Sarri wary of perils of Napoli game

Maurizio Sarri fielded some questions ahead of the much-anticipated Napoli clash: “It is clear that it is a particular game for me, but we must not spend energies for a personal aspect. We have to focus on the collective goal, which is to take home some points. It will be a complicated match for various reasons.”

On a possible return to the Partenopei: “I have not given much thought about that. Maybe I could retire after Juventus, I will have to ponder whether I can still do well after this experience.” Continue reading

Juventus Top Perfomers – Coppa Italia vs Roma

Juventus punched their ticket to the Coppa Italia semi-finals courtesy of the prairies left by Roma in the first half and will face the winner of the Milan-Torino contest.

Leonardo Bonucci: one player in each role made it to stat-sheet so compiling the list is not exactly rocket science. The captain quite miraculously avoided the offside trap on the second ball after a set piece to notch yet another goal in what is becoming a prolific season for a defender. It was instead Daniele Rugani who stood out for his work in the back with a pair of timely reads, general precision and also a little more physicality than usual. Gianluigi Buffon was unlucky on the goal but avoided troubles with a great coming out on an unguarded Alessandro Florenzi in a one-on-one situation deep into the second half, preventing a major turn of the worst. The one-handed save in the final minutes was even prettier but not as significant. Danilo got hurt pretty early, while Alex Sandro turned his usual solid but unspectacular shift it. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 21

Brescia-Milan: the Rondinelle will not have Mario Balotelli for a couple of matches, but Ernesto Torregrossa has actually carried the load scoring-wise recently and he and Alfredo Donnarumma formed a formidable partnership last season in Serie B, so they might be able to survive the blow. They have added two intriguing pieces in January in Birkir Bjarnason, who was very dangerous for a midfielder in his time in Pescara, and Simon Skrabb: they should both have their chances because Nikolas Spalek at no.10 has been pretty inconsistent. Sandro Tonali is coming off a two-assist performance and also Stefano Sabelli and Romulo have been decently proficient in a supporting role. Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 20

Atalanta: Hans Hateboer is suspended, while Timothy Castagne missed the midweek Coppa Italia game with knee soreness, but it was likely just precautionary.

Bologna: Stefano Denswil remains iffy after missing one with a thigh ailment and it will likely be a couple more weeks before Ladislav Krejci comes back from his knee problem.

Brescia: Dimitri Bisoli is disqualified. Daniele Dessena is close to being fully cleared from his malleolus fracture. Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 19

Atalanta: a clean bill of health for the Goddess, but Musa Barrow and Roger Ibanez have not been called up because they are about to transfer.

Bologna: Blerin Dzemaili will be back after missing one with the flu, Ladislav Krejci is inching closer to recovering from a knee bruise. Gary Medel suffered a hamstring strain and will miss three weeks. Stefano Denswil has been ruled out. 

Brescia: Andrea Cistana and Sandro Tonali are suspended. Alfredo Donnarumma and Emanuele Ndoj are expected to return after skipping one with muscular ailments. Daniele Dessena is almost ready after a malleolous fracture.

Cagliari: Fabrizio Cacciatore picked up a thigh problem that will force him to sit out the upcoming game, likewise Federico Mattiello. Luca Ceppitelli (foot) has yet to be cleared, while Alessio Cragno, even if he is not ready to play yet, has been called up for the first time since offseason shoulder surgery.  Continue reading

Rabiot Excelling Ahead of Crucial Stretch

When Adrien Rabiot was picked up on a free transfer this past summer, the Frenchman was expected to play an integral role in Maurizio Sarri’s midfield. After all, he’s an adept dribbler and can progress play nicely from a mezz’ala role. The former PSG man, however, struggled in the early goings of the season and failed to adapt to Italian football, showing signs of rust. As a result, Sarri opted for the experience of Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi in the midfield, much to the dismay of the Juventus faithful.

Khedira, much like it has been the case his entire career, has since been sidelined with an injury, leaving a spot in the midfield alongside Pjanic and Matuidi up for grabs. While it seemed Rodrigo Bentancur was inching closer to making it his own in recent times, the Uruguayan picked up a three-game suspension in Juventus’ Supercoppa defeat. This presented Rabiot with the opportunity he’s been looking for.

The 24-year-old made the most of his start against Cagliari and was a driving force in Juventus’ midfield in the second half. Rather than his typical left-centre midfield role, Sarri deployed him on the right and instructed him to connect with Cuadrado and Dybala. The Frenchman did so with great aplomb and put in his best performance in a Juventus shirt.

For the first time this season, Rabiot showed signs of his technique and ability to carry the ball forward at will. If he continues on this path, Sarri will have no choice to accommodate the former PSG man into his eleven, even when Bentancur returns.

When asked about his recent performances and rumours linking him away from the club after the Cagliari clash, Rabiot was clear.

“I feel the confidence of the club and of coach Sarri. 2019 was not easy for me, I came to Juve after a long time without playing,” said the Frenchman. I’m looking to adapt to a new league, a new environment and a new coach. I hope 2020 will be better for me and be able to help Juventus by exploiting my full potential. I am finding the rhythm,” added Rabiot.

With Inter and Juventus duking it out for the Scudetto, the bianconeri will need all the help they can get and will be counting on Rabiot in the midfield. Before his impressive run, the Italian champions struggled for creativity in the middle of the park and relied heavily on Pjanic to provide the spark. Carrying a significant portion of the creative load, the Bosnian international struggled going into the new year. However, with Rabiot excelling and Bentancur starting to deliver on his promise, Juventus may just have the midfield trio they’ve been looking for all along. 

While the trio is still a far cry from Juventus’ illustrious past of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio, they are still technical enough for Sarriball and can dominate possession for sustained portions of the game. In fact, since Bentancur and Rabiot have been featuring regularly, Juventus have seen a spike in their offensive production, having scored nine goals in their last three games. As the knockout stages approach in the Champions League, this will be crucial.

Factor in the necessity for Matuidi’s pressing and industry off-the-ball, however, and Sarri will likely have to leave one of Rabiot or Bentancur out every other game. Despite this, it’s a positive headache for Sarri to have and for once since his appointment, he can rely on someone other than Pjanic in the midfield to implement his playing philosophy.

With Rabiot excelling and Juventus scoring at will, the bianconeri are primed for a strong second-half of the season. It’s now time for their other Bosman signing Aaron Ramsey to follow in Rabiot’s footsteps and pick up the slack. Can he do it?

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Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 18

Atalanta: Duvan Zapata has resumed practicing fully after his complicate thigh injury and he is fully expected to be available against Parma, but the capacity remains to be determined. Pierluigi Gollini is dealing with the flu.

Bologna: Blerin Dzemaili is under the weather and is out, Federico Santander has recovered from a tibia bruise, while Ladislav Krejci will likely miss another one with a sore knee.

Brescia: Alfredo Donnarumma and Emanuele Ndoj are on the wrong side of questionable due to muscular problems. Bruno Martella joined the long list of sick players this week.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 18

Brescia-Lazio: it did not take much, but the Rondinelle are playing way better after the return of Eugenio Corini and have rediscovered a pair of weapons that had not produced in the first handful of games, such as Ernesto Torregrossa and Nikolas Spalek. Torregrossa is a more natural fit next to Mario Balotelli and, while not overly prolific, he can hit the net from time to time. The Slovenian no.10 instead had struggled to find his footing in the top league, but he is getting there. His emergence, on top of injuries to other midfielders, pushes Romulo to a less offensive position, where he is not as appealing fantasy-wise. Dimitri Bisoli is also faromg  better lately, while Balotelli has corrected his attitude and found the target twice in the past month and is obviously their featured guy up front. Stefano Sabelli is always very frisky for a right-back. Continue reading

Do Juventus have a Pjanic Problem?

When Juventus triggered Miralem Pjanic’s release clause, many thought the Italian champions had secured one of the world’s elite midfielders and increased the gap between them and the rest of the field. While that looked to be the case in the Bosnian international’s first two seasons with the club, Pjanic has since slowed down.

Last season, Massimiliano Allegri deployed him in a new position as the side’s regista; the deepest-lying midfielder on the field. Initially, it worked out for Juventus and the former Roma midfielder used his range of passing to dictate proceedings. As the season wore on, however, Pjanic struggled to impose his game on the opposition and proved to be a defensive liability.

Under Maurizio Sarri many expected the 29-year-old to return to his dazzling form, but Pjanic hasn’t exactly kicked on. Playing in front of the defence, the midfielder was supposed to be an essential part to Sarri’s offensive schemesoffering the link between the back four and the front three. Jorginho acted as this link to Sarri both at Napoli and at Chelsea, while the Bosnian seemed like the right man for the job at Juve.

Pjanic, however, has continued to struggle in this deeper role and often opts for the safe option rather than the line-breaking pass Sarri so desperately craves. His pass completion rate is near an impressive 90 per cent, but it is not representative of the impact he’s had on games. If anything, it demonstrates how passive he is, rather than taking control of games. While his fellow midfielders lack in quality and Pjanic is tasked with filling multiple roles at times, the former Roma man often puts in anonymous performances for the bianconeri. 

In addition to his dwindling impact in possession, Pjanic offers no defensive cover as the side’s regista, leaving the back four often exposed on the counter. This season, the bianconeri have conceded the most goals they have in recent years, having already shipped 17 on the year.

While many associated Andrea Pirlo to pinpoint passing and deadly set-pieces, his defensive impact was often forgotten, playing in the same role as Pjanic. He may not have been the most rugged of players, but Pirlo always contributed significantly defensively, whether it was interceptions or tackles. Pjanic has fallen short in both those categories thus far. Given the Bosnian’s importance to Sarri’s tactics, this is not something that could go unaddressed.

The good news for Sarri is that he’s been presented with an alternative to Pjanic in recent weeks. After an indifferent start to life in black and whiteRodrigo Bentancur has impressed over the last few games and has now established himself as a set-starter in the midfield. Currently, the Uruguayan international has been playing on the right of Pjanic as a mezz’ala, but has regularly played as the side’s regista both under Allegri and under Sarri, at times.

Given Pjanic’s struggles, Sarri would be wise to swap them positions and field the 29-year-old higher up the pitch with Bentancur slotting in at regista. After all, Pjanic made a name for himself at Roma playing as a number eight. Alongside Radja Nainggolan and ahead of Kevin Strootman, Pjanic had a career year, notching 10 goals and 12 assists. What wouldn’t Juventus give for similar output?

With less defensive responsibility and more freedom of movement, Pjanic has demonstrated he’s up there with the world’s best and is something Sarri should look to foster. Given his past exploits as a mezz’ala, it makes Sarri’s decision to keep fielding him deep all the more puzzling. Factor in Bentancur’s recent form and it makes the switch a no-brainer.

As Juventus head into a crucial part of their season, they’re going to need Pjanic in top form. A slight position change may be exactly what the doctor ordered and the solution to Juventus’ “Pjanic problem”.

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Juventus Top Performers – Supercoppa vs Lazio

Juventus fell again at the hands of their nemesis Lazio in a game they did not seem to get up for, even though there was a trophy on the line.

Leonardo Bonucci: the usual solidity out of the captain, which had a pair of defensive highlights, including a sumptuous first-touch backwards pass in a very difficult situation and also the best chance of the second half, sending a great header just wide. Merih Demiral hustled to close up a pair of key holes but did not perform with the same confidence as in the last outings and often appeared to play catch up with the quicker opponents. The decision to leave Matthijs De Ligt on the bench was questionable at best today. The two latest gaffes that directly led to goals came from the flanks, as Mattia De Sciglio was duped by Senad Lulic and Alex Sandro mistimed his jump on that cross, while Juan Cuadrado forgot to guard the Bosnian wing-back on the second goal. Mistakes keep piling up and the defensive numbers worsen. Continue reading