Here is the suggested lineup for week 14. The scheme is a 3-4-3. Continue reading
Some juicy match-ups this week, there should be plenty of opportunities to score for the top strikers in the League. Continue reading
A 1-0 defeat in Sweden has raised even further the possibility of Italy missing its first World Cup tournament in around 60 years. Former Torino coach Gian Piero Ventura has taken Italy on a roller coaster journey and unfortunately for Azzurri fans it has strictly been a downward spiral with no uptick in fortune.
Below are some of the main points behind Italy’s struggles:
1) Bad results and even poorer performances: The Azzurri were dismantled by Spain with Isco running the show. Things did not get better when Italy managed a 1-1 draw with Macedonia followed by an unconvincing 1-0 win at Albania.
The results were definitely poor but what is more troubling has been the bad performances. Italy’s struggles have been down to multiple factors but much revolves around Ventura’s inability to get the best out of his players.
2) Players are uncertain of what are supposed to do: Imagine you are playing in a decisive play-off match and your team is down by one goal in Sweden, but you are unsure of your role on the pitch! Well, that is exactly how Lorzeno Insigne felt when subbed on with around 15 minutes left on the clock. Ventura played him out of position (again)! One of Italy’s brightest talents this season yet Insigne continues to be played out of position, or to be used in ways which hinder his skills.
3) Selection Nightmare: Ventura’s selection process has been controversial to say the least as he excluded the likes of Napoli’s Jorginho from the entire campaign before finally selecting him for the playoffs against Sweden! Jorginho and Insigne have built a solid understanding while both have played a critical role in Napoli’s rise to the top of Serie A.
Excluding Jorginho may perhaps be forgiven, yet Ventura’s decision to pick Eder defies all odds. Eder cannot start for Inter with stats showing the striker has not made a single start in Serie A- Eder has so far made 9 substitute appearances in Italy’s top flight in the 2017/18 campaign.
Eder’s curious case is but one example. In previous matches, Ventura opted to select Leonardo Spinazzola who had not featured for his club Atalanta during the first 4 matches in the current Serie A season. Thus, Spinazzola was clearly short on match fitness. One disappointing omission is perhaps that of his teammate Mattia Caldara who has been one of the most consistent centre-backs in Serie A over the last 15 months while also showing a knack for scoring goals.
4) Italy’s Age Question: Ventura took over insisting he wants to rejuvenate the side yet he has taken Italy backwards several steps since taking charge.
Performances and results aside, Ventura has also failed to blend in younger faces into the squad. Against Sweden, the likes of Andrea Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi were both selected despite being 36 and 34 years old respectively. While selecting Juventus legend Gianluigi Buffon makes sense considering the vast experience he possesses as a goalkeeper and his much needed leadership, having Barzagli and De Rossi start is confounding. Both cannot cover much space anymore and both would be expected to struggle against a physical Swedish team. However, Ventura decided to start both.
5) Conte vs Ventura: Current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte guided Italy to some solid displays during Euro 2016 despite having a less talented squad at his disposal. Conte’s attack consisted of Eder and Graziano Pellè. Ventura has had the choice of picking between the Best Player in Italy during the Month of October- based on detailed Fantasy Football stats- in the shape of Ciro Immobile and Torino’s top scorer Andrea Belotti. What does Ventura do? He rightfully selects both in his squad, yet mistakenly, again, forces both to play in the Starting XI despite the clear indications the two cannot perform well together.
Conte’s midfield options were rather limited as well, with injury depriving him of key players such as Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio. Ventura can start one or both of the midfielders yet has continued to misuse Verratti, just as he has misused Insigne.
6) Wrong Formation: Ventura used his beloved 4-2-4 formation against Spain and not only did it backfire but it also led to a humiliating defeat in Madrid. Despite lacking the players to produce the result while using a 4-2-4 formation, Ventura continued to press with it. Ventura clearly failed to acknowledge his squad is not suited for 4-2-4.
Against Sweden, he switched to a 3-5-2 yet that backfired as well because of a number of reasons.
7) Confusion, Chaos & Tinkering: You would forgive a coach for making changes during the early stages of his reign, yet for Ventura to reinforce his uncertainty before and during the two-match playoffs against Sweden spells disaster for Italy.
Ventura has yet to settle on a formation and moved to a 3-5-2 for the first game in Sweden while he is expected to change again for Monday’s game in Milan!
The constant change leads to confusion among the players due to the lack of familiarity with the formation. In fact, the Italian team lacked cohesion versus Sweden and struggled to impose its style, that is if Ventura’s Italy did have any style to showcase.
The turnover and changes lead to a lack of stability. Imagine if this happens during critical matches in a playoff battle for qualification for the World Cup.
8) Last but not least, where is the Passion? From the beginning of the World Cup qualifying campaign, Ventura’s Italy has lacked the conviction and determination displayed under his predecessor Conte during Euro 2016.
The current squad lacks confidence too. The instability and the lack of a clear vision under Ventura has also been quite detrimental in terms of motivating the players and building their confidence. The players are clearly not confident and do not seem to trust Ventura’s tactics.
The Italian manager has failed to transmit clear ideas and has not been able to get the best out of his squad. To make matters worse, the lack of a coherent plan has resulted in a lack of commitment and dedication from the players.
To blame everything on Ventura would be a mistake because the first party to be held responsible should be the FIGC for hiring an unqualified coach in the shape of Ventura. Even if Italy turn things around and qualify to World Cup 2018, the Azzurri will be knocked out from the group stage unless drastic changes are introduced starting with the sacking of Ventura.
There is talk that Ventura does not even control the locker room with some hinting the veterans and the more experienced players have had a strong influence on Ventura and his actions. To fire him will result in a much needed jolt and perhaps see the hiring of a well respected manager who can bring order back to the locker room.
Azzurri fans deserve better. Legendary goalkeeper Buffon deserves better. Instead of celebrating a remarkable career by playing in a record 6th World Cup tournament, Buffon may end up watching World Cup 2018 as a retired player.
With some surprises coming in these early stages of the season in Serie A – not least the struggles of AC Milan and Fiorentina – the Italian top flight returned following the international break with plenty of goals on display. Continue reading
With Italy having missed out on automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup and having to settle for a playoff spot, it is now time to take a look at the Azzurri strikeforce and see how the frontmen have been performing for their clubs so far this season.
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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Oh, what it is to be a striker in Serie A. Joining the likes of legends such as Filippo Inzaghi, Hernan Crespo, Christian Vieri etc…..Well, with the Serie A campaign well and truly underway, it’s now time for the forward men in Italy’s top flight to step up and make a name for themselves – or continue doing so, at least.
In an otherwise insipid Italy display in Lille, it was the cameo performance of Lorenzo Insigne which was most impressive.
The Azzurri suffered their first competitive loss under Antonio Conte, going down to Republic of Ireland thanks to Robbie Brady’s late header. From an Italian point of view for the Group E standings the loss was inconsequential. They were already assured of top spot and a Round of 16 meeting with Spain. But the performance will raise question marks, even if there were numerous changes.
Eight, to be exact, from the team which downed Sweden. There were worrying aspects to take from the game. Italy failed to grasp control until after half-time. The passing was poor, which meant few chances were created. Simone Zaza and Ciro Immobile battled, but were feeding off scraps. At the other end the goal was avoidable, as Leonardo Bonucci lost his man and Salvatore Sirigu didn’t come out with any venom. It came at the end of 90 minutes in which the Irish had the better of the game.
Conte said he got a good response from his new faces. Whether this was the line in public is unclear, because Italy were well below what is expected. But Napoli’s Insigne, who came on in the 74th minute for his tournament debut, was a positive. In that time Insigne showed exactly why there has been a clamour for him to start. He looked threatening and helped put the Irish defence under some pressure. He came close to opening the scoring with a curling shot which bounced off the post. In 16 minutes he was able to do more than Zaza and Immobile combined in giving the Azzurri a presence in the final third.
Could that be enough for a start against Spain? Probably not. Conte has not been the biggest Insigne fan and his decision to start Eder from the opening whistle against both Belgium and Sweden despite poor form domestically gives an indication. Conte likes what he does in tandem with the central forward and his work off the ball. That’s important for the boss, who doesn’t see Insigne as such a hard worker.
But Insigne has the touch of quality Italy need in the tournament. Not just against Spain, but if they are to progress, with the possibility of Germany and France to come. In a tough half of the Euro 2016 knockout draw, the Azzurri could use somebody like Insigne to unlock a tight match. Unlike others, he showed enough against Ireland to suggest he can do that.