On the Rise: Gaetano Castrovilli

Every Serie A season a new wave of talents break onto the scene and steal the headlines. This season has been no different as countless youngsters have staked their claim to make a name for themselves. Fiorentina’s Gaetano Castrovilli is one of these players. Making the most of his regular minutes under Vincenzo Montella, the 22-year-old has now established himself as a key member of la Viola’s eleven.

Typically fielded as a mezz’ala (outside of the midfield three), Castrovilli is able to make the most of his enterprise and drive his team forward. Currently, the midfielder’s 2.6 dribbles per game is the fourth most in Serie A and is a clear sign Montella turns to him to progress the ball in the midfield. 
When he’s not driving with the ball at his feet, Castrovilli has proven to be a willing runner without it. In many ways, his game is eerily similar to that of Juventus legend Claudio Marchisio. He’s at his most dangerous making late, unmarked runs into the box and has proven to have a knack for being at the right place at the right time.
In possession, the Fiorentina man is equally as impressive and plays positively whenever given the chance. Castrovilli is currently averaging 1.4 key passes per game and is becoming a creative threat in the middle of the park. Alongside Milan Badelj and Erick Pulgar, the 22-year-old has carved out a role for himself as the ‘runner’ of the midfield trio, offering industry both in and out of possession. In Badelj, Castrovilli and Pulgar, la Viola currently possess one of the league’s most technical midfield units, capable of covering ground and protecting their defence in the process. 
Most recently, the young midfielder notched his first goal in Serie A in Fiorentina’s 3-1 win over Milan. Castrovilli was excellent against the rossoneri and gave the viola faithful a glimpse of what’s hopefully to come from him.
Considering newly-appointed Fiorentina president Rocco Commisso wants to usher in a new era in Tuscany, predicating the importance of quality and youthful Italians, expect Castrovilli to become a center-piece of his vision. Alongside Federico Chiesa, the 22-year-old can help his side put last season’s woes behind them and kick off a new era. 
Montella has had success with young players in the past and we’re already starting to see his impact on the side. Currently, Fiorentina sit two points out of fourth place having already played Napoli, Juventus, Atalanta and Milan. Moreover, despite the results not always going their way, Montella’s men have looked the better side in most, if not in all, of these games. As their schedule gets easier, expect la Viola to keep climbing up the table with Castrovilli emerging as a key man.
If the 22-year-old is able to maintain this level, a national team call-up shouldn’t be too far away. While Italy’s midfield ranks are currently congested with the likes of Stefano Sensi, Marco Verratti and Jorginho, gli Azzurri lack a true mezz’ala beyond Inter’s Nicolo Barella. Having already qualified to Euro 2020, expect Mancini to experiment and Castrovilli to get a chance with the senior setup.
After all, he’s earned it. 
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Vincenzo Montella: Bold approach paying dividends for Sevilla


It was a crossroads moment for both manager and club with the expectations of success and perils of failure notable for both. For Vincenzo Montella, the new-found investment at Milan brought a new level of scrutiny and an anticipation, but he could not find the formula for success with an influx of new arrivals including Leonardo Bonucci and Andre Silva. With the Rossoneri well off the pace and Serie A’s top five pulling away, he was relieved of his duties in late November despite a win ratio of 50% across his 64 games in charge.

For Sevilla, they too were in the spotlight. The sacking of cancer-stricken boss Eduardo Berizzo was heavily criticised by many for being a calculated but cold-hearted move. The Argentine had guided Los Rojiblancos to fifth in La Liga, the last 16 of the Champions League and maintained their Copa del Rey status with wins in half of his 27 matches. However, expectations at the club had sharply risen over the years and it’s easy to forget Jorge Sampaoli had kept them in the thick of the title race until March last season. Continue reading

Montella already facing a critical juncture of the season


Milan have won all Europa League games so far and four out of six in Serie A: some would call it an excellent start, but the two losses, against Sampdoria and Lazio, did show some worrisome signs and the coach Vincenzo Montella is under heavy fire. The two slip-ups arrived in the toughest games they have faced and on Thursday they blew a 2-0 lead against Rijeka before Patrick Cutrone put them back on top in the final minutes.

They had an impressive reinforcement campaign, but it is now up to the coach to accelerate the adaptation process and make the players jell, because Serie A waits for nobody. They tend to play down to the level of the competition: the European fixtures have been extremely easy so far, while in the domestic league they have defeated Crotone, Cagliari, Udinese and Spal. The only game where they had truly a great showing was the opener at Ezio Scida, but there they were helped by a penalty and red card against the Sharks after five minutes. They were never too convincing in the remaining games, even in wins.

With so many turnover in the summer, you can chalk most of the problems up to lack of chemistry, but there might be some deeper issues underneath. At Olimpico against Lazio, they crumbled after Biancocelesti found the first goal and the more they tried to attack, the more Ciro Immobile and teammates punished them with counters. At Marassi against Genoa, it was a no show: they let the opponent control the ball and the pace and they inevitably conceded two goals. At times, they look too disorganized from the belt up and so they are forced to improvise a lot.

While the attack has always produced, but never too explosively in Serie A, the defence is holding them down. The switch to a three-man backline has not had the expected results: Leonardo Bonucci has not been able to recapture his Juventus form and Alessio Romagnoli has made some silly mistakes. Mateo Musacchio has been their best centre-back so far, but he was inexplicably benched for Cristian Zapata in the Sampdoria game and he literally gifted two goals to Blucerchiati’s Duvan Zapata.

If something does not work, it is up to the coach to figure out the next move, because the 3-5-2 has damaging effects in other areas: Suso has not been the same in a more central position. Furthermore, it is not an easy task, but Montella needs to find a way to have all his best players on the pitch at the same time, at least in the key games. He has alternated Giacomo Bonaventura and Hakan Calhanoglu, who needs to play as consistently as possible after being sidelined for half a season, and the three strikers Nikola Kalinic, André Silva and Patrick Cutrone. It could be helpful to establish a hierarchy upfront.

In a weird move, the coach has let go his long-time assistant Emanuele Marra because they were not on the same page regarding the physical preparation of the team. After the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti, who is always in play when it comes to the Milan bench, the sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli reassured Montella about the stability of his job. Two tough games await Rossoneri: Roma on Sunday and the Derby after the international break. Since they have been struggling against the better squads, they need to redeem themselves in the upcoming massive tilts. Or some changes could be forthcoming.

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AC Milan hosts Roma in Serie A’s Match of the Week


Following an unsteady period which witnessed two losses in the last four games in Serie A, questions have begun to circle around the club’s summer spending as well as head coach Vincenzo Montella.

It is still too early in the season to judge Milan because the club signed a whole new roster and several of the players have yet to mesh with their teammates as well as settle down in the city of Milan. Continue reading

Conti’s injury as untimely as it gets for Milan


A big news rocked Milan on Friday: Andrea Conti suffered an ACL tear in the left knee during a practice. He will undergo surgery and he is set to be out for at least five months, meaning that will return in March at the earliest, in April more realistically. Milan signed Conti this summer from Atalanta for €25M after a lengthy negotiation.

Against Austria Wien, Vincenzo Montella changed his formation from a 4-3-3, which had some depth issues, to a 3-5-2, that was briefly experimented in the pre-season as well. In the pre-game presser, the coached stated that it was a natural tactical evolution considering the arrival of Leonardo Bonucci, a three-man defence master, and that he was simply waiting for the return from injury of Alessio Romagnoli to use it consistently. The poor showing against Lazio, where the team looked extremely vulnerable, evidently speeded things up. Rossoneri easily defeated the Europa League opponent, with Hakan Calhanoglu shining in the midfield and André Silva scoring a hat-trick.

Conti was set to be a big weapon in this formation as he is tailor-made to be a wing-back. Playing in this position helped him ascend to the top echelon of Serie A fullbacks last season. Conti has a knack for scoring: he excels in making those sneaky cuts past the last defender and is a good finisher, both with his feet and his head. He tallied eight goals and provided four assists last season at Atalanta.

Milan are numerically equipped to replace Conti: they have two more right back at their disposal in Ignazio Abate and Davide Calabria. However, there is a gulf quality-wise and there were good reasons why revamping the fullback corps was a point of emphasis in the transfer market window. Abate can run but he is poor crosser and his finishing skills are non-existent, Calabria is a youngster who has yet to flourish and has struggled at times.

There is a solid chance that the one wing will look clipped, therefore making the formation unbalanced and predictable: Ricardo Rodriguez and Calhanoglu or Giacomo Bonaventura all gravitate on the left side and, without a threat like Conti on the other flank, focusing on that area will be an easy adjustment for the opponents. In this formation, Suso features as no.10/second-striker. He thrived last season when he was permanently moved to the winger position, but at this point he should have enough confidence to play more centrally. Anyway, this development could push Montella to tinker with the standard scheme, advancing Calhanoglu or Bonaventura a little and having Suso slightly moved to the right, making it a 3-4-2-1 that could soften the blow of Conti’s loss from the tactical standpoint.

It would be a stretch, but if Abate or Calabria did not produce enough, they could think about adapting someone there. Suso would be the first option, even though you would burden an exquisite offensive player with heavy defensive tasks. Bonaventura has always been very versatile and hard-working: he has played a little bit as left wing-back in the past, but he is right-footed and that would smooth the transition. Considering the splendid early returns on Calhanoglu as a midfielder, Bonaventura would find himself on the bench most often than not with this new lineup and that would be a waste. The final option is Fabio Borini, who has become an utility player after starting his career as a striker: the learning curve would be steep, but he might be able to pull it off.

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Vincenzo Montella is working miracles at AC Milan


AC Milan thrilled once again at the weekend as they despatched Empoli 4-1 away from home. The Rossonieri stormed into the top three in Serie A and with Juventus losing at the weekend the league is looking very interesting.

Milan who have been a shadow of themselves since winning the Champions League in 2007 have been in the shadows of Juventus and Inter Milan for nigh on a decade. They have lacked the direction, power, hunger and focus that made the club not only the best team in Italy but the best in the world. They dominated European football in the late 80s and early 90s and are still the last club to win the European Cup back to back. That record is now 26 years old and counting.

The Black and Reds last won the league in 2011, to stop the success of their eternal rivals Inter Milan who had the season previously won the treble which included the Champions League. To be fair Milan were already on the slide and their 2011 triumph was seen as a speed bump surprise. Nevertheless under Massimiliano Allegri the team claimed their first scudetto since 2004.

If the tide of change had not been apparent at the San Siro up until then, then it did rear its ugly head for the past five season where Milan have been a mere footnote in European football. Time and again the 7 times European Cup winners have had poor forgettable seasons, where they haven’t even finished high enough to qualify for Europe’s premier competition.

And the managers have come and gone: Mauro Tassotti replaced Allegri when he was sacked in 2014 as caretaker manager. The club quickly found a permanent manager in Clarence Seedorf who became the first black manager in almost two decades to take charge of a Serie A side. Known as a legend with the club, playing 300 games and winning multiple trophies the Dutchman was shown the door after 22 games. At that point he certainly had his critics but with a 50% win rate Seedorf perhaps needed some more time to find his footing and wasn’t allowed the chance.

Another Milan legend took the hot seat in Filippo Inzaghi he lasted a season after the Rossonieri finished a disappointing 10th place, 35 points from that years champion Juventus. Sinisa Mihajlovic and Cristian Brocchi were the next two coaches hardly lasting a season as Milan still struggled to make a lasting impact.

Vincenzo Montella became the seventh coach this decade in the summer and started to ring the changes. Some 27 players mostly youth and fringe were cleared out, arguably the most controversial was club legend Paolo Maldini’s son Christian who went to Reggiana on a free. Five players were brought in by Montella. The most expensive was Gianluca Lapadula for 9m euros from Pescara.

Montella has used a 4-3-3 as his preferred choice, quite a surprise in Serie A to have three players pushed up in the forward role and Montella has kept this system even in away games. Right now it’s paying dividends as Milan has had their best start for five years. Currently in 3rd position the club has is on a 4 game unbeaten run and lost 3 games this season. At home they are undefeated and they are scoring goals too.

Is Montella then finally the right man for this team? For now the former Roma player appears to be. One thing is for sure Milan haven’t looked this good since the days they were led under Carlo Ancelotti.

From a football fans perspective the current Champions League doesn’t seem completely the same without the famous red and black striped team who Ancelotti once said the competition was in the teams DNA.

Milan are currently in qualification for the competition, but they are also just four points behind leaders Juventus, the ultimate dominant force in Italy this decade. And it is clear to see that the club has every intention to hunt down their 19th title.


Internazionale’s Europa League loss opens a new chapter in Milanese duo’s recent struggles

Euro 2016

Previously giants of the European game, both AC and Inter Milan have relinquished that revered status over recent seasons, with the Milanese duo struggling to compete to win honours either in Italy or on the continent.

Not since AC beat their fierce city rivals Inter 2-1 in the 2011 Supercoppa Italiana final has either side won a trophy, which represents a remarkable drought for two of the most successful clubs in European football.

Specifically whilst AC has won 48 titles worldwide, after winning the 2010-2011 Coppa Italia, Inter’s trophy haul has stagnated at 39.

Absence from recent editions of Champions League

Furthermore despite featuring regularly in the Europa League, Inter have not qualified for the Champions League since the 2011-2012 edition of European football’s elite club competition, which they won in 2010, as I Nerrazzuri’s have not finished better than 4th in any of the last five Serie A seasons.

Similarly after ending the 2012-2013 Serie A campaign in 3rd place to qualify for the following season’s Champions League, AC have failed to qualify to play in European competition for three successive years.

Montella’s managerial reign of AC starts disappointingly

Although last season Sinisa Mihajlovic led AC to the final of the Coppa Italia, I Rossoneri lost that game 1-0 to Juventus not under the Yugoslavian’s guidance but that of Christian Brocchi, who replaced the current Torino manager in April.

Subsequently Brocchi was replaced by Vicenzo Montella for the start of this season, with the 42-year-old’s managerial reign of Milan having commenced disappointingly.

After being unable to significantly strengthen their squad during the summer, with the club’s only signings being the quartet of Gustavo Gomez, Gianluca Lapadula, Jose Sosa and Leonel Vangioni, despite opening their Serie A campaign with a 3-2 home win over Torino, under Montella’s guidance Milan suffered defeat in their next two matches, away to Napoli – 4-2 – and at the San Siro against Udinese – 1-0.

Whilst producing a valiant performance against Napoli, Milan’s display against Udinese was extremely lacklustre, as Stipe Perica scored a late winning goal for Giuseppe Iachini’s side.

As a result of that, Milan currently occupy 15th place in Serie A, with their next league game being an extremely difficult away fixture against Sampdoria, whom Montella managed last season and left to join Milan.  Furthermore the 20-times capped Italian internationalist also served the Genoese club as a player.

De Boer’s endure difficult start to life as manager of Inter

At present just as Montella is endeavouring to inspire an upturn in Milan’s recent declining fortunes, Frank De Boer has begun a similar assignment at Inter, after replacing Roberto Mancini as I Nerazzuri’s head coach just a fortnight prior to their first Serie A game of the Serie A season against Chievo Verona.

As such the 46-year old former Ajax manager had little time to introduce his ideas and tactics to Inter’s players.  That was abundantly evident as they were comprehensively beaten 2-0 by Chievo, whereby Rolando Maran’s team were vastly superior to Inter, particularly in terms of fitness, which many members of De Boer’s team were distinctly lacking.

Despite delivering a marginally improved display in their next game, Inter were held to a 1-1 draw at the San Siro by Palermo, as captain Mauro Icardi scored a second half equaliser.

Subsequently the 23-year-old Argentinean striker played an influential role to help De Boer secure a maiden win as manager, since he scored two late goals as Inter recovered from a goal down to beat Pescara 2-1 on their last Serie A outing.

After joining I Nerazzuri for €45m from Sporting Lisbon, the Portuguese Euro 2016 winner Joao Mario made his debut against Pescara and an extremely positive impression upon Inter’s performance when doing so.

However De Boer made the decision to omit both the 23-year-old and fellow new signing Gabriel Barbosa from his Europa League squad, as a consequence of Inter currently experiencing difficulties in complying with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play guidelines.

Specifically they were fined by UEFA in May for breaking FFP rules and agreed to select a squad of only 21 rather than the normal 25, for the Europa League, with Gabriel and Mario two players who will not feature in Inter’s continental campaign, which started with disastrous 2-0 home defeat to Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

Despite naming a markedly different starting XI from the one which was successful against Pescara, whereby he made seven changes to his line-up, De Boer still fielded a relatively strong side to play the Israeli league champions.  However with Icardi, who has scored all of Inter’s three goals so far this season, only appearing as a late second half substitute, Inter were largely devoid of an attacking threat throughout the game.

Therefore Inter, whose next Serie A game is against Juventus, forfeited an excellent opportunity to build upon beating Pescara by feebly succumbing to an aggressive and determined Hapoel Be’er Sheva side.

Milanese duo remain fallen giants

Furthermore that humbling Europa League loss at the San Siro marked the opening of a new chapter in the recent struggles of the formerly great Milanese duo, as both AC and Inter continue to toil in their efforts to detach themselves from the tag of ‘Fallen Giants’, with which they’ve been labelled due to their poor performances over recent seasons.

Montella and De Boer share a similar aspiration

As such at present the shared aspiration of Vincenzo Montella and Frank De Boer must be to spark a revival in the current fortunes of AC and Inter respectively, as the two managers aim to help their respective clubs return to former greatness.

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Can Milan build on opening day triumph?


It was a heart-in-mouth moment for all Milan supporters. Yet as they dreaded another mixed start to a new campaign, Gianluigi Donnarumma showed why he is one of Italy’s brightest young talents. The 17-year-old saved Andrea Belotti’s injury time penalty – the last kick of the game – to ensure Milan held on for a 3-2 win over Torino.

A match which could have gone either way, thanks to Carlos Bacca’s hat-trick and that late penalty save it went in favour of Vincenzo Montella’s team. The boss got off to a winning start, but former Milan Coach Sinisa Mihajlovic was left to wonder how his Granata side left the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza empty-handed.

A sigh of relief and a smile for Milan. Unlike in two of the past three seasons they are on the board after the opening 90 minutes. Bacca, linked with a move away from Milan during pre-season, carried on from last season’s form and will be an important figure in their quest to return to European competition. That, Bacca says, is his aim this term. Former striker Andriy Shevchenko believes he must improve his teamwork, but for now Montella will be happy with his scoring touch. M’Baye Niang and Suso combined with the Colombian to form an intriguing attacking trident – one which can be developed – but Andrea Bertolacci’s injury and the near-collapse in injury time almost ruined Montella’s debut.

Milan cannot get ahead of themselves. Coming up this weekend is a daunting trip to Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli. The Partenopei opened the season with a comeback 2-2 draw at newly promoted Pescara and so will be eager to go into the international break with a win to their name.

For Montella’s men it is an early test of character, just as the final moments against Torino were. “We need to work on keeping our concentration for 90 minutes and this victory will help,” Montella said after Sunday’s success.

Early successes in past seasons, notably under Filippo Inzaghi, were met with hopes of grandeur, both on and off the pitch. That cannot be the case again or Milan will risk slipping into old habits.

The Stadio San Paolo has been a barren ground for the Rossoneri since 2010, with three losses in five subsequent visits. But this is a massive early test for a Milan team which is hoping its spell in purgatory will come to an end.

Sampdoria playing for their future in Genoa Derby

Calcio: Serie A, torna campionato, martedì derby Genoa-Samp

Vincenzo Montella acknowledges the importance of the upcoming Derby della Lanterna: “We’ll have to pick up the points needed to stave off relegation in the derby,” he said after Sampdoria lost away to Palermo. One of Italy’s most passionate and colourful city showdowns, the Genoa Derby this Sunday takes on added importance for Sampdoria, who need a win to be sure of avoiding relegation.

Five points clear of the drop zone, it would take something special to see Samp drop into Serie B. But a Derby loss coupled with the likes of Carpi, Palermo and Udinese victories could make for a nervy final week of the season.

While Sampdoria’s form has been shaky of late – two wins in their last eight matches – they are unbeaten in the last four Lanterna affairs. That run consists of three victories. When the sides met in January, Montella’s men nearly coughed up a three-goal lead, but instead clawed on to a much-needed victory.

Serie A survival is very much central to the club’s plans. President Massimo Ferrero wants to bolster the squad over the summer. In 2014-15 Doria qualified for Europe, although that adventure ended quickly and in disastrous fashion in Europa League qualifiers. Ferrero has loftier ambitions as he approaches his third season of ownership. “As I’ve said since I arrived in Genoa almost two years ago, within three years we’ll win something.”

An unlikely dream it may be, but what Ferrero won’t repeat is the mistakes of January. Eder, Ervin Zukanovic and Vasco Regini were all sold, the former netting 12 goals before signing for Inter. Four players, including Fabio Quagliarella and Andrea Ranocchia, came in. Ferrero admits that was too many alterations.

And Ferrero is insistent on staving off any threat of his coach leaving to replace Antonio Conte in the Italy hot-seat. “He is staying with us. We’ll be holding on tight to him.” He is looking for greater solidity to take Sampdoria forward.

Genoa are already safe as we head into the penultimate week of the campaign. There’s city pride on the line for Gian Piero Gasperini’s Grifoni, who are three points up the road. They will be out for their first success since 2013. But for Sampdoria, there’s a lot more than that at stake.

Renewed sense of optimism at Sampdoria


A Derby della Lanterna success offered Sampdoria hope of a brighter 2016. They started the new year in the best fashion possible, but rather than build on it, Sampdoria stumbled.

What followed was a run of six losses and two draws in eight matches. Samp, who had replaced Walter Zenga with Vincenzo Montella to steady the ship following a rocky opening to the new campaign, were thrust into relegation uncertainty.

But things are now looking brighter. That’s after successive wins hoisted the port-city club up to 13th and five points clear of the relegation zone.

Montella declared Sampdoria’s season was to ‘start today’ after they defeated Frosinone 2-0 last weekend. The Coach blamed a raft of January changes for their downturn in form. This included the loss of top scorer Eder to Inter and Andrea Ranocchia’s move the other way. The clean sheet was only the second one recorded in 2016 and fourth overall. For a side comfortably the top scorers of teams in the bottom half – 42, eight more than the next best in Torino – it is clear where issues have been.

Victory over Frosinone, secured thanks to goals from Fernando and Fabio Quagliarella, gave Sampdoria a platform in which to build. The next task was to go to bottom club Verona and maintain the momentum. Two wins in four matches – Verona’s only triumphs this season – gave them reason to believe.

Montella saw the right attitude on display against Frosinone and wanted this to continue on Saturday. The tactician got his wish. The visitors raced to a two-goal lead inside the opening 11 minutes. Roberto Soriano and Antonio Cassano netted to put Sampdoria in command. After losing Eder’s 12 strikes, the former is the leading scorer with eight, while Cassano notched his second of the campaign. Lazaros Christodoulopoulos’ goal on the half-hour completed a fine opening half for Montella’s men which ultimately proved the difference.

For the boss this result added consistency to last week’s success. “We’re on the right track. Lately we have been more solid and this game was very important.” The win gives Sampdoria a buffer to the drop zone. Quagliarella didn’t get on the scoresheet, but is proving important in attack in Eder’s absence. Meanwhile, the defence is starting to click.

With two tricky upcoming away fixtures against Empoli and Fiorentina, getting a first win outside of Genoa was also a boost. Their position remains a precarious one, but there is more reason to be optimistic at Samp’s chances of survival.