Key Players in the race for a Champions League spot in Serie A

While last season Serie A had the most competitive title race of the major European leagues, this time around the scudetto race is as predictable as the ending of a Friends episode. But the competition for the last two Champions League spots is quite intriguing with 5 teams in the mix, the following players will likely have the biggest impact on how their squads fare in the final stretch of the season

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Mauro Icardi

 

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received goes like this “the best cure for negative thought, is taking positive action”. Considering the roller coaster the now former captain has been on in the past few weeks, he certainly could use a few decisive goals to get himself back in the good graces of his club’s fans and/or re establish his value on the market.

 

Inter find themselves in the same position in the standings as when Icardi left the squad to heal what the club essentially described as a phantom injury, so while they do need his contributions to nail down their second consecutive, the Argentine striker needs a strong end to the season even more than they do. He did catch a lucky break now that his replacement Lautaro Martinez suffered an injury while playing for Argentina during the international break, so Icardi could play a part in a big moment sooner rather than later.

 

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Paqueta

 

While Piatek has received more attention since joining Milan, the Brazilian midfielder has also been a tremendous addition to Gattuso’s squad. When the deal to acquire him from Flamengo  was completed, many pointed out that it was a gamble for Leonardo to invest over 30 million euro for a player with no experience in Europe, never mind Serie A,  at a time that Milan was dealing with Financial Fair Play issues.

Needless to say you don’t hear that criticism anymore because Paqueta’ has brought many of the attributes that have been lacking in Milan’s midfield for a few years- pace and ball skills. If that weren’t enough, Paqueta’ recently got to wear the iconic number ten jersey on the Selecao. While Calhanoglu has been a bit better recently, Suso continues to be in a slump- there’s no one on Milan beyond Paqueta’ who can create something from nothing at the moment.

PierLuigi Gollini

 

Atalanta find themselves in hanging on in the race for a Champions League spot in large part thanks to their offense. The devastating trio of Zapata, Ilicic and Gomez has to however offset a below average defense which has conceded 39 goals in 28 matches (as a frame of reference Lazio has conceded 29 with one less game played).

Gasperini recently gave the starting job to Gollini after Berisha was the starter in the first half of the season. The former Aston Villa keeper has a distinguished pedigree since he’s been part of the Azzurri’s youth teams since 2012, should Gollini live up to his potential Atalanta will still be in the mix for a Champions League spot for weeks to come.

Federico Fazio

 

During his second press conference as Roma’s manager, Claudio Ranieri described the Argentine defender as “un pezzo 90” (which loosely translates to an elite player). While you can certainly understand why a coach, especially one who was just appointed, would want to hype his players and help them get some confidence, Fazio has been a massive liability this season.

Should Ranieri decide to stick with a 4 man defense, he really doesn’t have many other alternatives, especially while Manolas is recovering from an injury, and Fazio is still a better option than Juan Jesus and Marcano. However the former Leicester manager could use a radical solution to his team’s defensive woes- move to a 3 man center back, the formation where Fazio had his best stretch in Serie A.

Ranieri could move De Rossi to the back line alongside Fazio and Manolas since he does have a deep midfield with the likes of NZonzi, Cristante, Zaniolo, Pellegrini and even Pastore. But regardless of the formation, Ranieri will need Fazio to step up in order to get Roma back to the Champions League next season.

Luis Alberto 

Luis Alberto 

 

While Miilinkovic Savic got torched by many for his very disappointing first half to the season, the former Liverpool striker struggled even more. Last season Luis Alberto was arguably the most improved player in Serie A,  but so far his 2018/19 campaign saw him regress to 3 goals- 8 less than his tally previous year.

But in the last match before the international break, Luis Alberto scored two goals to go with an assist- if he can keep these types of performances up, Lazio does have a chance to make up the 6 points they have less than Milan in the standings- especially when you consider they have to make up one match against Udinese.

Top three AC Milan players during the international break

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To the delight of many fans, the international break has come to an end. With that, club football returns, including AC Milan’s Champions League race in Serie A. For the Rossoneri, there have been a few standout performers during the break, as listed below. 

However, before moving on to the top three players, let’s take a look at which players were called up for international duty. Gattuso sent 11 men away in total, five of which are Italian. Donnarumma and Romagnoli were called up to the senior team, while Calabria and Cutrone joined the U-21 side. Goalkeeper Plizzari, on the other hand, played for the U-20 team.

Calhanoglu (Turkey), Laxalt (Uruguay), Kessie (Ivory Coast), Paqueta (Brazil), Piatek (Poland) and Rodriguez (Switzerland) were also called into action for their respective National team. With that said, let’s take a look at the top three performers.

Calhanoglu – Turkey

The midfielder, who has struggled with AC Milan thus far, really showed his worth during the break. He played his side’s first game from start, facing Albania, and scored the goal which sealed the 2-0 win after a brilliant solo run. He also started the second game against Moldovia, putting on a show as he assisted a goal with a bicycle kick.

In other words, a successful week for the attacking midfielder, and Milan fans will be hoping to see more of this against Sampdoria this weekend, as well as for the remainder of the season.

Paqueta – Brazil 

The 21-year-old continues to impress. Arriving at Milan in January, he has been vital for Gattuso’s team, offering something that the side previously lacked as a result of the injury to Bonaventura. Wearing the number 10 shirt, he certainly didn’t disappoint for Brazil.

In fact, just 32 minutes into the first game (friendly with Panama), Paqueta scored the opener in a very similar fashion to his first goal for Milan, arriving at the back post. He played from start against the Czech Republic as well, though he was replaced at half-time.

Piatek – Poland

Who else but Krzysztof? The striker continues to score goals left, right and centre, although he wasn’t given the chance from start straight away. Poland were in need of a goal against Austria as they pushed for the lead, and decided to introduce Piatek in the 59th minute. Just like clockwork, the Milan striker gave his side the lead (and the win) ten minutes later, proving why he should start over Milik.

Against Latvia, he played from start along with Lewandowski up front. Although he didn’t get on the scoresheet in that game, he certainly showed how important he can be when it matters the most. Hopefully, he can continue this positive trend in Serie A, as the race for the top goalscorer is getting tougher by the week.

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What to Watch For: Milan vs Inter

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Milano’s rivaling clubs clash on Sunday evening for the marquee matchup of Serie A Round 28 as Milan square off with Inter at the San Siro.

Last October, Nerazzurri captain Mauro Icardi headed home a very late winner to deal the Rossoneri a 1-0 defeat, but Gennaro Gattuso’s in-form group will look to exact revenge and expand on their one-point lead in third place over their struggling rivals.

Here is what you should be watching for in the latest installment of the Derby della Madonnina: Continue reading

Three things we learned from AC Milan’s three-goal win against Cagliari

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AC Milan managed to beat Cagliari at the San Siro earlier this evening, completely dominating the opponents for a majority of the game. In fact, the Rossoneri set a new record for the number of shots on goal under Gattuso (11), which ultimately resulted in a 3-0 win.  

Once again, the new boys Paqueta and Piatek proved to be the difference the Rossoneri have searched for. The first goal, however, was gifted by the away side’s captain, Ceppitelli, whose touch on Cragno’s rebound put Milan in front. The lead was then extended just ten minutes later as Calabria’s wonderful cross was met by Paqueta at the back post, with the Brazilian making no mistakes on the volley.

Of course, Krzysztof Piatek couldn’t leave the pitch without getting on the scoresheet. As luck would have it, after a scrappy situation, the Polish striker was at the right place at the right time, putting the game to bed with Milan’s third goal. Down below are three things we learned from this important win.

1. Calabria proving his qualities amidst all the debate 

Davide certainly had a great game at right-back, further proving why he should be given the nod ahead of Conti, who’s a bit of a fan favourite. Defensively, the 22-year-old was absolutely flawless, closing down the right flank on numerous occasions.

When going forward, he wasn’t too shabby either. As previously mentioned, he was responsible for a beautiful assist to Paqueta, and he could’ve had a goal himself. However, Cragno just about claimed it after a nice flick by Calabria which beat the defender.

2. Paqueta once again crucial in every aspect

Since arriving, the Brazilian has started all of the games, which in itself is a sign of strength. Rightfully so, he’s been given the chance and boy has he taken it. Today’s game was no exception, as the midfielder continued to perform in the defence, midfield and attack.

His ability to link up with his new teammates, especially Calhanoglu, has quite frankly been stunning. This evening, he also got a goal to show for his efforts, making it all look so easy. Moving forward, he will continue to be crucial for Gattuso’s side.

3. Donnarumma’s 150th appearance – another clean sheet

Gigio, who’s arguably been the best Milan player in the last few weeks, made his 150th appearance (all comps) for the club this evening. Having kept 51 clean sheets ahead of the game, the Rossoneri defenders helped him add yet another to this tally.

Luckily for Milan, the number 99 has seemingly returned to consistently putting in great performances, as was further proven today. The defenders didn’t play poorly by any means, but their goalkeeper was called into action a few times, and he did everything right.

Overall, it was a great display by the entire team, and Gattuso should be happy with the efforts ahead of the important clash with Atalanta next weekend.

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Sampdoria vs. AC Milan: Paqueta to make his Rossoneri debut

This evening, AC Milan will take on Sampdoria in the Coppa Italia round of 16, kicking off the second half of the season. However, it will not only be important to get the win in order to advance, but also to gain confidence ahead of the Supercup final against Juve on Wednesday. 

Gattuso’s men ended 2018 with a crucial 2-1 win over SPAL, putting themselves back in the Champions League race after dropping points in the previous four games. The three points were also vital for the management’s continuous support for Gattuso, who’s certainly been given a second chance at the club. Continue reading