Serie A Fantasy Striker Picks – Week 14

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Some juicy match-ups this week, there should be plenty of opportunities to score for the top strikers in the League. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Striker Picks for Week 13

Icardi has bagged two braces in two appearances so far this season

Week 13 of Italy’s Serie A will be featuring some very interesting match-ups: in particular Roma-Lazio, Napoli-Milan and Sampdoria-Juventus. Continue reading

Serie A well represented in the Ballon d’Or list

Juventus v Sevilla FC - UEFA Champions League

France Football released the list of the 30 finalists for Balloon d’Or yester and Serie A is featured with five players: Leonardo Bonucci, Gianluigi Buffon, Paulo Dybala, Edin Dzeko and Dries Mertens. It is the best result for the league since 2007, when it had 9 candidates and Milan’s Kakà brought home the award thanks to the success in Champions League. In 2016, Serie A had only three nominees. As expected, Liga and Premier League had the strongest performances with 11 and seven players respectively; Bundesliga have three, Ligue 1 four. Club-wise, Real Madrid dominates with seven contenders, while Juventus have the second most, alongside Barcelona, with three.

It is a good result for the league and it is a well-deserved recognition for the elite performance of its best players. Mertens and Dzeko went toe-to-toe in the leading scorer race: the Roma forward won out with 29 goals in 37 games, while the Belgian attacker finished with 28 in 35 appearances. Achievements worthy of the highest echelon of European strikers. Both have been on a tear at the start of the season as well. It is even a more remarkable result for the Napoli attacker considering that he fully transitioned to centre-forward only at the beginning of 2017.

Juventus are rewarded for their Champions League run, which unfortunately ended with another lost final, and for the historic sixth title in a row. They built their success on strong defending and therefore Buffon and Bonucci are obvious choices, even though the defender was not as good after his move to Milan. Had the Bianconeri lifted the big-eared trophy, the goalkeeper could have maybe crowned his legendary career with the coveted prize. Paulo Dybala is on the list as well, mostly because of his stunning start of the season: he has already tallied 12 goals. He was obviously instrumental to Turin club a year ago as well, but not as prolific.

The only notable snub from Serie A is Gonzalo Higuain: he finished fourth in the scorers’ chart, with 25 goals, but reaching the UCL final could have pushed him in the list. His lack of scoring in the later stages of the main European competition, even though he did decide the first leg of semi-final against Monaco with a brace, and his struggles with Argentina likely kept him out. Andrea Belotti had a magnificent year as well, but he does not have the name power of his more illustrious colleagues yet.

Cristiano Ronaldo is fully expected to win his fifth Balloon d’Or, with his arch-rival Lionel Messi coming in second. The race for the third place is open and Juventus could be given a token spot, with Buffon being the logical candidate and Dybala the flashiest one. However, there are plenty of deserving players in the star-studded list and rewarding another Real Madrid player, Toni Kroos or Luka Modric for instance, would obviously not be a bad choice either.

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Napoli the most convincing team after seven games

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After a very busy 20-day stretch, Serie A has reached the second international break, so it is the right opportunity to take a breather and examine where things are at, especially on top of the table. The start of the season has had more confirmations than surprises and the real contenders have already been able to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Napoli are alone on top of the standings as they have been perfect so far: 7 wins out of 7. It is the culmination of two years of work under Maurizio Sarri. The Partenopei take great advantage of the most prolific attack in Europe: Dries Mertens, José Maria Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne have insane chemistry and Marek Hamsik broke his unusual drought. They have scored at least three goals in every domestic game. The Azzurri had some troubles only in the home game against Atalanta and on the road in Ferrara, but they managed to come out of top in both occasions. Arkadiusz Milik has not been missed as they have so many weapons on the roster.

Juventus could have easily been on top as well, had they not fumbled away a win that was within reach in Bergamo: they had a 0-2 lead and also missed the 2-3 penalty late in the game. The Bianconeri have not necessarily looked as commanding as Napoli, but they got the job done most of the time. Without Leonardo Bonucci, the defence has not been as air-tight as in the past, but the high-powered offered is carrying them. Paulo Dybala is Serie A’s leading scorer, Gonzalo Higuain got out of the short slump and Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado have contributed greatly: they even have room for improvement once Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi will be fully integrated. Newcomers Blaise Matuidi and Rodrigo Bentancur have been very helpful in light of the injuries in the midfield.

Inter have collected as many points as Juventus: the Nerazzurri had an explosive start, dismantling Fiorentina and Roma at San Siro, but then tailed off a little, but only from the performance standpoint, because the satisfactory results kept coming. The last three wins against low-table teams have either arrived late or been narrower than expected: the attack has plateaued, but they have been able to manufacture random goals. They have great goalkeeping and a rock-solid defence and Milan Skriniar has been as stout as they could have hoped.

Lazio and Roma are slightly behind as they have already lost a game. The Biancocelesti succumbed against Napoli mostly due to defensive injuries, but their latest run has been nothing short of amazing: without most of their centre-back and half of their attack, as Felipe Anderson and Luis Nani have been non-factors due to physical ailments, they have been automatic against the smaller clubs. Simone Inzaghi and Ciro Immobile are the main actors, Luis Alberto is the revelation that solved a lot of problems upfront. Roma are surging: they have played one fewer match because the Sampdoria fixture has been postponed, but after the loss against Inter they have resembled their last season’s selves. Edin Dzeko is scoring at will and the backline is very solid. Eusebio Di Francesco has been able to come up with creative solutions to deal with a slew of injuries and their play has not suffered. If the teams on top slowed down, they could be in the running for Scudetto.

Serie A will return with a bang in two weeks: Juventus will host Lazio, Roma will square off at home against Napoli and it will be time for the Milan derby. The Rossoneri have quickly dropped out of the title race as they are dealing with chemistry and defensive issues, but the game against Inter could be an opportunity to gain some ground in the table and advance their candidacy for a Champions League spot, but they need to turn things around quickly.

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

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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

Champions League: Higuain Answers the Call

Much has been written about Gonzalo Higuain’s inability to deliver the goals on the big stage. Higuain cannot score in important games is a statement all too familiar for football followers, particularly for Argentina fans. For a rather deadly striker, his reputation had become tarnished by a failure to show up in big matches- with the World Cup 2014 and Copa America finals both cited as glaring examples of his ineptitude when it matters most.

Fast forward to Monaco on May 3rd, 2017, and the football world finally witnessed Higuain seize the opportunity not only to silence his critics but also to score what is likely the most important brace in his career. As has become expected from naysayers, some still made it a point to mention Higuain looked out of shape.

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Higuain looks overweight is another statement Juventus fans have heard often this season. Not that it has stopped Higuain from delivering the goals. In 34 Serie A games, of which he started 29 of them, Higuain managed to score an impressive 23 goals while dishing out two assists. He only trails Roma’s Edin Dzeko & Torino’s Andrea Belotti, both of whom have 25 goals, followed by Inter’s Mauro Icardi at 24. However, Juve did not splash €90 million to sign Higuain to score goals just in Serie A and against domestic rivals in Coppa Italia. The Argentina striker is not a luxury but rather an integral part in Juve’s plan to finally win the Champions League after a 21-year wait.

Many pundits noted earlier in the season that Higuain’s proper assessment and whether he will be considered as a successful signing will depend heavily on his output on European nights, in particular in the knockout stages. The outlook seemed bleak as Higuain managed just three goals in Europe prior to his double against Monaco. Of those three goals, one was a penalty-kick against Lyon while the other two successful strikes came in the 4-0 and 2-0 wins against light-weight opposition in the form of Dinamo Zagreb. Hence, there was nothing to rave about and coupled with Higuain’s failure to find the back of the net against both Porto and Barcelona, the critics began to sharpen their pencils.

Even his start against Monaco was not very promising, he slipped once and failed to connect with a Dani Alves fierce cross-shot earlier in the game. It looked as if this would be another frustrating night for Higuain in Europe. However, the Argentina striker responded with great composure and timing not only to score the first goal but also seal the 2-0 win for the Bianconeri. Both goals required a single touch by El Pipita, highlighting his goal-scoring prowess and uncanny ability to find the back of the net when provided with the slightest of chances.

The first goal was one of the best one can hope for in terms of team play and the buildup leading to the goal, starting with goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and with both Higuain and flying Brazilian full-back Alves playing a crucial role in its creation. The game highlights, particularly the two goals, underline how good Higuain’s finish and first-touch can be. You can check the link here for the game’s highlights and goals: Monaco 0-2 Juventus Highlights. Courtesy www.goalsarena.org

The question now is, will Higuain striker again in Turin? And will he be decisive if Juve reach the final in Cardiff? Expect the critics to keep questioning Higuain because that is the nature of the game. However, Higuain has at least one more opportunity, in Turin, to end the debate about his disappearing acts in big games!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great week for strikers in Serie A

Euro 2016

In the last two rounds of Serie A fixtures, several strikers have been in fine goal-scoring form.

Higuain fails to fire for Juve

Ironically however the most expensive player in the history of Italian football has not been, with Gonzalo Higuain, whom Juventus signed for €90m from Napoli last summer, failing to score on each of his last two appearances for La Vecchia Signora.

Roma’s Dzeko in fine form

In stark contrast to Higuain’s recent fortunes, Edin Dzeko scored three times in his last two games for Roma.

In doing so the 30-year-old Bosnian became the first player to score 10 Serie A goals this season, as Dzeko has established himself as the division’s leading marksman.  As well as scoring in Roma’s 4-1 home win over Palermo, Dzeko finished expertly on two occasions to help his team beat Sassuolo 3-1.

Subsequently so far this season Dzeko has scored a goal for every 80 minutes he has played in Serie A, with him having a total of 46 attempts on goal.  That is significantly more than any other Serie A player, although of the ten top scorers in the league, the best shot-to-goal conversion rate is that of Carlos Bacca.  Specifically Bacca has scored with six of his 13 shots on goal, as the AC Milan striker is currently the joint fourth top scorer in Serie A alongside the trio of Andrea Belotti, Jose Callejon and Higuain.

Belotti’s excellent season continues

Indicative of Belotti’s fine start to the season is that the Torino striker earned a first call-up to Italy’s senior international squad and has featured in three of the Azzuri’s four games since Euro 2016.  Furthermore the 22-year-old striker scored his maiden international goal to help Giampiero Ventura’s side to a 3-2 victory over Macedonia in their previous 2018 World Cup Qualifier.

Icadri and Immobile in pursuit of Dzeko

Since that game however, Belotti has scored just once in three Torino appearances, as Sinisa Mihajlovic’s side lost 2-1 to Inter Milan, for whom Mauro Icardi starred.  The Argentinean striker, whose relationship with Inter’s supporters is fractured and in a state of disrepair due to derogatory comments he made about them, scored twice, with one of his goals resulting from an error by Torino goalkeeper Joe Hart.

Udinese grateful to Thereau

As a result of his double against Torino Icardi is the joint second top scorer in Serie A and in pursuit of Dzeko, along with Lazio’s Ciro Immobile.  The 26-year-old, who has also played in the Bundesliga and La Liga with Borrusia Dortmund and Sevilla respectively, scored three goals in his team’s last two games.  That was a feat also achieved by Udinese’s experienced French striker Cyril Thereau, as the 33-year-old helped his team to successive Serie A victories for the first time this season as Luigi Delneri’s side beat both Palermo and Pescara 3-1.

Kalinic hits hat-trick for Fiorentina

Although several strikers such as Thereau performed outstandingly well during the last two rounds of Serie A fixtures, only one scored a hat-trick, with that being Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic, as the Croatian striker inspired his team to a 5-3 away win over Cagliari.

Therefore, despite Kalinic being the only striker to have scored a hat-trick in the ninth and tenth sets of Serie A games of the 2016-2017 season, many more showcased their superb finishing ability.

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Timely Dzeko goal a boost for Roma

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It was as timely a goal as Edin Dzeko is likely to score. For the Bosnian, slotting past Bernd Leno in the Bayer Leverkusen goal on Wednesday was his first strike for Roma since getting the better of Gianluigi Buffon on August 30th.

It was also important on another front. For the Giallorossi, that goal helped maintain their hopes of Champions League knockout phase progression. It was a much needed second victory of Group E, propelling the capital club up to second with two matches remaining.

And ahead of Sunday’s Rome Derby, the timing was perfect.

Dzeko had been under pressure to find the back of the net. It was hoped that with his summer arrival the Roma attack would go to the next level, especially after last season’s struggles.

Currently, Roma are Serie A’s most prolific attack and third-best in the Champions League, so they haven’t exactly been lost without Dzeko’s contributions. The goals have been shared, although the burden has fallen on mercurial wing duo Gervinho and Mohamed Salah – 12 strikes between them.

After protracted summer negotiations with Manchester City and a long-standing desire to end Juve’s domestic dominance, Dzeko is expected to deliver the goals. He wasn’t helped by an early knee injury that saw the striker miss a month of action.

Rudi Garcia was quick to remind after last week’s loss to Inter that he is still to rediscover full fitness, although national team boss Mehmed Bazdarevic – watching in Milan – had no concerns. “If he had scored, for me he would’ve been the man of the match.”

What Bazdarevic did like was Dzeko’s selflessness to help create opportunities, of which Roma spurned many. And against Leverkusen the 29-year-old was vital in Roma’s opening goal, scored by Salah.

They extended the lead through Dzeko’s drought-breaker. Latching on to Radja Nainggolan’s pass he ran clear, before an unerring finish. Roma eventually triumphed 3-2.

The Bosnian admitted he isn’t happy with his goal total, but says he has always been backed. “The team and the club have always been behind me and I dedicate the victory to them. This is why I haven’t felt pressure.”

He knows about the big occasion, having netted four times in nine Manchester Derby appearances. Now Dzeko is approaching his maiden Derby della Capitale in a buoyant mood. That could spell trouble for Lazio, and for the rest of Serie A.