In Part III of our interview with Rav Gopal we continue to focus on Juventus. Rav was gracious enough to make ample time to engage in our extended Q&A covering all things Juve. His valuable knowledge goes beyond being an ardent fan of Serie A, specifically Juve, to the founding of JuveFC.com. Rav has dedicated years to the upkeep and growth of the popular site covering his beloved club.
Q1) Juve built a reputation of signing players for free, or for a bargain fee. Who do you see as Juve’s next bargain signing?
Q2) Would you say Gonzalo Higuain is worth the 90m fee paid to secure his move from Napoli?
I do not think any player is worth 90m, but Higuain was what Juve were missing for quite some time, maybe since David Trezeguet left: A consistent striker who guarantees 20 goals a season. Carlos Tevez offered that to a certain extent, but he also played deeper – Higuain is the fox in the box that we lacked in the team. Considering the crazy money spent this summer, perhaps 90m is not so bad after all.
Q3) One team you would like Juve to avoid meeting in the knock-out stages of the Champions League (before the Final)?
Real Madrid- despite the poor start to the Spanish League, they are still a ruthless side as Juve fans know all too well.
Q4) One team you would prefer Juve avoid playing in the Champions League final (if they make it)?
Barcelona- I suspect they will only improve as the season goes on and with Lionel Messi on the pitch, anything is possible.
Q5) We have seen or heard about Edinson Cavani & Neymar having that infamous dispute over who takes a penalty-kick… if you had a choice, would you pick Cavani or Neymar for Juve?
Cavani, simply because I cannot tolerate Neymar. For all his talent, Neymar is a diver and a poor example as a footballer. Everything from his antics to the way his transfer was conducted, I find abhorrent. People may think I am being too dramatic, but I think the game has changed for the worse over the course of the last few years and Neymar is an example of how it has changed to the worse.
Q6) How about former Juve boss Antonio Conte. How good is he? He won the English Premier League title at first try but do you consider him to be tactically savvy? Is he superior to Max Allegri?
Conte has improved a great deal during his time with the Italian national team. There were aspects of his character that I disliked at Juve from acting petulant at times to the way he was so guarded and aloof at times, particularly with the press. He seems to have mellowed slightly and has become a little more self-deprecating. He has a specific system that he prefers to use and it does work well, but he has his limitations as well as we saw at Juve. I do not think he has surpassed Allegri yet, because Max is still able to adapt to almost any situation. He can think outside of the box to win games while Conte can be set in his ways.
Exploiting favorable match-ups is always a good idea when picking the lineup. Continue reading
Napoli continue to lead Serie A following the latest round of matches, with Juventus hot on their heels. Continue reading
France Football released the list of the 30 finalists for Balloon d’Or yester and Serie A is featured with five players: Leonardo Bonucci, Gianluigi Buffon, Paulo Dybala, Edin Dzeko and Dries Mertens. It is the best result for the league since 2007, when it had 9 candidates and Milan’s Kakà brought home the award thanks to the success in Champions League. In 2016, Serie A had only three nominees. As expected, Liga and Premier League had the strongest performances with 11 and seven players respectively; Bundesliga have three, Ligue 1 four. Club-wise, Real Madrid dominates with seven contenders, while Juventus have the second most, alongside Barcelona, with three.
It is a good result for the league and it is a well-deserved recognition for the elite performance of its best players. Mertens and Dzeko went toe-to-toe in the leading scorer race: the Roma forward won out with 29 goals in 37 games, while the Belgian attacker finished with 28 in 35 appearances. Achievements worthy of the highest echelon of European strikers. Both have been on a tear at the start of the season as well. It is even a more remarkable result for the Napoli attacker considering that he fully transitioned to centre-forward only at the beginning of 2017.
Juventus are rewarded for their Champions League run, which unfortunately ended with another lost final, and for the historic sixth title in a row. They built their success on strong defending and therefore Buffon and Bonucci are obvious choices, even though the defender was not as good after his move to Milan. Had the Bianconeri lifted the big-eared trophy, the goalkeeper could have maybe crowned his legendary career with the coveted prize. Paulo Dybala is on the list as well, mostly because of his stunning start of the season: he has already tallied 12 goals. He was obviously instrumental to Turin club a year ago as well, but not as prolific.
The only notable snub from Serie A is Gonzalo Higuain: he finished fourth in the scorers’ chart, with 25 goals, but reaching the UCL final could have pushed him in the list. His lack of scoring in the later stages of the main European competition, even though he did decide the first leg of semi-final against Monaco with a brace, and his struggles with Argentina likely kept him out. Andrea Belotti had a magnificent year as well, but he does not have the name power of his more illustrious colleagues yet.
Cristiano Ronaldo is fully expected to win his fifth Balloon d’Or, with his arch-rival Lionel Messi coming in second. The race for the third place is open and Juventus could be given a token spot, with Buffon being the logical candidate and Dybala the flashiest one. However, there are plenty of deserving players in the star-studded list and rewarding another Real Madrid player, Toni Kroos or Luka Modric for instance, would obviously not be a bad choice either.
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Argentina will later tonight take a major step towards qualifying for Russia 2018, or will face the unthinkable and miss on qualifying for the World Cup. It is almost shocking to see a team featuring the likes of Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero (currently injured following the accident in Amsterdam), Inter’s Mauro Icardi (though added in most recent months to the squad), Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain (excluded in recent matches) as well as Juve’s emerging star Paulo Dybala and of course Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.
Argentina has an embarrassment of riches in attack yet the national team continues to struggle to find the back of the net, with only Bolivia having scored less goals in CONMEBOL qualifiers (with just 2 games left for each team). It is definitely a failure when one considers the options in midfield as well with the likes of Paris Saint-Germain duo Angel di Maria and Javier Pastore on the team as well.
Tonight is a must win game for Argentina with Peru the visiting team. Peru and Argentina are tied on 24 points yet the Peruvians are ahead in 4th place because they have scored more goals (despite both teams having a +1 in goal differential).
Will Argentina look for Messi time and again, as the Peruvian defenders will expect, or will La Albiceleste surprise everyone and try to spread the responsibility to different players? Messi will remain the focal point for the Argentinians, but will the team succeed in securing the win with Aguero sidelined, Higuain excluded and the coach indicating he will not start Dybala because he feels he is too similar to Messi?
It is a must win game for Argentina and most likely all eyes will be on Messi. Win and he will be hailed as a hero, but lose and once again he will be held responsible by some for the national team’s failures. In reality it has been a difficult situation for Messi with Argentina because of the high expectations and, at times, the unfair criticism.
After a very busy 20-day stretch, Serie A has reached the second international break, so it is the right opportunity to take a breather and examine where things are at, especially on top of the table. The start of the season has had more confirmations than surprises and the real contenders have already been able to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Napoli are alone on top of the standings as they have been perfect so far: 7 wins out of 7. It is the culmination of two years of work under Maurizio Sarri. The Partenopei take great advantage of the most prolific attack in Europe: Dries Mertens, José Maria Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne have insane chemistry and Marek Hamsik broke his unusual drought. They have scored at least three goals in every domestic game. The Azzurri had some troubles only in the home game against Atalanta and on the road in Ferrara, but they managed to come out of top in both occasions. Arkadiusz Milik has not been missed as they have so many weapons on the roster.
Juventus could have easily been on top as well, had they not fumbled away a win that was within reach in Bergamo: they had a 0-2 lead and also missed the 2-3 penalty late in the game. The Bianconeri have not necessarily looked as commanding as Napoli, but they got the job done most of the time. Without Leonardo Bonucci, the defence has not been as air-tight as in the past, but the high-powered offered is carrying them. Paulo Dybala is Serie A’s leading scorer, Gonzalo Higuain got out of the short slump and Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado have contributed greatly: they even have room for improvement once Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi will be fully integrated. Newcomers Blaise Matuidi and Rodrigo Bentancur have been very helpful in light of the injuries in the midfield.
Inter have collected as many points as Juventus: the Nerazzurri had an explosive start, dismantling Fiorentina and Roma at San Siro, but then tailed off a little, but only from the performance standpoint, because the satisfactory results kept coming. The last three wins against low-table teams have either arrived late or been narrower than expected: the attack has plateaued, but they have been able to manufacture random goals. They have great goalkeeping and a rock-solid defence and Milan Skriniar has been as stout as they could have hoped.
Lazio and Roma are slightly behind as they have already lost a game. The Biancocelesti succumbed against Napoli mostly due to defensive injuries, but their latest run has been nothing short of amazing: without most of their centre-back and half of their attack, as Felipe Anderson and Luis Nani have been non-factors due to physical ailments, they have been automatic against the smaller clubs. Simone Inzaghi and Ciro Immobile are the main actors, Luis Alberto is the revelation that solved a lot of problems upfront. Roma are surging: they have played one fewer match because the Sampdoria fixture has been postponed, but after the loss against Inter they have resembled their last season’s selves. Edin Dzeko is scoring at will and the backline is very solid. Eusebio Di Francesco has been able to come up with creative solutions to deal with a slew of injuries and their play has not suffered. If the teams on top slowed down, they could be in the running for Scudetto.
Serie A will return with a bang in two weeks: Juventus will host Lazio, Roma will square off at home against Napoli and it will be time for the Milan derby. The Rossoneri have quickly dropped out of the title race as they are dealing with chemistry and defensive issues, but the game against Inter could be an opportunity to gain some ground in the table and advance their candidacy for a Champions League spot, but they need to turn things around quickly.
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