A Great Sale- how Cagliari improved after losing Barella

When it comes to transfers, it’s very easy to get excited when a new addition arrives but player departures often bring disappointment and anger. In recent years Roma was mocked for being a supermarket, Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva’s move to Paris St Germain bookmarked the beginning of Milan’s decline, the triggering of Higuain’s release clause opened a significant wound, while the curse of the player’s will weakened Juventus’ midfield with Vidal and Pogba’s departures.

But there are instances where shrewd sales help clubs open new cycles. Napoli reinvested the proceeds of the Cavani and Lavezzi sales very well, Moggi turned Zidane into Buffon, Nedved and Thuram and Atalanta have built the current squad by previously selling the Conti, Kessie’, Cristante and Caldaras of the world. Interestingly this season’s surprise team in Serie A has been able to emerge despite selling their best player Nicolo’ Barella.

Cagliari were very patient with Barella who came up through their youth system and was a highly rated prospect since 2012 when he was named best young Italian midfielder for players his age. Barella started establishing himself in Serie A in 2016, made his debut with the Italian national team two years later and was linked to both Napoli and Chelsea last January. Cagliari decided to hold on to him a bit longer and were handsomely rewarded for their patience since Barella became a starter in the Azzurri’s midfield before fetching around 50 million for his transfer to Inter (12 million for loan, 25 million for obligation to buy plus 12 million in bonuses).

While Cagliari’s president Giulini softened the blow of losing Barella since he sold him to his favorite team Inter (of which he was a board member for 8 years) he was actually able to improve his club. The Sardinian club in fact reinvested the proceeds of the Barella sale very well, they acquired highly rated midfielder Nahtan Nandez for 18 million, which will look like a bargain should the former Boca Juniors continue to perform at this level. 

Nandez has been a rock in Maran’s midfield this season and will garner a large plusvalenza in the future to essentially repeat the Barella cycle, but he isn’t the only new addition making an impact. Cagliari also acquired Marko Rog on loan with option to buy, the Croatian international never fully settled under both Sarri and Ancelotti at Napoli, he has shown good improvements this season.

Caglairi had also planned ahead for Barella’s departure by acquiring Christian Oliva on loan with option to buy from Nacional last January- they exercised their option for 5 million and now the midfielder is finding space on Maran’s squad. Having the influx of cash from the Barella transaction also allowed Cagliari to take a flyer on bringing back Radja Nainggolan, whose had some sensational matches, as well as finding two quality replacements to replace the injured Alessio Cragno and Leonardo Pavoletti, who just happened to be Cagliari’s best players last season other than Barella.

Normally for a club like Cagliari replacing their starting keeper and leading goal scorer at the very end of the transfer window would spell doom for the upcoming campaign since by this time most clubs have already blown through their budgets. But having the cash flow from the Barella deal allowed them to get Giovanni Simeone, a more than adequate replacement for Pavoletti and a player with considerable upside. 

They say that the harder you work, the luckier you get and maybe that is the case with Robin Olsen. Cagliari had to scramble after Alessio Cragno suffered a significant injury to his shoulder at the beginning of August, and while Olsen has a good track record as Sweden’s keeper, he was as much as a liability as Rudy Giuliani on a cable news show while defending Roma’s goal in his first season in Serie A.

After Olsen’s expected move to Montpellier collapsed, Cagliari were able to acquire him at the end of the transfer window. Olsen has been very impressive and while he will likely cede the starting job back to Cragno, he’s a big reason the club is off to such a good start.

Cagliari have been able to make the most of the Barella sale. They planned ahead by previously acquiring Oliva and setting their sights on Nandez early, they weren’t afraid to gamble on reclamation projects with upside with Rog and Simeone and used their new fund cash flow to pay substantial salaries to veterans like Naingollan and Olsen- sometimes selling your best player is far from a blow. 

Assessing the Midfielder Market in Serie A

Imago 20190331

After previously reviewing the market for goal keepers and defenders in Serie A, let’s now focus on the midfielders. First let’s take stock of the situation at the position for the top Italian clubs

 

Juventus- on the bright side Bentancur gained experience, Emre Can vastly improved in the second half while Ramsey will bring attributes the team has lacked since prime Marchisio. On the flip side, Khedira was given a rich extension, Pjanic could be sold and it’s unlikely Matuidi can be a starter for a Champions League contender at this stage of his career.

Napoli- Fabian Ruiz joins the list of impressive midfielders- Jorginho, Allan, Zielinski, Diawara- acquired by the club in recent years, but the partenopei have lacked depth since Hamsik’s departure. There could be some fairly significant changes in the midfield this summer…

Inter- Nainggolan didn’t live up to expectations, Borja Valero is set to retire, Joao Mario had a spark when he started the season and now he’s just garbage and Gagliardini is ideally your first midfielder off the bench. The fact that Brozovic may have become the club’s most important player probably highlights fact club needs to work on their midfield. 

Atalanta- while Ilicic, Zapata and Papu Gomez get all the accolades, Freuler and De Roon are the unsung heroes of Gasperini’s team. The team however lacks depth especially since Pasalic only joined the Bergamaschi on loan.

Milan- compared to a few weeks ago, it appears less likely that Milan will redeem Bakayoko’s rights. Kessie’ has attracted interest from the Premier League and Luca Biglia could return to Argentina . Bertolacci and Montolivo will both leave the club once their contracts expire at end of June.

Roma- with Daniele De Rossi’s departure we now have a full turn over of the giallorossi’s midfield. On the bright side Cristante, Zaniolo and Pellegrini constitute and intriguing trio while N’Zonzi improved once Ranieri replaced Di Francesco 

Lazio- Parolo and Lucas Leiva are now 32 and 35 respectively, Badelj and Berisha struggled in their season at the club and describing Milinkovic Savic as inconsistent would be generous. Lotito will likely make some significant changes to this unit during the summer.

 

Which current Serie A midfielders can we expect in the transfer news headlines

 Lazio v Napoli - Serie A - Stadio Olimpico del Nuoto

Allan- while the Brazilian midfielder kissed the badge after scoring a goal recently, he struggled for a few months after his transfer to Paris St Germain collapsed in January. Allan performed well in the Champions League last fall and has arguably been the best box to box midfielder in Serie A since prime Vidal, so it’s not surprising to see his valuation in 70 to 80 million, considering Napoli’s track record of finding excellent midfielders, they’d much rather sell him than Koulibaly. 

Sergej Milinkovic Savic- following an uneven World Cup which was the perfect platform to seal his value in the 100 million range after a brilliant Serie A campaign last season, the Lazio midfielder struggled significantly in the first half of the 2018/19 campaign. SMS returned to his usual self with the new year and scored Lazio’s first goal in the Coppa Italia. While he did improve over the course of the season, it’s unlikely a club would be willing to come close to making an offer in the triple digits. Considering that Lazio are in  solid financial shape, have an aging midfielder around him, Lazio may decide to hold on to Milinkovic Savic for another year since he’s still only 24.

Steven NZonzi- the World Cup champion was dreadful for most of the season and was towards the top of the list of busts acquired during the ill fated Monchi era. NZonzi did perform better under Ranieri and with De Rossi abruptly leaving the club he could end up being an important piece for next season, also because it maybe hard to find a club willing to pay his exorbitant remaining amortized value for a player his age.

Zaniolo-Brozovic-Roma-Inter

Nicolo’ Zaniolo- while NZonzi’s high remaining amortized value makes him hard to move, the fact that Roma could have a massive plusvalenza on their uber talent because they acquired him for such a low price (around 6 million) gives him a lot of leverage when negotiating a contract extension with the club. Odds are Zaniolo will sign his new deal and stay at least one more year in Italy’s capital.

Miralem Pjanic- speaking of potential profits, the Bosnian midfielder could net a huge one since Juve has had a few season to amortize his already under market value transfer fee. Pjanic did receive an extension last year, but in a recent interview in France did leave the door open on a departure from Turin this summer. 

Nicolo’ Barella- the 22 year old had a break out season at Cagliari and established himself as a starter on the Italian national team. Barella was heavily linked to both Chelsea and Napoli in January but could end up at Inter in the summer where he would be a great fit in the Vidal role should Conte (as expected) become the nerazzurri’s manager.

Stefano-Sensi

Stefano Sensi- Sassulo’s playmaker has been the extension of manager De Zerbi on the pitch and could be a good fit as Biglia’s replacement at Milan. While Sensi has also been linked to other teams, the rossoneri could include Sassuolo’s forced option to buy for Locatelli in the deal which would also help them with their FFP restrictions.

 

Dennis Praet- while the Belgian international may not be the sexiest name in this column, he was also the pick of the litter at Sampdoria for Juventus sporting director Paratici over the highly rated Torreira. Praet is now 25 and has multiple seasons as a starter in Serie A under his belt- he could be a good fit at both Milan based clubs or follow the path of his former teammates Bruno Fernandes and Torreira and head abroad. 

 

Amadou Diawara- the adage that the former Bologna midfielder deserves more playing time made a lot more sense when Sarri was his coach since his successor Ancelotti hasn’t been afraid to rotate a lot and give playing time to the hot hand. But even after Hamsik’s departure, Diawara struggled to play frequently and when he did very rarely stood out. Might be better for all involved if Diawara leaves in the summer, but don’t expect Napoli to sell at a cheap price either.

Serie A Injury Report – Round 15

gervinho

Juventus: Emre Can made the squad list, approximately two months after suffering the thyroid issue. Rodrigo Bentancur is dealing with a back problem, but he was called up. Alex Sandro (thigh) and Sami Khedira (ankle) have been ruled out, same for Andrea Barzagli, who is rumoured to have suffered a severe quad injury, and Moise Kean, who has some muscle fatigue.

Napoli: Simone Verdi will remain on the mend because of an ankle sprain, while Adam Ounas missed the last game with a minor muscular ailment. Alex Meret should be ready to start. Continue reading

5 Reasons to Watch Serie A this Weekend

barella-italy-ukraine_1vudzixm6npkn10ky2nnj7idmf

 

At least this international break was slightly less dreadful for Calcio fans since the Azzurri finally won their first match under Roberto Mancini,  but I’m sure everyone is just as excited as I am that we get Serie A back this weekend. There are as always numerous intriguing story lines including…

 

Can Piatek keep up his scoring streak against top opponents?

It’s hard not be incredibly impressed when someone scores 13 goals in 8 games in a league some still have the audacity to call “boring and defensive”, but it’s also important to break down the level of competition which Adam Digby did recently with a series of tweets. Piatek (pronounced PIOOONTEKK) scored a poker against Lecce and except for a goal against Lazio, his victims include Empoli, Parma, Frosinone, Sassuolo, Bologna and Chievo.

We’ll have a much better gauge of Piatek’s ability after he gets through his next few games starting with Juve on Saturday followed by Milan, Inter, Napoli and the derby against Sampdoria. The market for the Polish striker could radically change if a higher level of competition makes him look mortal.

Will Radja Nainggolan use his feud with Pallotta as fuel in the derby?

Last week I was chatting with someone within Roma and we discussed the Belgian international’s sale. While I pointed out he had seen better days and I understand why the giallorossi would move on, they also pointed out that since the club decided to go with a youth movement with the likes of Kluivert, Coric and Cristante to go with Schick and Under, it would have been very difficult to preach about discipline and professionalism to these youngsters with someone like Nainggolan on the team. So his departure from Italy’s capital was already on my mind…

Then came the Ninja’s interview on Gazzetta dello Sport where he attacked his former president Pallotta, he mentioned that the Boston entrepreneur only came to be with the team once a year and that he didn’t have a good pulse for the team. Pallotta responded by saying that sometimes having distance gives you better perspective. It will be interesting to see if this back and forth will motivate Nainggolan even more as he gets ready for his first derby della Madonnina.

Can Barella become Cagliari’s new Nainggolan?

Speaking of Nainggolan, he’s probably the highest profile player to be sold within Serie A during the January transfer window in the past few years- and now Cagliari may be involved in a similar deal with Niccolo’ Barella who is also establishing himself on Italy’s midfield alongside Verratti and Jorginho.

Barella has been previously linked to Milan (a club who could really use him and where he would be a set starter) as well as Inter, a club the Sardinian team’s president is very familiar with since he used to be one of their board members. But Barella also has estimators abroad, Arsenal have scouted him and if he continues to play this well that list could grow quite substantially.

Will Ancelotti continue his bizarro Sarri imitation? 

Comic book fans know that Bizarro was the inverted version of Superman and that he came from a planet where “good” means “bad” and so on. You can make a great case that Ancelotti has been the bizarre version of his predecessor, and while Sarri always stuck with same lineup, Napoli have now trotted out a different lineup for each match.

But the different lineups aren’t the only thing that Ancelotti has done to distance himself from the Sarri era, Napoli are actually committed to competitions outside of Serie A. So it will be very interesting to see how Ancelotti approaches the match against Udinese with the showdown against PSG looming.

 

Can Ventura get his mojo back at Chievo?

I know this may sound like a foreign concept to some, but two things can be true at the same time. Sure Ventura did a very poor job with the Azzurri, and no matter what he does next, he’ll always be remembered for failing to get Italy to the World Cup for the first time in 60 years.

But it’s also true that the Italy currently isn’t producing much talent- prior to Ventura’s regime, Italy didn’t get out of group stage for two consecutive World Cups and Mancini had to get to his sixth game to finally get a win- Conte’s run at the last Euro was an anomaly, more based on the former Chelsea’s manager ability to create a great group and get the most out of journey man players like Giaccherini, Eder and Pelle’.

Now Ventura has the perfect opportunity to start to change the narrative of his career- he joins a club who still has negative points after the deduction for the inflated plusvalenze scandal, and he’s no stranger to the battle to avoid relegation.

 

Italy’s potential new building blocks

.

The recent two matches against Poland and Portugal certainly didn’t do much to inspire hope that the Azzurri can rapidly turn things around failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.

But the start of the Serie A season has given even a cynical person like myself at least some reasons to believe Roberto Mancini (or whoever could potentially replace him after the Euro) will be able to field a competent squad in Qatar should the Azzurri make it that far.

There have been some Italian players young enough to be in their prime in four years who have been able to shine in the first few weeks of the season including…

Nicolo’ Barella the 21 year old Cagliari midfielder was the man of the match in the recent showdown against Milan. The Sardinian native has shown his versatility so far this season, he packs a strong punch with his shot to go with good positioning and above average tacking ability. Barella has all the tools to slot nicely next to Jorginho, a player who so far has struggled to shine on the Azzurri the same he does at the club, likely because the system isn’t set up for him to shine and also because the drop off in talent when he plays for the Italian national team is significant to what he experienced at Napoli and now at Chelsea. Barella’s teammate Alessio Cragno has continued to build on the strong performances from last season, and could become Donnarumma’s backup on the Azzurri (or main competitor) should Mattia Perin continue to struggle to find playing time at Juventus. 

Speaking of Juventus, Federico Bernardeschi has been arguably Allegri’s best player so far this season. During the summer there was talk the former Fiorentina player would move to the midfield to help overcome the lack of depth after Claudio Marchisio’s departure and because he wasn’t expected to play much in an attack featuring players like Douglas Costa, Paulo Dybala, Juan Cuadrado and Mario Mandzukic. But so far Bernardeschi has shown the maturity that he lacked during his time in Tuscany and in the process made it really hard to bench him.

While Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are still certainly well above average players at their positions, it’s hard to imagine that either of them will be still viable options during the next World Cup. But luckily Italy will be able to count on Alessio Romagnoli, who recently inherited Milan’s captain’s arm band- the former Roma defender is in the verge of becoming an elite player at the international level after shining in Serie A. Romagnoli’s teammate Davide Calabria still hasn’t convinced most of his critics, but considering his young age and experience in Serie A and with Italy’s Under 21 where he appeared in 15 matches, there’s reason to believe he’ll at least be a potential backup wing back on the Azzurri.

Mancini must have have told himself “if you want something done right, you might as well do it yourself“ when he recently selected Nicolo’ Zaniolo to the Azzurri’s senior squad right after complaining Serie A teams weren’t fielding enough young Italians. Mancini’s bold decision inspired Eusebio Di Francesco to give Zaniolo his debut for Roma at the Santiago Bernabeu, the former Inter youth team player was a key member of Italy’s Under 19 that made it to the European finals and could single handedly change the way the Nainggolan deal has been evaluated.

Just like in Barella’s case, there’s no doubt that Federico Chiesa will benefit from at least another full season at his current club in a system where he’s comfortable. The Fiorentina winger is going from being rated as one of the beta prospects in Serie A to being considered one of the league’s best players outright with his performances to start the season.

Chiesa’s teammate, Marco Benassi is entering his prime now and his first few matches were so convincing that Mancini selected him for the two recent matches. Benassi has appeared in 27 matches with the Azzurri’s Under 21 team where he also scored six goals.

Serie A Fantasy Game Predictions – Round 33

fiorentinalazio

Let’s take a look at the top five games of the midweek round.

Inter-Cagliari: the Nerazzurri have failed to win and to score in their last three outings, but had pretty good chances in all three of them, so it is likely just a temporary issue. What is persistent, though, is that they are getting next to nothing offensively from players not named Ivan Perisic and Mauro Icardi. The Sardinians are coming off a monumental win over Udinese after three straight losses and they are now much more tranquil in the standings. Continue reading

Best upcoming central midfielders in Serie A

torreira

Differently from other positions, there is no shortage of excellent young central midfielders in Serie A. Besides Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who is among the league’s best outright, there are several upcoming players who have already earned primary roles in the top teams.

Unsurprisingly, two of them were raised by Atalanta and then moved to bigger clubs. Roberto Gagliardini joined Inter last January and his consistency has been a pleasant surprise, because he was lost in the shuffle prior to the 2016/2017 season. Gian Piero Gasperini trusted him, the Nerazzurri nabbed him quickly and he has been very reliable: he is not flashy, but an all-around midfielder, whose work is always precious. Franck Kessie is more muscular and explosive, but Milan got what they hoped for: a dominating presence in the middle of the field. Lucas Torreira’s play in the last two seasons has been superb: he is rather tiny but he is imposing in both phases, he has great feet and he is an excellent distributor. His full arsenal was on display in the last win over Chievo Verona. Continue reading