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Serie A

The Future of Serie A

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Over the past few years, the glamour and spice of Serie A has gradually been deteriorating. The Italian top flight was the hub of European football just a few years ago, where players dreamt of playing. Teams that were flying top of the league, and competing in the Champions League have now found themselves falling to mid table. But the Italians have a strong hope of a comeback, with the youth that are coming through the ranks. These youngsters have been showing huge promise with their respective clubs and look to break through into the first team in the next few months. And with the Premier League having a history of importing talent from Italy, I have a look at which English club they would suit.

Jorginho

Brazilian born central midfielder Jorginho has represented Italy at the vast majority of youth ranks following his families migration during his childhood. Starting his career at Verona, he had two incredible seasons, playing a big part in their promotion before proving himself in Serie A. A number of the big clubs were interested at the end of this debut season in the top flight. Napoli won the chase and signed the 20-year-old at the beginning of the 2014/15 season. Since, he has broken into the first team and has impressed. Clearly, there is a huge potential in Jorginho and his excellent distribution and vision has seen him play an intricate part of the Napoli team. However, his weakness has been exploited this season, as at times he has been seen as physically weak, but we have certainly seen a glimpse of his future.

Premier League team: Manchester United. Jorginho would fit in well at Manchester United in the future, an Ander Herrera like player, he suits their style, formation and style of play. He would definitely add some spark from the central midfield areas for the Red Devils.

Alvaro Morata

Again, 22-year-old Morata has broken into the Juventus first team this season. The Spanish striker joined from Real Madrid in the summer for a hefty fee of 20 Million Euro. The Spaniard has represented his country at all youth levels and has already made two first team appearances, and he already looks to be a player with a huge future both at club and international level. Standing at 6ft 3in, he’s a big presence in the box, and is incredibly dangerous in the air. After coming through the Real Madrid academy, he made 37 appearances for them and netting 10 times, before sealing a move to the Serie A leaders last summer. In his debut season so far, he has appeared in 17 games and has scored 5 goals, whcih has showed fans in Italy that he is up to the challenge, and has shown glimpses of his goalscoring ability.

Premier League team: Any. Morata has shown that he can fit in anywhere. It is pretty certain that this trend would continue in the Premier League, and that he would be a perfect snap for any Premier League team wanting a goalscorer.

Domenico Berardi

20-year-old attacker Domenico Berardi has been spending the last two seasons on loan to his team of origin, Sassuolo, from Juventus. Berardi can play in pretty much any attacking position, and has been playing down the left, right and centre for Sassuolo. The Italian has also represented his country at U21, and has impressed when playing. He came through Sassuolo’s academy, before being bought by Juventus for 4.5 Million Euro. However, Juventus loaned him back to Sassuolo for two years, where he has impressed even further for them, scoring 21 goals in his stay. In his time he has shown that he can finish chances as well as create them and he also has built up a reputation of being a set piece specialist. However, he has been seen as quite weak on the ball, but this can be worked on. It is likely that he will join Juventus next year and play regularly for them.

Premier League team: Spurs. A Christian Eriksen like player, he would fit in well at Spurs, playing in their style. He looks like a Spurs type of player and in my opinion, would be a revelation in the Premier League.

Mateo Kovacic

20-year-old Kovacic has been a sensation at Inter, having already made 60 appearances for them. His form at club level alerted his international side, Croatia, and is also a regular in the Croatian national team, still at the tender age of 20. A central midfielder, who also plays as a holding midfielder, he has netted 4 times for Inter in his stay, after joining from Dynamo Zagreb. It was at Zagreb where his career started, and at a very early age, he was making appearances for their first team. However, in 2013 Inter Milan signed him and has really impressed. He has already been tipped for really big things in the game, and some even say that he has the potential to be the worlds next top player. Big Premier League clubs have been interested in him, including Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool.

Premier League team: Manchester United. Having been linked with them for a move, he would also fit in to their system, much like Jorginho. A very astute dribbler and passer, he has the glamour to make the cut for Louis Van Gaal’s side.

Keita Balde Diao

19-year-old winger, Keita, has already broken into the first team at Lazio. The Spanish speedster started his career at the Barcelona academy, but after an incident in their youth ranks he was loaned to Cornella as a punishment when he was just 15 years old. Barcelona then refused to accept him back into their youth side, so Lazio pounced. In the last two seasons he has been extremely successful, playing in 35 games, and scoring 5. He has shown that already he has a lot to offer the Serie A side, so the best is yet to come with Keita. He is extremely pacey, and can get down the wing fast, but to really get to the top level he needs to improve his crossing. He usually plays as a left winger, as he can cut inside well, but at times he has been utilised as a right winger.

Premier League team: Arsenal. Rumours in the past have linked Arsene Wenger with a move for Keita, and it would make sense as his style of play fits Arsenal. His creative ability needs to be worked on but he has the potential to be a big star.

M’Baye Niang

The 20-year-old French winger is an U21 Regular for the French and same with Keita, he can play on either wing. He has even been played as an out and out striker by Genoa. His dribbling and crossing skills are both very strong, and he can finish chances very well. He came through French side Caen’s academy, before joining Milan. Since, Milan have sent him on loan back to France at Montpellier, and most recently Genoa. Where in his second game he scored a brace to help in their 5-2 win over Verona. From 2012 he has also played in 30 games for AC Milan, but looks to have a huge future ahead of him. Under all the depression of Milan’s downfall, at least Niang provides a fresh spark.

Premier League Team: Southampton. He seems like a perfect Southampton player, he is fast, quick and can finish. Southampton are known to like a fast winger, and Niang can show this.

Alessio Romagnoli

The 20-year-old centre-back has been on loan at Sampdoria from Roma and has represented Italy at U21 level. He has been at Roma for his whole youth career and played 13 games for them last season. However, this season he was shipped out on loan to Sampdoria where he has played a huge part in Sampdoria’s impressive first half of the season. His defensive work has been brilliant, and for a 20 year old, his composure has been extremely impressive. He has shown maturity in his defensive work and standing at 6ft 2 inches, he’s strong and is dangerous in the air.

Premier League Team: Manchester City. The defender would fit in well at City, as he is a centre-back made to star in their back four, which has been weak in the past few seasons.

Mauro Icardi

Finally, 21 year old striker Mauro Icardi is probably the single best youngster in Serie A. Icardi was at Barcelona from 2008-2011 as a youth player, before joining Sampdoria in 2011. Here he broke into the first team at just 19 years old. He made 33 appearances and scored 11 goals in Serie A, where he was spotted and bought by Inter for a reported fee of 12 Million Euro. However, he did not disappoint at The Old Lady scoring 22 goals in 44 games. The Argentinian striker has already made an appearance for his country following representation at all youth levels. His finishing and pace have both been huge factors in his hype this year.

Premier League Team: Chelsea. Chelsea is a clear Premier League Team for Icardi, seeing as Chelsea have made clear interest in the last few months. However, they face tough competition from Manchester United, as the big guns battle it out for the wonderkid.

A struggling QPR fan that still travels the country supporting the team, for some unknown reason.

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Italy

Where does Andrea Pirlo rank amongst the greats of his generation?

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Andrea Pirlo

If you asked any football fan to list the top players of the century, there is surely no doubt that Andrea Pirlo would be near the top on the majority of them. 

Having announced his retirement from the game aged 38 earlier this month, the Italian has amassed over 20 winners’ medals, including the Champions League in 2003 and 2007, and the World Cup in 2006.

He has been named Serie A Player of the Year on three separate occasions as well as being named in the FIFPro World XI in 2006, and the UEFA team in 2012.

Pirlo was instrumental in guiding Milan to the 2005 Champions League final, although they lost on penalties – he stated that he considered quitting after that game given the way Milan lost the match, having gone 3-0 up, showing his passion and will to win.

He was then was voted the third best player at the following year’s World Cup as Italy won the competition.

As a player, Pirlo never relied on physicality, and was not a heavy goalscorer, with his highest tally in any campaign being for Milan in 2002/03, where he scored nine goals.

That was only his second season at Milan, having been transferred from close rivals Inter for £10 million.

His move coincided with the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti, who was one of the biggest influences on Pirlo’s development as a player.

Under Ancelotti, Milan and Pirlo won the Serie A, Champions League, Coppa Italia and the UEFA Super Cup all in a four-year spell.

In terms of his playing style, it was his passing that set him apart from the majority of players, as well as his vision, which made him into one of the world’s greatest deep-lying playmakers.

Probably the two closest comparisons to Pirlo in terms of modern-day players are Xavi and Andres Iniesta, both of Barcelona.

Pirlo nearly joined Barcelona under Pep Guardiola in 2010, but Milan refused to sell him despite the Italian’s reported interest in the move. Had he made the move to Spain, Pirlo could have added another dimension to what was already an unstoppable Barcelona side.

He, instead, made the move to Italian giants Juventus, where, despite being at the age of 33 when he signed in 2011, was still a star performer for a side that has dominated Italy for years.

He won four consecutive Serie A titles with the Bianconeri, and carried on playing for his national team until Euro 2016, albeit less regularly towards the end of his career.

His non-selection for that competition by the now-Chelsea manager Antonio Conte signalled the end of his international career, with his record standing at 116 games, 13 goals for his country.

The peak of Pirlo’s career came before his move to New York City last year, although he still made 60 appearances for the club up until his retirement.

In terms of where he ranks amongst the greatest of this generation, you could argue for numerous players to take that accolade.

Pirlo and Xavi were match winners and were crucial in any success their team had – you could argue that Xavi had the toughest task in being the man, alongside Iniesta, entrusted with transforming Barcelona into a tiki-taka style team under the stewardship of Guardiola.

However, Pirlo was unable to settle fully at Inter, leaving to join rivals Milan, and even despite his impact on the club over the years, the Rossoneri board let the Italian go on a free transfer in 2011, where he continued to thrive at Juventus.

The likes of Lampard and Steven Gerrard, as well as Zinedine Zidane, cannot be underestimated based on their contributions to their clubs, but overall Andrea Pirlo would rightly be near the top of any list of the greatest midfielders of this century.

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Manchester City

Three talking points from Manchester City’s impressive victory over Napoli

Jake Jackman

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Manchester City

The two meetings between Manchester City and Napoli were billed as must-watches when the Champions League draw was made. The first was entertaining and saw the Premier League side record a home victory, but today’s match at the San Paulo bettered it for spectacle and exciting football. The Serie A leaders started like a house on fire and took the lead after a spell of sustained pressure through Lorenzo Insigne. The visitors bounced back thanks to a Nicolas Otamendi header before half-time. From that stage, they controlled the game and looked the better side, earning a deserved 3-2 win to put them into the next round of the competition. Here are three talking points from the match:

Manchester City are good enough to win the Champions League

The Champions League campaign of the 2016/17 season was a disappointing one and marked Pep Guardiola’s worst in the competition. Manchester City competed well in the group stages, but fell to a defeat in the round of 16 to Monaco. The second leg will have frustrated the City boss as his side fell behind early and failed to react in a convincing fashion. On Wednesday, the early stages were reminiscent of the match at the Stade Louis II, but this time, the Citizens bounced back and got back on level terms before half-time.

After half-time, they kicked on and showed their dominance with some great football. It was important to get an early goal to put themselves into the lead and they showed their ability to react again after being pulled back to 2-2. Guardiola will be pleased by the way that the team managed the game after they scored the third. They kept the ball well and tired Napoli before adding a fourth. This performance sent a message to the rest of Europe. Manchester City are serious contenders for the Champions League.

Napoli are serious contenders for the Serie A title

The Italian team bounced back to the European stage at a similar time to Manchester City and these two sides played out two great matches during the 2011/12 season. Napoli came out on top and qualified for the round of 16 on that occasion. Since then, the Neopolitans have been trying to progress into a team capable of winning major honours. Their last Serie A title came in 1990 and there had been hope of breaking that duck in the near future.

This current Napoli team look the most ready to put an end to that run. Maurizio Sarri is one of the best coaches in Europe and comes from the Pep Guardiola school of football. The Manchester City praised his opposite number in the build-up to this match and he would have been left impressed by the football played by the Italians. They went toe-to-toe with the Premier League leaders and provided them with their toughest test of the season so far.

Guardiola understands the importance of set-pieces

The focus of this season has been the excellent brand of football being played by Manchester City. They are scoring a lot of goals and playing teams off the park on a weekly basis. However, Pep Guardiola hasn’t ignored the importance of set-pieces and they were responsible for the first two City goals on Wednesday. Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones both chipped in with goals and that will please their manager.

West Brom and sides like that have been criticised for their reliance on set-pieces, but the reason lesser teams choose to function on them is that they can be heavily practiced. It is possible to perform open play drills, but situations can’t be predicted from game to game. Set pieces can and Manchester City are clearly using them effectively to add to their goal threat.

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Chelsea

Three talking points from Chelsea’s three-goal defeat to Roma

Jake Jackman

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Roma

Chelsea fell to a disappointing defeat away to Roma on Tuesday night in the Champions League. There had been a lot of supporters hoping that the Blues would gain a positive result in Italy and move one step closer to qualification, but they failed to do that with a miserable display. They remain in a strong position in the group thanks to Atletico Madrid failing to beat Qarabag for the second time, but they will be disappointed with the result and performance on Tuesday. Here are three talking points from the match:

Antonio Rudiger was a disappointment

The summer signing has shown flashes of his ability during the last few weeks and was starting to establish himself as a first-team regular until this performance. The German international made an awful mistake for the second goal as he let a through ball pass him without any effort to clear it. This allowed Stephan El Shaarawy to pick up the ball unchallenged and score his second of the night. It is difficult to say what the defender was thinking and it will be an error that Antonio Conte won’t forget in a hurry.

Chelsea have a lot of options at centre-back and for that reason, Rudiger will be fearing for his place. Cesar Azpilicueta is arguably the team’s most reliable defender, but he was used at right wing-back today. Meanwhile, Andreas Christensen has a lot of potential and could be afforded another opportunity as a result of the German’s poor performance against Roma. The mistake came at an awful time for the Premier League side as it allowed the hosts to take a two-goal lead into half-time.

Stephan El Shaarawy reminded the world of his talent

The Italian had long been tipped for greatness since breaking through at AC Milan. However, he failed to kick on at the San Siro before a disappointing loan spell with Monaco saw him move back to Italy as he joined Roma. The attacker scored an excellent first goal from distance to give the side an early lead before adding to his tally with a smart finish before half-time. This match-winning display came just days after his winner against Bologna in Serie A.

At the age of 25, there is still time for the Italian international to develop into a great player in Serie A and in European competition. He will be full of confidence after his success during the last few days and seems ready to establish himself in the Roma team. Mo Salah was a big loss to the side during the summer, but they now have a player with enough quality to step up and replace him. The next step will be for the player to show consistency and truly emerge as one of the club’s most important players.

Chelsea miss N’Golo Kante

The midfielder has been a winner since arriving in England, having won back-to-back Premier League titles with Leicester City and Chelsea. It seemed too simplistic to attribute both triumphs to Kante being in the side, but the Foxes’ decline last season and the recent struggles at Stamford Bridge underline the quality of the French international. He has missed the entirety of October and the Blues don’t look the same side without him, as they are conceding too many clear-cut chances and failing to dominate matches.

It is extremely difficult to play with a two-man midfield and to succeed, it needs to have the right blend of individuals. Kante’s relentless energy and ball-winning ability makes him perfect for it, but Chelsea don’t have a like-for-like replacement for him, which is why their results have been poor during his absence. They have conceded 11 goals in six matches without the Frenchman and kept only one clean sheet, which came against a Bournemouth side that showed little attacking intent. The midfielder will return soon, but Conte needs to find a way of playing without the 26-year-old as they are currently reliant on him.

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