Roma are former Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso, who Francesco Totti is reportedly pushing for, and Jose Mourinho. However, these links should be taken with a heavy grain of salt, and are arguably meant more to sell papers than anything else.

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Atalanta and Sampdoria: Serie A’s Party Crashers

Every season there’s one team in Serie A that pushes above their weight and vies for European football among the league’s elite. With Lazio, Milan and Roma all fighting for top four this year, they all seem to have forgotten about Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta and Marco Giampaolo’s Sampdoria. Both sides have been in excellent form playing impressive football and have now entered the Champions League race without making too much of a fuss. Right now, the five teams are separated by a mere three points going into a crucial stage of the season.

Led by the eternal Fabio Quagliarella, who has now scored in 11 consecutive games equalling Gabriel Batistuta’s record in the process, Sampdoria find themselves just two points back behind fourth place Milan. Giampaolo has been able to get the most out of his men in his preferred ‘Christmas Tree’ formation (4-3-1-2) and has since attracted interest from the peninsula’s elite for his good work. Insisting on possession football and building patiently, the blucerchiati have dominated the opposition at times, and have proven to be a match for any team in the league.

While Quagliarella is the one bagging the goals, the impressive work done by midfield dynamos Dennis Praet and Karol Linetty should not go unnoticed. Juventus loanee Emil Audero has also manned the sticks wonderfully in his debut season in Serie A, especially with the veteran presence of Lorenzo Tonelli in front of him.

Atalanta, on the other hand, have played some explosive football this season and lead the league in scoring with 47 goals. In fact, gli Orobici have found the back of the net 16 times in their last four league games, three of which coming most recently in their comeback against Roma on the weekend. With Duvan Zapata flanked by Alejandro Gomez and Josip Ilicic, Gasperini’s side posses arguably one of the world’s most underrated front-lines. Zapata is currently on 15 goals on the season and has now scored in Atalanta’s last nine games in all competitions.

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Roma might need a tactical change to fit Patrik Schick

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It took Roma almost the whole transfer market window, but they managed to replace Mohamed Salah, who joined Liverpool at the start of the summer. Giallorossi long chased Ryiad Mahrez, who is similar to the Egyptian winger, then they signed a very different player in Patrik Schick. There is no questioning that the Czech striker is a great talent and that he is very well worth the investment, considering that the health concerns that scared away Juventus appear to be resolved. The formula of the transfer is creative, but simply put Roma will pay at least €34M and up to €42M. It is also a sort of redemption story for Giallorossi, who were very close to signing him last summer for just €4M, but Sampdoria acted more swiftly.

Schick scored 11 goals in 32 appearance in his first season in Serie A, netting two more in Coppa Italia. Impressive numbers for a 21-year-old newcomer who was never truly a regular starter up until the very last portion of the season. Marco Giampaolo quickly noticed that Schick was devastating coming off the bench: he tallied six of his first seven goals as a super-sub. His former coach was critical of Schick’s choice to join Roma, stating that he can not play as a winger.

Eusebio Di Francesco will have to find a way to insert him in the regular XI very quickly in order to justify the sum paid for him. The manager has used only his regular 4-3-3 so far, adapting Gregoire Defrel to the right flank, in Salah’s spot. A winger in his early years, Defrel had grown into a full-fledged center-forward in his Sassuolo stint and he has struggled a little with his new team.

The first move will indeed be to try Schick as a right winger. He should have no trouble fitting next to Edin Dzeko: he has great technique and at Sampdoria he played as a second-striker or even as a no.10, alongside Luis Muriel and Fabio Quagliarella. On the flank, however, he might be too distant from the goal to be truly effective and, while he has above average mobility for his size, he has nowhere near the agility and the pace of Salah and Domenico Berardi, who thrived in that role at Sassuolo. There are also questions regarding his ability as assist-man.

The manager has not experimented much in his fist seasons in Serie A, relying heavily on 4-3-3, with minimal detours towards 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2. With the first option, they would still have a hole on the right: Defrel, Diego Perotti and Stephan El Shaarawy are only passable in that position and it would be unfair to ask too much to Alessandro Florenzi, who is coming off two torn ACLs. On the other hand, 4-3-1-2 would be very natural for Schick: they can use Perotti or Radja Nainggolan or the Czech himself as no.10 and they would maintain their three-man midfield intact, which is one of their strength. Considering that they have two very offensive-minded fullbacks like Aleksandar Kolarov and Bruno Peres, they would still have decent width. It is now up to Di Francesco to find a way to make his roster shine.

 

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