It was a dull week as Italians do not bother working around the 15th of August, but Roma dominated the news in the last two days, announcing three extensions: Nicolò Zaniolo, Cengiz Under and Edin Dzeko. The first two were expected, as Zaniolo had been playing on a minimal contract after last summer’s move directly from Inter’s youth academy, and Under is a big part of the plan, while the third one came out of the blue since Dzeko has been long expected to move to Inter, but he will stick around instead, removing one end of the supposed strikers’ carousel. Continue reading
There were barely any deal in the first few sleepy days of August, where Fiorentina and Milan were the main protagonists. La Viola signed Kevin-Prince Boateng and Pol Lirola from Sassuolo and sold Vitor Hugo to Palmeiras, hinting a switch to their defensive philosophy since they used to deploy Nikola Milenkovic at right back, but will no go with a more normal and aggressive look. The Rossoneri instead cashed in on Patrick Cutrone, who joined Wolverhampton, and substituted him with Rafael Leao from Lille, who projects to be a better fit next to Krzysztof Piatek, and then announced Ismael Bennacer from Empoli on Sunday. Juventus completed the sale of Moise Kean to Everton. Continue reading
Over the years, Roma have consistently sold the side’s best performers due to constraints imposed by Financial Fair Play. This past summer has been no different in the nation’s capital. Kostas Manolas is already on his way to Napoli, while Edin Dzeko to Inter seems to be a mere formality. Despite the need to balance the books, the giallorossi have still managed to put together an impressive team, and frankly, are a few additions away from being a bonafide top four side next season.
After hiring Paulo Fonseca, a young and progressive tactician, Roma wasted no time and secured Napoli regista Amadou Diawara in the Manolas deal. For just under 20 million euros, the giallorossi signed one of Italy’s most promising young midfielders, and an ideal talent to play at the base of Fonseca’s 4-3-3. Diawara struggled for consistent playing time at Napoli, but will use this move as an opportunity to recreate his past form.
Alongside Diawara, two of Lorenzo Pellegrini, Nicolo Zaniolo and Bryan Cristante will likely feature. After an initial rough patch, Pellegrini has demonstrated he has what it takes to play for a top club, and has developed into a real menace between the lines in the final third. It also remains to be seen how Fonseca will fit Zaniolo in his setup, but he would compliment Diawara and Pellegrini nicely in a midfield three.
With newcomer Leonardo Spinazzola and club bandiera Alessandro Florenzi getting forward with regularity, expect free-flowing football at the Stadio Olimpico next season. However, for this to happen, Spinazzola will need to stay fit while Florenzi will need to up his game after a sub-par season.
In addition, young players like Cengiz Under and Justin Kluivert will be given a new lease on life under Fonseca and will be encouraged to express themselves to the fullest. Under has displayed his talent in glimpses, but needs to maintain his form over the course of an entire season if he’s to be relied upon. Kluivert, by contrast, had an indifferent first season with Roma and will be looking to redeem himself, especially if Stephan El Shaarawy leaves for China as it’s being reported.
Patrik Schick is another player who could benefit from Fonseca’s appointment. Since arriving at the club, the Czech international has looked devoid of any confidence, and has struggled to impose himself. In his breakout season with Sampdoria, the striker netted 11 goals in just 14 starts; a pattern of form Roma will be eager for the 23-year-old to recreate.
While Roma fans will be feeling hard done by their recent sales, at the very least the club is moving forward with a clear direction in mind. At the moment, their squad is young, vibrant and full of Italian talents on the upswing. Given Fonseca’s past experience with Shakhtar, he seems to be the ideal candidate to lead the giallorossi in the next phase of their rebuild. If recent reports are to be believed and Roma add a quality centre-back, don’t be surprised to see the giallorossi high up the table challenging Italy’s elite. Underestimate them at your own peril.
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The U-21 European Championships are unlike any other tournament in world football. Typically, most rosters feature a blend of established talents, your Dani Ceballos’ and Federico Chiesas of the world, mixed with players eager to make a name for themselves on the world stage. What this tournament inevitably leads to, unfortunately for most, is the exaggeration of their talents. While their ability isn’t in question as most of them are, without a doubt, the best their age group has to offer, it’s rare to see an U-21 international push on and live up to the hype, bar a select few. This is no different with the current group of Azzurrini.
While many of them will go on to become established internationals, a majority of them will fizzle out and eventually fade into the background of the hype machine that once proclaimed them to be world beaters. Currently, Azzurrini boss Luigi Di Biagio has one of the most talented group of players at his disposal, yet, it would still be wise to exhibit patience. After all, most of these players are yet to establish themselves as regulars at their respective clubs, for one reason or another.
Take Federico Chiesa, for example. After breaking out onto the scene at Fiorentina, the winger is now seen as the future of Italian football. His electric performances against Spain and Poland have pushed him further into the limelight of the nation, and have now burdened him with immense expectations. Recently, it’s been reported that the new Fiorentina brass have slapped an 100 million euro price-tag on the young man. Remember, he’s just 21, and has only just come of his first full season as a regular starter in Tuscany.
For some, this newfound responsibility acts as the catalyst for their progression, while for others, it slowly eats away at them until their talent becomes a thing of the past and they become average, middling professionals. Look at Mattia De Sciglio, who was once dubbed the ‘Next Maldini’. Today, the defender is a reliable fullback, but is the furthest thing from a world beater.
Luckily for Italian football, it appears Chiesa thrives with this pressure on his shoulders and spurs him on to become a better player. You would expect no less from the son of Enrico Chiesa, if we’re being honest. But not every player is like the Fiorentina man. Looking at Di Biagio’s roster, a number of players stick out from the rest: Moise Kean, Nicolo Zaniolo, Alex Meret and Nicolo Barella among others. These players, at one point or another, demonstrated the potential to become world beaters. While getting lost in their hype, it’s easy to forget they’re still teenagers with the world at their feet.
If the past is anything to go by, heaping immense expectations on these teens inevitably leads to failure. For every Alessandro Del Piero that has emerged from the Azzurrini, there is a Domenico Berardi. Italian media loves to sensationalize the current crop of talents, but they would be wise to exhibit caution, and allow these players to become their own men.
Like in anything in life, we must learn from the past and our mistakes not to repeat them. Despite these warnings, and there have been many, Italian football seems dead-set on proclaiming this generation as calcio’s saving grace.
Perhaps it stems from a burning desire to reach former heights, or perhaps there’s something larger at play here; a cultural aspect, of sorts. The need to keep the memories of former greats alive or, on the other side of the spectrum, the need for something new; something better than what we already have. Regardless, Italians are playing dangerous game forcing their talents to skip crucial steps in their progression and expect them to become great overnight. Eventually, it may come back to haunt the current iteration of Azzurrini, as it has so often occurred in years past. As always, only time will tell.
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Roma picked an up-and-comer to lead the squad, Paulo Fonseca from Shakhtar Donetsk. The manager agreed to a two-year contract and his hiring was made official on Tuesday morning. He takes over from Claudio Ranieri, who was appointed as caretaker manager after the sacking of Eusebio Di Francesco in March. La Lupa closed the season in sixth position, their worst finish in the six years.
In Ukraine, Fonseca won seven trophies in the last three seasons: three national titles, three domestic cups and one supercup. His side dominated and prevailed in 100 of the 135 matches, at one point collecting ten clean sheets in a row and breaking that record with 24 in a season. Continue reading
No matter what coach will be chosen, Juventus will have to address some glaring needs in the upcoming transfer market session, but they might be able to fill them with the usual modus operandi: plucking players from other Serie A teams. Here are some of the three biggest holes.
A heir to Giorgio Chiellini: the Old Lady had a good thing going in the first half of last season, where for a while they were able to rotate two well-assorted duos, Leonardo Bonucci-Medhi Benatia and Daniele Rugani-Chiellini, and go with Bonucci-Chiellini in the most demanding fixtures. Eventually, the Moroccan centre-back grew tired for the lack of consistent playing times and asked to leave and Martin Caceres was a temporary cheap patch. Continue reading
Juventus: Blaise Matuidi and Federico Bernardeschi are suspended, while Joao Cancelo and Mario Mandzukic both fractured their nose in the same week and are unavailable for Sunday. Alex Sandro is dealing with a rib contusion. Douglas Costa (calf), Mattia Perin (shoulder) and Sami Khedira (knee) remain sidelined as expected. Cristiano Ronaldo will be rested, while Wojciech Szczesny has suffered a knee injury.
Napoli: Allan and Kalidou Koulibaly are disqualified. Amadou Diawara looked close to returning from a foot fracture for a pair of weeks, but he was again unable to make the squad list, like Adam Ounas that is banged up and David Ospina, who is still in Colombia. Mario Rui is out with an undisclosed injury. Continue reading
Atalanta-Sassuolo: the Goddess survived Juventus’ second half push last week and returned from Turin with a precious point that allowed them to catch Inter and maintain a narrow lead over Milan. They have not lost since February 23rd and triumphed in eight of the following 12 rounds. Sassuolo are right in the middle of the pack but played spoiler last week by drawing with Roma. They have been defeated just once in the last eight matches, tying in five occasions. Josip Ilicic scored at the Stadium after being shut out for few weeks and also their rock Duvan Zapata and Alejandro Gomez will be popular picks since the Neroverdi are not the stingiest bunch. Neither are the Bergamaschi to be honest: the locals have spread the wealth in terms of scoring, but in general Domenico Berardi, Jeremie Boga and Stefano Sensi have been their best contributors in the final months. Hans Hateboer’s suspension makes it clear that Timothy Castagne and Robin Gosens will man the flanks: the former is more interesting since he is listed as a defender and in the midst of a prolific run. Continue reading
Sassuolo-Roma: the Neroverdi were handed their first loss since April last week by Torino, even though they certainly put up a fight, despite not being in need of points. The Giallorossi defeated Juventus with a late surge, garnering their fourth win in the last six rounds, tying in the other two and staying close to the fourth spot. Sassuolo have found the target in five of the last six rounds and La Lupa have not been great defensively on the road: they have spread the wealth around since Domenico Berardi was the only one to bag one in multiple matches. Jeremie Boga, Stefano Sensi, Manuel Locatelli and all the defenders contributed scoring-wise: Boga and Sensi have been their most lively contributors in the last few fixtures. The Giallorossi are getting a lot from Stephan El Shaarawy and Edin Dzeko, while the latest tactical change, if confirmed, would help the likes of Nicolò Zaniolo, Cengiz Under and Justin Kluivert, as the last two would see more minutes. Lorenzo Pellegrini is iffy due to a thigh ailment and his absence could allow Bryan Cristante to have a big role.
Atalanta-Genoa: the Bergamaschi keep soaring and bested Lazio in a seminal clash last week, garnering their third win a row and building a little lead over Roma in the race to get the fourth position. They have not been defeated since the beginning of March. The Griffon is coming off two 1-1 ties in a row, versus SPAL and Roma, squandering a massive late opportunity on Sunday. They are four points above the third-to-last position. Suspensions are piling up for Gian Piero Gasperini and he will not be able to count on two defensive centre-pieces, Gianluca Mancini and Andrea Masiello, and more importantly on Alejandro Gomez, which will also not allow him to rotate the squad much ahead of next week’s cup final. Josip Ilicic and Duvan Zapata will take on an even larger load than usual: the Slovenian genius has been slowed down by some nagging injuries, while the Colombian powerhouse continues to lay hurt on opponents. Continue reading