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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Serie A Player of the Month in May – Franck Kessie

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Serie A had a leg up on most of the other European leagues since it had four rounds in May, but that did not necessarily boosted its players, as just one managed to crack the Euro Fantasy League Team of the Month: Milan’s Franck Kessie.

The midfielder, who is listed as a defender in the fantasy game, tried to help the Rossoneri sneak in one of the top four spots, but they just came up short, even though they managed to prevail in their last four games of the season, against Bologna, Fiorentina, Frosinone and SPAL. Inter and Atalanta bested them by one point. Continue reading

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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The Top Five Attackers From the 2018/19 Serie A Season

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Forwards are often on the receiving end of most of the attention and praise throughout the course of a season; after all, it is their end product after a build-up and impact on the scoresheet that decides matches.

There was a large selection pool to choose from, and in several forward roles, but here are the five top attackers from this past campaign. Continue reading

Milan’s new fresh start & The Memento Conundrum

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Christopher Nolan made a name for himself when he released “Memento” back in 2000. The film stars Guy Pearce as Leonard, a man with no short term memory and who is tracking down the man who murdered his wife. While Leonard can remember his distant past, he has to constantly reset because he doesn’t know where he’s going and why.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Leonard’s character as Milan get ready for another rebuild- they’ll now have their fourth sporting director in four year and with Gattuso’s departure, they have to appoint their seventh manager in eight years. While everyone remembers Milan’s glorious past, they are so often starting over that you start to wonder where they are actually going.

But Milan fans finally got a dose of reality with Ivan Gazidis’ gave a lengthy interview in Wednesday’s Gazzetta dello Sport where he illustrated the Elliott Fund and his vision for the future. Gazidis stated that he’s “looking for the right balance between quality young players and players with leadership and experience. We won’t invest in top players or those who have already been, but those who can become one in our shirt”

This decision is driven in large part by the reality of having to operate within strict Financial Fair Play parameters which Gazidis described this way “FFP? Skipping the rules, looking for an improbable “all in” as if we are at the poker table is not only risky, it’s wrong, because behind a presumed “enjoyment in the moment”, there is an abyss to come. The goal is to grow in compliance with FFP  and bring quality players at Milan, who can grow with the club, showing their value and becoming a pride for the fan. We will not buy young talents to resell them, but so they can stay and enter the future history of the club”

For Milan fans who have just have memory from the long lost past like Leonard in “Memento” but none of recent events, it’s very easy to paint Elliott and Gazidis as the bad guys here since they are being honest on the club needing to make long term decisions rather than pursue instant gratifications, but a closer look at what happened in past 4 years will show that blaming the Elliott Fund and Gazidis is like being angry at the fire fighters who are tasked with taking out a fire that someone else started.

While Berlusconi had been honest following the sale of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva by saying he was no longer able to spend and keep up with the super rich clubs, he fell drastically short of his goal of only selling his beloved club to someone who could make Milan great again- instead he passed on his club to a conglomerate of unheard of Chinese investors who disappeared as quickly as they appeared when the Elliott Fund took over.

But in the meantime, Galliani’s replacements Fassone and Mirabelli spent over 200 million without bringing any true difference makers and in the process dug a huge financial whole that the Elliott Fund had to cover by pumping in a ton of money just to ensure that Milan could matriculate for the Serie A season that just ended.

While Mirabelli’s replacement Leonardo certainly doesn’t deserve nowhere near as close the amount of blame as his predecessors, he also shouldn’t get a full pass either (I know many will disagree here by the way). Granted he didn’t have much time, but aside from Bakayoko (who is almost certainly leaving the club after arriving on loan with option to buy), none of his summer moves panned out- Caldara barely played at all, Higuain’s massive salary and poor attitude were a drag on the team and Laxalt was nowhere the player we had seen at Genoa and in the World Cup in Russia.

No club in Serie A spent nearly as much as Milan during the January window (I believe no club in Europe for that matter), and while Paqueta’ and Piatek certainly are looking like players who could fit the vision Gazidis has for the future, all of these moves didn’t get Milan back to the Champions League, since they feel behind  cross town rivals Inter and Atalanta who have a fraction of the rossoneri’s payroll.

The lack of the Champions League revenue has now brought even more urgency for Gazidis’ long term plan, and while it may certainly be sexier to see Milan linaked to big name players, at least now fans will know exactly what to expect- a far cry from the promises made under the Chinese regime. Milan fans will still have the long term memories of the Champions League wins, but now thanks to the transparency shown by Gazidis and the financial reality, they won’t have Leonard’s lack of short term memory which would force them to constantly start over.

Gattuso out as Milan coach

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Gennaro Gattuso and Milan have mutually agreed to part ways after an 18-month tenure as head coach of the first team. The Rossoneri collected 68 points this season, the biggest haul in six years, but fell just short of reaching their seasonal target, which was qualifying to Champions League. The managed elected to step down after a recent meeting with CEO Ivan Gazidis. The director Leonardo has resigned on Tuesday too.

Gattuso confided to Repubblica: “Leaving the Milan’s bench is not easy, but it is a decision I had to make. It did not generate in a precise moment, but it was the sum of this 18 months as coach of a team that will always be special to me. I have gone through them with great passion, they were unforgettable. I will renounce to two years left on my contract because my history with the club will never be a matter of money.” Continue reading

The Top Five Defenders From the 2018/19 Serie A Season

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The 2018/19 Serie A season was chock full of surprises, from breakthrough attacking performances to unsung goalkeeping heroes aiding in the survival of a relegation battle. But, as far as defensive efforts go, it was business as usual for these top-rate guardians whose exploits were conducive to achieving their respective club’s objectives for the campaign.

Here are the top five ranked defenders from this past season. Continue reading

The Top Five Goalkeepers From the 2018/19 Serie A Season

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The 2018-19 Serie A season has come to a close, so it is now time to go position by position and rank the top five players in each role.

We start with the last line of defence, the goalkeepers.  Continue reading

SPAL vs. AC Milan: Previewing the Champions League decider

Milan vs Frosinone - Serie A TIM 2018/2019

This evening, AC Milan will take on SPAL away from home, in what will be their final game of the season. As expected, it will also be a very important one, as the Rossoneri are in need of a win in order to keep their Champions League dream alive. 

Since Juventus failed to beat Atalanta last weekend, the Bergamo side still have the upper hand against Milan, currently sitting one point ahead of Gattuso’s men with 66 points in third place. Inter, meanwhile, are in fourth with the same amount of points. In other words, it’s not only in the Rossoneri’s hand this evening, as they will need help from either Sassuolo or Empoli. Continue reading

Where next for Simone Inzaghi?

Simone Inzaghi

Since being appointed as Lazio’s interim head coach in 2016, Simone Inzaghi has transformed the biancocelesti into one of the league’s most compact sides, and has consistently delivered silverware, winning the Supercoppa in 2017 against Juventus, and most recently claiming the Coppa Italia this season after dispatching Atalanta. The two trophies are indicative of Inzaghi’s good work at the club, but it may be time for the Italian tactician to consider his future, and evaluate the possibility of joining one of Italy’s elite.

With both Juventus, and Milan considering him for their managerial vacancy, Inzaghi would be wise to wait before committing his future to Lazio. While club president Claudio Lotito and Inzaghi have an excellent rapport – to a point where the former views his tactician as ‘his son’ – it’s time Inzaghi demands more.

Given the current roster at his disposal, it’s clear Inzaghi’s gotten the most out of them, and has arguably seen his side peak. If they are to build off their two trophies, and consistently qualify for the Champions League, an aspiration shared by the entire club, they will undoubtedly need reinforcements. Going into next season, Lazio could arguably use another centre-back, a wing-back, and another striker to compete with Immobile and Caicedo.

Since Inzaghi’s hiring, Lotito has been conservative in the transfer market, and has opted for minor reinforcements rather than a complete squad upheaval. While this helps build chemistry, Lazio will need to dip into their transfer funds if they want to compete with the Milan clubs, and fierce rivals Roma. As the competition grows, so does their need to spend.

If Lotito guarantees Inzaghi a higher salary and more say on the transfer market, the Italian tactician should heavily consider remaining at Lazio for the foreseeable future. However, the managerial vacancy at Juventus may complicate affairs.

The bianconeri are far and away the best side in Italy, and don’t look like they’ll be slowing down anytime soon. Armed with Cristiano Ronaldo, coaching Juventus is an enticing prospect for any manager, let alone an up and coming Italian one like Inzaghi. Given his positive relationship with Fabio Paratici that goes back to their childhood, the Lazio tactician could emerge as a front-runner for the role. His experience in Serie A will undoubtedly put him near the top of Juve’s list, but he’s not there alone.

In recent times, Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri and Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino have also been linked to the vacancy. In any case, joining Juventus would allow Inzaghi to take the next step in his career, and is a unique opportunity to grow his trophy case and reputation within the peninsula.

Milan, on the other hand, are frankly a less enticing option at the moment, but their appeal cannot be discounted. Despite their recent struggles, the rossoneri remain one of the league’s sleeping giants, and have improved significantly since last season. A lot, however, will depend on Champions League qualification, and whether or not, they will pip Inter or Atalanta to the final spot.

If they manage to claim top four, and promise to reinforce in key areas notably centre-back and left-wing, Inzaghi may be tempted to abandon his Lazio post for greener pastures.

While managing the biancocelesti has given Inzaghi the exposure and the necessary experience to take the next step from the primavera, managing one of Juventus or Milan may be an opportunity he can’t afford to turn down at this point in his career. After all, there aren’t many top class managers currently on the market, and by mere process of elimination, Inzaghi may find himself in contention for the jobs.

Much like he has done his entire career, expect Inzaghi to seize the opportunity and continue to propel his managerial career forward. That is, unless, Lotito makes him an offer he can’t refuse…

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