Napoli add Elmas from Fenerbahce

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Napoli came up victorious in the race to sign Elijf Elmas from Fenerbahce, who was pursued by multiple Serie A and foreign teams before the decisive sprint by the Partenopei. As announced by the Turkish club late on Monday, they paid €16M plus bonuses for the 19-year-old midfielder, who will ink a five-year contract once he will have completed his medicals.

After a first season where he did not play much, Elmas collected 29 appearances in the Super Lig in the most recent campaign, scoring four times. In his previous stop, in the North Macedonian side Rabotnicki Skopje, he amassed eight goals and eight assists in 48 games. He has been playing professionally since he was 17 and already has 11 caps with his senior national teams. Continue reading

The Expandable players in Serie A

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We are at the half way point of the summer transfer window in Serie A and while all the top clubs have already made some significant additions, the focus now needs to shift a bit on getting rid of some expandable players to lower the wage bill and raise funds to make some further acquisitions.

 

Let’s take a look at which players could be sold in the coming weeks for each of the top clubs, these aren’t top targets for other teams like Milinkovic Savic or Joao Cancelo, but rather players clubs would be more than happy to get rid of, but as they say one man’s trash can be another’s treasure 

 

Juventus

 

Gonzalo Higuain, Sami Khedira, Mario Mandzukic, Mattia Perin

Despite the arrival of the manager who got the most out of him in Maurizio Sarri, Juventus are determined to find a team willing to pay Higuain’s enormous salary and cover his amortized value for the 2019/20 season (even better if someone is willing to do that until the end of his contract in June of 2021). West Ham are interested and Roma would take him in a heart beat to replace Edin Dzeko.

Allegri’s departure ensured that two of his favorite players, Khedira and Mandzukic, would also be on their way out despite the fact they both signed extensions less than a year ago. Khedira has been linked to Fenerbahce while Mandzukic could return to the Bundesliga.

Buffon’s surprising return to Turin was the final blow on a devastating stretch for Mattia Perin. The former Genoa keeper never seriously challenged Woj Szczesny for the starting job, which also caused him to fall behind Cragno and even Meret in the pecking order for the Italian national team. With no logical destinations left in Serie A for him next season, Perin will likely try to get his career back on track at Benfica.

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Napoli

 

Simone Verdi, Elseid Hysaj

 

The former Bologna attacker is coming off a disappointing first season under the Vesuvius. He had previously decided not to join the club when Maurizio Sarri was at the helm since he knew there would be a significant lack of rotation, but things didn’t go much better with Carlo Ancelotti. Verdi could find himself at Torino or another mid table club where he can play regularly.

Last season Hysaj fell behind Malcuit and even Maksimovic on the depth chart at right back and while he had been linked to Manchester United at the beginning of the transfer window, he will likely have to settle for a less glamorous destination.

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Inter

 

Miranda, Joao Mario, Borja Valero, Mauro Icardi

Miranda had already complained with his lack of consistent playing time last season and now with Diego Godin’s arrival, he’ll certainly leave Milano this summer. Now that Inter acquired Lazaro to be the starting right wing back, D’Ambrosio can be a backup that can also be used as a center back in Conte’s back line- plus we know Conte held Ranocchia in high regard when he was playing for Bari.

With Niccolo’ Barella and Stefano Sensi’s arrivals, Inter will look to shed both Joao Mario and Borja Valero which would save them significantly on salaries. The Portuguese international has been linked to Monaco while the Spaniard could head back to Fiorentina.

Icardi is such a complicated situation that he deserves his own article, but he was recently excused from the rest of Inter’s summer retreat.

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Milan

 

Diego Laxalt, Fabio Borini, Lucas Biglia

Even before Paolo Maldini returned to the club as a director, the rossoneri have had a fascination with left backs. So it was not completely surprising to see them make their first significant investment of the summer on Theo Hernandez which all but guarantees either Diego Laxalt, who would be a superb fit playing for Gasperini at Atalanta, or Ricardo Rodriguez who could bring in a decent plusvalenza.

Milan have repeatedly tried to include Lucas Biglia in a potential deal with Fiorentina for Jordan Veretout, but the Viola have balked at idea of taking over his substantial salary. Getting a team to pay him 3.5 million after taxes for the coming season won’t be easy and the same can be said with Borini’s 2.5 million figure. 

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Roma

 

Steven N’Zonzi, one out of Alessandro Florenzi, Nick Karsdorp or Aleksander Kolarov

The recent acquisitions of Amadou Diawara and Leonardo Spinazzola, who expect to have substantial roles under new manager Fonseca, have made a few players expandable- including a World Cup champion and the team’s captain.

N’Zonzi never really adapted to Serie A and could head back to France, while Florenzi’s significant salary makes him a prime candidate to leave. Kolarov has been heavily linked to a move to Turkey as well as Inter but could be used a center back next season following Manolas and Marcano’s departures.

Winners & Losers in the Transfer Window’s first month in Serie A

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The first month of the transfer window in Serie A was mainly an opportunity for clubs to get third financial houses in order. We saw a flurry of deals right before the fiscal year ended on June 30th and numerous new acquisitions announced right when the new year began.

Although there are still two full months of transfers ahead of us at least in Italy, we can still draw some conclusions on who is off to a fast start and who is falling more behind

 

Winners

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Atalanta- there was a lot of concern that the Bergamaschi qualifying for the Champions League over Milan and Roma was bad for the league since they would inevitably sell off their best players. At least so far the opposite has been true, Atalanta have no ongoing issues with Financial Fair Play (unlike Milan and Roma by the way) and have made some significant moves by extending Mario Pasalic’s loan and acquiring Luis Muriel- who could be the next talented striker to fully blossom under manager Gasperini.

Atalanta’s president Percassi has vowed to keep his best players, including Duvan Zapata and Josip Ilicic who has just one year remaining in his contract. The biggest challenge maybe to replace Gianluca Mancini who is heavily linked to Roma, but Atalanta have shown plenty of signs they want to build off of last season’s success.

Inter- right after the new fiscal year started, the nerazzurri announced Diego Godin’s arrival who will join the defense with the most clean sheets last season, Valentino Lazaro who looks like a right wing back tailor made for Conte and Stefano Sensi who in an ideal world is Borja Valero’s replacement and will end up following Politano’s trajectory at the club. Inter are also in the driver seat to acquire Nicolo’ Barella and are working on signing Romelu Lukaku and Edin Dzeko.

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Napoli- if a few months ago I told you Kostas Manolas was going to join the partenopei, you probably would have assumed Kalidou Koulibaly was on his way out- instead the Greek defender replaced Raul Albiol. Napoli also signed Empoli right wing back Giovanni Di Lorenzo who was one of the breakout players in the league during the second half of the season.

Lazio/Lazzari- while Juventus, Napoli and Inter look like the clear favorites to finish in the top three spots, Lazio are the club who right now can make the best case for being the favorites for the last Champions League spot. Lazio officially announced the signing of highly rated defender Denis Vavro, who was previously linked to Atalanta, and are set to welcome Manuel Lazzari to own the right wing.

Lazio is a perfect fit for Lazzari, who will slot in perfectly in Simone Inzaghi’s formation- the soon to be former SPAL winger is taking a big step forward in his career while still being guaranteed the playing time of a starter.

Bologna- in order to convince Sinisa Mihajlovic to stay at the club after his impressive work following Pippo Inzaghi’s sacking, Bologna’s ownership group promised him they would invest on the squad. Former Roma and Sampdoria director Walter Sabatini was brought in and the chain smoking director signed very impressive prospect Jordy Schouten as well as Brugge defender Stefano Denswil who is expected to be a starter. Bologna also exercised their option to buy Riccardo Orsolini from Juventus for a very reasonable 15 million and retained evergreen striker Rodrigo Palacio.

Sassuolo- for the second summer in a row Sassuolo sold one of their starters to Inter for a significant amount, they also are set to replace Stefano Sensi with Hamed Traore’ who is coming off a very impressive season at Empoli. The neroverdi were also able to retain ace manager Roberto De Zerbi and are set to add Empoli striker Francesco Caputo who scored 16 goals last season. 

 

 

Losers

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Roma- in the span of a month the giallorossi lost arguably their three best players performance wise last season in Stephan El Shaarawy, Kostas Manolas and Daniele De Rossi. If that wasn’t bad enough, Francesco Totti resigned and publicly attacked the Boston based ownership and they have failed to sign Nicolo’ Zaniolo to an extension, on top of that Lazio seem ready to overtake them as the best team in Italy’s capital. On the bright side, new sporting director Gianluca Petrachi is off to a good start since joining the club following the mass exodus.

Edin Dzeko- the Bosnian striker is determined to join Conte at Inter but after Roma was able to make significant plusvalenze on Manolas and Luca Pellegrini, they had no incentive to sell him at a discount. 

Mattia Perin- Gigi Buffon’s return to Juventus have ensured that the former Genoa keeper is on his way out- but there are no logical destinations left for him in Serie A unless Milan sell Gigio Donnarumma. 

Atalanta Demonstrate Ambition Ahead of Champions League debut

When Atalanta clinched top four on the final match-day of the season, the critics were out. With vultures circling their side after an impressive year, it looked likely that Gli Orobici’s carefully constructed roster would be dismantled piece by piece. The fear, of course, was that Atalanta, with many key players on their way out, would embarrass Italy on the world stage. However, nothing of the sort appears to be happening.

First, Roma were heavily interested in Gian Piero Gasperini, offering him a long-term deal in the nation’s capital. Opting to lead the side into Europe’s elite competition for the first time ever, the veteran tactician quickly rebuffed their advances. Since joining Atalanta, Gasperini has revived his managerial career, and has transformed the side into a high-flying attacking machine. It’s only right the former Inter manager sees this experience through to the fullest, and leads the side into their first Champions League campaign ever.

In a recent press conference, Gasperini spoke about Roma’s interest. “It would’ve been difficult to leave Atalanta right now,” said Gasperini. “It would’ve almost been a betrayal. Roma were tempting, but what we achieved kept me here,” added the tactician, as per Football Italia.

After keeping their leader aboard, the next step was securing the futures of their regulars. In the early goings of the transfer window, Napoli made strong moves for Josip Ilicic and Hans Hateboer, and reportedly agreed to terms with both players. Despite their interest, the club pushed hard for their stays and both players inevitably decided that remaining in Bergamo was their best option for the upcoming season.

Then, it was Gianluca Mancini that was on every team’s shortlist. Roma, among others, were interested, but the Italian international now appears set to stay. Mancini broke out last season under Gasperini, and established himself as one of Gli Orobici’s leaders in the locker room. His presence at the heart of defence and fearlessness will be much needed in Europe, especially considering Atalanta’s group will be no cakewalk. Currently, the Bergamo-based outfit are in pot four, meaning there’s a strong possibility they will be drawn with at least one of the likes of Manchester City, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, and current holders Liverpool.

But this doesn’t scare Gasperini or Atalanta one bit. When asked about who he wants to play, the 61-year-old had no doubts. “The best. That’s what we want,” said Gasperini. “If I had to choose, I’d go to Madrid against Real Madrid because they have a historic stadium. And then England. Our chances aren’t very high, so it’s better to go and play with the best,” added the tactician.

As the weeks passed, every one of Atalanta’s standout players were linked with moves away, yet June has now come and gone, and their side is still completely intact. In fact, Atalanta have recently confirmed the arrival of Luis Muriel. After a successful loan spell with Fiorentina that saw him bag nine goals in 23 appearances in all competitions, Gli Orobici identified the forward as a priority and quickly put pen to paper on an 18 million euro deal with Sevilla.

The 28-year-old will fit like a glove in Gasperini’s high-press system, and will be deadly on the counter-attack alongside Papu Gomez, Duvan Zapata, and Josip Ilicic. Last season, Atalanta scored the most goals in league play with an astonishing 77, and look set to continue their offensive ways. While depth was previously a concern now that they’ll be competing on three fronts, Muriel’s arrival now gives Gasperini’s more options in the final third, and will allow him to rest Zapata when need be.

With just one month of the summer transfer window gone, the early signs are positive for Atalanta. They’ve kept their coach, rejected advances from many of Italy’s top sides for their key performers, and are slowly improving their roster with standouts from fellow mid-table sides. While it may be premature, Atalanta could very well go from being Italy’s surprise package to Europe’s latest darlings in just one summer.

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Will Juventus have a real antagonist next season?

conte

Voldemort, Hans Gruber, Anton Chigurth and the Joker, especially the version played by Heath Ledger, elevated the films they were because they were such great antagonist. Every great protagonist needs a true challenger to show all that they can bring to the table and we all know things are much more interesting when the final result is in doubt until the very end.

We never got to fully appreciate the first season of Ronaldo’s Juventus because the scudetto race was decided a few months before the season actually ended, but with Inter and Napoli showing a lot of ambition in the early stages of the transfer window, as well as some story lines that will intensify the already strong rivalry between the clubs, we are in for a treat next season.

Inter snuck into the last Champions League spot in final minutes of the season for the second year in a row. By hiring Antonio Conte to replace Luciano Spalletti, the nerazzurri have made a clear upgrade which should allow them to at bare minimum clinch a spot in Europe’s top competition a bit earlier in the season- but how much better will Inter be? It will come down to how strong the squad is.

Conte will start with a great foundation at the back. Handanovic had the most clean sheets in the league last season, and will now have Diego Godin, Milan Skriniar and De Vrij playing in front of him- this will be Inter’s best defense since the treble season and Conte will have a new version of his BBC.

The midfield on the other hand is a work in progress. The fact that Brozovic was arguably Inter’s most important player last season, is an indication they need to make a significant upgrade. While Stefano Sensi would certainly be an upgrade from the version of Borja Valero we saw last season, he wouldn’t be a difference maker as a starter- at least next season. But there’s another Italian who could do just that…

Once Inter raise enough plusvalenze to meet their Financial Fair Play parameters on June 30th, they will complete the deal for Niccolo’ Barella who in many ways will bring the attributes the nerazzurri were looking for when they acquired Nainggolan.

The attack is where we’ll see numerous changes- Edin Dzeko is expected to sign a three year deal with Inter and then it will be up to Marotta and Ausilio to find a solution to the Mauro Icardi saga- should they be able to successfully move him, then they’ll have the funds to seriously pursue Romelu Lukaku- a striker Conte has pursued for quite some time. Dzeko, Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez would be a significantly stronger front line than the ones Conte had during his run of three scudetti at Juventus.

It’s not just about the players for the nerazzurri, the club is also taking a much more business like approach compared to their previous Pazza Inter ways. Conte will put the group above all individuals, which will limit the drama that all too often crippled the club. 

Certainly having Conte and Marotta at Inter will reinvigorate the rivalry with Juventus, something future captain Skriniar wasn’t afraid to do in a recent Instagram video mocking the bianconeri’s inability to win the Champions League. But the news Sarri was joining the Old Lady has Napoli even more motivated this summer.

President Aurelio De Laurentiis is determined to significantly bolster Carlo Ancelotti’s squad and has developed relationships with top agents to do so. With Raul Albiol heading to Villareal, the partenopei are working with Mino Raiola on closing the deal for Kostas Manolas, who has a reasonable 36 million exit clause (Napoli is looking to send a player to Roma to lower the amount).

The Greek defender would be an excellent partner for Koulibaly and is a significant upgrade over the other center backs on the squad Maksimovic and Chiriches. By bringing in Giovanni Di Lorenzo, who is coming off an excellent season, Napoli has already improved on the wings without having to spend substantially.

While Manolas would already be a great addition, the real splash would be welcoming James Rodriguez. There’s a lot of confidence within Napoli that the Colombian international will arrive on loan with option to buy thanks to Jorge Mendes’ strong mediation. Ancelotti already managed James at Real Madrid, and this addition would also help raise Napoli’s international profile, which the club is already trying to do with the two friendlies in the United States with Barcelona.

  

Both Napoli and Inter are raising the bar to try to catch up with Juventus, with the bianconeri moving away from Allegri and going with a less pragmatic style, we can look forward to a much more fun and competitive season in Serie A.

 

 

Empoli Trio Set for Big Moves

empolispal

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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Rugani set to benefit from Sarri appointment

Recently, it’s been heavily reported that Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri is nearing an exit, and is close to signing a contract with Italian champions Juventus. This comes following a successful season in London, that saw the Italian tactician steer the English giants back into the Champions League after a solid third-place finish, and claim the Europa League in emphatic fashion.

Despite his success, Sarri intends on leaving, and is likely returning to Italy with the bianconeri as front-runners for his signature. According to Italian media outlets, the former Napoli boss feels his work at Chelsea went under-appreciated, and is leaving as a result of this. While Juventus’ offensive players will be licking their lips at the prospect of Sarriball, including a certain Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala, one player to keep an eye on is Daniele Rugani.

The defender had a torrid season under Massimiliano Allegri, and failed to take his game to the next level, as many expected him to. Every time he featured, Juventus’ rearguard looked shaky, and never had any sense of cohesion. However, Rugani is a player Sarri has valued for a long time now, and even pushed for his signing when he was at Napoli. Even if it never materialized, it shows Sarri holds the defender in high regard.

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When the pair were together at Empoli, the young defender was a crucial part in the tactician’s setup, and played an integral part to his possession-based buildup out of the back. Outside of his confidence on the ball, Rugani was a lockdown defender in Tuscany, something that he has since failed to translate to Juventus.

At Juventus, it’s been a complete different story for the centre-back. Often playing second fiddle to Leonardo Bonucci, Mehdi Benatia or Giorgio Chiellini, Rugani has struggled for consistency, and has looked a shade of his former self when called upon. This season, the former Empoli man was regularly bested by physical opposition, and often looked timid in possession. With Bonucci and Chiellini on the wrong side of thirty, it’s time Rugani steps up and delivers on the hype.

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While question marks remain over his ability due to his recent exploits, Rugani was fantastic at Empoli under Sarri, and proved to be one of the league’s top defenders. Should Sarri join the bianconeri, as it’s largely being reported by the ever reliable Romeo Agresti, expect Rugani to have a bigger role at the club. In addition to the added responsibility, the 24-year-old will have the complete faith of his manager, something that might have been lacking under Allegri.

With his newfound confidence, Rugani will experience a resurgence of sorts, and could potentially develop into the defender many expected him to be. Under Sarri, much like it was the case at Empoli, Rugani could continue his progression as a ball-playing defender. In recent times, this aspect to Rugani’s game has stagnated, as he has focused solely on defending.

With his risk-averse mentality holding him back, Rugani hasn’t been able to demonstrate his complete ability, and has since been labelled a flop. That being said, expect the tune to change under Sarri’s guidance and witness Rugani reborn. After all, it may just be his last shot at redemption in Turin.

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

Gian-Piero-Gasperini

Finally, we end the series with the ‘allenatori,’ the men in charge of the day to day and marathon that is 38 crucial rounds of calcio.

Here are the five best managers from this past season. Continue reading

The Top Five Central/Attacking Midfielders From the 2018/19 Serie A Season

ruiz_fabian_12-4

From the midfield position, plenty of individuals turned up to elevate their respective sides in the 2018/19 Serie A season, thus making this area arguably the hardest to rank.

After careful thought and a hard look at the impact each qualifier had on their club’s midfield, here is the shortened list of the best five from this past season. Continue reading

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

kalidou-koulibaly-napoli-2018-19_rgpt8dla78z310a4l48k1s6d3

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