Andrea Agnelli’s Superleague Represents All That is Wrong With Football

Juventus president Andrea Agnelli has come under the fire for recent comments about Gian Piero Gasperini’s high-flying Atalanta, claiming they aren’t worthy representatives for Italy in the Champions Leauge. The Juventus president has regularly been on record in favour of a European superleague and criticized the Champions League’s current format.

In an interview at the FT Business of Football Summit in London, Agnelli said:

“I have great respect for everything that Atalanta are doing, but without international history and thanks to just one great season, they had direct access into the primary European club competition. Is that right or not?”

In case you missed it this season, Atalanta are primed to qualify for Europe’s elite eight having smashed Valencia 4-1 in their opening leg. After a rough opening three games, Atalanta found stability and did well to progress to the round of 16 against all the odds. In addition, Gasperini’s men are currently in fourth place, three points ahead of Roma with a game in hand, indicating last season’s success was far from a one-off.

Factor in that Atalanta are competing with Europe’s elites with a fraction of the budget, their rise becomes all the more impressive. In many ways, that’s what football is all about. It’s about the plucky underdog that defies all odds and finds a way to win. It’s about that team that goes against the grain and hits unprecedented heights when no one expected them to. If Agnelli’s superleague is put into place, these success stories will be fewer and far between if any at all, and would completely eliminate the magic of the sport.

For the last two seasons, Gasperini’s men have outplayed Italy’s traditional giants, pipping them to the final European places. Last season, they finished ahead of Inter, Milan, Roma, and Lazio and deservedly so. Despite this, Agnelli maintains their European qualification should not be guaranteed.

“Then I think of AS Roma, who contributed in recent years to maintaining Italy’s ranking. They had one bad season and are out, with all the consequent damage to them financially.”

If the superleague goes through as Agnelli wishes, it would reward clubs based on history and brand name, rather than results. In essence, the rich would get richer. In a society where elites control most facets of everyday life, football must reject this wholeheartedly and keep a meritocracy in place. Inefficiencies remain with the current system as big spenders are typically rewarded, however, less so than in a superleague, for example. In sports, most of the time, you get what you deserve. If you put in the work, chances are you’ll get rewarded accordingly.

Few clubs, if any, in Italy have innovated like Atalanta and have built a base for long-term success. Gli Orobici play an expansive brand of football, promote a host of youth talents annually and will soon be playing in their own stadium. While they may not be considered as one of Italian football’s pioneers, or one of the Seven Sisters, they shouldn’t be punished either for not being there from day one. A case could even be made that Atalanta are currently the nation’s most progressive side and represent all that is good with Italian football. 

Agnelli’s comments, while they may seem like one man’s opinion, represent a far bigger problem in football that currently exists. Europe’s elite have no regard for their league’s provinciali and will stop at nothing until the current format is blown up for their own benefit. Simply put, they’re in it for themselves. In an era where Europe’s elites have each other’s backs, the rest of Italy and the world, must do the same. Otherwise, we’ll be seeing the same 16 teams, if not fewer, every year fight for Europe’s crown. And where’s the fun in that?

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Serie A Match of the Round – Cagliari vs Roma

Fewer matches but still plenty of action in Serie A and Cagliari-Roma was clearly the most balanced match-up of the slate, as the home teams kept clawing back but still came up short.

The Sardinian approached the match having failed to win in the past 11 rounds, lastly versus Napoli and Genoa. The guests instead were coming off a slump-busting win over Lecce, which allowed them to bounce back from a three-game losing streak. Continue reading

Europa League Race: Contenders, Pretenders and Dark-Horses

As the season draws to a close, the race for European places intensifies. If the season were to end today, Juventus, Inter, Lazio, and Atalanta would represent Italy in the Champions League while Roma and Napoli would have to content themselves with Europa League football.

Currently, the table could not be tighter as just four points separate sixth-place from eleventh. Let’s now take a look at the main contenders, pretenders and dark-horses for the Europa League.

Contenders: 

Roma and Atalanta: As it stands right now, one of Atalanta and Roma are pretty much guaranteed to occupy one of Italy’s two Europa League spots. Gasperini’s men are six-points ahead of the giallorossi in the fourth and final Champions League place and will be eager to maintain their advantage to qualify for Europe’s elite competition. Given Roma’s recent form, they may slide further down the table, but it’s difficult to see them finish outside the top six. As a result, expect Roma to make the Europa league leaving one last spot for the rest of the pack.

Napoli and Milan: After rough starts to the season, Napoli and Milan sacked their managers and almost immediately witnessed an upturn in their fortunes. Napoli have now won four of their last five and seem primed for a strong finish while Milan are finally playing with an identity. With Roma almost surely occupying the first Europa League spot, Napoli and Milan will likely duke it out for the remaining place. Napoli, however, will need to be better against sides under them as they have demonstrated complacency in those clashes. Milan, on the other hand, have taken care of Italy’s provinciali, but struggle against Italy’s elite.

Pretenders: 

Parma and Cagliari: Both sides got off to the season in fine form, but have recently struggled for results. Rolando Maran’s Cagliari haven’t won any of their last five clashes while Parma have proven to be far too inconsistent. In addition to their goal-scoring woes, Parma lack creative depth across the midfield, which will come back to haunt them in their hunt for European football. Cagliari, by contrast, benefitted by some incredible finishing earlier in the year; exploits that cannot be sustained throughout a full season. Expect both sides to slide further down the table as the season wears on.

Dark-Horses: 

Bologna-Hellas Verona: These two are here for vastly different reasons. On one hand, Hellas Verona have one of the league’s best defences propelling them into the race for European football while Bologna have scored freely all season and have shown no signs of slowing down. While Mihajlovic’s men have struggled in their last two games, they possess more quality in the final third than their counterparts and could go toe-to-toe with anyone in Italy. The same applies to Verona, who recently overcame Juventus in a game where they largely dominated. Milan and Napoli may be favourites for the last European spot, but Verona and Bologna will make it interesting over the next 12 match-days.

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Three Reasons Behind Roma’s Slump

After a relatively decent first-half to the season, Roma have hit a rough patch and now find themselves six points adrift Atalanta for the fourth and final Champions League spot. Earlier in the year, it appeared the giallorossi were establishing a clear identity under Paulo Fonseca and were building a solid foundation for years to come. However, in recent times, Roma have struggled for results, losing three of their last four clashes and are in free-fall mode.

But how exactly did we get here? Here are three reasons behind Roma’s slump.

1) No Diawara, no party. 

After a great start to the season, Amadou Diawara went down injured at the end of January and is now out for an undisclosed period of time. Alongside Jordan Veretout, the former Napoli man established himself as one of Fonseca’s key players and typically played in the role of regista dictating play from deep. Without him in the lineup, Roma have struggled to build out of the back and have looked defensively suspect. Diawara was central to Fonseca’s system and essentially acted as the lynchpin that tied it all together in the middle.

His replacement, Bryan Cristante, hasn’t exactly performed when called upon and is currently struggling for form. Whether it’s his imprecision on the ball or his inefficiency in front of goal, the downgrade from Diawara to Cristante is hurting Roma.

While Diawara’s return is unknown for now, Fonseca is going to need to find a solution quickly. If not, Roma risk falling out of contention for a Champions League place and could be eliminated from the Europa League.

2) Centre-backs are making routine errors. 

Following Kostas Manolas’ departure to Napoli, many expected the giallorossi to spend big to replace the Greek international. Rather than splashing the cash on a new defender, Roma opted for a low-cost option and loaned Manchester United defender Chris Smalling. The Englishman started the season in phenomenal form and for the first half of the season looked like the signing of the summer. However, in the new year, his good performances quickly faded and began making routine mistakes at the back.

His partner, Gianluca Mancini, has endured a very similar start to 2020. The former Atalanta defender has looked increasingly shaky at the back and devoid of any confidence. In Roma’s most recent games, Mancini has been regularly beaten by his man and hasn’t exactly exhibited confidence. In fact, in the giallorossi’s last three games, they’ve conceded nine goals, losing to Bologna, Sassuolo and direct Champions League rivals Atalanta.

While Mancini and Smalling had great starts to the season and looked more than ready to assume bigger roles, their respective shortcomings have now caught up to them. Much like it was the case in midfield, Roma will regret not reinforcing further this past January.

3) Roma’s attack is filled with “nearly-men” 

While Roma are having no trouble finding the back of the net in this negative run, their front-line remains an inconsistent bunch. This leads to regular rotation and overall incoherence in the final third. On some nights, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Cengiz Under look like world-beaters while other games, they can barely string two passes together. See: Most recent defeat vs. Atalanta.

Nicolo Zaniolo’s injury significantly hampered Roma in this respect, but it’s time one of their youngsters on the cusp steps up and builds a partnership with club veteran Edin Dzeko. Whether it’s Kluivert, Pellegrini or Under, one of them needs to assume more responsibility in the final third. If they are unable to do so, it may be time for the giallorossi to reconsider and in some cases move on from them completely because right now their “nearly-men” are killing them.

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What to Watch for in Serie A: Round 24

Can you believe we are headed into round 24 of the 2019/20 Serie A season? Neither can we.

For this set of fixtures, there is no shortage of action coming our way. Here, we provide you with what you should be watching for in this weekend of calcio.  Continue reading

Serie A Match of the Round – Derby della Capitale

Napoli-Juventus was likely a little more intense and significant, but it already got extensive coverage in another column, so the nod for match of the round goes to the Derby between Roma and Lazio, which was not exactly one of the ages but always carries gargantuan magnitude.

La Lupa came into the match looking to build on last week’s easy win over Genoa, which had interrupted a two-game slump, while the Eagles were riding a 11-match winning streak that had commenced back in late October. They were coming off a rout against Sampdoria. Continue reading

What to Watch for in Serie A: Round 21

The second half of the 2019/20 Serie A season promises to be full of thrills and surprises, so much that it can be difficult to keep track of what to watch for on a week to week basis. That is where we come in.

Here are five things to watch for in Serie A Round 21 this weekend. Continue reading

Five big questions facing Lazio and Roma ahead of a momentous Rome Derby

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The biggest fixture on the Roman football calendar returns on Sunday, when Roma look to close the gap on their high-flying neighbours Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico.

But what are the major talking points?

1. How will Lazio cope with the favourites tag?

Derby matches are synonymous with clichés about the ‘form book going out the window’, but the Roman version has helped prove that adage to be true over the years.

You don’t have to look too far to find examples of the team in worse form winning the Derby della Capitale, but rarely has the gap between the two sides’ form been as pronounced as it is going into Sunday’s meeting. Continue reading

Lazio face test of squad depth as fixtures, injuries and suspensions pile up

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Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi is currently undergoing one of his biggest tests of the season.

That may seem like an odd thing to read, given that his team have forgotten how to lose; last weekend’s victory over Napoli marked a club record 10th league win in a row.

In that time, they’ve ended a 30-year wait to beat AC Milan at San Siro in Serie A, a 16-year winless run at home to Juventus in the league and most recently a six-match losing run against Napoli.

It’s tempting to think Lazio can just plug in and play at the moment, that Inzaghi has little more to do than send his team out on the pitch with the instructions: “Same again, lads”.

But the coach’s skill in keeping this run going shouldn’t be underestimated – and his biggest challenge could be just around the corner.

Lazio aren’t blessed with a squad boasting enormous strength in depth, and the loss of one undisputed starter can have a big impact on the way they perform.

Inzaghi already lost his hugely influential midfield pair Lucas Leiva and Luis Alberto through suspension for the trip to Brescia at the start of the year, and their absence was felt as Lazio toiled before snatching another late win.

Captain Senad Lulic is suspended for Sampdoria’s visit on Saturday, while Francesco Acerbi and Stefan Radu will miss the following weekend’s Rome Derby if they pick up another booking.

Danilo Cataldi, who is also one yellow card away from suspension, has been ruled out for almost three weeks with an injury sustained during the midweek Coppa Italia win over Cremonese, while Joaquin Correa hasn’t recovered in time to face Samp and joins long-term absentees Adam Marusic and Jordan Lukaku in the stands.

With the injuries and suspensions piling up, much is being asked of few.

Saturday’s clash with Claudio Ranieri’s side will be the third game in a run of six matches in 15 days for the Biancocelesti, and another five are yet to come before 9 February.

The routine 4-0 win over Serie B opposition on Tuesday evening highlighted the lack of quality in depth that Inzaghi has available to him, regardless of the handsome scoreline.

Ciro Immobile, Acerbi and Luiz Felipe were all handed starting spots yet again, despite clearly being in a position where they would benefit from some rest.

The reserve players brought in to the Lazio XI from the bench included the likes of Bastos, Patric and Bobby Adekanye. They all performed well, but they are expected to be comfortable against this level of opposition.

Comparatively, some of the squad rotations rolled out by Inter and Juventus this week included bringing in Alexis Sanchez, Diego Godin, Valentino Lazaro, Gonzalo Higuain, Daniele Rugani and Federico Bernardeschi.

That, in a nutshell, is why any talk of Lazio competing for the Scudetto is premature.

Lazio’s strongest XI is the third-best in Serie A, but these players aren’t superhuman and they’ll be running on fumes or risking injury if they are made to continue at this frantic pace for much longer.

This is where Lazio’s early elimination from the Europa League may turn out to be a blessing in disguise; this busy stage of the season has tripped them up before, but now they have more time between league games to recover and work on details.

The question now is whether Claudio Lotito will choose to do something very uncharacteristic and open his chequebook during the January transfer window.

Lazio’s attack is threadbare in terms of options, and always has been. Immobile’s sensational form over the last three-and-a-half seasons has helped gloss over this fact, but the recent injury to Correa has highlighted the lack of options once again: Felipe Caicedo and Adekanye are the only other natural attackers in the squad.

Striker Lamin Jallow has been heavily linked with a move from Salernitana, Lotito’s other club, but how the 24-year-old will adapt to the demands of a Serie A Champions League race is a complete unknown.

Inzaghi is a fan of SPAL’s Alberto Paloschi, but he is another player who is unlikely to get fans off their seats in excitement.

Matias Vecino of Inter is perhaps the most interesting, high-profile player Lazio are considering for a mid-season move, but the signing would make little sense as it would only increase options in what is already the most competitive area of the squad, central midfield.

For now, this incredible wave of momentum should hopefully be enough to carry Lazio forward.

Inzaghi’s skill in the rotation and selection of his squad so far shouldn’t be underestimated, but the biggest test is yet to come.

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