SPAL-Juventus: after winning three games in a row, against Roma, Frosinone and Lazio, SPAL were bested by Cagliari, but their recent streak gave them a little breathing room over the last three positions. Juventus toppled Milan last week, winning for the eighth time in the last nine matches and they are one point away from clinching the title. For the Estensi, Andrea Petagna has been a rock all year long, showing to be a much more prolific striker compared to his time at Atalanta. Manuel Lazzari is their main playmaker off the right flank and has picked up eight assists thus far. Jasmin Kurtic is also occasionally able to collect some bonus points, while they have not got much out of the second-striker role, as Mirco Antenucci, Andrea Paloschi and Sergio Floccari have combined for just six goals. Continue reading
There was not really any dominant display in this round but Bologna’s one, but at this point the drubbings of Chievo are no longer eligible for this column. The slate featured just two other shutout wins, a surprising but also a bit lucky one by Frosinone in Florence and the other by Roma against Sampdoria on the road, which is enough to take home the weekly honor.
The Giallorossi were freefalling in the standings as they had won just once in the previous five fixtures, in the Claudio Ranieri debut against Empoli, while they had lost to Lazio, SPAL and Napoli and equalized midweek against Fiorentina. They were also eliminated by Porto in Champions League. Continue reading
Juventus-Milan: the Bianconeri are coming off a convincing outing in Cagliari, where they notched their second shutout win in a row and in general their seventh victory in the last eight fixtures. On the other hand, the Rossoneri failed to take home the full loot for three matches in a row as they lost to Inter and Sampdoria and then tied with Udinese. The Old Lady is likely to have back both Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala for this game, while Cristiano Ronaldo is slated to sit one more out. Some players could be spared in the Ajax game, in any case Moise Kean and Federico Bernardeschi are in terrific form and have lead them scoring-wise. Continue reading
Standings implication: Juventus overwhelmed Cagliari, while Napoli fell to Empoli and therefore the Bianconeri could potentially clinch the title in the weekend. In the Champions League race, it was a positive round for Inter, which thumped Genoa on the road, and Atalanta that demolished Bologna, while Milan had a disappointing tie with Udinese and Lazio were outlasted by SPAL. The Biscione built a little lead while the Orobici are one point behind the Rossoneri.
Torino returned to winning ways against Sampdoria, while Roma again failed to take home the W as they equalized with Fiorentina. The Granata pulled even with the Nation’s Capital teams and distanced Sampdoria. As it is often the case in this time of the year, the relegation strugglers are starting to get some surprise victories: SPAL and Empoli gained points on Udinese and Bologna. Frosinone snatched their first home win of the season, but it might be too late for them as they are * behind the 17th position. Continue reading
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
Juventus-Empoli: the Bianconeri are coming off their first Serie A loss this season, against Genoa, while they dropped points just twice at home thus far. The Azzurri defeated Frosinone in Aurelio Andreazzoli’s return match, nabbing the second win in the last 13 rounds. They have lost in five of the last six away games. The Old Lady will be without Cristiano Ronaldo, who got hurt while playing with Portugal, and Douglas Costa, who remains sidelined. Therefore, Federico Bernardeschi, Moise Kean, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic will lead the charge and try to alleviate the absence of the Portuguese star. They could be helped by the fact that the Tuscans have one of the leakiest defenses in the League. Continue reading
Let’s be honest, sayings and proverbs just sound so much better in Italian. They come of as more profound and musical when you hear them, but the one thing they share in common with their English versions is that they also tend to be true. The one on “La fortuna aiuta gli audaci” (luck helps the brave) certainly applies to Roberto Mancini’s tenure as the Azzurri manager so far.
Upon taking the job, Mancini stated that he was hoping to see Serie A clubs give more space to young Italian players at a time that we saw more and more foreigners starting in the Italian league. But as an other saying teaches us “if you want something done right, you just have to do it yourself”.
Usually a hot prospect earns a call up to the senior Azzurri squad after he made an impact at professional level, but instead Mancini decided to take matters in his own hand by selecting Nicolo’ Zaniolo to the Azzurri senior squad even before he appeared in an official match at Roma- shortly after the former Inter prospect made his professional debut at the Santiago Bernabeu and the rest is (recent) history.
Mancini doubled down on young players by starting Moise’ Kean against Finland last Saturday. When you consider that Kean had already debuted and scored in Serie A and played in multiple Champions League matches at Juventus, you could say this was less bold than selecting Zaniolo, but the stakes were certainly higher since this was the first qualifier for the upcoming Euro rather than just a selection for a friendly.
Where Zaniolo and Kean fit into the Azzurri moving forward remains to be seen but their paths will likely be quite different. Beyond showing courage by selecting young players, Mancini has also done another thing very well since becoming Italy’s manager- he’s built a midfield that works while on the surface it wouldn’t appear that the pieces fit.
Mancini’s predecessor, the loathed Gian Piero Ventura, improvised a new midfield in the key playoff matches against Sweden- while now Italy has an identity in the middle. Mancini went with two playmakers by starting both Jorginho and Marco Verratti, one of Italy’s most talented players but someone who also never really shined on the Azzurri. This combination has worked very well with Cagliari’s stand out player Nicolo’ Barella, a more box to box type player who also has a bright future ahead of him because of his young age.
It will be interesting to see how Mancini integrates Zaniolo into the mix, because talent wise, Roma’s new star looks to have the highest upside of any player on the Azzurri. In the past few months the former Inter prospect has been tried as a winger, but while it isn’t a particularly large sample size, playing in this role doesn’t seem to get the most of his talent.
Mancini could decide to sacrifice his double playmaker midfielder and bench Jorginho and just go with Verratti, Zaniolo and Barella- three players who on paper compliment each other rather well and could be the backbone of the Azzurri for years to come. Having Zaniolo as a starter would also help offset the lack of a true goal scorer up front since the Roma player appears to be someone who can find the back of the net rather frequently for a midfielder.
While Mancini has quite a few intriguing options in the midfield, the attack remains a question mark on the Azzurri and Kean could very well contribute to finding a positive answer. Ciro Immobile has never come close to performing for the Italian national team like he does for Lazio and while Belotti has performed better in 2019, he’s not close to being the player that was compared to Gianluca Vialli two years ago.
Considering how well he’s played past two seasons, Fabio Quagliarella could be an excellent starter for the Azzurri as they compete to qualify for the next Euro, but it’s hard to envision him being a long term answer. Kean could be an excellent super sub in the interim before eventually becoming the third piece of an attack that also features his teammate Bernardeschi and Federico Chiesa.
So far Mancini has been rewarded for being bold and brave, but now he’ll also have to use some ingenuity to integrate his young studs in his current team.
Juventus: none among Mattia De Sciglio (thigh), Andrea Barzagli (calf), Dougls Costa (quad, calf), Sami Khedira (heart) and Juan Cuadrado (knee) is expected back this week. The first one is the closest to recovering. Cristiano Ronaldo will be rested.
Napoli: Lorenzo Insigne was scratched from the XI in Europa League due to a muscular problem in the warm-up. Vlad Chiriches subbed off for the same issue, while Amadou Diawara has a foot infraction: they have all been given a 20-day prognosis. Fabian Ruiz has the flu.
SPAL-Roma: the Estensi are pretty much starving for points as they collected just one in their last five games, against Sassuolo, and were beaten by Atalanta, Fiorentina, Sampdoria and Inter, further signaling their struggles against good competition. Their lead over the danger zone has been cut to just two points. The Giallorossi partially course corrected after a rough week with a narrow win over Empoli, where they did not look imposing and were lucky in the end, but also had to endure a host of absences. One of the main issues for the Biancazzurri has been the fact that they have not identified reliable offensive contributors other than Andrea Petagna, Jasmin Kurtic and Manuel Lazzari and the house of cards crumbled once the wing back was sidelined by an injury. Continue reading
Roma have fired Eusebio Di Francesco following the elimination in the Champions League round of 16 at the hands of Porto, which took place four days a shocking loss to Lazio in the Derby. Claudio Ranieri has been chosen as caretaker manager until the end of the season. They have also parted ways with sporting director Monchi.
Di Francesco has been on the hot seat in mid-December while the team was slumping again after a pretty mediocre start, but the Giallorossi appeared to turn things around by winning six of the following eight rounds in the following two months. They almost completely erased the gap that separated them from the Champions League zone, but that was not to save his job after what transpired in the last few days. Continue reading