.Written by Alessandro Pugliese (@sandro_pugliese):
When Yonghong Li and his consortium, Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux, officially purchased A.C. Milan from Silvio Berlusconi earlier this year, there were mixed thoughts about the new ownership group. Some people weren’t exactly sure how the new owners would run the club or how much money they would invest into the club. There was a strong sense of cautious optimism amongst the Rossoneri faithful who have been through some rough times the past few years. I had written what the new ownership should prioritize two months ago and they’ve been on task.
It is barely mid-June and the whole aura around the storied club has dramatically changed. Having already secured three quality signings, Mateo Musacchio, Franck Kessie, and Ricardo Rodriguez, Milan has only gotten started for this summer mercato. While it is still too early to see how efficient the business model of the new Chinese owners is, what we know is that they mean business and are willing to spend the money needed to make Milan a top club again.
Almost every reliable source in Italy is reporting that Milan have agreed personal terms with right-back Andrea Conti and are close to closing the deal with Atalanta. Meanwhile the very reliable Sky Sport reporter Gianlucia DiMarzio has linked Milan to Andrea Belotti, Keita Balde, Lucas Biglia, Corentin Tolisso, Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Now some of those names would be extremely difficult to sign but the intent shown from the Rossoneri is impressive.
Club CEO Marco Fassone and Sporting Director Massimiliano Mirabelli have been working tirelessly to create a competitive Milan side and they’ve been doing an admirable job thus far. Now for all the great moves and shining optimism for the future, there’s still a lingering cloud of doubt that’s fairly substantial: 18-year-old goalkeeping sensation Gianluigi Donnarumma’s contract expires next summer and has not yet committed his future to the club that put him on the world stage. His agent, Mino Raiola, is known for playing hardball to get the most money for both his clients and himself. With that being said, the €5 million salary Milan is reportedly willing to offer would not be too shabby for a teenager. Personally, I believe the new ownership group has shown they are serious and Donnarumma should renew his contract. Even if he wants to join a super club like Real Madrid, I think he would be better off playing at least a few more years at Milan. Not to mention the fact Milan are on their way to becoming a top club again and will be in contention for a Champions League spot next season.
While it has been a very bright start to the summer for A.C. Milan, they would like to affirm Donnarumma’s intentions quickly and are hoping to clarify the situation next week. With more dealings to be made in the mercato this summer, Rossoneri fans around the world can't wait for next season. Make no mistake about it; Milan is on the road to being great again.
Written by Alessandro Pugliese (@sandro_pugliese):
As has been noted by almost everyone, extending the contracts of Gianluigi Donnarumma and Suso should be the first order of business. Donnarumma is already a top goalkeeper in the world at the age of 18, which is remarkable. Locking him down for years to come would be a huge statement and sign of intent. And let’s not forget that Suso is having a very productive season on the wing for the Rossoneri both scoring and proving. These would be two decisive moves that would show ambition and commitment to a clear project at the club.
Realistic Targets and Useful Signings:
The transfer policy of Galliani & co. over the last 5 or so years has not always been applauded by the Rossoneri faithful. The new management should set realistic targets in positions that are needed. The midfield can certainly be improved upon and a possible parter with Alessio Romagnoli would be ideal as Gabriel Paletta is aging and Gustavo Gomez doesn’t seem good enough if Milan want to return to the glory days. Also, I don’t think Milan need to spend any funds on a striker unless in the case that Carlos Bacca is sold in the summer. Otherwise their wingers plus the striker tandem of Bacca and Lapadula should be able to score goals with the service provided.
Reassure Montella’s Job:
While there was some doubt when he was hired, I think most fans of Milan would agree that Vincenzo Montella has done a fine job this season considering the circumstances. Despite the rumors of this sale swirling around practically the whole season and injuries, Montella has done a commendable job. The Rossoneri beat Juventus twice this season, for silverware in the Supercoppa, and are in the running for a Europa League birth. Sacking Montella at the season’s end would be unjust and bring instability to the club; he certainly deserves at least another year in charge.
Reach Out to Paolo Maldini:
The club legend seemed to have a strained relationship with the previous management. This would be a great opportunity to turn the page, start a new chapter and extend an olive branch. Reach out to Maldini and offer him a role within the club. We see it with Nedved at Juventus, Zanetti at Inter and will also see it with Totti at Roma when he hangs up his boots. Maldini's heart is rossonero and it would be great to see him back at the club he's devoted his life to.
Explore Stadium Options:
The San Siro is a historic stadium with a storied past and I would be sad to see it go. With that being said, it just doesn’t seem like the best logistical option or beneficial for the club at the moment. Perhaps a big-time renovation would be worth it but actually owning a stadium would be a huge step in achieving the final point, below.
Develop Sustainable Business Plan:
This may be the most important part of Milan’s future. There has been skepticism swirling about this consortium of Chinese investors and it will be interesting to see how they run the club. The last years of the Berlusconi era were a bit rough and the clubs debt accumulated to €220 million as mentioned in the statement released by Finivest today. If A.C. Milan is to return to the top of European football, it will need to develop a sustainable business model for the future.
Written by @Matt_Santangelo and @sandro_pugliese
With the January mercato now shut closed, we look back on the top 10 deals on the Italian peninsula. The following deals are in no specifically ranked order.
Manolo Gabbiadini (Napoli >>> Southampton, €17M + bonuses)
The 25-year old Italian boasted great promise and potential upon his arrival in Naples from Sampdoria during the 2015 January mercato. Although his Napoli career started off quite well under former manager Rafa Benitez, Gabbiadini was unable to find consistency in the side. Some say he was never given a real chance to cement his name in Napoli lore. Others believe in the matches he did feature, the opportunities were not met with enough quality performances.
Still possessing major upside, Southampton shelled out 17 million euros for him with the hope of tapping into his potential. Capable of playing anywhere across the attack, manager Claude Puel will undoubtedly use that versatility to his advantage. Gabbiadini made a good impression on the Saints faithful last weekend, scoring on his debut in a losing effort to West Ham. This is a deal that could also be a victory for Napoli in the sense they really had little to no use for him yet managed a solid return.
Southampton execs and scouts had been eyeing Gabbiadini for the longest time, and are very optimistic the fee will be well worth it in the long run. Time will tell if Napoli were more to blame for his shortcomings in azzurro rather than the individuals own personal struggles.
Roberto Gagliardini (Atalanta >>> Inter, €2M 18-month loan with €20M obligation to buy)
Since Gian Piero Gasperini captained the rise of Atalanta this season, Europe’s biggest clubs have shown serious interest in the crop of fledgling young stars the club currently employs. One of those names at the heart of this new regime in Bergamo was 22-year old Roberto Gagliardini whose exploits caught the attention of Italy’s top clubs. Inter, unwilling to wait until the summer, snatched the Azzurri midfielder on a €2m loan with an obligation set at 20m euro.
The gut reaction from fans, journalists and pundits alike felt it was a bit risky due to the failures of Geoffrey Kondogbia. Since putting pen to paper on the deal, Gagliardini has quickly put the Nerazzurri supporters at ease with a series of stellar performances, most notably his debut v Chievo last month at the San Siro.
Investing in Italian youth is a model which has rapidly become the norm on the peninsula, and with a final fee of 22m, the chances are quite high of Inter coming out as major victors in this deal.
Clement Grenier (Olympique Lyonnais >>> Roma, six-month loan with €3.5M option to buy)
The assumption was that Roma would have a very active January given how tight things have become in the race for Europe. Linked mostly with attackers - particularly Gerard Deulofeu and Gregoire Defrel - Luciano Spalletti must have felt confident enough in his attack, bypassing an impactful forward and bolstering his midfield instead with the signing of Clement Grenier.
The French international arrived on a six-month loan, with Roma holding a club-friendly option of 3.5 million euros for June. It was and remains a move that flies under the radar, as it’s not the big-money transfer most Giallorossi supporters had hoped for. However, Grenier adds another dimension to the attack in the form of a quality set-piece taker and a long-range threat. In the event Spalletti does not use him much, they are not at the mercy of an obligation in the summer. Low-risk, high-reward.
Iago Falque (Roma >>> Torino, activated €5M option to buy)
After flopping hard at Roma last season, Torino loaned in the former Barcelona youth product for the 2016-17, giving new boss Siniša Mihajlović a solid attacking option provided he regains his form.
Iago Falque has re-established himself from his Genoa stay this season, with tallies of 9 goals and 4 assists in 20 Serie A appearances. Star striker Andrea Belotti has received the brunt of the praise and glory – rightfully deserved – yet the Spaniard should be lauded for helping Torino stay in the chase for Europa League. Pleased with his offensive numbers, president Urbano Cairo activated Falque’s 5 million euro option with little hesitation, a sum of money considered to be great value by current market standards.
Should Toro find their way into Europe with a top five finish, the 27-year old globetrotter will surely play a major role in their qualification.
Assane Gnoukouri (Inter >>> Udinese, six-month loan with €4M option to buy)
Once part of the Marseille youth system, Assane Gnoukouri broke into Inter’s senior team under former manager Roberto Mancini in 2015. While having performed well on one of the biggest stages of European football two years ago– the Derby della Madonnina – the 20-year old has struggled to find regular pitch time for the Milanese giant.
The Nerazzurri, who have shown reluctance in recent years of implementing youth, are mostly at fault here for his limited action. In the few appearances he has made, Gnoukouri showed great promise and composure. As a result, Udinese were quick to snap the young Ivorian on a six-month loan.
Employing very few impactful players in the midfield, Gnoukouri should see a substantial hike in minutes with Luigi Delneri’s Zebrette through the end of the campaign. If all goes according to plan, he will flourish at the Friuli, have his option picked up in June and become a mainstay in the middle of the park next season.
Riccardo Saponara (Empoli>>>Fiorentina, 18-month loan with €9M obligation to buy)
Fiorentina surprised many when they signed one of the most underrated midfielders on the peninsula late in the window. Milan will reportedly receive 30% of the transfer fee as part of the deal that brought him to Empoli. Saponara has been a consistent performer for the Tuscan side over the years. In the past three seasons, the midfielder racked up 14 goals and 15 assists in 68 Serie A appearances. Saponara is a highly skilled player who does a great job creating chances for his teammates. With good dribbling skills and the eye for through balls to spilt the defense, he should fit into Paulo Sousa’s system quite well.
Marco Sportiello (Atalanta>>>Fiorentina, 18-month loan with €6M option to buy)
La Viola signed another formidable Italian talent at a very reasonable price in the 24-year-old goalkeeper. The move should be beneficial to the keeper as well who needs to get playing time again and regain confidence. Sportiello, who came through the youth system at Atalanta, had been demoted to the bench this season in favor of Etrit Berisha. After two impressive seasons as the starter, Sportiello earned high praise from many, including talk about being a potential keeper for the national team in the future. La Viola were able to find an upgrade between the posts when his price tag was quite low. He may need some time to get back his match sharpness back but make no mistakes about it; Sportiello is a very good goalkeeper.
Juventus snap up young talents
Riccardo Orsolini (Ascoli>>>Juventus, €6M + €4M in potential bonuses)
Mattia Caldara (Atalanta>>>Juventus, €15M + €10M in potential bonuses)
While both of these young Italian talents will remain at their respective clubs on loan to gain more experience and maturity, Juventus further solidified their future. Orsolini is a talented winger with impressive dribbling skills, useful speed and has the ability to whip in a good cross. While the 20-year-old was being linked to Milan in early January, his name recognition took off after this video went viral on Twitter.
The youngster would probably fit into Juve’s new 4-2-3-1 formation quite well and we might see him there soon enough.
On the other hand, the Bianconeri managed to snap up another one of Italy’s most talented and sought after defenders in Mattia Caldara. Another gifted Atalanta youth talent, the central defender is very good at reading the game and making interceptions while also being calm on the ball. Caldara has even scored three goals so far this season in 15 league appearances. A future back-line led by Daniele Rugani and Mattia Caldara is a mouth-watering prospect.
Simone Zaza (Juventus>>>Valencia, €2M loan + €16M conditional obligation to buy)
Zaza’s stint at West Ham did not go well to say the least. In 11 appearences in all competitions, the striker failed to score a single goal or register an assist. Even after a poor and extremely forgettable time in the Premier League, Juventus were still able to get a good return for the striker. Now infamous for his penalty in Euro 2016, Zaza just never adapted and settled in at the London club. Perhaps a move to Spain might be a better fit but Juve will still be content with the deal they got.
Oscar Hiljemark (Palermo>>>Genoa, €2.5M)
Genoa were able to snap up a proven midfielder at a low cost. Although he didn’t make an appearance, Hiljemark was part of Sweden’s EURO 2016 squad. He will be able to immediately step into Genoa’s midfield and contribute, especially after the departure of Tomas Rincon. Last season, Hiljemark featured in 38 matches for the Sicilian club tallying 4 goals and 5 assists in a season that nearly saw the Rosanero drop to the second division. His short passes and maneuvers in close quarters open an outlet for goal opportunities in the final third. Hiljemark might not be a flashy signing but he will competent midfielder making solid contributions.
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Before the winter break the sun was shining on the red and black half of the San Siro. Milan were somewhat surprisingly competing for a Champions League spot under Montella and L'Aeroplannino managed to guide his Milan side to a shock Supercoppa victory over Juventus on penalties. Pasalic's winning penalty gave the Rossoneri their first trophy in five years and there was a real feel good factor at Milanello going into the winter break. However many predicted that Montella's Milan would not sustain a fight for the Champions League places and these critics have proven to be right. Milan currently sit eighth place in Serie A on 37 points albeit with a game in hand. With European places slipping further and further away each week Milan are going to have to improve their form drastically over the next week.
In Milan's four Serie A games in 2017 they have won only one which was a unconvincing 1-0 win at home to Cagliari thanks to a late Bacca goal. Milan were then lucky to scrape a point against Torino as had Ljalic converted his penalty to make it 3-0 the game would have been over. However despite the comeback against Torino, Montella's side have lost their last two matches by a score of 2-1 against both Napoli and Udinese. The Rossoneri have most definitely struggled for form since their Supercoppa win against Juventus and look to be faltering under Montella. One key factor in their slump in form has been their extremely poor performances in the first half of most of these matches. This is something that Montella has talked about in his interviews and he has expressed a desire for his players to perform for the full ninety minutes rather than just the second half. The Rossoneri conceded within the first half an hour in each match against Torino, Napoli and Udinese. Milan's seemingly lackadaisical approach to the start of games is something that needs to be addressed quickly. Despite Milan showing signs of spirited comebacks they are simply giving themselves too much to do by shooting themselves in the foot in the first half.
Milan's defense has also been struggling with injuries and form since the winter break. Apart from Paletta who has been rock solid all season the rest of Milan's defenders have looked shaky at times, even Romangnoli who had a dismal game against Torino before topping it off with a red card. Donnarumma and Locatelli have also came under some criticism in recent games and it seems Milan's young team is going through a learning curve. Montella will not be worried too much by this however as with a team as young as Milan's mistakes were expected to be made. These youngsters’ mistakes will benefit this Milan side over the coming years as they will learn and grow.
However, Milan can't really afford to make any more mistakes this season. With two games over the next week against Sampdoria on Sunday and Bologna on Wednesday picking up six points is a necessity for the Rossoneri's European ambitions. Achieving these six points will not be easy as Milan are facing an injury crisis particularly in defense with De Sciglio, Antonelli and Calabria all out injured although Calabria is believed to be close to full fitness. Montella will also be without Bonaventura for the rest of the season, which is a massive blow for Milan. New signings Gerard Deulofeu and Lucas Ocampos will have to try fill the huge void left by Bonaventura. Montella is expected to shake things up this Sunday against Sampdoria with Sosa rumored to be replacing Locatelli as the Regista. Vangioni will probably play at left back and Deulofeu looks to have beaten Ocampos to the left wing spot freed by Bonaventura's injury. Although the squad is thin Montella needs to reinvent his side and return the Rossoneri to winning ways. Montella's side need to bounce back quickly because if they don’t pick up wins against Samp or Bologna it looks like playing in Europe will have to be postponed for yet another season...
Written by Matt Santangelo (@Matt_Santangelo) & Alessandro Pugliese (@sandro_pugliese)
While some clubs made impressive signings in January, there were some deals that made us question. Whether a rushed purchase, inactivity or a collapsed deal, here are some things that stuck out to us.
Torino not improving backline
I Granata have a new look under first-year coach Siniša Mihajlović. Their attack has looked explosive with great talents like Andrea Belotti, Iago Falque, Adem Ljajic and others. But they have somewhat neglected their backline and it is costing them. After selling their staring center-back duo of Kamil Glik and Nikola Maksimovic last summer, the club just hasn’t signed adequate replacements. Not only were both of them were great defenders for the club but they anchored the backline and provided leadership; Gilk was the captain for almost three years. Torino did sign Leandro Castan and Luca Rossettini in the summer as replacements. Don’t get me wrong, they’re both solid players but neither are on the same level as Gilk or Maksimovic. The club also brought in Man City goalkeeper Joe Hart, who after a shaky start has done a fine job in net.
Torino have conceded 32 goals in 22 league matches this season, the most of any club in the top half of the table. Not making a significant signing to improve the quality of the defense may be a mistake that will hurt Torino’s efforts in hopes of Europa League qualification.
Palermo selling key Swedes Hiljemark, Quaison well-below market value
When it comes to Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini, we often ask ourselves the questions “What was he thinking?” or “What will he do next?” Well, his movement on last months’ mercato was yet another case where his judgment should be challenged.
It was fair to assume Zamparini would most likely remain quite during the transfer window - excluding managerial decisions of course. As it stands, the Rosanero sit 19th in the league. In 2015-16, they barely escaped the drop to Serie B thanks to some late-season heroics. This year, however, is quite different for the Sicilians. They will be relegated, and it’s a mere formality at this stage of the campaign.
Housing few quality players, Palermo is enduring a famine of sorts, evident in their performances week in and week out. The few pieces they did employ were of interest and by industry standards, should have been sold at a fair price. Yet, that was not the case with the transfers of the Swedish duo - Oscar Hiljemark and Robin Quaison.
The 24-year old Hiljemark was loaned to Genoa for the remaining six months of the season, a transfer eventually being made permanent through a €2.5 million obligation in June. His fellow countryman, who had Juventus’ curiosity, was shipped out of Italy to Germany as FSV Mainz 05 swooped in with another €2.5 million clinching bid.
We can understand a club who comes to grips with the fate of relegation, and shopping top assets for a premier return. To sell both Hiljemark and Quaison – both very young and impactful players – for a combined €5 million is simply unacceptable given the inflation of today’s market.
Lazio ‘mute’ in the midst of chase for Europe
In my opinion, president Claudio Lotito’s lack of involvement last month was quite difficult to comprehend.
Lazio are currently well within the chase for a top 3 finish – just five points from third place Napoli. Manager Simone Inzaghi had already done tremendous work in steering his club to prime contention zone. Yet, one could argue that a few additions to bolster for the stretch run would have been of great benefit. There were discussions throughout the month over a possible move for Ajax winger Anwar El Ghazi (now of Lille) who would have been a solid addition for the present and future – even if they are covered on the wings. Other than that, Lazio mostly downsized their active roster by loaning out several young players for development.
The Biancocelesti held off Inter this past week 2-1, advancing to the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia, and still hold the talent to remain in the hunt for Europe. Time will tell however if they regret their quiet January come May.
Napoli overpaying for Leonardo Pavoletti
Once star Pole Arkadiusz Milik went down with an ACL injury during international play with Poland, Napoletani called out for a striker to arrive in January.
Already loaded with one of the most prolific attacking corps on the Italian peninsula, manager Maurizio Sarri and president Aurelio de Laurentiis targeted Genoa’s Leonardo Pavoletti to fill the void left behind at striker. Napoli’s only competition appeared to be themselves for his services. Urgent to replenish, the Partenopei secured the 28-year old’s signature for €18 million.
If you are a stranger to Italian calcio, Napoli possesses a deep, talented attack, boasting names like Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon, Lorenzo Insigne and - at the time - Manolo Gabbiadini. Essentially, all four either play in wide positions or as attacking midfielders.
Sarri had previously been improvising by plugging Mertens in as a false 9. With this role comes a lot of responsibility and freedom – both which the Belgian has undertaken with sheer confidence. Prior to the turn of the calendar, Mertens’ form was at peak levels. But, in light of drawing Real Madrid in the Round of 16, Napoli were in a bind and needed a striker to ensure the attack would not be burned out like last year.
I completely understand the move. By adding Pavoletti, Sarri can now gradually work Milik back into the starting XI while working to sustain runs in the league title chase, Coppa Italia and of course the Champions League. However, in three appearances since putting on Naples azzurro, the Italian striker has struggled.
While it’s unlikely Mertens would have been able to maintain such elite form, shelling out that much money for a number nine who has struggled to catch form, is a bit bizarre.
Juventus Missing Out on Witsel
Yes, this might not be exactly something to scratch your head about but it was potentially a big miss for Juventus. After nearly completing a deal on deadline day back in August, it was expected a formality for the Belgian midfielder to join the Bianconeri either now in January or in June when his contract expired. But a new force in international transfers stepped in to break-up the deal. Witsel instead joined Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian as the money was just too good to turn down. “I have great respect for Juventus as they tired everything to get me,” Witsel said to Sky Sport. “Nonetheless, I respect Juventus and wish them the best. I do not; the economic aspect of the deal was an important decision to go to China.”
While Juve’s midfield is already world-class they have struggled to stay healthy at times. After missing out a Witsel, they snapped up Tomas Rincon from Genoa. While we’ll never know for sure, maybe Witsel would’ve had a profound impact in Juve’s midfield and provided them a new dynamic.
Written by Matt Santangelo (@Matt_Santangelo) & Alessandro Pugliese (@sandro_pugliese)
Within hours of the January mercato closing for business, we take a look at some of the underrated deals that happened. From bargain prices to little known talents here are some deals that got the best for their buck.
Oscar Hiljemark (Palermo > Genoa, loan with obligation to buy at €2.5 million)
Palermo isn’t exactly a hotbed for top talent. However, one of the few players worthy of a look was 24-year old Oscar Hiljemark. The Swede will be a welcoming addition to Ivan Juric’s midfield, which must cope with the departure of its brutish force, Tomas Rincon, who made the switch to Juventus. Hiljemark is a ready-to-go starter for Genoa who is fully capable of playing in several midfield roles. His short passes and maneuvers in close quarters open an outlet for goal opportunities in the final third. Take his 2016-17 statistics with a large grain of salt. Last year, Hiljemark featured in 38 matches for the Rosanero tallying 4 goals and 5 assists in a season that nearly saw the Sicilians drop to the second division. Palermo sit 19th in the league and have once again made a move at the post, sacking Eugenio Corini for Diego Lopez. Hiljemark’s upside exceeds the fee Genoa president Enrico Preziosi spent for his signature.
Genoa has been praised for the shrewd business of selling Leonardo Pavoletti and Rincon, but should be applauded for snagging Hiljemark on a market-friendly fee.
Leonardo Morosini (Brescia > Genoa, €2.5 million purchase)
Before Genoa added Hiljemark to fill the void left behind by Rincon, Preziosi flew under the radar by adding to his clubs’ youth for the future.
Earlier in the window, the Rossoblu began bolstering the attack with skill players, adding 21-year old Leonardo Morosini from Brescia. Primarily an attacking midfielder, the Italy U-21 international had been deployed out wide under manager Cristian Brocchi this season before his move to the top-flight. In 13 Serie B matches for the Leonessa, Morosini held a respectable 4 goals and 1 assist. With this versatility, Juric now has another alternative on the bench to look at late in matches.
Investing in Italian youth is quickly becoming common practice amongst Serie A competitors. Along with Morosini, Genoa added SPAL playmaker Andrea Beghetto who looks ready for the next level. Rather than pocketing the money from the sales of his two stars and staying the course as a mid-table club, Preziosi acted accordingly to ensure Genoa were in position to compete – for the present and future.
Marco Sportiello (Atalanta > Fiorentina, 18 month loan with €6 million obligation to buy)
Fiorentina managed to sign a young yet proven goalkeeper at a very reasonable price. The move should be beneficial to the keeper as well who needs to get playing time again and regain confidence. Sportiello, who came through the youth system at Atalanta, had been demoted to the bench this season in favor of Etrit Berisha. After two impressive seasons as the starter, Sportiello earned high praise from many, including talk about being a potential keeper for the national team in the future. La Viola were able to find an upgrade between the posts when his price tag was quite low. He may need some time to get back his match sharpness back but make no mistakes about it; Sportiello is a very good goalkeeper. La Viola faithful will be delighted with their clubs January transfer window and can expect many productive years from the 24-year-old in net.
Miha Zajc (NK Olimpija > Empoli, €1.5 million)
This is certainly an under-the-radar signing of a little known talent. The 22-year-old Slovenian joins Empoli as they sold their best midfielder Riccardo Saponara to Fiorentina. Zajc’s skillset is actually quite similar to Piotr Zielinski, who Empoli sold last summer to Napoli. He brings a high work rate and energy to the midfield while also being very effective with both feet. Zajc is primarily a central midfielder but can also play out on the wing. He scored 18 goals in 74 appearances in the Slovenian PrvaLiga. The Tuscan club has struggled this season and now Zajc will be asked to fill the big shoes of Saponara. It won’t be an easy task but expect Zajc to fit into Empoli’s style of play quite well and for the Slovenian to make an instant impact in the midfield.
(Shoutout to @SLOSpy for some info on Zajc)
Kevin Lasagna (Carpi > Udinese, €4.5M)
The club from Udine snapped up the striker who will stay on loan at Carpi in Serie B for the rest of this season.
Lasagna has scored nine goals in 17 appearances for Carpi in the second division this year. The 24-year-old Italian will bring some needed speed and creativity up top that Udinese has been lacking since Antonio Di Natale left the club. In Serie A last season, Lasagna was mostly used as a substitute but made noteworthy impacts. He became known in the calcio community after scoring goals in big games against Fiorentina, Inter and Roma. Expect Lasagna to make significant contributions to Udinese’s attack starting next season.
Written by @fussbALEXperte
Now that 20 games have been played in the Serie A, let’s look at what could happen the rest of the season according to my model:
Who will win the Scudetto?
Who will finish top 3 and qualify for the Champions League?
Who will finish top 5?
And who is expected to be relegated?
The projected final league table...
And here are the distributions of final league positions for every team. We can already say a lot about what might happen.
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
After their big victory against Juventus, Fiorentina still find themselves in a disappointing eight place with only 30 points. Although they have one game in hand against Pescara, which they should pick up three points in, they are at serious risk of missing out on Europe. Sousa has been under pressure this season and he can't seem to escape the rumors that he will be sacked. Unless Sousa can start to turn things around in the second half of the season then it's very like he will be sacked before the end of the year. La Viola desperately need to start improving if they are to qualify for Europe this year.
Last season Fiorentina finished in fifth place and qualified for the Europa League which was a good first season to build on for Paolo Sousa. However instead of improving and building on that fifth place finish, La Viola seem to have gone backwards under the Portuguese tactician. One of Fiorentina's problems this year has been there inability to convert chances into goals. La Viola have only scored 30 goals this year so far which along with Milan is the second lowest of all the teams in the top half of the table with only Chievo having scored less. Fiorentina's lack of killer instinct in some matches has been the difference between picking up all three points or just one. Sousa's men have drawn the most matches in Serie A this year along with Pescara finding themselves with six stalemates. Many of these draws were matches Fiorentina dominated but failed to put the opposition away and they'll have start killing teams off if they want to qualify for Europe.
The defense has also been a problem for Sousa this season with Fiorentina being anything but solid at times. Fiorentina have conceded 29 goals this season and Torino are the only team in the top half of the table that have conceded more than La Viola. Sousa has failed to address Fiorentina's defensive issues and in aforementioned matches where they lack the killer instinct they end up getting picked off at the back. La Viola will have to improve the defense if they are to qualify for Europe but their match against Juventus showed us that perhaps Sousa worked on the defense over the winter break. The win over their fierce rivals was very important both for confidence and in their hopes of European qualification.
Despite all of these problems that Fiorentina are having this year there is reason to believe that they can still finish in the European places. La Viola still possess quality players such as Gonzalo Rodriguez, Milan Badelj, Borja Valero, Nikola Kalinic and Fernando Bernardeschi. While it looks certain Badelj will leave in the summer, Sousa will be desperate not to lose him in January and Fiorentina will look to keep all of those key players. A mega money offer for Kalinic from China would’ve been foolish to turn down but the Croatian has announced he will stay in Florence. One player that La Viola cannot afford to lose in January at all costs is Bernardeschi. The young Italian has been in inspired form this season with nine goals already and he has been the shining light of their season so far.
While La Viola have had a below par season so far they have enough quality in their team to mount a comeback in the second half of the season and finish in the European places. However, Fiorentina will need to continue improving quickly or La Viola's fans will have to mark this season down as one to forget...
After De Boer's disappointing tenure as Inter manager in which he arguably wasn't given enough time to bring his ideas through, the club from Milan turned to Stefano Pioli who has great experience and knowledge of the Italian League. His appointment might not have been the most exciting choice for Inter fans but he is already proving to be a safe pair of hands for Inter. De Boer was sacked with Inter sitting in twelfth place which was a serious underperformance from a team that some expected to challenge for the title. Since Pioli has taken over, Inter are now up to seventh place and only 5 points off the Champions League spots. There are signs that Pioli is beginning to turn things around at the Nerazzurri.
Stefano Pioli began his time as Inter manager with a baptism of fire. Pioli's first match in charge of the Nerazzurri came against a highflying A.C. Milan side in the derby. Inter came out with a positive result with Persisic rescuing a point for Pioli deep into stoppage time. Pioli has been turning the tide at Inter with only one defeat in their six games with the experienced Italian in charge. That one defeat as well was a 3-0 loss away to Napoli, which wasn't a big surprise given that Pioli was still trying to implement his ideas with the Inter squad. However, Pioli has had some very impressive wins with the Nerazzurri beating Fiorentina 4-2 and most recently Lazio 3-0. There are signs that Pioli is beginning to get the best out of an Inter side that on paper looked like that they could have challenged Juventus for the title.
One of the first things that Pioli has improved is Inter's defense and it was quite clear under De Boer that the defense needed urgent attention. Under De Boer the Nerazzurri only kept two clean sheets in 12 games and those two clean sheets came against relegation battlers Empoli and Crotone. Under Pioli, Inter have managed to keep three consecutive clean sheets in their last three games and it looks like Pioli has managed to solve some of the defensive problems. A large part of these problems under De Boer was his style of play. De Boer's style of playing out of the back caused a number of mistakes by Inter's backline. Perhaps if De Boer had not have been so stubborn and changed to a slightly more direct style he would still be in the job. Nonetheless, it is Pioli who has now managed to get rid of these sloppy mistakes in the Inter backline.
Pioli so far in his short time at Inter has managed to get the best out of Antoniio Candreva who he previously worked with at Lazio. Since Pioli has taken over, Candreva has scored 3 goals in 6 matches and looks to be finding the form he had at Lazio. Pioli will need Candreva to be at his best if Inter are to finish top 3 and qualify for the Champions League. At Lazio Pioli certainly demonstrated his qualities as a manager bringing Lazio to a third place finish and qualifying for the Champions League play-off round. He has a very difficult task on his hands to get Inter to finish in the top three as the Nerazzurri are currently 5 points behind Napoli and if Milan win their game in hand they will be 6 points off the top three. However, Pioli has stated that he believes Inter can qualify for the Champions League and there is a long way to go before the end of the season, anything could happen.
Stefano Pioli might not have been the most glamorous choice but it seems that he is slowly beginning to turn things around at Inter. The Nerazzurri fans will be hoping that Inter can continue Pioli's upward trend and hopefully find themselves in the top three at the end of the season....
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks)
Tomorrow nights title showdown between Roma and Juventus is a massive game. However, it is a game with much greater implications for the Giallorossi compared to the Bianconeri. If Roma lose tomorrow night they will be seven points adrift of Juve and unfortunately for Serie A that would mean that the Scudetto would be as good as won for Allegri's men. Even a draw would not really suffice for Spalleti and his team. Roma need to beat the Bianconeri tomorrow night to prove that they can mount a serious title challenge. A win would put the Giallorossi only a point behind Juventus and perhaps it would finally give Roma the belief they need to win the title. However, Juventus have recently put highflying Atalanta and Torino back in their place and will hope to do the same to Spalletti's men.
Both Roma and Juventus come into tomorrow’s game on the back of two impressive wins against in form opposition. The Giallorossi will have great morale in their camp after a 2-0 derby win against Lazio and a dogged 1-0 against a surprisingly strong Milan. In both these games, particularly the Milan match, it seems that Roma are learning how to win ugly. This is something which Spalletti has been saying over recent weeks that his Roma side have to learn how to grind out results and win ugly. Now that his players finally seem to be listening to him he can go into the match against Juve quietly confident of grinding out a positive result.
However, Roma will be facing the strongest team in Italy by far and the masters of grinding out results. Juventus are also coming off the back of two impressive wins against Atalanta and Torino. The Bianconeri have bounced straight back from their defeat at Genoa to return to winning ways which is a true sign of champions. Allegri's men proved just how good they are at winning ugly against Torino coming away with a hard earned 3-1 win. Despite Allegri's claims that tomorrows match won't decide the championship, a win for Juve would all but kill off Roma's aspirations of mounting a serious title challenge. It's very hard to see the Bianconeri throwing away a seven point lead and even harder to see Roma not dropping any points while trying to catch Juventus.
The expectation going into tomorrow’s game is that Juventus should see off the Giallorossi in a tight affair. The Bianconeri have home advantage and have so far this season won all their games at home. Roma on the other hand have only recently picked up their away form and tend to struggle away from the Olimpico. The Giallorossi have only three wins in eight matches away from home and one of those wins was against Lazio in which they were only technically the away side. Roma and Juventus are the top two scoring sides in Serie A this year with Roma one goal ahead of Juve on 36. However, Juventus have the best defense in Serie A with only 14 goals conceded and Roma are only two behind them, so it probably won’t be a match full of goals despite both teams free scoring form.
Spalletti will be aware that if Roma are to mount a challenge for the Scudetto they will have to win tomorrow. Even a draw would not be good enough for the Giallorossi as it would be hard to see them catching Juventus even with only a four point gap between them. However, Roma's fans will be feeling hopeful of taking a positive result away from Turin tomorrow. Yet both Roma and their fans will know that they have to win tomorrow night against the champions to keep any hopes they have of winning a Scudetto alive...
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Roma currently find themselves in 2nd place in Serie A and 4 points behind leaders Juventus. So far Spalletti will be happy with where Roma sit in the standings. However, the manner of I Giallorossi’s performances this year has been a real cause for concern for Spalletti and fans alike. Roma seem to be keeping last seasons trend of blacking out during matches, conceding too many goals and struggling with their away form. I Giallorossi are going to have to improve quickly to remain title contenders or even to maintain their place in the top three, as their next three games are against Lazio, Milan and Juventus. These three games are crucial for Roma and will be one of the potential major turning points for their season and their title ambitions.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing for a manager to watch is your team dominate the majority of the game, only to see your side to completely fall asleep for a small period of the game concede a goal or two and let your opponents back into the game. This is a feeling that Luciano Spalletti has become quite familiar with during his time with Roma. Under Spalletti, The Giallorossi has a tendency to fall asleep after racing into an early lead and they allow their opponents back into the game. These blackout periods that Roma suffer from are something that urgently needs attention. When playing against the small teams Roma tend to get away with these blackout periods. A recent example being their last match against Pescara. Roma raced into an early 2-0 lead and missed many chances to put the game to bed. Then with half an hour to go Pescara scored after Roma's defense fell asleep, Spalletti's men then woke back up and Perrotti made it 3-1 from the spot. Game, set and match Spalletti might have been thinking, however three minutes later Roma's non existent backline conceded again making it 3-2. Fortunately for I Gialllorossi they were able to see out the win but against better quality opposition they will not be able to get away with these blackout periods and they could cost them a lot of points by the end of the season.
Spalletti will also need to address Roma's defensive issues. Although they are the top goal scorers in Serie A with 33 goals, I Lupi have already conceded 16 goals in 14 matches. Roma will certainly need to tighten up their defense if they are serious about mounting a title challenge to Juventus. Roma's defensive frailties could cost them dearly in the next three games and it could see them outside the top after their next three matches. Spalletti's men also need to drastically improve their away form. Roma's total of 8 points away from home is the worst out of all the clubs currently in the top five. Two of their next three vital matches are away from home one against Juventus and against Lazio they are technically the away side. Roma will need to solve their problems away from home if they are to pick up points against Lazio and Juventus.
Spalletti will find himself under immense pressure over the next three games. A poor result against a high flying Lazio side in the Derby Della Capitale could send Roma reeling in despair as points against Milan and especially Juventus won't come easy. Whereas a win against Lazio will set Roma up nicely for their fixtures against Milan and Juventus. Whatever the outcome may be there is no doubt however that if Roma don't improve their performances over the next three games they risk falling out of the top three and risk the strong possibility of another disappointing season...
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Siniša Mihajlovic took over Torino in the summer after what many consider a harsh sacking at Milan. Since then however he hasn't looked back and this season he has the Granata playing some wonderful football. Torino have 22 points after 13 games which is their best start to a Serie A season since 1976-77. The Granata can also boast that they have perhaps the most exciting young Italian talent in Andrea Belotti. However, he is just one of the many young talented Italians in Mihajlovic's exciting team. Under Miha, Il Toro are definitely aiming to achieve great things this season.
One of the key factors to Miha and Torino's success this season has been their strong core of young Italians. Players such as Belotti, Davide Zappacosta, Marco Benassi, Daniele Baselli and Antonio Barreca have grown immensely under Miha. The Serbian tactician is no stranger to giving youth it's chance either as he is the man responsible for launching Gianluigi Donnarumma's career at Milan. Along with the young Italians at Torino, Mihajlovic has also helped revive Adem Ljajic and Iago Falque. Both have already scored 5 goals each this season contributing to the Granata's 29 goals this season, making Torino the second highest scoring team in Serie A this year. One of the major factors to Torino's great form in front of goal under Miha has been Andrea Belotti. The young Italian is on blistering form and is in discussions to sign a new contract with a 94 million euro release clause. Belotti has scored ten goals already this season and sits top of the capocannoniere charts with Mauro Icardi and Edin Dzeko. Mihajlovic has Granata fans constantly sitting on the edge of their seats with his attacking young side, however defensively Il Toro remain solid as well.
A large part of their defensive solidity is down to Urbano Cairo. In Joe Hart and Leandro Castan he made two excellent signings and showed that Torino were ready to mix it with the big boys once again. Hart especially has made a huge impact at Torino. After a shaky debut against Atalanta in which he cost Torino the game, he went on to keep two consecutive clean sheets. Hart seems to be growing from strength to strength in Serie A as he adapts to the Italian game. The English keeper is helped by the fact that just as his predecessor Ventura did, Mihajlovic has made the Granata a very tough team to break down. While they have conceded 16 goals, 6 of them came in the first 3 games. Since then Torino have only conceded 10 in 8 games which can be improved on, yet 4 of those ten again have been in matches that they have won convincingly. Miha has already identified that the Granata's ability to switch off after going two goals ahead is something that must be altered. However, under Miha one can only feel that as the season progresses that Il Toro will get more solid defensively and cover up their small cracks.
Mihajlovic has got this young team playing some excellent football but Urbano Cairo has to be praised for his part in constructing this team. Cairo almost took a leaf out of Sassuolo's book and built a team of young Italians that can now compete for a European place. Keeping hold of Belotti, Benassi and Baselli has been key to their success and Cairo has to be praised for this. Also his appointment of Miha was a wise decision as I've mentioned before The Serbian tactician seems to be able to get the best out of young players. Cairo must be delighted with the work he has put in to rebuilding the club. He can now dream of big things with this young exciting team.
Torino this season must have set their sights on Europa League qualification and right now it's a very distinct possibility. Mihajlovic has made Il Toro rage again and now he and their fans will hope that their team of young bulls can storm their way into Europe this season...
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Gianluca Lapadula is well and truly living out his dream having recently scored his first goal for Milan and receiving a call up to the Italy squad. Lapadula is still quite young at 26 but his road to the elite level of professional football has been a difficult one. His story is similar to that of Jamie Vardy's, Lapadula through his sheer hard work, determination and his never say die attitude has finally reached the top. However, unlike Vardy who has fulfilled his potential, Lapadula still has a long way to go and a lot more goals to score. His first goal for Milan and call up to the Italy team represent a new beginning for him and offer him new challenges. Hopefully the man known as LapaGol can begin to score regularly for Milan and become a permanent fixture in the Italy team. Before speculating about his future however let's take a look at his inspiring journey to reach the top.
Lapadula was born in Turin to an Italian father and a Peruvian mother. Gianluca began his career in 2004 with Juventus before being released, as he wasn't achieving good grades in his studies. However, Lapadula didn’t let this break him and kept trying to find the right club for him. After being released by Juventus he floated around many different teams for three years before arriving at Ivrea in 2008. Good performances there earned him a move to Parma where he spent one year with the Primavera reserve team. After multiple loans the most successful one being at Ravenna, Lapadula was bought by Cesena in a co-ownership deal. However at Cesena he faced another setback failing to feature regularly for the first team and he never really got a chance to perform. Cesena and Parma resolved the co-ownership and Lapadula was sent back to Parma who would loan him out once again. However this time things would start to pick up for Lapadula.
During the 2013-14 season Lapadula was loaned to Slovenian side ND Gorica along with a number of other Parma players. At ND Gorica regular game time allowed him to prosper and grow as a player. He scored 11 goals in 28 games for the Slovenian side and after his loan spell ended he was wanted by many Serie C sides. Teramo won the battle to attain his services on loan from Parma and Lapadula flourished with the Serie C side. He scored 21 goals in 38 games and Teramo would have been promoted to Serie B had they not been involved in a match fixing scandal. Lapadula could have given up or resigned himself to playing in the lower leagues but he kept pushing. At Teramo not only were his goals impressive but his work ethic on the pitch was fantastic. At the end of the season Parma went bankrupt and he was released on a free. Lapadula was signed by Pescara and he ended up being arguably the most influential free transfer in Italian football that season.
At Pescara, Lapadula would become known as Lapagol and under Massimo's Oddo's guidance the electric forward scored 30 goals in 43 games. None of those goals were penalties either and he was finished as top scorer in Serie B. He was now wanted by nearly every team in Serie A and also wanted by the Peru national team whom he politely declined as he considered himself Italian. After much speculation about his future LapaGol finally chose Milan as his next destination and this would complete his dream of playing in Serie A. After almost 10 years of hard work and determination he had finally arrived in Serie A. Lapadula himself described the move as a dream come true and despite first team opportunities being limited his recent winner against Palermo, a fantastic backheel, might earn him a starting berth in the derby. This would give Lapadula a chance to go on a goal-scoring run and given that Carlos Bacca hasn't scored in 5 games many will argue that he should be given that chance.
A recent surprise Italy call up is another fantastic achievement for Lapadula and makes his story even more inspiring. Lapadula's long road to the top hasn't been easy but it's certainly inspiring for many youngsters and shows that dreams don't work unless you do.
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Atalanta have come back strong from a slow start to this years Serie A campaign and find themselves on 19 points in sixth place. Gian Piero Gasperini, whose job was in danger after a poor start to the season, has exceeded all expectations by bringing La Dea to the top six of the table. Atalanta travel to visit Sassuolo this Sunday and a win will probably take Gasperini's men up to fifth place as Lazio are playing Napoli. The big question however is will Atalanta sustain this fantastic run of form and continue to surprise the rest of Serie A.
La Dea's poor start to the season in which they lost four of their opening five matches led to much speculation that Gasperini would be sacked. However, Atalanta was right not to act hastily on their poor start. Gasperini has turned La Dea's fortunes around dramatically with Atalanta picking up 16 points from their last six games. Since Atalanta beat Napoli 1-0 at home they have gone from strength to strength. Although it’s unlikely that La Dea will qualify for Europe, they are giving their fans every reason to dream of European qualification with their current form. However, a top half finish would still be a successful season for Gasperini’s men. Atalanta’s turnaround has been quite dramatic after the first five games of the season they had leaked a staggering thirteen goals. The backline has since shored up and in the last six games Atalanta have only conceded three goals, keeping three clean sheets along the way. La Dea have also claimed impressive victories over Napoli, Inter and thrashed Genoa 3-0 in their last match.
Key to Atalanta's change in fortunes have been the faith put in youth by Gasperini. Players such as Kessie, Conti, Caldera and Petagna have kept growing under Gasperini and are rewarding his faith in them with some fine performances. Combative midfielder Franck Kessie has arguably been the breakthrough star of the season with four goals already to his name. The only downside of his sudden breakthrough is that he has attracted a lot of interest from many top clubs in Europe and it's hard to see him staying in Bergamo next season. Gasperini's blend of experience and youth in his side provides the perfect balance and players such as Gomez, Maisello and Kurtic provide reliability and experience. Gasperini has turned the Bergamo side into a defensively solid team, which is a change as usually Gasperini's teams have always struggled with keeping clean sheets. A regular goal scorer is something that Atalanta desperately need however Pinilla, Petagna and Gomez don't seem likely to score more than ten goals a season. Gasperini however will be hoping that Paloschi can find the form he had with Chievo and give Atalanta a real goal scorer upfront.
A win this Sunday against Sassuolo would put Atalanta in a phenomenal position going into the international break. Whether La Dea can sustain this excellent form over the course of the season remains to be seen. For now however, Atalanta fans can dream of the Europa League and Gasperini will be hoping that his side can continue to be the surprise package of Serie A.
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
This season Lazio have made an excellent start to their Serie A season surpassing many people's expectations with 18 points after the first 10 rounds. Almost typically of the Biancocelesti the man who has brought the best out of them Simone Inzaghi, is someone who they didn’t actually want. After taking over from Stefano Pioli at the end of last season, Inzaghi did well to finish the season strongly with the Aquile. However, he was told that his services would no longer be required as Lazio chose to appoint Marcelo Bielsa. The eccentric Bielsa, to much controversy, never showed up and forced club president Lotito to return to Inzaghi and reappoint him. While it's not what Lotito had in mind the reappointment of Inzaghi has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Returning to the Biancocelesti was not going to be easy for Inzaghi. The club’s ultras were on strike in protest against stadium segregation and Keita Balde Diao and Felipe Anderson were both looking for moves in the summer creating a bad atmosphere around the club. Yet despite everything looking bleak in the summer, Inzaghi has managed to turn the whole atmosphere at the club around. The summer signings of Ciro Immobile and Jordan Lukaku have excelled under their new boss. The return of Stefan De Vrij has also been a boost and managing to keep a hold of the aforementioned Keita Balde Diao and Felipe Anderson. Both of whom have been in fine form this season under Inzaghi's guidance. Ciro Immobile is also having a fantastic season helped by the creativity of Keita and Anderson, the Italian striker has scored 8 goals already this season and looks more like the man who was capocannoniere for Torino two years ago.
Under Inzaghi so far this season Lazio have only lost twice, 2-0 away to Milan and a 1-0 defeat at home to champions Juventus. It seems having those eight matches at the end of last season to implement his ideas and get to know the squad has done Inzaghi a world of good. This season the Biancocelesti have been flying high under Inzaghi and look like a real contender for the European places. After all, minus Candreva this is a similar squad to the one the qualified for the Champions League play-off round just over twelve months ago. Another advantage for Inzaghi is they are not competing in Europe this year so they can focus their full attention on the Serie A campaign. Lazio are currently just two points off third place; I think they could be dark horses to finish in third and steal the final Champions League place.
Nonetheless, Le Aquile still have the usual problems such as Lotito being a hated figure by fans. The Ultras are also leaving the Curva Nord empty on matchdays, however if Lazio keep performing this well the Ultras might not be long about returning to the stadium. It's still early days yet as well and we have yet to see how Inzaghi's side responds when they come across a sticky patch of form. For now however Inzaghi will be hoping to make sure that his Lazio side continue to thrive in Serie A…
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Milan welcome Juventus to the San Siro on Saturday night and for the first time since 2012 the match is arguably a Scudetto clash with Juve on top and Milan tied for second place. However, despite the position of Milan in the standings they are a long way off the quality that the Bianconeri possess. Nonetheless in 90 minutes anything can happen and with a win against Juventus the Rossoneri could create a title race, at least for a while. If Milan win they would go two points behind Juve, as would Roma providing they win against Palermo and even Napoli would have the chance to bridge the gap to four points with a win against Crotone. Can Milan beat Juventus and create a title race in Serie A?
Milan has had a fantastic start to their season amassing 16 points in the first 8 games. The last time Milan started a season better was under Max Allegri when they won the title. However, realistically this Milan side is unlikely to win the league but stranger things have happened and if they stay within touching distance of Juventus, the Chinese investment in January could boost them to title glory. Yet a win for Milan would more than likely create a short-term title race rather than a title race that will go down to the wire. Juventus are simply too strong and if they were to lose Milan on Saturday they would more than likely bounce back, just as they did after their loss to Inter. Whereas it's hard to see Milan, Roma and Napoli not suffering any blips along the way. They just don't have the mentality or the squad to compete with Juventus throughout a whole season. For the league and for the neutrals, a win for Milan would be great. It would at least show outsiders who say that Juventus stroll to the title every year that this is not the case and that they have a fight on their hands.
Perhaps the scene is set for Milan to take home the victory on the 100th anniversary of Herbert Kilpin's death. A win would pay homage and honor the legacy of the founder of Milan and a packed San Siro will provide an electric atmosphere that would have made Kilpin proud. The Rossoneri will have to put on a great performance if they are to beat Juventus and every player in a red and black shirt will have to be on their ‘A’ game. Otherwise, the ruthless Bianconeri will swat them away like flies and cruise to a victory. If Milan were to win it would show how far they have come in such a short time under Vincenzo Montella and it could represent a real turning point for Milan. Montella however has been keen to play down the Rossoneri's title chances this season claiming the Europa League is still their objective but surely the Champions League must be a real possibility if Milan beat Juventus.
Roma and Napoli fans will also be keenly watching on Saturday and hoping for a Rossoneri victory. If Roma and Napoli can make up ground on Juventus, it would make for a much more interesting table in terms of the fight for the Scudetto. So perhaps if Milan win they would create a title race at least for a few weeks in Serie A and maybe make Juventus look carefully over their shoulders.
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Since Empoli's return to Serie A two years ago they have surprised many people with their impressive performances and attractive style of play. However now in their third season in Serie A and under their third manager in three years, Giovanni Martusciello, Empoli seem to be struggling to maintain their excellent form of the past two years under Maurizio Sarri and Marco Giampaolo. They currently sit in 19th place with just four points, coach Martusciello is already under pressure and according to the Italian press he has two games to save his job. However Martusciello alone cannot be blamed for Empoli’s struggles this season.
This summer’s transfer campaign saw Empoli lose key players such as Mario Rui, Leandro Parades, Piotr Zielinski and Lorenzo Tonelli. Losing these players has had a huge impact on Empoli this season. Parades and Zielinski were both crucial players for the Tuscan outfit last season and they have been sorely missed in midfield. That spark of creativity that Parades and Zielinski provided is now missing from their midfield and Martusciello is struggling to continue Sarri’s philosophy without the creative midfielders. Tonelli and Mario Rui are also big losses in the defense, especially Tonelli, who over the past two years has been a real leader in Empoli’s backline and is proving hard to replace. Empoli have already conceded eleven goals this year in just seven games. While the loss of players over the summer transfer window has affected Empoli, their new signings have also failed to deliver so far. Veseli, Mauri, Pasqual and Gilardino haven’t exactly set the world alight with their performances and Matrusciello will surely be expecting to see more convincing performances from them on the pitch.
Losing two managers in two years has also not helped Empoli and this year Martusciello is struggling to repeat the wonderful work that both Sarri and Giampaolo did with the Tuscan side. Sarri brought Empoli to 15th in his debut Serie A season and landed himself a job with Napoli thanks to his great work at Empoli. Giampaolo who was Sarri’s assistant the previous season then stepped up to the plate and finished in a highly credible 10th place. Giampaolo was highly sought-after with rumors linking him to the Milan job; eventually he ended up taking the reigns at Sampdoria to replace Montella who became A.C. Milan manager. Losing two excellent managers in two years has not helped Empoli and while they don't have as big a budget as most teams in Serie A, one would have to question the owner’s ambition. Especially in allowing to Giampaolo to move to a team that the Tuscan side finished above last season, even if Sampdoria are a bigger team historically it was a clear lack of ambition shown from Empoli’s owners.
Martusciello was upgraded from assistant to head coach just as Giampaolo was Sarri left for Napoli. However this time it seems unlikely that Martusciello will better Empoli’s position in the table. The next two games are crucial for both Martusciello and Empoli’s season. The Tuscan outfit will face a tough test away to high flying Genoa and the fixtures don’t get any easier with a home match against in-form Chievo after the Genoa match. Martusciello will need to see better performances and pick up some points in these matches if he is to reignite the spark in Empoli’s form and save his own job as well.
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Seven rounds into the new Serie A season and the fight for the all important Champions League places already looks like it will go down to the wire. Juventus are the only team you could say will definitely finish in the top three, in fact you could almost say that the Bianconeri will definitely lift the title in May. So with Juventus out of the equation that leaves two Champions League places remaining which look set to be contested for by six teams; Napoli, Roma, Milan, Inter, Lazio and Fiorentina will all have the ambition of qualifying for the Champions League but which of these teams is best equipped to finish in the top three and earn the right to play in Europeans top competition.
Napoli, to begin with, are a team that many expect to be Juve's "closest rivals" this year. However in my opinion the sale of Higuain to Juventus ruined their title chances. Napoli have bought many talented young players over the summer such as Milik, Zielinksi, Maksimovic and Tonelli but while these players all have the potential to be great players they will prove inconsistent at their young age and still have to develop a lot to become world class. Napoli have invested in the future and while it might not be enough to mount a title challenge this year it should be enough to see them qualify for one of the Champions League places.
Roma were the other team that were touted to potentially cause Juventus difficulties but even at this early stage of the season it seems that the Giallorossi are still to inconsistent. Roma have so far scored the most goals in Serie A (16) but their defense remains anything but solid with them shipping nine goals so far. Spaletti's men have won all their home games but their away form is a real cause for concern with their only point on the road coming against Cagliari. Playing in the Europa League might not help Roma's ambitions to finish in the top three and their inconsistency might prove very costly. Unless they can improve their away form and deliver consistent performances a Champions League place might be out of their reach.
Inter are a confusing team, at the best of times they have arguably the best squad in Serie A behind Juventus and this was shown when they beat Juventus 2-1. Inter on paper should finish in the top three but the reality is quite different. De Boer, since he took over, has been a mixed bag with Inter's performances ranging from fantastic to absolutely dire. Icardi is the key man for the Nerazzurri and he looks set to have his best season in an Inter shirt with six goals already under his belt. However De Boer's men will need time to adapt to his system and playing in the Europa League might also affect Inter's chances of finishing in the top three. Depending on how quick De Boer can get his players to deliver performances like the one against Juventus week in week out will determine whether Inter qualify for the Champions League.
Milan, the cross city rivals of Inter, also appointed a new manager in Vincenzo Montella, who will try to successfully implement his possession based football. Milan's tendency to leak goals will be a real hindrance in their ambitions to qualify for the Champions League. The Rossoneri however seem to have improved under Montella and with the youngest average age in Serie A, the future looks bright for Milan. If Milan can stay in touch with the top three until January and the sale of the Chinese goes through then an investment in the winter transfer window could propel Milan into the top three. Although achieving a Europa League place seems more likely this season.
Fiorentina seem to have been the nearly men for the past few years. La Viola have been unable to break into the top three and gain qualification for European's top prize. Under Sousa, Fiorentina have a clear style of play however this season they seem to lack the firepower to turn all their possession into goals. Fiorentina are also playing in the Europa League and might feel that their best bet of qualifying for the Champions League would be to win the Europa League. I find it hard to see Fiorentina finishing in the top three this year so for me a Europa League spot would be considered a successful season in Florence.
Last but not least, Lazio will be hoping to repeat their third place finish that they achieved under Pioli with current manager Simone Inzaghi. Lazio have a decent team and under Inzaghi seem to be pretty solid defensively with their only defeats so far this season being away to Milan and at home to Juventus. While they have lost twice, Lazio have performed well in both those matches and Inzaghi has brought consistency to Le Aquile. Lazio have a young team with lots of potential and if Immobile can find the form that he had at Torino then Lazio will prove a hard team to beat. I think Inzaghi is creating something special at Lazio and I would put them as dark horses for a Champions League place. Without the distraction of playing in Europe, the Biancocelesti can just focus on the league as well. I believe that Lazio could surprise a lot of people and qualify for the Champions League come the end of May.
The fight for the Champions League places will be hotly contested right up until the final whistle blows at the end of the season. All that remains to be seen is which teams can deliver the knockout blow to their competitors and qualify for Europe's most prestigious competition......
Written by Joshua O’Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Vincenzo Montella was hired by Milan in the summer and his appointment was well received by fans and media. Montella seemed to be the smart choice for Milan after three years of chopping and changing managers without success. Many felt that Montella was finally the right man to take Milan forward and bring the Rossoneri back into European competition. However, after the first three games of the season the pressure was already on Montella with Milan only picking up three points from a possible nine. Three games and seven points later things are looking a lot different and it seems that Montella's Milan is beginning to look like a real contender for the European spots.
Montella began his Milan career with a 3-2 win at home to Torino in which Gianluigi Donnarumma was the hero saving a last minute Bellotti penalty. Milan's next two matches away to Napoli and at home to Udinese both ended in defeat. The Rossoneri fans must have began to resign themselves to another season of disappointment with the defense leaking goals for fun in the opening three matches. Montella was already under pressure and fans who were already angry about a poor transfer campaign were starting to lose patience with the club. Montella however remained calm and convinced that the results would start to come and he was right.
In Milan's next three games they picked up seven points leaving them currently one point off a Champions League place. The players are starting to understand Montella's methods hence the performances and results are improving. Milan haven't had easy games either a hard fought 1-0 victory away to Sampdoria and a 2-0 victory over Lazio were both credible results as was a 0-0 draw away to Fiorentina given Milan's poor recent record away to La Viola. What's been most impressive about the recent form of Milan has been the defensive solidity with the Rossoneri being the only team in Europe to keep three consecutive clean sheets in the last three matches.
Montella seems to have put a stop to the defensive issues that Milan has been known for in recent times. Davide Calabria and Mattia De Sciglio have been brought in as the full backs and the central defensive partnership of Gabriel Paletta and Alessio Romangnoli is working wonders for Milan. Montella's 4-3-3, which changes to a 4-5-1 while defending, is also providing a more solid formation for Milan while keeping an attacking style of play. For the first time in three years Milan seem to have a clear game plan and style of play. Montella deploys Suso and M’Baye Niang on the wings and most of the attacking revolves around them with the full backs overlapping to create space so that Suso and Niang can go inside or outside. Montella has also put confidence in their ability to keep the ball and use it effectively. While Milan have usually seen less possession than their opponent this season their use of the ball has been much better and they are creating much more chances under Montella. A clear game plan has been long needed at Milan and Montella seems to have provided one.
Il Diavolo host Sassuolo at the San Siro this Sunday and three points are vital as Inter play Roma and Milan would be guaranteed to gain on a direct rival. Montella has Milan looking like a real threat going forward and looking solid defensively. A win for Montella on Sunday would be great for Milan's European ambitions and perhaps if they keep winning matches and keeping clean sheets then the Champions League may not be out of reach. For Milanisti it seems that Montella's Milan is one that is starting to take shape nicely...
Written by Javiera Silva Bravo (@javierasilvabravo95):
Juventus have found this Serie A season a tough one to break even though the champions are sitting at the top. In a very busy off season and transfer market, losing players like Pogba and Morata they, if it was ever possible, compensated those losses with the signings of Gonzalo Higuain, Dani Alves, Marko Pjaca, Miralem Pjanic, Medhi Benatia and Juan Cuadrado.
The Seire A is already six matches in and Juventus sit pretty in first position one point ahead of rivals Napoli. However, their performances have not been pretty to watch even though they have picked up 15 points from a possible 18.
In their recent victory over Palermo, Juventus were criticised heavily on a win that was very, very fortunate. New boy Dani Alves was completely caught out during the match but was lucky enough Palermo lacked the clinical edge to not capitalise from his mistakes. His shot did however finish in the back of the net from a fortunate rebound off Goldaniga.
The Brazilian international has been relatively unconvincing so far. Though, in the Champions League, Dani Alves took charge in yesterday's game against Croat heavy weights, Dinamo Zagreb.
Alves is at home in this competition and found his feet early on crossing from the right to Higuain who blasted it over the bar just three minutes.
Juventus from the get go took absolute control of possession and showed us who really are the Italian Champions.
On 23′ Bonucci’s ball straight down the middle of the park took a wicked deflection off Zagreb's center back and landed on Pjanic’s foot who 15 yards out calmly slotted the ball in the back of the net. 0-1
Dinamo Zagreb were unlucky not to capitalise after going 0-1 down at home on 25′ after Domagoj Antolic swung in a free-kick from the left from and Gordon Schildenfled hit the crossbar from the centre of the box.
Juventus doubled their lead from a calm and swift play from the back. From Buffon to Bonucci to Hernanes in the middle of the park to then Pjanic lofting a sweet and precise ball over the defence to Higuain who slotted it in goal on 31′. 0-2
Leonardo Bonucci continued to show why he is one of the best centre-backs in the world. A skill he showed continuously last season. His vision from the back to push plays forward. His long balls are nothing but precise when needed be. On 39′ he found Sami Khedira’s run, with the bounce of the ball Khedira was able to head the ball over the GK but lacked power. The ball was easily cleared from the area.
The second half began in familiar fashion. Juventus did not let the game go or at the very least were happy to leave the score line as it was. They wanted and got more.
It only took Juventus 12 minutes to triple their advantage.
Paulo Dybala finally found his opening goal of the season in magnificent fashion on 57′ from nothing other than 30 yards out. His shot flew past Zagreb’s shot-stopper, Semper, who could do nothing other than dive for the photo… 0-3
If Juventus couldn’t rub it in the faces of Zagreb fans anymore on 85′ Dani Alves’ deflected free-kick found the back of the net. 0-4
After being battered in the press for their pass performances and some player attitudes, the giant was awoken. This performance away from home has kick started their European campaign and they continue to send a strong message to Europe that this Juventus squad do mean more than business in this competition.
Winning away in a hostile stadium as Maksimir Stadium currently puts Juventus in first place in Group H ahead of Sevilla in second.
Next up is Champions League match day three, when Juventus travel to face Lyon on October 18.
Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Rolando Maran was appointed by Chievo Verona in October 2014 to steer the club, who sat in seventeenth position, to safety. Chievo finished that season in fourteenth place and avoided relegation. In Maran's first full season with Chievo he brought the Flying Donkeys to a highly credible ninth place finish. Maran believes that his Chievo team can better that position this season and so far Chievo look very promising under Maran. It's time that people begin to sit up and take notice of Maran's great work at Chievo.
Chievo appointed Maran during the 2014-15 season and the former Chievo defensive stalwart successfully guided them to safety. Maran took over a team who were struggling to win matches in Serie A and often criticized for their bland style of play. Chievo, since 2011, have seemed to favor appointing bald managers and Maran continued this unusual trend. However this time it seems that Chievo finally got the (bald) man that they were looking for. Chievo were hoping to see the Maran that brought Catania to eighth place in the 2012-2013 Serie A campaign. In that season Maran achieved a record breaking 56 points for the Sicilian side and received many plaudits for his work with Catania.
Last season however he brought the Gialloblu to ninth place, a great job considering how close to relegation Chievo were the season before. Yet this time no one seemed to notice Maran's great work and the Italian tactician almost silently went about his business, with The Flying Donkeys improving every week. Maran did an excellent job last season, getting the best out of notoriously inconsistent players such as Valter Birsa and Riccardo Meggiorini. He kept the previous solidity that Chievo had under Corini while Maran has also added a more attacking edge to Chievo while keeping the gritty and tough style of play that the Flying Donkeys are known for. Alberto Paloschi's departure in January didn't help and Chievo still haven't found a suitable replacement. Maran is missing a goal-scoring striker in his team with Sergio Pellissier coming towards the end of his career and Meggiorini being more of a provider yet the Flying Donkeys achieved a credible top half finish. It could have possibly been even better had injuries been kinder to Maran's men.
The Gialloblu crucially managed to keep a hold of Maran this season amidst interest from Atlanta. Chievo have started this year like a house on fire gaining 10 points from the first five matches. Maran's team has already claimed some notable victories beating both Inter and Sassuolo. While Maran has not publicly set the objective of reaching the Europa League places, surely that must be his aim for this season. Perhaps the only thing that might hinder Maran is the previously mentioned lack of a goal scorer. Perhaps Antonio Flores Flores might be able to step up and provide some goals this year. So far this season none of Chievo's strikers have scored, however one could argue that if the strikers start scoring then the Gialloblu will be even more dangerous than they are now. Maran must be excited about the start that his side has made to the season. Although early doors The Flying Donkeys look like they can actually challenge for a Europa League place.
Chievo's revival is largely down to Maran's excellent work. So far Maran has gone quietly about his business and no one has really taken notice of the great work he is doing. However, I'm sure that at the end of the season he will be hoping that everyone will be talking about his Chievo side and how Maran made The Flying Donkeys soar once again.
Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
On Thursday night Sassuolo made their debut in the Europa League and achieved arguably the biggest victory in their history. The Neroverdi trashed Athletic Bilbao 3-0 at the Mapei Stadium. It was a historic night for Sassuolo who have made great strides forward in the last six years. Head coach Eusebio Di Francesco couldn’t have wished for a better start to Sassuolo's European campaign but how far can the Neroverdi actually go?
Sassuolo's victory over Bilbao was a fantastic achievement for a club who were playing in Serie B five years ago and the third division eight years ago. Last season Di Francesco's men edged out Milan to reach sixth place which put them into the Europa League qualification round. In qualifying for the Europe League the Neroverdi easily beat Lugano and Red Star Belgrade. After reaching the group stage Sassuolo were dealt a relatively tough draw with Athletic Bilbao, Rapid Wien and Genk being no pushovers.
Sassuolo's first match at home to Bilbao was one that not many people would have expected them to win. Yet Di Francesco's men once again upset the odds dominating Bilbao at the Mapei Stadium with goals from Lirola, Defrel and Politano in the second half completed the famous victory for the Neroverdi. Even without star man, Domenico Berardi, Sassuolo proved they can win big matches. One of the best things about Sassuolo winning their first match in the Europa League is their use of Italian players. Eleven of the fourteen players who featured against Bilbao were Italian. On a night where Fiorentina and Inter both failed to win playing a large number of non-Italians, Sassuolo show that big money does not have to be spent on overseas players to achieve success in Europe.
So after a dream start to the group Sassuolo now have a great chance of making it to the knockout round of the Europa League. Di Francesco's men at the moment look capable of beating any potential opponent they may face in the Europa League. Some Sassuolo fans will be dreaming of lifting the title and I think there is a chance they could. I certainly expect Sassuolo to reach the quarterfinals of the competition.
One of the advantages Sassuolo have is the fact the a lot of teams in the Europa League (mainly the big ones) play second string teams in the competition and rest their star names. Sassuolo however will be taking the Europa League very seriously. Di Francesco's men also have no weight of expectation on their shoulders; it's their first time competing in Europe and should they get knocked out in the quarterfinals or even the last 16 it will be considered a successful European run.
Sassuolo are set up for a great European campaign now, which is sure to give their fans memories that will last a lifetime. Playing an entertaining style of football and focusing on Italian youth they are everyone's favorite underdog for the Europa League. Sassuolo deserves the success they are now having and hopefully they will continue to have more success and maybe just maybe they'll lift the trophy at Friends Arena in Stockholm at the end of May this season.
Blog Written by Alessandro Pugliese (@sandro_pugliese)
Order is based off final standings from last season
Key Signings: Miralem Pjanic, Gonzalo Higuain, Dani Alves, Marko Pjaca, Medhi Benatia, Juan Cuadrado
Key Departures: Paul Pogba, Alvaro Morata, Roberto Pereyra
It was quite a busy summer for the Bianconeri. Beppe Marotta and company got most of their work done early with the signings of Pjanic, Dani Alves, Pjaca, Benatia and even Higuain to an extent. Of course the biggest news was the record-breaking sale of Paul Pogba to Manchester United. As I have written, I believe Juve will miss Pogba’s off the field marketing more than anything else. Their midfield is still very strong and as we saw in the first match against Fiorentina, Kwadwo Asamoah is more than able to play there as well. Most people have already crowned Juventus as Serie A champions yet again but I do believe this year will be a very tight Scudetto race and it will be decided in May. But I think everyone knows that this season will be determined by Juve’s Champions League campaign. Anything short of at least reaching the semi-finals this year would be a disappointment in my eyes. Because of a pretty large turnover in the squad it might take a little time for Max Allegri to get this side firing on all cylinders but expect Juventus to be one of the top four teams across Europe this year.
Key Signings: Arkadiusz Milik, Nikola Maksimovic, Amadou Diawara, Piotr Zielinski, Marko Rog, Emanuele Giaccherini, Lorenzo Tonelli
Key Departures: Gonzalo Higuain, Mirko Valdifiori, David Lopez
After a record-breaking 36 Serie A goals last season, Gonzalo Higuain joined Juventus as they activated his €90 million release clause. Despite this huge loss, Napoli has made quality signings this summer. They improved and added depth to their midfield with Diawara, Zielinski, Rog and Giaccherini and finally made an upgrade over Raul Albiol by singing Lorenzo Tonelli and Nikola Maksimovic. I truly believe that in the long-term this transfer window will make Napoli a better team. They have a great mix of experienced guys like Hamsik, Callejón, Mertens, Allan etc. and young talents such as Insigne, Milik, Diawara, Zielinski and others. If Maurizio Sarri can get the new signings implemented into the squad quickly, Napoli may be able to keep up with Juventus closer to May this year.
Key Signings: Bruno Peres, Thomas Vermaelen, Stephen El Shaarawy, Allison, Juan Jesus, Federico Fazio, Wojciech Szczesny, Mario Rui (tore ACL in pre-season)
Key Departures: Miralem Pjanic, Lucas Digne, Maicon, Seydou Keita, Adem Ljajic, Iago Falque, Antonio Sanabria, Seydou Doumbia
The Giallorossi failed to qualify for the Champions League after collapsing in the second leg against Porto, finishing the match with nine men. It looked as if the capital side were a bit hung-over from their Champions League exit after a draw with Cagliari and falling behind to Sampdoria. But their eternal captain came to the rescue yet again. Francesco Totti came on as a halftime substitute, after a weather delay, to completely change the match. An assist and a stoppage time penalty goal from the soon-to-be 40 year old gave Roma an emphatic win and possibly kick started their season. This Roma side still has a strong core and Spalletti has done a fine job since his return to the club. A Scudetto triumph may be out of grasp but a top three finish along with a respectable Europa League campaign should be on the cards for the Giallorossi.
Key Signings: Antonio Candreva, Ever Banega, Gabigol, Joao Mario, Cristian Ansaldi
Key Departures: Juan Jesus, Adem Ljajic (was on loan), Alex Telles (was on loan), Dodô
Inter had somewhat of a hectic summer. There was much speculation if captain Mauro Icardi would be leaving, Frank de Boer replaced Roberto Mancini only two weeks before the season started and then the Nerazzurri completed two huge deadline day signings in Gabigol and Joao Mario. As expected with the abrupt coaching change, Inter got off to a slow start losing to Chievo and drawing Palermo. Captain Mauro Icardi has scored three goals in three matches, leading the line as expected. Ever Banega has already proven to be the most important summer signing with the way he controls the tempo and creates going forward. Candreva, Joao Mario and Gabigol are obviously all talents players; the main question to be seen is how de Boer uses them on the field. The Nerazzurri will be aiming for a top three finish but it’s hard to judge how good their chances are so early into de Boer’s reign.
Key Signings: Cristian Tello, Sebastian De Maio, Carlos Sanchez, Sebastian Cristoforo,
Maximiliano Olivera, Kevin Diks
Key Departures: Marcos Alonso, Mati Fernandez, Mario Gomez, Giuseppe Rossi, Facundo Roncaglia, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Manuel Pasqual
It certainly was not one of the more exciting summers for the Viola faithful. No real big name signings although keeping Cristian Tello from Barcelona was a good move. Marcos Alonso signed for Chelsea on deadline day with a reported €27 million being paid to the Florentine club. Certainly a good price but it could be hard to replace Alonso’s performance at left back. Fan-favorite Pepito Rossi left to join Spanish club Celta Vigo, with no real replacement signed. This season will be a real testament to how good of a manager Paulo Sousa really is. I think the squad dropped a little bit in terms of quality so it will be interesting to see how Sousa manages the team this year. Don’t be surprised if La Viola drop a spot or two in the league standings but they should be able to represent well in the Europa League.
Key Signings: Alessandro Matri, Timo Letschert, Antonio Ragusa, Pol Lirola (on 2-year loan)
Key Departures: Nicola Sansone, Sime Vrsaljko
The Neroverdi are Italy’s charming story. Competing in the third division under a decade ago, Sassuolo qualified for the Europa League this summer. Admittedly, the club sold two of their best players in Sansone to Villarreal and Vrsaljko to Atletico Madrid. Nevertheless, Eusebio Di Francesco has worked wonders at the club since being appointed in 2012. Young star Domenico Berardi has got off to a flying start, scoring seven goals in his first six games this season. The Italian has scored 40 Serie A goals at the age of just 22, following in the footsteps of legend Gianni Rivera. As expected the main question is how will Sassuolo balance both league and continental competition. While the Neroverdi may not finish top six again they could be a dark horse to cause some upsets in Europe.
Key Signings: Gianluca Lapadula, Mati Fernandez, Gustavo Gomez, José Sosa, Mario Pasalic, Leonel Vangioni
Key Departures: Jeremy Menez, Mario Balotelli (was on loan), Alex, Phillipe Mexes, Christian Abbiati
After a dark couple of years for Milanisti, there finally might be some light ahead. The sale of the club to Chinese investors has finally taken significant steps and looks surely set to happen. Meanwhile, Vincenzo Montella has taken over on the bench. To be truthful, the Rossoneri are still in the re-building phase but Montella has some shown some bright flashes of how he wants his team to play. An attacking trident of M’Baye Niang, Suso and Carlos Bacca looks like it has the potential to be lethal. While problems in the midfield still exist, mainly with Montolivo and Poli, Sosa and Fernandez should be able to provide some quality. This Milan squad does have some talented pieces but not enough overall quality or depth to fight for a top three spot. The Rossoneri will surely be aiming for a Europa League spot, while constructing a solid foundation the future.
Key Signings: Ciro Immobile, Wallace, Bastos, Luis Alberto, Jordan Lukaku, Moritz Leitner
Key Departures: Antonio Candreva, Miroslav Klose, Stefano Mauri, Ogenyi Onazi, Santiago Gentiletti
There was quite the controversy in the capital this summer as Marcelo Bielsa joined and then quit Lazio within the space of the 48 hours. Disagreements over signing new players is believed to be the reason of the abrupt departure. And so, Simone Inzaghi returned to the bench for the Biancocelesti. Then there was the report of only 11 season tickets being sold within the first 24 hours of them being on sale. Despite the loss of Candreva, this side still has its fair share of talent. I am interested to see if Felipe Anderson is able to become a leader and carry this team on the field. Summer signing Ciro Immobile should be able to do well and score goals. Expectations aren’t very high for Lazio this year expect a solid mid-table finish.
Key Signings: Samuel Bastien, Jonathan De Guzman Stefano Sorrentino,
Key Departures: Simone Pepe, Giampiero Pinzi
The Flying Donkeys have become a solid constant in Serie A. Never really flashy, but competent and hardworking. Head coach Rolando Maran has done well in his time at the club. Valter Birsa is the main man going forward, being able to both create and score himself. The club did well to sign goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino, who at the age of 37 is still kicking strong. Chievo will fight for every point and finish in the middle of the pack yet again.
Key Signings: Alberto Gilardino, Manuel Pasqual, Matheus Pereira, Josè Mauri (on loan), Andres Tello (on loan), Giuseppe Bellusci (on loan), Federico Dimarco (on loan)
Key Departures: Lorenzo Tonelli, Mario Rui, Piotr Zielinski (was on loan), Leandro Paredes (was on loan)
The four departures listed above were arguably Empoli’s best players last season. However, the Tuscan club did reasonably well in signing some decent replacements. Mauri, Tello and Dimarco are all young talents who should be able to bring some excitement to watching this side. Riccardo Saponara is the key man, who will look to lead this team now. The old violin player, Alberto Gilardino, should be able to provide an adequate amount of goals and possibly reach 200 scored in Serie A. Expect Empoli to largely remain in the same area of the table, safe from relegation.
Key Signings: Lucas Ocampos, Giovanni Simeone, Lucas Orban, Miguel Veloso, Santiago Gentiletti, Diego Laxalt
Key Departures: Sebastian De Maio, Cristian Ansaldi, Diego Capel, Panagiotis Tachtsidis, Suso (was on loan)
Genoa has a new coach in Ivan Juric, who led Crotone to Serie A last year. Goalkeeper Mattia Perin has recovered quickly from his ACL tear and should be available to play soon. Lucas Ocampos will be expected to perform well and deliver service into the box for Leonardo Pavoletti. The Italian striker will probably bag around 15 goals yet again this season, leading the line for the Rossoblu. It will be interesting to see Juric implement his high-pressing style of play. Expect a solid mid-table finish from Genoa.
Key Signings: Joe Hart, Adem Ljajic, Iago Falque, Lorenzo Di Silvestri, Luca Rossettini, Panagiotis Tachtsidis, Leandro Castan
Key Departures: Kamil Glik, Nikola Maksimovic, Bruno Peres, Alessandro Gazzi, Ciro Immobile (was on loan)
Torino lost the three best players on their backline this summer, which will be a tough loss. Man City loanee Joe Hart had a shaky debut, misreading a corner kick, which lead to a goal. An attacking trident of Ljajic, Falque and Andrea Belotti should be mouth-watering for new manager Sinisa Mihajlovic. Along with Daneile Baselli in the midfield, Torino should be able to create goals quite well. I believe Mihajlovic can do quite well and maybe move up a few spots but their defense makes me somewhat hesitant.
Key Signings: Alberto Paloschi, Ervin Zukanovic Bryan Cabezas
Key Departures: Marten De Roon, Marco Borriello, Gabriel Paletta (was on loan)
Gian Piero Gasperini takes over in Bergamo after spending the last three years at Genoa. Franck Kessie has already scored four league goals this season, tied for the most. Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez is a constant threat, with quality pace and an eye for goal. A solid mid-table finish should be expected for Atalanta.
Key Signings: Federico Viviani, Ladislav Krejci, Adam Nagy, Simone Verdi, Blerin Dzemaili, Umar Sadiq (on loan)
Key Departures: Amadou Diawara, Emanuele Giaccherini, Luca Rossettini, Matteo Brighi
Roberto Donadoni will look to build upon the work he started mid-season last year. Summer signing Adam Nagy performed well at Euro 2016 with his native Hungary and will now look to prove his worth at the Stadio dall’Ara. Striker Mattia Destro will look to find some consistency in front of the net this season. This Bologna side should finish just about exactly where they did last year.
Key Signings: Dennis Praet, Bruno Fernandes, Patrick Schick, Luca Cigarini, Filip Djuricic, Karol Linetty, Daniel Pavlovic, Ante Budimir
Key Departures: Roberto Soriano, Joaquin Correa, Fernando, Lorenzo Di Silvestri, Niklas Moisander
Marco Giampaolo took over at Sampdoria after Montella joined Milan. While Massimo Ferrero sold some top players, his club made some fine signings this summer. Most notably Dennis Praet, from Anderlecht, a very good creative midfielder who should be a joy to watch in Serie A. There seems to have been a falling out between Antonio Cassano and the club management and it remains to be seen if that will become a problem throughout the season. Sampdoria should be able to avoid a relegation scare this year.
Key Signings: Bruno Henrique, Alessandro Diamanti, Alessandro Gazzi
Key Departures: Franco Vazquez, Achraf Lazaar, Alberto Gilardino, Stefano Sorrentino
Club president Mauro Zamparini is already up to his usual antics as he made his first coaching change just two weeks into the season. Roberto De Zerbi hopped on the coaching carousel as Davide Ballardini was booted out. The four departures listed above were all vital players for this team last year. Neither Franco Vazquez nor Paulo Dybala have been properly replaced at the Sicilian club. Zamparini can change managers, as many times as he wants, but Palermo will certainly be in a relegation battle this season.
Key Signings: Seko Fofana, Rodrigo De Paul, Sven Kums, Ewandro
Key Departures: Antonio Di Natale, Piotr Zielinski, Bruno Fernandes, Valerio Verre
Toto Di Natale is irreplaceable and he will be sorely missed by the Zebrette. Duvan Zapata and Cyril Thereau should certainly be able to score goals, provided they are granted enough service from their teammates. Head coach Giuseppe Iachini is accustomed to relegation battles, and this season will be no different.
Key Singings: Marcus Rohden, Noe Dussenne, Djamel Mesbah, Aleandro Rosi (on loan), Marcello Trotta (on loan), Lorenzo Crisetig (on loan)
Key Departures: Ante Budimir, Gianmarco Ferrari, Leonardo Capezzi
The Calabrian side earned promotion to Italy’s top flight after winning Serie B last season. Davide Nicola took over after Ivan Juric left to join Genoa. Raffaele Palladino brings Serie A experience and will need to provide goals for debutants. It will definitely be a tough task to avoid relegation but Crotone will look to compete and make Calabria proud.
Key Signings: Mauricio Isla, Marco Borriello, Simone Padoin, Bruno Alves, Artur Ionita
Key Departures: Duje Cop, Victor Ibarbo, Luka Krajnc
The Sardinian club did superbly well to sign experienced Serie A talent. Guys that have been around the block and can get the job done. Diego Farias is also an exciting winger to watch, who should perform well. Personally believe Cagliari has enough talent to reach that 40 point benchmark and avoid a relegation battle.
Key Signings: Simone Pepe, Jean-Christophe Bahebeck (on loan), Alberto Aquilani, Bryan Cristante, Cristiano Biraghi, Robert Muric (on loan)
Key Departures: Gianluca Lapadula, Daniele Verde (was on loan)
Massimo Oddo leads The Dolphins in what is to be a big test for the former player. The clubs leading scorer from last year, Gianluca Lapadula, joined Milan for €9 million. Gianluca Capari will be asked to step up and the youngster has looked very bright so far this season. Bahebeck played very well against Inter, notching himself a goal, and looks like a great young talent. The team from Abruzzo has some young talent but do they have enough experience to survive a relegation battle?
Blog Written by Gennaro Episcopo (@NapoliFootball_):
Earlier this week, in an interview with Mediaset, Sarri emphasized the difficulty in facing the upcoming series of matches. He pointed out that the new arrivals were young and would need time to settle in and grow as players. He also noted how several players were not yet match fit. This was interpreted by some as a criticism toward the club board and the squad made available to him. He seemed to want to respond to those accusations in comments made after the Palermo match:
"We’ve brought in talented young players who will have a bright future. I’m happy that today, and for the next few years, Napoli has talented youngsters to watch grow. I just wanted to put things in context and make a very logical point. They are young players and during this time of the year in which there is very little time to train, it is only normal that we will have to be patient with them. Therefore, I think my words were misrepresented.
I’m against this way of practicing football. It’s not just me though. I think many people who have been involved in the game are as well. In three months (September, October, November) players are away on international duty for 10 days and in the remaining 20 days have to play 7 matches. In these conditions you aren’t practicing football, you’re just feeding a money making machine. You can’t prepare players physically or tactically. I’m not complaining about my team; I’m complaining about the current state of football on behalf of those who truly love it."
Those are some strong words by Sarri against what modern day football has become. I’m sure that many professionals and fans would probably agree with him. However with so much money involved, it will take a strong effort to change things for the better.
Blog Written by Gennaro Episcopo (@NapoliFootball_):
Starting Saturday, Napoli will begin a stretch of 22 days in which they will play 7 matches. Head coach Maurizio Sarri has already proven that he's a maestro when it comes to coaching. He has coached his way up through the ranks like few other coaches have to date. He has received praise for the manner in which his teams work hard and the entertaining performances they put on the pitch. He was able to get the very best out of Gonzalo Higuain who himself praised the Napoli coach for helping him reach his potential. Past the halfway mark last season he coached a Napoli side that was making a serious run for the Scudetto. That run ended in the latter parts of the season as his team began to slow down while Juventus continued to steamroll through the competition.
If there was one criticism to lay on Sarri it was the fact that he seemed to drain the team by only rotating players out of bare necessity. Many will defend Sarri by pointing out that he had little option. The squad had very little depth last season and not much was done to remedy that fact during the January transfer window. Vasco Regini and Alberto Grassi were brought in but neither impressed their coach enough to earn his trust. Grassi never saw the pitch in an official match and Regini only came on in the final minutes of the very last match of the season against Frosinone. Neither player is on the Napoli squad for the coming season.
However, if we look at how Sarri utilized Dries Mertens, we might also be inclined to believe that the Napoli coach was hesitant to make changes to his normal starting eleven even when he probably should have. Surely the Belgium attacker deserved a bit more space; especially considering the less than impressive performances Lorenzo Insigne was putting in during the final portion of the season. The same could be said for Manolo Gabbiadini who, despite an impressive minutes played to goal ratio, only saw the field sparingly.
There will be little room for excuses come this season as Napoli have received great praise for their moves in this summer’s transfer window. This is without a doubt the deepest squad of the Aurelio De Laurentiis era. There are at least two valid options at every position for Sarri to choose from. It will be interesting to see how Sarri reacts and utilities this squad. He will no doubt have to be skilled in bringing all the new faces up to date, integrating them into his system and ultimately placing his faith in them when the time is right.
In responding to questions about the depth of the roster last year, Sarri retorted, “With 18 men you can perform a coup d’etat.” Well with a few more men at his disposal this year, nobody will be expecting him to overthrow any governments but they will certainly be wondering if it’s enough to challenge the current champions of Serie A.