Roberto Mancini Puts Italy on the Right Track

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Since being appointed as Italy boss, Roberto Mancini has set Gli Azzurri on the right path, and has guided them to four wins out of four in their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign thus far. 

In their most recent clashes, Italy travelled to Athens to take on Greece, and dispatched their European counterparts within thirty-three minutes, by a score of 3-0.

In their next game against Bosnia, Mancini’s men fell behind early, but mounted a second half comeback to prevail by a score of 2-1. Under Gian Piero Ventura, the side lacked character, and would have likely dropped points in a game like this. With these two wins, Italy now find themselves comfortably in first place, scoring 13 goals, and conceding one in the process. In addition to getting results, this is the best football Italy have played in recent memory, and have demonstrated an identity.

Once again, Mancini was rewarded for sticking with the highly technical midfield of Nicolo Barella, Jorginho, and Marco Verratti, and now has his side well on their way to the upcoming Euros. Together, the trio provide a blend of youth, experience and quality on the ball, and offer the national team some much needed creativity in the final third.

While many initially doubted the midfield’s defensive awareness given their smaller frames, Verratti, Jorginho and Barella have demonstrated they are capable of offering solidity to their back four. Given their similar profiles, Verratti and Jorginho often interchange roles at the base of the midfield, and don’t give their opponents a reference point.

With Barella making late, unmarked, runs into the box, it makes for a truly malleable midfield; something the Azzurri have sorely lacked over the past four years. The Cagliari captain’s drive has been rewarded, and already has two goals on the qualifying campaign.

Much like it’s the case in the midfield, Mancini has not shied away from taking risks with his front three. Since his appointment, the former Inter tactician has called up a number of up and coming talents, including the likes of Moise Kean and Federico Chiesa among others.

In the past, Ventura was afraid to take risks, and typically stuck with Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti up front, despite their struggles. When both strikers were misfiring, Italy did not have a plan B, and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades. Rather than having set starters, like his predecessor, Mancini has mixed and matched at will, and has used a plethora of forwards across the front line. This keeps the Italian forwards on their toes, and ensures no one gets complacent. Moreover, if Italy are struggling in the final third, Mancini is able to turn to different solutions.

One player that has benefitted immensely from Mancini’s reign has been Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne. The diminutive forward was reduced to a bit-part role under Ventura, and largely struggled to make an impact on the pitch when called upon. Under Mancini, Insigne has established himself as a crucial player, and has scored two goals in his last two games. In addition, his assist to Verratti against Bosnia helped Gli Azzurri seal all three points.

On the defensive end, on the other hand, Mancini has decided to maintain the status quo and has typically gone with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. However, the Italian tactician has tinkered with his fullbacks, alternating between Leonardo Spinazzola, Emerson and Gianluca Mancini. While Mancini is a centre-back, he offers the Azzurri tactical flexibility from the right-hand side of defence, and often drops as a third centre-back when in possession. With the Atalanta man dropping centrally, it allows the left-back to get forward and overload with his winger.

While it’s still early days for Gli Azzurri, the future looks bright under Roberto Mancini. Using a blend of experience, and youth, the Italian tactician has demonstrated character both in his selections, and tactical setups. With no one’s place in the team secured, Italy have – for the first time in a while – shown hunger, and a desire to return to the top.

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Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 33

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Juventus: Mattia Perin and Sami Khedira will undergo season-ending surgeries for shoulder and knee problems respectively. Paulo Dybala sustained a quad strain against Ajax and will miss at least a couple of weeks. Giorgio Chiellini (calf) might be back next week, while Mario Mandzukic might not be back at all due to patellar tendon issues. Douglas Costa (calf) and Martin Caceres (thigh) will skip the next two matches.

Napoli: Raul Albiol (knee surgery) has resumed practicing and might be called up this week, leaving Amadou Diawara as the only injured player. Nikola Maksimovic will be on the mend for a while due to a foot infraction.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 30

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Milan-Udinese: the Rossoneri slowed down just as things were starting to get really interesting, as they were defeated by Inter and Sampdoria after they had managed to surpass the Nerazzurri riding a five-game winning streak. They also have to look behind at the onrushing Atalanta and Lazio. Udinese came out on top in Igor Tudor’s second debut, besting Genoa after two losses to Juventus and Napoli, although their home numbers were solid also before the firing of Davide Nicola. Milan have had troubles feeding Krzysztof Piatek in the last two matches and they do not really have a second reliable scoring option because Suso and Hakan Calhanoglu are more creators and have not had much feeling with the goal recently. Samu Castillejo did not deliver in Genoa despite the opportunity to start. Lucas Paquetà and Franck Kessie were benched after international duties, but they should be back in the XI here and could provide a decent boost. The Brazilian starlet might play closer to the guy and Patrick Cutrone could get to start over Suso in a different scheme.  Continue reading

Serie A Club of the Round – Cagliari

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In a round where few top teams squared off against each other, Cagliari ended up having the most impressive outing of the weekend. They had a brutal record on the road thus far, but partly atoned in the match-up against Chievo, which at this point is a boon for everybody. They had won in the last three home matches, keeping the relegation strugglers at bay. Rolando Maran picked Cyril Thereau to replace the suspended Leonardo Pavoletti, recovered Luca Pellegrini on the left flank and confirmed Fabrizio Cacciatore over Darijo Srna on the other one. Continue reading

Three Azzurri Standouts Against Finland

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Italy started their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign in the best possible fashion, dispatching Finland comfortably 2-0, handing senior debuts to a number of the nation’s budding superstars. While Roberto Mancini is still fiddling with his best starting eleven, certain newbies stood out from the rest.

1) Moise Kean

Every time Kean is given minutes, be it for Juventus or at the international level, the 19-year-old scores. It’s simple; it’s in his nature. Since breaking onto the scene in Turin, the young striker has made the most of his limited opportunities, and has consistently found the back of the net.

When Allegri started him for the first time in the Coppa Italia against Bologna, Kean marked his debut with a goal. Similarly, when the Juventus tactician fielded him from the get-go in the league against Udinese, Kean netted a brace with ease, and could have even had a hat-trick.

Just last week, Mancini gave the 19-year-old his first start for the senior national team, albeit in an unfamiliar right wing position, and Kean impressed. Despite being played out of position, the Juventus man looked dangerous throughout and was a constant menace to the Finnish rearguard.

It wasn’t, however, until the 74th minute that Kean made his mark after a wonderful run and through ball from Ciro Immobile put him through. Much like it has been the case his entire career, Kean didn’t think twice and slid it home effortlessly past a helpless Lukás Hrádecky.

As the Azzurri are looking for their undisputed number nine, Kean might just prove to be their best bet.

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2) Nicolò Barella

In just his fifth start at the international level, Cagliari midfielder Barella dominated proceedings, and netted his first goal for Gli Azzurri, in what was an overall accomplished performance. Since Mancini has assumed the reigns of the national team, Barella has been a regular in the midfield alongside Marco Verratti and Jorginho, and will likely be a key asset at the upcoming Euros.

Considering his diverse skill-set, Barella acts as the perfect foil in Mancini’s midfield, and has gone from strength to strength for Cagliari this season. Equally capable of defending as he is attacking, Barella epitomizes today’s modern midfielder, and will command a massive figure on the market when Cagliari decide to sell.

At the moment, Chelsea, Inter, and Napoli are all said to be interested in the 22-year-old and will all go head-to-head for the young midfielder’s signature come summertime. Mature beyond his years, Barella is already captaining Cagliari, and is ready to become a mainstay in azzurro blu. 

3) Fabio Quagliarella

The veteran striker made his return to the fold for the first time in nine years since the debacle in 2010, and almost scored with his first touch of the game. Given just over ten minutes to prove his worth, Quagliarella demonstrated his predatory instinct and struck the bar after an incisive run.

On another night, and given more minutes, the former Napoli hitman could have easily scored a few. This season, the 36-year-old has had a career year and a renaissance of sorts, netting 21 goals and seven assists in 27 league appearances, which right now, is good for the capocannoniere lead.

While Quagliarella clearly won’t be a part of Mancini’s long-term plans as he’s nearing 40, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t feature at next summer’s tournament. Capable of finding the back of the net with limited touches, the veteran talisman could make quite the impact off the bench in a tight game.

With Italy taking on Liechtenstein tomorrow in their second qualifier of their campaign, expect Mancini to reward Quagliarella with a start. After all, he’s more than earned it.

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While it’s still early days, Mancini has demonstrated signs that he’s the right man to lead the national team into their next phase. Blending youth and experience, the former Inter tactician has no prejudices when it comes to his squad selection and has shown that he will take the best player available, no matter their age or reputation.

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Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 26

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Cagliari-Inter: the Sardinians are coming off a 0-1 loss to Sampdoria, where they were offensively challenged, and have prevailed just once in the past seven games, where they have been beaten five times. Inter had a crazy one with Fiorentina last week, where they were pipped at the post due to a questionable penalty. They had defeated Parma and the Blucerchiati in the two previous fixtures and need point to stave off Milan and Roma’s comeback. The Rossoblù have found the net in just one of their last five games and only with one player, Leonardo Pavoletti. Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 22

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Juventus: Giorgio Chiellini suffered a calf pull that should force him to miss a couple of games. Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira returned in Coppa Italia, while Mario Mandzukic (ankle) is expected to be available this week. Emre Can is ill but available.

Napoli: Fabian Ruiz is suspended. Raul Albiol and Elseid Hysaj are fatigued, while Adam Younes is banged up: the first two have called up, the winger has not.

Inter: Matteo Politano was slapped with a two-game ban. Stefan De Vrij is dealing with some muscle fatigue, but he has been called up, while Balde Keita remains out.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 7

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A seminal Serie A weekend is approaching, featuring the Derby della Capitale and Juventus-Napoli.

Roma-Lazio: the Giallorossi shook off at least part of the negativity surrounding them by routing Frosinone on Wednesday, which is not particularly difficult these days, but they needed it. They had won just in the opening round. The Biancocelesti keep feasting on the minnows and are coming off four wins in a row. La Lupa has been so inconsistent so far, but 4-2-3-1 with Javier Pastore in the hole and Steven Nzonzi and Daniele De Rossi screening the defence might ultimately be the way to go, at least in big matches. Stephan El Shaarawy has been their most trustworthy player so far, but Cengiz Under broke through on Wednesday and he does not need a lot to get hot. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Game Predictions – Round 4

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Inter-Parma: the Beneamata grabbed their first win of the season in Bologna, where they were shorthanded and were led by Radja Nainggolan and Ivan Perisic. Mauro Icardi should be back this week. Luciano Spalletti is still figuring out how the best way to incorporate the newcomers and is looking for the best solution in the midfield, which lacks in creativity. The performances in the three matches have been wildly inconsistent, both on the bright side and on the more negative one. Anyway, the two goal scorers from the past game are good picks in this round and will likely be for the rest of the season. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 3

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There will be a lot to mull about in the international week after a very meaningful Serie A round.

Standings implications: Juventus scooped up another win and are now alone on top since Napoli did not pull off the comeback this time versus Sampdoria, Milan won this week’s big match against Roma, Inter got back on track with a large result against, Lazio had more troubles but the same results. Sassuolo again excelled at home with Genoa as their victim this time, while Cagliari exploited Atalanta’s tiredness to bring home a precious win. Chievo and Empoli were content sharing the spoils. Torino prevailed in a very wet encounter with SPAL that was suspended and resumed late. Continue reading