Reality check for Roma with crushing defeat at Napoli as Giallorossi aim to finish 1st in Europa League group

Roma lost their ‘first’ league game of the season as they were crushed by Napoli 4-0 at the weekend. Of course the Serie A standings will have made this the clubs 2nd defeat of the season, which it is, although in theory their game v Verona was defaulted.

Let’s be honest and say that the Giallorossi were simply overwhelmed by Napoli and a higher plane rising above any other player who was on that pitch on Sunday. That man was of course Diego Armando Maradona, perhaps the greatest player to have ever played the game, and certainly the greatest to have played for Napoli. His sudden passing last week was a shock and will live in the memory for all football fans for as long as the game is played.

There was no mistake that at San Paolo Stadium, which looks soon to be renamed after Maradona that the Argentine’s brilliance was not influencing the game. For Napoli who haven’t won Serie A since Maradona guided them to two titles in 1987 and 1990, they had an extra determination, extra passion and dare it be said an extra power to them at the weekend, this was all about honouring El Diego, and they rightly did.

Lorenzo Insigne opened the scoring for Napoli and there was always only going to be one winner here. Indeed whilst Napoli had 9 shots on target Roma had just 1 and the Giallorossi were never in the game.

Most of the players did see this match as a one off, they simply were not at the races, out fought by a team that wanted so desperately to honour their hero. This is what football does, and the game can work on such a higher psychological level that even if we say that man for man Roma have a better team than Napoli, at times that can simply pale into significance.

Roma coach Paulo Fonseca had this to say about the defeat which leaves the club in sixth place and six points behind the current leaders AC Milan. “We couldn’t string three passes together. Quite simply, we didn’t show enough courage and did not do anywhere near enough to earn a result against Napoli. We weren’t the best team in the world before this game and we are not the worst now. Every match is a test for this team, not just against the biggest opponents. It certainly wasn’t a good performance, as we lacked aggression, lacked courage, so we need to learn from this and correct our mistakes next time.”

Six Roma players earned minus points at the weekend, with the best having to share zero points, that’s how bad the performance was. The worst affected player was goalkeeper Antonio Mirante who lost 6 points. The worst affected outfield player was Ibanez who lost 4 points.

The knock out stages of the Europa League await Roma

Roma have already qualified for the knockout stages of the Europa League- that’s the good news. But it could get even better when the Giallorossi clash with Young Boys on Thursday evening. If Roma win then they are guaranteed first position which usually means an easier path and a so called easier fixture in the first knock out round. Roma will be at home to Young Boys and in the reverse fixture Roma won 2-1.

Next league game v Sassuolo

Roma’s next Serie A game will take place at home against third place Sassuolo who have been a real surprise package this season. Roma are unbeaten at home so far with three wins and one draw and that includes winning their last three in a row. Last season Roma won this fixture 4-2 and Sassuolo do not usually travel well to the capital.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan was firing on all cylinders before the Napoli defeat and has scored 5 goals so far and the club will be hoping that he can recapture his fantastic form. The midfielder also has the most fantasy points for the team with 38 so far and his fantasy value is 7.5m.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Ten – Remaining Games

VERONA-CAGLIARI

Verona: as usual, a date with a top team brought the best out of the Scaligeri, who withstood Atalanta for an hour and then got the W thanks to a PK by Miguel Veloso and an outstanding goal by Mattia Zaccagni, his first of the year after he had dished four assists. Samuel Di Carmine did not exploit his chance to lead the front-line and Andrea Favilli was more dangerous when he subbed in, so he will probably get the nod relieving the injured Nikola Kalinic is this one. Antonin Barak is in great form and he is their leading scorer with three goals. Darko Lazovic is most likely going to be sidelined again, but Marco Faraoni returned and Federico Dimarco has been a weapon on the left flank. Despite some absences, their pecking order has become pretty clear and Ebrima Colley and Eddie Salcedo have not shown well enough to be promoted from their bench role.

Recommended picks: Barak, Favilli, Zaccagni.

Cagliari: after a rough start, they looked like their normal selves versus Spezia, actually throwing away a win they had in hand despite the major voids left by that Diego Godin, Nahitan Nandez, Gaston Pereiro and Giovanni Simeone contracting COVID and Adam Ounas joined the list late. That leaves them with very limited options on the wings behind Riccardo Sottil, who has pretty lively, and it is possible Gabriele Zappa moves up from full-back, as he has done in Serie B but also in some previous games: he has set up three teammates thus far. The good news is that Leonardo Pavoletti bagged a great goal in his first start in forever and is going to be able to hold down the fort while Simeone goes to through the protocol. Joao Pedro delivered again, scoring his sixth goal in nine matches, on top of two assists. On the other flank Alessandro Tripaldelli and Andrea Carboni do not provide the same punch as Charalampos Lykogiannis, who is nursing a calf injury. Marko Rog and Razvan Marin have very limited opportunities to attack in their role as pivots.

Recommended picks: Pedro, Pavoletti, Sottil. 

 

PARMA-BENEVENTO

Parma: coach Fabio Liverani did switch to a more offensive scheme after a suggestion from above, but not to the diamond formation they used to open the season, but to a 4-3-3 with Gervinho and Yann Karamoh together, which worked out pretty well as the former scored his second brace of the season and the latter was pretty exuberant, but that has often been the case this season. Andreas Cornelius returned to the XI but he did not do much and neither him or Roberto Inglese have been effective so far, as both are still looking for the best form after some injuries. In theory, Cornelius should be the more prolific of the two. Juraj Kucka served a great assist and both him and Jasmin Kurtic are secondary weapons as box-to-box. Hernani returned from a rib injury and he has been surprisingly involved in the final third as he has notched two goals and one assist, but his role is TBD. Maxime Busi looked overwhelmed in his first start and they have lost both Riccardo Gagliolo and Giuseppe Pezzella on the left, so Vincent Laurini should be the next man up.

Recommended picks: Gervinho, Karamoh, Cornelius/Inglese.

Benevento: they came away with a great point versus Juventus thanks to a smasher by right-back Gaetano Letizia, who found the target for the second time in the campaign. Gianluca Caprari was held in check in his first game back from a suspension, like Gianluca Lapadula, but that was to be expected in a tough match-up and they will be in a better spot this week. They both have three goals and two assists to their names. Riccardo Improta has been the surprise of the last couple of matches, he decided the Fiorentina one, and it looks like he is here to stay, either as offensive-minded box-to-box or supporting the strikers. Roberto Insigne has notched one goal and one assist but he has been hurt a little by Improta’s rise. They have started to move Artur Ionita around the formation more, but he has remained pretty underwhelming. Marco Sau has registered two assists off the bench.

Recommended picks: Lapadula, Caprari, Improta.

 

UDINESE-ATALANTA

Udinese: a late COVID outbreak forced them to field an experimental lineup against Lazio and it worked wonders as the light front-line feasted on open spaces, with both Ignacio Pussetto and Fernando Forestieri finding the target. They will be in the same position this week and the only available alternative up front is Gerard Deulofeu as Kevin Lasagna, Stefano Okaka and Ilija Nestorovski and are unlikely to be cleared in time. They will face a side with comparable characteristics as well. Their leader Rodrigo De Paul has notched two goals and one assist in the past four matches, while Roberto Pereyra is finally turning it up with two straight helpers after a so-so start of the season. Wing-backs Jens Larsen and Marvin Zeegelaar are decent parts of the offense but that yet to yield a bonus.

Recommended picks: Pussetto, De Paul, Forestieri.

Atalanta: the Orobici’s offense continued to sputter in the past two matches and so many of their linchpins are not in great form. Duvan Zapata has looked the worst with multiple misses and also Alejandro Gomez’s stocks are plummeting. Josip Ilicic and Luis Muriel have been a little better eye test-wise, but neither has been a consistent scorer. Robin Gosens has arguably been their best weapon lately but he had to do deal with a pair of injuries. With Ruslan Malinovskyi and Aleksey Miranchuk out with COVID, the coach is giving some playing time to Amad Diallo as change-of-pace guy and he has actually done pretty well and a goal could be forthcoming. Despite their lack of goals, the chances have been there so they could snap out of it at any time. There could be some rotation with the pivotal Ajax match-up coming up, which could lead to major minutes for Sam Lammers and Matteo Pessina.

Recommended picks: Ilicic, Gosens, Lammers/Zapata.

 

CROTONE-NAPOLI

Crotone: another futile effort for the Squali’s attack last Sunday in Bologna, a team that had always conceded in the previous 41 fixtures. They have collectively struck out in three matches in a row and they will now run into a buzzsaw. Their target man Simy has three goals in the season, but he has not been fed regularly over the last few matches. Their secondary weapons Junior Messias and Ahmad Benali are banged up, Emmanuel Riviere, who had scored in the opener is hurt, so the lineup is pretty much up in the air. At least Salvatore Molina returned pretty decently from COVID and Milos Vulic continues to progress in his role as playmaker, but the lack of end product makes them a team to avoid. Arkadiusz Reca has provided two assists.

Recommended picks: Simy, Molina, Vulic.

Napoli: they had their best display of the season versus Roma, which was accompanied by the return of a scheme utilizing three central midfielders, although it was not a straight 4-3-3. Piotr Zielinski featuring freed up Fabian Ruiz, who not coincidentally scored his first goal of the season with a superb daisy-cutter, then the Giallorossi’s defensive woes did the rest. Dries Mertens is back after a little lull as he has found the target in two consecutive matches, Lorenzo Insigne made the stat-sheet after a five-game absence, although he had an assist in the previous round, while Matteo Politano continues to be pretty consistent even though he has to split time with Hirving Lozano, who has slowed down significantly. Therefore, all their weapons are humming even though they are likely going to miss the biggest of ‘em all, Victor Osimhen.

Reccomended picks: Mertens, Insigne, Politano.

 

FIORENTINA-GENOA

Fiorentina: the turnaround has yet to arrive despite the coaching change and they have failed to score in the past four matches. They have one of the easiest match-ups on the docket, so it would be very troublesome if their struggles continued this week as well. The situation has brought everybody down, including Gaetano Castrovilli (four goals, one assist), their lone productive player up to this point. Cesare Prandelli is tinkering with the tactics and gave José Callejon the start against Milan but neither him or Franck Ribery appear to be in acceptable shape and Dusan Vlahovic is engulfed by defenses way too easily, but Patrick Cutrone has not done much better in his cameos. Giacomo Bonaventura might get a shot this week to have more zing, either as winger or as box-to-box. Even though he has not look great, most of their offense is engineered by Ribery.

Recommended picks: Castrovilli, Ribery, Bonaventura.

Genoa: Gianluca Scamacca had a big chance versus Parma but did not deliver this time, while Eldor Shomurodov got the start, fared well and found the target on a good-looking play. However, the coach has gone back to 3-5-2, so there is room for just one between the Uzbek, Goran Pandev and Marko Pjaca (two goals). He has also decided to rely on a grittier midfield, sidelining Nicolò Rovella and Miha Zajc for Stefano Sturaro and Lukas Lerager. Hierarchies obviously are not set in stone and he will be scrambling for every possible solution since he is on the hot seat and Rovella has been one of their top performances up to this point, while the ex-Empoli man has been unimpressive this season. The scheme surely boosts wing-backs Luca Pellegrini and Paolo Ghiglione (two assists), who have a high ceiling in the offensive phase.

Recommended picks: Scamacca, Shomurodov, Ghiglione.

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Roma’s hot start comes crashing down against Napoli

Roma kicked off the season in sensational form after their bizarre forfeit against Hellas Verona, propelling themselves into an unlikely title race. The Giallorossi’s hot start came to an abrupt end, suffering a comprehensive defeat against Napoli. Paulo Fonseca’s side failed to get into the game, eventually losing 4-0 to the Partenopei.

While it is the side’s only defeat on the field this season, the manner in which they lost was slightly concerning. Roma was completely played off the pitch by Gennaro Gattuso’s men and will need to turn it around ahead of the holiday stretch. Bryan Cristante, a midfielder by trade, has had to deputize at the back due to an injury crisis at the club, and did a solid job – that was until Sunday.

Summer arrival Marash Kumbulla is expected to return to the lineup, after battling with COVID-19 for the better part of the last two weeks. The defender’s return will offer Roma some much-needed stability at the back, allowing Cristante to return to a more familiar position.

Beyond their defensive woes on Sunday, Napoli completely overran Fonseca’s side in the middle of the park. Jordan Veretout and Lorenzo Pellegrini struggled to get a grip of things in the midfield and regularly turned over possession. Roma’s 3-4-2-1 setup has worked in recent weeks, but in big games, their midfield duo needs support.

Whether it is a winger tracking back centrally, or one of their wingbacks coming into the middle, Fonseca would be wise to make a tactical adjustment. Otherwise, Roma risks getting outnumbered in the midfield in every big game. Gattuso took full advantage of this opportunity, deploying a midfield three of Diego Demme, Fabian Ruiz, and Piotr Zielinski.

The Polish international was a constant menace in the final third and often drifted between the lines, without being marked. Fabian Ruiz, on the other hand, was offered more freedom by Gattuso and regularly popped up in and around the area. As Demme shielded the back four, Fabian Ruiz and Zielinski’s runs opened up Roma’s rearguard and overloaded the middle of the park. If Roma wants to continue its fine run of form, Fonseca should take note of this and make the appropriate tactical changes.

As a result of their midfield struggles, Roma’s front three of Pedro, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Edin Dzeko were largely stranded up top. Mkhitaryan often dropped deep to collect possession but was unable to find outlets in the final third. Roma’s wingbacks tried to get forward in support, but Napoli did well to double up on their markers out wide and nullify their threat.

Roma had been flying high before matchday nine, but have since been rocked back to earth following their heavy defeat. Fonseca would be wise to learn from his side’s mistakes and retool his setup ahead of the upcoming stretch. Roma has made some significant progress under the Portuguese tactician and is arguably a few tweaks away from hitting their best form. It may have taken a 4-0 defeat, but it might just help them in the long run.

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Improving Inzaghi proves a point as Lazio rotate their way to eight-game unbeaten run

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If anyone deserves a bit of festive cheer, it’s Simone Inzaghi.

It’s remarkable that the Biancocelesti boss has any of those luscious locks left on his head and hasn’t torn them out in frustration by now, because even by the standards of this most unpredictable and disrupted of seasons, he’s had a rough ride.

The 44-year-old came in for some criticism when Serie A returned after lockdown last season, as his side slipped from one point off top to fourth place.

He struggled to effectively rotate his squad and manage the energy levels of his key players as Lazio’s form nosedived.

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Mkhitaryan in the form of his life as Roma go 3rd with third win in a row

There were no problems for Roma who went 3rd in the league as they beat Parma 3-0 for the 3rd win in a row in Serie A.

Paulo Fonseca’s side were ruthless as they scored all of their goals in the first half, having 5 shots on target alone in that period. Parma had to make do with having 1 shot on target for the whole match.

The plaudits will once again be paid to Henrikh Mkhitaryan who scored 2 goals, and a few weeks ago scored a hat trick. The player is on fire and is obviously enjoying himself.

With his 2 goals Mkhitaryan earned 10 points at the weekend in the fantasy rankings and he now has a total of 38. This total is enough to make him currently the best player in the rankings for Serie A.

So far this season Roma have scored 19 goals and Mkhitaryan has been involved in 9 of them, scoring 5 and assisting in a further 4.

The opening goal in the Parma game came after 28 minutes after some lovely work from Leonardo Spinazzola. His reverse clever pass found Borja Mayoral unmarked in the area and tucked away with precision. That was Mayoral’s first goal of the season and also Spinnazola’s first assist.

Minutes later it was 2-0 and this was a belter. Mkhitaryan picked up a bouncing loose ball on the edge of the area and thumped it home. Then just a few minutes after that it was 3-0, this goal again for Mkhitaryan won’t be remembered as was just a simple tap in.

Roma may have been left frustrated in the second half as no further goals developed but they had done their job early on and earned the three points. With the club in 3rd place they are just 3 points behind AC Milan.

Paulo Fonseca happy with Roma’s performance

“We put in an excellent performance, especially in the first half, as we scored three goals and could’ve had quite a few more. I think the team played well, in the second half we controlled the situation and still created more chances to find the net. I always said Mkhitaryan is a great professional who can do well in various different roles, so I am not surprised by what he’s doing. The team is feeling confident. It’s true Edin Dzeko is very important to us, but it’s also important to see that the team maintains its identity despite changing numerous players.”

Roma prepare for Cluj and receive fantastic boost

Roma will play Cluj in the Europa League on Thursday evening and the club received some good news. Striker Edin Dzeko has been passed fit to play in the game. It was initially thought that he would miss this one and instead make his comeback from injury against Napoli at the weekend.

It is expected that Dzeko will start from the bench and play at least 20 minutes of the game to get his fitness levels up before the Napoli match.

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Napoli 1-3 AC Milan: Three things we learned as Ibrahimovic brace ends ten-year winless run

Milan certainly bounced back from the 2-2 draw against Hellas Verona this evening, ending a ten-year winless run away at Napoli. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the big hero once again with a brace, helping the Rossoneri reclaim the top spot in the league standings. 

Ibrahimovic opened the scoring after just 20 minutes, managing to get away from Kalidou Koulibaly in the box. Theo Hernandez spotted this and picked him out with a perfect cross, which the Swede met with his head. It looked very easy, but that was indeed a world-class finish by the 39-year-old.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Seven – Top Matches

SASSUOLO-UDINESE

Sassuolo: the Neroverdi were missing their top three players against Napoli, but they won anyway thanks a brand-new scheme by Roberto De Zerbi, who, for once, opted for caution and a three-man back-line and got rewarded with their talented central midfielders stepping up. Filip Djuricic has COVID and will not return here, Domenico Berardi and Francesco Caputo have been called up, but they might be limited, so it is possible Giacomo Raspadori stays initially in a big role and Gregoire Defrel gets the nod. Both the Frenchman and Jeremie Boga have not looked great as they work their way into shape, while Hamed Traore is generally pretty lively. Even if at less than 100 percent, Caputo and Betardi are always good choices, while Lopez would be an outstanding one if used as no.10 to substitute Djuricic. Continue reading

Three Things to watch in matchday 6

Serie A has returned in impressive fashion, with a number of teams separating themselves from the rest. Milan has picked up exactly from where they left off last season under Stefano Pioli emerging as legitimate Scudetto contenders, while Sassuolo continues to surprise. Napoli is worth monitoring as well, and is yet to lose on the field this season, while Juventus need to start recording results sooner rather than later.

And what better place to start than in matchday six? Here are three things to watch ahead of the next matchday:

1) Can Napoli overcome an in-form Sassuolo? 

Gennaro Gattuso’s men have started the season in sensational form, getting off to a near-perfect start after five games. Napoli’s upcoming clash against Sassuolo is a good barometer of the side’s progression, especially considering the Neroverdi’s storming start to the season. Sassuolo has since emerged as darkhorse contenders for the European spots, going unbeaten and claiming 11 points from its first five games. Francesco Caputo has been deadly in front of goal and will be raring to go against the Partenopei.

Napoli is just coming off an impressive win against Real Sociedad and will be looking to build on it. Sunday’s affair will be telling for both sides and will serve as an early litmus test to Napoli’s Scudetto credentials.

2) Can Juventus get its season back on track?

Juventus currently finds itself in an unusual position, trailing the league-leading Milan by four points. In fact, the Italian champions are yet to win a game on the field in Serie A since their opener against Sampdoria. A clash against the newly-promoted Spezia is a good opportunity to right the ship, but as their draw against Crotone showed, anything can happen.

Ronaldo’s inclusion remains questionable, despite testing negative for COVID-19 on Friday, but the Bianconeri should have enough firepower to get a result. While it is still early days, the pressure is slowly mounting on Andrea Pirlo in the hot-seat. A poor result against Spezia will only add further fuel to the fire.

3) Will Atalanta turn it around? 

Atalanta has shown early signs of slowing down this season, suffering two consecutive defeats against Napoli and Sampdoria. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have been uncharacteristically inconsistent in recent weeks, conceding seven goals in their last two games. Most recently, they came back from two goals down to draw against Ajax in their second Champions League game and will be hoping it can act as an early turning point for them.

Gli Orobici demonstrated they can handle competing on multiple fronts last season, but will now have to dig deep and do it all over again. Atalanta started its Champions League campaign in impressive fashion, picking up four points from two games, but will need to translate their European form to Italy. Crotone is no push-overs, going toe-to-toe with Juve, but if Atalanta wants to become top-four regulars, these are must-win games.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Six – Top Matches

INTER-PARMA

Inter: Romelu Lukaku suffered a thigh injury that will cost him at least one game and the Nerazzurri will have to make up for the loss of their target man, something that rarely happened last year. Alexis Sanchez is dealing with a small problem as well, therefore Lautaro Martinez, who has slowed down after opening the campaign with three straight goals, will have to shoulder the attack, then they will hope Andrea Pinamonti can be decent right away. They also briefly used Ivan Perisic as second-striker in the last game. Stefano Sensi is back on the shelf with his customary muscular problems: Christian Eriksen had some flashes last week, but so far him and Marcelo Brozovic have produced nothing too exciting. Their best midfielder has been Nicolò Barella (two assists), while Arturo Vidal has mostly taken care of the dirty work. At some point Radja Nainggolan will get in on the action, but it has not happened yet. Fortunately, Achraf Hakimi (one goal, two assists) was a false positive and he will resume plowing the flank from the start here, while Ashley Young has shaken off the virus and will challenge Ivan Perisic, who has been solid (two assists) but has not really taken off. Their back-line has improved with Alessandro Bastoni back in the fold.

Recommended picks: Martinez, Perisic, Hakimi.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Previews – Round Five – Top Matches

ATALANTA-SAMPDORIA

Atalanta: the Bergamaschi looked unprepared to match Napoli’s aggressiveness in the last fixture and the much-anticipated bout ended with a shocking beating. They will look to return to form in Serie A as well after pummelling Midtjylland. Alejandro Gomez has been the tip of the spear so far and straight-up one of the best players in the League. Luis Muriel has put his name in the stat-sheet twice, like Sam Lemmers, who has made the most of his limited opportunities. Duvan Zapata has been more up-and-down. Josip Ilicic looked rusty in his first game back, but that is understandable: the good news is that he indeed came back and the coach will likely give him regular minutes to get him into shape. Ruslan Malinovskyi is questionable due to an injury, which may lead to some playing time for the intriguing Aleksey Miranchuk. Their stud wing-backs Hans Hateboer and Robin Gosens have scored one goal each, with the German international adding two assists.

Suggested picks: Gomez, Muriel, Zapata. Continue reading