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

Best upcoming central midfielders in Serie A

torreira

Differently from other positions, there is no shortage of excellent young central midfielders in Serie A. Besides Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who is among the league’s best outright, there are several upcoming players who have already earned primary roles in the top teams.

Unsurprisingly, two of them were raised by Atalanta and then moved to bigger clubs. Roberto Gagliardini joined Inter last January and his consistency has been a pleasant surprise, because he was lost in the shuffle prior to the 2016/2017 season. Gian Piero Gasperini trusted him, the Nerazzurri nabbed him quickly and he has been very reliable: he is not flashy, but an all-around midfielder, whose work is always precious. Franck Kessie is more muscular and explosive, but Milan got what they hoped for: a dominating presence in the middle of the field. Lucas Torreira’s play in the last two seasons has been superb: he is rather tiny but he is imposing in both phases, he has great feet and he is an excellent distributor. His full arsenal was on display in the last win over Chievo Verona. Continue reading

Best young fullbacks in Serie A

hysaj

There are not many young fullbacks who have managed to assert themselves in Serie A this year. Injuries have also deprived the League of some of the best players in this position. Milan’s Andrea Conti had a marvellous season at Atalanta before his move, but went down early with an ACL tear; Emerson Palmieri is rehabbing last year’s knee issue and might struggle to re-take his job considering the strong performances of Aleksandar Kolarov. Massimiliano Allegri’s reclamation project, Mattia De Sciglio, has been temporarily interrupted by a big ankle sprain. Roma’s newcomer Rick Karsdorp has been sidelined since the start of his Italian career by a meniscus ailment and he suffered an ACL tear on his debut.

The two more consistent players have been Elseid Hysaj and Leonardo Spinazzola. Hysaj is only 23 years old but he immediately became a staple at Napoli. Maybe not the flashiest fullback, but he is extremely diligent and has great chemistry with José Maria Callejon on that flank. He is averaging 2.8 tackles, 1 interception, 1.9 clearances, 0.9 key passes per game, 0.1 crosses, 1.4 long balls per game per WhoScored. His offensive game is limited, but he fits in fine in a team with so many quality attackers, where he is assigned to defensive duties first and foremost.

Spinazzola pushed hard this summer to return to Juventus, ending the two-year loan spell early, but Atalanta managed to keep him and he continued to impress on the left. His growth in the past two seasons after being a journeyman in the lower leagues has been remarkable and Gian Piero Gasperini deserves a lot of the credit for finding him a role where he could thrive. A dynamo, he is averaging 2 tackles, 0.5 interceptions, 1 clearance, 2 key passes, 2 dribbles, 1.5 crosses and 3 long balls per game per WhoScored: he should not disappoint when he takes his talent to a bigger stage next season.

There is a clear drop-off after these two names. Inter signed Dalbert from Nice this summer, but his defence has been a little too shaky for Luciano Spalletti’s liking and so far the manager has preferred Yuto Nagatomo over him. On the other flank, the coach has stated that the other newcomer, Joao Cancelo, is nowhere near ready to play as a fullback because he is too offensive, so Danilo D’Ambrosio will continue having a firm grip on the job.

There are some interesting names in the less heralded teams, but neither is a slam-dunk prospect. Adam Masina seemed poised to make the jump to Sevilla this summer, but the deal fell through: he has been constant since emerging from Serie B, but he has not progressed much and still makes some blunders at times. Sassuolo’s Pol Lirola is excellent going forward, but struggling teams need big defensive contributions and that is his Achilles’ heel, so he has found himself behind the veteran Marcello Gazzola in the pecking order when Cristian Bucchi veered back from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3. He is owned by Juventus as well. Playing time has been hard to come by for another promising youngster, Torino’s Antonio Barreca, who has been slowed down by injuries. On a more positive note, Atalanta’s Hans Hateboer might not be as good as Conti, but he is still a very useful player with a ton of upside.

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Crotone slightly above the competition

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The relegation race in Serie A is mostly going as planned: the freshly promoted teams, Benevento, Hellas Verona and Spal, are knee-deep into it, alongside a couple of sides that have gravitated in those positions in the past, such as Cagliari and Genoa. The only mild surprises are Udinese and especially Sassuolo, which were expected to be a tad better and avoid troubles. The season is long and they will probably pull away in the upcoming months, leaving the battle to the first five.

There have already been a couple of head-to-head matches down there and Crotone showed they have a little advantage over the other contenders. In the last two games, the Sharks easily defeated Benevento at the Scida stadium and then came away from Ferrara with a tie. Two massive results. Spal built last season’s promotion on their home performances and they will struggle mightily if they do not rack up points at the Mazza stadium: they still looked better than a couple of competitors, but their road map is clear and the opportunities are slim. Hellas Verona and Benevento have looked very disorganized and have been heavily hit by the injury bug.

Crotone lost a good amount talent in the summer, because their best players were either on loan, such as Diego Falcinelli and Lorenzo Crisetig, or because they sold them before or during the season and then temporarily took them back, like Gianmarco Ferrari and Leonardo Capezzi. However, they have worked well in the summer and managed to replace almost all of them.

Crotone confirmed Davide Nicola on the bench, and they could not have done otherwise after the incredible late comeback last season. As a result, they have a clear idea of who they are and what they need to do. They have a basic tactic and a straightforward game plan: they will be end up being outplayed by better teams more often than not, but they always put up a fight and have more experience in these situations. They are scrappy.

In the summer, they brought in several players, almost in a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” type of mentality. Arlind Ajeti seems to have overtaken Leandro Cabrera as starting centre-back: he does not have Ferrari’s upside, but he is a gritty defender. Marco Davide Faraoni is more solid than Mario Sampirisi. Rolando Mandragora has been as good as anticipated: a highly touted prospect at Genoa, he suffered a couple of big injuries, but now that he is being given consistent playing time he is back on track. The midfield duo with Andrea Barberis is sneaky interesting. They could find at least one more solid contributor in the crop of remaining newcomers: Daniel Pavlovic, Oliver Kragl, Stefan Simic, Giovanni Crociata and Aristoteles Romero.

The one area they definitely need to improve is in the attack: they scored only four goals, all in the last three games. The coach is still searching for the right combination, but it has been difficult to replace Diego Falcinelli. The returning Ante Budimir has not been as efficient as in Serie B, Marcello Trotta has surprisingly been given little playing time, and Simy is mostly an off-the-bench, late game weapon, but he does have intriguing skills given his size. The coach seems to prefer having a pure centre-forward and a second-striker, but Aleksandar Tonev and Andrea Nalini have both spent time on the shelf and have not find the right condition yet. If Budimir does not work, Nalini-Trotta could be the most explosive couple or they could try Adrian Stoian there as well. Unfortunately, Marco Tumminello suffered an ACL tear: they desperately wanted a youngster who could provide a spark and maybe play more carefreely, without being burdened by the standings. They missed out on Patrick Cutrone, but the Roma striker looked promising and already scored: he could be helpful down the stretch.

 

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The Underutilized Newcomers XI

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The summer is always a time for much fanfare: the clubs and the fans get excited about the new acquisitions, but when it is time to play, some of them could be quickly discarded by the coaches. There are teams that prefer to bring along the youngsters very slowly and at times injuries prevent the teams from seeing their investment pay off. Let’s take a look of a line-up composed by newcomers that have been underutilized, mostly because of coaching decisions: the tactic will be the 4-2-3-1 that is so in vogue right now.

The goalkeeper is the cleanest position from this standpoint: the newcomers are all covering the roles they were expected too. Maybe the only slight disappointment is Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, acquired very early by Torino from Lechia Gdansk for €2.6M, but Sinisa Mihajlovic did not like what he saw in the pre-season and they signed Salvatore Sirigu as a starter. The defence is formed by a couple of Cagliari players: Gregory Van der Wiel arrived from Fenerbahce, but due to a sore ankle and some conditioning issues he has barely practiced with the rest of the group and they have a big void on that flank after Mauricio Isla’s departure. They spent €7.6M on Filippo Romagna from Juventus, as part of a swap deal, but Massimo Rastelli picked Marco Andreolli, Fabio Pisacane and Luca Ceppittelli over him: he started, and struggled, only against Napoli when they ran out of options. The 19-year-old Nikola Milenkovic was signed by Fiorentina from Partizan for €5.1M, but he has yet to record a single minute. Sampdoria acquired Nicola Murru for €7M from Cagliari, but he quickly became a backup after they opted to bring in Ivan Strinic after the first subpar outings.

Maxime Gonalons transferred from Olympique Lyonnais to Roma for €5M mostly to be Daniele De Rossi’s reserve: it is tough to unseat the veteran, but it was reasonable to expect more than two mere starts at this point and the performances were rather underwhelming. His partner in the midfield is Francesco Cassata, whom Sassuolo signed from Juventus for €7M. The Neroverdi have had all sorts of problems and tried many different combinations, but the versatile youngster has yet to log a single minute.

In the three-man forward line behind the striker, we have Adam Ounas on the right flank: Maurizio Sarri is always very hesitant in giving minutes to newcomers, especially the younger ones, but right now he has a €10M player sitting on the bench. A magnified example of that is Federico Bernardeschi, which Juventus pried away from Fiorentina for €40M: he had a single start, against Atalanta, where he scored. Massimiliano Allegri did the same thing with Paulo Dybala and Marko Pjaca in the previous seasons, so it is likely only a matter of time. Also, like Sarri, he had little reasons to move on from the regular starters. On the left wing, there is Oliver Kragl: he was a top player in Serie B and you would think that the talent-poor Crotone would be able to use him in some way, but so far he has not cracked the regular rotation, featuring only in small twenty-minute cameos.

There were some good candidates for the role of the lone strikers, such as Sampdoria’s Dawid Kownacki and Udinese’s Riad Bajic, but the starting job goes to Benevento’s Samuel Armenteros. It is tough for foreigners to adapt to a new league, but Benevento have struggled so much offensively and every combination of Massimo Coda, Pietro Iemmello and George Puscas has been disappointing. Perhaps the coach should trust Armenteros more, who scored 29 times with Heracles last season, but it looks like he will move to a trident, therefore limiting the playing opportunities for the strikers.

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Sassuolo struggling to find a new identity

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Since they were promoted in Serie A in 2013, Sassuolo have always been a very interesting team to watch because of the tantalizing talent of Domenico Berardi and the tactical brilliancy of Eusebio Di Francesco. The coach was deservedly hired by Roma this summer, while the forward has struggled to come back to full form after a knee sprain last season and spent time on the shelf this year as well.

Under Di Francesco, the Neroverdi have always had a big-team flair: their playing style was proactive, a little daring, with a high defensive line and and an emphasis on quick passing and ball possession. It did not immediately work, and the coach was briefly fired in the first season in Serie A, but once they avoided relegation, they managed to assert themselves in the top half of the table, even earning a Europa League spot two seasons ago, always staying true to their identity.

They have hired Cristian Bucchi this summer, who was coming off an excellent stint at Perugia. At first, the new manager maintained Di Francesco’s typical 4-3-3: they drew with Genoa and lost three-nothing against Torino. It turns out that such scheme is highly automated and it is tough to make it work without its creator at the helm. Roma had a little trouble incorporating it, but then things clicked.

Without Berardi, Bucchi moved on to a 3-5-2, which is more natural to him. They had a good outing against Atalanta and Juventus, but were defeated both times because right now those teams are clearly above Sassuolo’s level. They collected three precious points in Cagliari, but then lost to Bologna at home due to a late goal, but the performance was uninspiring, and then they were battered by Lazio despite finding the opening score: it ended with a 6-1 at Olimpico.

No tactic guarantees you success: the players and the attitude play the biggest part in succeeding in football. But with the three-man defence, Bucchi not only moved away from Di Francesco’s formation, but also from the whole mentality his squad had. Right now, the Emiliani are no different from other low-table teams, who rely heavily on defending and counter-attacks. It might be enough to avoid relegation because they have some above average players, but it certainly takes away the shine they had in previous seasons. The most noble part of the table is a mirage at this point.

Misfortunes always pile up in rough times, so they have lost Timo Letschert for a good chunck of the season due to a torn ACL and they will have to hope Edoardo Goldaniga manages to come back quickly from a sports hernia surgery, otherwise they do not have three natural centre-backs in the roster. Other than some decent showings by Stefano Sensi, Pol Lirola and Claud Adjapong, most players have underperformed. Domenico Berardi has scored only once in five games and does not look at ease in his new position as second-striker, while Diego Falcinelli is in a slump. Alessandro Matri can not be the one carrying them. Some of the leaders of the locker room spoke very highly of Bucchi and his coaching acumen, but now they need to help him on the pitch because he is walking on thin ice: the next three fixtures against Chievo, Spal and Udinese will decide his future.

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Two crucial games ahead for three winless coaches

jurci

After four games, there are still five teams that have yet to win a game: Benevento, Hellas Verona, Crotone, Sassuolo and Genoa. While the first three were expected to tough time and to be involved in the relegation race this season, the other two are a bit more surprising, but not shocking. Serie A presidents are famous for their quick trigger when it comes to sacking their coaches, so these situations need immediate turnarounds. The midweek match day could accelerates the process.

Benevento is the most desperate team as it is at the bottom of the table with no points. They fought against Sampdoria, Bologna and Torino, but they were defeated by a single goal in all three fixtures. On Sunday, they were dismantled by Napoli. Marco Baroni did a brilliant job last season, but he is a rookie in the top league and the rumours about replacing him with a more seasoned coach, such as Stefano Colantuono or Davide Ballardini, are ramping up. They will face Roma today and Crotone on Sunday, which will likely decide the fate of the manager. He will have to work some magic because some of his best players, such as Amato Ciciretti, Marco D’Alessandro and Andrea Costa are sidelined by injuries.

Despite having one point, Hellas Verona is the squad that has looked the worst so far: they have drawn against Crotone, but they were badly beaten by Napoli, Fiorentina and Hellas Verona. The schedule has not helped, but their defence has looked too vulnerable and their playing style is still undefined. Furthermore, Fabio Pecchia has engaged in a pointless skirmish with Giampaolo Pazzini and has constantly picked some players with no experience as false-nine over his leading scorer last season. Injuries have hit them hard as well, depriving them of Alessio Cerci and of a lot of depth. Despite the promotion, they were never too convincing last season in Serie B. They will square off against Sampdoria on Wednesday and Lazio on Sunday.

The closer to getting the axe appears to be Ivan Juric. He was confirmed this summer despite a tumultous season, where he was fired and then called back, but his stint could be short-lived. They had decent outings against Sassuolo, Juventus, Udinese and Lazio, but only a point to show for it. According to the rumblings, Genoa president Enrico Preziosi has already contacted Walter Mazzarri and a name of this magnitude does not help Juric’s chances of holding onto the job. They will face Chievo Verona on Wednesday and Inter on Sunday and he has to hope that the wonderkid Pietro Pellegri continues to score and that the defence tightens up.

The remaining two winless teams are Sassuolo and Crotone. Cristian Bucchi has just switched his tactic to a 3-5-2 but they were defeated by Atalanta and Juventus. They performed well against Nerazzurri, while the Old Lady is on another level. In this case, the management will likely be more patient, as they have been in the first season in Serie A with Eusebio Di Francesco. However, he needs to come up with points in the next two games, against Cagliari and Bologna. Davide Nicola will have some more leeway as well at Crotone after last year’s miraculous comeback to avoid relegation. The Sharks are still scoreless and will take on Atalanta in the midweek match and Benevento in the weekend.

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Serie A Attacker Review – Immobile Running Away With It

Lazio-Immobile

Oh, what it is to be a striker in Serie A. Joining the likes of legends such as Filippo Inzaghi, Hernan Crespo, Christian Vieri etc…..Well, with the Serie A campaign well and truly underway, it’s now time for the forward men in Italy’s top flight to step up and make a name for themselves – or continue doing so, at least.

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Palermo set for long season after opening round loss

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Incident is never far from the Stadio Renzo Barbera. Palermo are magnets for it, specifically President Maurizio Zamparini.

The fiery patron is known for his short fuse and has well and truly earned his reputation as a Manager Eater. That came to a head last season as Palermo went through nearly as many coaching reigns – nine – as they did victories – 10. That they survived the drop was remarkable in itself.

But a squad which in the summer lost its best player Franco Vazquez, as well as the experience of Alberto Gilardino and Stefano Sorrentino, is set to struggle to stay afloat for another season.

Speaking before the season opener at home against Sassuolo, coach Davide Ballardini acknowledged they are predicted to be among the relegation candidates – “We want to prove that we belong in Serie A, even if some expect us to be in the bottom three” – but insisted the squad is united.

That’s more than can be said for the tactician and his boss. Zamparini scoffed at Ballardini’s public assertion the squad needed reinforcements. Notably, Ballardini was after an experienced goalkeeper, with first choice Josip Posavec only 20-years-old. His deputies are 21 and 18 respectively.

“We brought in Rajkovic, Gazzi, Aleesami, Nestorovski, Sallai: three youngsters like Embalo, Bentivegna and Lo Faso. I want to see trust and enthusiasm, not requests.” Zamparini continued: “Ballardini needs to learn to shut up and let the pitch do the talking, seeing as he’s a fine coach.” Norwegian international Aleesami looks the best of the new purchases, but question marks remain over the squad in general.

It’s not exactly an ideal way to approach the season, especially seeing as Ballardini was fired and re-hired last term and Zamparini is known to let coaches go even after one defeat.

Sunday night did not help. In hoping to steer clear of the relegation mire this season, Palermo started in poor fashion as they went down to a Domenico Berardi penalty. Sassuolo dominated the match to leave Sicily with a 1-0 result. Ballardini was disappointed with the result, but not the commitment shown by his players.

History suggests that won’t be enough to curb Zamparini’s insatiable fury. Will it be a season of toil for Palermo?  If they continue down the path with this squad in tow, Serie B looks on the horizon.