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.
Maurizio Sarri’s story isn’t one of chance. He isn’t just another coach working at a club. Sarri is a man who followed a dream and today is living it. Sarri’s story is of a little boy that grew up in Tuscany but who was teased for supporting Napoli. Napoli…that mystic city far off but where his heart had first begun to beat. The city where his father had worked and where he happened to be born. He found it natural to root for them even though he had left there at the age of three. They say one does not choose to support Napoli but one is born a supporter. For Sarri it was no different. Despite what the other kids may say, Sarri’s heart was blue inside.
As an adult, Sarri followed his professional life into the world of banking. He was successful and his career took him to Switzerland, Luxembourg and England. However, Sarri was not satisfied by his work alone. At night he would coach football. Mornings in the office and nights on the pitch. That was his routine for years and he continued to gain success in both aspects of his life.
About ten years later, in 2002, and after many successes in the world of coaching he found himself coaching Serie D. He soon realized that nightly practice sessions would no longer cut it. There was only one thing to do; follow his heart and to pursue coaching full time. So he gave up his life as a banker and dove headfirst into coaching.
Sarri brought his hardwork and attention to detail from the world of banking to the world of football. Unlike many coaches today, he rose through the ranks step by step by his own merit. He earned the nickname “Mister 33” in honor of the many different set pieces his team prepared for matches and drew praise for his abilities even as he coached in the lower divisions.
It has been a long and arduous road but today Sarri finds himself coaching Napoli. That city, that team, that has commanded his heart since he was just a little boy. Last year Sarri was asked by a reporter if he was upset by the fact that his contract was far inferior to some other Serie A coaches. His reply? “Are you kidding? I’m the son of laborers. What I earn is more than enough. I get paid to do something that I would do for free at night after work.” Dreams don’t always come true but for Sarri they have. Napoli fans are now hoping Sarri’s destiny takes him to fulfilling their own dreams as well.
Blog Written by Alessandro Pugliese (@sandro_pugliese):
Disclaimer: I did not get to catch as much Serie A action this weekend as I normally do but followed along via Twitter.
Higuain scored the winning-goal on his debut. Bacca had a hat trick and Donnarumma saved a 95th minute penalty to save the three points for Milan. A Birsa brace propelled Chievo Verona over Inter. Napoli came back from two goals down to draw Pescara. Genoa scored three unanswered goals. Lazio prevailed in a seven-goal thriller. Serie A is NOT boring.
The new season started off with Roma hosting Udinese on Saturday. Although the first half was somewhat lethargic, Roma came out flying in the second half and ended up scoring four goals. Substitute Diego Perotti scored two penalties along with late goals from Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah got Roma a nice result ahead of their vital Champions League Qualifier against Porto on Tuesday. A good showing from the Giallorossi gives them the best goal differential after the weekend. Hopefully, they will become the third club to represent Italy in this year’s Champions League.
Fiorentina traveled to Turin to face off against Juventus. With new signings Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic on the bench, the Bianconeri looked quite good in the first half dominating the match and took the lead through a Khedira header. Juve didn’t look as sharp in the second half and eventually La Viola found an equalizer through Nikola Kalinic in the 70th minute. But only five minutes later the €90 million man, Higuain, found the back of the net to propel the Old Lady to victory. Quick shoutout for Kwadwo Asamoah who played a very good match in midfield after recovering from long-term injuries.
Sunday came and the action picked up a notch! The first match was Milan vs. Torino at San Siro as Sinsa Mihajlovic faced his former team and Vincenzo Montella made his competitive debut. A hat trick from striker Carlos Bacca had the Rossoneri up 3-1 in the 62nd minute. Daniele Baselli’s finish in the 91th minute pulled the Granata within one goal. There was some exciting late drama as Gabriel Paletta conceded a 94th minute penalty was issued a red card. Torino striker Andrea Belotti stepped up to the spot only for teenager Gianluigi Donnarumma to make a fantastic save to ensure Milan earned the three points.
Then later on, there were seven simultaneously matches. The most surprising result was Chievo Verona’s 2-0 victory over Inter. Two fantastic goals from Valter Birsa propelled the Flying Donkeys to a flying start to the season. A disappointing debut for new head coach Frank De Boer, who will need some time to adapt to the Italian league.
Newly promoted Pescara took a shocking two-goal lead over Napoli by halftime. Super sub Dries Mertens brought Napoli level, scoring two goals in the span of three minutes. There was some real controversy when Napoli was awarded a penalty but the call was reversed as a foul was spotted earlier.
On the verge on Europa League qualification, Sassuolo continued their fine form by beating Palermo 1-0 on a penalty kick goal from Domenico Berardi.
A near-post firecracker from Luis Muriel gave Sampdoria a 1-0 victory over Empoli at the Stadio Carlo Castellani. Empoli striker Massimo Maccarone received a straight red card in the 84th minute.
A late goal from Mattia Destro gave Bologna a 1-0 victory over Serie A newcomers, Crotone. Roberto Donadoni’s side controlled most of the match and deserved the three points.
New signing Marco Borriello put Cagliari ahead at the Luigi Ferraris Stadium. Hosts Genoa went on to score three unanswered goals in a thrilling comeback. Manchester City loanee Oliver Ntcham equalized in the 78th minute and only moments later Diego Laxalt scored the go-ahead goal. Luca Rigoni added a late goal as the Rossoblu kicked off the season with a well-earned win.
Lazio travelled to Bergamo to face off against Atalanta in a seven-goal thriller. Ciro Immobile scored the opener in his debut and Lazio even took a 3-0 lead. Atalanta, however, came back with a decent shout pulling the score to 3-2 in the 67th minute. Danilo Cataldi gave Lazio a two-goal cushion in the 89th minute but A.C. Milan loanee Andrea Petagna gave Atalanta a consolation goal in stoppage time.
A greatly entertaining first week of Italian Calcio is hopefully just the beginning of a long, fun-filled season.
Blog Written by Nicholas Dobbin (@1958MUFC_Calcio):
“Two in the middle. In from Veron, Crespo lets it go... CHIESAAAA!!! Oh lovely goal… lovely goal” cried Barry Davis a night that crowned favourites Parma their second UEFA Cup triumph in 1999. Roberto Sensini lifted the trophy that day for ‘I Gialloblu’ (The Yellow and Blues) and Parma announced themselves as one the best sides in Europe. Nobody could have thought back then that sixteen years later their football club would seize to exist. A team that had the world’s most expensive goalkeeper - Gianluigi Buffon who moved from Parma to Juventus for £33 million in 2001, Hernan Crespo - a player that himself smashed the world transfer record when he left Parma for Lazio in a £35.5 million deal in 2000. A team that also included Juan Sebastian Veron who left for £18 million, World Cup and European Cup winner Lillian Thuram who himself left for £22 million, Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola, 2006 Ballon d’Or winner Fabio Cannavaro and Italian goal scoring machine Alberto Gilardino. How does a team with so much talent fall so far from grace?
Parma Associazone Calcio in their early years competed in Serie C and B and were not unfamiliar with financial turmoil after being ordered into liquidation back in 1968. Unfortunately for Parma, this was not to be the last time. The club has played its home matches at Stadio Ennio Tardini often known as Il Tardini since 1923, with a capacity of 22,352 fans. The appointment of Nevio Scala in 1989 proved to be the turning point for ‘I Gialloblu’ as he managed to mastermind them to promotion into Serie A with a 2-0 win over A.C. Reggiana 1919 back in 1990.
The investment from the global organization Parmalat proved to be one of the best, yet one of the worst things to ever happen to Parma Associazone Calcio. Everything snowballed after the agreement between Parma and Parmalat became public as they went from being just another team in Italy to being one of the big four teams in the country. Their success coincided with the success of the league in general. Serie A was the home to some of the finest footballers in the world with Van Basten, Baresi, Buffon, Maradona, Ronaldo Maldini, Del Piero, Gullit, Batistuta and Zidane all applying their trade in Italy. Italy’s dominance was reinforced by the country’s clubs having twelve European finalists in seventeen years. Spain, Germany and England only had thirteen teams combined during this period. Italy’s reign came to an end in the early millennium with the global attraction of the Premier League and later La Liga outdoing Serie A. Oppositely, as teams in England grew stronger due to an increase in sponsorship, Italian sides were facing financial difficulties, which looked inevitable for a long time.
There was a good feeling about the club. They made their debut in UEFA competitions in 1991. It did not take them long before they were winning a European trophy as they beat Antwerp at Wembley in the European Cup Winners Cup in ’93. They could not retain their trophy a year later losing to Arsenal. More trophies followed including Parma’s first UEFA Cup beating Juventus in the final. Scala lead Parma to their first four major honours before being replaced in 1996 by now Italian legend Carlo Ancelotti. It did not take him long to show his managerial talents as he guided Parma to second in the league, their greatest Serie A finish after a squad overhaul in 1997. They consequently made their Champions League debut the following year. Ancelotti’s success led to him being poached by Italian giants Juventus.
Alberto Malesani was installed as coach in 1998 and had a successful two years in charge he won the double in his first campaign winning the Coppa Italia beating Fiorentina in the final which was followed by a second UEFA Cup win in Moscow with a 3-0 win against Marseille. The following year they managed a Suppercoppa Italiana victory over league champions Milan in August. Subsequently, their success lead to the big Italian clubs wanting their players and Hernan Crespo left for Lazio for a world record fee of £35.5 million. Gianluigi Buffon left for £33 million a world record fee for a goalkeeper, a record that still stands today. Fabio Cannavaro and Lillian Thuram left for upwards of £20 million and Juan Sebastian Veron left for £18 million. Which begs the question, where did all this money go?
It was said earlier that Parmalat was the best and worst thing that happened to Parma. You’ve seen the success, now here is the failure of Parmalat. The global company went bankrupt in 2004 with debts of $20 billion and fraudulent activity at Parmalat worth up to €10 billion. Essentially, there were certain groups of people that were taking money out of the club that became unspoken for. After three years of being kept alive by administrators Tommaso Ghirardi bought the club out of administration in 2007. After flirting with relegation for a few years they eventually succumbed to the drop in 2007-08 but managed to get back to Serie A at the first try. After many managerial changes due to Ghirardi’s ‘trigger-happy’ finger, they did manage to sustain mid table finishes for four years before finishing sixth and in theory qualifying for European football for the first time under the ownership of Tommaso Ghirardi. However, due to late payments of income tax on salaries they were unable to qualify for a UEFA License and were therefore, not able to compete in European competitions. This lead to Ghirardi becoming disinterested at the football club. At this point there were around 300 players registered to the football club, the most in Europe. Over half of that figure was registered as first team players. Many of which were loaned out or co-owned by other football clubs. This was a huge strain on the clubs finances and ended up being the catalyst to players not being paid and electricity bills as well as security costs not being covered for matches. Club legend Hernan Crespo who is now a coach at Parma once famously said that his players had to take cold showers after matches and training sessions because the clubs hadn’t paid the electricity bill.
The club was eventually sold for one solitary euro, an embarrassment for the Parma fans. To think the club that they love was being sold for such a nominal figure, so small that you could buy a pint of milk and a loaf of bread and it cost nearly double than Parma was sold for. A succession of ownership changes lead to eventual bankruptcy in March 2015 with debts of around £278 million as well as months of unpaid salaries.
So where are they now? A crowd funded campaign called #WEAREPARMA allowed the fans to get their club back. Parma, now under a different name of Parma Calcio 1913 was competing in the fourth tier of Italian football after being declared as bankrupt in 2015. But after all the heartache of the last decade the fans can worry no more. Club legend Alessandro Lucarelli and company have managed to get themselves promotion at the first time of asking into Lega Pro, the Italian third tier. Is it the UEFA Cup? The European Cup Winners Cup? The Coppa Italia? No. It is much more than that. They have their club back.
Blog Written by Alessandro Pugliese (@sandro_pugliese):
Even though Manchester United is set to break the single transfer fee record for the signature of Paul Pogba, Juventus won't miss him as much as the fee suggests. Pogba is a very talented, 23-year-old flashy midfielder with incredible worldwide marketability and favored to win a Ballon D'Or in the future, yet Juventus will be happy to take the money and run.
The Bianconeri already signed the attacking-minded, creative midfielder Miralem Pjanic from Roma earlier this summer by exercising his release clause of €32 million. Pjanic is a world-class talent who will certainly be able to replicate, if not improve upon, Pogba's offensive production. Pogba and Pjanic led Serie A last season with 12 assists each.
So with Pjanic's services already secured, Juventus are reportedly looking to sign a more defensive-minded midfielder. Blaise Matiudi, Nemanja Matic, Luiz Gustavo and Axel Witsel are the top names being mentioned. If Juve do end up signing one of these midfielders, the club won't be missing Pogba on the field too much in my opinion. A midfield consisting of Claudio Marchisio, Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic, Mario Lemima, Kwadwo Asamoah and a possible new signing would be one of the best in Europe. Despite losing Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and now Paul Pogba, Juventus have been able to find suitable replacements.
But perhaps Pogba's most influential impact might be off the field, a factor into his astronomical price tag. He is a superstar recognized worldwide and a phenomenal marketable icon. Juventus had the seventh most jersey sales during the 2015-16 season with Pogba as their highest seller. Many younger fans around the world have become familiar with Juventus in recent times because of Pogba. Don’t forget that the Calciopoli scandal knocked Juve off the world football scene for about five years or so but signing the likes of Pogba, Pirlo and Vidal helped put the club from Turin back on the world map.
Pogba’s influence has even helped the Italian champions expand their social media reach. @Andreank91 on Twitter, who reports on Juve stats and news, said that the official Juventus Twitter account gained 37,500 followers a week after Euro 2016. Meanwhile, before the tournament the club averaged a gain of 16,500 new followers a week. The saga surrounding Pogba’s transfer presumably has played a significant factor in the high increase of followers.
The brilliance of Juve’s management is that they already strengthen each position on their roster this summer even before announcing the mega-sale of Paul Pogba; Dani Alves on a free transfer, Mehdi Benatia on loan (with option to buy), Miralem Pjanic from Roma, Marko Pjaca from Dinamo Zagreb and Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli. With a possible addition of another midfielder their mercato should be pretty wrapped up, excluding the possible sales of a few fringe players. Doing smart business for yet another summer, sporting director Beppe Marotta and company have spent their available funds wisely while in a timely fashion.
As great a talent that Paul Pogba is, Juventus will be able to replace him on the field and have continued success. But he will be sorely missed off the field, where he has helped the club’s global outreach and recognition. As former Juventus midfielder Marco Tardelli told La Stampa last summer, “Players come and go but the club remains.”
Blog Written by Jordan Elgott (@JElgott):
As the transfer window gets into full swing, one club continues to dominate the headlines year after year. Juventus, often not thought of as ‘big players’ in terms of the financial side of the game, are consistently one of the most active teams during the off-season. Whilst they aren’t always the ones doing the buying, Juventus have as big a say as any club when it comes to the big money deals. This is because the most sought after players in the world, often reside in Turin. As the Italian giants look set to make an uncharacteristically expensive purchase, by signing Gonzalo Higuain from rivals, Napoli, let’s look back at how they’ve managed to secure their status as ‘kings’ of the transfer market.
It all starts at the very top of the club, where the owners of ‘The Old Lady’ have implemented a refreshingly traditional philosophy when it comes to transfer market dealings. The Agnelli family have owned the Turin-based club since 1923, and despite their estimated $15 billion fortune, have been reluctant to invest vast quantities of their own money. One component of their business model involves buying players with high potential for relatively cheap fees, and then selling them on for much larger fees - allowing for any profit made to be reinvested into the squad. In an era of football where teams feel compelled to spend extraordinary sums in fear of being left behind, Juve have stuck to their principles. This extract, taken directly from the club’s official website, epitomises the club’s strategy perfectly.
“Juventus also strives to maintain stable relationships with its shareholders by creating profits through the development of the Juventus brand and enhancement of sporting organisation. The main sources of revenue emerge from the exploitation of sports events, the Juventus brand and the image of the first team.”
There is a blaringly obvious example of the success of ‘the Juventus model’, a player who has been drawing attention from all over the world this summer: Paul Pogba. Juve signed the skilful French midfielder for just £800,000 when he was 19 years old. Now, at the age of 23, Pogba has the world at his feet. The club who let him go for virtually nothing, Manchester United, look likely to buy him back for a world record fee, which would surge past the £100 million mark. Irrespective of the world record deal which Pogba will command, he wouldn’t be that big of a miss for Juventus, as they have already replaced him with a player who is just as good, and for a fraction of the price. The signing of Bosnian playmaker, Miralem Pjanic, was completed a few weeks ago at a cost of just £25.4 million. Here is how the two compare, with Pjanic coming out on top in key areas.
Juventus have made this a very good habit in years gone by; signing numerous important first team players in cut-price deals. In 2013, they signed Argentinian forward, Carlos Tevez from Manchester City for just £6.75 million. During his short, but very sweet stay in Turin, Tevez netted 50 goals in 95 games and helped guide The Old Lady to their first Champions League final since 2003. Arguably one of the best signings in the club’s history is Andrea Pirlo. Juve picked up the Italian wizard on a free transfer from rivals A.C. Milan in 2011. Letting Pirlo leave turned out to be an absolutely abysmal decision by the Rossoneri, as Il Maestro guided Juventus to four successive Scudetti before leaving to join New York City FC in 2015. Pirlo played alongside Arturo Vidal in midfield, a player who turned out to be another bargain, as Juve picked up the Chilean for £9.38 million from Bayer Leverkusen. Vidal went on to become one of the most sought after players in Europe, before eventually returning to Germany with Bayern Munich, earning Juventus a tidy profit of £18 million.
Whilst the Bianconeri have at times struggled to hold on to their most prized assets, such as those mentioned above, some of their most important current players have been signed for relative ‘peanuts’ in today’s market. Andrea Barzagli has been a constant rock in the Juventus defence since he signed for the club from Wolfsburg, for a staggeringly low fee of £225,000. Barzagli’s defensive partner, Giorgio Chiellini, is another player who has proved to be great value for money. He has been at the club for 11 years, having signed for £5.48 million from Fiorentina. Over that time, he has played in both Serie A and Serie B, and is widely regarded as a Juventus club legend. Leonardo Bonucci was signed in 2009 for roughly £12.5 million, taking the total cost of Juventus’ rock solid central defence to a measly £18.2 million.
To put the Bianconeri’s transfer dealings into perspective, Manchester City flop, Eliaquim Mangala, cost The Blues over double the amount that Juventus spent on their three world-class centre-backs combined. Other notably cheap signings include Patrice Evra (£1.5 million), Sami Khedira (free transfer), Dani Alves (free transfer) and Claudio Marchisio (free transfer as a youth team player). The success of Juve’s cunning transfer team should not be understated, as they have played a huge part in bringing success to the club, since their run of five successive Scudetti since 2011-2012.
As Juve now prepare to smash their transfer record for Gonzalo Higuain, history suggests that there isn’t much chance of the Argentine flopping. Whilst Higuain will be far and away Juventus’ most expensive signing in their history, he will merely be the icing on top of a very well prepared cake.
Even when Juventus ‘splash out’ on a transfer, very rarely does it turn out not to be a good deal. The most recent example of this occurred last year when the club bought Argentinian forward, Paulo Dybala, for £23.4 million from Palermo. In the modern game, this could actually be considered a relatively cheap deal for an exciting prospect, like Paulo. He scored 18 goals and provided nine assists in his first season in Turin, and could easily be sold for double what Juve paid for him, even after just one season with the club.
Going back much further, Gianluigi Buffon joined the Bianconeri in 2001 in a world record deal at the time for a goalkeeper (£32.6 million). Upon his arrival in Turin, Buffon said, “Juventus are a very big team and I am sure we are going to win lots of trophies.” Now, 15 years down the line, it can be said that Buffon wasn’t wrong. Since joining, the Italian stopper has won seven Scudetti, five Supercoppas, the UEFA Cup, and the 2006 World Cup with Italy. Buffon has certainly proved to be value for money.
The financial powerhouses of the game - Manchester City, Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid - should all be taking a leaf out of Juventus’ book. The Old Lady manage to consistently purchase world-class players for incredibly low fees, a refreshing change in an era where overspending in football has become the norm. In the 2015 Champions League final against Barcelona, the cost of Juventus’ starting eleven was approximately £86 million, the same amount which will be the initial fee in the sale of Paul Pogba. The way in which the club have managed to balance their levels of spending and their success is unprecedented in the modern game and for this reason alone, they deserve their status as ‘kings’ of the transfer market.
Blog Written by Benjamin Santilli (@BSantilli27):
As Juventus celebrate another Scudetto in 2016, not everyone will be pleased with this past season in Serie A. Perhaps the most disappointed city of all this year is located in the province of Lombardia in North-Central Italy. Since A.C. Milan and F.C. Internazionale won the Scudetto back to back in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, the Milan-based teams have struggled to keep up with the surging powers of Roma, Napoli, Fiorentina and perennial champions Juventus.
The last team to beat Juventus in the chase for the Scudetto was in the 2010-11 stagione when Milan and Inter finished first and second respectively. The next year, Milan finished second to the Bianconeri despite the departure of legend Andrea Pirlo who had joined the Old Lady that term. Milan has taken probably the worst hit of the two teams in the last few years but both fan bases can agree that any finish outside of top-class European football is unacceptable. Questionable decisions by the front offices of both teams and in Milan’s case a series of seemingly never-ending injury spells have plagued them. Milan was still sending paychecks to Clarence Seedorf, Filippo Inzaghi, Sinisa Mihajlovic and Christian Brocchi according to Carlos Volcano of Tribalfootball.com until June 1st. Now, Vincenzo Montella will take the reigns with this underwhelming squad. Milan’s payroll is upwards of €101 million with Inter not far behind at €94 million. They rank third and fourth behind Juventus and Roma who dish out an annual amount of €124 and €113 million respectively. The next closest team to Inter, Napoli, is over €20 million less expensive to send out on the field.
The top three teams in Serie A this year were, in order; Juventus with 91 points, Napoli with 82 and Roma right behind them with 80. The next closest team from Milan was Inter in fourth place with only 67 points. That should certainly be a cause for concern. Rossoneri and Nerazzurri fans have a right to question the way their management have used their funds and the quality of the players brought in by the general managers. Adriano Galliani should have to answer for the way he spends the club’s money on players who are ineffective or below the level of quality that they need to be for a top-level organization.
One season is not a cause for alarm but with the astronomically high payroll of the two clubs, there is no reason that either club should not be in contention for the league title year in and year out. You cannot buy a Scudetto, but with players earning over €20 million more than the squads of teams finishing far above them in the standings, it should raise a few eyebrows. Obviously, this pertains more to A.C. Milan fans than Inter but there should be some pressure on the two Lombardian teams to produce more.
With constant coaching changes and looming sales of the club to foreign investors has the club in turmoil. Talks of the sale of the club to Chinese investors by longtime owner and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi continue to slow the club’s development. Their choice in personnel also has fans scratching their heads. It seems as if they cannot decide whether to form a team or enter a rebuilding mode. They have signed some older players who are well past their prime such as Philippe Mexes and Alex while mixing them together with brilliant youngsters like Mattia De Sciglio, M’baye Niang and Alessio Romagnoli. They have to make a decision as to the future of the club. Will they look to rebuild or patch together a starting XI every week that lacks the togetherness of a true contender? Some of their signings have looked promising such as bringing in Juraj Kucka from Genoa to provide a presence in the midfield, Carlos Bacca from Sevilla and the likes of Giacomo Bonaventura from Atalanta. Just these signings however, do not form a complete team. The aspirations of a good team come first from the front office and trickle down to the players on the field. If a front office slovenly puts a team together then they will play like a team that does not have the fortitude to go and get every game. The front office has to showsthe team that they are fully committed to the team and winning and the atmosphere of proven champions will be felt throughout the club.
Fans have begun to express their displeasure with the way Il Diavolo is managed. There was a petition among Milan fans to not resign club captain Riccardo Montolivo to an extension before he received a new three-year contract from the club. The club also failed to secure a spot in European football through the Coppa Italia where they lost to Juventus 1-0 on a brilliant goal by Alvaro Morata in extra time, which naturally infuriated fans even further. Watching Milan can be difficult, as there often seems to be a lack of inspiration in the side. They are competitive yet seem to fall just short to teams they should never lose to. With 11 losses and 12 draws, you can hardly hope to challenge for a league title.
In the other locker room at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Inter was in the lead for much of the season. A Scudetto title was in their grasp. Juve’s slow start gave them a window to seize the opportunity. They failed to maintain their form and dropped all the way to fourth. “Il Biscione” were in first place longer than any other club besides Juventus who were the eventual winners. Early in the season they traded places with Fiorentina and Roma for first place before they handed the lead over to SSC Napoli who would eventually relinquish the prize to the Bianconeri. The Nerazzurri were unable to keep up with Roma, Napoli and Juventus. Inter and many of the other teams in the league had an opportunity to seize the title this year but poor losses and ties seem to catch up to teams. They left Juventus an opening, which saw them go on an impressive run for the title, and they finished nine points clear of second place. Inter should use this season as motivation to make another run next year and use their taste of first place to propel them to the top of the table again next year. They have proven they can do it and their outlook is very positive. They have a number of prolific, talented young players who are ready to reach the next level but to defeat Juventus, it will require a very impressive, complete season. Inter must not take their foot off the gas and never look back.
Anything can happen in Serie A and it is certain that La Madonnina in Milano is waiting for one of her two teams to bring her another Scudetto soon.
Blog Written by Jordan Elgott (@JElgott):
After scoring his first career hat-trick and becoming Partizan Belgrade’s captain at the age of 17, Stevan Jovetic seemed destined for greatness. His unique combination of silky dribbling ability and clinical finishing were bound to attract some of the biggest names in Europe. Therefore it is no surprise that Jovetic has been signed for multi-million pound fees by Fiorentina, Manchester City, and Inter Milan, giants of the game. Yet Jovetic, now 26, finds his career at something of a standstill. In this article I will look at Jovetic’s successes, but will focus on the reasons for a good, yet underwhelming career so far.
Jovetic made his debut for Partizan at the young age of 16, in a league match against FK Voždovac. It was a sign of his talent that just nine months later, he was trusted with the club’s captaincy, becoming Partizan’s youngest ever player to receive the honour. This talent did not go unnoticed, and just five months later, he was snapped up by Italian club Fiorentina for £8,000,000. Jovetic enjoyed a relatively productive time at Fiorentina where he was mainly deployed as a second striker, scoring 35 goals in 116 games. Furthermore, these goals were often of great significance, scoring braces against European heavyweights, Liverpool and Bayern Munich.
It was during the summer of the 2010/2011 season however, when the first cracks in Jovetic’s career began to appear. Jovetic learnt that he had injured his cruciate ligament, something which would go on to rule him out for the entire season. At such a young age, an injury like this carries devastating consequences, with many promising young footballers going on to have limited futures in the game after such a large setback. Jovetic however, fought back by scoring 14 goals in 27 games in the 2011/2012 season. It was a fine showing of Jovetic’s mental and physical strength and something which should have set the tone for the rest of his career.
Jovetic’s sublime return from injury caught the eyes of Manchester City in the summer of 2013, who quickly wrapped up a deal worth £22,000,000. It was an unusually slow start by Jovetic in England however, with the forward having to wait over five months to net his first Premier League goal, in a 5-1 win over Spurs. This can partly be attributed to a rotten injury record, with five significant injuries being recorded in his first season with the club. It would not be inaccurate to suggest that Jovetic never really recovered from this slow start, scoring just eight goals in 28 appearances during his two years in Manchester. Jovetic never really endeared himself to the City faithful, with many fans taking a dislike to his Instagram posts whilst on the pitch he was often the scorer of meaningless goals, an occurrence which was in stark contrast to his time at La Viola.
In truth, it was a two year stagnation of Jovetic’s promising career, and he needed to get it back on track. Inter Milan were the team to end ‘JoJo’s’ disappointing time in England, securing him on a loan (with an obligation to buy) deal in July 2015. He made his Inter debut against Atalanta on the opening weekend of the season and not even Jovetic himself could have dreamed of a better start. After coming off the bench, Jovetic curled in the winning goal from 18 yards out in the last minute of the game. He then scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Carpi, the following weekend. Jovetic finally looked like a player who could take his game to the next level, going from useful squad player to crucial match-winner.
Unfortunately for both Jovetic, and Inter, the 2015-16 season mirrored his career up until that point; plenty of early promise but an inability to build on it. In his remaining 21 appearances, Jovetic managed just three more goals, bringing his tally up to six. The Inter manager, Roberto Mancini, was so disappointed with Jovetic that he reportedly asked the board to try to find another club to pay the remaining £11.4 million to Manchester City. In recent weeks, Jovetic has confirmed that he will be staying at Inter for next season, claiming that he was ‘happy’ with how last season went. If Jovetic is truly happy with the past season, then it is a damning indictment of his underwhelming career so far. It can be said without any doubt, that a player of Jovetic’s quality should be aiming to score 15 goals a season, minimum.
Whilst it is easy to get carried away in the disappointment of it all, we must remember that Jovetic is still only 26 and therefore has time to become the player the world thought he would turn into. If he is to do this then he must work hard to get back into the Inter starting eleven, in order to impress Mancini. This will not be easy as he has to compete with players of fantastic quality, such as Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisiç. Arguably the most important thing for Jovetic to do in the 2016/17 season is to prove his fitness. Over the past three years, Jovetic is averaging just 17 appearances per season, it goes without saying that this is simply not good enough. One must hope that an injury-free run will lead to greater consistency in Jovetic’s game and will allow him to cement a place in Roberto Mancini’s side.
Having impressed in the early stages of his career, it is a great disappointment that at the age of 26, Jovetic finds his career at this standstill. The next few years can go one of two ways: Jovetic could overcome his injury problems to become a crucial player for Inter, or he could continue on the same path of mediocrity and end up playing the rest of his career with a ‘what could have been’ mentality. It would be disappointing for most football fans for the latter to become a reality, as it is clear that Jovetic has fantastic ability and anything other than an outstanding career will rightfully be seen as a frustrating waste of talent.
Blog Written by Ahmed Bdair (@Ahmedmbdair)
30 years ago he arrived magnanimously on a helicopter, promising to bring the club he supported as a child back to the upper echelons of European football, and to bring new found glory far beyond any supporter’s wildest dreams. Under his ownership, Milan was brought back to the very top of Europe’s elite.
Now back to reality, and it isn’t pleasant whatsoever; Milan have been trophy-less for 5 seasons (the longest drought in 30 years), out of the Champions League for 3 years, and just got pipped to the final Europa League spot by Sassuolo (a team which had finished 16th in Serie B just 5 years ago), and to make matters worse Silvio is taking the entire world on one hell of a ride.
To put things into context, the media spent most of last year’s offseason telling us that a minority stake of the club would be sold to a certain Mr. Bee, a man who was allegedly leading a consortium that wanted to invest in the club. Yet after months of speculation it all came to nothing, and now speculation about a majority stake in the club being sold is back, just with an even more concrete source, Berlusconi himself.
Now trust me when I say, this has been by far the most irritating time of my life as a football fan (and I’ve watched a Muntari and Essien midfield pairing). Just two weeks ago, reports came out that Berlusconi had finally let go, that he had agreed to sell the club. Elation, joy, delight, were all feelings that were quickly crushed with reports coming out later that week that he had in fact decided against selling the club, and that he would ‘build a new Italian contingent at Milan’. That sounds great right? These would be players who would theoretically understand more than anyone the size of the club, players who would bleed for the shirt. Wrong, because we have heard this before and very recently actually. These very quotes were previously followed by the sale of Bryan Cristante, the former Primavera captain, and Ricardo Saponara, the supposed new Kaka, to Benfica and Empoli respectively.
Now of course I will be reminded that Cristante hasn’t exactly proved himself since moving to Benfica, but just focus on Saponara for a second. This is a man who was signed from Empoli when they were in Serie B as the next great trequartista. He was going to be the man to bring back the beloved (only by Berlusconi) 4-3-1-2 formation. We were also led to believe that the club had re-signed the original Kaka to mentor the new one but instead Saponara was shunned to the side, we didn’t play a 4-3-1-2, finished in 10th place and then sold Saponara back to Empoli where he just finished this past season with five goals and 11 assists. These kind of errors have become all too familiar and cannot continue anymore.
Berlusconi is currently in the hospital, after suffering some heart problems and will undergo surgery next week. I wish him the best (can’t say the same about other fans though), but it’s time for him to simply revert to his original aim, to return Milan to the top. He knows he cannot do it financially and ultimately the ball is in his court, let’s just all hope he makes the right decision and sells the club to proper investors.
Berlusconi issued a statement on his Facebook page today. Here is an excerpt: “I wish to thank all those who have sent me displays of affection and cards, they really moved me. I will not forget the words of friends, politicians, employees of a working life of many supporters who have made me feel their closeness with extraordinary warmth.”
Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
This years Coppa Italia final is a clash between two giants of Italian football, Milan and Juventus. For Juventus, a Coppa win would see Allegri's men be the first team to complete a back-to-back double. For Milan, a Coppa win would see them gain access to the Europa League and shine some light on another poor season from the Rossoneri. The stage is set at The Stadio Olimpico in Rome for one of these fierce rivals to add another trophy to their cabinet. So who will come out on top in the big clash tonight?
Juventus will be looking to win the Coppa Italia and become the first team to complete a league and cup double for two successive seasons. Allegri, who is the last Milan manager to win a trophy, will be looking to prevent Brocchi from picking up his first trophy as a manager. Juventus come into the cup final on fine form despite Allegri being disappointed with post-Scudetto performances against Verona and Carpi. The match against Verona was Juve’s first loss in 28 matches, an incredible statistic. This season, Juventus have stormed their way to a fifth consecutive Scudetto after a poor start to the season. A cup win would be a perfect ending to the season for the Bianconeri. If Juventus are to beat Milan tonight which they are heavily fancied to do, players like Paulo Dybala and Paul Pogba will be crucial for The Old Lady. Juventus will be missing Leonardo Bonucci (suspension) and Sami Khedira (injury) for the big match. Bonucci is a massive loss for Juve as he's been a stalwart in the heart of their defense the last few seasons. However, Juventus as ever have great strength in their depth and will be well covered with Daniele Rugani, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini likely to start in defense. Despite being overwhelming favorites, Allegri is aware of the danger of Milan; "There's no such thing as an easy final," he warned in his pre-match press conference. Allegri will no doubt have his players fired up for the match and he will be looking to add more misery to his former employers catastrophic season.
Milan's season has been a catastrophe but a Coppa win would at least qualify them for the Europa League and give creditability to their season. Milan have been in dire form since Brocchi took charge winning only one game out of six, a 1-0 win away to an out-of-sorts Sampdoria. For Milan to beat Juventus, they will need every player to be at the top of their game and have fate on their side. A win for Milan would give the Rossoneri a return to European football and it would be their 29th trophy in 30 years under Berlusconi. However, a defeat would make the situation at Milan, which seemingly can't get any worse, even more catastrophic. Brocchi will almost certainly lose his job if he fails to win and even a win might not be enough to secure his future. Carlos Bacca and Giacomo Bonaventura will have to provide the creativity for Milan if they are to upset the odds and beat Juventus. Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonelli will be big losses for Milan and those injuries could see Alessio Romangnoli moved to left-back. A possible M’Baye Niang return from injury would be a big boost to Milan’s chances. Despite being underdogs, Brocchi is confident that Juventus can be beaten; “All teams have flaws,” Brocchi told reporters at his pre-match press conference. Brocchi will be hoping for a win to possibly secure his own future and clinch a place in the Europa League for Milan.
Tonight's match is set to be a cracker with both groups of fans set to provide us with a fantastic atmosphere. Sassuolo fans will also watch the Coppa final nervously as they await to see if they qualify for the Europa League since the Neroverdi need Juventus to beat Milan. The stage is now set but who will deliver the best performance on the night and take the Coppa Italia home? After all, only one team can prevail in this clash of giants.
Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
With another Serie A season coming to a close, Fiorentina yet again find themselves missing out on Champions League football. Despite a great start to the season, the Viola have once again failed to qualify for the Champions League. After setting high expectations and playing an attractive style of football, it hasn't been enough to gain qualification for the UCL and yet again Fiorentina will be in the Europa League. However the current squad is decent and with some sensible signings, Champions League qualification could be a real possibility next season for the Viola. Keeping Paulo Sousa will be vital for next season if they are to qualify for the Champions League. So the questions on Fiorentina fans lips are why have their team failed to qualify for Champions League once again? And can they build on this season and qualify for Europe's elite competition next season?
So in what must be beginning to feel like Groundhog Day for La Viola's faithful, Fiorentina find themselves going into the last game of the season with a Europa League place secure. For the past three years now Fiorentina have set their sights on Champions League qualification but it still remains out of their reach. Fiorentina made a fantastic start to this season and even had some fans dreaming of winning the title. As usual, however, in January the wheels began to come off. Fiorentina for the past four years have played very attractive football in Serie A but they always seem to fall short of those precious Champions League places. Under Vincenzo Montella, Fiorentina finished in fourth place for three consecutive years. This year under Paolo Sousa, Fiorentina will finish in fifth place with the same reasons preventing them from qualifying for the Champions League.
Fiorentina's lack of strength in depth at the back and the need for a real goal scorer upfront consistently hamper La Viola in their pursuit of Champions League football. These problems have shown up yet again this season. Whenever Gonzalo Rodriguez is absent from the Viola's defense they seem to fall apart. Fiorentina do not have enough quality defenders to make a real push for Champions League football. While captain Rodriguez is excellent, players such as Roncaglia, Tomovic and Astori are good players to have in the squad but more quality is needed. Fiorentina need to sign two or three quality defenders to make a real push into the top three.
Going forward is also a problem as Nikola Kalinic started like a house on fire this season but the goals have dried up. Yet again for a team pushing for Champions League qualification, Kalinic would be a good squad player but a top-level goal scorer is needed for the Viola. They must sign a quality centre forward; Mario Gomez and Giuseppe Rossi were both promising signings but neither performed consistently and Kalinic on his own won't be enough to make the Champions League.
However, despite these problems Fiorentina have solid foundations to build on. They have an excellent manager in Paolo Sousa, who recently announced he would be staying with the Viola after much speculation. Sousa will be looking for the board to address the aforementioned problems and reinforce the defense and striking departments. The makings of a great team is there however with Rodriguez, Borja Valero, Ilicic and Bernardeschi making up the core of the side. With some sensible signings Fiorentina can make a real push for Champions League football next season and finally qualify for Europe's elite competition. Given Fiorentina's attractive playing style it would be fitting that they finish in third next year after so many years of narrowly missing out.
Fiorentina's fans will certainly be hoping that they can finally qualify for the Champions League next year and end their long wait to return to Europe's elite competition.
Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
The recent saga between Roma and Francesco Totti has been well documented. Roma's club legend has reportedly been unhappy about his playing time this season while also reportedly having numerous heated arguments with Spalletti. Initially Roma's president, James Pallotta, wanted to see Totti retire and take up a role among the clubs board of directors. However, after some great performances and crucial goals for Roma in recent games, Totti is expected to be rewarded with a new contract by the Giallorossi. This saga between Spalletti and Totti has been running since February and it seems to be finally drawing to a close as the end of the season approaches. So let's take a look at how the arguments between Totti and Spalletti began.
It started back in February before Roma's game against Palermo. Spalletti said in his press conference that Totti could start the match. However, unknown to Spalletti at the time, Totti was giving an interview lamenting his lack of playing time under Spalletti. When Spalletti heard the interview he decided that the veteran playmaker was out of order and left him out of the squad for Roma's match against Palermo, which they won 5-0. So it seemed that Spalletti was right for the time being and Roma did not need to rely on Totti. At that time it looked very likely that Totti would leave Roma at the end of the season turning down the club's offer to be a director. Totti felt that he could still play while Roma doubted his athletic ability preferring him to take up a management role at the club. This caused some friction between the club and the fans, with the club taking Spalletti's side and the fans standing by their hero, cheering Totti at every opportunity and jeering Spalletti.
However, a loss of form prompted Spalletti to introduce Totti from the bench against Bologna at half time with Roma 1-0 down. Il Capitano proved effective providing the crucial assist for the equalizer. The following week against Atalanta, Spalletti again introduced Totti from the bench and he scored a last gasp equalizer to rescue a point for the Giallorossi. After the game against Atalanta, Spalletti and Totti reportedly had another heated argument. Totti, out to prove a point that he was still able to perform at the highest level, made his mark against Torino. Roma were 2-1 down with 10 minutes to go and Totti was brought on to rescue Roma. He did not fail to deliver scoring two goals to give Roma all 3 points and push them towards second place. In his last 5 games, Totti has 4 goals and 1 assist and it seems he has proved Spalletti wrong with his performances on the pitch. Totti has once again showed his importance to Roma.
Totti is adamant to continue playing and it seems that a new contract at Roma is increasingly likely but where could he end up if the Lupi decide against keeping him. Totti would not be short of offers if he does leave Roma as there are a number of clubs interested in him. The New York Cosmos, Al Jazira, UAE and even Leicester City have all been linked with the Roma icon. It's hard to imagine Totti wearing a shirt that's not Roma's however and he is expected to sign a new contract with the Giallorossi and stay for at least one more year. Perhaps this new role off the bench is more suited to Totti now given his age and Roma will certainly have to sign a striker next season if they are to challenge for the title.
For now, anyway, Roma fans will be happy to have their icon stay at the club for another season. As Spalletti once said, "It would be easier to move the Colosseum out of Rome" rather than move Totti out of Roma and as it turns out Spalletti is one hundred percent right…
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.
Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Perhaps the most disappointing team in this Serie A campaign so far has been Lazio. Last year the Biancocelesti finished in third place, just missing out on second to their hated rivals Roma. Last years third place was Lazio's best finish since the 2006-07 Serie A season when they also finished third. Many felt that Lazio could build on last years third place finish under Stefano Pioli and with the club keeping the stars of last season there was reason to be excited in Rome. So why now do Lazio find themselves in 8th place and 7 points off a European place? Why hasn't Pioli delivered again? And why haven't last seasons key players such as Candreva and Felipe Anderson performed?
After finishing third, Lazio managed to maintain all their key players during the following summer transfer window and signed some promising young players such as Wesley Hoedt, Ricardo Kishna and Sergei Milinkovic-Savic. Many felt that they would go on to perhaps better a third place finish but they have failed to live up to expectations. Lazio's poor campaign started with defeat to Juventus in the Supercoppa Italia and failure to qualify for the Champions League losing a play-off to Bayer Leverkusen. Since then the downhill spiral has continued. Many feel Lotito should have invested more money in the summer transfer window. Lotito seemed content that just keeping Biglia, Candreva and Anderson would be enough to push on from the last season. Unfortunately for the Laziale this has not been the case.
Last year Lazio scored a club record 71 goals and conceded 38, while this year they have only scored 38 goals and have already conceded 38 with 8 games remaining. The goals have dried up with Klose's legs no longer what they were, Felipe Anderson's inconsistency and Stefano Mauri being sidelined for large parts of this season. Matri and Djordjevic have both failed to provide an able replacement to Klose's 15 goals last season with only 6 goals between them this year. Another problem for Lazio has been their leaky defense this year, losing 4-0 to Chievo and 5-0 to Napoli shows how shaky they are at the back. Stefan De Vrij has been sorely missed at the heart of the defence this season. Gentiletti and Mauricio have both been woeful at times this season especially Mauricio who has been shockingly poor in nearly all the matches he has featured in this season. Making himself a cult figure among Lazio fans for all the wrong reasons.
Another problem for Lazio is that Pioli seems to be having second season syndrome. Pioli's problems began when he chose Biglia as captain over Candreva. This decision upset Candreva so much so that he decided to make his unhappiness public and many feel the armband not being given to him is the reason to blame for his lackluster performances this season. Pioli has also had a tough time with injuries this year. De Vrij has been out all season, while Klose, Lulic, Biglia and Parolo have all been out sometime with injury and many more have been injured throughout Lazio's season. Pioli has also had to deal with training brawls between players and severe backlash from fans, apparently he is considering resigning at the end of the season but he might not need to worry because Lotito might sack him regardless. Pioli hasn't been able to get consistent performances out of Lazio a second season round and there is no doubt part of the blame for Lazio's poor season lies with the tactician.
If Lazio are to improve next season and reach Europe again a summer clear out is needed; players like Gentiletti, Mauricio, Morrison, Djordjevic, Berisha and Patric should all be sold. Perhaps even the inconsistent Felipe Anderson should be cashed in on, Candreva and Biglia are likely to leave as well so Lazio will need to spend a lot of money on replacing players of that quality and improving their squad. A new man in charge would have a tough task on his hands in revitalizing Lazio. At the moment former Lazio star and current Milan manager Sinisa Mihajlovic is being linked as the favorite to the hot seat, with Giampiero Ventura, Christian Brocchi and Ersun Yanul all being linked with the job as well. Whoever is in charge of Lazio next year will inherit a revamped squad. They will face a real challenge to bring glory back to Lazio and make the Super Eagles fly high once again.
On Tuesday March 15th, it was announced that Antonio Conte was stepping down as manager of the Azzurri. So far Conte's Italy have not done as well as many have expected. Although Conte's Italy qualified for the Euro's with a game to spare, they needed the final victory over Norway to secure top spot and avoid a potentially dangerous playoff. Conte's Italy have hardly inspired belief in the fans throughout their qualifying campaign. There are many questions being asked about Italy now. Will Conte go out on a high and succeed at Euro 2016? Who is being lined up to replace him? And why hasn't he lived up to expectations so far?
When Conte took over the Italian National Team after a catastrophic World Cup, many believed he was the right man to bring Italy back to their best. One of Conte's ideas was that he would have more national team training camps so he would have more time to work with the players. So far in his time with Italy, Conte has been at war with clubs and The Lega Calcio over not letting players attend his training camps. This has infuriated Conte because he doesn't feel he has had enough time with the players, so much so that at this time last year he was threatening to resign. He said last year, "I expect greater co-operation from the clubs. To bridge the gap to other nations, I must be able to work as a coach, not just as a selector." These extra training sessions most of which Conte has cancelled must be a major factor in his decision to resign his post after the European Championship this summer.
Not many people are expecting Conte's Italy to do well at Euro 2016, most bookmakers have Italy at 16/1 to win the tournament. Conte has been criticized for his squad selection and poor performances in the qualifying campaign. Performances such as two 1-0 wins over Malta and a 2-2 draw with Bulgaria haven't been awe-inspiring. Italy struggled through what should have been an easier campaign but qualified in first place, which is in the end all that matters. It's the performances that worry the fans though; Italy will have to play a lot better if they are to succeed at Euro 2016. Conte must be aware of this himself. In Italy's most recent friendlies he experimented with a 4-4-2/4-2-4 formation but to no avail as Italy lost 3-1 to Belgium and drew 2-2 with Romania. Conte is still trying to find the right formation for Euro 2016 and he doesn't have that much time left to find it. Another aspect Conte has been criticized for is his squad selection. Players such as Bonaventura, Insigne, Sansone and Saponara not featuring in any match during the qualifying campaign has raised eyebrows. Bonaventura and Insigne who are both playing the best football of their careers, surely should be playing for the national team. Conte certainly must bring them to Euro 2016. Also many fans have been left wondering how players such as De Sciglio and Ranocchia who both haven't enjoyed the best of seasons are finding time in Conte's Italy squad. Conte's squad selection for Euro 2016 will be eagerly awaited. Conte needs to succeed at Euro 2016 if he is to leave a lasting memory in the fans of the Azzurri. A semi-final berth would be considered a success but anything less and his time at Italy will not be fondly remembered. Who he decides to bring with him will play a vital role in Italy's performances in France at Euro 2016.
So who are his potential replacements after Euro 2016? Some of the names being mentioned are Capello, Raneiri, Donadoni, Ventura and Mancini. Capello is currently the favorite but he has come out and said that he doesn't want the Italy job. I find it unlikely that Raneiri will leave Leicester with them being in the Champions League next year bar a major disaster. Donadoni is then the most likely with him being interested in the job and in my opinion he will be the next Italy manager. Ventura and Mancini are outsiders especially Ventura, Mancini hasn't had the best of times at Inter so he might consider Italy should they come calling.
The real question for whoever replaces Conte is will they be inheriting a team fresh from success at Euro 2016 or a team in disarray coming back from a hugely disappointing campaign. Can Conte leave with the taste of success in his mouth or will his time with Italy be considered a failure. This summer at Euro 2016 we will find out all the answers.
Collab Blog by Matt Santangelo (@Matt_Santangelo, co-founder of @ACMilanBros) and Sandro (@TransfersCalcio):
It was a pretty quite winter mercato in Italy this year but we analyze the top 10 deals.
Cristian Tello to Fiorentina
- The Spanish winger joined La Viola on a 6-month loan deal on January 26th. Fiorentina have an option to buy Tello with Barcelona also having a counter-option. The pacey winger has integrated into Paulo Sousa’s squad pretty nicely so far. In seven Serie A appearances, he has one goal and three assists. In Sousa’s fluid 4-3-3 formation, Tello has found himself playing on the right wing. His silky dribbling skills fit pretty well into Sousa system. He was very dangerous in Fiorentina’s match against Napoli, even hitting the corner of the post and crossbar of a beautiful curling shot. If he can continue to put in performances similar to that match, Tello will be a very effective signing.
There is a good chance Fiorentina exercise their option to buy him this summer and Barcelona using the counter-option doesn’t seem too likely considering their attack. His agent Jose Maria Orobitg told Calciomercato: “Sousa has given him chances, now Cristian must improve physically to repay that faith. Clearly the style of play is perfectly suited to his characteristics, but he has to get used to the mechanics… If today you asked him to choose between Barcelona and Fiorentina he’d definitely pick the second option.”
Mauro Zarate to Fiorentina
– The Argentinian striker joined the Florentine club on a permanent deal from West Ham for an undisclosed fee. Zarate has scored two goals in only 218 minutes of Serie A play, including this absolute superb game winner against Carpi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmWcmQBB7UM. Most of his appearances have been off the bench so far and he got himself sent off with a three-match ban on February 14th due to an off-ball incident in the match against Inter. Zarate can play out wide and also as a second striker behind a target man like Kalinic or Babacar. It’s not easy to judge Mauro’s role and effectiveness yet as he hasn’t received too much playing time but his skill set could certainly be lethal in Sousa’s system. It will be interesting to see if Zarate will mostly play out on the wing or in the middle behind a central striker. Zarate spoke about his troubles in England and why he’s happy about the move: “In England, it was good because English football is enjoyable, but I wasn’t too comfortable with my role at the club. That is why I decided to come here. I prefer to play in a free, attacking role, one that allows me to roam. I have already spoken with Sousa and he has assured me I will have that here.”
Ciro Immobile to Torino
- The 26-year-old Italian striker rejoined his former club on loan with an option to buy from Borussia Dortmund. After failed spells at Dortmund and Sevilla, Immobile has returned to the club that put him on the map after being capocannoniere in 2013-2014. He doesn’t have Alessio Cerci to set him up for goals like two seasons ago but Ciro has returned with a pretty good start. He’s got five goals and two assists during 899 minutes in 11 Serie A appearances. Immobile will look to finish the season in top form, in hopes for a Euro call-up from Azzurri manager Antonio Conte. I’m sure both club and player will hope to find an agreement to secure a permanent move over the summer. Ever since Immobile left Torino, he never looked like the same player or found his scoring touch. Ciro just fits in perfectly with the Granata and he should stay there for the benefit of his career. In fact, if Immobile stays at Torino for the majority remainder of his career and keeps banging in goals on a consistent basis, he could even become a club legend.
Diego Perotti to A.S. Roma
– The Giallorossi signed Perotti from Genoa on the deadline day of the January transfer market. Originally a loan, the move has since become a permanent deal for a total of about €10 million. Considering Milan was also in the race to sign Perotti, Roma got a pretty good deal. He’s a versatile attacker who can play on both wings and in the middle. In fact, he has already found success both out wide and as a false nine for Roma. In just 516 Serie A minutes, Perotti has managed to score twice and dish out four assists. The Argentine has looked like a brilliant signing thus far. Dribbling and crossing are his best attributes, which is ideal for any winger. His versatility will be extremely useful under Luciano Spalletti, who has proven he’s willing to change his system unlike Rudi Garcia. His interplay with El Shawraawy and Salah has been superb and they’ve only been playing together for about a month and a half. Now, if Edin Dzeko could start scoring goals consistently as he’s been expected to, this offense would be top class. It looks as if basically swapping Iturbe and Gervinho for Perotti and El Sharaawy was a perfect move at the right time, with Spalletti taking over.
Ervin Zukanovic to A.S Roma
– The 29-year-old Bosnian joined from Sampdoria on January 29th. Just like Perotti, Roma turned his loan into a permanent deal for a total fee of €4 million. Joining his 12th team in his senior career and never staying anywhere for more than two seasons, Ervin might find some stability at Roma for a few years. The defender is a quality utility man who can play both left back and center back. It’s very unlikely he’ll ever become a regular starter for the Giallorossi but he will be a valuable backup option. Zukanovic has only played 390 minutes in 5 Serie A appearances so far but managed to assist El Sharaawy’s first goal at the club. He put in a great 90-minute performance against Real Madrid in their second leg Champions League match, recording nine clearances and five blocks. If Zukanovic can consistently put in performances like that when he gets playing time, he’ll be a splendid low-cost high-reward signing. Head coach Luciano Spalletti had some nice words when the defender signed for Roma: “He’s a player with lots of character and mentally he’s very strong. He’s good with the ball at his feet and is able to build the play well.”
Stephan El Shaarawy to A.S. Roma
- After finding it difficult to adapt to French football, Stephan El Shaarawy returned to Milan after the principality refused to play the winger for his 25th appearance. Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim did not observe the former Genoa player as part of his plans, and the club did not want to be forced into a €16 million obligation. Adriano Galliani had a few suitors, but only Roma was big enough to offer the Rossoneri a proper return for their depreciating asset. Sure enough, the Giallorossi acquired him on a €1.4 million loan with an option to buy at €13 million for the summer.
Since Luciano Spalletti was brought in to replace Rudi Garcia, Roma have been soaring in Serie A play, and Stephan El Shaarawy has been at the heart of it all. According to Opta, El Shaarawy has played a role in seven goals (5 scored, 2 assisted) in seven Serie A appearances with his new club. Spalletti has played him out on the left, but he’s letting El Shaarawy be himself and not tying him down to the left flank completely. While he is still tracking back to cover his defensive duties, he’s more controlled and not exerting himself as much as he did with Milan; using his energy more efficiently. When he’s been dealt a goal scoring opportunity, he’s looked like the '12-'13 version of himself. Composed and confident. The club itself has struck fire over the past few months, having reeled off eight consecutive league wins. They find themselves in third place on 59 points and trail the white-hot club of Juventus by 8 points.
Roma are hungry for a top three finish and right now, it appears they are the favorites for the final Champions League spot. Stephan El Shaarawy has simply been dynamite in little time and it seems as if Roma made the correct decision taking a flyer on him. If he continues to shine and Roma meets their league objective, there is no doubt that his option will be picked up for next season. Still only 23, Milan may wind up kicking themselves on this transaction, especially if Roma beat them out for third.
Éder to Inter
- The Brazil native shined last season under Siniša Mihajlović, bagging 12 goals with five assists. Since Antonio Conte’s options at striker are limited, Eder had managed to carry his solid ‘14-’15 form to the national side, becoming one of the favorites of the Azzurri boss throughout Euro 2016 qualification. Through the first part of the campaign, the 29-year old was among the top goal scorers in Italy tallying 12 goals in twenty-one matches across all competitions. Since making the rather obscure two-year loan move to the Nerazzurri in January, the Italian national has endured his share of woes, failing to find the back of the net in 8 total appearances for his new club.
Over the past few months, Roberto Mancini’s Inter have struggled to stay the course in pursuit of the top 3, slipping to 5th. Despite being ahead of city-rival Milan, fans of the black and blue are far from confident in their side as we enter the final three months of the season. For Inter, they will surely need more from their big winter signing. Mauro Icardi needs a supporting goal-scorer to lighten the burden and Mancini would love nothing more than to have Eder be that guy. Plus, by no means is Eder’s spot on the Italy roster for the Euro cemented. He’s not only fighting for his spot with Inter; he’s fighting for a trip to his first major competition. A lot is on the line for the former Cesena ace.
Suso to Genoa
- The Spaniard moved to Italy in January 2015 from Liverpool after his role could no longer be defined under former manager Brendan Rodgers. Despite his successes and growth abroad in the offensive-driven La Liga with Almeria a few years back, the 22-year old hasn’t been convincing enough to press his managers into trying him on a regular basis. At Milan, Mihajlović showed the willingness to hold “open tryouts” for a few of the roles up for grabs in the starting eleven. Unfortunately for Suso, his lone start against Empoli back in round 2 of the campaign was enough for Mihajlović to properly assess what he could – or perhaps couldn’t – provide the squad this season. As a result, the club sent the former Spain under-21 playmaker to premier business partner Genoa on a dry-loan.
Last season, M’Baye Niang underwent a successful spell with the Rossoblu, thus allowing him to compete for a starting role this year at Milan. For Suso, he has hopes of doing the same. However, in twelve matches under Gian Piero Gasperini, the former Merseyside starlet has scored just once, with two assists.
As Genoa jockey their way around mid-table, it’s likely that Suso will continue to get favorable playing time to prove his worth, but it will take an awful a lot for the Rossoneri to give Suso another go next season, for whichever manager it may be. He has some exceptional qualities but he is still very much a raw talent who needs to fine-tune a few things about his game.
Kevin Prince-Boateng to A.C. Milan
- After falling out of favor with Schalke, the Ghanaian had his contract terminated, allowing him to find refuge back in Italy where he endured the most success in his career. Kevin Prince-Boateng spent nearly three seasons with AC Milan in the Serie A, helping the club win an Italian Super Cup as well as the 18th Scudetto in team history. Boateng had been training with Milan since last fall, but officially signed a short-term deal with the Rossoneri this past January, hoping to restore order to his free-falling career. Fans of the club scratched their heads yet again. Adriano Galliani was silent during the window and the only move made to help bolster the squad for a Champions League spot was a free transfer.
In his second stint with the club, the 29-year old has appeared in 10 matches across Serie A and Cup play, scoring one goal. While the numbers are far from impressive, he’s only played a total of 256 minutes, which equates to about 25 minutes per appearance. That is simply not enough time to gauge a player’s impact, especially since Mihajlović’s tactics are vastly different to his former manager Massimiliano Allegri. For Boateng, it’s becomes a very interesting situation. The club has been injury-ridden in recent weeks and has several underperforming - and unfit - attackers like Jeremy Menez, Mario Balotelli and Luiz Adriano. At this point, it seems that Boateng is nothing more than a fresh set of legs at Mihajlović’s disposal. With the club slipping further away from the top three, it appears this could be a short-lived reunion for the 2010-11 standout.
Fabio Quagliarella to Sampdoria
- The 33-year old journeyman has traveled around Italy quite a bit throughout his career, featuring for Napoli, Udinese, Torino, Sampdoria, Ascoli and Juventus to an all-around solid playing career. After playing in 16 league matches for Toro, Quagliarella was sold to Sampdoria during the winter mercato as Torino elected to open up a return for Ciro Immobile to pair with the young Andrea Belotti.
Under manager Vincenzo Montella, the former Scudetto winner has enjoyed a successful spell back with the Blucerchiati. The 2010 World Cup goal-scorer for Italy has collected 3 goals in seven league matches, and has been key in helping Sampdoria escape – for now – troubling waters down in the relegation zone. Prior to his arrival, it seemed as if Sampdoria would become a potential candidate for the drop, but the pressure seems to have cooled a bit as they are 6 points clear of Frosinone for 18th. Down the stretch, Montella will surely call upon the veteran striker to ensure the club plays in the top-flight of Italian calcio next season at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. Even though his better years are behind him, the ex-Bianconeri attacker still eyes his 100th career Serie A goal, and it could potentially come this season should he bag four more through the final nine matches of the campaign.
Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne (@JobJobBinks):
Walter Novellino becomes the seventh different manager to take charge of Palermo since November and the eight coaching change (Iachini was fired and reappointed). Palermo are a club in disarray with trigger happy owner Maurizio Zamparini seemingly impossible to please. It's no surprise to find them in real trouble sitting in seventeenth just one place and one point above the relegation zone. Can Novellino steady a fast sinking ship? Or will Zamparini drag Palermo back down into Serie B?
One might call Novellino brave for taking on the Palermo job, working under an owner who provides no security to his managers. Zamparini has sacked Iachini and Ballardini after both earned wins this season. Palermo are currently on a run of seven matches without a win. Their last win came against Udinese on January 24th. This barren run has seen them fall to seventeenth place in the table with Frosinone hot on their heels just one point behind them.
The majority of blame has to lie with Zamparini for this poor run of form. Throughout his time at Palermo, Zamparini has always been fond of sacking managers. Since buying Palermo in 2002 there has been 35 managers in just 14 years at Palermo. This figure shows the chaotic background scenes at Palermo and a clear lack of stability from the owner. Beppe Iachini who was Palermo's longest serving coach under Zamparini (September 2013 to November 2015) was fired this season after a 1-0 victory. If we take a look at Palermo's managers this season the statistics are incredible. Beppe Iachini started the season and lasted until November as he was sacked after a 1-0 win. Davide Ballardini took the reins after Iachini but lasted only seven games during which he faced a revolt from the players led by the captain Stefano Sorrentino. He too was then sacked after a 1-0 win. Next up was Guillermo Barros Schelotto, however Palermo failed to realize that the Argentine did not have the necessary UEFA License. Up stepped Giovanni Tedesco who was put in charge until Schelotto got his license from UEFA but Schelotto's application was declined by the European football governing body. Palermo then turned to Giovanni Bosi who lasted just one game in charge, a 3-1 defeat to Torino. Iachini was then re-hired who lasted three games before being sacked again after a 3-1 defeat to Inter.
Now the new man in charge is Walter Novellino who's first match in charge is at home to Napoli, a tough ask for Novellino to pick up any points. Novellino faces an extremely tough task to keep Palermo up and will need to be given some time by Zamparini. Novellino is going to be relying on the form of Vazquez and the experience of Sorrentino and Gilardino if he is to succeed. If Novellino can get Vazquez firing on all cylinders then Palermo have a great chance of staying up. The Argentine has already provided 5 goals and 7 assists this year and is easily Palermo's most important player. He will be a key figure if Novellino is to succeed at Palermo.
Palermo getting relegated might be the final straw for Zamparini and he could finally grant the Rossonero fans wishes and sell the club. Perhaps a season in Serie B with a new owner might not be a bad thing for Palermo or maybe as it has done many times in the past, Zamparini's method of changing coaches more often then he changes his mind about selling the club will prevail and Palermo will somehow manage to survive with Zamparini's managerial carousel well intact.
There are still 13 games left after this big match so how could you say this will decide the Scudetto? Yet the theory is there, you could be correct if you say that. Also keep this in mind as well, do either of these teams look like they will slip again? Highly unlikely. If Napoli pulls away with a win it means they would be five points ahead of Juventus, a substantial but not definitive lead. If the latter wins, the Bianconeri will be ahead by a single point, doesn’t sound like a lot, but Juventus don't look like slipping having won 14 straight league matches.
When former Napoli and Juventus defender Fabio Cannavaro was asked about the fixture, he had this to say:
“To win the Scudetto you need to get a result in Turin. I’ll support Napoli: It’s my city, my heart is there. At Juve they respect Napoli.” Cannavaro told Gazzetta dello Sport.
If The Old Lady comes out victorious this coming weekend, they will be league leaders for the very first time this year in Serie A. Even captain Gigi Buffon admits this is completely “unthinkable”, after the teams poor start to the season. Juventus haven’t conquered Italy five times consecutively since the 1930’s. This would be marked as one of Juventus’ biggest achievements, even larger then Antonio Conte’s undefeated season and almost conquering the treble! This season saw them lose key figures like Carlitos Tevez, who proved pivotal in their treble chase, Andrea Pirlo and the Chilean engine Arturo Vidal but yet, they may still be able to retain the title even those they got off to their worst start in 103 years (103!? There must be something in the Turin water).
If the Bianconeri were to lose, then Napoli would have the upper hand on the “former” champions because they won their previous fixture in September, but Napoli has only done the double on Juventus three times, scoring only one goal at J Stadium while the latter has 11.
What makes this Napoli a larger threat than Roma was under Rudi Garcia is that Maurizio Sarri has conviction. The Neapolitan knows how to put a nail in the coffin, he doesn’t let up and has gotten the best out of Argentinian hit man Gonzalo Higuan, who has hit the back of the net 24 times in 24 games, his previous record of 27 looks like it’ll be shattered this year.
The old cliché will definitely have a say in the final result; what is better, the best defense or the best offense? Juventus have only conceded 15 goals this season, only one coming in 2016; meaning Gigi hasn’t picked up the ball from his own goal in five whole games. There have been four games this season their opponent didn’t even register a shot on target!
Now for the best attack - Napoli have scored 53 league goals, 78 in all competitions averaging 2.2 goals a game. MSN is the only trio outscoring Higuan, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Calejon across Europe’s top five leagues. Insigne was the first player in Europe’s top five leagues to get double figures for both goals and assists, where as Calejon has nine goals in his last eight appearances. Now if that attack doesn’t scare some Juventini, just remember that you’ll be missing a key defensive figure in Giorgio Chiellini, and Martin Caceres can’t even come in to try and fill the gap left by the Gorilla. We might see the talented young defender Daniele Rugani, sought after by many major clubs, including Napoli.
But the battle won’t be won in either defense or attack; it’ll be won in the midfield. Paul Pogba vs. Marek Hamsik, both players have the ability to flip a game on its head. Claudio Marchisio vs. Jorginho, both tempo setting players that can calm the play down. With Sami Khedira out due to injury, Stefano Sturaro will most likely take his place and go up against the Brazilian rock Allan.
Now let’s look at the Juventus attack, from one Argentinian hit man to another. Paulo Dybala has registered 13 goals and seven assists so far this season. Don’t be fooled by his numbers when compared to Higuan, Dybala is just as potent in attack as Higuan, his feet will make you feel like you’re watching a match played amongst the gods, he glides by the opponents as if they weren’t even there. Mario Mandzukic will be out due to injury but Alvaro Morata and/or Simone Zaza will be able to step in for him.
Come game time, we will see which team will leave it all on the field and hold nothing back. Will it be the best attack in Italy, or the best defense? Will it be the future of Argentina leading the charge or the present of Argentina? Will it be the tactical mastermind Massimiliano Allegri or will it be the aggressive Sarri?
As we head into the Serie A Winter Break, the Scudetto race looks really interesting as the top five teams are separated by only four points. Sandro and Seb break down how each team has done so far and a brief outlook beyond January. The teams are in order of the current Serie A Standings.
1. Inter – Roberto Mancini finds his Inter side with a one-point lead at the top of the table heading into the winter break. While their attack is quite strong with Icardi, Jovetic, Perisic, and Ljajic, 9 of Inter’s 11 wins have come by a one goal margin, including eight 1-0 victories. On the flip side of that, Miranda and Jeison Murillo have slowly become a top class center back pairing and Inter boast the league’s best defense conceding only 11 goals. Defense wins championships and if Inter’s back line continues to perform they’ll be in the Scudetto race until May. Expect Inter to look and sign a midfielder in January. They’ve been linked to Andrea Pirlo (on loan), Mirko Valdifiori, Lucas Biglia and Antonio Candreva. Inter are also trying to close a deal for Boca Juniors youngster Jonathan Calleri and have been linked to PSG’s Ezequiel Lavezzi.
2. Fiorentina – Paulo Sousa has done a fantastic job since taking over for Vincenzo Montella in the summer. La Viola find themselves in 2nd place with 35 points. Sousa has the Florentine club playing attractive, fluid and attacking football. They lead in both average possession per match with 60.1% and pass success rate at 87.1%. Summer signing Nikola Kalinic has already scored 10 league goals. Along with Khouma Babcar and Josip Ilicic, Giuseppe Rossi has struggled to find playing time and he could possibly make a loan move in January. Fiorentina have drawn Tottenham for the Europa League Round of 32, the same exact matchup as last year, which saw La Viola advance. The big question for Fiorentina will be if they can successfully manage both Serie A and the Europa League. They have the talent to finish top 3 but if they go deep into the Europa League, it’ll be difficult to balance both competitions. Expect a few signings to be made as club President Mario Cogini recently has said: “As for the transfer market, we will continue the growth process and have clear ideas. January will be a very important month.”
3. Napoli - What a season it's been for Napoli and Sarri. One of the most entertaining teams to watch not just in Serie A, but in all of Europe. Currently sitting in 3rd just one point back off 1st, the Scudetto is more then just a dream for them, and with Higuian (16 goals in 17 matches) who's stopping them? Napoli are currently Scudetto favorites to some and are playing the best football in Italy in many people’s opinion. They average the 16.9 shots per game, the most in Serie A. Sarri has brought a great balance between the attack and defense, being one of the best in both categories. In January, Napoli will be looking for a midfielder to improve the depth in the midfield. A name coming out of recent reports is Markus Henriksen, who has an amazing 13 goals in 26 games this season for AZ Alkmaar. That's the best goal average for a midfielder in Europe this season. The deal is close to being completed at €7 million according to reports. Napoli are still trying to improve their defense as Juve rejected their €25 million offer for Daniele Rugani and are also pursuing Torino’s Nikola Maksimovic. Ciro Immobile could join his hometown side if Manolo Gabbiadini, with a €25 million price tag, gets sold. Brazilian defender Henrique is set to be sold to Fluminese for €2 million. Other then that, there isn't too much to add to this strong Napoli side.
4. Juventus – The Bianconeri had quite a difficult start to the season picking up only 5 points from their first 6 games and some people had already declared their Scudetto hopes dead. But Max Allegri’s side have won 7 straight Serie A matches and find themselves in 4th place, right in the mix of the Scudetto discussion. The summer signings have stepped up lately, mainly Paulo Dybala, Mario Manzukic and loanee Juan Cuadrado. The defending Serie A champions will have a difficult task on hand as they drew Bayern Munich in the Champions Leauge Round of 16. A return to the Champions League Final may be difficult but Juve certainly have the opportunity to win a 5th consecutive Scudetto. There has been talk of Daniele Rugani & Simone Zaza possibly leaving on loan in January. Juventus have been linked to numerous midfielders including, Ever Banega, Joao Moutinho, Adrien Rabiot, Stefano Sensi and Roberto Soriano but if Kwadwo Asamoah, Sami Khedira and Roberto Pereyra can stay healthy, the Bianconeri might not need a significant winter signing.
5. Roma - Currently sitting 5th, 4 points back of 1st. Roma have probably had the weirdest season in all of Europe. Roma have been up and down all season. With highs such as wins vs. Juve, Bayer Leverkusen, and a draw vs. Barcelona and at one point actually being in 1st place. But then, the lows; 6-1 loss vs. Barcelona, draw and a loss against BATE and a loss at home to Serie B side La Spezia. The low's have put coach Rudi Garcia on the hot seat with nearly all the fans wanting him out and now even the president James Pallotta doubting him. It's still unclear how his future will go. Luciano Spalletti or Antonio Conte after Euro 2016, are big names that could replace Garcia. Regarding the transfer market, €22 million flop Juan Iturbe is if off to EPL club Bournemouth, while Ashley Cole looks set to join the LA Galaxy in MLS. Roma have been linked to Diego Perotti, Jeremain Lens and Stephan El Shaarawy as they look for Iturbe’s replacement. There have been reports that Roma might waive the €11 million Inter would need to pay to purchase Adem Ljajic in exchange for Juan Jesus joining the Giallorossi. Another name for Roma is Alisson, a young Brazilian goalkeeper who could replace Szczesny next season.
6. Milan - One of the most inconsistent teams in Italy. Milan currently sit 6th place and it's very deserved. This team is not bad, but they're just not great. Milan have moments of brilliance where they look like true UCL contenders but then moments where they don't even look Europa League worthy. Another up and down season for Milan as finding stability is still a struggle. A bright spot would be the breakouts of Jack Bonaventura who has his took his game to another level and 16 year-old goalkeeper Donnarumma who is now the starter. This team without a doubt has potential to be good but consistency has held them back. Coach Sinsa Mihajlovic has slowly brought some improvements to the club but will need more time to help return to the Champions League. Going into the transfer market Milan have already brought back Kevin-Prince Boateng to improve the midfield and reports state they will go after Axel Witsel once again. Talks about a Pato return seem unlikely. But in 2016 Milan will get another important figure back and that's Mario Balotelli, who will return from injury. Before his injury Super Mario showed some good signs, which included a wonder goal vs. Udinese. He's been out since September and it's been reported that Balotelli is skipping Christmas holidays to stay at Milanello to work to return to action and we all know if Balotelli is concentrated and fit what he can do on the pitch. Suso is set to leave on loan to Genoa and there have been reports of Diego Lopez wanting out after becoming #2. It'll be interesting to see if Milan can improve and become more consistent in the second half of the season.
7. Sassuolo – Eusebio Di Francesco continues to have success during his fourth season at the club. 27 points from 16 matches and they have not lost consecutive games yet this season. Talented 21-year-old winger Domenico Berardi has only played 640 minutes this season due to both injury and his 3-match suspension. The Italian has received more cards than anyone else over the past 3 seasons and Di Francesco has admitted his disciplinary record is “becoming a problem.” This side has only been trailing for a total of 149 minutes all season, second only to Napoli. Sassuolo averages 18 tackles a game and have only given up 15 goals. If they can stay consistent Di Francesco could lead a gritty Sassuolo side to a surprise Europa League birth but it will be a difficult task. Expect them to finish this season between 7th-10th.
8. Empoli - No Sarri No Problem? That's what Empoli says. Currently Empoli are 8th with 27 points. This is actually an improvement from last season with Sarri. Empoli goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski has just as many clean sheets as Buffon. Empoli have played some of the most entertaining football this season and in large part thanks to guys such as Paredes, Maccacone, Tonelli and Saponara. Coach Marco Giampaolo has done fantastic work in replacing Sarri, in some ways, he's actually currently doing better. In January, Empoli won't do much and why should they? You don't need to fix something that's not broken. They will try to keep Saponara around who has been linked to some of the bigger teams in Italy, but it's likely he stays until June. Keep fighting and keep playing great football.
9. Atalanta – Edy Reja has done well this season despite losing Zappacosta and Baselli to Torino. 23-year-old goalkeeper Marco Sportiello has had another stellar season in net, while this team has some interesting attacking options. German Denis and Mauricio Pinilla are solid striker options, while Alejandro Gomez and Maximiliano Moralez are both nice creative midfielders. Already out of the Coppa Italia, Atalanta can focus solely on Serie A and will look to finish mid-table in the 10th-12th region. Goalkeeper Sportiello has caught the interest of Roma and EPL side Bournemouth. 24-year-old midfielder Marten De Roon has been linked to Milan but has shut down rumors by saying, “Milan? I’m not moving from here.”
10. Lazio - A disappointing season considering where they were last season. Lazio are currently sitting 10th place coming off some horrible results in the past couple months. They ended off on a high note though with a 2-1 win against Inter at the San Siro, which sees coach Stefano Pioli keep his job. This team on paper has what it takes to make top 5 but injures and loss of form has seen this team completely drop. It'll be interesting to see if in 2016 when Serie A restarts if this team could regain the form they had last season. In January the team wants to fix the backline, which has been a problem all season. Some names we've seen of recent are former Liverpool defender Daniel Agger and Dinpro defender Douglas. Another defender is Chelsea's Kurt Zouma but they don't want to match his wages. It's also reported Monaco are 'very' interested in Lazio winger Keita and are willing to offer €15 million. Youngster Onazi also looks set to leave as he's upset with his playing time.
11. Chievo Verona – The Flying Donkeys got off to a flying start grabbing 7 points from their first 3 matches but have cooled off a bit since. Alberto Paloschi, Riccardo Meggorini and Roberto Inglese have been rotating up top well, combining for 13 goals and 9 assists. This is not the traditional Chievo side we usually see, Roberto Maran has this side being somewhat creative going forward. A study done by the CIES Football Conservatory (http://www.football-italia.net/75864/chievo-europes-oldest-serie-second) shows that Chievo Verona has the oldest squad among Europe’s top leagues with an average age of 30.6 years, so hopefully they can keep their legs fresh going into the 2nd half of the season. Expect this Chievo team to finish midtable around 12th place.
12. Torino – 10 points from the first 4 matches saw Giampiero Ventura’s side get off to a nice start but a 6 game winless streak brought them down to the middle of the table. Torino has a very nice core of young Italian players consisting of Daniele Baselli, Davide Zappacosta, Marco Benassi and Andrea Belotti. The Granata’s strongest defenders, Nikola Maksimovic, Kamil Gilk and Bruno Peres, all extended their contracts until 2020. Inter and Roma remain interested in right back Bruno Peres, while Torino have set a €20 million price tag. Head coach Ventura also extended his contract until 2018. They have a game in hand as their match against Sassuolo, which has been rescheduled to January 20th after being postponed. This Torino side has the potential to finish in the top 10 of the table.
13. Udinese – Stefano Colantuono was named the new manager this past summer, replacing Andrea Stramaccioni. The Zebrete kicked off the season with a shock 1-0 victory over Juventus but then lost 4 straight matches. They’ve struggled to find goals, scoring only 15 but Cyril Théréau leads the way with 5 goals and 2 assists. There is also speculation that club legend Antonio Di Natale could retire at the end of the season. 40% of their attack goes down their left flank which may be due to left back Ali Adnan, the first Iraqi player in Serie A, who has looked very impressive. Udinese’s executive President Franco Soldati insists right back Silvan Widmer will stay “for a few years”. Udinese will look to finish mid-table.
14. Sampdoria - A horrible season for the team from Genoa. Going into this season Sampdoria had a lot of hope after making Europa League last season. It has turned out just horrible. Not making it past the qualifying round of Europa and needing to fire coach Walter Zenga for Vincenzo Montella who has only won 1 game since taking over. A season of failures so far with only one bright spot; Eder with 10 goals. He's been one of the best players in Italy this season. This Sampdoria team clearly has potential and a coach who once he settles in could do well. The second half of the season could see Sampdoria fighting back and proving their worth. For the transfer market they've already signed Ricky Alvarez and have been linked with a loan move for Giuseppe Rossi. They have also recently been linked with a triple move for 3 Leicester City players: defender Benalouane, former Napoli midfielder Inler and striker Karmaric. Expect midfielder Roberto Soriano to be linked with a move away from the club for the whole month of January.
15. Bologna – The Rossoblu collected only 3 points in their first 8 matches and Delio Rossi was sacked on October 28th and replaced by Roberto Donadoni. In his 7 games in charge, Bologna has earned 13 points, including a 3-2 victory over Napoli. Since the coaching change, this team has been both more organized and dangerous going forward as Mattia Destro has netted 5 goals under Donadoni. 21-year-old left back Adam Masina is a great young talent who will probably move to a bigger club in the near future. With Donadoni as the man in charge, this team is a lock to avoid relegation.
16. Palermo - Currently sitting 16th in Serie A, Palermo have been very disappointing this season as they are close to potentially making the drop if they don't improve. They definitely miss Dybala! But, the main Palermo problem comes from upstairs. Crazy president Zamparini does and says whatever he wants, but maybe this year it's effecting his team as it has created a horrible negative atmosphere around the club. After firing coach Beppe Iachini, which saw Palermo players take to social media to show their frustration instantly showed you new coach Davide Balladrini wouldn't work out. Only 1 league win and a loss against Serie C side Alessandria in the Coppa Italia show you that. Zamparini as also got into it with his players (regarding the Iachini situation). In January expect Palermo to remain quiet. They haven't been linked with too many moves with the only most recent is a swap for Genoa striker Pandev, seeing Palermo midfielder Rigoni going the other way. Palermo have signed striker Manuel Arteaga from Zulia FC.
17. Genoa - Genoa, just like Roma are in some sort of crisis as we speak. They are currently sitting 17th and are very close to the relegation zone (2 points back). It's been mainly a tough season, which not many expected considering how good they were last year. Some injures and loss of players last summer is apart of that. The losses of Bertolacci, Iago Falque, Borriello & Niang are being felt. Gasperini has a lot of work to do in the second half of the season to save his side from the drop. But, if this form goes on, does Gasperini even last the season? For the market this Genoa team should be looking desperately for a striker. Midfielder Luca Rigoni has already joined from Palermo. A striker who will score is what they need most and they have been one of the teams linked with a famous loan move for Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi. They will also be welcoming in talented Milan midfielder Suso, who will be a huge boast to the side.
18. Frosinone – Newly promoted Frosinone earned their first point ever in Serie A on September 23rd when they tied Juventus 1-1 in Torino. As expected, they have struggled in the top flight and have the league’s worst defense conceding 34 goals. Federico Dionsi is the main man going forward, leading the team with 5 goals and 3 assists. Surviving relegation will be a battle but the Canaries will certainly need to improve their defense.
19. Carpi - The Serie A new boys won't be too sad about this season but also won't be happy. All in all it hasn't been the best but anything is still currently possible. Carpi are currently sitting 19th in Serie A with 10 points but with a half a season still left to play there is still hope for Carpi and it's what keeps coach Fabrizo Castori around still. Also, they're Coppa Italia run is pretty impressive as they are in the last 8 after beating Fiorentina away from home. In January don't expect this team to do much, maybe a couple additions but nothing big. A couple loans at most with Carpi have admitted interest in Napoli youngsters Chalobah, Dezi and Rafael. It's very likely we see Carpi back in Serie B for the 2016/17 season.
20. Hellas Verona – The only team in Serie A without a win sit at the bottom of the table. Luigi Del Neri took over the reins from Andrea Mandorlini on December 1st and has picked up 2 points in his first four matches. 38-year-old legendary striker Luca Toni has 3 goals so far, but has announced his retirement at the end of the season. Hellas have the lowest amount of goals scored with 12, only 2 of those have come from open play. Urby Emanuelson is set to sign with the club after undergoing a medical. This team has looked very poor and while it is possible to avoid relegation, it will be a challenging task.