Torino Hang Around and Enter Top Four Race

With much of the attention surrounding the top four race going to Milan, Roma, and Lazio, Walter Mazzarri’s plucky Torino side have flown under the radar, but are still in it with a chance. With just five games to go, I Granata are in seventh place, however, sit just three points back of fourth place Milan. Playing in Mazzarri’s patented 3-5-2 with veteran leadership spread evenly across the pitch, Torino have proven to be one of the harder sides to break down within the peninsula, and hurt the opposition on the break through Andrea Belotti, and Iago Falque.

Torino are undefeated in their last five clashes, and are currently in good form ahead of a crucial stage. Next week, Torino’s top four credentials will be put to the ultimate test when they take on Milan in a direct clash for European football. A win against the struggling rossoneri would put them on equal points awaiting other clashes, and would signal their Champions League intent to the rest of the pack.

While Champions League football is unlikely given that there are five teams vying for one spot, all sides in the top four race have displayed a propensity to shoot themselves in the foot at crucial points. Just this past weekend, Roma, Milan, and Lazio all dropped points in games they should have won. As a result, the likes of Atalanta and Torino have been able to stick around the top four, and have a legitimate chance going into the final match-days.

After taking on Milan, Torino will travel down the street to take on their fierce rivals Juventus at the Allianz Stadium. While the bianconeri have regularly bested Torino over the years, they have already clinched the Scudetto, and will already be thinking of their summer vacation. After his side’s triumph over Fiorentina, Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri admitted himself today that he will try new schemes in the remaining five games. With Juve experimenting, they will likely field a wealth of their youngsters and try to blood them through. This gives Torino a unique opportunity to use their experience, and claim,what would be, a crucial three points to their top four aspirations.

Following their clash with Juve, Torino then close the season against Sassuolo, Empoli, and Lazio. While the first two opponents should be straightforward, it’s their last clash that will determine their fate.

Right now, Torino are spreading responsibility in the final third wonderfully, and don’t simply rely on one player to see them through. In fact, there are seven players on their roster this season with at least three goals or more. This includes defenders, defensive midfielders, wingers and of course, their highly rated talisman Andrea Belotti. Factor in Salvatore Sirigu’s exploits, and it’s clear to see why Torino have been hard to beat this season.

With their side firing on all cylinders, Torino could just be this season’s surprise package in Serie A and snatch Champions League football under from everyone’s noses. Until now, they haven’t received many plaudits for their efforts, but expect that to change if they were to overcome Milan.

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Parma 1-1 AC Milan: Scrappy performance results in useless draw for the Rossoneri

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AC Milan failed to do what was needed, as Parma managed to find an equaliser at the death. However, one could argue that the home side deserved the point, as Gattuso’s men looked uninspired for the entire game. 

The Rossoneri had a chance to make a leap in fourth place, increasing the distance between themselves and Roma as well as Atalanta, who will face Inter and Napoli respectively this round. However, in classic Milan fashion, they failed to do so, putting in a terrible display overall.  Continue reading

Lazio Face Top Four Setback Following Milan Defeat

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After narrowly succumbing to Milan by a score of 1-0 on the weekend, Lazio find themselves languishing in eighth place, six points back of fourth place; albeit with a game in hand. The good news is that they’re still very much in the race for top four. Unfortunately for them, however, so are the other five teams alongside them.

Lazio went into the game in relatively poor form dropping points against SPAL and Sassuolo prior, yet only found themselves three points adrift Milan. Against the rossoneri, Inzaghi’s men started relatively well and were unlucky not to find the back of the net first, with Ciro Immobile hitting the post. As fate would have it, Milan were awarded a penalty with just over ten minutes to play, and Ivorian midfielder Franck Kessie converted it with aplomb.

With just over seven games left, and with only six points separating fourth place from eighth, the race for Champions League football has never been closer. As a result, the biancocelesti are going to have to win out their remaining games, if they want a chance. In their next clash, they’ll be taking on a relegation threatened Udinese, a clash that will be harder than the table suggests.

Following the game with Udinese, Inzaghi’s men then have Sampdoria, Atalanta, and Cagliari on the agenda. While Lazio will be the favourites with the odds-makers for these clashes, it is typically in these types of games that Inzaghi’s men struggle. Moreover, Sampdoria and Atalanta have proven they can go toe-to-toe with just about any side in Italy, and will prove to be an equal match for Lazio. After all, there’s a reason these sides are still alive in the race for European football this late in the season.

In the past, Serie A’s provinciali have been Lazio’s bogey sides, and were a major reason behind their failed qualification to last season’s Champions League. If they win their game in hand, Lazio join Roma, and Atalanta in the pack behind Milan, and are in it with a chance. If they don’t, they might as well forget top four altogether.

With Roma experiencing a resurgence of sorts under Claudio Ranieri’s guidance, it will be important for Lazio to exhibit consistency in order to pip their fierce rivals to Champions League football. Roma, however, still have to take on Inter, and Juventus and will be travelling to the Stadio Luigi Ferrari to take on Genoa, which is never easy. Then, of course, there’s Milan.

While the rossoneri had shown signs of slowing down in recent weeks, dropping points against Inter, Sampdoria, Udinese and Juventus in their last four, their win against Lazio will undoubtedly spur them on. With clashes coming up against Parma, Torino and Bologna, there’s no reason why Milan shouldn’t pick up, at the very least, seven points out of their next nine, and continue their march for top four football. Their fate is very much in their own hands.

Lazio’s focus should be on overtaking Milan and Roma, however, they shouldn’t forget about Atalanta either. Even if they win their game in hand, gli Orobici will still have one point more than Lazio. As a result, they must beat them in their head-to-head game on May 5, and win out. Luckily for Lazio, Atalanta have one of the most difficult run-ins taking on Napoli, and Juventus.

While Lazio’s game in hand still gives them hope for top four football, they will have to be at their very best over the next couple of weeks, otherwise they can forget about top four football. Factor in their semi-final clash in the Coppa Italia against Milan, and their schedule is complicated further. In any case, Inzaghi’s men will be hungry to return Champions League football to the nation’s capital; something that hasn’t been done in over a decade at Lazio.

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Serie A Club of the Round – Milan vs Lazio

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There was not really any proper cracker in this round, so let’s go with the most influential clash, Milan-Lazio, which had very heavy points on the line, as the two sides are right in the middle of the battle to secure a Champions League berth.

Both sides were looking to bounce back after unsatisfactory results, as the Rossoneri had not won in four rounds in a row, the Biancocelesti in the last two, which were quite feasible against SPAL and Sassuolo.

Coach Gennaro Gattuso trotted out the same XI used in the previous match, so with Fabio Borini completing the trident next to Suso and Krzysztof Piatek and Hakan Calhanoglu in the midfield. Continue reading

AC Milan 1-0 Lazio: Good performance rewarded with three points

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Despite being under tremendous pressure, Milan managed to clinch all three points in front of their home crowd, beating Lazio after they were awarded a penalty late in the second half.

The win means they are once again fourth in the standings, after Roma had knocked them down earlier today thanks to a win against Udinese. Therefore, the pressure was on Gattuso’s men to deliver tonight, and they eventually did, although the game was a close one. Continue reading

AC Milan vs. Lazio: Pressure mounts ahead of Champions League clash

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AC Milan are faced with a big test this evening, taking on Lazio who are right behind them in the race for a Champions League spot, with one game in hand to add some extra pressure on Gattuso’s men.

Therefore, tonight’s clash between the two will be very decisive in many ways. It’s safe to say that the winner will hold an advantage for the remainder of the season when it comes to finishing top four. Not only because of the points at stake, but also because of the confidence boost that one of the sides will get in case of a win.

The Rossoneri, who performed really well against Juventus despite losing 2-1, will be looking to replicate the performance last time out in order to properly challenge and in-form Lazio, even though the latter drew their last game (2-2 against Sassuolo at home). In these games, however, the previous form never seems to matter.

Historically, Milan hold an advantage against Lazio, especially when it comes to playing at the San Siro. In fact, the Rossoneri are unbeaten since 1989 against Lazio at home in Serie A (P28 W17 D11), while they have never previously had an unbeaten home streak of 29 games against a single opponent in the competition.

TEAM NEWS

As previously mentioned, Gattuso’s men performed really well against Juventus, and really deserved to get away with at least a draw. Therefore, the manager is expected to continue with the same starting eleven.

Donnarumma and Paqueta will miss out on the game due to injury, but are expected the return very soon. In fact, the goalkeeper could reportedly be ready for the Parma game next week, while the Brazilian might need a little more time still.

There had also been talks of Zapata possibly replace Musacchio in the line-up, as the latter hasn’t exactly impressed in the last few weeks. Against Juventus, he was responsible for a very clumsy challenge on Dybala, which allowed the Bianconeri to level the scores. However, the latest reports all suggest that he will get a new chance.

Borini will play from start once again up front, evidently impressing the manager during the Juventus game. This will allow Calhanoglu to stay in the midfield, now that Paqueta is injured. Despite him not being a fan favourite, many would agree that Borini puts in the effort required, although some would like to see Castillejo in his place.

Likely AC Milan XI (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Calabria, Musacchio, Romagnoli, Rodriguez; Kessie, Bakayoko, Calhanoglu; Suso, Piatek, Borini.

PREDICTION

Just like any Milan game nowadays, it’s hard to call. It all comes down to consistency, which the Rossoneri haven’t exactly displayed as of late. Should they replicate the performance they had against Juventus, then they should get all three points this evening. However, they might as well fall back into their slump again, and then it will be very difficult against a persistent Lazio side.

AC Milan 2-1 Lazio

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Assessing the run-in: Why Milan v Lazio is a true Champions League shoot-out

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Lazio’s last trip to San Siro raised their hopes of Champions League qualification to a new high.

Less than a fortnight ago, a superb 1-0 win over Inter made Simone Inzaghi’s side frontrunners to burst into the top four, but things change quickly in football.

The damaging week which followed, where they picked up just one point from games against SPAL and Sassuolo, means the Aquile return to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on Saturday needing another big win, this time against AC Milan, to revive their flagging form.

Despite the recent disappointments, the Biancocelesti remain firmly in the mix, with just three points separating them from the Rossoneri in fourth and a game in hand against Udinese to come next week. Continue reading

Serie A Match of the Round – Juventus vs Milan

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Few tilts were high-scoring and intense up until the final whistle in this round and Juventus-Milan was the most meaningful one out of the bunch. The Bianconeri came into the game looking to get closer or possibly clinch the title with an advantageous combination of results that would have to start with a win, while the Devil were seeking to rebound after three unsatisfactory results, as they had recently lost to Sampdoria and Inter and tied with Udinese.

The Old Lady recuperated and started both Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic, but opted to rest Giorgio Chiellini and Miralem Pjanic. Continue reading

Where would Conte fit best next season?

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Everything is breaking his way. His successor at his former club gets routinely mocked at home matches making his previous tenure look better in retrospect and there are potentially many openings at the top clubs in his home country. In many ways it’s hard to imagine Antonio Conte’s sabbatical season going any better when it comes to how he’s perceived and where he could go next.

Conte certainly has the qualities that many of the top teams with an expected coaching vacancy are looking for- he has a long track record of getting clubs back on track dating back to his time before he became Juventus’ manager and he knows both Serie A and the Italian media very well. 

But where does it make more sense for him to go next should he decide to return to Italy? Let’s look at the potential fits and likelihood the job will be available in the first place

 

Juventus

 

The last two managers to win the Champions League with the bianconeri, Giovanni Trapattoni and Marcello Lippi, both eventually returned to the club despite leaving Turin to go coach bitter rivals Inter. While Conte at least went to the national team and then abroad, it doesn’t feel like this is the right time for him to go back to Juventus. 

For one Max Allegri keeps saying he wants to be the Bianconeri’s version of Sir Alex Ferguson, and secondly the club seems more interested in keeping him after the impressive second leg against Atletico Madrid (but an elimination against underdog Ajax may change that). But even if Allegri leaves, it doesn’t feel like there’s much of an appetite for another defensive manager, especially one who unlike the current manager has yet to fully excel in the Champions League- the trophy the club is mainly focused on.

Likelihood job is available: 25 percent

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Inter

 

While having Beppe Marotta as the CEO isn’t necessarily a distinct advantage for the nerazzurri considering the rocky relationship between the two at Juventus, this is Conte’s likeliest destination. With Suning’s financial stability and the Financial Fair Play restrictions about to end, Conte would be able to count on the support in the transfer market he consistently craves.

Inter have already signed Diego Godin on a Bosman which would give Conte a new version of the BBC assuming Milan Skriniar stays alongside De Vrij- an outcome that seems rather likely. Should he follow in Trapattoni and Lippi’s footsteps, Conte wouldn’t have to go through a significant rebuild like at Roma and Milan or face huge expectations like winning the Champions League at Juventus. 

While Spalletti has a good chance of qualifying for the Champions League for a second season in a row and has a long term contract, he has openly clashed with Marotta over Icardi and Perisic and his hand picked addition Nainggolan has so far been a significant bust. Spalletti looks to have overstayed his welcome.

 

Likelihood job is available: 60 percent

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Milan

 

Before the derby against Inter, Gattuso looked to have earned the opportunity to start next season as Milan’s manager- but a recent streak of disappointing results, coupled with an uninspired offensive system have changed that perspective.

By joining the Rossoneri, Conte wouldn’t be able to expect significant additions via the transfer market because of Financial Fair Play and his style of play isn’t exactly in line with the club’s DNA. On the plus side, Conte is the master of taking clubs from A to B and he would have the opportunity to build the team in his image.

 

Likelihood job is available: 50 percent

Roma

 

The giallorossi are the likeliest to have a job opening as even if Claudio Ranieri were to able to get the team to the Champions League, there’s a chance he would step aside to give a chance to a younger manager to help his beloved Roma.

At Roma, regardless if they make the Champions League or not, Conte would face an even bigger rebuild than at Milan. As someone who has openly complained about the transfer moves of his employers, you don’t need much of an imagination to picture how he would react to the departure of players like Manolas. In addition Conte has become one of the highest paid managers at his recent jobs and it’s hard to envision Roma being able to pay him in line with his previous earnings.

Likelihood job is available: 85 percent

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 31

Scudetto Juve: Buffon immortale, Dybala 22 gol / SPECIALE

Juventus-Milan: the Bianconeri are coming off a convincing outing in Cagliari, where they notched their second shutout win in a row and in general their seventh victory in the last eight fixtures. On the other hand, the Rossoneri failed to take home the full loot for three matches in a row as they lost to Inter and Sampdoria and then tied with Udinese. The Old Lady is likely to have back both Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala for this game, while Cristiano Ronaldo is slated to sit one more out. Some players could be spared in the Ajax game, in any case Moise Kean and Federico Bernardeschi are in terrific form and have lead them scoring-wise. Continue reading