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
Since being appointed Italy boss after the World Cup debacle, Roberto Mancini has done well to implement a distinct style of play, and identify key players for his setup moving forward. With the defence and midfield all but set, barring a few adjustments, the attack remains Mancini’s last puzzle. While the former Inter tactician has introduced the likes of Federico Chiesa and Moise Kean into the fold, some of Mancini’s choices in the final third have been questionable, to say the least.
In Mancini’s latest selections, Vincenzo Grifo and Leonardo Pavoletti both got the call to represent their nation. The latter, a 30-year-old mid-table journeyman, won’t be on the international scene for much longer and failed at the only big club he was at, while Grifo has only played eight games in league action this season thus far for Freiburg and has never demonstrated to be anything more than a decent squad player.
After years of struggling for options in the final third, Mancini is finally blessed with various talents in the attacking department, be it with Bernardeschi, Chiesa, and Kean among others. Now is not the time to experiment with players who are on the wrong side of 30 or haven’t been consistent in front of goal.
Regardless of their form this season, neither Pavoletti or Grifo will represent Italy next summer, and neither deserves to take valuable experience away from the nation’s budding forwards. What is more puzzling is that the in-form Andrea Belotti was left home, despite his recent resurgence.
The Torino forward has lead the line exceptionally well, and has propelled I Granata into an unlikely race for European football. While he’s had better goal tallies in past seasons, Belotti has become a more well-rounded forward under Walter Mazzarri and is ready for another go on the international scene. At 25 years old, Il Gallo is about to enter the prime of his career, and is an excellent option for Mancini.
Another player who could have also gotten the call ahead of Pavoletti and Grifo was Mario Balotelli. Despite some previous attitude concerns, Supermario’s has been Italy’s most consistent forward over the years, and has done well in Marseille, scoring four goals in his last six games. Mancini had this to say about Balotelli’s exclusion.
“Balotelli still isn’t in peak condition, he’s improving but I expect a lot from him and he can improve further. In general, all of the technical players are improving and this is comforting for me.” (Source: Twitter – @Azzurri)
The reality is that, much like Balotelli, Grifo hasn’t played much for Freiburg, and yet still received a call-up. Had Mancini cited previous indiscipline as his reason, it would have made Balotelli’s exclusion understandable. Regardless, Supermario deserves one more run with the Nazionale, and will likely get the chance next time around.
While Mancini has done relatively well at blending youth with experience, another player who should have, at the very least, been part of the training camp is Milan’s Patrick Cutrone. Since breaking onto the scene, the Milan forward has demonstrated all the raw abilities of a top forward, and has a knack for being at the right place at the right time.
At just 21 years old, Cutrone, alongside Juventus’ Moise Kean, are easily Mancini’s best long-term bets. Since Krzysztof Piatek’s arrival, however, Cutrone has found playing time hard to come by. Despite this, he deserves a shot with the national team, and could prove useful at the upcoming Euros if given consistent playing time.
Moving forward, Mancini can’t keep turning to the likes of Pavoletti and Grifo as they are taking away development time from Italy’s potential, long-term number nines. Let’s face it, neither will make the final squad while Belotti, Balotelli and Cutrone all have a great shot. The ball’s now in Mancini’s court.
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Goals galore in few matches in a very exciting Serie A weekend, which culminated in a riveting Derby della Madonnina that easily took home the coveted shout-out.
Milan approached the game looking to carry on the momentum that led them to snatching the third position away from the crosstown rivals with five straight wins. Inter prevailed in the last two Serie A matches, but just endured a bitter elimination from Europa League by the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt.
Napoli-Sampdoria: the Partenopei had a disappointing two-game meeting with Milan, as they did not manage to beat them in the weekend and then got got in Coppa Italia. They are undefeated at home, where they have won four games in a row, often scoring multiple goals. The Blucerchiati are coming off a thumping against Udinese, their fourth W in the last six fixtures and they lost only to Juventus since the beginning of December. While Lorenzo Insigne is stuck in a prolonged drought, Arek Milik has done most of the damage for the Azzurri up front, with Dries Mertens chipping in from time to time and some contribution from José Callejon, Marek Hamsik and Piotr Zielinski, but not in a consistent way. Continue reading
Roma-Torino: the Giallorossi are on the up and up with three wins in the last four games, over Genoa, Sassuolo and Parma and have re-entered the Champions League fray. The Granata continue to be a little uninspiring, they have prevailed just twice in their last seven games, but they are still undefeated on the road and have shared the spoils in the majority of away matches. Patrick Schick has had a resurgence is the last month and the duel with Edin Dzeko is legitimate now. They have also recovered Lorenzo Pellegrini, who was having a great season before getting hurt and makes them very menacing up front, since Cengiz Under, Bryan Cristante, Nicolò Zaniolo and Justin Kluivert have all been productive before the break and even Javier Pastore showed some life in Coppa Italia. Continue reading
The first ever Serie A boxing day will culminate in a tasty match-up between Inter and Napoli.
Frosinone-Milan: the Ciociari snatched a decent draw in Udinese in Marco Baroni’s first game, but they need some Ws as they have gotten just one so far and it dates back to October 28th. The window to reduce the gap is closing quickly. Milan are sputtering in the last period: they have prevailed just once in the last six fixtures, tying with Lazio, Torino and Bologna and losing to Juventus and Fiorentina. They have been unable to score in the past three games. With so little time to work with, the new coach did not change much, opting for a 3-5-2 and benching Joel Campbell to have one more midfielder, Francesco Cassata. Continue reading
Lazio-Cagliari: after four draws in a row, the Biancocelesti came a cropper in Bergamo, following another subpar performance. The Sardinians have been unable to win in the past six weeks and they caught on Sunday their first L at home versus Napoli. So both teams are reeling, one more of the other considering their seasonal targets. Simone Inzaghi is giving Sergej Milinkovic-Savic every opportunity to get off his schneid, but he keeps misfiring. Luis Alberto is showing some signs of life, but he is far away from last year’s level of brilliance. So Ciro Immobile and Joaquin Correa remain their only two productive fulcrums, with Marco Parolo at times able to chip in. Continue reading
Standings implications: Juventus sank Inter in the most anticipated game of the round, while Napoli wiped out Frosinone, maintaining the distance from the top spot and gaining ground on the Nerazzurri. Both Roman teams were incredibly pipped at the post against Cagliari and Sampdoria and Fiorentina tied the game late versus Sassuolo. Milan and Torino shared the spoils, so the only team prospering in the Europa League zone was Atalanta, which upended Udinese on the road. Among the relegation strugglers, Empoli keep soaring with the third win in the last month, this time over Bologna. Genoa showed grit in the one-one tie with SPAL in Cesare Prandelli’s debut. Continue reading
I have found that the easiest way to rank teams at the start of the season is to look at how many blue chip and red chip players they have. A blue chipper is good enough to start for a title challenger, while a red chipper is an above average player at his respective position. Of course, as the new season unfolds some new players take a leap and start fitting these criteria- with this in mind, let’s take a look at the emerging stars in Serie A:
Patrick Cutrone- Milan’s new management team showed a lot of faith in the 20 year old striker by not adding another attacker to go with Higuain after Carlos Bacca and Andre Silva headed to la Liga. While Higuain’s back problems and recent suspension made them regret this decision, this development has nothing to do with Cutrone’s performances.
The rossoneri’s youth team product has drawn comparisons to both Pippo Inzaghi for his ability to sniff out scoring opportunities and Mario Mandzukic for his work rate and demeanor, I simply like to say Patrick Cutrone is Italian for “Makes Things Happen”.
Nicolo’ Zaniolo- Inter’s sporting director Piero Ausilio did everything he could to keep the 19 year old midfielder while negotiation the deal for Radja Nainggolan. But Monchi simply refused to part ways with the Belgian international without getting back Zaniolo, while also never considering the idea of giving Inter a buy back clause.
While many of Roma’s signature acquisitions have struggled the past two years, Zaniolo has already started two matches against Real Madrid (and showed a lot of progress the second time around) and put in a great performance against his former club Inter. So far we have seen Zaniolo play more in a trequartista role, but his future will likely be as a mezzala and as a key player for the Italian national team.
Ola Aina/Soualiho Meite’- while Simone Zaza and Roberto Soriano’s return to Serie A was the headline of the granata’s mercato this summer, the two new players to have made the biggest impact are youngsters new to Italian football. Torino has so far won the swap deal with Monaco involving Antonio Barreca (who could return to Serie A in January) and Soualiho Meite’, who has become a constant starter in Mazzari’s midfield.
On the other hand Ola Aina made the best of Cristian Ansaldi’s injury and become one of the most dynamic left wing backs in Calcio- it’s almost certain that Torino will exercise their option to acquire him permanently from Chelsea next summer.
Christian Kouame’- Genoa will likely get back to top part of the mid table should both Piatek and the Ivorian striker produce at the same time. While the Polish striker strived under Davide Ballardini, he struggled when Ivan Juric replaced him, but that coaching change is what launched Kouame’ who has terrorized Serie A defenses in the past few months. At least now they‘ll be on a level playing field with new manager Cesare Prandelli.
While Piatek has so far mainly shined for his finishing, Koaume has more variety to his game- he combines excellent dribbling skills with above average passing and heading ability, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Koaume’ is the one with a bigger market next summer…
Joaquim Andersen/Nikola Milenkovic/William Troost Ekong- while everyone knows about Koulibaly, Skriniar, De Vrij, Manolas, Chiellini and Bonucci (all players who won’t be sold in January by the way) there’s also a new breed of exciting center backs in Serie A.
After spending a season on the sidelines to acclimate himself to Italian football, Andersen has become Sampdoria’s best defender. The 22 year old Dane has adapted well to Giampaolo’s back line which is quite demanding when it comes to maintaining tight lines and has shown a lot of maturity on and off the pitch.
While a lot was expected from Fiorentina’s attack, the defense has been the consistent bright spot. Milenkovic has shown excellent versatility since he has performed well as a right wing back despite his height and previous experience as a center back- he has also managed to score as many goals as Chiesa and Simeone.
Udinese found a gem in Turkey when they discovered William Troost Ekong, the Nigerian center back has been a consistent starter under both Velazquez and new manager Davide Nicola and is already a target for numerous clubs in Serie A and abroad.
Gianluca Mancini- could the 22 year old be the next installment of Gasperini’s fool’s gold? In recent years we have seen numerous former Atalanta players struggle once they left Bergamo so there may be come second guessing when observing the center back’s impressive performances.
Mancini has essentially replaced Mattia Caldara this season, not only is he performing well in the 3 man back line, just like Caldara he has also shown a penchant for scoring goals. After becoming a regular on the Under 21 look for Mancini to get a selection to the Azzurri’s senior squad in 2019.
The next round features one of the games of the season, Juventus-Inter, and few other juicy match-ups.
Juventus-Inter: the Bianconeri got the better of Fiorentina, extending their winning streak to five fixtures, but in that occasion they were not as dominant as the final score showed. Against Roma, Inter dropped points for the second time in a row on the road and, despite scoring twice, they never looked in control. The same thing happened in Bergamo, but they are extremely opportunistic, so they can never be counted out. Cristiano Ronaldo added one to his tally with a penalty in Florence, while Rodrigo Bentancur continues to impress. Mario Mandzukic is generally money in big matches, while Douglas Costa has the potential to be a factor off the bench. Despite being useful in other areas, Paulo Dybala’s offensive stats in Serie A have been subpar. Continue reading