Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
With 3 rounds of Serie A remaining, Sassuolo find themselves in seventh place and only 1 point behind the once mighty A.C. Milan in sixth place. So far this year it's been an incredible season for Eusebio Di Francesco's team. This is only the Neroverdi's third season in Serie A. In their first year in Italy's top league they defied all odds and managed to avoid relegation. Now in only their third season in Serie A they are 1 point off achieving a Europa League place. However, if Sassuolo finish in sixth place Juventus must beat Milan in the Coppa Italia Final for Di Francesco's men to qualify for the Europa League's third qualification round. Given Milan's current situation, it is hard to see them beating Juventus. So let's take a look at the rise of Sassuolo and see if they have enough to finish in sixth place.
It's easy to forget how small Sassuolo are. Before Carpi's promotion, Sassuolo were the smallest team to achieve promotion to Serie A. Sassuolo's actual stadium, the Stadio Enzo Ricci, is only a 4 thousand seater deemed too small to use in Serie A and B. The Mapei Stadium a 20 thousand seater is where the Neroverdi currently play their home matches in Serie A. The team now use the Stadio Enzo Ricci for training. Sassuolo's wage bill for this season is just 27 million euros and their top earner Domenico Berardi is on 1.1 million euro a year. Compare that with Milan the team they are trying to beat to a Europa League place. Milan's wage bill for this season is 101 million eurod and their top earners are Bacca and Montolivo both on 3.5 million euro a year. That’s a difference of €74 million in yearly wage bill between the two clubs. Everyone this season is talking about the miracle of Carpi surviving but if Sassuolo were to qualify for Europe in only their third Serie A season, surely that would have to be considered a bigger miracle.
In Sassuolo's first season in Serie A they finished in 17th place, two points above the drop. It was in their first year when they sacked Di Francesco only to rehire him 3 months later and now the tactician has recently signed a contract extension until 2019. It's hard to see where Sassuolo would be without him; when rehired in their first season he took the club off the bottom of the table and steered Sassuolo to safety. In his second season in Serie A, he guided Sassuolo to a highly commendable 12th place finish. That following summer Simone Zaza left for Juventus and many felt Sassuolo would suffer without him. That has not been the case however and this season Sassuolo have been excellent playing a lovely attacking brand of football under Di Francesco. Players like Consigli, Acerbi, Sansone and Berardi have all been fantastic this season as have most of the squad. Another great thing about Sassuolo's season is that only four players in their current squad are non-Italians, showing that success in Serie A can still be achieved using home grown talents.
So with 3 games to go can Sassuolo overtake Milan? Milan have a slightly more difficult run in with Frosinone at home, Bologna away and Roma at home, while Sassuolo have Verona at home, Frosinone away and Inter at home. Judging by the form of the teams I would fancy Sassuolo to pip Milan to sixth place. Milan are in a dire state and at the moment are liable to lose to anyone. Sassuolo are playing really well and I can see them winning all 3 of their matches, whereas I can't see Milan winning out. If Sassuolo do finish in sixth, chances are they will be playing in Europe next season because it's hard to see Milan beating Juve in the Coppa Italia Final and taking European competition away from Sassuolo.
The future looks bright for the Neroverdi with a possible Europa League campaign next season and Di Francesco signing a new contract with the club. Sassuolo fans certainly have the right to dream of bigger and better things next season and with Leicester top of the Premier League table in England, football has shown us that anything is possible. Most of all, Neroverdi fans will believe that the sky is the limit for their young team...
Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
On Wednesday night Juventus thumped Lazio 3-0 in a dominant display. This result sees The Old Lady nine points clear of Napoli with only 4 games left to play. Bar a major catastrophe, Juventus will win their fifth Scudetto in a row and remain Italy's top dogs. Allegri's men suffered a slow start to the season but have come back like true champions to retain their place at the top of Serie A. Juventus have once again shown that they are far superior than the rest of the competition on the peninsula. Napoli looked as if they could have brought the title race right down to the wire but capitulated in Udine and they were always going to struggle when they lost their star man Gonzalo Higuain to a 3-match suspension. Another year and almost certainly another Scudetto for the Bianconeri. So, let's take a look at what's been another great year for Juventus.
After securing the clubs fourth Scudetto in a row last season, Allegri brought in a number of players over the summer to try and maintain Juventus' position at the top. Sami Khedira, Simone Zaza, Hernanes, Alex Sandro, Neto, mario Mandzukic, Juan Cuadrado, Daniele Rugani and Paulo Dybala were all signed in the off-season by the Bianconeri. Perhaps all these new faces were the main factor in Juventus's slow start to the season. They all just needed time to gel into the team and it was not long before the results started to show. After the first ten rounds of league play, Juve sat in 12th place performing way below expectations. Many thought that Juve’s reign of dominance in Serie A was finally at an end. It looked like the title might finally go elsewhere with Roma, Napoli and Inter all looking strong. Fast-forward a few months ahead and it is Juventus on top and Allegri who is having the last laugh silencing all his doubters. After the 1-0 away defeat to Sassuolo, Juventus went on an incredible 15 match-winning streak and are still yet to beaten in their last 24 league matches. A magnificent turnaround by the Bianconeri.
Perhaps Juventus' most influential player this season, Paolo Dybala's form has been to key to Juve returning to the top of Serie A. This season the young Argentine has scored 16 goals (only Higuain has scored more) and provided 8 assists in league play. Without a doubt he has been sensational this season and is a real contender for player of the year. Another young talent who has had another great season is Paul Pogba. The mercurial Frenchman had a slow start but has showed his true class, most recently notching the winner against Milan to cap off a wonderful performance. He has provided 9 assists for his teammates this year and scored a few spectacular goals.
One thing that has been key to Juve's success over the last 5 years has been their defensive solidity. Once again Juventus have the best defensive record in Serie A conceding just 17 goals in 34 games. Buffon who broke Sebastiano Rossi's record of going the longest time without conceding a goal in the league, has been superb this year. Now 38 years old, Buffon shows little sign of retiring, as he is without doubt still the best keeper in Serie A and maybe even the best keeper in the world right now. Another key figure of Juve's excellent defensive record is none other than Leonardo Bonucci. The Italian has been outstanding this season nearly always putting in a great performance. Occasionally popping up with important goals as well, Bonucci is a real fan favorite and most of all he has a real winners mentality. The youngster Rugani has also done a fine job while filling in for Giorgio Chellini, who has picked up multiple injuries this season.
Allegri, who many thought would fail to live up to the man he succeeded, Antonio Conte, has done fantastic at Juventus. Last season he guided Juve to a league and cup double and finished as runners-up in the Champions League to a brilliant Barcelona side. This year he looks set to retain the league title and possibly the cup as well since Juventus face Milan in the Coppa Italia Final in May, looking to win another double. Juventus' Champions League exit at the hands of Bayern Munich, a match Allegri was not expected to win, has turned out to be the only real disappointment so far this season. Allegri has been fantastic at Juventus especially with his management of players like Paulo Dybala and Daniele Rugani. After initially protesting his appointment, the fans have really taken a liking to the Italian tactician. Recent reports suggest Allegri turned down Real Madrid repaying his faith in the Bianconeri for giving him the job and a contract renewal for Allegri seems imminent. Allegri has high hopes for his young squad next season, "We want to do well in the Champions League." Allegri is looking to bring European glory back to Turin as a Champions League title with Juve would be the pinnacle of Allegri's career but even still right now, Max has to be considered among the worlds top managers in football.
Next season Juve fans will be hoping the club can keep stars such as Dybala and Pogba and make a real push for the Champions League. With the right signings in the summer there is no reason to see why Bianconeri fans can't dream. However a sixth Serie A title in a row will be expected and it's hard to see anyone else winning the title. For the foreseeable future, Juventus are and will remain dominant in Serie A.
Blog Written by Russell Bedford (@alwaysred010)
Over recent years much has been said about the poor quality of the Italian league when it’s put next to its European counterparts of England, Spain and Germany. People have been quick to slate the quality of the football on show, the standard of stadiums and the lack of trophies won by Italian teams in European competition. What I feel they aren’t looking at though, is that it was the Italian game that led the way on most, if not of all, of these fronts.
When I first laid my eyes on anything remotely connected to calcio it was 1988, if I remember correctly, and it was a picture in the annual shoot featuring Ruud Gullit and Diego Maradona. I was awestruck. I didn’t feel it was possible to have two players of such high regard competing in my lifetime in the same competition, sure I was just 8 years old and hadn’t experienced much in world football, but these guys......in this one picture, they made me pay attention. The comment next to the photo had a brief mentioning of the players but focused on how ‘Italian football was the money laden league of world football where many millions of lira poured in’ and it was true.
No other league could really compete against force of nature that was Serie A. Teams were fielding world class players week in and week out. Trophies were being raised aloft almost every year by an Italian representative and the World Cup was being held there. What a way to showcase the beautiful stadiums of the top Italian clubs whilst also luring tourists to some of the world’s most fascinating cities! It was at the 1990 World Cup that I noticed fans in England had some considerable way to go in catching up with the Italians for showing true passion for the sport they love. Whilst English fans came across as the kind that just wanted to cause trouble, the Italians would ensure they were in the ground at the earliest opportunity so they could adorn their section of the ground with banners, flags and pictures that they hope would inspire their heros to victory. It showed a connection to the team that some nations were jealous of and some just ignored. The banners laced with poetic verse linking Vialli, Baggio, Maldini or Baresi to artists, composers or playwrights almost showed an arrogance but they were clever enough to show more intelligence than ego and therefore, I think true football fans away from our shores were being truly discovered for the first time.
When the small exodus of British players left the English league behind, Walker, Platt and Gazza, it helped encourage the British public to sit up and take note that there were other leagues outside of our shores. For years we had been told about Serie A and it’s qualities, but now we could see it for real. Players and teams that had been known of, yet barely seen, could now grace our screens each week and it was incredible. Partly due to this new exposure but also due to the more curious minds amongst football fans, the world of calcio was brought to the forefront of the football discussion and it was quickly becoming apparent that the game was a lifestyle on the peninsula rather than a hobby for a group of lads to get involved with. In the Italian media, newspapers were dedicated to sports with football being it’s main feature, TV shows on numerous channels gave extremely thorough kick by kick accounts of each game and discussion shows featured current and former pros voicing their opinions on every available aspect of the game. It didn’t just end there though, teams outside of the two main leagues in Italy were also given ample coverage.
It wasn’t and still isn’t unusual for TV crews to be filming games of teams competing in the regional amateur leagues, complete with press conferences for managers and players before and after the match. Now, for someone like me that was sucked into the calcio world, lower league teams fascinated me as they were treated by their fans, the media and their opposition as being just as important as a Juventus, Milan or Napoli. Ultras roamed the grounds of the smallest clubs and supported them until death, never being swayed by the bigger teams who may have only played a few miles down the road. Fast forward to today and what do you see in the UK? Sky Sports dedicating hours and hours and hours to as much of the Premier League as they can, magazines for pretty much every club in the Premiership and stadiums that accommodate numbers normally reserved for national team stadiums. It all happened in Italy first though.
I guess, the main point I want to shift across to the readers mindset is that back in the 80’s and 90’s the Italian game was doing what the British game is doing now but without the crazy TV revenues, ludicrous wages and commercial grip that the Premiership has, for want of a better word, forced upon the world’s population. The affection and passion created by the Italian game is genuine and is passed through generations, complete with romantic traditions and stories of legacies, whilst many in the UK will confess their undying love for their chosen team, much of it has only been developed in the past 20 years due to the vast sums of money injected into the game by Rupert Murdoch and his cohorts. To give it another perspective, ask yourself how many people now walk around your town in Man City, Chelsea or Man Utd gear and compare it to before the money came in. Then, pick any Italian city and you could see a Genoa shirt alongside a Novese shirt, a Castel di Sangro scarf alongside a Lazio flag. The tradition counts for more than the money in Italy and for me that is why it will always be the best league in the world regardless of on the pitch success.
Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
On Tuesday it was officially announced that Siniša Mihajlović was sacked as the manager of Milan, while Cristian Brocchi became Milan's fifth manager since January 2014. Club owner Silvio Berlusconi has made a bad habit out of giving inexperienced former Milan players the managerial position at Milan. It seems he has not learned from the appointments of Clarence Seedorf and Pippo Inzaghi. Berlusconi doesn't seem to have a clear plan for Milan's long-term future. Reports coming through today suggest he is close to selling a majority stake of the club to Chinese investors. Appointing Brocchi could be Berlusconi granting himself one final wish at Milan. Berlusconi wanted to appoint Brocchi at the start of this season only for Galliani to persuade him to appoint a more experienced Serie A coach in Mihajlovic. Many feel that sacking Mihajlovic was harsh since both the players and fans were behind him but Berlusconi as always, gets what Berlusconi wants. So why did Berlusconi sack Mihajlovic? Can Brocchi succeed at Milan? And will Berlusconi finally develop a long-term plan for Milan's future?
Many people are left wondering why Berlusconi sacked Mihajlovic with only six games left in the league and the Coppa Italia Final to look forward to. Milan haven't picked up a win in their last five games but surely with Milan's run in, Mihajlovic would have picked up enough points to safely finish in sixth place. Berlusconi however was always waiting to give Brocchi the job and maybe was afraid that if Mihajlovic won the Coppa he wouldn't have any viable reason to sack the Serb. So when Milan lost to Juventus, Berlusconi saw it as the perfect chance to sack Miha and bring in the man he wanted at the start of the season. I also wonder that if Berlusconi really is going to sell a majority stake of Milan, why bring in Brocchi when new owners might want to bring in their own man anyway. It all seems a bit pointless to sack Miha to appoint Brocchi and then give the club over to new owners. Berlusconi was never a fan of Mihajlovic’s style of play recently stating that he had "never seen Milan play so bad." Surely an attacking style of football with the current Milan squad is just something that won't work. Mihajlovic simply played a style that suited the players. Berlusconi however it seems doesn't agree with that.
So will Brocchi succeed at Milan? He had relative success with Milan's youth team playing a Barcelona style of passing football with the Primavera. However he will need time to implement his style of play with the current Milan squad. It took him a year with the Primavera before they really started to buy into Brocchi's ideas and provide results. He won't have a year to implement his style with Milan he will need to get results straight away. Milan's next five games in Serie A are all winnable. Brocchi will be expected to at the very least finish in sixth place, which would ensure Milan's qualification to the Europa League. Brocchi then also has the chance to claim his first trophy as Milan manager. A win over Juventus in the Coppa Italia Final would certainly make Brocchi a favorite among fans and secure him a longer contract with Milan. Brocchi has been given a chance by Berlusconi and now it's up to him to provide the results.
What is Berlusconi's plan for the long-term future of Milan? It seems that over the past three years Milan have had no real long term strategy for the future. Berlusconi has stated that he wants to create an "All-Italian Milan". Donnarumma, Romangnoli, Jose Mauri, Locatelli, Calabria and De Sciglio are all young Italians with promising futures. Galliani has also boasted about the young Italian talent in Milan's youth academy for example Milan's Primavera team features only one non-Italian. However, reports coming through suggest that Berlusconi is close to selling a majority stake to Chinese investors. This would mean rather than an all-Italian team, Milan would be able to compete with the top spenders in European football. This could mean a summer clear out at Milan with some big names like Ibrahimovic possibly coming to Milan. Right now Berlusconi has to decide what route he is going to take, is he going to build his all-Italian Milan or sell Milan to Chinese investors? Milan's long-term future is still unclear.
For now Berlusconi will be hoping Brocchi can see out a sixth place finish and win the Coppa Italia. Then, the summer of 2016 looks set to be a new era at Milan.
Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
This Saturday night Milan face Juventus in what will be a crucial match for Mihajlovic's future. According to reports the Serbian tactician will face the sack if Milan lose heavily to Allegri's Juventus but many people feel that Miha doesn't deserve to be sacked. Milan have not done as well as they would have expected this season but they have improved considerably under Mihajlovic. The questions on all Milan fans minds at the moment: will Mihajlovic be able to save his job against Juventus? Does Mihajlovic deserve a second season at Milan? And if he is sacked who will replace him?
Mihajlovic faces a tough task to get a result against Juventus on Saturday night. A heavy defeat will more than likely result in his sacking. With the possibility of Montolivo, Kucka and Bertolacci all being unavailable, Milan may be forced to play a makeshift midfield with reports saying that promising youngster Manuel Locatelli could make his debut. Milan will have to play the perfect game if they are to beat Juventus and save their managers job. However, will Berlusconi secretly be hoping for Milan to lose so he can finally sack Mihajlovic? Apparently numerous times over the course of this season Berlusconi has been ready to fire Mihajlovic only for Galliani to persuade him otherwise. Berlusconi and Galliani both seem to disagree on Mihajlovic's performance at Milan with Berlusconi seemingly unhappy with the Serb whereas Galliani believes he should be given more time. Berlusconi has made numerous public comments refusing to back Mihajlovic. At this time most Milan fans seem happy to continue with Miha but Berlusconi would rather Milan play a more attacking style of football. Saturday night will be a major factor regarding Mihajlovic's future with Milan; can he get an unlikely result against the champions and take some pressure off his shoulders?
While the result on Saturday night could spell the end for Mihajlovic does he actually deserve to be sacked? This season Milan have performed considerably better and find themselves in 6th place with a Coppa Italia Final to look forward to. Sixth place is an improvement on Inzaghi's 10th place finish from last season. Performances have also improved under Mihajlovic. In 2016 Milan have picked up wins against Inter and Fiorentina and credible draws away to Roma and Napoli. However it's against the small teams that Milan have underperformed, recently Milan have dropped points against Sassuolo, Chievo and Atlanta. Clearly Milan suffer from mentality problems when facing smaller teams, yet surely if given another season Mihajlovic will be able to build on this with some summer investment. What Mihajlovic has done is made Milan more solid and they have a clear game plan when playing. He has also managed to get the best out of players like Alex, Zapata, Abate and Kucka. Mihajlovic has made error prone Alex and Zapata look like capable defenders which is no small feat. Abate has looked much improved returning to his best under Miha and Kucka has been the best value for money signing this season costing Milan only €3 million, he has been sensational this season. His nickname 'The Tank' is fitting, his driving runs from midfield and non-stop running has been key for Milan this year. Mihajlovic also has to be given credit for having the bravery to start Donnarumma in goal for Milan. A decision that has reaped benefits as Donnarumma looks set to be a world-class keeper; Milan will be hoping to hold onto the young star in the summer. As a Milan fan myself I feel Mihajlovic has made improvements this season and I would like to see him stay on as manager. Berlusconi on the other hand might have other ideas.
If Mihajlovic is sacked after the Juventus match who will replace him? There have been many names linked with Milan over the last week with Cristian Brocchi, Eusebio Di Francesco and Marcello Lippi apparently the front-runners, some of the outsiders include Paulo Sousa, Roberto Donadoni and Rudi Garcia. Berlusconi, Galliani and Arrigo Sacchi recently had a meeting apparently to discuss who the next Milan manager should be. According to reports Sacchi advised Milan to appoint Di Francesco, Galliani likes Lippi and Berlusconi wants Brocchi. Surely the best candidate would be Di Francesco who has done excellent at Sassuolo and plays an attacking style of football Berlusconi wants at Milan. Berlusconi, however, favors Brocchi the current Milan Primavera manager and it seems Seedorf and Inzaghi have not taught Berlusconi anything. Appointing Brocchi would be a huge risk. Another gamble is not what Milan need, a proven Serie A manager like Di Francesco would surely be the best option for Milan. If Mihajlovic is sacked it will be interesting to see who takes over at the Rosseneri.
Saturday's match might decide everything. I'll be hoping Milan can get a result and continue with Mihajlovic but will Berlusconi be hoping for the same?
Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
So far this year there have been many twists and turns in the Serie A campaign. As we approach the final 8 rounds of the season, it looks set to be one of the most exciting ends to the league in years. Fans of Italian football are in for a treat as this seasons climax will be thoroughly entertaining with many big matches to come and many questions to be answered such as, can Napoli go all the way and lift the title? Who will finish in third place? Who will beat the drop at the bottom end of the table? And who will lift the Coppa Italia at the end of the year?
Going into the last 8 games of the season only three points separate Napoli and Juventus in one of the most hotly contested title races in years. Under Sarri, Napoli have been sensational this year and with Higuain in the form of his life Napoli will never have a better chance to win the league title. Juventus on the other hand had a slow start but have come back like true champions going on a 15 match winning run and winning the recent crucial clash against Napoli, 1-0. Juventus and Napoli both have some tricky matches in their run-ins. Juventus have to play Milan and Fiorentina away and face Lazio at home, while Napoli still face two tough away trips against Inter and Roma. Points are sure to be dropped by both teams and it remains to be seen who will capitalize on these slip-ups. With some mouthwatering clashes ahead, this year’s title race looks set to go right down to the wire.
The battle for third place is also set to go right down to wire. Roma look favorites to finish in third now but sit only 5 points ahead of Inter and Fiorentina. Since Spalletti took charge, Roma have looked a revitalized team, the addition of El Shaarway was the best piece of business in the January transfer window. The Pharaoh looks like he is finally showing his class once again, returning to form under Spalletti who placed a lot of faith in the young winger. Both he and Roma are thriving under Spalletti's system. Not far behind Roma are Inter and Fiorentina. Inter have had a disappointing campaign so far, falling short of title expectations set after a great start to the season. Despite this, Mancini's men look to have put a nightmare start to 2016 behind them and their form has picked up again as they look regain Champions League football. Failure to qualify for the Champions League could see Inter face backlash from UEFA over Financial Fair Play. Fiorentina complete the three horse race for third place. Like Inter, Paulo Sousa's men had their fans dreaming of the title after a great start to the season, but they never really had the squad to make a serious title challenge. Third place, however, is a real possibility even though it seems that every year Fiorentina seem to always fall at the final hurdle. For the last three years the Viola have been knocking on the Champions League door, maybe this year they'll finally break into European's elite competition. The battle for third place is going to be intense and exciting. Providing fans with many nail-biting moments.
Down at the bottom of the table the relegation battle is set to be a real scrap, even Torino and Atlanta on 33 points in 13th and 14th place are only six points off the drop. It's incredibly tight at the bottom but the real fight for safety looks to be between Frosinone, Carpi, Palermo and Udinese. Two of those four teams will more than likely go down with Hellas Verona way off the pace at the bottom already doomed. Frosinone and Carpi both in their first year of Italy's top flight have done better then many expected. At the start of the season most people including myself had them as dead certainties to go down. Yet, both have given themselves a fighting chance of staying up. Palermo and Udinese have both recently changed managers in a bid to avoid the drop. Palermo have been a mess this year with Zamparini giving no manager enough time to provide any results. Udinese have been slowly drifting closer and closer to the bottom without anyone ever really noticing that they are in danger. However, now it is clear that they face a relegation battle. They recently appointed Gigi De Canio to help guide them to safety. It remains to be seen who'll be playing in Serie B next year, but there will definitely be a lot of twists and turns from now until the end of the season.
After Serie A is done and dusted on May 15th we still have the hugely important Coppa Italia Final clash to look forward to on the 21st of May. Milan face Juventus in what could be a potential job saving game for Mihajlovic. Berlusconi has not placed a lot faith in Miha but has suggested that a Coppa Italia Final win would be enough for the Serb to save his job at Milan. Juventus however will look to retain the trophy they won last year and will be hoping it will complete another double for them if all goes well for the Bianconeri in Serie A.
The final part of the Serie A season looks set to be an exhilarating ride not to be missed. All that's left to do now is to sit back and enjoy the ride as the season unfolds.