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.

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.

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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.

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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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Juventus: from Legends Baggio & Del Piero to current stars Chiellini & Pjanic

We continue our interview with Rav Gopal, from JuveFC.com and discuss in detail his favorite Juventus players from the current squad as well as his expectations for this season and some of his favorite moments as a Juve fan.
 
Q1) For the current Juve squad, can you please rank your favorite player by position? 

Defense: Giorgio Chiellini. He is an extremely underrated defender who has rolled back the years in recent seasons to deliver consistent performances. Like Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon, he has remained loyal to the club and he is one of the best in Europe in his position.  Continue reading