Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round 26

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Standings implications: Juventus most likely inflicted the final blow to the title race with a 1-2 win over Napoli in a crazy game. Milan leapfrogged Inter in the third spot as they eked out a win against Sassuolo, while the Nerazzurri were blitzed by Cagliari back on Friday. Roma stayed behind as they got battered by Lazio, which re-entered the fray for the fourth spot, as they have six fewer points than the Beneamata, but have to recover one game. Atalanta and Torino remain in hot pursuit of an Europa League berth with their convincing victories over Fiorentina and Chievo. Massive points for the Sardinians and for Udinese in the relegation zone: the Friulani moved seven points clear of Bologna after besting them on Sunday afternoon. Frosinone and Empoli treaded waters down there with their gritty ties against Genoa and Parma. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Picks – Round 10

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Salvatore Sirigu: Torino’s defence has had its up-and-downs, but they will face a Fiorentina team that has been lousy on the road and has scored just two away goals so far.

Francesco Vicari: Frosinone have made some progress, but mostly at home and they have been shutout in three of their four road games, so picking the leader of SPAL’s sturdy back-line could be a decent idea.

Pol Lirola: Bologna have yet to find the target away from the Dall’Ara Stadium, while Sassuolo is fresh off a clean sheet versus Sampdoria. The pesky right back could also do some damage on offence.  Continue reading

Serie A Player Status Updates – Round 32

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Here are the latest updates on few players’ conditions heading into the next Serie A matchday.

Juventus:  Mattia De Sciglio was taken out of the Real Madrid match due to an apparent plantar fascia lesion that will require further testing. Federico Bernardeschi and Andrea Barzagli are working their way back from a knee sprain and an abdominal strain and practiced partially this week, but they will likely not be available this week.

Napoli: Mario Rui is suspended, no other absentees other than the usual one, Faouzi Ghoulam.

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Best young fullbacks in Serie A

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There are not many young fullbacks who have managed to assert themselves in Serie A this year. Injuries have also deprived the League of some of the best players in this position. Milan’s Andrea Conti had a marvellous season at Atalanta before his move, but went down early with an ACL tear; Emerson Palmieri is rehabbing last year’s knee issue and might struggle to re-take his job considering the strong performances of Aleksandar Kolarov. Massimiliano Allegri’s reclamation project, Mattia De Sciglio, has been temporarily interrupted by a big ankle sprain. Roma’s newcomer Rick Karsdorp has been sidelined since the start of his Italian career by a meniscus ailment and he suffered an ACL tear on his debut.

The two more consistent players have been Elseid Hysaj and Leonardo Spinazzola. Hysaj is only 23 years old but he immediately became a staple at Napoli. Maybe not the flashiest fullback, but he is extremely diligent and has great chemistry with José Maria Callejon on that flank. He is averaging 2.8 tackles, 1 interception, 1.9 clearances, 0.9 key passes per game, 0.1 crosses, 1.4 long balls per game per WhoScored. His offensive game is limited, but he fits in fine in a team with so many quality attackers, where he is assigned to defensive duties first and foremost.

Spinazzola pushed hard this summer to return to Juventus, ending the two-year loan spell early, but Atalanta managed to keep him and he continued to impress on the left. His growth in the past two seasons after being a journeyman in the lower leagues has been remarkable and Gian Piero Gasperini deserves a lot of the credit for finding him a role where he could thrive. A dynamo, he is averaging 2 tackles, 0.5 interceptions, 1 clearance, 2 key passes, 2 dribbles, 1.5 crosses and 3 long balls per game per WhoScored: he should not disappoint when he takes his talent to a bigger stage next season.

There is a clear drop-off after these two names. Inter signed Dalbert from Nice this summer, but his defence has been a little too shaky for Luciano Spalletti’s liking and so far the manager has preferred Yuto Nagatomo over him. On the other flank, the coach has stated that the other newcomer, Joao Cancelo, is nowhere near ready to play as a fullback because he is too offensive, so Danilo D’Ambrosio will continue having a firm grip on the job.

There are some interesting names in the less heralded teams, but neither is a slam-dunk prospect. Adam Masina seemed poised to make the jump to Sevilla this summer, but the deal fell through: he has been constant since emerging from Serie B, but he has not progressed much and still makes some blunders at times. Sassuolo’s Pol Lirola is excellent going forward, but struggling teams need big defensive contributions and that is his Achilles’ heel, so he has found himself behind the veteran Marcello Gazzola in the pecking order when Cristian Bucchi veered back from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3. He is owned by Juventus as well. Playing time has been hard to come by for another promising youngster, Torino’s Antonio Barreca, who has been slowed down by injuries. On a more positive note, Atalanta’s Hans Hateboer might not be as good as Conti, but he is still a very useful player with a ton of upside.

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Sassuolo struggling to find a new identity

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Since they were promoted in Serie A in 2013, Sassuolo have always been a very interesting team to watch because of the tantalizing talent of Domenico Berardi and the tactical brilliancy of Eusebio Di Francesco. The coach was deservedly hired by Roma this summer, while the forward has struggled to come back to full form after a knee sprain last season and spent time on the shelf this year as well.

Under Di Francesco, the Neroverdi have always had a big-team flair: their playing style was proactive, a little daring, with a high defensive line and and an emphasis on quick passing and ball possession. It did not immediately work, and the coach was briefly fired in the first season in Serie A, but once they avoided relegation, they managed to assert themselves in the top half of the table, even earning a Europa League spot two seasons ago, always staying true to their identity.

They have hired Cristian Bucchi this summer, who was coming off an excellent stint at Perugia. At first, the new manager maintained Di Francesco’s typical 4-3-3: they drew with Genoa and lost three-nothing against Torino. It turns out that such scheme is highly automated and it is tough to make it work without its creator at the helm. Roma had a little trouble incorporating it, but then things clicked.

Without Berardi, Bucchi moved on to a 3-5-2, which is more natural to him. They had a good outing against Atalanta and Juventus, but were defeated both times because right now those teams are clearly above Sassuolo’s level. They collected three precious points in Cagliari, but then lost to Bologna at home due to a late goal, but the performance was uninspiring, and then they were battered by Lazio despite finding the opening score: it ended with a 6-1 at Olimpico.

No tactic guarantees you success: the players and the attitude play the biggest part in succeeding in football. But with the three-man defence, Bucchi not only moved away from Di Francesco’s formation, but also from the whole mentality his squad had. Right now, the Emiliani are no different from other low-table teams, who rely heavily on defending and counter-attacks. It might be enough to avoid relegation because they have some above average players, but it certainly takes away the shine they had in previous seasons. The most noble part of the table is a mirage at this point.

Misfortunes always pile up in rough times, so they have lost Timo Letschert for a good chunck of the season due to a torn ACL and they will have to hope Edoardo Goldaniga manages to come back quickly from a sports hernia surgery, otherwise they do not have three natural centre-backs in the roster. Other than some decent showings by Stefano Sensi, Pol Lirola and Claud Adjapong, most players have underperformed. Domenico Berardi has scored only once in five games and does not look at ease in his new position as second-striker, while Diego Falcinelli is in a slump. Alessandro Matri can not be the one carrying them. Some of the leaders of the locker room spoke very highly of Bucchi and his coaching acumen, but now they need to help him on the pitch because he is walking on thin ice: the next three fixtures against Chievo, Spal and Udinese will decide his future.

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