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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Ending Napoli curse could be watershed moment in Lazio’s Champions League chase

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It’s all too easy to get lost in football statistics nowadays.

For followers of Lazio, this has been truer than ever of late. Every match, every win, every goal, seems to set a new historic landmark or shatter some long-standing record.

Among the avalanche of numbers and information that has tumbled from the slipstream of the Roman club’s nine-match winning run in Serie A was an important moment for Simone Inzaghi.

The Lazio coach had never beaten his Juventus counterpart Maurizio Sarri until December’s thrilling 3-1 victory at the Stadio Olimpico, only to then go and repeat the feat just two weeks later to win the Supercoppa Italiana in Riyadh.

Continue reading

Atalanta’s Progress: By the numbers

Last season, Atalanta sent shock-waves throughout Italian football and qualified for the Champions League, finishing ahead of Italy’s traditional giants Inter, Roma, and Milan among others. Along with European football comes the luxury of a pitfall of cash and unique opportunities for growth that Atalanta have taken full advantage of.

Beyond their Champions League cash, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have been extremely proactive on the transfer market, selling their players for incredible profits. Dejan Kulusevki, for example. The Swedish international has only played three times for them in his entire career and was sold for nearly forty-five million euros. Let’s take a deeper look at the numbers.

According to Calcio e Finanza, Atalanta have already cashed forty million euros from the Champions League and could make more depending on their two-legged affair with Valencia. Given recent form, it’s not entirely improbable they progress to the final eight.

While Champions League money is always welcomed, it’s not as sustainable as other sources of revenue for the club. After all, will they qualify for Europe’s elite competition every season? They’re hoping so, but probably not.

As a result, Atalanta have enacted a model wherein they sell their top-performing young players to Italy’s big clubs after breakout seasons. Kulusevski to Juve, Gagliardini to Inter, Cristante and Mancini to Roma, Conti and Kessie to Milan, and the list goes on. In this sense, they maximize their profits. While certain cases will have them thinking they moved on their players a season too early, that’s always better than feeling they sold a player a season too late.

Just ask Torino’s Urbano Cairo. After Andrea Belotti’s breakout season, Torino reportedly got offers ranging between 50 to 75 million euros for their hitman. Cairo played hard-ball, kept Belotti and has since missed out on a unique rebuilding opportunity by turning down those offers. Today, Belotti won’t fetch anywhere near the previously reported price-tags. Atalanta, on the other hand, have a knack for selling players at the right time. In fact, their track record speaks for itself.  Most of their departed players, bar a few, have struggled to recreate their past form at their new clubs.

According to Transfermarkt’s numbers, the Bergamo-based club are set to cash in a further 110 million euros this season, in addition to Musa Barrow’s reported sale of 20M. That’s 130M on players that have either already been replaced or have never featured regularly for them.

With their squad lacking a few additions to take the next step, it will be interesting to see what Atalanta does with that money. Will they abandon their current philosophy and go for more-experienced players in hopes of making the leap alongside Italy’s elite or will they continue with their own model that has worked wonders for them?

If last transfer window was anything to go by, it will arguably be a mix of both, with a particular focus on experienced players. See: Luis Muriel and Ruslan Malinovskyi. As another transfer window beckons, Atalanta’s activity will be worth monitoring. They have the money and a vision: but can they deliver on it?

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Mid-Season Awards: Fantasy Serie A’s Best XI

With the New Year on the way, let’s take a look back at the first half of the season and highlight Fantasy Serie A’s top performers. Without further ado, here’s your XI!

Goalkeeper - 

Samir Handanovic (Inter): The experienced shot-stopper has been in exceptional form for Inter this season and is Fantasy Serie A’s top goalkeeper, registering 73 fantasy points so far. The 35-year-old is a big reason behind the nerazzurri’s league-leading defence and has shown no signs of slowing down. 19.23M to slot him into your teams today!

Defenders -

Robin Gosens (Atalanta): The 25-year-old has picked up from exactly where he left off last season and has been a driving force behind Atalanta’s success. While he’s categorized as a defender in Fantasy Serie A, Gosens has made a name for himself as a wing-back in Gasperini’s 3-4-3, and already has four goals and three assists on the season, which is good for 68 points. Could be yours for 17.91M.

Stefan de Vrij (Inter): While Handanovic gets much of the praise for Inter’s steady defence, the shot-stopper would not have as many clean sheets if it weren’t for Stefan de Vrij. Since joining the nerazzurri, the Dutchman has taken his game to another level and is arguably the best defender in Italy at the moment. His impressive exploits on the season have earned him 71 fantasy points, the third-most among defenders. 18.7M if you want de Vrij in your teams.

Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus): After an indifferent year, Bonucci has returned to his past form and has been exceptional in Giorgio Chiellini’s absence. While Juventus’ defence have been more vulnerable than in recent seasons, Bonucci’s experience and calmness in possession have proven crucial. He’s even chipped in with a few goals, bringing him to 76 points on the season. You can add him into your teams today for 20.02M.

Aleksandar Kolarov (Roma): Kolarov has notched five goals on the season and has undoubtedly established himself as the undisputed best free-kick taker in Italy. In addition, the veteran defender has registered two assists and has lead Roma to five clean sheets with him on the pitch. Given his impressive exploits, it’s no surprise Kolarov has earned the most points among defenders with 79. Along with his output, comes his hefty price-tag of 20.81M.

Midfielders - 

Joao Pedro (Cagliari): While the Cagliari man is listed as a midfielder in Fantasy Serie A, Rolando Maran has deployed him mainly as a forward; a decision most fantacalcio players will be looking to take advantage of. Currently, the Brazilian is on 11 goals on the season and has earned the second-most fantasy points with 102, behind only Ciro Immobile. In fact, he’s scored six goals in his last six games and is well worth a punt even at 24M.

Luis Alberto (Lazio): Simply put, the Lazio man is an assist machine. Since joining the capital club, Luis Alberto has taken his game to another level, putting past inconsistencies well behind him. With just under half the season played, the Spaniard leads the league with 11 assists and may just be the deadliest final-ball specialist in the world. His three goals and his impressive assist tally bring him to 90 fantasy points on the year. At 23.71M, Luis Alberto is worth a shot.

Alejandro Gomez (Atalanta): What kind of a fantasy team would it be without Papu Gomez? The diminutive play-maker does it all for Atalanta, whether it’s splitting open the defence or finding the back of the net himself. This season, Gomez is already on five goals and six assists and has continued to be Atalanta’s creative hub. His output is good for 86 fantasy points and he’s currently available at 22.65M.

Forwards - 

Ciro Immobile (Lazio): Undoubtedly this season’s fantacalcio king so far with an astonishing 113 points. After all, that’s what 17 goals and five assists get you. Beyond being in sensational form in front of goal, Immobile has lead the line wonderfully alongside Joaquin Correa and has Lazio in an unlikely title race. You’d be missing out if you don’t have him in your teams…cough up 24M!

Romelu Lukaku (Inter): After a rough end to life in Manchester, Lukaku joined forces with Antonio Conte and has not looked back since. Alongside Lautaro Martinez, the Belgian international has been in fine form notching an impressive 12 goals. Without him, Inter would not been in the conversation for the Scudetto and Lukaku will look to continue his goalscoring exploits as the season wears on. He’s currently racked up 93 fantasy points and would run you 24M.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus): The Portuguese superstar got off to a poor start to the season, but has since turned it on for Juventus with goals in his last five Serie A games. Given his recent form, expect Ronaldo to hit the ground running in 2020 and build on his 79 fantasy points. While he’s arguably already in your teams based on name alone, he’ll prove to be well worth his 20.81M price-tag.

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Transfer Watch: One Player For Each of Italy’s Big Six

With the transfer window set to re-open, Serie A clubs are taking to the mercato with differing objectives. While some will be looking for that one missing piece of the puzzle, others are in need of significant retooling. In any case, the January window tends to be quiet, but may present unique opportunities; opportunities clubs simply can’t turn down. Zlatan to Milan, for example.

Here’s one player for each of Italy’s big six.

Juventus - Arturo Vidal: The Italian champions are off to a relatively good start in the Maurizio Sarri era and are looking primed for a deep European run. Despite this, their midfield options leave a lot to be desired and are in dire need of reinforcement. Sami Khedira will spend most of the season sidelined while his stunt-double Emre Can appears to be on his way out.

New signings Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey haven’t exactly hit the ground running and will need more time to adapt to their new surroundings. As a result, the Chilean midfielder is an ideal target as he is already familiar with the club and will add some much-needed industry in the middle of the park. Juventus, however, will have to stave off significant interest from Inter. After all, it was Giuseppe Marotta who initially brought Vidal to Italy in the first place.

Inter – Dejan Kulusevski: The Atalanta loanee has been in great form this season and has emerged as a significant creative threat in the final third. While Parma will be reluctant to terminate his loan and Atalanta will be looking for an inflated fee, the Swedish international is everything Antonio Conte needs. Industrious off the ball and creative on it.

Currently, the nerazzurri are running with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, but will need to add depth if they want to compete with Juve’s deep squad. If he’s available, Inter should be all over it.

Roma – Andrea Petagna: Roma go into the New Year in a comfortable position, four points ahead of fifth-place Atalanta and into the knockouts of the Europa League. While Paulo Fonseca has done an incredible job with the tools at his disposal, the giallorossi could use some reinforcements in the January mercato, most notably at backup striker.

Nikola Kalinic frankly has not worked as Roma need someone more reliable in Dzeko’s absence. SPAL’s Andrea Petagna has demonstrated he’s worthy of a shot and has an abundance of experience in Serie A. Other options are Premier League newcomers Patrick Cutrone and Moise Kean. Both have struggled to adjust to life in England, but the latter is unlikely to move now with Ancelotti’s hiring. Cutrone, however, may be worth a punt.

Napoli – Sandro Tonali: While the Brescia midfielder is arguably on everyone’s Christmas wish-list, Napoli should do whatever it takes to acquire Tonali. Whether they secure him and loan him back directly to his parent club for the rest of the season, or slightly overpay to acquire him immediately, Tonali is exactly the type of player the partenopei need.

He is equally capable of dictating play as he is breaking it up and is a self-proclaimed Gattuso fan-boy. Many may liken him to Andrea Pirlo, but Tonali himself admits his style of play is closer to that of the Napoli tactician. Who knows if that plays into his decision? Regardless, it’s worth a shot.

Milan – Jeremie Boga: Milan have been crying out for a creative force down the left for years now and have yet to see anyone of note arrive. The Sassuolo midfielder is a constant menace in the final third and is regularly beating his man with ease, averaging 4.1 successful dribbles per game. At just 22, Boga would fit in with Milan’s supposed youth movement and should be available for a decent price.

In addition to playing on the left, he can also slot in as a trequartista should a new manager arrive in the summer and shake up the system. Boga to Milan is a no-brainer.

Lazio – Daniele Rugani: This seems like a long-shot, but Lazio could use another defender, especially if they want to compete with Juve and Inter for the Scudetto. Rugani desperately needs a change of scenery and could benefit from playing under the inspiring Simone Inzaghi. The biancocelesti could use another ball-playing centre-back alongside Francesco Acerbi, something Rugani proved to be at Empoli.

The Juventus man is currently out-of-favour in Turin and could be available on a short-term loan with an option to buy. Under the right conditions, Rugani to Lazio may just make enough sense.

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Lazio won’t win the Scudetto – but that doesn’t mean their herculean efforts don’t deserve celebration

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Lazio’s win over Juventus on Saturday was a statement.

Coming from behind to become the first team to beat Maurizio Sarri’s side this season certainly peaked the attention of any dozy onlookers who hadn’t noticed the momentum building on the blue side of Rome.

The result spoke volumes about the progress this team is making. And it spoke loudly.

It said that Simone Inzaghi’s side are no flat-track bullies, that this is a team capable of beating anyone on their day.

It said that the days of flopping on the big occasion, of failing to respond to adversity, of choking at crucial moments, are behind them. Continue reading

Three Midfield Options for Juventus

Four months into the Maurizio Sarri era and Juventus remain undefeated, both in domestic and European play. While most of the bianconeri’s wins have been close affairs, there have been glimpses of Sarriball in full flow. Paulo Dybala has returned to his typical lofty standards while Gonzalo Higuain has redeemed himself following indifferent loan spells. At the back, Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt have formed a formidable partnership, backstopping the Italian champions. In midfield, however, concerns remain.

Beyond Miralem Pjanic, Sarri has rotated Blaise Matuidi, Sami Khedira and Rodrigo Bentancur among others but is yet to establish his best midfield three. After all, other than the Bosnian international, they all lack the necessary quality to play for Sarri. As a result, Juventus need reinforcements in the middle of the park. Here are three names within Serie A they can target when the window reopens in January.

Sandro Tonali (Brescia) - The midfield maestro has been in sensational form since making the step up to the top flight and would fit like a glove in Sarri’s possession-based system. In many ways, Tonali could play in the Jorginho-role as a regista while Pjanic is pushed higher up the pitch, making further use of his creativity. While many have likened his play to that of Andrea Pirlo due to his passing range, he’s no slouch defensively and is tenacious without the ball.

Given his quality on the ball and his desire to win it back off it, he should be a no-brainer for Juve. Factor in that he hasn’t even hit 20 years old yet and he’s the ideal long-term solution to the bianconeri’s midfield woes. Juventus are said to be keeping tabs on the midfielder and will reportedly pursue his signature this summer.

Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma) - While the Roma midfielder isn’t for sale, he’s exactly the type of player Juventus need in the middle of the park. Equally capable of covering ground as he is picking a deadly ball, Pellegrini is the definition of a modern midfielder. This season, Pellegrini already has registered six assists in eight Serie A games and has taken his game to the next level under Paulo Fonseca.

At just 23 years of age, Pellegrini has a long career ahead of him both domestically and internationally. Juventus were reportedly keeping tabs on the player in the past and their sporting director Fabio Paratici is said to be a big fan of the Roma man. Juventus and Roma have done business in the past and have demonstrated they are willing to work together on the transfer market. It may be unlikely, but few players fit Sarri’s Juve better than Pellegrini.

Gaetano Castrovilli (Fiorentina)Sticking with the theme of technical Italian midfielders, Fiorentina’s Castrovilli is another player Juventus should seriously consider. Rather than focusing their efforts and budget on his teammate, Federico Chiesa, the bianconeri would be wise to monitor Castrovilli’s progression. Since emerging onto the scene, the 22-year-old has won over the viola faithful with his industrious nature and is slowly evolving his game.

While he still has improvements to make across his game, Castrovilli is a good dribbler and could hurt the opposition in possession. Without the ball, the Fiorentina man is responsible and is eager to put in a shift. In many ways, his game is eerily reminiscent of young Claudio Marchisio. However, let’s pump the brakes for now. For one, he has a long way to go and most importantly, Fiorentina are unlikely to give Juve another one of their home-town boys.

All three players are youthful, technical players who would allow Sarri to further implement his footballing philosophy at Juve and are arguably available for the right price. Tonali may be the likeliest of the three given his team, but Juve would be foolish not to consider Pellegrini or Castrovilli.

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Serie A Round 13 Fantacalcio Player Trends: Stock Up

Another international break came and went. Italy made it a perfect 10 wins from 10 matches in 2020 UEFA Euro qualifying with a battering of Armenia 9-1 to put a bow on their campaign, while Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey scored a brace to ensure Wales’ spot next summer in a 2-0 win against Hungary.

While there are still nations battling it out for several remaining spots in the tournament, it is time to redirect our attention back on the club football scene we love so much and bring you those to consider adding to your fantacalcio roster ahead of this Serie A round.

Here are five players to consider this weekend. Continue reading

Where Next for Moise Kean?

Since joining Everton, Moise Kean has struggled to acclimate himself to his new surroundings and has since found himself on the outside looking in due to reported disciplinary issues. With Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cenk Tosun all competing for one spot up top, it’s difficult to envisage a situation that the former Juventus man breaks through in England. Which leads us to a very important question: Where next for Moise Kean?

After breaking onto the scene with Juventus last season, Kean was tipped as Italy’s saviour in the final third. Scoring goals in his Italy debut as well as his second game, it seemed he was ready to live up to the hype. When the Italian champions decided to sell him this past summer, many were left perplexed by their decision as the young forward impressed on every occasion. Let’s now evaluate some options for Kean.

Roma: 

Paulo Fonseca’s men are reportedly interested in Kean and will be among his suitors come January. Given his lack of playing time, he should be available on the cheap or even on loan. This season, Roma have impressed at every turn and have done so with many Italian youth talents in their side. Whether it’s Leonardo Spinazzola, Gianluca Mancini, Nicolo Zaniolo or Bryan Cristante, Roma are committed to developing youth. As a result, Kean would not be out of place one bit in the nation’s capital.

He’s already proven capable of finding the back of the net in Italy and wouldn’t need an adaptation period. Learning from Edin Dzeko, Roma may just be an ideal landing spot for the 19-year-old.

Milan: 

Recent reports have also suggested that Kean’s agent, Mino Raiola, is exploring all opportunities for the young striker’s next move and have linked him to Milan. The rossoneri are currently a side in disarray but have a number of interesting young players on deck. Given Krzysztof Piątek’s struggles this season, Milan could use a more mobile number nine; one that could create space for himself. In addition, Kean’s arrival would increase the competition for places, perhaps igniting a fire under Piątek.

The only worry, however, is that after an initial honeymoon period, most Milan strikers tend to struggle due to a lack of service. While returning to Italy with Milan wouldn’t be his worst option, they aren’t the best fit for the 19-year-old as of right now. In this sense, Roma are a much better option.

Staying at Everton:

While we tend to link struggling players with a plethora of teams, a plausible option is that he stays in England with Everton. Despite their early struggles this season, the Toffees have a number of interesting pieces in the final third and could benefit from Kean’s return to the lineup. All it takes for a striker to feel at home is a few goals and an extended run of games; an opportunity Everton boss Marco Silva would be wise to afford Kean before the January transfer window opens.

Kean’s play is suited to the Premier League, and after an initial adaptation period, the young striker could start punishing defences. While this option is the unlikeliest at the time given recent reports, both parties should seriously consider moving forward together. Everton could use Kean and Kean could use regular football to make Roberto Mancini’s Euro 2020 roster. It’s not impossible he stays, however, let’s not forget, it’s Raiola pulling the strings.

Whether Kean returns to Italy or remains at Everton remains to be seen, however, it’s clear there will be an update shortly. Given his incredible talent and ability to find the back of the net, it’s only a matter of time before Kean finds a place to call home again. However, his disciplinary issues remain a slight concern. In any case, Italy could definitely benefit from Kean’s return to form and hope it comes sooner rather than later…

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