Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 26 – Late Games

CROTONE-TORINO

Crotone: Simy bagged his eighth goal of the season, in pretty lovely fashion too, in the Atalanta game, but that was about it for their offensive production in a very demanding match-up. Adam Ounas, who was their top guy lately, and Samuel Di Carmine were late scratches and it is unclear whether they will be available for this one. Sans Ounas, they would lean hard on Junior Messias, who is seeking to snap out of a scoring slump. They lack punch in the midfield as Salvatore Molina, Ahmad Benali and Milos Vulic are all banged up, as Niccolò Zanellato, Jacopo Petriccione and Eduardo Henrique are not as offensively gifted. If one recovered, he would be among the top three options, instead the spot goes to Arkadiusz Reca (1 goal, 3 assists), who continues to wreak havoc down the left flank. Pedro Pereira is not as flashy, but he too has set up three teammates. Continue reading

Spinazzola makes amends for error to keep Roma on course for Champions League qualification

It was a week in which Roma realised that they wouldn’t be winning the Serie A title this season despite their earlier efforts in the campaign which had suggested that they could be contenders.

However at the same time no one but Inter looks like claiming the league title now not even 9 time champions Juventus who have themselves slipped 10 points behind Antonio Conte’s side.

For Roma now their objective has to be about qualifying for the Champions League and currently they are just 2 points from that target with Atalanta directly in their way. Roma played two games during this past week one was a defeat and one was a win.

The Giallorossi’s first match was at home to Milan, in 2nd place. It was a game that ended in a 2-1 defeat. By far at least in the 1st half Milan was the superior team, inventive and full of hunger for the win and it was a difficult moment for Paulo Fonseca’s side. However they almost went in at half time at 0-0.

But Roma gave away a penalty after a challenge by Federico Fazio. At first the referee saw nothing in the challenge but VAR did and upon review he changed his mind. Franck Kessie who has been on form for Milan made no mistakes from the spot and Milan went in at half time in the lead.

Just five minutes into the 2nd half however Jordan Veretout made it 1-1. Leonardo Spinazzola assisted for the goal and Veretout shot from the edge of the area. It wasn’t the most powerful shot and 8 times out of ten it would have been stopped, but it made its way through the crowd of defenders and beat the keeper and suddenly Roma, who had not played so well were level.

However Milan would get the final say as just past the hour mark Ante Rebic made it 2-1 with a clean powerful shot from the edge of the area and it was a fine goal. Roma would play better in the second half but the match just went away from them and petered out in the end. It was a bad loss from Roma and they needed to bounce back quickly, and thankfully for them they did.

The match up was against Fiorentina, always a tricky encounter and with Roma losing 2-1 to Milan, they made amends here and won this game by the same score line. The talk of the match though was about Leonardo Spinazzola who scored an own goal but later made amends by scoring for his club and helping them to earn 3 points.

Spinazzola opened the scoring early in the 2nd half but by the hour marked had levelled up the game for the home side. Roma were far the better side and were motivated to win the game but it looked destined to finish as a draw. However Amadou Diawara scored his 1st goal of the season for the club in the 90th minute and what a time to open his scoring account for the club. The players were overjoyed and the game was won.

Roma’s next match is at home to Genoa at the weekend and they will be the odds on favourites to win that. The last time the clubs met at Stadio Olimpico the game finished 3-3 and earlier in the season in the reverse fixture Roma won 3-1. Genoa have not beaten Roma in Serie A since 2014.

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In Europe Manchester United are bullish and brilliant but in the Premier League they have lost direction

The difference seemingly can’t be measured when Manchester United play in Europe and then switch to domestic football. Here we have a club whose form this season in the Premier League has been amongst the best, but United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer keep having their dips in form.

Every team of course has form problems and can go on an average to bad run, the problem with Manchester United is that it seems to hang around longer. The flipside to this is that they can pull out 5-6 game winning runs. But in this moment it feels as though the Red Devils have lost some direction in the Premier League.

Perhaps this is down too the fact that their city rivals Manchester City have shot away from the rest of the league and are now 14 points in the lead over United who are in 2nd place. It seems as if United have given up the chase and let’s face it they will not claw those points back now. However at the same time any United fan and anyone associated with the club would love to see them finish 2nd if being champions was always going to be too much for them to achieve this season.

The truth is, at this point, United will have a challenge on their hands to finish in the top four. Currently they are in 2nd and have 51 points and the gap to 5th where Liverpool currently are is 8 points. The Reds have a game in hand and those points could be reduced in midweek.

Manchester United have won just once in their last 5 games and have earned just 15 points from their last 30. With their standing that just isn’t good enough. Leicester could be poised to take 2nd place from United too and they have a chasing pack of West Ham, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham to contend with. Jose Mourinho’s side do not look a threat at present being 12 points behind United but they have 2 games in hand and all could change rather quickly if teams find more consistency.

In drawing 0-0 with Crystal Palace, United also have gone their last 2 games without a goal and when one looks at their strike force including Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani one would expect better. After all Palace were not fighting for anything when the clubs met this week.

United fans will know this form isn’t just a blip, not under Solskjaer who has had a good 5 dips of form since becoming manager of the club, those dips have stretched out for two months at a time. And that form would have cost Solskjaer his job at many clubs especially a club like Chelsea which Frank Lampard found out just a few weeks ago.

So in the Europa League when United were pitted against Spanish side Real Sociedad it was thought that the club were going to struggle and could get knocked out of the competition. Sociedad had led La Liga this season for several weeks and had taken points from the bigger teams. In Portu Sociedad have their own Bruno Fernandes, a versatile attacking midfielder who also scores plenty of goals. Just last weekend his goal helped the club to take 2 points from Real Madrid away from home as that match finished 1-1. In short Sociedad are a very good side. And yet Manchester United in poor form beat Sociedad 4-0 and knocked them out of the Europa League.

It feels as if United have that fire in the belly and man for man one could say that United have the better team than Sociedad, but one would also have to agree that they thought this match up would have been very close and not settled with such a large score. In Europe in this cup competition under Solskjaer United seem to have found their footing, their place where everything clicks and they should be among the favourites to go on and win the competition.

The players seem more focused in Europe and there is a goal to reach, and perhaps domestically United understand that they need an extra push to stay in the top 4 but apart from that not much can be achieved now, but in Europe and also the FA Cup the fire in the belly remains.

United will play Milan in the quarter finals of the Europa League and should be content in the fact that this isn’t the Milan of 15 years ago. Milan are a good side of course but United over two legs, one would think, would have too much for the Italians.

But Solskjaer needs to be mindful this his side do not lose focus in the Premier League, it is a tough and competitive league that takes no prisoners. If you start to lag and stop winning you will be punished and United are not certain for a top four place. They would be foolish to put all of their eggs in one basket and go for the Europa, they need to maintain some desire to pick up points in the Premier League also.

The next few months will reveal the story more and Solskjaer will be well aware that his job despite an overall good season is far from safe.

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Inter go 7 points clear of champions Juventus with 17th win of the season

Inter look on course to win their first league title in 11 years as they beat Genoa 3-0 at the weekend. Romelu Lukaku yet again was on hand to open up the scoring in a pretty much one sided game that they didn’t look like losing.

Inter got off to the best possible start as they were in front against Genoa within 60 seconds. Lautaro Martinez set up Lukaku who still had plenty of work to do but he lashed his shot into the net, and it was a superb goal to get the game going.

Matteo Darmian and Nicolo Barella had chances to double the lead in the first half and Barella’s chance came off the cross bar. But the first half would end 1-0 to the home side. Inter had dominated the first half and had 7 shots on target to Genoa’s two and they look hungry for more goals too.

Goals did follow in the 2nd half and this time Darmian made no mistakes as he was set up by Lukaku and just past the hour mark it was 2-0 to Inter and there was no coming back from that by the away side.

A few minutes later Alexis Sanchez made it 3-0 and it was game over. Although not before a VAR review but thankfully the goal stood. Inter are 4 points clear at the top after Milan also won at the weekend. But the big news was that Juventus had their game in hand in midweek and they could only draw 1-1 at Verona. They followed that up yesterday by beating Spezia 3-0 but the old lady are now seven points behind Inter and have now played the same games. One has to wonder if Juventus’ domination of the league is over?

Inter’s top scorer Romelu Lukaku had this to say after the game: We faced some defeats in these kind of games last season and we want to improve. I am really happy with the victory. Now we must focus on Parma, it’s not going to be an easy game. We want to show our opponents that we are here. We must focus on one game at a time. It was an important match after two back to back victories. We scored three goals and kept a clean sheet, perfect.”

Pirelli waving goodbye

In other news Pirelli the infamous shirt sponsors of Inter will be no more. With talk of Inter being sold in the summer and negotiations taking place it has been confirmed that the club will have different shirt sponsors from next season. Pirelli has had a strong association with Inter and they have been their official shirt sponsor for the past 27 years.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 24 – Late Games

CROTONE-CAGLIARI

Crotone: as expected the Juventus clash proved to be too hard for them to overcome, even though Junior Messias got few shots off and Adam Ounas tried to get something going with his mazing runs. The duo will lead the way again here in a much easier fixture. Messias has bagged seven goals thus far, while Ounas scored on his second appearance with the Squali and will be facing his former team, which did not trust him too much. Samuel Di Carmine has quickly unseated Simy but has not really shined thus far. The coach initially tweaked his system in the past game, but the changes were not that profound. Salvatore Molina returned from a lengthy absence and he was dynamic early in the season (one goal, four assists). Milos Vulic has not made the stat-sheet but he has been very busy over the last couple of matches and could be due. Left-back Arkadiusz Reca (one goal, three helpers) has been one of their most consistent players. Continue reading

Lautaro Martinez the hero as Inter beat rivals Milan to go 4 points clear at the top of Serie A

What a moment this is for Inter who were already on top of Serie A before they played their city rivals Milan in the derby. But after a fantastic and dominating 3-0 victory over the Rossonieri they are now 4 points clear at the top and the clear favourites to win their first Scudetto in 11 years.

Lautaro Martinez who has perhaps played second fiddle but also teamed up so well with his strike partner Romelu Lukaku was brilliant. The 23 year old Argentinian rose to the huge occasion in style and scored the opening two goals. Martinez now has 13 goals this season.

Milan’s form has been in trouble for the last few weeks where they haven’t looked as dominant as they were before and the writing looked on the wall at San Siro as Inter took the lead after just 5 minutes. Lukaku lobbed the ball well and his clever pass found the head of Martinez who made no mistakes to put Inter in front.

There were good chances  for both clubs in the first half and apart from the goal one could say that this was an equal half. Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic may not have agreed with that though and the Swede did have a couple of good chances to grab a goal back for the designated home side.

If Milan thought they were in the game because the half time score was only 1-0 then a poor 10 minute spell in the second sealed the clubs fate. It was Martinez again just before the hour mark. He received a ball from Ivan Perisic and Martinez at close range was in the right place at the right time to double Inter’s lead.

At this point Milan were still in shock when Lukaku, Inter’s top goalscorer, made it 3-0 after a mazy run. Lukaku who has called this season his best yet as a footballer was absolutely delighted. If Inter were going to beat Milan and confirm their greatest you get the feeling that Lukaku wanted to score in that game.

Much was said of course about the teams last meeting when Lukaku and Ibrahimovic clashed. Thankfully there would be no repeat of that but Lukaku did his speaking on the pitch and he will be very satisfied with that.

In fairness Milan didn’t play too bad and created many chances in the second half but those two quick goals killed off the game for them. Their title chances aren’t over yet of course and it will only take a slip up from Inter to let them back in. Juventus will also have a chance to win their 10th league title as they watch from the wings. It is sure to be an exciting finish this season, but for now with 15 games left to play Inter has taken control of the league.

Inter coach Antonio Conte was full of praise for his team and very proud after the game. He said: “My players deserve the praise it was a well-prepared game they were the absolute protagonists on the pitch. It was a nice game, it was a derby with a lot of pressure because both teams are up there in the table. I’m happy because we prepared the game well. We were good to make the most of the opportunities against a strong team.”

Inter will play Genoa next and although they will be the favourites to win the game, that is the type of fixture that could be a banana skin. What is sure about this season is that it is looking like it will be one of the best in years with 3 teams able to challenge for the title.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 23 – Late Games

PARMA-UDINESE

Parma: they did manage to score against Verona, thanks to a successful penalty kick by Juraj Kucka, but they lost again and their offense left a lot to be desired. The midfielder has tallied their last three goals. Yann Karamoh looked decently spry in his return to the XI, while Gervinho and Andreas Cornelius are stuck in an endless slump and the former is in pretty lackluster form. Joshua Zirkzee had a pair of chances after subbing in but did not exploit them. Valentin Mihaila was the liveliest out of their youngsters, but so far the coach has been very conservative in giving minutes to them. Jasmin Kurtic has hit the net a couple of times in the season and he is not shy when it comes to bomb away from distance. If they somehow managed to play more proactively, their fullbacks Andrea Conti and Giuseppe Pezzella would have some interest. Continue reading

Inter storm to the top of Serie A after win over Lazio as Milan collapse against Spezia

Finally it has happened for Inter and Antonio Conte, they are in 1st place in Serie A with 16 games to go as they convincingly beat a strong rival in Lazio 3-1.

Inter had been on the tails of their eternal rivals Milan for the majority of the season and it will be a fantastic feeling to know that they are now kings of the hill so to speak. Milan were outclassed against lowly Spezia losing that game 2-0 in what was seen as a surprise result but Milan were never really in the game.

Inter and Lazio is always a big game and Lazio themselves have had a decent season and even after this defeat are only 2 points from a Champions League place. Inter knew this would be a hard game but Conte’s team dominated play from the first whistle and looked ultra confident throughout their play.

Inter took the lead when Lazio’s Wesley Hoedt committed a foul in the area and the referee pointed to the spot and Hoedt was quickly booked for his actions. Romelu Lukaku stepped up and made no mistakes shooting past Pepe Reina in goal. It was just the right start that the home side needed.

Lukaku made it 2-0 just minutes before half time but not before a VAR review and the goal was in the balance because of Lukaku’s position, the question was did the pass he receive come from his Inter team mate? If so the goal wouldn’t have stood but Lukaku rightly pointed out that the ball had indeed come off of an Lazio defender and the goal stood.

Just after the hour mark Inter were not cruising the game anymore when Lazio struck back after a free kick. The actual free kick was not the problem as the ball was going wide but the ball deflected from Lazio player Gonzalo Escalante and into the net. It was a lucky goal but all of a sudden Inter could feel the pressure at 2-1. It wouldn’t last.

Just three minutes later Inter scored a brilliant goal which would finish the game. Lukaku collected the ball down the right wing and with blistering pace just went past players like they were not there, he squared the ball to an unmarked Lautaro Martinez who scored his 11th goal of the season. The scenes of celebration were wild as the players along with manager Conte embraced.

Even though there was still thirty minutes to play Inter knew they had won this game and indeed it finished 3-1. Inter go top although only by 1 point and there is all to play for. Inter’s next game is against, wait for it…. Milan on Sunday. What a match that will prove to be 1st v 2nd.

Martinez the boy wonder staying with Inter for now

Lautaro Martinez has been brilliant for Inter and has scored 11 goals so far in the league and assisted in another 4 goals. All eyes are on the striker but he is set to stay at Inter, much to the relief of the fans. Martinez is expected to sign a new 3 year contract which would tie him to Inter until June 2024.

Lukaku the 2nd best striker in Europe in the fantasy rankings

The fantasy rankings has Romelu Lukaku as the 2nd best striker in Europe and the Belgian currently has 68 points and has scored 16 goals. He is only 5 points behind the number 1 striker which is currently Tottenham’s Harry Kane. Kane has scored 13 goals so far but has assisted in another 11. Making up the rest of the top 5 are Cristiano Ronaldo, Heung-Min Son and Luis Suarez.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 22 – Top Matches

SPEZIA-MILAN

Spezia: Vincenzo Italiano shook things up against Sassuolo, going with Kevin Agudelo as false-nine over Andrej Galabinov and, while the bouncy attacker did not score, the solution worked out pretty well as he added an element of unpredictability and a ton more pace. It could be the solution here again as it does not look like M’Bala Nzola will be ready to start. Diego Farias is likely to be sidelined, which will allow Daniele Verde to stay in the XI, but so far he has had success mostly in Coppa Italia. Emmanuel Gyasi’s starting job instead has never really been in question and he returned to the stat-sheet after months in the previous match: he is now up to two goals and four assists. Their second leading scorer Tommaso Pobega (three goals) is back from suspension and their midfield does not have the same punch without him, even though Matteo Ricci has been a nice assist-man and Giulio Maggiore is decently involved in their offense, but not as effective as the Milan loanee. Continue reading

Juventus knock Inter out of the Coppa Italia as Conte clashes with Juve president

Inter are out of the Coppa Italia after their 2nd leg semi-final clash ended 0-0 against Juventus. The first leg was won by Juventus 2-1 and so Juventus have made the final.

After the final whistle though it appeared that Inter coach Antonio Conte had raised his middle finger to Juventus officials, some have pointed out that it was directed at the Juventus president. However there have been claims that Andrea Agnelli swore at Conte and tensions boiled over.

The game itself had its moments but as the time ran down and Inter who needed to attack more got few chances the writing looked on the wall that they wouldn’t be able to conjure up a great comeback. The game as a whole felt level and even though Inter had created 18 goal chances only 4 of those were on target.

In the early exchanges as expected Inter attacked and Lautaro Martinez felt he should have had a penalty but it was waved away. Soon after Romelu Lukaku came close with a thundering header which wasn’t too far off of its target. With nine minutes of the game to go Achraf Hakimi who has been very impressive in attack even if he is a defender came close to scoring with a superb shot and had that gone in it would certainly have changed the complexion of the game and we would have been in for quite an exciting last 10 minutes or so.

Inter coach Conte had this to say after the game, “ We paid for the first leg, for some gifts we gave them. We tried to score until the end, because with one goal, they would have had more difficulty. I’m sorry because these are matches that are played in 180 minutes. Today we tried in every way with desire and determination. You make mistakes you have to learn from mistakes and then start over and try again.”

While the disappointment of going out of the cup at the semi-final stage has dampened spirits throughout the Inter squad they will now have to refocus for their next league game at the weekend and it won’t be easy as it is against Lazio.

As for the league the title is still on and Inter are in 2nd place on 47 points and just 2 points behind Milan who keep winning. Last weekend Inter recorded their 14th win of the season from 21 games played as they beat Fiorentina 2-0 away from home.

Nicolo Barella opened the scoring for the visitors after an Alexis Sanchez pass and his curling shot from the edge of the area was a stunner. That was Barella’s third goal of the season.

Early in the second half Ivan Perisic made it 2 after Hakimi broke free down the right wing and squared it to Perisic who was unmarked and it was an easy slot in. Lukaku missed a few good chances but this was a game that was never in doubt and Fiorentina were quite toothless.

Inter’s will play Lazio next on Sunday evening at San Siro while Milan are away to Spezia a day earlier.

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