Spalletti’s Inter revolution in full swing

spalletti-inter

Inter take on Cagliari this Saturday, knowing a win would send them top of Serie A if Napoli trip up against Udinese. From the impenetrable performances of Milan Skriniar at the back to Mauro Icardi’s prolific form at the other end, however, the man behind the Nerazzurri’s road back to the top is Coach Luciano Spalletti.

What makes Spalletti’s start at Inter all the more impressive is how he achieved it. The 58-year-old had just guided Roma to a runners-up finish in the Italian top flight but nonetheless abandoned ship for the Beneamata, who were in complete disarray after a campaign that saw them make three coaching changes and fail to qualify for European competition.

 

Despite his appointment, expectations were low in comparison to those of arch-rivals Milan. Not only did Inter take their time in the transfer market, but their business was also overshadowed by what was happening across town, with the Diavolo having splashed out more than €200m on 11 new players, among them former Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci.

Inter were more reserved with their spending, recruiting eight personnel a cost of €72m, but while their neighbours could be accused of a scattergun approach in the market, Spalletti’s targets seemed to be calculated. Two new full-backs, a central defender, two midfielders and a quick forward were explicitly demanded by the Coach – and duly delivered in part by ex-Roma sporting director Walter Sabatini.

With Dalbert and Joao Cancelo adding much-needed depth out wide, Skriniar proving a revelation, Matias Vecino and Borja Valero injecting intelligence and composure, plus Yann Karamoh considered an exciting prospect up top, Inter’s squad has been revitalised, and it’s no wonder that they sit second in Serie A and already lead Milan by 14 points.

Unlike his Roma teams, which were famed for their tactical innovations and attractive football, Spalletti’s Inter line up in a 4-3-3 formation and are underpinned by a watertight defence, which has conceded just nine goals all season. With no designated No 10, the Beneamata’s midfield trio are instructed to play out wide or find Mauro Icardi – in the form of his life, with 13 goals in as many matches.

Cagliari won’t be pushovers on Saturday. Granted, Inter have beaten the Sardinians just twice in nine previous meetings, while the latter have regained their mojo under new boss Diego Lopez after three wins in their last five outings. Yet the Nerazzurri can’t afford to drop points in games like these if they are to mount a serious title challenge this term.

Valencia cast-offs blowing away La Liga

Valencia celebrate

All eyes will be on La Liga’s top-of-the-table clash on Sunday night as Valencia – on an eight-game winning streak and inspired by the sparkling Goncalo Guedes – host league leaders Barcelona, who have dropped only two points all season. Something will have to give at the Mestalla but should the home side avoid defeat, nobody will doubt that they form part of the league title race.

It is a remarkable turnaround at Los Che, who have finished 12th in consecutive campaigns. This time span included five managers, a revolving door of players and total chaos and instability both on and off the field. Singaporean owner Peter Lim – who had acquired the club three years earlier – was under serious pressure to either quit or overhaul the club and build a structure to end the underachievement.

 

The rebuilding job began with the appointment of Lim’s compatriot Anil Murthy as president, but the major move was finally landing the manager who had previously eluded them. The club, under the direction of general director Mateu Alemany, had wanted Marcelino Garcia Toral a year earlier but were denied by league rules. The tactician had steered Villarreal – Valencia’s regional neighbours – back to the top flight in 2013, while recording three consecutive top six finishes and a Europa League semi-final.

He was surprisingly dismissed on the eve of the 2016/17 campaign but La Liga ruled he had effectively managed Villarreal that season, meaning he could not join another top flight club in the country. His appointment at the Mestalla was a long time coming, ensuring he and Alemany moved to make up for lost time. The summer transfer window saw seven arrivals while 16 players departed a bloated first-team squad.

The newly-trimmed ranks now prioritise quality over quantity, with players starring having struggled elsewhere. Norbeto Neto, Gianluigi Buffon’s understudy at Juventus, has thrived while Gabriel Paulista and Jeison Murillo – who struggled to adapt to life outside of La Liga – have formed a formidable central defensive partnership.

Deep-lying midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia is enjoying a rich vein of form in helping the side build from the back after a loan move from Inter and Andreas Pereira, borrowed from Manchester United, adds flair, creativity and ingenuity in the final third. Guedes has been in sensational form since arriving on loan from PSG – where he could not consolidate a first-team spot – and Simone Zaza (signed six months earlier), whose confidence plummeted at Juventus and West Ham, has already hit nine league goals, behind only Lionel Messi.

This side of cast-offs has sparkled, hitting 32 goals and garnering 30 points in an unbeaten opening 12 game run. They hit Real Betis for six, scored five past Malaga and netted four past Sevilla, while they drew at the Bernabeu and held Atletico Madrid. If they can go one better against Barcelona, the will start to dream of a first title in 14 years.

Euro Fantasy League Podcast – Episode 5 – Tony Pulis is Sacked – What Next For Him? Plus – Why Does Eddie Howe Hate Jamie?

EuroFantasyPodCover700x300

Dave returns to the hotseat to discuss exactly what he feels has gone wrong with the Dutch national team, the lads speculate about Tony Pulis’ next role after his sacking from West Brom and discuss Callum Wilson’s fine performance at the weekend.

Plus – Jamie reveals that he likes Eddie Howe, but tells the story of why Eddie Howe doesn’t like him.

Continue reading

How Ventura Risks Eliminating Italy from World Cup 2018

A 1-0 defeat in Sweden has raised even further the possibility of Italy missing its first World Cup tournament in around 60 years. Former Torino coach Gian Piero Ventura has taken Italy on a roller coaster journey and unfortunately for Azzurri fans it has strictly been a downward spiral with no uptick in fortune.

Below are some of the main points behind Italy’s struggles:

1) Bad results and even poorer performances: The Azzurri were dismantled by Spain with Isco running the show. Things did not get better when Italy managed a 1-1 draw with Macedonia followed by an unconvincing 1-0 win at Albania.

The results were definitely poor but what is more troubling has been the bad performances. Italy’s struggles have been down to multiple factors but much revolves around Ventura’s inability to get the best out of his players.

rsz_1100415-soccer-napoli-lorenzo-insigne-pi-chvresize1200675high22

2) Players are uncertain of what are supposed to do: Imagine you are playing in a decisive play-off match and your team is down by one goal in Sweden, but you are unsure of your role on the pitch! Well, that is exactly how Lorzeno Insigne felt when subbed on with around 15 minutes left on the clock. Ventura played him out of position (again)! One of Italy’s brightest talents this season yet Insigne continues to be played out of position, or to be used in ways which hinder his skills.

3) Selection Nightmare: Ventura’s selection process has been controversial to say the least as he excluded the likes of Napoli’s Jorginho from the entire campaign before finally selecting him for the playoffs against Sweden! Jorginho and Insigne have built a solid understanding while both have played a critical role in Napoli’s rise to the top of Serie A.

Excluding Jorginho may perhaps be forgiven, yet Ventura’s decision to pick Eder defies all odds. Eder cannot start for Inter with stats showing the striker has not made a single start in Serie A- Eder has so far made 9 substitute appearances in Italy’s top flight in the 2017/18 campaign.

Eder’s curious case is but one example. In previous matches, Ventura opted to select Leonardo Spinazzola who had not featured for his club Atalanta during the first 4 matches in the current Serie A season. Thus, Spinazzola was clearly short on match fitness. One disappointing omission is perhaps that of his teammate Mattia Caldara who has been one of the most consistent centre-backs in Serie A over the last 15 months while also showing a knack for scoring goals.

ventura

4) Italy’s Age Question: Ventura took over insisting he wants to rejuvenate the side yet he has taken Italy backwards several steps since taking charge. 

Performances and results aside, Ventura has also failed to blend in younger faces into the squad. Against Sweden, the likes of Andrea Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi were both selected despite being 36 and 34 years old respectively. While selecting Juventus legend Gianluigi Buffon makes sense considering the vast experience he possesses as a goalkeeper and his much needed leadership, having Barzagli and De Rossi start is confounding. Both cannot cover much space anymore and both would be expected to struggle against a physical Swedish team. However, Ventura decided to start both.

5) Conte vs Ventura: Current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte guided Italy to some solid displays during Euro 2016 despite having a less talented squad at his disposal. Conte’s attack consisted of Eder and Graziano Pellè. Ventura has had the choice of picking between the Best Player in Italy during the Month of October- based on detailed Fantasy Football stats- in the shape of Ciro Immobile and Torino’s top scorer Andrea Belotti. What does Ventura do? He rightfully selects both in his squad, yet mistakenly, again, forces both to play in the Starting XI despite the clear indications the two cannot perform well together.

Conte’s midfield options were rather limited as well, with injury depriving him of key players such as Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio. Ventura can start one or both of the midfielders yet has continued to misuse Verratti, just as he has misused Insigne.

rsz_marcoverratti-cropped_1fkme6d3z3ic21d1gpy1j91hjq

6) Wrong Formation: Ventura used his beloved 4-2-4 formation against Spain and not only did it backfire but it also led to a humiliating defeat in Madrid. Despite lacking the players to produce the result while using a 4-2-4 formation, Ventura continued to press with it. Ventura clearly failed to acknowledge his squad is not suited for 4-2-4.

Against Sweden, he switched to a 3-5-2 yet that backfired as well because of a number of reasons.

7) Confusion, Chaos & Tinkering: You would forgive a coach for making changes during the early stages of his reign, yet for Ventura to reinforce his uncertainty before and during the two-match playoffs against Sweden spells disaster for Italy.

Ventura has yet to settle on a formation and moved to a 3-5-2 for the first game in Sweden while he is expected to change again for Monday’s game in Milan!

The constant change leads to confusion among the players due to the lack of familiarity with the formation. In fact, the Italian team lacked cohesion versus Sweden and struggled to impose its style, that is if Ventura’s Italy did have any style to showcase.

The turnover and changes lead to a lack of stability. Imagine if this happens during critical matches in a playoff battle for qualification for the World Cup.

8) Last but not least, where is the Passion? From the beginning of the World Cup qualifying campaign, Ventura’s Italy has lacked the conviction and determination displayed under his predecessor Conte during Euro 2016.

The current squad lacks confidence too. The instability and the lack of a clear vision under Ventura has also been quite detrimental in terms of motivating the players and building their confidence. The players are clearly not confident and do not seem to trust Ventura’s tactics.

The Italian manager has failed to transmit clear ideas and has not been able to get the best out of his squad. To make matters worse, the lack of a coherent plan has resulted in a lack of commitment and dedication from the players.

To blame everything on Ventura would be a mistake because the first party to be held responsible should be the FIGC for hiring an unqualified coach in the shape of Ventura. Even if Italy turn things around and qualify to World Cup 2018, the Azzurri will be knocked out from the group stage unless drastic changes are introduced starting with the sacking of Ventura.

There is talk that Ventura does not even control the locker room with some hinting the veterans and the more experienced players have had a strong influence on Ventura and his actions. To fire him will result in a much needed jolt and perhaps see the hiring of a well respected manager who can bring order back to the locker room.

Azzurri fans deserve better. Legendary goalkeeper Buffon deserves better. Instead of celebrating a remarkable career by playing in a record 6th World Cup tournament, Buffon may end up watching World Cup 2018 as a retired player.

Play the most popular Fantasy Serie A www.fantasyseriea.com and select your preferred Fantasy Serie A players by clicking here.

 

Juventus: From signing Higuain for 90m to Conte’s Evolution

In Part III of our interview with Rav Gopal we continue to focus on Juventus. Rav was gracious enough to make ample time to engage in our extended Q&A covering all things Juve. His valuable knowledge goes beyond being an ardent fan of Serie A, specifically Juve, to the founding of JuveFC.com. Rav has dedicated years to the upkeep and growth of the popular site covering his beloved club.

Q1) Juve built a reputation of signing players for free, or for a bargain fee. Who do you see as Juve’s next bargain signing? 

I would hope it is someone like Leon Goretzka or Emre Can. Both are decent midfielders and either one can serve as good replacement moving from from Sami Khedira.

Higuain

Q2) Would you say Gonzalo Higuain is worth the 90m fee paid to secure his move from Napoli?

I do not think any player is worth 90m, but Higuain was what Juve were missing for quite some time, maybe since David Trezeguet left: A consistent striker who guarantees 20 goals a season. Carlos Tevez offered that to a certain extent, but he also played deeper – Higuain is the fox in the box that we lacked in the team. Considering the crazy money spent this summer, perhaps 90m is not so bad after all.

Q3) One team you would like Juve to avoid meeting in the knock-out stages of the Champions League (before the Final)? 

Real Madrid- despite the poor start to the Spanish League, they are still a ruthless side as Juve fans know all too well.

Q4) One team you would prefer Juve avoid playing in the Champions League final (if they make it)? 

Barcelona- I suspect they will only improve as the season goes on and with Lionel Messi on the pitch, anything is possible.

FBL-FRA-LCUP-PARIS-SAINT-ETIENNE

Q5) We have seen or heard about Edinson Cavani & Neymar having that infamous dispute over who takes a penalty-kick… if you had a choice, would you pick Cavani or Neymar for Juve? 

Cavani, simply because I cannot tolerate Neymar. For all his talent, Neymar is a diver and a poor example as a footballer. Everything from his antics to the way his transfer was conducted, I find abhorrent. People may think I am being too dramatic, but I think the game has changed for the worse over the course of the last few years and Neymar is an example of how it has changed to the worse.

Q6) How about former Juve boss Antonio Conte. How good is he? He won the English Premier League title at first try but do you consider him to be tactically savvy? Is he superior to Max Allegri? 

Conte has improved a great deal during his time with the Italian national team. There were aspects of his character that I disliked at Juve from acting petulant at times to the way he was so guarded and aloof at times, particularly with the press. He seems to have mellowed slightly and has become a little more self-deprecating. He has a specific system that he prefers to use and it does work well, but he has his limitations as well as we saw at Juve. I do not think he has surpassed Allegri yet, because Max is still able to adapt to almost any situation. He can think outside of the box to win games while Conte can be set in his ways.

Do not forget to play the most popular Fantasy Serie A www.fantasyseriea.com and check out the Mobile App by clicking here.

You can follow our Podcast @eurofantasypod and keep in touch with Rav and stay informed about all things Juventus @juvefcdotcom

Top upcoming striker in Serie A: Giovanni Simeone

simeone

Serie A is in a peculiar situation regarding the young strikers: most of them have already managed to either become household names or centrepieces of top clubs, so it would be unfair to label them “upcoming”. This applies to players such as Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi and Andrea Belotti, whose superstar status makes you forget that they are so young. André Silva has not left a distinct mark in the league yet, but he is already at Milan.

On the other hand, teams like Sampdoria, Chievo Verona, Udinese, Sassuolo, Bologna, Genoa, Benevento, Crotone and Spal this year are featuring strikers that no longer can be defined young. Therefore, there is not a real crop of exciting upcoming strikers in Serie A and the only real candidate for this definition: Giovanni Simeone, Andrea Petagna and Moise Kean. Atalanta’s forward is a useful player, but his lack of scoring prevents him from getting the nod. Kean is freakishly young: he will be a star, but he has been hit-or-(mostly)miss so far. He is a product of Juventus’ youth system.

Giovanni Simeone’s rise in Italy has been extremely quick. He joined Genoa in 2016 to be Leonardo Pavoletti’s back-up, and a future opportunity to make a profit on a relatively cheap buy, but the injuries of the Italian striker allowed him to play a ton in his first season. Despite a lengthy slump in the Winter, caused also by problems outside of the pitch that can affect a youngster, he was a solid contributor, scoring 12 goals in 35 appearances.

His determination and fierceness in the box is evident; he is an artist in the air, despite being relatively tiny: he is so cunning in getting open and he capable of contorting his body in ways that allow him to always hit precise and powerful headers. The goal against Roma is yet another display of this innate, Filippo Inzaghi-esque ability. He is a delight for crossers.

Due to a domino of strikers, he joined Fiorentina very late and this put him behind the eight ball. Stefano Pioli immediately relied heavily on him, but the combinations with his teammates have not been on point to start the season and the feeling was that he was playing a little too much on his own: he scored only once in the first six matches. However, these things improve over time and he has now developed into the weapon Viola expect him to be: he found the bottom of the net thrice in the last month and, perhaps more importantly for his development, he has dished three assists.

Combining with others is the area Simeone needs to improve in order to become an all-around forward, but he is making strides there and can be helped by a natural above-average technique. Coaches always praised him for his will and his hard-work and he has expanded his game a lot since he first moved to Italy. With a better supporting cast, he might crack 20 goals in this or in the next couple of seasons. Fiorentina has been a launching pad for great players in the past, El Cholito might be the next to join the esteemed list.

Battle the best players at www.fantasyseriea.com

Premier League stars Courtois, De Bruyne & Hazard to lead Belgian quest in Russia 2018

Vincent Van Genechten, armed with his extensive knowledge of Belgian football, is back again to discuss in Part III of our Q & A the Belgian national team’s prospects ahead of the World Cup next summer.

Q1) How far do you expect Belgium to go in Russia 2018? Can Belgium reach the World Cup semi-final?

The Red Devils enjoyed a very successful qualification campaign, racing through their group while scoring a large number of goals. They must be one of the favorites, right? Well, that is where it gets tricky. On paper, Belgium has all the quality players to lift that prestigious World Cup trophy. Looking at the squad list, which other country has a world class goalkeeper such as Thibaut Courtois, an elite defender as Toby Alderweireld, an assist-machine in the form of midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and a difference maker like forward Eden Hazard at the disposal of is manager? Believe me, not that many… Continue reading

World Cup 2018: Belgium to rely heavily on Chelsea’s Hazard?

Once again we welcome back the knowledgeable Vincent Van Genechten who has ample experience covering Belgian and Italian football. In Part II of our Q & A with Vincent, we delve deeper into the affairs of the Belgian national team and turn attention to specific players, namely Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku.

eden hazard chelsea

Q1) Eden Hazard had a great 2016/17 Premier League season. He was ranked as one of the top EPL Fantasy Players. How important is Hazard for Belgium?

You just have to look at who is Belgium’s captain to know how important Hazard is for this team. He has been very important since Martinez took over. He is not that vocal like Vincent Kompany or Jan Vertonghen, but you can clearly see much revolves around Hazard when the Red Devils play. In the past Hazard had the tendency to disappear in big games but those times are behind us. When Belgium needs him, he makes himself visible on most occasions. Continue reading

Top Serie A Fantasy Player in October

Lazio-Immobile

There were several contenders who would have been worthy recipients of this award as Serie A is heavily featured in the Team of the Month. Alisson, and the Roma defence, have had a great October with several clean sheets, Aleksandar Kolarov has been probably the best summer purchase considering his price tag, Raul Albiol is pivotal for Napoli’s success and Dries Mertens and Mauro Icardi have had spectacular performances. However, the nod deservedly goes to the one who has collected the most points: Ciro Immobile.

The Lazio striker racked up 27 points, thanks six goals and three assists in October: the only flaw was a missed penalty against Bologna. The Biancocelesti have won every game last month, including an impressive comeback over Juventus in Turin, where the Bianconeri had not lost in 41 matches. Immobile tallied at the Allianz Stadium one of the two braces he had in the last 31 days.

The easy victories over Sassuolo (6-1), Lazio (3-0) and Benevento (1-5) show that the side led by Simone Inzaghi has ascended to the upper echelon of Serie A because it can get the job done when it needs to without sweating too much. As of right now, it is tied with Juventus in third position, three points behind Napoli and two behind Inter and they are fully in the running for a Champions League spot. They have coped very well with several absences: they have recently recovered Luis Nani and Felipe Anderson is not that far behind, which gives the attack an extra oomph and Immobile even more assists.

Over the last calendar year, Lazio have become a well-oiled machine and Ciro Immobile is the main beneficiary from the scoring standpoint. The team has great chemistry and precise mechanisms, which more often than not end up with a point-blank chance for its striker. Both on counters and against a set defence, the Italian forward has been lethal: he sits atop of the scorers’ chart, with 14 goals so far, three more than the closer rivals, Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi. After wandering a little since bursting into the scenes in 2011/2012, Immobile has finally found the right situation and wisely agreed to extend his contract with the current club till 2022.

Roma’s goalkeeper Alisson deserves a shout-out, as he collected 27 points as well. Roma did not concede any goal in the five games they played in October and they were not all cupcakes: they faced Milan, Napoli, Torino, Crotone and Bologna. There were some doubts about the youngster this summer and some feared the Giallorossi would miss Wojciech Szczesny, but that has not been the case and the Brazilian goalie is living up to the hype that surrounded him before his move to Italy and a year as an understudy actually helped him.

 

Battle with the best players at www.fantasyseriea.com