Five takeaways from Italy’s latest Euro 2020 qualifiers

Italy wrapped up their latest set of Euro 2020 Group J qualifiers with a 2-1 victory Sunday evening over second-place Finland, with Ciro Immobile putting away his first goal for the Azzurri since September 2017 and Jorginho converting the decisive match-winner from the penalty spot.

With wins over Armenia and Finland, Roberto Mancini’s men maintained their perfect record in the qualifying phase with 6 victories and have moved closer to securing a spot in next summer’s competition.

Here are five takeaways from Italy’s latest matches. Continue reading

The Top Five Defenders From the 2018/19 Serie A Season

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The 2018/19 Serie A season was chock full of surprises, from breakthrough attacking performances to unsung goalkeeping heroes aiding in the survival of a relegation battle. But, as far as defensive efforts go, it was business as usual for these top-rate guardians whose exploits were conducive to achieving their respective club’s objectives for the campaign.

Here are the top five ranked defenders from this past season. Continue reading

What to Watch For: Milan vs Inter

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Milano’s rivaling clubs clash on Sunday evening for the marquee matchup of Serie A Round 28 as Milan square off with Inter at the San Siro.

Last October, Nerazzurri captain Mauro Icardi headed home a very late winner to deal the Rossoneri a 1-0 defeat, but Gennaro Gattuso’s in-form group will look to exact revenge and expand on their one-point lead in third place over their struggling rivals.

Here is what you should be watching for in the latest installment of the Derby della Madonnina: Continue reading

Romagnoli’s injury forces Gattuso to a defensive experiment against Lazio

AC Milan are certainly experiencing a defensive crisis, as three out of five centre-backs are injured. This has forced Gattuso to re-think his tactics, and against Lazio next weekend we can be sure to see an untrained defensive backline in action. 

Even though the International break is currently underway, it hasn’t been of much help for the Rossoneri as none of the injured players will recover in time for the Lazio clash. With that said, Gattuso will have to experiment in the defence, as Zapata is the only centre-back available, excluding the inexperienced Simic (hasn’t played since February).

The line-up

Initially, one would think that the obvious choice is a four-man backline, given that only one centre-back is available. However, due to previous experiences and problems further up the pitch, it seems that Gattuso will opt for a three-man backline. I myself predicted that he would use a 4-4-2, which the team is used to, replacing the injured Romagnoli with left-back Rodriguez, while Laxalt would move down to the left-back spot.

However, Calhanoglu is still struggling with an ankle injury, experiencing a lot of pain. This has affected his end-product, and it remains to be seen if he will be available on Sunday afternoon. Nonetheless, La Gazzetta Dello Sport predicts that instead of the Turk, Laxalt will start on the left flank. This could explain why Gattuso doesn’t want a four-man backline, since there would be no left-backs available. Then again, we will have to wait and see how Calhanoglu feels.

In Milan’s case, though, this brings yet another question to the table: who will start as the right centre-back? According to Gazzetta, Abate will be given the chance, providing experience to the team at the back. In other words, on paper it will probably be the weakest defence Gattuso has set out all season.

However, it should be noted that Laxalt could be given a more defensive role, helping Rodriguez out on the left. Abate, on the other hand, most likely won’t get as much help on the right side, considering that Suso prefers to attack rather than defend.

Likely AC Milan XI (3-5-2): Donnarumma; Abate, Zapata, Rodriguez; Suso, Kessie, Bakayoko, Calhanoglu (?), Laxalt; Cutrone, Castillejo.

Make or break

As the subheading suggests, this is very much an experimental line-up, and heading into the game Rossoneri fans really shouldn’t expect too much. With roughly six starters out injured, anything else than a loss against an attacking-minded Lazio would be an overachievement. Despite this, should Milan lose, then Gattuso will surely receive a lot of criticism, even though it would be totally unjustified.

What’s certain, however, is that Gattuso and his staff need to look over the training methods, as simply too many players are picking up injuries. For a club of the size of Milan, this situation certainly isn’t common, and something is obviously wrong.

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Why January will be decisive for AC Milan’s season

As the International break is up and running, some of the Milan players will be out on duty for their respective nations, while the others will get a week’s worth of rest at Milanello. However, even though the Rossoneri are sitting in fifth place, there are a lot of signs of worry. 

The injuries

Lately, Milan have been struggling with injuries on several key players, such as Biglia, Caldara and Bonaventura. This has forced Gattuso to make several changes to the original starting eleven, while also having to switch formation. Naturally, this hasn’t always been easy for the team, although the players have done surprisingly well.

However, the injury list just seems to be growing. In addition to Biglia, Bonaventura, Caldara and Musacchio, Romagnoli has also picked up an injury. The captain was forced to leave Italy’s training camp, although the extent of his injury is unknown. As if this wasn’t enough already, Calabria also left Italy’s training camp (U-21), though it’s believed to be a precaution.

Star striker Higuain has been handed a two-game ban for his conduct towards the referee in the game against Juventus, which Milan have appealed. In other words, Gattuso can’t catch a break, just as it seemed he had got the team back on track.

January reinforcements

As a result of all the injuries listed above, sporting director Leonardo has been called into action to bring in some new players in January. Thus far, he’s already initiated contacts for several players, while one midfielder has already been secured. 21-year-old Paqueta will arrive from Flamengo in early December, which will give him roughly a month to train with the team before officially completing the transfer.

However, signing just one midfielder won’t be enough for the Rossoneri. It has been revealed that Bonaventura will be out for up to five months, as he’s opted to undergo a knee surgery. The reliable Gianluca Di Marzio has mentioned Torino’s Baselli as a possibility, while others have claimed that Sassuolo’s Sensi is on Leonardo’s radar. In any case, it’s likely that at least one midfielder will arrive (in addition to Paqueta).

In defence, Milan currently only have two centre-backs at their disposal; Zapata and Simic. The latter hasn’t played anything for Milan this season, and with that said a defender is needed in January. Negotiations have already started for Sao Paulo’s Rodrigo Caio, who could arrive for around €10m. Juventus duo Benatia and Rugani have also been mentioned, though the Bianconeri are not willing to sell unless a good offer arrives.

Gattuso is also in need of a third striker, as it’s likely that he will continue with two men up front. At the time being, a return of Ibrahimovic seems highly likely, since a proposal reportedly has been presented. All that’s missing is the Swede’s approval, which most likely will arrive.

Milan need to act

In short, the winter transfer market will be decisive for the remainder of this season. Thus far, Gattuso’s men have done well to be where they are, though it’s unlikely that they will be able to keep it up if no signings arrive. Therefore, despite the troubles with FFP, Leonardo will have to come up with a sustainable plan that can benefit the team, while working within the realms of the regulations. Not an easy task, for sure, but one that Milan desperately need to pull off.

How well do you know Italian football? Want to challenge the best Serie A Fantasy Managers? Play www.fantasyseriea.com now!

Romagnoli miracle saves AC Milan in frustrating Genoa clash

As I wrote about earlier today, Milan had a golden opportunity against Genoa, potentially climbing to fourth place in the standings. Luckily, they managed to do so, although it took a miracle from Romagnoli. 

Heading into the game, the Rossoneri were forced to face a few issues. With the likes of Biglia, Bonaventura and Calabria not fit for fight, Gattuso decided to switch formation once again, fielding a 3-5-2 with Bakayoko leading the line in the centre. Fortunately, Milan took the lead early on thanks to a brilliant strike from Suso, who’s really been crucial for the team as of late. Continue reading