Crotone slightly above the competition

crotone

The relegation race in Serie A is mostly going as planned: the freshly promoted teams, Benevento, Hellas Verona and Spal, are knee-deep into it, alongside a couple of sides that have gravitated in those positions in the past, such as Cagliari and Genoa. The only mild surprises are Udinese and especially Sassuolo, which were expected to be a tad better and avoid troubles. The season is long and they will probably pull away in the upcoming months, leaving the battle to the first five.

There have already been a couple of head-to-head matches down there and Crotone showed they have a little advantage over the other contenders. In the last two games, the Sharks easily defeated Benevento at the Scida stadium and then came away from Ferrara with a tie. Two massive results. Spal built last season’s promotion on their home performances and they will struggle mightily if they do not rack up points at the Mazza stadium: they still looked better than a couple of competitors, but their road map is clear and the opportunities are slim. Hellas Verona and Benevento have looked very disorganized and have been heavily hit by the injury bug.

Crotone lost a good amount talent in the summer, because their best players were either on loan, such as Diego Falcinelli and Lorenzo Crisetig, or because they sold them before or during the season and then temporarily took them back, like Gianmarco Ferrari and Leonardo Capezzi. However, they have worked well in the summer and managed to replace almost all of them.

Crotone confirmed Davide Nicola on the bench, and they could not have done otherwise after the incredible late comeback last season. As a result, they have a clear idea of who they are and what they need to do. They have a basic tactic and a straightforward game plan: they will be end up being outplayed by better teams more often than not, but they always put up a fight and have more experience in these situations. They are scrappy.

In the summer, they brought in several players, almost in a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” type of mentality. Arlind Ajeti seems to have overtaken Leandro Cabrera as starting centre-back: he does not have Ferrari’s upside, but he is a gritty defender. Marco Davide Faraoni is more solid than Mario Sampirisi. Rolando Mandragora has been as good as anticipated: a highly touted prospect at Genoa, he suffered a couple of big injuries, but now that he is being given consistent playing time he is back on track. The midfield duo with Andrea Barberis is sneaky interesting. They could find at least one more solid contributor in the crop of remaining newcomers: Daniel Pavlovic, Oliver Kragl, Stefan Simic, Giovanni Crociata and Aristoteles Romero.

The one area they definitely need to improve is in the attack: they scored only four goals, all in the last three games. The coach is still searching for the right combination, but it has been difficult to replace Diego Falcinelli. The returning Ante Budimir has not been as efficient as in Serie B, Marcello Trotta has surprisingly been given little playing time, and Simy is mostly an off-the-bench, late game weapon, but he does have intriguing skills given his size. The coach seems to prefer having a pure centre-forward and a second-striker, but Aleksandar Tonev and Andrea Nalini have both spent time on the shelf and have not find the right condition yet. If Budimir does not work, Nalini-Trotta could be the most explosive couple or they could try Adrian Stoian there as well. Unfortunately, Marco Tumminello suffered an ACL tear: they desperately wanted a youngster who could provide a spark and maybe play more carefreely, without being burdened by the standings. They missed out on Patrick Cutrone, but the Roma striker looked promising and already scored: he could be helpful down the stretch.

 

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The Underutilized Newcomers XI

bernardeschi

The summer is always a time for much fanfare: the clubs and the fans get excited about the new acquisitions, but when it is time to play, some of them could be quickly discarded by the coaches. There are teams that prefer to bring along the youngsters very slowly and at times injuries prevent the teams from seeing their investment pay off. Let’s take a look of a line-up composed by newcomers that have been underutilized, mostly because of coaching decisions: the tactic will be the 4-2-3-1 that is so in vogue right now.

The goalkeeper is the cleanest position from this standpoint: the newcomers are all covering the roles they were expected too. Maybe the only slight disappointment is Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, acquired very early by Torino from Lechia Gdansk for €2.6M, but Sinisa Mihajlovic did not like what he saw in the pre-season and they signed Salvatore Sirigu as a starter. The defence is formed by a couple of Cagliari players: Gregory Van der Wiel arrived from Fenerbahce, but due to a sore ankle and some conditioning issues he has barely practiced with the rest of the group and they have a big void on that flank after Mauricio Isla’s departure. They spent €7.6M on Filippo Romagna from Juventus, as part of a swap deal, but Massimo Rastelli picked Marco Andreolli, Fabio Pisacane and Luca Ceppittelli over him: he started, and struggled, only against Napoli when they ran out of options. The 19-year-old Nikola Milenkovic was signed by Fiorentina from Partizan for €5.1M, but he has yet to record a single minute. Sampdoria acquired Nicola Murru for €7M from Cagliari, but he quickly became a backup after they opted to bring in Ivan Strinic after the first subpar outings.

Maxime Gonalons transferred from Olympique Lyonnais to Roma for €5M mostly to be Daniele De Rossi’s reserve: it is tough to unseat the veteran, but it was reasonable to expect more than two mere starts at this point and the performances were rather underwhelming. His partner in the midfield is Francesco Cassata, whom Sassuolo signed from Juventus for €7M. The Neroverdi have had all sorts of problems and tried many different combinations, but the versatile youngster has yet to log a single minute.

In the three-man forward line behind the striker, we have Adam Ounas on the right flank: Maurizio Sarri is always very hesitant in giving minutes to newcomers, especially the younger ones, but right now he has a €10M player sitting on the bench. A magnified example of that is Federico Bernardeschi, which Juventus pried away from Fiorentina for €40M: he had a single start, against Atalanta, where he scored. Massimiliano Allegri did the same thing with Paulo Dybala and Marko Pjaca in the previous seasons, so it is likely only a matter of time. Also, like Sarri, he had little reasons to move on from the regular starters. On the left wing, there is Oliver Kragl: he was a top player in Serie B and you would think that the talent-poor Crotone would be able to use him in some way, but so far he has not cracked the regular rotation, featuring only in small twenty-minute cameos.

There were some good candidates for the role of the lone strikers, such as Sampdoria’s Dawid Kownacki and Udinese’s Riad Bajic, but the starting job goes to Benevento’s Samuel Armenteros. It is tough for foreigners to adapt to a new league, but Benevento have struggled so much offensively and every combination of Massimo Coda, Pietro Iemmello and George Puscas has been disappointing. Perhaps the coach should trust Armenteros more, who scored 29 times with Heracles last season, but it looks like he will move to a trident, therefore limiting the playing opportunities for the strikers.

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