Serie A’s Blue & Red Chip Players

Now that the transfer window is (FINALLY) over, we can fully assess the squads for the top Serie A teams. When ranking teams and breaking down their player personnel, I always use a method that NFL general manager Mike Lombardi employed both as an executive and analyst: name the blue and red chip players.

A blue chip player is a true difference maker, an elite player at his position who could start regularly for a title contender. A red chip player on the hand is someone who could be a significant contributor on a team that is competing for a Champions League spot. While putting together this year’s version of this column, I once again avoid putting players new to Serie A in the blue chip category because we don’t know how they will adapt to a new league.

 

So without further due, let’s take a look at how many blue chip and red chip players each top Serie A team has:

 

Juventus 

 

Blue Chip: Szczesny, Chiellini, Ronaldo, Douglas Costa 

Red Chip: De Ligt, Bonucci, Alex Sandro, Pjanic, Khedira, Ramsey, Rabiot, Dybala, Bernardeschi, Matuidi, Mandzukic, Can, Higuain, Buffon

The bianconeri are so deep that their main backups would likely contend for a Champions League spot if they had their own team so it’s not surprising to see a long list of blue chip players which could have also easily featured also Cuadrado and  Demiral. 

Douglas Costa’s speed and dribbling ability make him “fuori categoria” in Serie A (a player that is so unique there’s hardly any comparison in the league). Szczesny has been so good since arriving in Italy that those familiar with Serie A never thought for a second that Buffon was returning to Juventus to be the starter, while Ronaldo and Chiellini are still elite players at their positions despite their age. 

Last year many would have had Pjanic as a blue chip player (not me though), but his value is diminished since he doesn’t take as many free kicks with Ronaldo on the squad. Dybala went from being arguably the most valuable player on the transfer market in all of Serie A to someone who has to compete with Higuain for playing time while Khedira is a blue chip player in the eyes of pretty much any manager he ever had.

 

 

 

Napoli

 

Blue Chip: Koulibaly, Allan, Fabian Ruiz, Callejon

Red Chip: Mertens, Meret, Manolas, Zielinski, MIlik, Insigne, Lozano

Aside from Ronaldo, it’s hard to argue against Fabian Ruiz being the best player who joined Serie A from abroad last season. Napoli were able to hold on to Koulibaly and Allan who just like Fabian Ruiz could be starters on Juventus, while Callejon continues to reinvent himself and add to his game- Ancelotti has already used him a central midfielder during summer friendlies.

Aside from Dino Zoff, you can make a case that Meret has everything needed to be Napoli’s best keeper ever, while Manolas is a more than adequate replacement for Albiol. Milik is coming off a season in which he scored 18 goals in Serie A with no penalties, while Lozano looks like the perfect jolly for Ancelotti to use in different ways to compliment his front line. 

In order for the partenopei to truly contend with Juventus, they’ll need two out of Ghoulam (who was a red chip player before his injury), Malcuit and Di Lorenzo to exceed expectations this season.

 

Inter

 

Blue Chip: Handanovic, Skriniar, De Vrij, Brozovic

Red Chip: Lukaku, Godin, Barella, Sensi, Lautaro Martinez, Politano

Clearly Inter have a blue chip manager who will make players like Candreva look like red chip players most of the time, but let’s try not to be influenced too much by Conte. Inter have been able to won their first two games with Ranocchia and D’Ambrosio starting, but they’ll be even better with De Vrij- a Bosman signing who should get more praise as an incredible addition- and Godin are also starting (he was the one new addition from abroad I wanted to make a blue chip right away).

Brozovic was the nerazzurri’s most important player last season- when he performed well, they almost always won. He’ll now be joined by Sensi and Barella in a midfield with a lot of quality but very little size. Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez are difference makers on their own, but also look to be a duo that compliments each other rather well. Conte insisted on holding on to Politano and he could be quite valuable as both a wing back and a second striker.

 

Milan

 

Blue Chip: Romagnoli, Donnarumma 

Red Chip: Paqueta, Piatek, Bennacer, Suso, Bonaventura 

Say what you will about Galliani but on his watch Milan acquired Romagnoli and launched Donnarumma, two elite players at their respective positions. Since then Fassone, Leonardo and now Massara/Maldini/Boban have acquired young players who have the potential to become blue chippers- especially Paqueta, Piatek and Bennacer. The good news is that new manager Marco Giampaolo has a great track record of taking players to the next level, but doing so at Milan is a bit more complicated than at Sampdoria where there is much more built in patience.

 

Roma

 

Blue Chip: Dzeko

Red Chip: Zaniolo, Pellegrini, Kolarov, Mkhitaryan, Florenzi, Pau Lopez

 

None of the teams mentioned so far lost as many quality players as the giallorossi with Manolas, De Rossi and El Shaarawy departing. Considering he’s coming off a season in which he scored nine goals, it’s probably generous to put Dzeko as a blue chipper, especially when you consider his age, but he does impact matches in many different ways. On the bright side for Roma, Zaniolo has a everything needed to become a top player and while I didn’t list Diawara and Veretout, they have the characteristics to be quite functional in Fonseca’s system plus Pau Lopez already looks like a massive upgrade to Olsen. 

 

Atalanta

 

Blue Chip: Papu Gomez

Red Chip: Freuler, Toloi, Ilicic, Zapata, Muriel, Castagne 

 

In many ways, Gasperini is a poor man’s version of Conte- not just because of the formation they use, but also because of their ability to make average players look like difference makers. Ilicic and Zapata had career seasons at Atalanta last season and it’s very likely Muriel will follow their path. Freuler is one of the most underrated midfielders in Serie A, he’s the player many think Diawara is to this day. Look for Castagne to take a leap this season and it will be interesting to see how the defense adapts to Mancini’s departure- if Kjaer or Palomino perform like red chippers then Atalanta can once again compete for a Champions League spot. 

Lazio

 

Blue Chip: Milinkovic Savic, Acerbi, Lucas Leiva

Red Chip: Immobile, Luis Alberto, Lazzari, Correa

I’ve been known for overrating the biancocelesti, but they have a more impressive core of players than Roma and Milan in my honest opinion. Acerbi made everyone forget how good De Vrij was at Lazio, Milinkovic Savic was able to win award for best midfielder in Serie A In objectively a down season while Immobile already has 3 seasons with 20+ goals in Italy. Lazzari was already devasting at SPAL but now has so much more talent in a system he knows like the back of his hand while Correa can build on his outstanding second half of last season.

 

Miscellaneous teams

 

Blue Chip: Quagliarella, Sirigu

Red Chip: Belotti, Chiesa, Izzo, Nkolou, Cragno, Pavoletti, Pezzela, Milenkovic, Gervinho, Schone   

 

The Summer of the Plusvalenza

The first time I ever heard of the word was while reading Luciano Moggi’s autobiography “Il Pallone lo Porto io” which in many ways is so fitting. Juventus’s notorious former sporting director used the terms “plusvalenza da urlo” (a capital gain to scream about) in two different chapters to describe the substantial positive financial impacts of selling both Zinedine Zidane and Zlatan Ibrahimovic while he was running the bBianconeri’s mercato before the Calciopoli scandal.

Because he had acquired the two legendary players for a bargain fee before they broke out on the international stage and kept them a few seasons in Turin, there was a substantial gain to be made even with Ibrahimovic who left for Inter at a below market value when Juventus were abruptly relegated. As many remember, the Zidane sale to Real Madrid brought in such a big pluslvalenza that Moggi was able to acquire Lilian Thuram, Gianluigi Buffon and Pavel Nedved with the proceeds.

So while the term “plusvalenza”- which is the amount a selling club earns above the remaining amortized value for a player they are moving to another team- has been around for a long time, it feels that this is the summer where even a Serie A fan who has no interest in accounting has finally heard about it.

While a plusvalenza has a positive impact on clubs’ bottom line, this summer it has often been used with a negative connotation. As a matter a fact, Plusvalenza FC is now competing with Piemonte Calcio as the new ironic way to refer to Juventus while both Roma and especially Inter have been accused of using creative accounting with their sales in an effort to use plusvalenze to meet their Financial Fair Play parameters (this is even more relevant when you consider that Chievo received a point deduction at the start of last season as punishment for a series of questionable plusvalenze with Cesena).

Moggi certainly was the Godfather of the plusvalenza, but the prime of his management career came in Serie A’s glory days when almost all teams were flush with cash. Nowadays between Financial Fair Play and most Italian clubs carrying substantial debts, plusvalenza is becoming an essential tool when it comes to survival and fielding competitive teams.

Juventus fans have seen the good and bad sides of plusvalenze in past two years. The club was essentially able to cover the cost of the transfer fee to acquire Cristiano Ronaldo by selling likes of Audero, Sturaro, Cerri and Mandragora to mid-table teams in Serie A. These players had been previously bought more as future financial instruments than building blocks for the team and after owning them for a bit, Juventus flipped them for a considerably higher amount than their remaining amortized value.

Plusvalenze used to acquire an all time great like Cristiano Ronaldo are easy to digest, especially when they involve players that aren’t able part of the squad, but it then becomes much more painful to see the likes of Moise Kean, Leonardo Spinazzola and Joao Cancelo leave to generate the profits necessary to maintain a squad that features Ronaldo, newly acquired De Ligt and numerous veterans earning over 7 million after taxes a season.

Cancelo and Spinazzola generated a substantial profit despite spending just one season in Turin, as part of those deals Juventus also acquired Danilo and Luca Pellegrini. It’s hard to argue that the Bianconeri are considerably weaker at the wing back position as a result of the two transactions, but the financial gains on the transactions are what helped pay for acquiring the likes of De Ligt and Demiral. The same applies to Rabiot and Ramsey, who despite signing on a Bosman deal come with substantial annual salaries.

On top of paying for an expensive squad, Juventus posted a significant loss during their last fiscal year. There is the obvious spending to secure Ronaldo (and to pay for his salary), but also the Bianconeri didn’t make a very deep run in the Champions League thus limiting their revenue. To help compensate for the recent expenses and difficult financial outcome, Juventus had to also sacrifice Moise Kean who was sold for 30 million to Everton.

While some complained about the low return, Kean was also in the last deal of his year and at least his entire transfer fee was a plusvalenza since he had no amortized value as a home grown player. For the same reason, Milan strongly encouraged Patrick Cutrone to accept Wolvehampton’s offer- the plusvalenza generated by that transaction can essentially cover the annual cost of all of the Rossoneri’s new additions this summer.

On the other side of Milan, Inter have perfected the art of generating plusvalenze to help meet their Financial Fair Play parameters. While moving Nicolo Zaniolo in the Radja Nainggolan deal certainly came back to bite them, overall the Nerazzurri have done very well selling their Primavera players (who in almost all cases are pure plusvalenze when sold since they tend not to have amortized values to offset) to balance their budget, their most recent accounting masterpiece featured Zinho Vanheudsen joining Standard Liege for over 12 million.

It’s certainly understandable that fans mainly just care about seeing their squads improve in the summer, and someone who is Juventus’ sporting director has to accept that you can go from being a called a genius on the day you sign De Ligt to being called a bumbling fool for selling Cancelo on top of considering selling Dybala- but there are usually connections between the two things, as Moggi taught us a “plusvalenza da urlo” can also net you three champions like Buffon, Thuram and Nedved because you sold Zidane at the right time.

 

Juventus first two kickoff times set and youth moves

The League communicated the schedule of the first two matches with Parma-Juventus opening the season on Saturday, August 24th at 6 pm local time, while the clash with Napoli in Turin will be played late on Sunday the following week, with kick-off set at 8.45 pm, the new ‘old’ starting time for night games after that they begun at 8.30 pm in 2018/2019.

While the top officials are defining two blockbuster trades with English clubs, the rest of the management is assembling the U23 squad and earlier this week added a pretty big piece in Erasmo Mule from Sampdoria, who was purchased for €5M. The 20-year-old defender was signed by the Blucerchiati in January, but stayed on loan to Trapani, which he helped gain the promotion. Continue reading

Opinion: Juventus could still use Higuain’s services

After addressing the midfield and the centre-back positions in the first month of the transfer market, Juventus management will now shift focus to untangling the logjam in the attack. Coach Maurizio Sarri has carried on with 4-3-3 and, with Cristiano Ronaldo pegged as left winger, there are four men who can play as centre-forward on the roster. So inevitably at least one of the centre-forwards will have to head elsewhere.

The pairing of Paulo Dybala and Moise Kean would be the ideal landing spot after all the maneuvering, mainly due to age and potential-related reasons. Continue reading

Tactical tests at Milanello for Giampaolo: Calhanoglu, Suso and more

As expected, Giampaolo is getting to know the AC Milan squad ahead of the upcoming season, painting a picture of how the starting eleven should look come the end of August. According to Sky Italia, several players were tested by the manager during Monday’s training session at Milanello. 

Starting from the back, the defence tested is very similar to that of last year, also because there’s only been one signing on that front thus far. Giampaolo tried Musacchio and Romagnoli as the duo in the centre, while Rodriguez played as the left-back, although Hernandez is expected to start at the beginning of the season. On the right flank, Calabria and Conti will have to battle it out for a starting spot. Continue reading

Winners & Losers in the Transfer Window’s first month in Serie A

conte

The first month of the transfer window in Serie A was mainly an opportunity for clubs to get third financial houses in order. We saw a flurry of deals right before the fiscal year ended on June 30th and numerous new acquisitions announced right when the new year began.

Although there are still two full months of transfers ahead of us at least in Italy, we can still draw some conclusions on who is off to a fast start and who is falling more behind

 

Winners

 muriel

Atalanta- there was a lot of concern that the Bergamaschi qualifying for the Champions League over Milan and Roma was bad for the league since they would inevitably sell off their best players. At least so far the opposite has been true, Atalanta have no ongoing issues with Financial Fair Play (unlike Milan and Roma by the way) and have made some significant moves by extending Mario Pasalic’s loan and acquiring Luis Muriel- who could be the next talented striker to fully blossom under manager Gasperini.

Atalanta’s president Percassi has vowed to keep his best players, including Duvan Zapata and Josip Ilicic who has just one year remaining in his contract. The biggest challenge maybe to replace Gianluca Mancini who is heavily linked to Roma, but Atalanta have shown plenty of signs they want to build off of last season’s success.

Inter- right after the new fiscal year started, the nerazzurri announced Diego Godin’s arrival who will join the defense with the most clean sheets last season, Valentino Lazaro who looks like a right wing back tailor made for Conte and Stefano Sensi who in an ideal world is Borja Valero’s replacement and will end up following Politano’s trajectory at the club. Inter are also in the driver seat to acquire Nicolo’ Barella and are working on signing Romelu Lukaku and Edin Dzeko.

manolas

Napoli- if a few months ago I told you Kostas Manolas was going to join the partenopei, you probably would have assumed Kalidou Koulibaly was on his way out- instead the Greek defender replaced Raul Albiol. Napoli also signed Empoli right wing back Giovanni Di Lorenzo who was one of the breakout players in the league during the second half of the season.

Lazio/Lazzari- while Juventus, Napoli and Inter look like the clear favorites to finish in the top three spots, Lazio are the club who right now can make the best case for being the favorites for the last Champions League spot. Lazio officially announced the signing of highly rated defender Denis Vavro, who was previously linked to Atalanta, and are set to welcome Manuel Lazzari to own the right wing.

Lazio is a perfect fit for Lazzari, who will slot in perfectly in Simone Inzaghi’s formation- the soon to be former SPAL winger is taking a big step forward in his career while still being guaranteed the playing time of a starter.

Bologna- in order to convince Sinisa Mihajlovic to stay at the club after his impressive work following Pippo Inzaghi’s sacking, Bologna’s ownership group promised him they would invest on the squad. Former Roma and Sampdoria director Walter Sabatini was brought in and the chain smoking director signed very impressive prospect Jordy Schouten as well as Brugge defender Stefano Denswil who is expected to be a starter. Bologna also exercised their option to buy Riccardo Orsolini from Juventus for a very reasonable 15 million and retained evergreen striker Rodrigo Palacio.

Sassuolo- for the second summer in a row Sassuolo sold one of their starters to Inter for a significant amount, they also are set to replace Stefano Sensi with Hamed Traore’ who is coming off a very impressive season at Empoli. The neroverdi were also able to retain ace manager Roberto De Zerbi and are set to add Empoli striker Francesco Caputo who scored 16 goals last season. 

 

 

Losers

sampdoriaroma

 

Roma- in the span of a month the giallorossi lost arguably their three best players performance wise last season in Stephan El Shaarawy, Kostas Manolas and Daniele De Rossi. If that wasn’t bad enough, Francesco Totti resigned and publicly attacked the Boston based ownership and they have failed to sign Nicolo’ Zaniolo to an extension, on top of that Lazio seem ready to overtake them as the best team in Italy’s capital. On the bright side, new sporting director Gianluca Petrachi is off to a good start since joining the club following the mass exodus.

Edin Dzeko- the Bosnian striker is determined to join Conte at Inter but after Roma was able to make significant plusvalenze on Manolas and Luca Pellegrini, they had no incentive to sell him at a discount. 

Mattia Perin- Gigi Buffon’s return to Juventus have ensured that the former Genoa keeper is on his way out- but there are no logical destinations left for him in Serie A unless Milan sell Gigio Donnarumma. 

Keita Balde set for Serie A exit

keita

With Inter Milan now on the lookout for a new manager following Luciano Spalletti’s exit, the Serie A side could also be in line to lose players before their new manager even arrives.

Former Italy and Chelsea boss Antonio Conte is widely tipped to be the man coming in to replace Spalletti, and the fiery former midfielder could wield the axe in pre-season.

With talisman Mauro Icardi committing himself to the club prior to Spalletti’s departure, the incoming boss is unlikely to make Keita Balde’s loan move permanent.

Continue reading

Serie A Top Six Fantasy Defenders in 2018/2019

izzo

Serie A always excels when it comes to defending and the most glaring takeaway from the list is that Torino had a great year on that front, as they managed to put to three names in the chart, besting Juventus, which had two.

Armando Izzo (75 points): he has been a solid for few years now, first at Genoa and recently the Granata, but he took it up a notch, becoming one of the finest specialists in his position as right centre-back in a three-man line, whose tasks are not merely defensive. He set the tone with his intensity, physicality and never-say-die attitude and showed a lot of leadership, even in a department that featured an established guy on an international level like Nicolas N’Koulou. He amassed 15 clean sheets and put the cherry on top by scoring four goals and providing an assist attacking on set pieces  Continue reading

AC Milan move for Simone Inzaghi is a logical step

Simone Inzaghi

The Serie A managerial mery-go-round has started even earlier this summer, with three of the top five sides in Italy parting ways with their managers, just weeks after the end of the 2018-19 campaign.

Max Allegri brings to an end his five year term with Italy’s dominant force, Juventus, whilst Inter Milan boss Luciano Spalletti has been fired, despite securing a top four finish.

However, former AS Roma boss Spalletti will not be the only managerial change at the San Siro this summer, with rivals AC Milan having already dispensed with head coach Gennaro Gattuso.

Continue reading

Assessing the Center Back Market in Serie A

kalidou-koulibaly-napoli-2018-19_rgpt8dla78z310a4l48k1s6d3

After looking at the goalkeeper position earlier this week, let’s review the market for center backs in Serie A. Let’s start with which top teams could use an addition or two

 

 

Juventus- Chiellini proved to be Juventus’ most important player this season and the fact that he’ll be 35 this year should give the team urgency to bolster this position especially since Bonucci was often a liability defensively while Rugani showed he’s not ready to be a starter at a club of this caliber. Emre Can could be used a center back more frequently but that would further weaken a midfield that isn’t great to begin with.

Napoli- there will be a lot of suitors for Koulibaly, and even though he’s expected to stay at the club, Albiol’s age and recent injuries, make the center back position a key need moving forward regardless of what Koulibaly does.

Inter- the nerazzurri are loaded at the position with Diego Godin joining Skriniar and De Vrij. Should Conte replace Spalletti, he’ll have a new version of the BBC waiting for him at la Pinetina.

Atalanta- the Bergamaschi could use an upgrade at the position especially since there’s a lot of suitors for Gianluca Mancini.

Roma- not upgrading this position in January is one of the many significant mistakes Monchi made at the club. The situation could get even more dire when you consider Kostas Manolas has a 36 million euro exit clause which is also valid in Italy.

Milan- Romagnoli took another step forward this season while Musacchio was considerably better than in his first campaign in Serie A. If Caldara can fully recover from his recent ACL injury, this will be one position where Milan can stay put with on the market.

Lazio- while Acerbi proved to be a more than adequate relacement for De Vrij, the rest of the biancocelesti’s center backs aren’t good enough to start for a team that wants to consistently compete for a Champions League spot. Should Inzaghi leave this summer, Lazio could also move away from a 3 center back defense which would have an impact on their summer plans- but regardless sporting director Tare’ needs to find at least one above average center back.

 

Now let’s look at the center backs in Serie A who will almost certainly be in the transfer news headlines

 

Koulibaly, Skriniar, Romagnoli- all three are expected to stay at their respective teams, but because of their impressive ability, they will certainly be targets for rich clubs abroad.

 manolas

Kostas Manolas- while De Ligt and Varane are Juventus’ top targets to build their defense around in the post Chiellini era, the Greek defender could be a very good stop gap. His speed would be an asset on a team that got run over by Atalanta and Ajax this season and the bianconeri have a great relationship with his agent Mino Raiola. Manolas’ profile was raised internationally last season thanks to Roma’s deep Champions League run, so he could also receive offers from outside of Serie A.

Nikola Milenkovic- the versatile Bosnian defender has been previously linked to Manchester United but Fiorentina’s very disappointing season has taken away some of his luster. But considering his ability to play as both a center back and right wing back, despite his considerable height, he will still be attractive to many teams.

Fiorentina spent just 5 million for him, so they can easily turn him into a massive profit. It will be interesting to see if Napoli or Roma get in the mix, considering he’ll turn 22 in October, MIlenkovic would still have considerable resale value down the line.

 mancini

Gianluca Mancini- between Atalanta’s magical run and making his debut for the Azzurri senior squad, this has been a magical season for the 23 year old defender from Pontendera. Roma has been targeting him for quite some time to either be Manolas’ partner or replacement and despite Monchi’s departure, a move to Italy’s capital still makes the most sense.

 

Nicholas NKolou & Armando Izzo- assuming he lands the Roma job, Petrachi would love nothing more than to bolster his new defense with one or two of Torino’s current key players. But the expected divorce from president Cairo looks to be quite acrimonious so it’s unlikely the granata would let either be reunited with Petrachi. Keeping both would be quite the statement from Torino especially when you consider their performances this season have elevated their profiles on the market.

Merih Demiral & Cristian Romero- while Juventus is expected to sign at least one big name at the center back position, their sporting director Paratici will also look to add a young player or two for the future. Juventus worked in synergy with Sassuolo to bring Demiral to Serie A from Turkey and he has more than distinguished himself since arriving, he’s very tall and has significant margins for improvement when you consider he’s only 21 years old.

Juventus is also expected to acquire Romero from Genoa, don’t be surprised if the transfer fee is rather substantial in light of the fact the amount of the Sturaro signing raised eye brows (remember that it’s very flawed to look at deals in a vacuum when clubs do a lot of business with one another). Both Romero and Demiral could however stay at their current clubs for another year.

 

Bruno Alves & Nicola Bastoni- Parma’s two stand out center backs could be on the move this summer. The veteran Portuguese international was linked to Juventus and Inter in January as a potential replacement for Benatia and Miranda respectively but ended up staying put. Bastoni on the other hand is on loan from Inter but would likely be better off staying on D’Aversa’s squad one more season so he can play regularly.

Joachim Andersen & Omar Colley- while Quagliarella has rightfully dominated the story lines surrounding Sampdoria, sporting director Osti has continued his streak of discovering intriguing center backs following Skriniar’s explosion. Considering that Colley is four years older than Andersen, he could be sold first.