Cagliari splash the cash to avoid relegation battle

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Cagliari have looked to offset the potential of a Serie A relegation battle come the end of the season, with significant investment in the January transfer window.

Only two sides spent more than Rolando Marin’s side during the winter transfer period, with Fiorentina and AC Milan outspending them.

However Cagliari, who are currently 14th in the league table, have looked to bring in a number of new faces for the remainder of the campaign.

Continue reading

Kalidou Koulibaly: One of the classiest centre-backs in Serie A

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After completing his £6.5million move from Genk to Napoli in the summer of 2014, Kalidou Koulibaly has gone on to forming an incredible reputation about himself as one of the best centre-backs in Italy and Europe. And it’s only taken the Senegal defender a couple of years or so to achieve this delightful result.

The 27-year-old is now reportedly being linked with a move to a few Premier League sides in Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, with the expected price tag being a figure around £100million. However, the local and reliable reports in Naples suggest that the defender is very happy in Serie A at the moment.

Former AC Milan player and Croatia midfielder, Zvonimir Boban, was full of praises towards the rise of Koulibaly within his early years at the club. “For me, he’s among the best in the world and he can still improve,” the Sky Italia pundit had revealed. “He’s matured in everything; character, technique, he now comes out with the ball in such an impeccable way and is always physically dominant.”

Meanwhile, Italian football expert James Horncastle a few seasons ago, called him the new Lillian Thuram due to his aesthetically pleasing style of play and attitude on and off the pitch. The 1990s footballing legend, was the one and only idol and role model for Koulibaly, especially during his days as a youngster and that he has always wanted to achieve a similar career path to the French international since then.

Born in Saint-Die-des-Vosges, he started his senior footballing career off at French side Metz, where he spent two years within the Ligue 2 division before moving abroad to Belgium to play in the Belgian Pro League. At the time, he took part in playing for the U20 France national team and made 11 appearances at that level as he was educated and raised in the North East of France.

At Genk, the young defender was given the chance to prove himself at a club that are well known for their history of scouting and developing talented players before they are sold off to bigger teams. This was the unbelievable result for the previous individuals in Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne and Christian Benteke, with Koulibaly going on to join this list of players after he had joined Napoli in 2014.

Koulibaly’s dreams came true during the 2014-15 campaign as he achieved just over 25 league appearances in his debut season for Napoli. However, manager Rafael Benitez experienced an unexpected outcome with his team being defensively awful despite improving on the other side of the pitch by being clinical and ruthless on the counter-attack. Due to the side’s lack of organisation and communication in defence, it took the raw centre-back quite some time for him to settle into the team.

One year on, everything was much different for Napoli, with the club making a managerial change of replacing Benitez with Maurizio Sarri, someone who made sure that Koulibaly was in the starting line-up on a weekly basis. He only missed five league games throughout that campaign as Napoli mounted a competitive challenge to Juventus. On top of that, he finished the season as one of the most improved players within the top five leagues of Europe, which allowed him to gain more awareness as a defender.

Throughout the 2016-17 season as a while, Koulibaly completed the fourth most short passes whilst compared to all defenders in Serie A despite making fewer appearances than the likes of Davide Astori, Matias Silvestre and team-mate Elseid Hysaj. Given the entertaining and fascinating style of play that Napoli used to represent under Sarri, this is surely an incredible statistic as there is no margin for error, otherwise the opposition can pounce on highline and score constantly from the counter-attack.

Now, in 2019 and playing under Carlo Ancelotti, he still remains as Napoli’s best defender as well as one of the best centre-backs within the league. Although the change of formation and the slight change of the system when the side act on and off the ball, the Senegalese international amazingly completes his day to day job whilst constantly covering the left-back area when Mario Rui or Faouzi Ghoulam are out of position.

Standing at six foot five inches tall, Koulibaly is known for his physical attribute as well as his imposing height to win aerial duels on both sides of the pitch. After the arrival of Sarri, the rise of ‘K2’ was taken to the next level as his positioning and excellent passing with both feet got better and better. Also, he now sticks very close to his opponent rather than leaving them completely free for most of the game which prevents him from being forced into making a foul and receiving a booking.

In the meantime for his country, the 27-year-old was given his debut for Senegal during his second season as a Napoli player. Making his first appearance in a 2-0 victory over Namibia in an African Cup of Nation qualifier in September 2015, he has gone on to achieving just over 30 caps for his national team. Just a few days before he made his debut, Koulibaly switched federations and decided to leave France for the Senegal national football team. At the end of 2016, he received an individual honour of making it into the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Team of the Year award.

Whether he stays at Napoli for the rest of his career is another question, however, it would not be a surprise if the Senegalese one day ends up playing for either Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid. No matter what is in store for Koulibaly from now till the end of his time as a footballer, he will definitely be seen as one of the most complete centre-backs in this era.

Ramsey & Juventus, is a good deal always the right deal?

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“It’s hard to find ways to improve when you have such a strong squad, but we’ll be vigilant when it comes to opportunities on the market’ is what you often heard from Beppe Marotta when he was asked about Juventus’ plans when a transfer window opened. Not surprisingly this mantra was continued, almost word for word, when Fabio Paratici was asked the same question recently.

This quote was one of the two things that came to mind when I first heard that Juventus was set to reach an agreement with Aaron Ramsey on a Bosman transfer, the other was the frequent misconception of the true cost of these types of signings. But let’s go in order and back to the quote on how difficult it is to improve a club that has won as much as Juventus recently- just because a deal is good, does it make the right deal?

When evaluating transfer moves, its’ very easy to look at things in the vacuum of the team that is welcoming a new player. It’s certainly a positive when you can say that new player X improves a team at a certain position, but ultimately a transfer move truly makes an impact when it bridges the gap with your competitors. 

As an example in the summer of 2017 I constantly praised Milan’s new directors Fassone and MIrabelli for many of their acquisitions because I was looking at the moves through a limited lens. Sure Rodriguez, Kessie, Biglia, Conti, Andre Silva and company were upgrades over what Galliani was able to put together with loans and options to buy, but how many of these players could have been starters on the teams Milan was trying to catch up to in Serie A? The only one was definitely Bonucci since he was a starter on the top team prior to his arrival.

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So while praising Juventus for signing Emre Can first and now almost certainly Aaron Ramsey on a “free transfer” (more on that inaccurate notion in a second) is a correct sentiment when you consider that they both better long term options than Sami Khedira, the better question is are they good enough to start for the top teams in Europe that Juventus are competing with for the Champions League- the trophy that now seems to matter the most to the club and certainly to their fan base.

Now I don’t watch enough of the Premier League to know the answer to that question, but I suggest to those who do to think of it in these terms. While Ramsey was linked to Barcelona and Paris St Germain and Manchester City pursued Emre Can in addition to Liverpool trying to keep him, would those clubs have asked them to play as an important role for them as Juventus is asking them to do in the next few years?

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While I’ll let those who know Ramsey and Can much better than I answer for them, there’s no doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo’s addition is resounding Yes when we ask if he helps Juventus against Europe’s best. You can also make the case that while Miralem Pjanic and even Gonzalo Higuain aren’t as impactful players as Ronaldo, their acquisitions also came with the advantage of weakening Juve’s main rivals in Serie A at the time- on the bright side for Juve you can make a great case Joao Cancelo not only weakened Inter, he can genuinely bridge the gap with the Real Madrids of the world if he keeps playing like he has since arriving in Turin.

While a player’s ability is a subjective matter, the true cost of a Bosman signing isn’t. In Economics 101 they teach you that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”- meaning how the cost of the “free“ piece of candy you get at the bank, or the promotional item you get for attending a seminar is ultimately added on to the consumer. This is also true with football, sure with a Bosman signing you aren’t paying a transfer fee but you are paying elevated commissions to the player’s agent (who essentially plays the role of the selling club on a non Bosman transfer) and an inflated salary to the player to get him to pick your team.

This was spelled out in black and white (no pun intended) on the press release for Juventus’ acquisition of Emre Can. Because the current Serie A champions are a publicly traded company, they have to be transparent with their expenses and with Can they indicated he would cost 16 million over two years in agent commission- which impact Juventus’ balance sheets in almost exactly the same way as a transfer fee.

Now 16 million is certainly below market value for a midfielder who is entering his prime and whom Liverpool wants to keep and Manchester City has to sign, but he’s far from “free”. But there’s also another thing to consider, signing a Bosman player to an inflated salary has a domino effect to the rest of the squad- because they see a new player who is less established, it’s easy for the agents of the other players to demand a raise- we saw this with both Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira, and while the first extension was greeted with many positive reviews, the same cannot be said for the second.

Juventus deserves a lot of credit for going from a transient club where the likes of Pogba and Vidal increased their value only to be sold for big profits to being a destination club for sought after Bosman signing and super stars like Ronaldo, but to get to being a consistent Champions League contender, the bianconeri should also look to go beyond the good moves.

Legend Cristiano Ronaldo continues to score goals in Italy with Juventus

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When Cristiano Ronaldo arrived in Italy he arrived with a reputation that included breaking almost every goal scoring record that was ever recorded, if it wasn’t him it was Lionel Messi. This is why Juventus were happy to spend £100m on a player who is 33, and we will likely never see such money thrown down for a player of his age again.

The question for Ronaldo wasn’t about if he would win more titles in his career, that seems a given at a side as strong and dominant as Juventus, but could a player who has scored freely in the Premier League and La Liga do the same in Serie A?

Ronaldo has said himself that the league is tight, the play hard and that there is not much space for forwards to get the opportunity to score goals. In short he is playing in the best defensive league that he has ever known.

And yet once we take a look at his goal scoring feats this season we must just wonder how great is the Portuguese player? He has scored 14 goals in just 19 matches in the league and in all competitions he has 15 from 24. He is on course to have his best goal scoring season league wise since 2015/16 and he is getting older which simply is not affecting him.

In Italy it is very rare for a goal scorer to get past 30 goals in a season. Of course we all know who is sitting at the top of the goal scorer standings? That’s right CR7 himself. He leads by 1 goal and nothing will give him satisfaction than by finishing in the top spot. In the last two seasons the top goal scorers have been Ciro Immobile and Eden Dzeko who both reached 29 goals each and the season before was very special when Gonzalo Higuaín scored 36 goals, this is an all time record in the league and Ronaldo may just have one eye on this.

But Ronaldo has done much more than just score goals and let’s face it if Ronaldo was not playing at Juventus they would still be leading the table by some 10 points and would still win the league. He adds that touch of luxury and what has been most impressive is that he wants to integrate into the team. In short he wants to become a legend at the club just like he has done with Manchester United and Real Madrid.

The ultimate prize for Ronaldo and Juventus will of course be the Champions League, Juventus are looking for their first win in 23 years, Ronaldo is looking for his 4th in a row. Can the serial winner make Juve the serial winners in Europe? Watch this space.

Fiorentina defeat sparks Wenger-AC Milan rumours

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AC Milan failed to score for a third consecutive game, as Fiorentina grabbed all three points at the San Siro, courtesy of a long-range strike by Chiesa. As if Gattuso wasn’t already under immense pressure, the defeat has fueled Wenger rumours.

As Lazio won their game against Cagliari last night, the Rossoneri were forced to get at least a draw in order to keep their spot in the top four. Beforehand, the stats were certainly in Milan’s favour as Fiorentina hadn’t won a single game away from home this season, while they had lost their previous three games at the San Siro.

However, in spite of this, Gattuso’s men dropped three important points, in a game which should’ve been handled better. The Rossoneri had great control defensively, though they failed to create a decent amount of chances up front. The best chance fell at the feet of Calhanoglu, whose effort was cleared off the line by Milenkovic.

Out of nowhere, after Gattuso had switched to a 4-4-2 formation, with Calabria as one of the central midfielders, Chiesa tried his luck from distance. The youngster’s effort turned out to be the guests’ first and only shot on target of the game, and unfortunately for Milan, it ended up in the back of the net.

In other words, in a defensive aspect, you could argue that Milan got unlucky. However, looking at the big picture, the Rossoneri deserved a draw at most. Fiorentina did well to shut down Milan’s only real threats, mainly Suso and Higuain, and Gattuso’s men simply failed to respond.

As a result of dropping more points, rumours have now surfaced regarding the future of Gattuso. According to TuttoMercatoWeb, should the former midfielder get sacked, then it’s very likely that Milan will bring in Wenger as the replacement. In fact, as added by Italian source Panorama, the Rossoneri’s CEO Ivan Gazidis contacted Wenger already after the Europa League exit, asking about his availability.

The next two games (Frosinone and SPAL) will be crucial for the future of Gattuso. On paper, Milan should have no issues with these teams, although with the crisis that they are in, you simply can’t tell at this point. It’s clear that we will need to see a reaction from the players, not just for the sake of keeping Gattuso safe, but also to prove their own worth as they’ve seemingly hit rock-bottom in terms of confidence.

Two wins to end the year could turn out to be very crucial ahead of the break, also because the teams above and below are starting to pick up points consistently, as wasn’t the case in the previous rounds. Many opportunities have been wasted as of late, but it’s not over yet, as hopefully will be shown by the players on Wednesday evening.

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Khedira & Cuadrado injury updates, Juventus pursuing Trincao & more

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Sami Khedira resumed practicing with the group yesterday and could be in the squad list on Saturday, so after a long stretch where it was severely short-handed, the Juventus midfield will soon be back to full force. As for Juan Cuadrado’s hyperextended knee, the conservative approach agreed upon by the player and the club could allow him to return in late January. If he does not make enough progress, the surgical option would sideline him for three months.

The transfer market rumours are beginning to heat up and, after the scarse words by the son at the Golden Boy award, Matthijs De Ligt’s father clarified to Tuttosport that nothing is imminent: “Juventus are in the mix, but they are not the only team following him. Continue reading

Breaking down Atalanta’s & Sampdoria’s Sales

Not every club has winning titles as their objective. While we’ve had Serie A’s version of the Leicester City miracle in the 1980s when Hellas Verona improbably won a scudetto during peak Calcio years no less, for provinciali types the goal is avoid relegation with no drama, develop players and sell them for a profit before you start the cycle all over again.

There are times where a few successful years of this formula will lead you to raising the bar for yourself, as an example it wasn’t long ago that Udinese was seen as the model for every provinciale since they were starting to look like frequent contenders for a Champions League spot. But with the Pozzo family showing more interest in Watford, Udinese has taken a significant step back in recent years leaving the door open for other clubs to take the mantle as the place to develop talents for huge profits while contending for a place in Europe.

The best recent examples are Atalanta and Sampdoria, but while the Bergamaschi are currently better equipped to compete for a top six finish, we could see Ferrero’s club take the next step soon since their former players tend to succeed on their new club. Could rich clubs now have doubts when they are asked for a huge sum for an Atalanta jewel? Let’s take a look at recent history

 

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Significant sales: Milan Skriniar, Patrik Schick, Lucas Torreira, Luis Muriel, Bruno Fernandes, Joaquin Correa

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In recent years Sampdoria have developed a great scouting network which has allowed them to discover numerous gems in both Italy and abroad. Lucas Torreira was an underachieving striker at Pescara while Bruno Fernandes had significant experience in Serie A despite his young age playing for Udinese, both arrived in Genova where they took the next step in their development- Torreira has now established himself at Arsenal while last season Bruno Fernandes won the award for the player of the year in Portugal. 

On the flip side we’ve had Roberto Soriano and Joquin Correa return to Serie A after a spell in Spain, it’s not out of the question we see another former Sampdoria player in Luis Muriel follow the same path at some point in 2019.

While Patrik Schick has been a bust at Roma, there’s still a chance he regains his form elsewhere since playing for the giallorossi can subject anyone to a lot of pressure, nevermind the most expensive transfer in club history. Milan Skriniar on the other hand has become one of the most sought after defenders in all of Europe with his performances at Inter.

Current jewels: Joachim Andersen, Dennis Praet, Ronaldo Vieira, Nicola Murru

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Manager Marco Giampaolo succeeded Sarri at Empoli and you can certainly see why when you watch his Sampdoria. We see a lot of the same tight lines on defense and short passing in the midfield as Sarri’s teams, so while it may take some time for players to get comfortable in the system once they do they are ready for a leap- this is why many expect Joachim Andersen to potentially follow in Skriniar’s path and for Dennia Praet to be an important part of a top team’s midfield in the foreseeable future. While Ronaldo Vieira is being eased in slowly, he’s already showing flashes of a star in the making.

 

 

Atalanta

 

Significant Sales: Roberto Gagliardini, Franck Kessie, Andrea Conti, Mattia Caldara, Bryan Cristante, Martin de Roon

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While it would be harsh to consider Conti and Caldara busts because of their injuries, there’s a growing concern that Atalanta players often look better within Gasperini’s system than when they join a bigger club. After a great start at Inter where he was pegged as a future starter in Italy’s midfield, Roberto Gagliardini has taken a step back and looks like more of a valuable backup on a title contender than a building block.

Franck Kessie has been a very reliable player for Milan, he has played through injuries and has brought some much needed muscle to the midfield. While he may not have as much upside as his new teammate Bakayoko’, there’s no doubt that Kessie’ was one of the best acquisitions of the Mirabelli-Fassone regime.

Roma probably wishes they had closed the deal for Kessie’ the year before than Bryan Cristante last summer, while they do not play the same role, Kessie’ would have been a much better fit playing alongside Zaniolo, Pellegrini and Pastore. Cristante has played better recently but it’s hard to envision him living up to his lofty price tag, especially when you consider how important it is for Roma to hit on all their big purchases.

Current Jewels: Papu Gomez, Gianluca Mancini, Robin Gosens, Hans Hateboer, Remo Freuler, Duvan Zapata, Musa Barrow

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The current Atalanta has a nice mix of veterans (Papu Gomez, Josip Ilicic), players in their prime (Zapata, Toloi) and exciting prospects (Mancini, Barrow) to both compete now and develop a jewel to cash in on in the future. Gosens and Hateboer are above average wingbacks, a position that has been scarce on the transfer market while Remo Freuler is already being linked to top Serie A teams for the January window.

But it remains to be seen if other clubs are starting to be concerned that they’ll end up stuck with some Gasperini “fool’s gold” by spending significantly on their players. At this moment shopping with Sampdoria seems to be a better bet.

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Ronaldo talks Juventus, Messi & the Ballon d’Or

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Cristiano Ronaldo gave an attention-grabbing interview to Gazzetta dello Sport: “I am happy to be here, the city is very pretty, the fans are nice and Juventus is a fantastic club with an extraordinary organization. The players are humble and work hard. The first impression has been wonderful.”

On the squad: “This is the best group I have played in, we are a team. In other clubs, some players felt like they were bigger than the teammates, while that is not the case here. They are aligned and they want to win. Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic are happy even if they do not score. I noticed the difference. Compared to Real Madrid, this is more like a family.” Continue reading

Supercoppa fully set, stock updates, financial outlook & Juventus Travel unveiled

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This week was full of interesting quotes and some of the off-the-field news were left out, so here is a rundown of what went down. The date, place and starting time for the Supercoppa Italiana has been set: Juventus vs Milan will be played in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium, with kick-off a 8.30 pm local time, 6.30 pm in Italy and half an hour after noon on the East Coast.

On December 27, in the Milan Stock Exchange, Juventus will enter the FTSE-Mib index, which is the group of the 40 most capitalized companies, joining the other assets of the Agnelli family: FCA, Ferrari and Exor. Continue reading

5 Serie A Stocks to Buy Low

The golden rule on the stock market is to buy low and sell high- that is the tried and true way to make money on commodities. We can apply this principle to Serie A players as well- this works if you play fantasy football or if you just want to sound smart while discussing Calcio.

This season we have seen some previous blue chip stocks take a substantial loss, these players used to be among the highest rated at their respective position prior to losing value because of poor performances or injuries. Let’s see who has the best chance to re establish his value during rest of the season:

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Ivan Perisic

Of all the players listed, he may have the best excuse but also the most nebulous future at his current club. Perisic was brilliant during the World Cup and was instrumental in Croatia making it to the final, so a slow start was to be somewhat expected although his teammate Brozovic has brought the positive momentum from the tournament in Russia to Serie A.

So far this season Perisic has been simply unrecognizable. He only has two goals and two assists to his name & to make matters worse we have yet to see his all around game which also features a strong defensive presence. In the meantime Matteo Politano has exceeded expectations and has become a borderline starter for Spalletti, while Keita Balde has been sensational in his last few matches after a very slow start.

If that weren’t enough, Yann Karamoh is making the most out of his loan spell at Bordeaux and looks like a legitimate piece of Inter’s plans for future while Lautaro Martinez is itching to play more upfront with Icardi. Maybe Perisic is onto something when he tells the media he would like to play in the Premier League someday.

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Sergej Milinkovic Savic

Definitely not a good sign when the highlight of his season so far is the picture he took with Diletta Leotta during Monday’s Gran Gala’ del Calcio. There have been many theories put forth as to why The Sergeant has looked like a shell of his former self. Some say he became too cocky, others mention the possibility his heart isn’t into Lazio after expecting a transfer to a bigger club in the summer despite getting a significant raise with his recent extension; in addition, there’s also the possibility this is a case of Serie A managers figuring out how to stop him.

There have been some (minor) positive signs in recent weeks since Simone Inzaghi said he’s satisfied with Milinkovic Savic’s performances because he’s playing a more defensive role this season, something we also previously saw at Lazio with Felipe Anderson. At least in the last few matches he has been adequate rather than a liability to his team. Maybe now that Lazio is on a week long retreat we’ll start seeing SMS spreading Milinkocrazia again.

 

Piotr Zielinski/ Amadou Diawara

 

Last season the Polish international was being compared to Kevin De Bruyne and he was rumored to join Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea, but now his stock has taken a hit since Fabian Ruiz has become the talk of the town in Napoli’s midfield. Zielinski has in fact played more under Carlo Ancelotti when compared to the same time period last season, yet he has failed to live up to the hype on top of failing to leave his mark at the recent World Cup. Napoli however is trying to extend his deal in part to remove or increase his exit clause.

While last season Zielinski’s stock saw a substantial rise, the same cannot be said for Amadou Diawara. The former Bologna midfielder had become Jorginho’s backup, which is a nice way of saying he barely played since Sarri didn’t like to rotate in general and even more so with his key players. While Ancelotti has given him 5 starts this season, we have yet to see him dominate a match in the way he did at the Santiago Bernabeu against Real Madrid last season.

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Giovanni Simeone

 

Unless you are a Serie A news junkie, last summer the only thing you heard about Fiorentina was all the excitement surrounding the young offensive trio featuring Chiesa/Pjaca and Diego Simeone’s son. But just like the previous hyped trio of Gomez/Rossi and Cuadrado who only ended up playing 161 minutes together for the Viola, the results have been rather underwhelming.

Simeone in particular has taken a massive step back from last season, he has only scored two goals and has missed numerous chances in recent weeks. On the bright side, manager Stefano Pioli has really no other options at the central striker role so Simeone should have plenty of opportunities to play himself back into good form.