Fan Zone: Gregory on Nedved, Buffon, Dybala & more Juve talk

Gregory Caltabanis is an established writer and reporter who covers extensively European football, but what matters for the purposes of this Q&A is Gregory’s unfaltering allegiance to Italian giants Juventus.

Gregory is part of the @FantaCalcioGame team as well! They run the most popular Fantasy Serie A Game, but for now let’s go straight to the Q&A with Gregory offering lots of interesting takes on legends such as Pavel Nedved and Gianluigi Buffon.

1) Who are your 3 all-time favorite Juve players (ranked by preference) and why?

Pavel Nedved: My all-time favorite Juve player is undoubtedly Nedved. One of the first games I saw as a kid was Juve against Milan in 2005 and all I remember seeing was a player with blonde locks run effortlessly down the left wing. Of course, it was Nedved. From that point forward, I always watched Juve and became a fan. The rest is history.

Gianluigi Buffon: After Nedved, I would have to say it’s Buffon. Buffon has been with the team since I’ve followed them and is the main reason I’m a goalkeeper to this day. Beyond saving countless goals, he’s a class act both on and off the field. I’ll never forget his save on Zidane’s header in 2006.

Paulo Dybala: The last one is a bit difficult, but I have to go with Dybala. I know he’s not up there yet with Alessandro Del Piero and other legends, but Dybala is one of the reasons I’m still passionate about the team today. He’s always respected the shirt and is arguably the first worthy number 10 we’ve had since Del Piero. I hope he stays with Juve for the long haul.

2) From active players, pick your favorite Juve player by position: one each from defense, midfield and attack. Why did you pick them?

DEF: My favorite defender is 100% Merih Demiral (Gregory says it emphatically!). Since he’s joined, I always thought he would be very important for our success. It’s a shame the serious injury halted his progress, but I’m confident he’ll come back stronger. Demiral embodies everything that Juve should seek in a player. He’s confident, plays with an edge and has that fighting spirit. I’ll be ordering my Demiral jersey very soon.

MID: It has to be Rodrigo Bentancur. I’ve had my doubts about him over the years, but he’s stepped up this season and looks to be evolving into an important player for us. Like Demiral, he plays with an edge to his game which I feel we lack sometimes. I’m looking forward to seeing him make further progress when play hopefully resumes.

STR: It’s an obvious one- Paulo Dybala. You really get the sense that he loves Juve and fights for the shirt every time he steps onto the pitch. It goes without saying, but his left foot is incredible. It’s just amazing to watch him play. Now, if only Fabio Paratici shared the same opinion, we’d be better off.

3) Your choice for most important Juve victory in your lifetime? Why?

Without a doubt, when we knocked out Real Madrid 3-2 on aggregate in 2015. While the win against Inter in 2018 was huge, for me the Real result announced Juve’s return on the world stage and showed the rest of Europe “we are back.” After all, we just took out Real Madrid. The final didn’t go our way, but I can’t recall a win I’ve celebrated more.

4) Choose your all-time favorite Juve match, and why?

Against Inter and on their home turf just over two years ago. At times, it felt like the game and the title were slipping away but as soon as Dybala stepped onto the pitch, it changed everything. I’ll never forget Gonzalo Higuain’s goal to complete the comeback. Made it that much sweeter that it was against Inter at the San Siro.

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5) Where do you rank Sarri among the current generation of Italian coaches? How about among coaches worldwide?

I’d put him in the top five, but I wouldn’t rank him in the top tier of Italian managers at the moment. Conte is in a class of his own, in my opinion. Other than last year, I’d put Allegri in the same tier as Conte. Beyond them, I rate Gasperini highly but it would be interesting to see how he does outside of Atalanta.

Worldwide, I think he’s a top ten manager. If I had to rank them, I’d say this is my top ten: Klopp, Guardiola, Simeone, Conte, Zidane, Allegri, Nagelsmann, Sarri, Tuchel, Gasperini.

6) What’s Juve’s objective for this season? Is it Serie A, the Champions League, or both?

Definitely both. When you have Cristiano Ronaldo on your team, the objective always has to be the Champions League. While I don’t think the team is well equipped for a deep European run, a player like Ronaldo can make the difference in a big game. It would be a waste of his final years if Juve didn’t push for European glory.

7) Perhaps a tough one here but pick two from Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba, and Vidal for your midfield, and why?

I love Marchisio and it’ll be hard to leave him out, but I have to go with Pirlo and Vidal. Pirlo is the ultimate Regista and is needed to dictate play. Obviously, it helps he can score a free-kick from just about any angle. As for Vidal, he’s your classic box-to-box midfielder and is not afraid to jump into tackles. Few midfielders impressed me more than prime Vidal and let’s not forget, he could score, too. Juve’s current midfield is really lacking his type of profile.

8) Where are Juve’s weaknesses? Some say right-back, others say left-back, or many mention the midfield. Your take?

It has to be the midfield. This may anger some, but Miralem Pjanic is a complete liability both in and out of possession. Juve can do much better in his position and I think they’ll look to replace him this summer. Blaise Matuidi is necessary to press and offer defensive support, but ultimately he’s far too limited. Remember his turnover against Napoli?

I think this Juve side needs at least two signings in the middle of the park and should arguably offload two or three guys (Sami Khedira, Pjanic and perhaps Adrien Rabiot) As I said before, this midfield lacks fight and demonstrates zero Grinta.

Of course, our depth at full-back is worrisome particularly with Alex Sandro slowing down, but for now, I think Sandro and Juan Cuadrado can manage the situation. Hopefully, Pellegrini comes back in the summer and competes for the left-back position.

9) In your opinion who is the best player (not necessarily your favorite) to ever wear the Juve shirt?

It has to be Del Piero. Record goalscorer and record appearance holder, few match Del Piero’s resume with the club. He’s won it all with us and has inspired many to support Juve over the years. At the height of Italian football, he was one of the best and led Juve to many trophies.

Del Piero set the standard for our number ten jersey and raised the bar for everyone after him. Perhaps Buffon is in it with a shout, but I have to give this one to Pinturicchio.

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 20

Atalanta: Hans Hateboer is suspended, while Timothy Castagne missed the midweek Coppa Italia game with knee soreness, but it was likely just precautionary.

Bologna: Stefano Denswil remains iffy after missing one with a thigh ailment and it will likely be a couple more weeks before Ladislav Krejci comes back from his knee problem.

Brescia: Dimitri Bisoli is disqualified. Daniele Dessena is close to being fully cleared from his malleolus fracture. Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round 19 vs Roma

After being gifted two goals in the first ten minutes of the Roma game, Juventus played with fire for the rest of the contest, failing to take advantage of the opportunities to seal the deal, but still managed to hold onto the lead and reclaim the first place in the standings.

Merih Demiral (4 points): the night of the defender got cut short by an apparently serious knee injury, but he scored a massive goal with a very opportunistic finish, fully exploiting a pair of imperfections by the Giallorossi defenders on a set piece. Matthijs De Ligt was forced into action and was not too shabby for somebody who is supposedly dealing with a pair of ailments and hs a matter of fact he had a crucial block on a late clear-cut attempt. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 19

Standings implications: Juventus leapfrogged Inter atop of the table as the Bianconeri squeezed past Roma, while the Beneamata equalized with Atalanta. Lazio keep finding ways to prevail and got their tenth win a row, downing Napoli. Cagliari continue to spiral and they were handed their fourth straight loss by a surprisingly convincing Milan. Torino held on despite Bologna’s game-long assault, bringing home three quality points and closing in on the sixth spot. Udinese keep surging and rattled off the third W in a row against Sassuolo. Fiorentina finally returned to winning ways by nipping SPAL. Sampdoria distanced themselves from the danger zone with a dominating display against Brescia. The rough day for the bottom three clubs was capped by Genoa suffering a comeback at the hands of Verona.

Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – Round 18 vs Cagliari

Juventus kicked off 2020 in glorious fashion by finally playing up to their full potential and romping Cagliari at home, with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the way.

Merih Demiral (5 points): the Rossoblù hit the bar twice, one late and one when the game was one-nothing, but all in all a stout showing by the back-line, which did not have to labour thanks to the overall attitude of the squad, which kept possession ad nauseam and did a nice job in stopping the counters early. The young Turk always stands out little more than Leonardo Bonucci with his explosiveness and fast recoveries when somebody slips by. An okay outing for Alex Sandro as well down the left, albeit he did not do that much. Continue reading

It’s Time for the New Signings

With Juventus taking on Hellas Verona tomorrow, it’s as good a time as any for Maurizio Sarri to rotate his eleven and give the bianconeri’s new arrivals some much-needed playing time.

As the Italian champions debuted with a tough schedule that saw them take on Napoli, Fiorentina and Atletico Madrid in succession, the former Chelsea tactician opted not to ruffle any feathers and stick with Juventus veterans such as Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi among others.

Now with Juventus taking on Hellas Verona, Brescia and SPAL in the coming weeks, Sarri would be wise to rest his starters and look to integrate the new signings. While Matuidi and Khedira haven’t had bad starts to the season by any stretch, they are limited and are currently holding back ‘Sarriball’ from being in full flow.

New arrivals Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot are far more suited to free-flowing football and will benefit from increased playing time in the coming games.

Uruguayan international Rodrigo Bentancur is also expected to feature and has looked impressive in brief cameos thus far. Outside of a revamped midfield, hard-nosed defender Merih Demiral is rumoured to start alongside Leonardo Bonucci.

The Turkish international has patiently waited in the wings and appears more than ready to seize the opportunity. With Giorgio Chiellini out for the foreseeable future, Demiral’s aggression is an asset this Juventus defence desperately craves – as highlighted by their most recent collapse against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

Reports also suggest that Gonzalo Higuain will make way out of the lineup for Paulo Dybala. After a summer linking la Joya away from the club, the former Palermo man opted to stay, rejecting a move to Manchester United. Now with Sarri looking to rotate, it’s time for Dybala to prove himself and demonstrate he has what it takes to play as an outright number nine in the former Napoli tactician’s system.

At Napoli, Dries Mertens played this role to perfection and has a similar skill-set to the Argentine. While the Belgian is arguably a better finisher than Dybala, there’s no reason the Juventus forward can’t get into similar positions as Mertens. While the 25-year-old will be eager to play in more important games, proving himself against Hellas Verona will be a good start after an indifferent season under Allegri. Factor in Higuain’s good form, and it’s clear Dybala has to have a good performance against the newly-promoted side to keep up with his compatriot.

As the season unfolds and Juventus get more comfortable with their new boss, expect to see more and more signs of Sarriball in Turin. Introducing the likes of Dybala, Rabiot and Ramsey – players who are more technical than their direct competitors in their position – will only help in this respect.

As a result, the following weeks are of paramount importance to Sarri and co. Not for the table, but for his playing philosophy. If Juventus wish to play free-flowing football in their coach’s image, the time to buy in is now. On Sarri’s end, it’s time to use Juventus’ deep roster and look for alternatives to the current starters. Starting, of course, with the game against Hellas Verona.

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Juventus introduce Demiral

With some delay, Juventus unveiled Merih Demiral earlier today: “I am very happy to be here. I know this is a very important club and that is great for me. I hope to adapt as soon as possible to the new surroundings.”

On his unusual path: “I had to toil to arrive to this point, but it was not surprising to me, everything came from hard work. By being here, I fulfill my dream and I am trying to write a good ending to my journey. I left home when I was 18 to move to Portugal to play for a European team at a young age, I wanted to grow fast and achieve some objectives, like this one.” Continue reading

Nedved coy on transfer market, Ronaldo hopeful on Champions League

Juventus vice president Pavel Nedved took part to the schedule presentation yesterday evening and commented about the transfer market to Tuttomercatoweb: “Since we have won eight titles in a row, we feel like we already have a strong squad. Obviously, we are looking to further bolster it window is open. Romelu Lukaku? I do not want into details and I do not want to discuss any single players, let’s say that we are working.”

On Paulo Dybala: “There have been some proposals, some preliminary talks, but we are waiting for concrete stuff and we will take our time in making a decision.” Continue reading

Serie A Weekly Transfer Market Recap

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Teams ramped up their activity in the first official week in an effort to give their coaches full squads by the start of the pre-season camps: Inter got busy and announced the signings of Diego Godin on a free transfer from Atletico Madrid, Stefano Sensi on loan with option to buy from Sassuolo and Valentino Lazaro from Hertha Berlin. Juventus answered with Adrien Rabiot from PSG and Merih Demiral from the Neroverdi and reunited with Gianluigi Buffon.

Milan added Theo Hernandez from Real Madrid, while Atalanta brought back Mario Pasalic on loan from Chelsea: the midfielder will continue to provide valuable depth in a pair of positions and had a sneakily good end of the 2018/2019 season, notching five goals in total. Continue reading

Juventus acquire Demiral from Sassuolo

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Juventus announced on Friday the purchase of defender Merih Demiral from Sassuolo for a €18M fee. The 21-year-old player inked a five-year contract and will be evaluated by new coach Maurizio Sarri in the pre-season camp. Demiral moved to Italy in January from Alanyaspor and the Old Lady had struck some sort of unofficial agreement with the Neroverdi prior to his arrival to Serie A, which allowed them to close the deal pretty easily and beat out the competition from other clubs.

Demiral quickly became a starter for the Roberto De Zerbi-led team, impressing for his imposing physicality and personality despite the young age. Continue reading