Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 31

LECCE-LAZIO

Lecce: another losing effort caused by the nth defensive collapse, but the Giallorossi looked a tiny bit better offensively versus Sassuolo, as Diego Farias returned to the XI and was livelier than Filippo Falco and Riccardo Saponara and Khouma Babacar did a little bit more than usual. The goals came on corner kick and then through the usual penalty kick by Marco Mancosu and it is pretty crazy how many fouls they manage to draw in the box. Antonin Barak has yet to recapture is best form after an injury, but he remains their most appealing non-Mancosu midfielder.

Suggested picks: Mancosu, Farias, Babacar. Continue reading

Serie A Fantay Preview – Round 29

TORINO-LAZIO

Torino: the Granata had a nice reaction after falling in an early hole versus Cagliari, but an untimely penalty did them in. Andrea Belotti has found the target for two straight matches and has been excellent missed penalty aside. Simone Zaza is unlikely to be present, but Simone Verdi and especially Cristian Ansaldi, two of their most talented players, saw minutes in the past match and could be ready to start, unlocking few options up front, first of all the advancement of Alex Berenguer. Ansaldi had a positive impact after he subbed on, Verdi might need more time and had been struggling prior to the lockdown. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 27

Fiorentina-Brescia: the Viola will welcome back Franck Ribery, at least in limited fashion at first, and the coach is ready to tweak is system to accommodate him either in the hole or on the left wing, joining Dusan Vlahovic/Patrick Cutrone and obviously Federico Chiesa up front. In the meantime, it could be Gaetano Castrovilli taking on a bigger role. Alfred Duncan and Marco Benassi have some decent potential.  It is an extremely appealing match-up considering Brescia’s defensive woes and absences: Vlahovic and Castrovilli in the particular were in great form before the lockdown. Continue reading

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.

How well do you know Italian football? Do you want to battle the best Serie A Fantasy Managers? Play www.fantasyseriea.com now!

 

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.

How well do you know Italian football? Do you want to battle the best Serie A Fantasy Managers? Play www.fantasyseriea.com now!

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.

Join the most popular Serie A Fantasy game here: www.fantasyseriea.com

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

How well do you know Italian football? Do you want to battle the best Serie A Fantasy Managers? Play www.fantasyseriea.com now!

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.

Are you a Serie A expert? Can you defeat the top Serie A Fantasy Managers? If you think so, play www.fantasyseriea.com now!

 

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