It was a good week for midfielders as several of them managed to score in the two games played. Continue reading
In Week 10, two defenders separated themselves from the rest of the pack, while there is a plethora of players tied for second place. Continue reading
A busy week in the Italian League as the teams played twice in three days. Continue reading
It has not been an easy start of the season for young goalkeepers in Serie A. There have been a couple of highpoints, but most of them are stuck on bad teams and have inevitably conceded several goals. The two best ones are relatively surprising. Lazio’s Tomas Strakosha came out of nowhere last season after an injury to Federico Marchetti, but firmly managed to beat out the veteran goalie afterwards. A very explosive player, he has capped off a terrific start with a game-winning save on a Paulo Dybala penalty in Juventus-Lazio.
Roma’s Alisson has not had the same flashy plays but, after a year as an understudy behind Wojciech Szczesny, he has been extremely reliable. He has improved his game, eliminating the small blunders of the past. It also helps that Roma has had so far one of the best defensive phases in the League: they have allowed only five goals, tied with Inter and Napoli as league’s best.
Gianluigi Donnarumma is obviously a generational talent and he is head and shoulder above the other prospects. Unfortunately, Milan’s defence has been very leaky and he has not been able to save the day. After an incredible 2016/2017, a slight regression could be justifiable, but he was not severely at fault in any of the 13 goals already conceded by the Rossoneri. He will have plenty of suitors next summer if Milan does not qualify to Champions League.
Mattia Perin has become an established name in Serie A: at 24-year-old, his acrobatic and daring style has proved to be effective. Knee injuries have slowed him down in the past, but if he had a clean year from that standpoint it could be time for him to make the jump to a bigger club. Alessio Cragno returned to Cagliari as a starter after a productive loan spell at Benevento: he has shown some flashes, but he has been a little inconsistent and has had to endure a couple of small physical ailments. The Sardinian club has also one of the worst backlines in Serie A.
Alex Meret is supposed to be the next great Italian goalkeeper, alongside Donnarumma, unfortunately he has yet to play this season because of the dreaded sports hernia. Alfred Gomis has started in his place at Spal so far and has been serviceable. Meret is owned by Udinese, like Simone Scuffet, whom Udinese gave the starting job this summer over Orestis Karnezis. However, the youngster has not been able to recapture his 2013/2014 form, when he had an impressive debut in Serie A. A few big mistakes costed him his spot, which has been given to the experienced Albano Bizarri.
There are a couple of talented goalkeepers still regularly sitting on the bench. Lukazs Skorupski was excellent last season at Empoli and he was Roma’s fall-back plan if Alisson disappointed, but that has not happened and they might be better off moving him in January. Pierluigi Gollini has played here and there at Atalanta, but Etrit Berisha has still a firm grip on the starting job.
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The relegation race in Serie A is mostly going as planned: the freshly promoted teams, Benevento, Hellas Verona and Spal, are knee-deep into it, alongside a couple of sides that have gravitated in those positions in the past, such as Cagliari and Genoa. The only mild surprises are Udinese and especially Sassuolo, which were expected to be a tad better and avoid troubles. The season is long and they will probably pull away in the upcoming months, leaving the battle to the first five.
There have already been a couple of head-to-head matches down there and Crotone showed they have a little advantage over the other contenders. In the last two games, the Sharks easily defeated Benevento at the Scida stadium and then came away from Ferrara with a tie. Two massive results. Spal built last season’s promotion on their home performances and they will struggle mightily if they do not rack up points at the Mazza stadium: they still looked better than a couple of competitors, but their road map is clear and the opportunities are slim. Hellas Verona and Benevento have looked very disorganized and have been heavily hit by the injury bug.
Crotone lost a good amount talent in the summer, because their best players were either on loan, such as Diego Falcinelli and Lorenzo Crisetig, or because they sold them before or during the season and then temporarily took them back, like Gianmarco Ferrari and Leonardo Capezzi. However, they have worked well in the summer and managed to replace almost all of them.
Crotone confirmed Davide Nicola on the bench, and they could not have done otherwise after the incredible late comeback last season. As a result, they have a clear idea of who they are and what they need to do. They have a basic tactic and a straightforward game plan: they will be end up being outplayed by better teams more often than not, but they always put up a fight and have more experience in these situations. They are scrappy.
In the summer, they brought in several players, almost in a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” type of mentality. Arlind Ajeti seems to have overtaken Leandro Cabrera as starting centre-back: he does not have Ferrari’s upside, but he is a gritty defender. Marco Davide Faraoni is more solid than Mario Sampirisi. Rolando Mandragora has been as good as anticipated: a highly touted prospect at Genoa, he suffered a couple of big injuries, but now that he is being given consistent playing time he is back on track. The midfield duo with Andrea Barberis is sneaky interesting. They could find at least one more solid contributor in the crop of remaining newcomers: Daniel Pavlovic, Oliver Kragl, Stefan Simic, Giovanni Crociata and Aristoteles Romero.
The one area they definitely need to improve is in the attack: they scored only four goals, all in the last three games. The coach is still searching for the right combination, but it has been difficult to replace Diego Falcinelli. The returning Ante Budimir has not been as efficient as in Serie B, Marcello Trotta has surprisingly been given little playing time, and Simy is mostly an off-the-bench, late game weapon, but he does have intriguing skills given his size. The coach seems to prefer having a pure centre-forward and a second-striker, but Aleksandar Tonev and Andrea Nalini have both spent time on the shelf and have not find the right condition yet. If Budimir does not work, Nalini-Trotta could be the most explosive couple or they could try Adrian Stoian there as well. Unfortunately, Marco Tumminello suffered an ACL tear: they desperately wanted a youngster who could provide a spark and maybe play more carefreely, without being burdened by the standings. They missed out on Patrick Cutrone, but the Roma striker looked promising and already scored: he could be helpful down the stretch.
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With another set of Serie A matches in the history books, it is now time to see just which attackers in the Italian top flight performed particularly well last weekend.
The deadline day in Italy mostly went as expected, with teams finalizing the deals they had already in place. There was however one were unexpected transition: Udinese sold Cyril Thereau to Fiorentina. It was not a financial decision, as they fetch only mere €1.5M for the 34-year-old forward. The Frenchman has been a staple in the starting XI for four seasons, combining well with either Antonio Di Natale or Duvan Zapata: despite his size, Thereau is a second striker/left winger, whose primary job is to connect the midfield and the attack and feed his offensive partner. He is no stranger to scoring himself, tallying double-digit goals in every season with Bianconeri.
Udinese’s brass has been vocal about the sale, indicating that some tactical and technical reasons were behind it. The sporting director Manuel Gerolin commented: “It was a hard and mindful decision. The current structure of the team needed one pure centre-forward.” They signed Maxi Lopez from Torino to replace Thereau, who is said to be in great shape but has not done much in the last two seasons.
The coach Luigi Delnari stated: “I endorsed the choice to sell Thereau. When you build a team, you can not look only at the single player. He could have scored some goals like in the past, but he did not involve or improve his teammates. On that front, Maxi Lopez is better. We were at the point we were tolerating Thereau’s movements, rather than supporting them. It was no longer endurable.”
The explanations barely hold up. It is true that Udinese have only one big and tall striker, newcomer Riad Bajic, acquired from Konyaspor for €5.5M, who will need some time adapt. Kevin Lasagna and Stipe Perica are more mobile forwards and the fit next to Thereau was shaky, but they could have taken more time to work on it. Perica is well-built and could have maybe grown into a more traditional centre-forward with more consistent playing time, which he has never been given since his move to Italy.
The main hole will be in the creativity and unpredictability areas, where Thereau excelled. He provided that extra zing to their offense, he started most of the actions. Lasagna and Perica can wander around, but they do not have the finesse, the quality feet and the vision of the Frenchman. Delneri could be forced to come up with new solutions to fill the inventive void. The first one could be moving from his hybrid 4-4-2/4-3-3 to a diamond lineup, with Rodrigo De Paul as no.10. If that did not suffice, 4-3-2-1 could be in the cards, with Antonin Barak, who just joined from Slavia Praha, or Andrija Balic as De Paul’s partner behind the lone striker. A scheme that would render some of the recent acquisitions up front superfluous.
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Serie A’s European race came to an exciting conclusion on Saturday, as the race for second spot shifted between Napoli and Roma. The Partenopei started in second, but after Roma netted at Milan had to go on the charge against Frosinone. Gonzalo Giguain’s hat-trick helped them to a Champions League group stage position.
A day later it was all about survival. Palermo sat in 17th, a point clear of Carpi. At home to already-relegated Verona, Palermo were expected to get the win required. Carpi had to go to Udinese, who had nothing to play for other than to send departing club legend Antonio Di Natale off on a high.
Controversy surrounded Verona’s trip south. Serie A’s parachute payments for relegated teams ensured Hellas stood to make more money if Palermo survived. Carpi pressured the League to keep a close eye on proceedings. But any suggestion Verona would simply lie down proved incorrect.
Palermo did win. So too Carpi. The Rosaneri survived, but only just. An awful campaign had a nerve-tingling ending, but credit should go to coach Davide Ballardini and his team for leaping the hurdles set before them from within.
This is Ballardini’s second stint on the bench, taking part in a coaching merry-go-round which made Palermo a laughing stock. His first reign took a shocking twist away to Verona in January as a major rift developed between him and the players. For all intents and purposes, captain Stefano Sorrentino led the team at the Stadio Bentegodi, while Ballardini stood emotionless on the sidelines.
They seemed to bury the hatchet and Sorrentino was one of Palermo’s stars in the latter weeks. They won three of their last five matches to survive. Enzo Maresca was another to stand up when it mattered most. Frozen out by Ballardini earlier in the season, his looping header minutes after Verona equalised sent Palermo on their way. Alberto Gilardino’s goal then sealed the win, although Verona made the last moments interesting by pulling one back.
Relief fell over the Stadio Renzo Barbera at full-time. Players, coaches and fans rejoiced at the end of a difficult season. All have endured the incomprehensible whims of President Maurizio Zamparini, which nearly took Palermo down. They went through nine different coaching stints. The team could never settle under a regime.
That they survived was testament to the willpower of the players, and Ballardini, to persevere. Carpi deserve praise for their gallant effort. But Palermo’s season must be a warning for Zamparini: such a campaign cannot be the norm.