On the Rise: Gaetano Castrovilli

Every Serie A season a new wave of talents break onto the scene and steal the headlines. This season has been no different as countless youngsters have staked their claim to make a name for themselves. Fiorentina’s Gaetano Castrovilli is one of these players. Making the most of his regular minutes under Vincenzo Montella, the 22-year-old has now established himself as a key member of la Viola’s eleven.

Typically fielded as a mezz’ala (outside of the midfield three), Castrovilli is able to make the most of his enterprise and drive his team forward. Currently, the midfielder’s 2.6 dribbles per game is the fourth most in Serie A and is a clear sign Montella turns to him to progress the ball in the midfield. 
When he’s not driving with the ball at his feet, Castrovilli has proven to be a willing runner without it. In many ways, his game is eerily similar to that of Juventus legend Claudio Marchisio. He’s at his most dangerous making late, unmarked runs into the box and has proven to have a knack for being at the right place at the right time.
In possession, the Fiorentina man is equally as impressive and plays positively whenever given the chance. Castrovilli is currently averaging 1.4 key passes per game and is becoming a creative threat in the middle of the park. Alongside Milan Badelj and Erick Pulgar, the 22-year-old has carved out a role for himself as the ‘runner’ of the midfield trio, offering industry both in and out of possession. In Badelj, Castrovilli and Pulgar, la Viola currently possess one of the league’s most technical midfield units, capable of covering ground and protecting their defence in the process. 
Most recently, the young midfielder notched his first goal in Serie A in Fiorentina’s 3-1 win over Milan. Castrovilli was excellent against the rossoneri and gave the viola faithful a glimpse of what’s hopefully to come from him.
Considering newly-appointed Fiorentina president Rocco Commisso wants to usher in a new era in Tuscany, predicating the importance of quality and youthful Italians, expect Castrovilli to become a center-piece of his vision. Alongside Federico Chiesa, the 22-year-old can help his side put last season’s woes behind them and kick off a new era. 
Montella has had success with young players in the past and we’re already starting to see his impact on the side. Currently, Fiorentina sit two points out of fourth place having already played Napoli, Juventus, Atalanta and Milan. Moreover, despite the results not always going their way, Montella’s men have looked the better side in most, if not in all, of these games. As their schedule gets easier, expect la Viola to keep climbing up the table with Castrovilli emerging as a key man.
If the 22-year-old is able to maintain this level, a national team call-up shouldn’t be too far away. While Italy’s midfield ranks are currently congested with the likes of Stefano Sensi, Marco Verratti and Jorginho, gli Azzurri lack a true mezz’ala beyond Inter’s Nicolo Barella. Having already qualified to Euro 2020, expect Mancini to experiment and Castrovilli to get a chance with the senior setup.
After all, he’s earned it. 
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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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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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Thomas Meunièr: PSG’s marauding right-back

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iThe footballing world is like a maze which keeps throwing new dimensions and nuances for all those who love the game with all their heart. Just when you believe that you finally know it all and have mastered the game, there is something which the game throws up at you leaving you in a state of daze and confusion.

How many of you are familiar with the fact that one of the greatest legends of the game- Ian Wright almost opted to give up on the game at one stage in favour of a regular profession? That’s certainly accurate although it seems unbelievable in nature. Wright almost decided to become a plasterer at one stage before his heart reigned supreme over the min gifting the footballing world an absolute genius.

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Edinson Cavani- PSG’s Silent Guardian

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edinson-cavani-julien-cetout-nancy-paris-sg-ligue-1-15102016_pbiajfj0ae0b1uq9idydk0c53Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis was in a state of deep despair at the end of the 2009-10 season following the side’s dismal show in the Serie-A. Napoli finished 6th on the league table with just 59 points, trailing league champions Inter Milan by 23 points despite investing a record sum for the services of talented striker Fabio Quagliarella. The local lad failed to make his presence felt racking a tally of just 11 league goals at the end of the season.

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Is Adrien Rabiot the real thing?

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960Hardly a couple of weeks have passed since the summer transfer window slammed shut with the world-record transfer of Spanish goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to Chelsea hailed as the pick of the signings. Surprisingly, the footballing world is abuzz with concrete news reports linking the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Barcelona and Juventus with a possible move for a PSG-based player. However, what makes it all the more interesting is the fact that these reports do not involve high-profile players like Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Marco Verrati for once. The player being referred to is none other than French midfielder Adrien Rabiot who only has a year left on his existing club contract.

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Julian Draxler: Set for the bench at PSG?

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cropped_2017-02-14T203105Z_130105865_MT1ACI14751517_RTRMADP_3_SOCCER-CHAMPIONS-PSG-FCBThe Parc des Princes erupted with joy as attacker Julian Draxler wheeled away in celebration after scoring a sensational goal against Spanish giants FC Barcelona in the home leg of the Round of 16 stage of the UEFA Champions League. The fans were full of praise after the sensational performance by the German attacker on the night with many hailing him as the man to watch out for in the away leg at Camp Nou. Sadly, the 24-year-old flattered to deceive as has been the case throughout his career so far.

The ex-Schalke attacker was hailed by footballing experts after he decided to take a plunge into the unknown by signing on for French giants Paris St Germain from Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg for a then-record sum of £40m. Draxler was more than happy to bid adieu after a cold reception from the fans who indicated their immense disapproval by whistling vociferously during a cameo against Hertha Berlin.

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Angel Di Maria: PSG’s X-Factor under Tuchel

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The Old Trafford broke into thunderous applause as British record signing Angel Di Maria who had been signed from  Spanish giants Real Madrid for a sum of £59.7m scored a sumptuous lob, having won the ball just past the halfway line, linking up beautifully with Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney leaving Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel in a state of intense despair. The Argentinian’s impressive goal was voted as the Premier League’s goal of the season at the end of an extremely disappointing campaign for the Red Devils.

The ex-Real Madrid winger failed to reach the heights expected of him after kicking off the season on a high note. While several experts have slammed Van Gaal’s orthodox tactics which resulted in the winger being shunted across 6 different positions including central midfielder, others blamed the winger for being extremely lethargic on the field and utterly disinterested with regard to on-field proceedings.

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Emery’s indifferent start as PSG manager continues ahead of Champions League opener

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For the last three seasons Paris Saint Germain has been the dominant force in French domestic football.

PSG’s domestic dominance

Under the managerial guidance of Laurent Blanc, who replaced Carlo Ancelotti in June 2013, Les Parisiens have won 11 of the 12 major domestic honours on offer in France, since the start of the 2013-2014 campaign.

As well as winning Ligue 1, Coupe de la Ligue and Trophée des Champions for three successive years, in each of the past two seasons PSG have lifted the Coupe de France.

That is the only trophy that PSG did not completely monopolise winning during Blanc’s time as manager, as in his first season – 2013-2014 – they were eliminated in the round of 32 by Montpellier.

As such when Blanc resigned in June, the 50-year-old former French national team manager did so after overseeing the most successful period in PSG’s relatively short 46 year history.

Emery undertakes a rebuilding process

Subsequently PSG’s affluent Qatari owners have tasked Unai Emery with succeeding Blanc and masterminding a continuation of the fine work undertaken by both he and his predecessor Ancelotti, who led PSG to the 2012-2013 Ligue 1 title.

Since being appointed, Emery has been required to try to rebuild PSG’s squad, due to the departure of several players who were key members of Blanc’s successful team.

Specifically Lucas Digne, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Luiz and Gregory Van der Wiel, have all left PSG since Emery’s arrival, with the club’s owners enabling the 44-year-old manager to replenish his squad by signing Hatem Ben Arfa, Jese, Grzergorz Krychowiak and Thomas Meunier.

Poor recent form plagues PSG

Each of the newly signed quartet featured in their team’s 1-1 home draw against Saint Etienne, which represented both a disappointing performance and result ahead of PSG playing their first Champions League group stage game against Arsenal at the Parc des Princes.

After taking the lead courtesy of a successfully converted Lucas Moura penalty kick, PSG conceded a last minute equaliser, as Robert Beric salvaged a point for Saint Etienne.

That marked a continuation of an uninspiring start to Emery’s managerial reign.  Whilst now without a win in two Ligue 1 games, after losing their previous match 3-1 to Monaco, PSG are 7th in the table and struggling to find their best form.  That was clearly indicated by the tepid manner in which they performed against Monaco and Saint Etienne.

In both games PSG were wasteful in front of goal and fragile defensively, with the latter of the two issues being vividly illustrated by Saint Etienne’s equalising goal.  That followed chaotic and indecisive defending by PSG, which was also a major characteristic of their performance against Monaco.

Defensive problems persist

One PSG defender to play particularly well during that game was the right back Serge Aurier as despite scoring an own goal, the 23-year-old Ivorian made a series of purposeful forward forays to add an excellent dimension to his team’s attack.

However as well as being side lined for PSG’s draw with Saint Etienne due to injury, Aurier is set to the encounter against Arsenal, with Meunier his likely deputy.

Neither the 25-year-old Belgian – bought from Club Bruges for €7m – nor any of his defensive colleagues produced the most assured of performances against Saint Etienne, as Emery’s side continued their indifferent start to the season.

Silva & Verrati vital to PSG’s prospects

Absent from that as a result of injury has been PSG’s captain and inspirational centre half Thiago Silva.  Nevertheless the 31-year-old, who has been capped 58 times by Brazil, is on the verge of regaining full fitness and possibly in line to make a return to first team action against Arsenal.

In the event that transpires Silva’s re-emergence can potentially act as the catalyst for PSG to stabilise defensively, whilst also capable of helping Emery’s side achieve that is the combative and technically gifted Marco Verrati.

The 23-year-old Italian internationalist has overcome the hernia injury which caused him to miss the majority of last season and Euro 2016, to commence the current campaign positively.  Whilst Verrati brings determination and steel to PSG’s midfield, so too does Grzergorz Krychowiak, although the duo require more time playing alongside one another in order to form a formidable partnership.

Work to be done to fine tune PSG’s attack

Similarly in an offensive sense, Emery is still endeavouring to engineer a cohesive and well – balanced unit, as the former Sevilla manager continues to experiment with different attacking players in his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.

Despite predominantly starting the mercurially talented Hatem Ben Arfa and Angel Di Maria on the right and left flanks respectively, whilst fielding Javier Pastore as a central playmaker behind Edison Cavani in the lone striking role, Emery has interchanged the quartet and also given Jese and Lucas Moura opportunities to showcase their skills.

Furthermore given Blaise Matuidi’s quality as a defensive midfielder, Emery may yet regularly call upon the 29-year-old French internationalist to accompany Krychowiak in that role, which would enable the manager to promote Verrati to a creative attacking midfield position.

Emery aspires to ensure PSG fulfil their potential

Therefore at present Emery is simultaneously striving to both determine his best side and initiate an upturn in PSG’s early season form.

That has been uncharacteristically poor relative to that of previous campaigns.

However Les-Rouges-et-Bleu undoubtedly have the potentially to embark upon a prosperous Champions League campaign, with their current aim being to commence that positively against Arsenal, who will severely test Emery’s team in minor transition.

Verratti must become a key Azzurri figure

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It was a substitution the home fans were pleased to see. While Italy were losing in Giampiero Ventura’s first match in charge against France, and would go on to lose 3-1, the arrival of Marco Verratti just past the hour mark was a welcome return.

The midfielder had been forced to miss much of the 2015-16 campaign and subsequently Euro 2016 through injury. It was a blow for the Italians, who nonetheless performed well in the tournament.

His entrance on Thursday was positive for Ventura and the new Azzurri era. And well-timed. As Verratti returned, Daniele De Rossi sustained an injury which rules him out of tonight’s opening World Cup qualifier against Israel. Verratti, so long threatening to break into the Nazionale limelight, now has a fantastic opportunity.

Since his swashbuckling displays for Pescara which led to a risky, but rewarding move to Paris Saint-Germain in 2012, Verratti has been seen as the brightest young talents in Italy. He played twice at World Cup 2014, but Andrea Pirlo’s international u-turn under new boss Antonio Conte meant Verratti had to bide his time. He made five Euro 2016 qualifying appearances and with Pirlo out of favour, only injury kept Verratti from a starting spot.

With both De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio absent, this is Verratti’s time to shine. In Ventura, Italy have a boss not afraid to give younger players a chance, something some past tacticians have been guilty of. As Ventura said on Sunday, while Conte took over on the back of three Scudetto triumphs at Juventus he had ‘victories’ of his own at Torino: seeing budding talents progress to Europe’s biggest clubs and to the national team.

The stars are aligning. And Verratti, who has won championships in France and made it to the latter stages of the Champions League, is ready for Italy’s upcoming test. It’s a difficult group which also includes Spain and fellow Euro 2016 qualifiers Albania. The opening match away to Israel is tricky, but also a must-win with La Furia Roja visiting Turin next month.

The 23-year-old has taken on responsibility in France and is ready to do so for the Azzurri. “The role I play in is not important. What matters is doing what the coach asks of me so I can do what’s best for the team. I do like Ventura’s way of understanding football.”

Always appearing at consummate ease in possession, Verratti has the quality to add to what many would suggest is a low tally of just 16 Azzurri caps. He can become their central lynchpin.

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