Spalletti’s Inter revolution in full swing

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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.

Retaining Perisic a huge win for Inter and Spalletti

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The future of Ivan Perisic was one of the big talking points of the summer. It was no secret that Manchester United coveted the Crotian winger and that José Mourinho pushed hard to get a deal done. At the beginning of the summer, when the Financial Fair Play restrictions were still a problem for Inter, it looked like the management resigned itself to letting Perisic go and the player was very much willing to move to England.

Then, June passed and Inter gathered what they needed to fulfil the economic requirements through smaller transactions, so they started to resist the idea of selling one of their very best elements. The reports about the asking price are not unanimous, but it was at least €50M, if not up to €60M, which is not insane in today’s market, even though Perisic is a little older than some of the other stars that have moved for mind-boggling sums.

Throughout the summer, the newly appointed Luciano Spalletti worked on Perisic, trying to change his mind and making him commit to his cause. The coach, after some early openings, became a strong supporter of the permanence, especially in August, when it became clear that Inter would have struggled find a proper replacement.

Inter did not budge in the final days of the summer window and Perisic has been on fire early on. He has scored with a header against Fiorentina and with a beautiful volley against Spal and has assisted thrice in three games, providing two key dimes in the all-important Roma game. Perisic has always been excellent since joining from Wolfsburg, but he is now taking it up a notch: the sample size is small, but he never looked so engaged and so efficient. Spalletti has an history for getting the max out of his players and it looks like has done the trick again.

On top of the brilliant start, Perisic has signed an extension through 2022, which will earn him a base salary of €4.6M, making him the highest paid player on the roster, alongside Mauro Icardi, who could be getting a new deal soon. The resistance has paid dividends for Inter and it is a notable difference compared, for instance, to Juventus’ philosophy, which in the past has sold key players, such as Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Leonardo Bonucci, as soon as they expressed the slightest intention to leave.

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Roma must act fast to solve defensive problem

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Roma made significant progress last season following the arrival of Luciano Spalletti. The Giallorossi stuttered through a season-wrecking winter period which cost Rudi Garcia his job. Recovery under Spalletti took Roma to the Champions League qualifiers and hopes of continued progression both at home and on the continent.

But there is one major headache approaching the new campaign. Roma already knew defensive reinforcements were required. But recent injuries have made them increasingly vital.

Antonio Rudiger’s ACL injury suffered during Euro 2016 preparations with Germany sent alarm bells through the Italian capital. The 23-year-old came into his own at the heart of the Giallorossi defence last term, stepping up in place of Leandro Castan. The Brazilian was on the mend following a brain problem, naturally a slow process.

That leaves Kostas Manolas in need of a defensive partner. Roma spurned off advances for the Greek defender and have signed Juan Jesus from Inter on loan. Castan has joined Sampdoria on loan this term, while January signing Ervin Zukanovic has moved to Atalanta.

It’s a similar situation out wide. Roma were unable to find an agreement with Paris Saint-Germain to make left-back Lucas Digne’s stay permanent and he has moved to Barcelona. Alessandro Florenzi regularly stepped in on the opposite flank and did well, but is not a natural fit. Summer signing Mario Rui was supposed to be the solution, but he too has suffered a long-term knee injury.

That leaves the Giallorossi scrambling. “His [Rui’s] injury is very costly to us because it comes in combination with that of Rudiger,” Spalletti said on Monday. “Earlier we were close to fixing our defence, but now we need to operate on it again.”

The boss confirmed Roma are on the hunt for two more defenders. But with little time to act. Thomas Vermaelen is the top central target. Tottenham’s Fazio is another option. Matteo Darmian is the main priority out wide, however Manchester United would prefer only a permanent deal as opposed to Roma’s loan proposal. That could open the door to Inter’s Danilo D’Ambrosio.

Serie A does not start for another three weeks, yet Roma are involved in the Champions League qualifiers. The capital club has attacking depth, but Spalletti will want his new players to have time to gel before those crucial matches in mid-August. Roma have misfired with late-window signings in recent seasons – for example, Zukanovic and Seydou Doumbia – and cannot afford slip-ups here.

If they do, it could well compromise the season before it has even got underway.

Roma must band together to end season on a high

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Two wins have given Inter renewed confidence they can finish in third spot, returning to the Champions League. While the Nerazzurri are gunning for a big finale, Roma are stuttering. Maybe they felt the pressure from Napoli’s own stumbles which opened the door to second. Whatever the case, off-field issues will not help the Giallorossi cause.

Francesco Totti’s season has mostly been experienced from the sidelines. It came to a head after Luciano Spalletti’s January appointment and the very public stoush between Coach, player and public. Should Totti be playing more, as his status deserves? Had he done enough to deserve a place in the team? The pair looked to put any disagreements behind them and the club ensured it was all overblown.

Totti came off the bench last week to assist Mohamed Salah in Roma’s incredible 1-1 draw with Bologna – incredible as Salah hit the post three times before finally scoring. That put a dent in their recent run, culminating in a 4-1 Rome Derby triumph. With Napoli losing at Inter on Saturday, Roma had to respond. Instead they threw away a two-goal lead at Atalanta and eventually needed a late Totti goal to salvage a 3-3 draw.

Then came reports of a spat between Spalletti and Totti. The boss wasn’t exactly complimentary of the captain post-match, and then apparently launched into the squad in the dressing room. “You never win, it’s been 10 years that you look like fools and that I have to stand these little school-groups,” La Gazzetta dello Sport noted. After Totti intervened with unknown words, Spalletti responded: “You shut up! You’re not the one talk, when you go around the rooms playing cards until 2a.m.!”

President James Pallotta downplayed the incident – as Totti did on Monday – but it’s not healthy for Roma with only five matches left. Second place is still a possibility, but after throwing away a chance on Sunday, looking over their shoulder at Inter to stay in third also becomes a priority.

Torino visit the Stadio Olimpico tomorrow, with Napoli then making their way to the capital on the weekend. Both are important matches that Roma must win. Toro have won three on the trot so cannot be underestimated. Spalletti must also deal with Edin Dzeko, struggling for confidence and with the fans against him. Between he and Totti there are issues in attack.

Roma need to be a united group as they push through the remaining matches or risk being caught by the Nerazzurri.

Roma left to rue missed chances

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Luciano Spalletti was clear: his team had to go to Madrid to win. A dignified exit would be just that, an exit. His aim was to advance to the last eight of the Champions League, even if he knew the task would be a difficult one.

Roma succumbed to two second half goals, from Cristiano Ronaldo and Jese, at the Stadio Olimpico first leg. That meant it would take something extraordinary to advance to the Quarter-finals. But the silver lining – if you could say that – was Roma did enough to show they could scare Real. And secondly, they knew they had to go out and attack.

That is what Spalletti was after. “We must have the courage to play our game,” he said in the pre-match Press conference. It’s easy to say, but we’ve emphasised that aspect in training and we have players who can retain the ball.”

Fielding a line-up which included Diego Perotti, Stephan El Shaarawy and Mohamed Salah behind Edin Dzeko, the message was clear: this Roma would be dangerous if spaces were there to exploit.

And the visitors should really have reduced the deficit. Dzeko was guilty of missing a golden opportunity inside the opening quarter-hour. Salah could also have scored before the break. The home crowd voiced their displeasure at what was a disjointed Merengues showing. You speculate what may have been the scene around Estadio Santiago Bernabeu had Roma netted the first goal of the game.

When Salah spurned another gilt-edged opportunity that was one too many. Ronaldo scored after 64 minutes, then James Rodriguez four minutes later. Game, and tie, over. As if to sum up their evening, Roma were even denied a consolation as Perotti struck the post with minutes remaining. La Gazzetta dello Sport’s headline was blunt: ‘Wasteful Roma’.

Spalletti and his team could only help but wonder. The boss did what he could. His team selection was aggressive and for the first hour they had enough chances to put a scare through Zinedine Zidane’s side. Spalletti was let down by woeful finishing. Rodriguez demonstrated this when he scored the sealer from a tight angle. The Coach wanted more from his team and conceded there must be a mental improvement.

Currently third in Serie A, Roma are locked in a battle to reach this stage once more next term. For now they can only rue what may have been.

In-form AS Roma back in the Serie A title race

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AS Roma enjoyed a 4-1 win against Fiorentina on Friday night to move within five points of Serie A leaders Juventus after 27 games. The Giallorossi’s victory over the Gigliati  was their seventh consecutive win in Serie A, and sees them fighting it out with Napoli and Juventus for the Scudetto.

Currently third in the division, Roma’s resurgence has been impressive under new manager Luciano Spalletti – who is in his second stint at the club. They struggled for results with Rudi Garcia, and looked to be out of the title-race earlier in the season. However, all this is behind Roma’s players and fans, as the Giallorossi are now looking to capitalise on any slip-ups from Juventus and Napoli to fight for their first title since 2001.

AS Roma’s seven-game winning run
(30/1/16) AS Roma 3-1 Frosinone
(2/2/16) Sassuolo 0-2 AS Roma
(7/2/16) AS Roma 2-1 Sampdoria
(12/2/16) Carpi 1-3 AS Roma
(21/2/16) AS Roma 5-0 Palermo
(27/2/16) Empoli 1-3 AS Roma
(4/3/16) AS Roma 4-1 Fiorentina

AS Roma’s home form has been a catalyst for success all season, even when they were dropping points under Garcia. I Giallorossi have lost just one game at the Stadio Olimpico in the Serie A this campaign, and no side in the division has won more games than Roma in their own backyard.

Goals are finally flowing from their attackers too with the likes of Mohamed Salah having bagged 11 goals from 22 league starts. Miralem Pjanic has scored 9 goals and created a further 9 goals from 25 league appearances, Alessandro Florenzi has five goals, while Stephan El Shaarawy also has five goals since joining the club in January 2016.  Gervinho, who left the club for the Chinese league, had six goals in 13 starts.

Roma’s attack was greatly off the boil during their poor run of form earlier in the season, but Spaletti is delighted things are finally clicking. Nevertheless, he’s not getting ahead of himself. The Roma manager said: “We have to take it one baby step at a time. We’ve always gained ground in our steps. If we over-stretch, we risk walking into a pothole!”

With ten games still to play in the Italian Serie A, there are still 30 points to play for. Roma have come close to claiming a league crown in the past, and now are brimming with confidence following a less than convincing campaign under former boss Garcia. They will certainly rue such poor form from the earlier months of the season given how close they are to Juve now.

There is no rocket science involved here because the Giallorossi have to simply get better results than Juve & Napoli in order to have a chance of competing for second or even first spot. One thing in their favor in the battle for 2nd place is the fact that Napoli will visit Rome to take on Roma in late April in what could be a decider.

Where will AS Roma finish in the Serie A this season?

Are results papering Roma cracks?

Soccer: Serie A; Roma-Sampdoria

Greeted with jeers following a draw against bottom club Verona and defeated by Juventus. It wasn’t exactly the start to his second Roma spell that Luciano Spalletti envisioned.

But he knew he was walking into the lion’s den. This was a Giallorossi side which had won just one of 10 previous matches. So to record three wins on the bounce is a welcome return. It’s the nature of the victories which ensure questions remain.

Perhaps it’s the luck needed after such a wretched run. But even the boss reprimanded his side on Sunday. Leading 2-1 against Sampdoria, Roma almost conspired to throw away the victory with minutes remaining. Firstly, Wojciech Szczesny had to rush off his line to deny Antonio Cassano. Then the woodwork denied Mattia Cassani in injury time.

“Fortunately we won,” Spalletti stated, “because we could so easily have been caught at the end. To be honest, the team did deserve victory because we wasted a lot of chances to add more goals, but we can’t have these lapses during a single game. That’s a sign we have a lot more work to do psychologically.”

Sunday’s win formed part of a pattern. The capital club required a piece of Stephan El Shaarawy magic to edge past lowly Frosinone, but only sealed the victory inside the final 10 minutes through Miralem Pjanic to start the winning run. Then against Sassuolo they were fortunate Domenico Berardi blasted an 88th minute penalty over the top. El Shaarawy grabbed a second goal moments later. Sassuolo had also earlier hit the woodwork.

Meanwhile, Sampdoria were handed a lifeline when Pjanic turned into his own net just shy of the hour mark, following goals from Alessandro Florenzi and Diego Perotti. The visitors very nearly left Rome with a point.

The positive is Spalletti’s side are getting the victories. Another is the goals from new signings El Shaarawy and Perotti, as well as Mohamed Salah’s first strike since November. With Gervinho departing for China and Edin Dzeko’s goal troubles, these attacking options aid Roma.

But they must make the most of their opportunities. As Spalletti noted, they created enough chances in the 270 minutes to have won all three matches comfortably, instead of relying on individual incidents.

Those doubts aside, Roma, currently fifth, are only two points behind third-placed Fiorentina. Spalletti hopes it can be the start of a charge towards the Champions League. “We gladly take these three points home. Seeing that we’re up there so close can give a bit more spark.”

The thought lingers, however, whether the wins are building blocks or if the Giallorossi are riding their luck.