Defeat to Inter highlights Juve’s problems

Juventus currently lie in 5th place in Serie A yet the most troubling aspect is being a massive 10 points behind league leaders Milan. However, not all hope is gone in the club’s quest to seek a 10th consecutive league title because Juventus have a game in hand on the league leaders and there is at least half of the league’s fixtures left to play for. So where has it all gone wrong and what can be done to fix the Bianconeri’s problems?

Discipline: One troubling aspect this season has been the accumulation of red cards- some unwarranted while others were silly to say the least. The two red cards which perhaps caused the most damage came against Fiorentina- facilitating a 0-3 home loss to the Florence based side- and the one in the capital leading to a 2-2 draw with Roma.

Against Fiorentina, Juan Cuadrado was guilty of the most ridiculous red card since his challenge came in or around the opponent’s penalty area. The reasons behind this flurry of red must be addressed by both management and coach Andrea Pirlo. The club must institute fines and other harsh measures so this negative aspect can be curbed.

Coaching & Tactics: There is no doubt Pirlo was one of the greatest players of his generation and probably one of the best three midfielders from the last 20 years. I’d go as far as to rank second only to Spain’s hero Andres Iniesta (again counting only the last two decades).

Pirlo helped Milan win in Europe and domestically and even more impressively went on to help Juve return to glory after his previous club cast him aside. He also was instrumental to Italy’s success in World Cup 2006 and was influential when the Italians reached the final of Euro 2012. However, as a coach, Pirlo has done nothing so far and is not a proven entity.

There is a huge difference between being a great player and an elite coach. There are plenty of cases where important players have turned out to be a failure as coaches and vice versa.

Pirlo’s substitutions have come late in certain games while his initial XI and his tactics have proven to be questionable at best on multiple occasions. Pirlo is learning on the job but this is something a club of Juve’s stature cannot afford if the objective is to challenge on all fronts.

Against Inter, Pirlo’s starting XI and his approach were perhaps as guilty of everything positive the impressive duo Nicolo Barella and Achraf Hakimi did against Juve. Simply put, Pirlo needs to adapt to the players available at his disposal. He needs to bring out the best in them and use a system which does that as opposed to forcing them out of their comfort zone.

Defensive Concerns & Goal Difference: One of the foundations of the club’s current run of success has been their defensive prowess and the ability to almost guarantee a win after taking the lead- even if a narrow 1-0 advantage.

The defensive issues started under former coach Max Allegri’s last 18 months and became even more apparent under last season’s boss Maurizio Sarri and now under Pirlo. If you look at the league table last season, then you can easily say Juve had the 3rd best defensive record after Inter & Lazio yet the goal difference for Sarri’s men was 4th behind Atalanta, Inter and Lazio.

The team seems incapable of dealing with any sort of crosses and set-pieces. While this season the club conceded a header from former player Arturo Vidal (against Inter), the Bianconeri look susceptible whenever opponents have a corner, a free-kick or they put in a cross against the defenders.

The absence of young star Matthijs de Ligt due to recovery from injury (and surgery) first and then more recently due to Covid has not helped but above all the club’s defensive rock Giorgio Chiellini is well into his last months of playing football. Chiellini can no longer stay fit and has become even more injury prone. If Pirlo was one of the best midfielders of the last 20 years, then Chiellini has surely been one of the best centre-backs over the last 12 years along with Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and former Atletico Madrid captain Diego Godin.

The Bonucci Problem: Leonardo Bonucci has not been the same defender since Cardiff 2017 and that was highlighted during his only season with Milan before his return to Turin. Since returning, Bonucci has had only a few solid performances while this season his defending has been poor to put it nicely.

What is even worse is the fact that Bonucci starting has meant Turkish defender Merih Demiral has played less and the improving full-back (used mostly as a centre-back this season) Danilo has had to do too much while the club copes with Chiellini’s and de Ligt’s absence. Almost every centre-back has had to cover for Bonucci’s mistakes this season.

What is more alarming is the fact Bonucci’s trademark long passes and even at times his forays forward have become such a rarity. So what justifies starting Bonucci over someone who is more aggressive and less error prone as Demiral? Is it seniority? Is it his past with the club? Is it a bias by coach Pirlo who was his former teammate when Bonucci had his peak days? Playing Bonucci raises several questions because Juve look fragile whenever he is targeted and exposed by his opponents. He has become a weak link.

Club’s Management: While left for last, this is perhaps Juve’s greatest worry at the moment because management- particularly Fabio Paratici and those who work with him- has the club running in the wrong direction.

First of all, Juve’s glaring concerns at full-back (particularly the left-back position) have not been addressed since Cardif 2017. Alex Sandro has stagnated since the 1-4 defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League final yet he has remained as the club’s only option as full-back with no one challenging him either because management chose not to sign a left-back or because no one else is worthy of starting in his place.

While Luca Pellegrini is unproven at the big stage, he was immediately loaned out instead of being given an opportunity to push Sandro. The starter against Inter Gianluca Frabotta does not seem to have anything on Pellegrini yet the latter was inexplicably shipped out on loan to Genoa. In fact Pellegrini has more Serie A experience than Frabotta.

Perhaps management’s biggest error is trying to paper over the weaknesses in midfield. Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba, Claudio Marchisio and of course Andrea Pirlo were never replaced in way or another. It’s near impossible to replace them as a whole unit, but at least signing a couple of elite midfielders would have helped. Instead, only Miralem Pjanic could be considered as an established and quality midfield signing when he joined Juve from Roma. He initially did well before he faltered in his last 18 months.

Without going into detail because the list of midfielders signed to complement or replace the departed Pirlo, Vidal, Pogba and Marchisio includes some very mediocre players including Stefano Sturaro, Mario Lemina, Hernanes and Tomas Rincon.

Even the two signings who were supposed to lift the club in 2019 Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey have come at a heavy cost. While both joined as free signings, they are both among the top earners in terms of salary in the Italian league. This means it is also hard to sell them and find a potential new club if they need to be moved.

Ramsey has the skills and can be a delight to watch but he is often unfit and the stats show he cannot play more than 60 minutes so signing him to begin with was a massive gamble. As show in the graph below, only 2 of his starts saw him play at least 90 minutes this season:

As for Rodrigo Bentancur, well he has stagnated and has shown little improvement during this season. In fact, Bentancur’s most telling contribution this season has been the accumulation of yellow cards. He already has 4 yellow cards in league play compared to 9 yellow cards for the entirety of the previous league season.

Only Weston Mckennie has shown great potential and has performed well in a number of games in Serie A and the Champions League. However, he needs to play regularly to grow into a consistent and reliable option for Juve’s midfield. At least he is heading in the right direction. The same cannot be said of Juve’s other off-season signing Arthur who joined from Barcelona (in the deal to offload Pjanic) and has not impressed despite his clear ability to keep possession and move well in tight spaces and when marked by an opponent.

Against Inter, the two goals came from midfielders- Vidal and Barella- while Juve’s midfielders looked inept and incapable of tracking their opposing midfielders who were able to freely roam and score from two opportunities presented to them. In fact, Barella was able to dictate play and perform almost as he wished while the likes of Rabiot and Bentancur looked both uninspired and toothless.

Why did Juve not make a move for Sassuolo’s impressive midfielder Manuel Locatelli who not only is a regular for his club but has also grown into a reliable midfielder for the Italian national team under Roberto Mancini. Locatelli played 6 times for the rejuvenated Azzurri in 2020. Juve could have perhaps tempted his club to sell in exchange for players or perhaps a fee and one player of Sassuolo’s choosing from the likes of Mattia De Sciglio, Daniele Rugani, Luca Pellegrini, Gianluca Frabotta etc…

I would not mention the likes of Douglas Costa because he earns a massive salary (for what he provides) and he probably does not fit the profile of players they would sign on top of the fact Douglas may want to player for a bigger club.

So management has erred by overlooking the dire need for a left-back as well as not strengthening the midfield with at least one quality midfielder who can make a difference and help Juve compete better in Europe. Another name linked with Juve is Lyon’s Houssem Aouar who can solve many of the club’s issues from retaining possession to creating on top of being young and experienced enough after several impressive appearances for Lyon in both Ligue 1 and the Champions League.

A main hurdle to signing Aouar is obviously the fee involved, but perhaps Juve could tempt Lyon by negotiating a move of certain players in the opposite direction- someone such as the aforementioned Douglas Costa or even Federico Bernardeschi and Sami Khedira (expiring contract soon). Other options may include sending out someone as Dejan Kulusevski on loan for a season in return for facilitating the move of Aouar to Turin.

Juve have also an opportunity to sign someone such as Lyon’s other star Memphis Depay who will be out of contract in the summer of 2021 yet the club continues to be linked with older, makeshift and unimpressive attackers.

There is no doubt another problem created by management’s mistakes is the financial situation. The club cannot afford to spend without selling first. Obviously signing players on a free transfer helps but such moves are often negated when you are paying massive annual salaries to the free signings (again examples are Ramsey and Rabiot).

The club has also moved into the direction of signing stars, expensive ones for that matter, over methodical and opportune signings that were the hallmark of Juve’s rebuilding and rejuvenation process early on in the current successful era. There are plenty of examples including Andrea Barzagli (now retired), Pirlo (mentioned previously) and Paul Pogba as well as the key signings of Vidal and Carlos Tevez who came for relatively low fees.

So the club has signed the world’s biggest sport brand in Cristiano Ronaldo and the best young centre-back in the world in de Ligt but both came at a very high cost. Surprisingly, the club did not sign another high profile player (upcoming star just as de Ligt) in the form of BVB’s young star Erling Braut Haaland.

Another mistake by management was the initial hiring of Maurizio Sarri- his profile certainly does not fit with the ethos and the standards set by Juve over the past 8 seasons prior to his signing. He was expected to revolutionize the club’s performances yet he stumbled to the league title relying heavily on the likes of superstar Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and de Ligt.

The club had to fire Sarri after his seemingly distant relationship with a number of the squad’s players, the poor run in Europe (exit at hands of none other than Lyon) and the unimpressive performance throughout the season with very few exceptions, including that impressive 2-0 win over Inter punctuated by Dybala’s delightful goal.

The club compounded the situation above by hastily assigning the novice Pirlo as the next coach. However, for management Pirlo serves as the perfect ploy because if Juve fail then he can serve as a scapegoat while his initial hiring would be accepted by the club’s fans since he is a beloved figure based on the not so distant successes under both Antonio Conte and Max Allegri. In addition, Pirlo’s hiring and potential firing would not cost the club’s coffers anything worthy of note when compared to Sarri’s wages (by the way Juve continue to pay his salary).

Hence, it is a trifecta of errors by management summed up by three key elements which are the missteps in the transfer market, the hasty hiring for the coaching position last summer and this one and of course the financial constraints inflicted on the club due to the management’s policies.

Will management rectify the mistakes done since 2017? In fact, the club began to move away from a trusted process even before the disaster in Cardiff in 2017. Gonzalo Higuain was one example- the record signing by an Italian club prior to the addition of superstar Ronaldo by the Bianconeri of course. Higuain- just as CR7 after him- was signed to expedite Juve’s rise in Europe and to supposedly bring the Champions League trophy back to Turin.

Has either move turned out to be a success? That is a divisive topic depending on how fans perceived the signing of Higuain- many were for it but there are some who were against it. Higuain did not help deliver the much desired European trophy. The same applies to the signing of CR7 with the majority being for it yet there are some who are  against splashing such massive sums that could in turn be detrimental to reinforcing other positions in the squad such as the midfield.

The same dilemma arises when questioning whether management’s philosophy in recent years- in terms of transfer campaigns, branding and financial planning- has yielded the desired outcome or perhaps turned hostage the club’s future standing.

Time will tell… and obviously how far Juve will go in Europe will have a big say in this assessment.

What is Brazilian legend Ronaldo’s ultimate goal with Real Valladolid?

In 2018 when Ronaldo, the 1990s Brazilian version became the majority owner of Spanish club Real Valladolid it certainly raised eyebrows.Why would Ronaldo become president of a club who were used to either being relegated or fighting in a relegation dog fight? The answer is the challenge and of course the affordability of the club, Ronaldo now owns 82% of the team, but is his project go after 2 years?

In Ronaldo’s first season of ownership Valladolid came 16th and just 4 points was the difference between staying in La Liga and playing their next season in the Segunda. Everyone at the club was obviously relived. They also made it to the quarter finals of the Copa del Rey which was no mean feat but all in all it was a season with a few highs and one to forget.

The next season saw an improvement in the league when they finished 13th but they had only ironically finished with 1 more point than the previous season and had only won a lowly 23% of their games.

This season marks the clubs 90th in existence. The objective of course is to improve and keep moving forwards. The club lost Mohammed Salisu to Premier League side Southampton but got a small fortune for him 12m euros. Transfers in and have been mostly free ones, though Fabian Orellana from Eibar catches the eye.

The project this season is to try and reach 50 points and finish in the top 10 and then for the season after qualification for the Europa League- this would be the best case scenario. But when Valladolid aren’t playing well one could just imagine that Ronaldo would love to rip off that suit, go back in time 20 years and get on that pitch pronto. The club lose a lot of games and that includes home ones, and this will be a frustrating role for Ronaldo before it gets better, and the fact is football can be cruel, it may never get better, especially if the club are relegated.

Valladolid played four pre-season games losing 2 of them but gained a decent 2-2 draw away to Portuguese side Braga in their last game before the La Liga season kicked off on September 12th.

In the league the club have played two games, starting with a 1-1 draw against Real Sociedad at home and then a defeat away to Real Betis losing 2-0. Michel, the attacking midfielder has scored the clubs only goal so far.

It will be a long and testing season for the club with such limited funds, their next game is on September 27th when they will play Celta Vigo at home. Home games will be so important for the club, and they must pick up points here, that is going to be key for survival for the 3rd time in a row under Ronaldo.

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Fan Zone: Alberto returns to discuss Sarri, Higuain, the market and more!

In the second part of our Q&A, Alberto- you can follow him here @alljuvecast- discusses Juve’s weaknesses, coach Maurizio Sarri, Gonzalo Higuain and a few other topics! Without wasting more time. Here goes:  Continue reading

Juve still unconvincing despite Brescia win

Juventus are in the midst of a demanding stretch both physically and psychologically. Juve remain in both the Coppa Italia and the Champions League. This means Juve will play two more games than Lazio in the next 15 days.

On paper, Juve have a big squad yet with injuries to key players such as captain Giorgio Chiellini (who made his return near the end of the Brescia game) and the long-term absence of Merih Demiral, the squad is being stretched to its limits. On top of that the club’s management made some questionable decisions in the transfer market, such as signing Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman’s quality is not in doubt, however, his history with injuries and his fitness problems are well documented.

While fans should celebrate a precious win over Brescia (2-0) with Paulo Dybala scoring from a wonderful free-kick, it is hard to find many positives other than the three points and the return of club leader Chiellini. Brescia stand in 19th place and are one of the biggest candidates for relegation. They were missing Sandro Tonali as well as other players in addition to the first goalkeeper only for his backup to suffer an injury early in the game and get replaced with the club’s third keeper.

Dybala did hit the bar and whenever he moved the team looked better. Still, his partner Gonzalo Higuain looks off in recent weeks and his movement appears to get heavier with every passing week. Below are some of the key observations based not just on events during the Brescia game but over the last few weeks:

1) Higuain’s decline in form: Gonzalo has failed to score or assist in the last 6 Serie A matches. His last goal came in the 4-0 win against Cagliari on January 6th, 2020. The bigger concern is how he has looked heavier in terms of movement.

2) Injuries: Fans are well aware of Ramsey’s status and the fact he is injury prone. What makes matters worse is the absence of Douglas Costa who is currently sidelined as well. Danilo, signed to play as right-back or serve as a backup left-back, is also injury prone but he made his return against Brescia. Pjanic barely played versus Brescia before pulling out due to injury.

3) Lack of creativity: With Ramsey’s well documented status, Costa’s absence due to injury and now Miralem Pjanic’s scare, much if not all of the responsibility to create will fall on Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo. Opponents will pay special attention to both stars and perhaps even put extra players to keep an eye on them when they have the ball. This will effectively take away from Juve’s ability to do much during games.

4) Dependence on CR7: Maurizio Sarri did well to rest Ronaldo against Brescia on Sunday. The schedule ahead is demanding and there are some decisive games, particularly in Coppa Italia and the Champions League, around the corner. Ronaldo has scored in his last 10 Serie A games which is a remarkable achievement considering the Portuguese superstar recently turned 35-years-old.

Having mentioned the above, Juve should not keep relying exclusively on CR7 to win games and to score goals. Ronaldo was signed to help deliver the Champions League but on his own he cannot do everything. The numbers do not lie. Ronaldo has done the utmost to keep Juve winning in recent weeks.

5) Playing Dybala: At times, Sarri has opted to “rest” (or to bench would be the more proper word) Dybala but that has meant playing CR7 and Higuain together. Higuain’s recent form is well below the standard he set back in November 2019 when the Argentinian veteran was performing quite well.

With Higuain off-form, Sarri must start Dybala or else all the pressure will fall on CR7. Ronaldo has looked more isolated when Dybala is not starting or playing. It is up to Sarri to find the best formation and strategy to get the best out of both CR7 and Dybala because they have proven they are the difference makers for the Bianconeri.

6) Tough Schedule: Juve’s fixtures for the next couple of weeks will see the club play 5 matches compared to Lazio’s 3 games. Lazio is just one point behind Juve in the league table and can focus fully on the league while Juve must play the 2nd leg against Milan in the Coppa Italia and next week will face Lyon in the Champions League.

Without being repetitive but the growing injury list, particularly to the creative players, means the pressure will keep intensifying on both Dybala and CR7 who will be asked to create, assist and score goals. In addition, the injuries will mean the squad is stretched even further because when players such as Douglas Costa and Pjanic are sidelined then Sarri has no option but to use less convincing players or to use certain players in different positions.

Sarri must pick his Starting XI very carefully the next few weeks and as mentioned earlier, resting CR7 yesterday was a positive move. In the meantime, Sarri must not only find the ideal XI but also motivate the players, work on getting the best out of Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado- both of whom started the season quite well before gradually declining.

It is up to Sarri to push his players and to motivate them the right way. The next two weeks could prove decisive in terms of Juve’s push to win the treble. Making sure Ronaldo and Dybala are getting the proper support from their teammates on the field will go a long way towards determining whether this hectic stretch will be a positive or detrimental one for Juve.

Five keys to Juventus vs Napoli

This weekend of the 2019/20 Serie A season is one of the more anticipated rounds, with it having been circled on the calendar ever since it came out last month.

Saturday evening sees two of the league‘s main title contenders pitted against one another at Juventus Stadium in Turin as Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus play host to Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli. Though the attention and buzz surrounding this fixture stems from Sarri’s first match against his former club, his status for the bench remains unclear at the moment. In any case, this clash promises to deliver plenty of excitement, tension and drama.

Here are five key elements which could determine the outcome of this round 2 encounter. Continue reading

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

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Forwards are often on the receiving end of most of the attention and praise throughout the course of a season; after all, it is their end product after a build-up and impact on the scoresheet that decides matches.

There was a large selection pool to choose from, and in several forward roles, but here are the five top attackers from this past campaign. Continue reading

Allegri leaves Juventus- what can his replacement expect?

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“When Conte abruptly left, many felt the sky was falling. The Allegri hiring was universally mocked on social media and rocks were thrown at his car when he arrived for his first training session.” I know you’ve read and heard a variation of that line many times, I can vouch for fact I used it many times myself to illustrate that we shouldn’t take for granted Allegri’s success at Juventus.

The expectations were so low when a manager who had been sacked at Milan after being constantly mocked by Rossoneri fans, and even Silvio Berlusconi publicly at a political rally, replaced Antonio Conte, a club legend who had brought Juventus back from the ashes of Calciopoli. 

I bring this narrative once again to illustrate that Allegri’s stature as a candidate for a top club has only risen compared to five year ago and Juventus could very well keep winning even if his replacement doesn’t appear to be adequate at time of hire which is in line with both Giovanni Trapattoni and Marcello Lippi, who won the Champions League at the club, as well as Antonio Conte.

There also appears to be the potential for some Allegri remorse amongst some of his biggest critics based on the same the names being discussed as his replacement (Simone Inzaghi and Sinisa Mihajlovic) but make no mistake about it- it was time for both Allegri and especially Juventus to part ways. 

It was bad enough that most of the club’s fans were done with pragmatic, defensive and “just do the bare minimum to win” approach, we now had Dybala’s brother and agent publicly stating many of the players were unhappy and ready to leave. Sacrificing all of the likes of Cancelo, Dybala and Douglas Costa (some of whom could still leave) because of their issues with the manager was too much of a price to pay for even the most ardent Allegri defender.

While Allegri will almost certainly land a top job abroad based on the fact he has a much higher approval rating outside of the Serie A bubble (it’s more a matter of when, since he could also take a year off and collect the checks from the last year of his deal at Juventus) it remains to be seen if the name of his replacement will be equally prestigious.

Certainly Juventus made a very significant and surprising splash by landing Cristiano Ronaldo last summer after years of being mocked for loan with option to buy deals, but they historically have always hired an Italian manager- the only exception in past 30 plus years was Didier Deschamps who had some black and white DNA after being a club captain as a player but was also hired when the club was relegated to the second division.

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The fact that Zidane decided to return to Real Madrid was a game changer- just like Deschamps he has a strong tie to the club already and of course has a remarkable track record at the club. While Juventus would love to make an exception for Pep Guardiola, there appears to be no chance he leaves the club despite their potential escalating Financial Fair Play issues. 

While Mourinho is represented by Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes, the biggest complaint about Allegri was his defensive and pragmatic approach and on top of that there’s the Special One’s iconic past at Inter to consider. Hiring Pochettino would be very expensive because of his release clause and he could be a candidate for Barcelona.

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Recently Maurizio Sarri has also been discussed as a possibility. While there’s a distinct possibility he’ll leave Chelsea after the Europa League final, he would be an awkward fit culture wise at Juventus because of his style. It would also be interesting to see how the former Napoli coach would be greeted by all the Juve fans who loudly commented on the fact he hasn’t won anything despite playing beautiful football (at least at Napoli and Empoli)

While there has been a lot of buzz for Antonio Conte’s return, Inter are still confident they will appoint him as their next manager and there appears to still be some bad blood between him and president Andrea Agnelli based on the way he left 5 years ago- many have also noted how much warmer Juventus’ brass was with Allegri when announcing his departure compared to Conte.

Lazio v Salzburg - UEFA Europa League - Quarter Final - First Leg - Stadio Olimpico

That would leave two former teammates of Juventus’ most prominent directors- Simone Inzaghi is close to Fabio Paratici and has been successful at Lazio, while Pavel Nedved played alongside Sinisa Mihajlovic and was one of the finalists for Juventus’ coaching job in the past and has recently raised his stock by turning around Bologna this season.

What is Allegri’s successor walking into? Juventus is focused on winning at least two more Scudetti to make it ten in a row, plus the fans also expect a much more attractive style of play. If that weren’t enough, Allegri had already substantially raised the bar in the Champions League- you can mock him for taking credit for making two finals and losing them, but without the substantial revenues that came with those deep runs, Juventus would have never been able to sign Ronaldo and Allegri is the last manager to eliminate the two coaches in the current final.

While the expectations will be enormous, the next Juventus manager can draw inspiration from his predecessor- Allegri leaves Turin with his profile raised despite fact many assumed he would fail as Conte’s replacement.

 

  

Cristiano Ronaldo’s other Love

It’s quite common for high profile sporting figures around the world to develop a love for
gambling in its many forms. From sports betting to poker, slots to blackjack, there are
sports stars who have taken these games and activities to heart. Many of those who have developed a passion for these games, would have done so after visiting some of the most exclusive casino venues in the world. It is here that a particular game usually appeals to a person and it then becomes a regular pastime.

One such sporting figure, or should we say mega star, who has developed a huge passion for poker is Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo, 34, who signed for the Italian side last summer after enjoying a stellar 9-year stint at Real Madrid is a big
lover of poker and has taken part in numerous games and tournaments over the years.

You could say that it comes as no surprise for Ronaldo to have developed an
understanding and love for poker, as he was introduced to gaming many years ago after
joining Manchester United from Sporting Lisbon. The Portuguese star’s English wasn’t the best when he made the switch to England, so he was given a DVD bingo game to help him brush up on his skills. This will have undoubtedly stood him in good stead as he moved into the more advanced world of poker.

Ronaldo’s poker passion also saw the Ballon d’Or winner secure a deal with mega brand PokerStars, and this saw the Portuguese attacker play both online and at live events around the world, affording him the opportunity to travel to and play at some of the world’s leading casino venues. Ronaldo, a sporting figure who does a lot for good causes, also once took part in a special charity game of poker alongside the likes of actor Aaron Paul, a game which CR7 managed to go on and win.

The five-time Champions League winner has spoken about poker and what it means to
him multiple times over the years saying, “Although football is my world, poker has always been my game.” He went on to add, “I love to play poker, it’s a fantastic game that I play with friends and family. To challenge the best players in the world is a pleasure for me.”

The last sentence gives us a great indication about Ronaldo’s outlook in general, as he’s always up for challenging the best on the football pitch, and the same applies at the poker table too.

So, with Ronaldo now aged 34 and nearing the twilight of his footballing career, a move into poker on a more regular basis could be on the cards. He’d certainly have no problem being invited to the top casinos and poker events around the world, and as a global brand, he would be sure to strike up some great sponsorship deals along the way too.

Juventus need more than winning an 8th Serie A league title in a row

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Juventus claimed an 8th Serie A title in a row last weekend and it was a fantastic spectacle at their stadium as Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player to win league titles in the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A. It was a beautiful moment and the players were genuinely thrilled.

However not to put a dampener on it Juventus had this title in the bag as far as the beginning of the year. Indeed they didn’t even lose a game in Serie A until March and the last few games the team have been letting some of their regular players such as Ronaldo sit out games in order to rest for the Champions League.

And there is that word, the white elephant that was in the stadium in name only- the Champions League. This was supposed to be the season that Juventus won it for the first time since 1996. Ronaldo had been bought specifically to put Juventus on another level, after all he had just won the competition with Real Madrid for three years in a row.

As it turned out Juventus were no match for a very well organised and utterly brilliant Ajax team, who just 12 months before were a shadow of the side we see now. Juventus who looked out of the competition when they faced Atletico Madrid in the quarter finals, losing the first leg 2-0 and winning the 2nd 3-0 reached the semi-finals but could go no further this season.

The joy of winning a title should be celebrated and Juventus have had to work very hard for it, but anyone can see that there was really no challenge. Right now as the league stands Juventus have a 20 point lead over 2nd placed Napoli a 31 point lead over 4th position of AC Milan and a whopping 73 point lead over bottom team Chievo. However just to note Chievo were deducted 3 points by the Italian Football Federation- what’s a Serie A season without some docking of points?

But that’s the thing, Juventus have been so utterly dominant that this league title doesn’t feel as good or special for example as the title they won in 2012, one that came after the betting scandals of the 2000s saw the team relegated to Serie B. The 2012 league title win felt like a statement, that Juve were back and roaring back at that. This title felt a little hoarse and just par for the course now in Serie A.

That non Champions League trophy is sticking out like a sore thumb. Next season Juventus will go for it again but it may just end up being another player, a new transfer perhaps that helps deliver the title one day to a waiting Juventus as Ronaldo gets a year older, as he chases his sixth title which would equal Francesco Gento’s record for Real Madrid. We will wait and see.

Ligue 1 Player of the Week: Kylian Mbappe

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Everything came together in Ligue 1 at the weekend as Kylian Mbappe scored a hat-trick on Sunday against his former team Monaco in Paris as PSG won the league title.

Mbappe’s 3 goals earned him more points than any other player in Ligue 1 Fantasy Football with 14. He is top of the rankings with an overall haul of 132 points and has a value of 10.5m. He is a cool 35 points in front of the next best player Nicolas Pepe who plays for Lille.

Mbappe is also the top goal scorer in Ligue 1 with 30 goals and one has to remind themselves that he is just 20 years old- oh and of course he has a World Cup already to his name. In a week where his team mate Dani Alves became the most decorated player in history with his 42nd trophy, one has to wonder if Mbappe will surpass this record. Alves is 15 years older than Mbappe and if we say that the French forward has at least another 15 years at the very top then he has plenty of time to catch him up, he currently has 7 trophies to his name.

The 20 year old has been not just the best player in Ligue 1 this week, or this season but the best player in world football in the past 12 months. One has to wonder if Ronaldo or Lionel Messi would have won world player of the year had they won a domestic treble and then the World Cup last season. Mbappe didn’t, FIFA seemed to back out of that decision based on his then age of 19. No matter it is only a question of time, perhaps this will be the year but then again PSG were knocked out of the Champions League at the round of 16 and that could affect that vote.

Mbappe has recovered well in recent weeks too- the player was dropped from he defeat at Nantes after he criticised the teams commitment on the back of drawing 2-2 with Strasbourg and then the horrific 5-1 defeat at the hands of Lille. Of course it was just a stay of execution PSG were always going to win the league, in the end it simply dragged on more than they would have liked.

He has proven to be the ultimate striker and his pace is electrifying. Against Monaco one of his runs clocked in at an a average of 38km p/h that is quicker than 100m world record holder Usain Bolt.

For his hat-trick Mbappe was set up twice by Alves and he even hit the post meaning he could have ended the night with more goals. And there is more.

In scoring 30 goals in a single season Mbappe became the first French player to reach that feat in Ligue 1 since the great Jean- Pierre Papin.

Mbappe by light years wins the Ligue 1 player of the week in reality he should be winning every other personal competition he is involved in too. An absolute star to treasure with an even greater future ahead of him.

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