Lorenzo Pellegrini: Fonseca’s Mister X

Since Paulo Fonseca has taken over in the nation’s capitalit’s been clear he’s actively trying to implement his possession-based football from day one. In many ways, the former Shakhtar Donetsk man has succeeded as Roma are among the highest-scoring sides in the league and have looked lethal in the final third. While their defence has left a lot to be desired, their offensive impetus is a good starting point for the giallorossi. Fonseca’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation has since given Roma’s forwards newfound freedom in the final third.

Lorenzo Pellegrini is but one of many benefactors of the managerial change in Trigoria and has seen his importance grow within the side. Initially used on the left of Fonseca’s double pivot, the former Sassuolo man has since been shifted further forward as the side’s number ten. After all, his creativity and vision were wasted deep in midfield.

From the trequartista position, Pellegrini is able to make the most of his range of passing and intelligent movement to hurt the opposition. In his side’s most recent game, the 23-year-old put on a passing clinic against his former side, registering three assists in Roma’s 4-2 win over Sassuolo.

While he begins games centrally, the midfielder has no issues interchanging positions with Nicolo Zaniolo in wide areas, giving the opposition no reference point. From wide positions, defences often forget about him until he makes a late, darting run. In Italy’s most recent qualifier against Finland, Pellegrini started the game at left-wing and simply put, did a job, highlighting his versatility.

Moving forward, expect Fonseca to continue deploying Pellegrini higher up the pitch, especially considering he has no shortage of options for his double pivot. With the 23-year-old’s mobility, Roma are able to overload the opposition in the final third and make the most of these numerical advantages.

Equally capable of picking apart the opposition with a pass or firing one himself, Pellegrini is the ideal trequartista for Fonseca’s system. As Cengiz Under is out indefinitely, Roma are lacking invention in front of packed defences, something Pellegrini could definitely help out with.

With Zaniolo and Justin Kluivert among others flanking him, it makes for a truly versatile front-line behind the towering Edin Dzeko. Factor in Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s arrival – a player comfortable with playing anywhere across the front-line – and it makes for a truly diverse attacking corps in the nation’s capital. Moreover, given their ability to interchange positions at will, Roma’s attack in full flow will be difficult to stop.

As the giallorossi are set to begin their European campaign against Istanbul Basaksehir and will travel to the in-form Bologna on the weekend, expect Fonseca to keep experimenting with Pellegrini in the final third. Considering he can play just about anywhere, the former Sassuolo man will undoubtedly be a key player for the Portuguese tactician and will be looking to take the next step in his career. If his performance against Sassuolo is anything to go by, Pellegrini is in for a big season with Fonseca at the helm.

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The facts behind the figures: What we’ve learned about Lazio from the Serie A salary report

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At the start of the week, La Gazzetta dello Sport published its annual breakdown of each Serie A club’s wage bill for the season ahead.

Much of the reaction to the article has focused on Juventus’ massive financial advantage over the rest of Italy and the impact the summer mercato has had on Inter’s spending.

But there were plenty of intriguing sub-plots to be found behind the figures, not least at Lazio. For example…

On paper, a top-four finish would be an over-achievement…

This is by no means a secret, but the gulf in wage spend between Lazio and the teams they are expected to compete with for a top four place this season is significant.  Continue reading

Roma sign Kalinic and Mkhitaryan

After making sure that Edin Dzeko would still lead the attack with an extension, quashing Inter’s pursuit, Roma changed the back-up striker as they acquired Nikola Kalinic from Atletico Madrid and shipped Patrick Schick to Leipzig and also strengthened their thin front-line by adding Henryk Mkhitaryan from Arsenal. Both newcomer joined on a initial loan. 

Mkhitaryan has already appeared three times with the Gunner this season and logged nine goals and 13 assists in his two seasons in London. Prior to that, he spent two years at Manchester United, where he was slightly more productive. Continue reading

They say form goes out the window at the Rome Derby – and recent history backs up the cliché

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We’re not used to this. The Derby della Capitale, Italy’s most ferocious rivalry, is just two days away . And we’re still in August.

This is the fixture that can define a season for Lazio and Roma, the game that fans traditionally spend months mentally preparing for at the dawn of a new season.

Not this time, as Lega Serie A decided to shake things up by scheduling the capital clash in the second week of the season, the first time it will ever take place so early.

Given the timing of the game, all the hard evidence we have to go on so far is the opening weekend of fixtures, which ended in contrasting emotions for the two clubs. Continue reading

Serie A Round 1 Fantacalcio Player Trends: Stock Down

The first round of Serie A action promised plenty of fireworks and did not disappoint. Whether it was Antonio Conte’s long-awaited return to Italian football, Lorenzo Insigne’s man-of-the-match performance or the countless goal fests, it’s safe to say calcio is officially back. While the likes of Ciro Immobile and Luis Muriel stole the show, there were some players who put in less-than-stellar shifts.

After match-day one, here are FIVE players you should consider dropping from your fantacalcio side. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Paulo Dybala (ATT, Juventus, Value 8.7) - Dybala has been at the heart of countless mercato talks this past summer but appears set to stay in Turin for one more season. Despite this, la Joya is second fiddle to Gonzalo Higuain and likely won’t feature regularly in Juventus’ attack. Against Parma, the former Palermo man was an unused substitute as newly appointed boss Maurizio Sarri opted for the trio of Gonzalo Higuain, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Douglas Costa. With games coming up against Napoli and Fiorentina, expect Dybala to begin games from a bench role and feature sporadically. At 8.7M, there are frankly better fantacalcio options.

Fabio Quagliarella (ATT, Sampdoria, Value 18.10) - Last season’s capocannoniere started the new year on the wrong foot, with his side succumbing to Lazio in convincing fashion. Having lost Marco Giampaolo at the helm, and Dennis Praet at the base of midfield, the blucerchiati look a side devoid of identity and struggled immensely in their first game. If it weren’t for Emil Audero’s heroics, Sampdoria could have well lost by five or six. At 18.10M, it’s hard to justify including an ageing Quagliarella in your team, especially after his two-point fantacalcio outing. After all, it will take time for Eusebio Di Francesco to instil his footballing philosophy and with games against Sassuolo, Napoli and Torino on deck, Quagliarella may struggle. 
Federico Fazio (DEF, Roma, Value 11.3) - Going into the first game of the season, question marks were raised about Roma’s rearguard. With Kostas Manolas moving to Napoli, the giallorossi lack a true leader at the heart of defence and it showed in their 3-3 draw against Genoa. Fazio and Juan Jesus regularly lost the mobile partnership of Christian Kouame and Andrea Pinamonti and barely got support from their fullbacks. As Gianluca Mancini is being eased into the side and one of Daniele Rugani or Dejan Lovren on the way, expect a struggling Fazio to feature less. At 11.3M, you’d be wise to drop the Argentine and the one fantasy point he earned in match-day one. 
Krzysztof Piątek (ATT, Milan, Value 14.9) - The Polish international had an outing to forget against Udinese and failed to impose himself in Milan’s season opener. With the rossoneri stuck between Giampaolo’s preferred 4-3-1-2 and 4-3-3, expect Piatek to be a victim of Milan’s ongoing identity crisis. Without the arrival of a true second striker alongside him, the former Genoa man will find chances hard to come by and will continue to struggle in front of goal. While Piatek will undoubtedly come good later in the season, his 14.9M price-tag is far too high right now for a player who isn’t producing. At that price, you can afford to swap him out of your side for the likes of Insigne or even Inter’s Romelu Lukaku. 
Allan (MID, Napoli, Value 11.0) - The Brazilian midfielder is one of the best in his position in the league but is the antithesis of the ideal fantacalcio player. Given his desire to dive into tackles, Allan will cost you fantasy points for yellow cards. Against Fiorentina, the midfielder gave Napoli’s midfield some much-needed steel, however, offered little invention in the final third. With Carlo Ancelotti experimenting with the 4-2-3-1, Allan’s deeper role and increased defensive duties will mean he won’t get too many opportunities in and around the danger area. While any team in Serie A would kill to add the 28-year-old to their ranks, this is one player fantasy manager should stay away from; especially with the Juventus clash on the horizon. 
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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round Two

Milan-Brescia: the first game under Marco Giampaolo presented the same issues the Rossoneri suffered from last season, primarily keeping the ball up front and feeding their main striker. They managed to get only some limited offensive forays without never building a constant assasult. A faux pas that could lead to some tactical and personnel change, with Suso possibly returning to the flank and Ismael Bennacer and Rafael Leao getting the nod from start. If they can turn it around, it could be a decent spot for Krzysztof Piatek, but it is tough to trust them right now. The Rondinelle showed to be solid right away in a fairly tough road game in Cagliari: last year’s design worked and the defense held up. If that continues to be the case, Alfredo Donnarumma will be one to watch, he scored 26 goals in Serie B, same as Dimistri Bisoli, who is their most dangerous midfielder, while Sandro Tonali’s fantasy production is a little shakier because it hinges on set pieces. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Predictions – Round 1

Parma-Juventus: the Ducali have done a lot to improve their midfield and their attack over the summer and, while they are currently a little short-handed in the back, they are set to be a more palatable fantasy squad throughout the season. Gervinho is already on form, Roberto Inglese is back to full health and they will have a proper back-up, Yann Karamoh could be intriguing even though he has not won over the coach yet, Hernani and Gaston Brugman are nice complementary pieces and Dejan Kulusevski could be a jack-of-all-trades. Juraj Kucka, who was a stud from January on, might miss the game with a calf injury, but they are more equipped to replace him. Continue reading

Serie A Wishlist: One Player Each For Calcio’s Top Four

With the mercato closing in just under two week’s time, many of Italy’s top sides are scrambling to complete their sides. Inter have been linked with every striker remotely available, Roma desperately need a defender while Napoli are looking at a number of James Rodriguez alternatives. But who exactly should these sides be targeting before the window shuts? Let’s have a look starting with the Italian champions, Juventus.

1) Juventus

Juventus started the transfer window in swash-buckling fashion securing the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Adrien Rabiot and Matthijs de Ligt, but have recently taken a back seat focusing on player sales. While their roster is arguably the strongest in Italy, there’s no denying it still has a few holes. For one, Danilo has to come good or they’re without a top class right back. On the other hand, the bianconeri could really use another midfielder. That being said, both positions are extremely unlikely and Juventus seem intent on going into the season with what they have.

Otherwise, if Juve are able to sell Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Mandzukic, and those remain big ifs, they should go all out for Inter’s Mauro Icardi. After all, they could use fresh legs in the final third and have recently sold Moise Kean. You just feel if the Italian champions don’t sign Icardi, they’d have sacrificed Kean for nothing. A player like Icardi, while he comes with personal baggage, is extremely hard to find. As a result, Fabio Paratici should do all he could to be in a position to sign the Inter man come the end of August.

2) Napoli

At the time of writing this, Napoli have reportedly signed PSV’s Hirving Lozano. The Mexican is a versatile forward capable of playing anywhere across the front-line but will likely feature on the wing. Despite his signing, the partenopei are still lacking something in the final third. All too often last season, they dropped points as a result of their own profligacy in front of goal, costing them on their ultimate Scudetto objective.

While Icardi would arguably do wonders under Carlo Ancelotti, the player Napoli should be looking at is James Rodriguez. The Colombian remains on Real Madrid’s chopping block and would add some much needed creativity in the final third. With Insigne and Lozano on either wing and Rodriguez in the hole, Napoli’s front-line would be truly devastating.

3) Roma 

Where to begin with Roma? The giallorossi could arguably use another winger and right back but for the time being will have to settle for a new central defender. Right now, Roma’s centre-backs consist of Juan Jesus, Federico Fazio, Gianluca Mancini and the newly-acquired Mert Cetin.

Out of them, Mancini is of starting quality, but none of the other three names inspire confidence as regular starters. While Cetin is reportedly a top talent, it would almost be too much to ask of the 22-year-old. As a result, Roma would be wise to secure another centre-half. Recently, it’s been reported they’ve been in the market for Daniele Rugani or Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren.

Either would frankly add some much-needed depth at the heart of defence, but what Roma need is a long-term solution. Someone like Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld would be ideal. Before the end of July, he was available for just under 30 million euros, yet the giallorossi refused to meet the Belgian’s release clause. A decision that might come back to haunt them.

4) Inter

The truth is Inter, much like Roma, could use a few players: a left-back to challenge Asamoah, a right back in case Valentino Lazaro flops and another striker for depth. While they could use all three and will likely make a push for three more players, their most pressing need remains a vice-Lukaku. Currently, Inter only possess Lautaro Martinez that they can rely on besides the Belgian.

As Conte typically deploys two strikers and Inter will be competing in three competitions, adding another striker is vastly important. Recently, they’ve been linked with Napoli’s Arkadiusz Milik, Manchester United’s Alexis Sanchez and Fernando Llorente among others.

Of the three names Inter would be wise to sign the Chilean. Despite his struggles since moving to Old Trafford, moving to Inter could revitalize his career. Under Conte, Sanchez will have new-found motivation and will find a familiar partner in Romelu Lukaku.

Bonus: 

Milan: Angel Correa

Lazio: Bas Dost

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Operation Departures: Paratici’s Dilemma

After securing the signing of Matthijs de Ligt, many lauded Juventus’ mercato and showered their sporting director, Fabio Paratici, with praise. After all, they had just signed one of Europe’s elite young defenders, fighting off Barcelona and a host of other clubs in the process.

However, in recent weeks, in an effort to balance the books, Juventus have looked to offload their high-prized assets on the cheap. First, Moise Kean left for Everton with no buy-back clause inserted in the deal. Then, Joao Cancelo was off to Manchester City for 30 million euros and Danilo, after just a season in Turin. Now, the bianconeri’s top brass are actively listening to offers for their jewel, Paulo Dybala. 

With Financial Fair Play restrictions in place, clubs, at the very least, must show they are spending as much as they’re making; generally speaking. Following the signature of Cristiano Ronaldo and de Ligt, sales were always going to be necessary.

Factor in that Juventus haven’t progressed deep into the Champions League since making the final in 2017 missing out on crucial revenue, it’s clear players were going to be sold. Let’s not forget, the Turin-based giants also reported a significant financial operating loss in their last fiscal year. Fabio Paratici is the man largely responsible with dealing with this, largely through high-profile sales. 

While, in an ideal world, Paratici would find buyers for Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Mandzukic, Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi among others, reality is a different beast altogether. Currently, all of these players are on the wrong side of 30 and are on massive wages in comparison to their output.

Many of them have got a host of offers, but have regularly refused to leave the club. And why should they? Most, if not all, of the offers received for the bianconeri’s wantaways include lower salaries at less prestigious clubs. This has forced Paratici’s hand in his first mercato at the helm and has dictated which players he can and cannot sell. Simply put, there’s a bigger buying market for Dybala than there is for Higuain, for example.

Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri recently alluded to this in a press conference.

As I said before, I can talk to Dybala all I like, but the market goes in a certain direction and my opinion counts for zero. We have to cut six players, that’s all there is to it,” said the former Napoli boss, as reported by Football Italia.

When thinking about Sarriball, you would expect Dybala to be one of the first names of the team-sheet. After a season in Massimiliano Allegri’s rigid setup, the Argentine could explode in a false-nine role. In Sarri’s first press conference at the club, the veteran tactician mentioned La Joya alongside Douglas Costa and Cristiano Ronaldo as players he was hoping to count on.

If Juventus are forced to sell Dybala this summer to balance the books, they will undoubtedly regret their decisions to hand Mandzukic and Khedira extensions while failing to definitively offload Higuain. Quite frankly, neither of these three players fit into Sarri’s tactics as well as Dybala does.

Sarri elaborated on this situation further and lashed out against Juventus’ current state.

It puts me in a difficult position. The last 20 days of the market will be difficult for us, it’s an embarrassing situation, because we risk having to leave out players of a very high level,” said Sarri.

It has also affected his pre-season preparation. Given the uncertainty surrounding the transfer window, Sarri has largely rotated between Higuain, Mandzukic and Dybala. Rather than sticking with one preferred front-line and implementing his mechanisms with them, Sarri has been forced to adapt. As a result, it may be long before we see Sarriball fully introduced in Turin.

With just over two weeks left to the mercato, it will be interesting to see who Juventus decide to move. Reports suggest Higuain will join Roma while Mandzukic favours a Bundesliga move. However, as we’ve seen, there are no guarantees and we can just as easily see, fan favourite, Dybala on his way out. Whether you like it or not, buckle your seat-belts Juventus fans, you’re in for a bumpy end to the summer transfer window.

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Petrachi’s vision for Roma is starting to take shape

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The first month of the summer transfer window was quite painful for Roma. While almost everyone expected to see Kostas Manolas leave because of his below market value exit clause, seeing him end up at Napoli was the worse case scenario, since not only did he stay in Serie A, he went on to improve a direct competitor for a Champions League spot. Then we had both De Rossi and Totti leave the top in controversial manner, followed by El Shaarawy’s decision to play in China.

The giallorossi’s new sporting director Gianluca Petrachi inherited a team that lost its captain, best defender and most consistent attacker after failing to qualify for the next edition of the Champions League. But the former Torino ds has made significant progress in rebuilding the giallorossi in the past few weeks.

Petrachi addressed the two positions with the most imminent needs by acquiring Pau Lopez and Gianluca Mancini. The former Real Betis player is the most expensive keeper in Roma’s history, his acquisition is a clear sign the club learned from the mistake of gambling Olsen to replace Alisson while the former Atalanta center back confirmed at the recent Under 21 Euro that he’s ready to become an important player for Mancini’s senior Azzurri squad.

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The improvements shown by Bryan Cristante in the second half of last season, should give Roma fans hope that Mancini won’t be another example of Gasperini’s fool’s gold struggling at a bigger club. On top of his defensive prowess, Mancini also was the defender to score the most in Serie A last season.

Petrachi also rekindled an important relationship on the transfer market with Juventus. Following Miralem Pjanic’s move to Turin via his exit clause, the giallorossi had stopped doing business with the bianconeri- but the clubs rekindled their bond by consuming a deal that was mutually beneficial financially with Leonardo Spinazzola moving to Italy’s capital and Juventus acquiring the younger Luca Pellegrini (both clubs recorded a significant capital gain for this transaction).

To help replace De Rossi’s contributions on the pitch, Roma made significant investments in Amadou Diawara and Jordan Veretout. Both players have significant Serie A experience and could be the starters in front of the defense in Fonseca’s 4 2 3 1 with Lorenzo Pellegrini playing in his preferred role behind the central striker.

Petrachi’s first round of moves will likely have a domino effect on what we can expect next. After a disappointing first season in Serie A, Steven N’Zonzi will almost certainly be sold since there’s no longer a need with him with Diawara and Vertout on board- he’ll likely join either Marseille or Lyon. Spinazzola’s ability to play on both sides of the pitch will likely make Alessandro Florenzi expandable, his departure would continue the exodus of the “Romani” from the club and of the players with high salaries.

The deal for Spinazzola could be the appetizer to a bigger move between Juventus and Roma. The bianconeri are determined to move Gonzalo Higuain, and despite his brother’s public stance of not wanting to play for another Serie A team, the Argentine striker is warming up to the idea of being the focal point in Fonseca’s attack. But now the clubs have to find a suitable financial arrangement because Higuain enormous annual salary of 18 million euro before taxes isn’t sustainable for Roma.

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Juventus are trying to convince Higuain to extend his contract which currently has two years remaining to add a third season while lowering his salary over the live of the contract. The bianconeri would likely have to sweeten the deal to ensure they don’t have his amortized value on the books for the current fiscal year. 

In addition to Higuain, Roma are also looking to add Suso to bolster their front line- but at the moment Petrachi would prefer to send a player to Milan in exchange rather than just pay his 40 million exit clause- but it’s hard to envision Boban and Maldini having any interest in the likes of Javier Pastore.

While Pau Lopez and Mancini are a nice start to the improvement of a subpar defense, Petrachi needs at least another starting caliber center back because of Fazio’s age and Marcano’s return to Porto. Landing Toby Alderweireld would be ideal since he would bring significant experience to help in Mancini’s growth- just like Higuain, it would be a substantial financial investment but at least Roma can count on Franco Baldini (who previously worked for Alderweireld’s current club Spurs) working as the intermediary in the negotiation.

Petrachi will also have to figure out what to do with Edin Dzeko, who would almost certainly join Inter should Gonzalo Higuain arrive, as well as Nicolo’ Zaniolo. The giallorossi have struggled to reach an agreement with his agent Vigorelli on an extension, and judging by Petrachi’s public quotes, there seems to be quite a bit of distance. Zaniolo could be used as an asset to unlock either the Higuain or Alderweireld deals while bringing in a significant plusvalenza.

While Petrachi inherited numerous challenges, he has started to rebuild a new Roma by addressing the biggest needs first- what he does in the coming weeks will now determine how ambitions the giallorossi can be next season.