Federico Chiesa: Italy’s Latest Controversial Superstar

ACF Fiorentina v AC Milan - Serie A

Italian football are no strangers to their misunderstood and controversial superstars. Before Mario Balotelli emerged on the scene, there was Antonio Cassano. And before them came Roma’s iconic bad-boy Francesco Totti. While calcio’s latest exploit, Federico Chiesa, has done nowhere near enough to steal the headlines alongside these players, the Fiorentina winger is attracting attention for all the wrong reasons at the moment.

Since emerging through the ranks at Fiorentina, Chiesa has established himself as one of Italy’s elite talents and will undoubtedly become a cornerstone of Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri setup moving forward. Comfortable with playing on either wing, the 21-year-old has arguably developed into la Viola’s most important player in the final third, and has even added end product to his game this season.

Deploying him alongside Giovanni Simeone, and Luis Muriel, Fiorentina boss Stefano Pioli has been able to get the most out of his talented winger. Currently, Chiesa has scored five goals and registered three assists in league play, all-while propelling Fiorentina into a race for the Europa League and deep into the Coppa Italia – a competition in which, alone, he’s got six goals.

Outside of his ability to find the back of the net, Chiesa has also been effective at feeding his teammates. At the moment, the Italian international is averaging 1.8 key passes per game and has been a constant menace on the counter attack with his impressive turn of pace.

Despite his recent exploits, the press surrounding Chiesa has never been worse. While the 21-year-old is capable of the extravagant on the ball, he’s also developed a reputation for diving, and manipulating the referees. If it were a one-off occurrence, it wouldn’t be an issue. However, just this season alone Chiesa’s antics have infuriated the masses, and he’s been labelled as enemy number one from rival fan-bases.

Most recently, Chiesa undeservedly earned Fiorentina another penalty shot, this time coming in their Coppa Italia clash against Atalanta. It would inevitably prove to be the difference as La Viola earned a 3-3 draw going into the second leg. Earlier this season, the Fiorentina winger Atalanta boss Gian Piero Gasperini had some select words for Chiesa after the game.

“Chiesa? The penalty was a farce. It’s an episode that hurts the player’s reputation more than anything,” said Gasperini to Quotidiano.net. 

With a number of suitors, both abroad and within Italy, heavily after Chiesa including Roma and Tottenham Hotspur among others, the young winger will have to curb this bad habit. Otherwise, it may prevent him from reaching the very top.

There’s no denying Chiesa’s talent and versatility in the final third, however, clubs will think twice before making him their marquee signing if his diving antics persist. As Chiesa is about to enter a crucial stage in his career – a point where many Italian talents in the past have tailed off – it’s time for Chiesa to put the theatrics behind him once and for all and put his footballing development first. If not, calcio fans may be witnessing Domenico Berardi 2.0; a scary prospect indeed.

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Fiorentina Boss Stefano Pioli Refuses to Blame Bad Luck after Sassuolo Defeat

Several mitigating factors on the day meant Fiorentina could be forgiven for losing their second match in a row, this time defeated by Sassuolo on Saturday evening. After a controversial match at home to Lazio in the previous midweek in which they lost 4-3, the Viola had goalkeeper Marco Sportiello suspended after his sending off in that encounter.

They were also missing senior midfielder Milan Badelj through injury and regular centre-back German Pezzella due to an accumulation of yellow cards, while remembering they are already having to play the remainder of the season without his defensive partner Davide Astori after this tragic death. Such a lengthy list of absentees meant that young and inexperienced right back Nikola Milenkovic had to move in-field to partner Vitor Hugo in central defence, and the problems didn’t stop there for the Viola.

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A tactical switch a difficult but necessary task for Fiorentina

ACF Fiorentina v FC Torino - Serie A

Fiorentina were expected to struggle at the beginning of the season: they have lost a lot of talent in the summer and the starting XI is basically brand new. During the last transfer market window, they have sold Federico Bernardeschi, Nikola Kalinic, Matias Vecino, Borja Valero, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Josip Ilicic and Ciprian Tatarusanu and replacing them right away is challenging. Yet, it was fair to expect a little more from the Viola after a few games of gelling.

They never had a chance against Inter, when the squad was still incomplete, and the loss to Sampdoria in the second match day already raised some eyebrows. Then they went on to win two games in a row against Hellas Verona and Bologna, but fell back to bad habits in the following three, where they were defeated by Juventus and Chievo Verona and dropped points to Atalanta at home. They let the opponents come back in the last two outings and the result against the Flying Donkeys is worrisome: a team that aims at a European spot is supposed to take care of those matches, especially when they score the opening goal.

As a consequence, they already find themselves in a little hole in the standings: they are in 13th position, five points behind Torino and Milan who are tied in sixth place. Sampdoria, Chievo Verona and Atalanta have all collected more points than them. The season is long and there is plenty of time to recover: the really concerning aspect is that they do not have a clear identity yet and it is ùhard to pinpoint what they are good at. It is not certainly defending, as they have already conceded ten goals and looked very shaky.

German Pezzella has been solid and Davide Astori is okay, but the backline as a whole has looked porous. Out of the four fullbacks, only Vincent Laurini can be labelled as decent in the defensive phase, but he still made few blunders in his prolonged time at Empoli, while the other three all have an offense-first mentality. It also does not help that they play with only two midfielders. Stefano Pioli is reportedly working on some changes.

The first step will likely be to move Marco Benassi back a few meters: he does not work as a no.10 and will be more efficient in his natural position in a three-man midfield. At some point, the coach will have to add a centre-back: Vitor Hugo struggled early on, but he was highly touted before joining and they acquired the youngster Nikola Milenkovic as well. Carlos Sanchez and Vincent Laurini also have experience in that position. A 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 would help Bruno Gaspar and Cristiano Biraghi massively, because they are better when attacking and have decent feet.

The main problem is that moving away from 4-2-3-1 would impact their depth as the roster was assembled for that tactic. Benassi was a placeholder until Riccardo Saponara returned and Cyril Thereau, Valentin Eysseric and Gil Dias would have to share minutes in a formation with one less attacker, where Federico Chiesa and Giovanni Simeone would obviously be heavily featured. The youngsters Simone Lo Faso, Rafik Zechnini and Ianis Hagi, who could maybe find some playing time down the line, would have very limited chances. It would not be a zero-sum game, but they need to do something because the direction they were built for is not working that well.

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Fresh start under Pioli beckons for Inter

Euro 2016

Ever since Jose Mourinho left his role as Inter Milan manager in May 2010, the club have struggled to achieve success, winning only the Coppa Italia the season after the 53-year-old departure.

Although eight different managers have been tasked with building upon Mourinho’s fine managerial era of I Nerazzuri, whereby they won five trophies during his two years in charge, each failed, with the latest to do so being Frank De Boer.

The end of De Boer

After just 85 days in charge of Inter, with the club languishing in 12th place in Serie A, De Boer was relieved of his duty.  Despite showing signs of promise under De Boer’s guidance by embarking upon a five game unbeaten run in Serie A to climb to third in the table, after losing their opening match of the season to Chievo Verona, Inter’s form then underwent a marked deterioration.

Their fine early season work was completely undone as a result of winning one and losing four of their next five matches, as both De Boer and his players fell firmly out of favour with the club’s vociferous support.

Subsequently De Boer, who was initially contracted to manage Inter until August 2019, received the sack, following a 1-0 loss to Sampdoria.

Vecchi assumes interim charge

In the aftermath of that defeat, Inter’s youth team coach Stefano Vecchi assumed interim charge of the senior side for their 2-1 Europa League defeat to Southampton and 3-0 victory over Crotone in Serie A.

A tough challenge awaits Pioli

That result was extremely important in terms of averting Inter’s slide down the Serie A table, with it now being the responsibility of Stefano Pioli to mastermind a period of on field stabilisation, following the 51-year-old’s appointment as manager.  The contract which Pioli signed is relatively short, with that being just until the end of June 2018.

Nevertheless after being sacked in April as manager of Lazio, which is one of eleven clubs he previous managed with Chievo and Palermo being two others, Pioli has waited patiently to return to working in the top flight of Italian football.

Ultimately he faces a difficult challenge in terms of resurrecting Inter’s season to such an extent so that they can compete to either win Serie A or even finish in the top three to qualify for the Champions League, since they are already thirteen points behind leaders Juventus and eight adrift of third placed Milan.

Optimism that a change may serve Inter well

However it is often the case in football that a team of players respond very positively to a change in management.  As such Pioli’s arrival possesses the potential to mark a fresh new start for Inter, which the former Bologna and Parma manager will seek to officially begin by leading the team which he has inherited from De Boer to a victory over their fierce rivals AC Milan in his first game in charge.

In stark contrast to Inter’s disappointing start to the season, Milan has been in fine form under the guidance of Vicenzo Montella, which acted to amplify the struggles being experienced by De Boer.

Therefore Pioli’s aim must be to ensure that he efficiently develops a positive relationship with his entire squad, so that they are well prepared to face a Milan side which have so far outshone Inter this season.

A fresh new start with Pioli at the helm is desired by everyone associated with Inter.

Derby defeat sparks Lazio change

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On another day it may all have turned out differently. Lazio were twice denied by the woodwork before eventually finding the back of the net in the Rome Derby. Two goals down at the time, who knows what may have been, had Wesley Hoedt and Marco Parolo scored instead of holding looking on in disbelief. But they didn’t score. And it turned into a black afternoon for Lazio.

Roma added two further goals to make the final score 4-1. It was Lazio’s worst Derby defeat since 2002 and ensured a third season without success in the fixture. More was to follow as angry fans converged at the Formello training centre where scuffles broke out. The day ended with Coach Stefano Pioli’s sacking. He was replaced by former striker and youth team boss Simone Inzaghi.

Pioli wouldn’t have started the new season on the Biancocelesti bench, such has been their dismal downturn from last season’s promise. But he had hoped to see out this campaign. One which started to slide the instant Lazio fell in their Champions League qualifier against Bayer Leverkusen last August. It came to a head in recent weeks. Firstly in their Europa League elimination by Sparta Prague. Then in Sunday’s Derby della Capitale.

European qualification remains a long shot. Lazio’s only hope is for Juventus to win the Coppa Italia, thus turning the final Europa League position over to whoever finishes sixth. That spot is currently occupied by Milan, who also lost on Sunday. The gap to Lazio in eighth is seven points.

Inzaghi’s team was put in ritiro – training retreat – starting from today, aimed at refocusing a struggling side. His first test is against a desperate Palermo side, who need points to avoid relegation. How much of an impact Inzaghi will have in the week-long camp will be seen on Sunday.

The young coach will need his big names to fire. Something they rarely have done this season. That includes Felipe Anderson and Antonio Candreva. Captain Lucas Biglia has been the best of the bunch and must continue to lead by example.

The first thing Inzaghi must do is rebuild shattered confidence. Lazio have looked a side playing beneath themselves for some time. Doing so could salvage some pride in the final weeks of a desperately disappointing campaign.

Christmas cheer for under-fire Serie A coaches

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When an underperforming Serie A team approaches the Christmas break there’s a lingering question hanging over the Coach: Will he eat Panettone this year? Panettone being a traditional Italian festive dessert. Three in particular head into the break with a greater degree of comfort after much needed weekend wins.

The pressure has been mounting down in Rome. Tensions between supporters of Roma and Lazio and their clubs have intensified throughout the season. Roma may have achieved their pre-Christmas aim of advancing in the Champions League, but the manner against BATE Borisov was so meek it only added fuel to the fire. So the 2-0 win over Genoa proved vital, following seven winless encounters. That included a home Coppa Italia elimination at the hands of Serie B side Spezia.

Rumours abound that Rudi Garcia is on the verge of the sack regardless. But this should help stave off talk of Luciano Spalletti or Marcelo Bielsa taking over for the time being. Yet so negative is the relationship between fans and club that Alessandro Florenzi’s opener was whistled.

However, Roma remain in the title chase, just four points behind leaders Inter. Ironically, thanks to city rivals Lazio. They weren’t given much chance to snap a seven match winless Serie A streak in Milan, but Antonio Candreva’s brace stunned the Nerazzurri.

It followed a Coppa victory versus Udinese and so Stefano Pioli, who acknowledged during the downturn he could be sent packing, can now aim for a brighter 2016. Lazio roared into third last term thanks to a brilliant run post-Christmas and the Coach will be hoping for something similar to lift the team from tenth. The Marcello Lippi replacement chatter is now placed on the backburner.

Meanwhile, sitting sixth, Milan can still have their say this season – if not for the Scudetto then for the top three spots. But seemingly it would have been without Sinisa Mihajlovic had the Rossoneri not turned the game against Frosinone around. Down at the break, Milan won 4-2 with four different scorers.

Having only picked up draws against Frosinone’s relegation zone compatriots Carpi and Verona, another failure could have spelled the end. Especially given club proclamations Milan should be placed higher after summer spending. Adriano Galliani called Thursday’s Coppa win at Sampdoria the turning point. Two in a row adds to Rossoneri confidence.

Thanks to three crucial victories, the Panettone will taste sweeter this Christmas.

Can Lazio head coach Stefano Pioli lead the club to future glory?

Italian Serie A side Lazio recently announced manager Stefano Pioli had signed a new deal with the club, keeping him at the Stadio Olimpico until 2017, and given their rise to prominence in 2014/15, the decision to extend Pioli’s stay with the Sky Blues could well see Lazio emerge a real European force next season.

He was initially appointed head coach last summer, succeeding Edoardo Reja in June 2014. Full of experience, the Lazio job was Pioli’s tenth in the last 12 years, and one that could well have backfired given how much the club have spiralled down the table in the last two years. The 49-year-old coach took charge of a side that had recently finished 9th in the Serie A, and was tasked with the job to take the club back into the Champions League for the following campaign.

With an ageing side, many were talking down Lazio’s chances of a top-three finish in the table, and their first few games did little to change that. Three defeats from their four opening matches in the league saw the Sky Blues in the lower reaches of the table, and already saw Pioli’s job under threat. But four consecutive wins turned things around, and the manager finally managed to get the side playing in his image over the course of the campaign.

Lazio finished third in the table come May, which was their highest league position for nine years. It ensured Champions League football would be returning to the Stadio Olimpico, providing they can win a two-legged qualifier, and saw Pioli extend his stay with the Italian giants for another two years. There’s plenty of work to do this summer, and a selection of players they are desperately trying to hold on to, but the feeling in the camp is that Lazio could be art of something great next season.

Brazilian playmaker Felipe Anderson has been outstanding for the Sky Blues, and has found himself linked with a host of European outfits already this summer. However, he made it clear publicly that he wants to stay with the Italians, which is further evidence of the direction the side are now going in. Champions League football could transform the club into heavyweights if they invest wisely this summer, and pushing on in Serie A is also key to ensure they have top European the following season, as well as challenging the likes of perennial champions Juventus and runners-up AS Roma.

Lazio are certainly the team to watch domestic and in Europe next season