While last season Serie A had the most competitive title race of the major European leagues, this time around the scudetto race is as predictable as the ending of a Friends episode. But the competition for the last two Champions League spots is quite intriguing with 5 teams in the mix, the following players will likely have the biggest impact on how their squads fare in the final stretch of the season
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received goes like this “the best cure for negative thought, is taking positive action”. Considering the roller coaster the now former captain has been on in the past few weeks, he certainly could use a few decisive goals to get himself back in the good graces of his club’s fans and/or re establish his value on the market.
Inter find themselves in the same position in the standings as when Icardi left the squad to heal what the club essentially described as a phantom injury, so while they do need his contributions to nail down their second consecutive, the Argentine striker needs a strong end to the season even more than they do. He did catch a lucky break now that his replacement Lautaro Martinez suffered an injury while playing for Argentina during the international break, so Icardi could play a part in a big moment sooner rather than later.
While Piatek has received more attention since joining Milan, the Brazilian midfielder has also been a tremendous addition to Gattuso’s squad. When the deal to acquire him from Flamengo was completed, many pointed out that it was a gamble for Leonardo to invest over 30 million euro for a player with no experience in Europe, never mind Serie A, at a time that Milan was dealing with Financial Fair Play issues.
Needless to say you don’t hear that criticism anymore because Paqueta’ has brought many of the attributes that have been lacking in Milan’s midfield for a few years- pace and ball skills. If that weren’t enough, Paqueta’ recently got to wear the iconic number ten jersey on the Selecao. While Calhanoglu has been a bit better recently, Suso continues to be in a slump- there’s no one on Milan beyond Paqueta’ who can create something from nothing at the moment.
Atalanta find themselves in hanging on in the race for a Champions League spot in large part thanks to their offense. The devastating trio of Zapata, Ilicic and Gomez has to however offset a below average defense which has conceded 39 goals in 28 matches (as a frame of reference Lazio has conceded 29 with one less game played).
Gasperini recently gave the starting job to Gollini after Berisha was the starter in the first half of the season. The former Aston Villa keeper has a distinguished pedigree since he’s been part of the Azzurri’s youth teams since 2012, should Gollini live up to his potential Atalanta will still be in the mix for a Champions League spot for weeks to come.
During his second press conference as Roma’s manager, Claudio Ranieri described the Argentine defender as “un pezzo 90” (which loosely translates to an elite player). While you can certainly understand why a coach, especially one who was just appointed, would want to hype his players and help them get some confidence, Fazio has been a massive liability this season.
Should Ranieri decide to stick with a 4 man defense, he really doesn’t have many other alternatives, especially while Manolas is recovering from an injury, and Fazio is still a better option than Juan Jesus and Marcano. However the former Leicester manager could use a radical solution to his team’s defensive woes- move to a 3 man center back, the formation where Fazio had his best stretch in Serie A.
Ranieri could move De Rossi to the back line alongside Fazio and Manolas since he does have a deep midfield with the likes of NZonzi, Cristante, Zaniolo, Pellegrini and even Pastore. But regardless of the formation, Ranieri will need Fazio to step up in order to get Roma back to the Champions League next season.
While Miilinkovic Savic got torched by many for his very disappointing first half to the season, the former Liverpool striker struggled even more. Last season Luis Alberto was arguably the most improved player in Serie A, but so far his 2018/19 campaign saw him regress to 3 goals- 8 less than his tally previous year.
But in the last match before the international break, Luis Alberto scored two goals to go with an assist- if he can keep these types of performances up, Lazio does have a chance to make up the 6 points they have less than Milan in the standings- especially when you consider they have to make up one match against Udinese.