Europa League Race: Contenders, Pretenders and Dark-Horses

As the season draws to a close, the race for European places intensifies. If the season were to end today, Juventus, Inter, Lazio, and Atalanta would represent Italy in the Champions League while Roma and Napoli would have to content themselves with Europa League football.

Currently, the table could not be tighter as just four points separate sixth-place from eleventh. Let’s now take a look at the main contenders, pretenders and dark-horses for the Europa League.

Contenders: 

Roma and Atalanta: As it stands right now, one of Atalanta and Roma are pretty much guaranteed to occupy one of Italy’s two Europa League spots. Gasperini’s men are six-points ahead of the giallorossi in the fourth and final Champions League place and will be eager to maintain their advantage to qualify for Europe’s elite competition. Given Roma’s recent form, they may slide further down the table, but it’s difficult to see them finish outside the top six. As a result, expect Roma to make the Europa league leaving one last spot for the rest of the pack.

Napoli and Milan: After rough starts to the season, Napoli and Milan sacked their managers and almost immediately witnessed an upturn in their fortunes. Napoli have now won four of their last five and seem primed for a strong finish while Milan are finally playing with an identity. With Roma almost surely occupying the first Europa League spot, Napoli and Milan will likely duke it out for the remaining place. Napoli, however, will need to be better against sides under them as they have demonstrated complacency in those clashes. Milan, on the other hand, have taken care of Italy’s provinciali, but struggle against Italy’s elite.

Pretenders: 

Parma and Cagliari: Both sides got off to the season in fine form, but have recently struggled for results. Rolando Maran’s Cagliari haven’t won any of their last five clashes while Parma have proven to be far too inconsistent. In addition to their goal-scoring woes, Parma lack creative depth across the midfield, which will come back to haunt them in their hunt for European football. Cagliari, by contrast, benefitted by some incredible finishing earlier in the year; exploits that cannot be sustained throughout a full season. Expect both sides to slide further down the table as the season wears on.

Dark-Horses: 

Bologna-Hellas Verona: These two are here for vastly different reasons. On one hand, Hellas Verona have one of the league’s best defences propelling them into the race for European football while Bologna have scored freely all season and have shown no signs of slowing down. While Mihajlovic’s men have struggled in their last two games, they possess more quality in the final third than their counterparts and could go toe-to-toe with anyone in Italy. The same applies to Verona, who recently overcame Juventus in a game where they largely dominated. Milan and Napoli may be favourites for the last European spot, but Verona and Bologna will make it interesting over the next 12 match-days.

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Gennaro Gattuso showing signs of growth at Napoli

From coaching under immense financial hardship at Crete and leading Pisa to Serie B promotion to taking up one of football’s most difficult bench jobs at former club Milan and missing out on a UEFA Champions League spot by one point, Gennaro Gattuso has experienced more than the average boss at just 42. His coaching career to date has been a roller-coaster, the kind where you have everyone sending mixed signals on how frightening it can be and how you contemplate stepping out of line to sit it out. But for the fierce Calabrese general, he has never been the one to turn back and run away from his battles. Instead, he has always stared his fears square in the eyes, no matter the circumstances.

When Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis came calling for the Italian to replace Carlo Ancelotti last December, a man he holds in high regard, another new challenge awaited him at the Casa Volturno training ground. Aware of what he was stepping into upon putting pen to paper and accepting the job of bringing balance at the San Paolo, Gattuso knew if he was to succeed in this new role, his group were going to have to fight, sacrifice and spit blood to revitalize the Partenopei.

Initially, Gattuso seemed in over his head, failing to disguise his flaws and those of the current squad this season, losing 4 of 5 in the league and falling into the bottom half of the table. However, he has completely reversed this downward spiral, winning 7 of 10 in all competitions, including wins over Juventus, Lazio and Inter – the latter two which have them one result away from clinching a Coppa Italia berth.

Throughout this stretch, Gattuso has been able to elevate those who were otherwise fumbling and struggling for form under Ancelotti, including Spanish international Fabian Ruiz.

The 23-year old broke out in a big way in his first season at the club, eventually earning regular runs in the starting XI after moving from strength to strength and having a tremendous impact. Yet, too often he was used in areas under Ancelotti where his best talents failed to shine through. Recently though, he has found the magic wand of a left foot he wields and the vision to split lines which has put him back on track as one of Italy’s brightest midfield players, something which will certainly sound the alarms for clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona who have been linked extensively with a summer move for the ex-Real Betis man.

Newcomer Diego Demme, who has seemingly taken Allan’s starting spot after the Brazilian came under criticism of Gattuso after his training approach failed to meet expectations, is also providing the kind of balance in the midfield that frees up Ruiz and Piotr Zielinski to have a real say in attacking areas.

But Gattuso’s impact has sparked more than just a few, with his presence having a trickle down effect on the entire squad who are not only putting in solid collective efforts, but also buying into the way their new boss wishes to perform with the ‘grinta’ for which he personified throughout his own career. Now that he has his squad fighting and willing to get their hands dirty, Gattuso has shown improvement in the tactical aspects of his job, just as we saw in the 1-1 draw with Barcelona.

His 4-1-4-1 operated by design, allowing Napoli to play with numbers behind the ball as Barcelona expectedly held the upper-hand in possession and strike the Catalans on the rare counter-attack just as Dries Mertens did. Many will argue Napoli hunkered down and absorbed too much, and preferred to have been the aggressor as Barcelona’s been susceptible to getting split open on many occasions this season. Nonetheless, it was a solid tactical display from a manager whose main critics have always lamented his limitations and it is a result that suggests he can do more than motivate.

Gattuso has never been one for excuses. He has always honestly addressed the media and never deflects blame onto his players. There is accountability, ownership of any wayward results and off-kilter performances. He demands professionalism, and equal commitment to the cause. As a result of this, he has won over the Napoli fans and is beginning to get the best out of an underachieving squad who are now working to correct the wrongs of the earlier season to get back where they need to be amongst the Serie A elites.

Is he tactically limited? Perhaps. Does he have the CV of a top coach or one that proves he can hold down a job? No. Does his football style look pedestrian at times? Certainly. But is he evolving as a manager in this game? We think so.

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Sarri set to shake things up once more

Going into a crucial stretch in the season, Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri is weighing his options and is reportedly considering shaking things up in the final third. In an attempt to introduce more dynamism into the side, the former Napoli tactician will deploy Paulo Dybala as a false nine and will shift Juan Cuadrado from defence into the attack. We saw glimpses of this setup this past weekend against Brescia and according to Gazzetta dello Sport, is something Sarri will persist with this match-day against cellar-dwellers SPAL.

With an important game against Lyon coming up, the pressure is on Sarri to get Juve into the quarter-finals comfortably and look to make a deep European run. The veteran tactician previously had success with a false-nine setup at Napoli when he deployed Dries Mertens there.

While Dybala and Mertens are different players in their own way, both are extremely technical and do a good job at linking the midfield to attack. More importantly, they’ve both proven to be deadly finishers. As la Joya is set to play closer to goal, expect more involvement from Dybala. If anything, a central role suits the former Palermo man better and will undoubtedly help Juve create more chances in the final third.

When Sarri was initially hired, many expected Dybala to occupy this role, but it has since taken 24 match-days to get there. In recent times, Juventus have struggled in the final third and have typically relied on individual brilliance to see them through. Recognizing this, Sarri is keen on making changes.

Beyond shifting Dybala into a central position, Sarri is reportedly moving Cuadrado out of defence and into the attack. After the side failed to adequately replace Joao Cancelo, Sarri used the Colombian international at right-back. Initially, the position switch worked wonderfully, but injuries to key men in the attack mean Sarri’s forced to shuffle the deck once more.

Cuadrado has played in Juve’s front-three in their last two games and has added some much-needed unpredictability and speed up top. Other than his ability to beat his man, the former Fiorentina winger stretches opposition defences regularly and is a counter-attacking threat. Until this switch, Sarri fielded his typical 4-3-1-2 formation, which sorely lacked width and pace.

The formation switch also suits Juve’s current attacking options better than Sarri’s narrow ‘Christmas Tree’. While Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa are still out injured, a 4-3-3 gives them the opportunity to play out wide in their natural roles, rather than being pigeon-holed into a central position. With Ronaldo drifting in from the left-wing and Dybala interchanging, Cuadrado, Douglas Costa or Bernardeschi will all have a chance to stake a claim for the final place in the front-three. The increased competition will likely help the wingers hit new heights.

As Juventus look to compete on three fronts, simply put, they will need to create more chances. Sarri’s latest shuffle may not work, but it’s definitely worth a shot, and if anything, suits Juventus’ attacking options way better than their current setup.

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Sampdoria vs. Napoli: Team news, stats and prediction

Gennaro Gattuso and his Napoli stunned their hated rivals Juventus last weekend at home with a 2-1 win, a result the Partenopei undoubtedly hope to ride and build momentum from as they pay Sampdoria a visit on Monday.

At this point of the season, with the title far beyond their reach, Napoli now must set their sights on sneaking into the top four or, at the bare minimum, snagging themselves a Europa League spot. Last weekend’s  2-1 win over Juventus may be exactly what was needed for the Azzurri to get back on track and make a serious push up the table.

On Monday, Gennaro Gattuso’s side head to the Stadio Luigi Ferraris to take on Sampdoria in a match some are calling ‘the Polish Derby’ for the abundance of Polish internationals on display.

Three Poles in total are set to feature, including Piotr Zielinski and Arkadiusz Milik for the visitors from Naples and newly turned 25 year old Karol Linetty suiting up for the Blucerchiati.

For Napoli – sitting 11th in the table, five points from 6th and 12 from 4th – their objectives have been clearly defined. As for Claudio Ranieri and his Samp, gaining some separation from the bottom three remains priority and a positive result here would go a long way in ensuring their safety.

TEAM NEWS

Napoli conducted their fare share of business during last month’s winter market, adding the likes of midfielders Stanislav Lobotka and Diego Demme, the latter who is expected to get the starting nod in this one.

The 28-year old defensive midfielder arrived over from RB Leipzig and is still looking to have his first real significant performance in the middle of the park. Ruiz and Zielinski often like to push forward and assert themselves by either picking a pass or penetrating into the final third to create that final ball into the forward men. Look for Demme to play a key role in this one.

Defensively, Gattuso is expected to roll with a central tandem of Luperto and Maksimovic, this despite having both Manolas and Koulibaly on the roster. Given how sporadically Napoli defend this season, it is hard to predict just how well they will show up against a Samp side who, while they aren’t relishing in a big production year for Fabio Quagliarella, do have a few players who can hurt them in the attacking end.

Up front, the attacking trio of Callejon, Milik and Insigne are set to start. The Polish international leads Napoli in domestic scoring with 7 goals and serves as the focal point up front for the two wide players to play.

Callejon and Insigne enjoyed a good amount of success last weekend vs Juventus, combining on the Italian’s goal which wound up being the match-winner after Cristiano Ronaldo pulled one back late. In his last four games across all competitions, Insigne has scored four goals, hinting that perhaps he could be the difference in breaking down a Samp side who tend to be a bit more defensively solid in their own yard.

Napoli squad: Meret, Ospina, Karnezis; Mario Rui, Luperto, Maksimovic, Di Lorenzo, Hysaj, Koulibaly, Manolas; Demme, Allan, Elmas, Zielinski, Lobotka; Callejon, Llorente, Lozano, Mertens, Politano, Insigne, Milik.

Projected Napoli XI (4-3-3): Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Maksimovic, Mario Rui; Ruiz, Demme, Zielinski; Callejon, Milik, Insigne

STATS AND FACTS

  • Napoli have won 7 of their last 8 matches against Sampdoria in all competitions.
  • Napoli have scored at least 2 goals in 9 of their last 10 matches against Sampdoria in all competitions.
  • Napoli have outscored Sampdoria 14 to 7 in the two sides previous six meetings combined in all competitions.
  • Napoli are averaging 56% possession to Sampdoria’s 44% through 21 matches each.

PREDICTION

Napoli are without question coming off their biggest result of the season, so it is only natural to believe they will begin building momentum from this point forward. But, this season has been far too turbulent from them that conventional wisdom may not be applicable. Yet, what does work in their favor is their improved fitness and the return to normalcy by having key players coming back each week. While Koulibaly, Manolas or Meret aren’t likely to get nods, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the general vibe around the squad is more upbeat and that bodes well for Napoli to put in a real positive showing away.

As was mentioned, Samp typically feed off their home crowd, and as a result, can make matters uncomfortable for opposing sides. However, this feels like the kind of match Napoli will have to grind out and get their hands dirty if they want to leave victorious. Gattuso’s grinta will trickle down and ensure that is the case.

Sampdoria 1-2 Napoli

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Winners of the January Window in Serie A

The January transfer window in Serie A saw clubs make significant additions for the short term, while others used these four weeks to get a jump start on a much needed rebuild. Let’s take a look at the winners of the just concluded month:

Winners

 

Rocco Commisso and Fiorentina- the Tuscan club’s new owner was very active in the final stretch of the summer window by bringing in Ribery and Pulgar and continued the positive momentum with a memorable winter session. Patrick Cutrone has made an immediate impact after his brief exile in the Premier League, while Igor was brought in from SPAL to play as either a center back in the three man back line or alternate with Dalbert as the left winger. 

Iachini will be reunited with Alfred Duncan after their previous experience together at Sassuolo, the former Inter youth team product will bring a needed dynamic presence to the midfield and has the added bonus of being left footed unlike the other members of the unit. 

But while it’s helpful to have brought in an immediate reinforcement for all the sectors on the pitch, where Fiorentina outdid themselves was by signing both Sofyane Amrabat and Christian Kouame’ for next season. The fact that the Verona midfielder was a target for both Inter and Napoli underlines what an impressive addition he’ll be while Kouame’ has already proven himself in his brief time in Serie A at Genoa- he can compliment Cutrone very well and the two of them can grow together.

 

Inter’s project- this time last year, the idea that Christian Eriksen would sign with Inter would have sounded preposterous to most fans. Granted the Danish midfielder has had an uneven season so far, but Inter getting him to agree to a multi year deal on essentially a Bosman signing when he had been previously linked to Real Madrid and Paris St Germain is very impressive.

When you consider that Eriksen could start for the current Juventus, it’s hard to argue that he can‘t be a difference maker in this scudetto race on top of being a long term starter. After Diego Godin last summer, Inter have convinced another big name to join them.

 

Maldini, Boban and Massara- on top of landing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has made as much of an impact as the most optimistic fan could have expected, Milan’s trio of directors were able to get rid of a lot of dead weight on a very bloated payroll with Pepe Reina, Fabio Borini, Ricardo Rodriguez and Suso’s departures- players who were either expensive backups or who had fallen out of favor with new manager Stefano Pioli.

 

Genoa’s Back to the Future approach- the rossoblu’ went into the January window in last place and decided to go with players who had previously succeeded at the club. In addition to Mattia Perin, Valon Behrami, Masiello, Destro and Iago Falque’, president Preziosi also hired one of his former players in Davide Nicola to manage the team. Masiello and Iago Falque’ have the ability to be real difference makers in the race to avoid relegation while Behrami should bring the intensity the team lacked in first half of season. Captain Mimmo Criscito was inspired by the club’s efforts to avoid relegation and decided to stay despite an intriguing offer from Fiorentina.

Napoli turns the page- in retrospect this should have happened probably a year and a half ago, but De Laurentiis and sporting director Giuntoli started a serious rebuild of the squad by bringing in Lobotka and Demme to help go back to the club’s classic 4 3 3, Politano to be Callejon’s eventual replacement and the staunch Rrahmani to be part of their defense next season. Napoli are also close to acquiring Rrahmani’s teammate, the very impressive Kumbulla. For the attack the partenopei have also secured Andrea Petagna, who will however finish the season at SPAL- the former Milan prospect should be a great alternative to Milik and someone who can open space for Napoli’s wingers.

 

Atalanta goes with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it approach”- the Bergamaschi cashed in on Kulusevski and used the proceeds to add significant depth to Gasperini’s squad. Atalanta have been known for finding great value with players in the mid tier leagues and continued this trend by signing Czyborra, Sutalo, Bellanova and Tameze for less than 20 million combined. In addition, they also brought back a familiar face in Mattia Caldara to be a long term part of their defense.

 

Hellas Verona cash in- few expected the gialloblu’ to avoid relegation this season, but they instead find themselves in the upper half of the table while putting manager Ivan Juric once again on the map. The former Crotone and Genoa manager deserves a lot of credit for launching Rrahmani and Kumbulla who are leading one of the best defenses in Serie A while making Amrabat into a star. Rrahmani and Amrabat have already been sold to Napoli and Fiorentina respectively for 35 million, while Kumbulla is being pursued by Inter, Juventus and especially Napoli- on the bright side for Verona, they get to keep all three players until the end of the season.

 

Top Three Winter Mercato Moves

While a few days remain before the transfer window is shut, there has been no shortage of activity within Italy throughout the winter mercato. Napoli have completely retooled their side while Milan are making the most of the window to off-load deadwood and reduce their wage bill. Inter, on the other hand, are actively looking for the final pieces of the puzzle to topple Juventus.

Here are the top three moves of the winter mercato until now.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Milan: When it was announced Ibrahimovic would be joining MIlan, many scoffed at the idea initially. After all, he had just finished playing in MLS and was nearing 40 years old. Despite his relatively high wages, the Swedish international is exactly what the doctor ordered in Casa Milan and his arrival has coincided with the rossoneri’s best form of the season.

Since returning to Milan, Pioli’s men have won five in a row and booked their ticket to the Coppa Italia semi-finals against Juventus. Some players are simply synonymous with winning and Ibra is one of them. The former PSG man has lead a quiet revolution and has introduced a winning mentality to the club. For this alone, he’s arguably the signing of the winter mercato. 

Christian Eriksen – Inter: It may have well taken them all month, but Inter finally got their guy. Giuseppe Marotta had been in negotiations with Tottenham for the better part of the month and finally decided to pay the price for the Danish international. Considering Conte’s men are lacking experience in the midfield, Eriksen’s arrival is a no-brainer.

A natural number ten, Eriksen will look forward to linking up with Lukaku and Martinez and form one of Italy’s most fearsome trios in the final third. With Sensi, Barella, and Brozovic pulling the strings behind them, Marotta has arguably built the best midfield in the league. Eriksen is merely the cherry on top of the cake and could prove to be the difference-maker in the title race.

Diego Demme – Napoli: This signing is one that has flown under-the-radar in Italy, but is one of the shrewdest deals of the winter mercato. The partenopei have looked extremely vulnerable throughout the season as their midfield has oftentimes left their defence exposed. Whether it was Fabian Ruiz, Elmas or Allan playing as the side’s deepest midfielder, Napoli always looked suspect defensively. Demme’s arrival adds some much-needed steel in the middle of the park at a particularly low-price and already looks to be paying off.

The veteran midfielder looked extremely at home in front of Napoli’s back four in their most recent win against Juventus. The 28-year-old regularly broke up play and shielded Napoli’s rearguard brilliantly. If he maintains this, Demme will go down as the signing of the winter.

Honourable mentions:

- Christian Koume to Fiorentina (Question marks remain over his ACL recovery)

- Duncan to Fiorentina. (Sassuolo man is slowly becoming a consistent creative outlet.

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What to Watch for in Serie A: Round 21

The second half of the 2019/20 Serie A season promises to be full of thrills and surprises, so much that it can be difficult to keep track of what to watch for on a week to week basis. That is where we come in.

Here are five things to watch for in Serie A Round 21 this weekend. Continue reading

Three Things Napoli Should Do to Get Back on Track

Going into the new season, much was expected from Napoli under Carlo Ancelotti. Having added Kostas Manolas, Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Hirving Lozano among others, the partenopei were expected to make a Scudetto push after consecutive seasons as runners-up. However, nothing of the sort has taken place and Napoli are currently languishing below mid-table and have replaced Ancelotti with Gennaro Gattuso. Here are three things Napoli should consider to get back on track.

1) Squad revolution: Sell, sell, sell! 

Most of the current Napoli side have been with the club for the greater part of the decade, and have experienced incredible highs and lows. For example: Winning 1-0 in a title decider against Juventus away from home, only to lose the following game to Fiorentina and squander their lead at the top. This undoubtedly remains in the psyche of most of their players.

After a rough start to the season, the club’s veterans turned against Ancelotti and demanded change from the upper hierarchy. Moreover, many of their ageing stars on expiring deals are asking for pay-rises due to their past exploits with the club. Exploits they probably won’t be able to recreate, if we’re being honest. Football works in cycles and one thing is clear: This cycle is over for Napoli and it’s time for a rebuild. Sell Insigne, Mertens, Hysaj and anyone in between. Out with the old and in with the new. That sounds equally exciting as it sounds scary.

2) Stick with Gattuso

This may seem like a stretch especially after the rough start to his tenure, losing four of his first five games, but Napoli would be wise to stay with Gattuso. With a full pre-season under his belt and an entire summer to sign players he wants, the former Milan tactician will have the weapons he needs to make a push for the title next season. In addition, most of his current players appear to have their heads elsewhere and could use a move away and start fresh.

While this season won’t amount to much, it will be a good opportunity for Gattuso to acclimate himself to his new surroundings and establish players he can count on. This will undoubtedly come in handy moving into the new season. In his final season at Milan, the World Cup winner almost got the rossoneri into the Champions League with a far worse roster. Given time and a roster upheaval, Gattuso will prove to be a good fit for Napoli.

3) Establish your core. 

Speaking of finding players to count on, Napoli’s top brass should use the rest of the season and evaluate their squad. Who is sellable and who is untouchable? After this year’s shocking performances, you can argue only Meret, Koulibaly, Di Lorenzo and the newcomers are off-limits. The rest should and arguably will be on the market for the right price. Fabian Ruiz, for example, has shown signs of brilliance but doesn’t look as implicated as he could be for the Napoli cause. Reports suggest Barcelona and Real Madrid are keeping tabs on the Spanish international and could present a bid upwards of 50M for the midfielder.

Another player’s future to consider is Lorenzo Insigne. While the diminutive playmaker is one of the last true bandiere in Italy, it may be time for a move away. After all, he did lead the mutiny against Ancelotti and hasn’t exactly performed on the pitch. As a result, the list of sellable players should far exceed the “untouchables.” In any case, Napoli’s season does present a silver lining: A unique opportunity to reboot and start a new cycle. Hopefully, for them, this one will be filled with silverware and that elusive Scudetto.

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PREVIEW: Napoli-Fiorentina a match between two sides looking to recover

The wait finally ended on Sunday, Fiorentina recording their first Serie A win at home since October 6 as they held off a resilient SPAL to notch a 1-0 victory. The delight on boss Beppe Iachini’s face reflected the relief felt in the stands of the Stadio Artemio Franchi, and four days later they would grab another victory that arguably meant even more.

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Early Trends in the January Transfer Window

The beginning of the January transfer window saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan and Juventus defeating bitter rivals Inter in the race for the breakout player of the season Dejan Kulusevski. While those were the sexy moves, some significant trends also emerged in the first third of the winter window:

 

Napoli rebuilding their midfield

Many praised the partneopei for their work in the summer transfer window, including yours truly. But the fact that they made a coaching change and acted quickly to bring in two veteran midfielders with international experience clearly shows things haven’t gone according to plan for De Laurentiis and sporting director Giuntoli. 

With Gattuso bringing back the 4 3 3 formation following Ancelotti’s varied approach, Napoli’s priority was to find a regista- Lucas Torreira was the their top choice but Arsenal were determined to keep him, so Giuntoli quickly closed the deal with Leipzig for Diego Demme, who was named after Maradona and idolized Gattuso growing up, as well as Celta Vigo for Stanislav Lobotka who was recommended by the club’s former captain Marek Hamsik and had been a target dating back to last summer.

While Napoli always did feel a midfielder short following Hamsik, Rog and Diawara’s departures in 2019, the acquisition of both Demme and Lobotka will impact Zielinski, Allan and Fabian Ruiz’ playing time and may lead to the departure of one of them. Allan has improved since Gattuso’s arrival while Fabian Ruiz has been unrecognizable dating back to the botched team retreat- it will be interesting to see if De Laurentiis chooses to cash in on one of them with a spot in the next Champions League a remote possibility.

 

 

 

Hellas Verona selling their jewels early

In addition to Demme and Lobotka, Napoli are also trying to close the deal for Sofyan Amrabat, one of the best new additions in Serie A following his transfer from Club Brugge to Hellas Verona. The 23 year old Moroccan midfielder is a more technical version of Allan, his arrival would complete the overhaul of the midfield. Amrabat cannot join Napoli in January since he has played matches for two clubs this season and is also a target for Inter.

Amrabat isn’t only Verona player drawing a lot of interest from top teams in Serie A. Central defender Amir Rrahmani has drawn comparisons to Milan Skriniar because of his physicality and effectiveness while Marash Kumbulla has been the leader of Juric’s staunch defense this season despite only being 19 years old. Napoli are set to close the deal for Rrahmani while Inter are leading the race for Kumbulla with both moves being delayed until the summer. 

Inter going all in for scudetto by shopping in the Premier League

Following the home draw to Atalanta, Conte once again brought up the fact that he can’t count on a deep squad after reminding us earlier in the week that in the summer they had to replace three key players in Icardi, Perisic and Nainggolan. Which is in sharp contrast with Juventus since they can essentially field two different starting elevens that could compete for a Champions League spot, leaving directors Marotta and Ausilio with the responsibility of adding a few pieces to the squad to keep up in the scudetto race.

The first need is at the wing back position where Biraghi hasn’t moved the needle and Asamoah has battled injuries, Ashley Young is expected to arrive next week to provide coverage on both the left and the right- he could be Conte’s new version of Simone Padoin who arrived at Juventus during the January window back in 2012. Conte had tried to acquire Young two years ago while at Chelsea, and is now set to get him also because his new club Inter have developed a good relationship with Manchester United.

Following Alexis Sanchez’ injury, Inter have had no choice but to consistently trot out Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez in almost every match, Olivier Giroud- who just like Ashley Young has an expiring contract- will likely come to give them a breather after a recent phone conversation with Conte who managed him at Chelsea.

While Young and Giroud would bring experienced depth to the squad, Marotta is looking to make an addition that truly moves the needle in the midfield. With Arturo Vidal less likely to arrive now that Barcelona are set to make a coaching change, Inter have intensified their pursuit of Christian Eriksen. The Danish midfielder has an expiring contract so the nerazzurri want to first get him to agree to a long term deal and then convince Tottenham to let him go in January rather than losing him for nothing in the summer- while Matias Vecino will probably not get it done in a swap deal, Spurs are asking for about 20 million.

 

Atalanta cashes in while taking a worthy gamble

Few clubs had a better 2019 than Atalanta, who on top of great results on the pitch modernized their stadium while signing their manager Gasperini to an extension. At the start of the new year Atalanta cashed on the breakout player of the Serie A season by selling Dujan Kulesevki to Juventus for the highest transfer fee the bianconeri ever spent on a midfielder- which sounds bad until you realize Kulusevski wasn’t even part of the squad that got achieved all of the recent success.

Atalanta did bolster their defense by bringing back Mattia Caldara on a low risk/high reward move which should help them in stretch run of the season. Caldara has struggled with injuries and the pressures of being at a top club, but he should be able to relaunch his career in a system he knows very well.

 

Bologna continue to add talent

Last summer they followed the Atalanta blue print by targeting players in the secondary leagues abroad for better values- they brought in Tomiyasu Denswil, Schouten and Skov Olsen. In January, Bologna welcomed very highly rated Argentine prospect Nicolas Dominguez who has all the tools to be added to the list of talents discovered by Walter Sabatini and are set to acquire Atalanta’s Musa Barrow who should be an intriguing partner for Palacio and Orsolini upfront.