Where do Italy go from here?

It’s tough to talk about La Nazionale these days. There are very few certainties, after an up-and-down qualifying campaign.

Our imaginary Azzurri building blocks are full of red flags. Italy are unbeaten in fifty qualifiers? Sure, against the likes of Bulgaria and Malta. Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci still make elementary mistakes in an Azzurri shirt. Marco Verratti still has developing to do.

There are so many doubts that’s it is worth asking whether we’re asking the right questions, or contextualising them properly. For example, is having a great squad enough to do well?

 

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Preview: Fiorentina – Milan

Fiorentina and Milan kick off the Serie A season with an exciting clash at Artemio Franchi.

Though Fiorentina weren’t happy to miss out on Champions League football last year, the Rossoneri have spent the last seven months in the dog house, and were unimpressive in friendlies against Bayern Munich and Tottenham.

Even worse, the four Milanisti who played here back in March had to watch as their side squandered 80 minutes’ worth of good football and a 1-0 lead to let the Viola earn a comeback win. It was to be the last time that Milan played with any flair under Pippo Inzaghi on the road, the 2-1 defeat surely playing a part in the squad’s ultimate demoralisation.

Whilst Milan hope their ambitious transfers will have overshadowed their growing pains, Fiorentina’s wins against (admittedly depleted) Barcelona and Chelsea sides have conversely been upstaged. As if losing Mohamed Salah to rivals Roma wasn’t bad enough, the Viola may now lose midfield muse Joaquin to boyhood club Real Betis.

Though Fiorentina are likely to go into this one without the former Spanish international, Paulo Sousa’s system has adapted well so far, giving the likes of Federico Bernardeschi and Mario Suarez a key role. The young Italian starlet’s rise isn’t mere summer gossip, as he had already started a few games last year before falling prey to the Viola’s injury crisis in attack.

Whilst Fiorentina have only brought in Nikola Kalinic to supplement the promising Khouma Babacar and the oft-injured Giuseppe Rossi, Milan have gone for broke, signing Sevilla goal machine Carlos Bacca and Shakthar Donetsk star Luiz Adriano.

With the Rossoneri’s overhaul affecting just about every part of the team, Adriano Galliani hopes that new manager Sinisa Mihajlovic will instil a more disciplined approach with new signings Rodrigo Ely and Alessio Romagnoli. Injuries have also been unkind to the Rossoneri, with last year’s top scorer Jeremy Menez out with a back injury.

Keep an eye on: Carlos Bacca and Federico Bernardeschi

Fiorentina still have some teething problems at the back, and Bacca could just be the man to exploit them. Davide Astori hasn’t played on a weekly basis for two years, whilst Gonzalo Rodriguez will arguably have his hands full with Luiz Adriano. The Viola also lack a midfield enforcer. Bernardeschi was brilliant in friendlies this summer, and could well be the season’s rivelazione.

Form Guide:

Last season: Fiorentina 2-1 Milan

Stat fact: Milan went unbeaten in a rocky first six away trips last year… before failing to win at all before April, when they beat Palermo 2-1 at the Renzo Barbera.

Fiorentina (probable): Tatarusanu, Tomovic, G. Rodriguez, Astori, M. Alonso; Borja Valero, M. Suarez; Bernardeschi, Mati Fernandez, Ilicic; Babacar

Suspended: Roncaglia

Milan (probable): Diego Lopez; De Sciglio, Ely, Romagnoli, Antonelli; Bonaventura, De Jong, Bertolacci, Honda; Bacca, L. Adriano

Suspended: None

Words: Edo Dalmonte

La Liga Season Review (for Soccer360 Magazine)

Sevilla
A Europa League final and a 13 point improvement are no mean feat for a club €80 million debt and without Ivan Rakitic, Alberto Moreno and Fabio Fazio. Unai Emery’s outstanding coaching and bargain recruits (Carlos Bacca’s 34 league goals over two seasons have cost just over €200.000 each) ended up a point short of Europe’s Elite.

Villareal
Villareal’s 3-2 defeat to Barcelona in early March was not supposed to herald a crash. Yet the Yellow Submarine went from making the Europa League Second Round and being a point short of fifth (Sevilla), to an 11 game winless streak, including elimination to (guess who) Sevilla and ending the season 17 points short of Champions League football.

Athletic Club
Despite only racking up 19 points in the first slate, Ernesto Valverde stuck to the 4-2-3-1 formation, earning a 1-0 win over Real Madrid and 36 points for only three second-half losses, not to mention a berth in the Copa del Rey final. Downsides: losing Iker Muniain to an ACL tear, falling to Torino in Europe and relying on Aritz Aduriz’s 18-goal tally. No-one else made it past five in Liga play.

Celta Vigo
Fans at the Balaidos can hang their hats on a few things, namely Celta’s giant-killing of Barcelona (away) and Atletico Madrid, as well an an exciting attacking trio of Nolito, Joaquin Larrivey and Fabian Orellana, who scored 29 goals between them. Nolito himself ended up as a Top 5 assistman with 13. Los célticos also added 13 points in second half play, second only to Real Madrid.

Málaga
Close to Europe until March, Málaga simply ran out of steam, winning just one of their last eleven La Liga games and conceding a horrifying seven goals in the last ten minutes of play down the stretch. Though the defence shut Barcelona out in a shocking 1-0 win, it’s ageing (Sergio Sanchez is the only starter not in his 30s) and didn’t contribute a single goal at the other end.

Espanyol
Los Periquitos improved on 14th place by losing only three of their last 14 games. Deceptively respectable against Top 10 opponents in the second half of the season, Espanyol were not as ruthless in the Copa, where they were despatched by Athletic. Ended the season in hot water following racist chants in the Derby, a game they haven’t won since 2009.

Rayo Vallecano
It’s no surprise Ska-P chose to dedicate a song to Rayo, who somehow earned a monstrous 23 points on the road despite being outscored 42 to 20. Ruthlessly efficient against their peers, the Bees were anything but against their betters, whether it was losing 6-1 to Celta Vigo or drawing 4-4 at the Mestalla in the Copa, having lost 3-0 there only a few days previously.

Real Sociedad
The Basque outfit achieved the unusual accolade of somehow beating Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid with three different managers. Yet this pales in comparison to the work David Moyes has done, restoring cohesion, discipline and grittiness to a side languishing near the bottom of the table. At 1.37 points a game under the Scot, the Txuriurdin would have been just shy of Athletic’s record had he begun the season with them.

Elche
Who do you call when you’ve spent most of the winter in the bottom three, when your president has resigned, when your club is 40 million in debt and unable to sign players in the transfer window? Fran Escriba, that’s who! And to think Los Illicitanos were safe with three games to go. Jonathas’ 14 goals were key, as no-one else bagged more than five.

Levante
What’s that? Fran Escriba isn’t available? Lucas Alcaraz will do! Though it wasn’t pretty, the former Granada lifesaver orchestrated late wins in six-pointers against Eibar, Getafe, Almeria and Cordoba to keep La Liga’s third-worst defence up. David Barral and Victor Casadesus combined for a crucial 19 goals.

Getafe
The Azulones were always just about good enough to float above the relegation zone, never returning to the bottom three after matchday five. This is hardly a backhanded compliment, especially when both Cosmin Contra and Quique Sanchez Flores jilted the club midseason, leaving it to sputter its way to the finish with six defeats in nine games.

Deportivo la Coruna
Cash-strapped, short on talent, constantly barracked by their fans and fresh off another turn on the managerial merry-go-round, the once-proud Depor looked to be in deep trouble a month ago. With only one win in ten and likely needing points from their visit to Barcelona to stay up, the Galicians (under former glory days winger Victor Sanchez) were lucky their opponents eased off after going 2-0 up, allowing for the most unlikely of comebacks.

Granada
Talk about a timely managerial change! Six points from safety with four games to go, Granada somehow pulled off three wins and a draw to Atleti to stay up. Jose Ramon Sandoval didn’t do it all himself, however, as Youssef El-Arabi grabbed key goals against Getafe, Cordoba and Real Sociedad to guarantee a sixth-straight season in La Liga, all without ever topping 15th place.

Eibar
Someone should snap up the movie rights right away. I mean, the plot writes itself: the fans crowdfunding 1.7 million to guarantee promotion, a wild bunch of loanees and spare parts (appropriately sponsored by a scrap metal dealer) beating parent club Real Sociedad on opening day, racking up 26 points and 8th place in an impressive first half of the season, the catastrophic downfall… All that’s missing is the hollywood ending, as the Basque outfit’s 3-0 win over Cordoba was moot once news came through that Deportivo had drawn at the Camp Nou.

Almeria
Though a draw wouldn’t have been enough, Valencia’s winner on the last day of the season against La Union was a fitting metaphor, the through ball squeezing past Sebastian Dubarbier’s desperate lunge to find Paco Alcacer. A valiant performance against Los Che wasn’t enough to ensure survival, nor indeed to compensate for Almeria’s many weaknesses, especially against set pieces.

Cordoba
Having come up in the most dramatic of fashions, los Califas seemed to be acquitting themselves decently by early January, in fourteenth place and with Miroslav Djukic at the helm. From that point onwards, however… things went Pete Tong. No wins (not one!) in the second half saw Djukic get the sack, and provoked Florin Andone’s x-rated rant: “I’m awful. I can’t even play a f—ing pass, and the team’s the same. I’m sick of everything.”

Season Review : Torino

Torino

9th Pts 54 P 38 W 14 D 12 L 12 F 48 A 45

Coppa Italia: Round of 16

Team rating: 7/10

Top scorer: Fabio Quagliarella – 13 goals

Europe (if relevant): Europa League, Round of 16

Despite losing one of Serie A’s most lethal strike partnerships, Torino gave fans cause for optimism with a Top Ten finish and wins in the derby and in a thrilling European night at the San Mames writes Edo Dalmonte

Not a Grande Toro by all accounts, but a Good one will do

For the first time since the early nineties, Torino have achieved two consecutive Top-10 seasons, finally giving their fans hope for the future. Having had a torrid time of it alternating between Serie A and B, Granata fans feared the worst early when Torino opened with only one win in six games, having lost lethal strikers Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci during the summer.

Yet nine months later, the Granata are just four points short of last season’s total, and have capably replaced their former stars with a resurgent Fabio Quagliarella and Maxi Lopez, whose European magic was a red card short of qualifying a third Italian side to the quarter finals.

Even more importantly, Urbano Cairo’s club has finally happened on a teambuilder in Giampiero Ventura, who further boosted the squad with some shrewd signings. It was one thing to finalise the deal for Nikola Maksimovic, quite another to add quality players like Marco Benassi, Fabio Quagliarella, Maxi Lopez and Bruno Peres.

These additions made a difference once the squad gelled in 2015. Six points clear of relegation halfway through the season and with a leaky defence, Torino’s rotation was one of the factors that helped the team suddenly kick into gear, adding 35 points in the second half.

Up till late April, Ventura’s were the best away team in Serie A in the calendar year, though they squandered that advantage against Genoa (1-5) and Milan (0-3). By then, of course, Europe was far from their minds, being too difficult an objective (they were six points short with two games to go) and a thing of the past, their thrilling 3-2 victory over Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League Round of 16 being cancelled out by Zenit Saint Petersburg.

Not many clubs would see such a season as a success. Yet in Torino’s case, a small step backwards feels more like a big step forward.

The Coach – Giampiero Ventura. After his experience at Bari, questions abounded about Ventura’s ability to pick up a club and take it to the next level, especially after the club was relegated in 2010-2011. No-one’s asking those questions anymore.

Player of the Year – Kamil Glik. A true leader everywhere on the pitch, Glik has become one of Serie A’s most reliable defenders, and one of the most expensive players available in fantasy formats in light of the seven goals he netted this year. Running a system with three at the back is infinitely simpler with talents like Glik and Nikola Maksimovic, another centre-back who could well figure in this column sooner rather than later.

Did you know?

Torino have given away a record 28 penalties over the last three years, more than any other side from Europe’s Top 5 leagues.

Torino broke two negative streaks this year, first a winless 27-year rough patch at the Giuseppe Meazza, then a 17-game winless run against hated rivals Juventus, beating them 3-2 at the Comunale late in the season.

Kamil Glik has earned seven penalties for Torino over the past two seasons. A Serie A record.

Squad –

No Pos Players Apps Goals Assists
7 GK Salvador Ichazo 1
13 GK Jean-Francois Gillet 12
19 GK Daniele Padelli 19
2 DF Cesare Bovo 14 (1)
3 DF Kamil Glik 31 (1) 7
4 DF Bruno Peres 28 (6) 3 3
6 DF Matteo Darmian 28 (5) 2 1
12 DF Emiliano Moretti 35 2 2
15 DF Cristian Molinaro 17 (7) 1
17 DF Gaston Silva 4 (1)
18 DF Pontus Jansson 7 (2)
24 DF Salvatore Masiello 0 (1)
5 MF Giuseppe Vives 26 (2) 1 4
9 MF Alessandro Gazzi 27 (3)
10 MF Omar El Kaddouri 25 (7) 3 4
14 MF Alexander Farnerud 15 (7) 1 5
16 MF Marco Benassi 17 (8) 3 2
20 MF Juan Sanchez – Mino 4 (7) 1
23 MF Alvaro Gonzalez 1 (3)
25 MF Ruben Perez 0 (6)
26 MF Antonio Nocerino 2 (3)
27 MF Migjen Basha 1 (5) 1
8 A Fabio Quagliarella 33 (1) 13 4
21 A Josef Martinez 20 (6) 3 1
22 A Amauri 7 (13) 1
28 A Marcelo Larrondo 3 (2)
29 A Facundo Lescano 0 (1)
30 A Simone Rosso 0 (2)
31 A Paulo Barreto 0 (1)

Preview: Parma – Juve

Parma welcome Juventus on Saturday evening hoping to snatch a second unlikely win in four days. Strange as it is to say it, Parma fans must be wishing their club had been declared bankrupt a lot sooner. The better side against both Inter (1-1) and Udinese (1-0), the Ducali have now compelled two managers to hold punitive training sessions the following morning.

Even more surprisingly, Serie A’s worst team by a comfortable margin is playing with flair, having somehow retained the services of Andrea Costa, Silvestre Varela, Juan Mauri and Antonio Nocerino, all key contributors in recent weeks. The club may be bankrupt- requiring one of its sponsors to pay for accommodation in the trip to Milan- yet something is left of the team that came sixth last year.

Without the long early-season casualty list, Roberto Donadoni can now plot his revenge against a Juventus side that inflicted a humiliating 8-0 defeat on the Ducali earlier this season, though he will have to do without Andi “The Fighter” Lila, scorer of two goals since joining from PAS Giannina.

Arguably their biggest rivalry game, fans at the Tardini may begin to miss their trysts with the Old Lady if the club’s finances aren’t straightened out in the near future.

For their part, Juventus are in cruise control, at least where the league is concerned. No Pirlo? No Pogba? No problem! After straightforward affairs against Palermo, Genoa and Empoli, the Old Lady’s hopefuls turned in a blinder against Fiorentina, assuring qualification to the Coppa Italia final with a stunning 3-0 win.

Though Juve would certainly be fresher with the likes of Claudio Marchisio, Stefano Sturaro and Simone Padoin reprising their roles, the Bianconeri need to get their big players back to match fitness before facing Monaco. With Paul Pogba still out, a 50-50 Andrea Pirlo is slated to make his return, as are Carlos Tevez and Stefan Lichtsteiner who picked up knocks in training. Could Parma capitalise?

Keep an eye on: Andrea Costa and Juan Mauri
Though Silvestre Varela and Andi Lila have been knocking in the goals (and the assists, as Varela crossed for Lila’s header against Inter), both still have work to do on the defensive side of Donadoni’s 3-5-2. The choice to switch to a 4-3-3 may reflect this, as Varela hasn’t shined in his defensive role. Andrea Costa and Juan Mauri, on the other hand, are pulling out all the stops. Before recovering their goalscoring form, Parma were grinding out 0-0 draws, something Costa’s mistake-free football has greatly contributed to. He will be especially vital this weekend, as captain Alessandro Lucarelli is still serving a suspension for his recent red card antics. Juan Mauri, for his part, is one of the few players capable of providing the Ducali with some form of creative spark in midfield, and is a ball hawk to boot. There is little doubt he will be a Serie A player next season.

Form Guide: Parma (D L L D W) Juventus (D W W W W)
Last season: Parma Juventus 0-1

Stat fact: No Parma out-and-out striker has scored since Massimo Coda did so… back in early October, before the cruciate ligament injury which kept him out until recently. False nine Cassano has one league goal to boast of since, Belfodil has yet to score at all, and winger Silvestre Varela only recently opened his account against Udinese.

Juventus (probable): Buffon, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Marchisio, Pirlo, Vidal, Pereyra, De Ceglie, Llorente, Morata
Suspended: None

Parma (probable): Mirante, Feddal, Mendes, Costa, Gobbi; Nocerino, Jorquera, Mauri; Ghezzal, Belfodil, Varela
Suspended: Lucarelli

Words: Edo Dalmonte

Tactical Takeaways: Swansea 0-5 Chelsea

On a day when many Premier League ties were decided by one goal, and a couple were decided at the death, those choosing to tune into Swansea – Chelsea may have felt robbed. Unless of course Benny Hill is their thing, in which case the Blues’ 5-0 thrashing of their hosts would have been a feast.

Trouble is, it’s so hard to analyse the league leaders when the opposition seemed to do everything possible to shoot itself in the foot. Swansea’s incompetence was so breathtaking that J.R. Ross – the wrestling announcer you often hear superimposed on Germany 7-1 Brazil videos- should have been called in to commentate the rout. By the time goal number three sailed in, it was pretty evident that Garry Monk’s men had thrown in the towel, which ironically meant an end to all the cute backpasses they provided Chelsea.

Read the rest on Blues1905

Which African and Asian players will Serie A miss the most?

With the African Cup of Nations and Asian Cup in full swing, fans the world over now have an excuse to sneakily watch football at work every day of the week. A few, however, won’t be best pleased to find out that their teams’ stars could be away for weeks, or more if they pick up an injury.
We all got to see the most xenophobic wing of this school of thought when Bordeaux manager Willy Sagnol revealed his true feelings about the African Cup of Nations late last year, so why not target a federation who elected a racist president? Step forward Italy, who elected Giogio Tavecchio despite some horrific comments about African players made in the run-up to the voting.
So, without further ado, let’s review which absences will hurt their respective teams the most.

Read the rest on The News Hub

 

Will the Donkeys fly against Inter at the Bentegodi?

Chievo welcome Inter to the Bentegodi on Monday looking to go unbeaten for a sixth straight Serie A game.

The Clivensi have quietly fought their way out of the relegation zone since Rolando Maran took over from Eugenio Corini, capping off their run with a 2-0 away win over Cagliari last week.

Things have changed since Corini was given the brown envelope in late October – the Mussi Volanti have gone from being 3-0 down at half-time to Roma to beating Cagliari with two strikes inside 10 minutes, including a Riccardo Meggiorini overhead kick.

Read more at http://www.football-italia.net/SerieA/match/preview/52913

Chelsea tripped up on Tyneside

Newcastle is Chelsea’s twilight zone. Jose Mourinho has yet to win a league game here, though he tried to make up for that by making three changes at half-time to counter a Patrick Kluivert goal back in 2005. Though the Dutchman and his dreadlocks wouldn’t last at St James’ Park – he left the following season – his goal would go down in lore, knocking Chelsea out of that year’s FA Cup, thus ending their chances of winning the quadruple.

What’s truly bothersome about today’s defeat is that this isn’t a very good Newcastle side, even with its ten absent pieces back in the fold. Though the Toon obviously deserved their win, Chelsea arguably played themselves out of contention after a promising start, and look to have allowed Manchester City to come back within three points. At least the preposterously early invincibility theme is behind us.

What Pardew got right… and what he got wrong

It’s fair to say that the former West Ham and Southampton man isn’t every punter’s cup of tea. But credit must go to him for a number of choices, beginning from the use of Jack Colback in midfield. His late run in the first run wasn’t picked up by Fabregas, but by the onrushing Courtois, who deprived him of a clear-cut chance. Colback was everywhere, and a huge nuisance to the Blues. Tottenham could have done with a destroyer of his ilk in midweek.

Pardew’s choice to try quick vertical attacks also occasionally bore fruit, as the speedy Ayoze was able to turn his marker a couple of times in the first half and release the wings. Without the domineering Matic around, Newcastle knew they could chance their hand in the middle, and did so.

That considered, it’s hard to work out exactly what kind of strategy Pardew had in mind for this game. It may explain why his teams are so maddeningly inconsistent, how they can be world-beaters one minute, and masochists the next. Key to this was his midfield’s lumbering build-up. Often exposed to the counter, Newcastle left their defence unprotected on more than one occasion, and Chelsea should really have taken advantage.

Newcastle’s midfielders were guilty of either rushing too eagerly towards Hazard – which allowed the Belgian to slot a pass across the edge of the box to the onrushing Willian, who flashed his effort wide – or unable to cover space when their fullbacks tucked in. One such oversight from Ameobi allowed Willian to rush into the box unmolested, and could have proved costly. Newcastle’s midfielders were very poor on cutbacks, which include Hazard’s effort on the post late on. Almost everybody rushed to the front post.

Chelsea’s missed opportunity… and Gary Cahill

Whilst they didn’t create an overwhelming amount of chances, the Blues were clearly on top in the first twenty minutes, and should simply have done more to expose Newcastle’s frailties. The midfield’s regular counters – thanks in no small part to Oscar and being cleverly positioned in key passing lanes- should have led to an early Chelsea strike.  Apart from Willian’s strike, Costa chose to have a crack from the edge of the box when nobody was on Oscar- another open cutback option.

After that, Chelsea allowed Newcastle back in the game, though the sloppiness would come back with a vengeance when Gary Cahill fluffed a clearance, allowing Newcastle to open the scoring a few minutes into the second half. Gary Cahill simply hasn’t developed into the leader Chelsea were hoping to mould to replace Terry. He still needs training wheels, over two seasons after playing the game of his life in Munich.

Their backs to the wall, Chelsea finally woke up again: Fabregas’ diagonal chips in the box offered Chelsea some good alternatives, especially when Drogba was able to knock one down for Costa, whose effort found both Coloccini and Taylor in its way.

Despite my misplaced twitter cynicism, Jose Mourinho actually got his subs right. Drogba pulled one back for Chelsea and was an incredible physical presence in the box. The choice to throw in Schurrle may not have been so rewarding, though he looked decent trying to drop deep and build things up. It was, however, a necessary move, as Willian and Oscar seemed to have left their heads in the changing room.

Tactical takeaways: Chelsea 3-0 Tottenham

It’s not every day that a club buys Christian Eriksen, Nacer Chadli, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue and Érik Lamela and falls off a cliff. Yet that is what has happened to Tottenham Hotspur, who despite another summer of sexy acquisitions are still miles off fulfilling their potential, or flashing more than glimpses of the passing football Mauricio Pochettino’s Southampton was capable of. The aforementioned players aren’t hipster football icons, the preserve of those among us who choose to follow alternative leagues: they’re good, in some cases damn good. They undoubtedly have their flaws, but are mostly young and can learn.

Yet here in North London their skill is a thing of the past, a relic the Spurs faithful are desperately clinging onto, in the hope that this tunnel really does lead back to the great outdoors.

Yesterday’s game perfectly encapsulated this, as an interesting start from the Lilywhites quickly turned into a nightmare when Chelsea landed a fierce one-two to put their opponents on the ropes. Tottenham never recovered. So much promise, so little to write home about. Chadli’s criminally late entrance wasn’t enough to change things.

Read rest of article on Blues1905.com

http://www.blues1905.com/the-opinion/tactical-takeaways-chelsea-3-0-tottenham-hotspur-2464

 

 

Jose’s Doubled-Edged Sword

“So, you won the Champions League and you were sacked…”
“You get right to the point.”
For Blues1905.com

It didn’t take long for the press to remind Roberto di Matteo of that night, or indeed that cold morning in Cobham when he was given his marching orders, a mere six months after taking over from Andre Villas-Boas.

It took even less for Jose Mourinho to fire one of his traditional broadsides.

“The Champions League, many, many times I say, is not a consequence of a great work,” the Portuguese manager told reporters. “Sometimes it is not. You can win the Champions League in the worst season. You can finish fifth and win the Champions League… Liverpool did, and Chelsea, too.”

These statements are obviously a classic Jose mind game, but they go further than that. The Champions League may be hard to predict, but this does not explain why, say, Chelsea won it all in 2012 with a depleted squad and why they didn’t in 2005. This kind of comment has a lot to do with the Portuguese’s hurt pride than he would like to admit.

Read rest of article on http://www.blues1905.com/the-opinion/joses-doubled-edged-blade-2412

How swooping on cheap deals is keeping Lazio afloat

In these modern times, Italian clubs need to face the stark truth: money is, comparatively speaking, short. Serie A clubs aren’t earning anywhere near as much as Europe’s elite from matchday, TV, sponsorship and merchandising revenue.

With a nationwide plan to get Serie A out of its rut still sadly lacking, Italian clubs need to think about financial stability, if nothing else. A good start is Lazio, who have been remarkably successful at bringing in talent over the past few seasons, poaching a series of interesting players at low prices, as well as getting just about every cent’s worth out of their investments.  One of Italy’s Seven Sisters back in the late 90’s, the Biancocelesti showcased the decline of what was formerly believed to be the best football league on earth. Turns out the road from spending way beyond your means (or the ones your crooked owner convinces you he has) to near-bankruptcy is a short one, something many Italian teams learned to their chagrin.

Here, then, is a list of acquisitions Lazio have made over the past few seasons, ever since Claudio Lotito took over. As maligned as he is by the fans, he has helped his club wipe out most of the club’s €150 million debt the club had accumulated, as well as spreading out payment of €150 million to the taxman, and doubled the previously shoe-string player budget to allow him to keep some of his recent big-money acquisitions.

The Steals

We begin with the deals that have truly helped Lazio thrive, either because they got terrific value out of their players, or because they were able to sell them on for more. Sometimes both. Filip Djordjevic, for example, has been a triumph in his brief stint, netting five times in nine appearances. The Serbian was also able to force last year’s diamond in the rough, Keita, to sit on the bench, also making him look expensive in the process.

Djordjevic joined in the summer, and is already five goals to the good

Djordjevic joined in the summer, and is already five goals to the good

Keita, the former Barcelona hopeful, himself troubled the scorer five times last year, having been acquired from Barcelona for a measly €100.000*. Rumours of indiscipline had always accompanied Keita in Spain, the youngster even being sent out on loan to UE Cornellà by the Catalans as punishment for putting ice cubes in a team-mate’s bed.

Djordjevic’s goals, however, came free, as the Biancocelesti took a punt on a man one season removed from Ligue 2 football, whose contract had expired after a ten-goal campaign with Nantes in the top flight. Correctly judging that getting to double figures in France is not easy, they went for a player who has looked more and more convincing as time has gone by.

Speaking of free agents, Miroslav Klose is another striker Lazio snagged out of nowhere, a player many thought was on the way down quickly becoming on the most dangerous strikers in the Italian first division, even netting a brace the other day against Cagliari to prove that he still has it.

Stefan Radu cost Lazio almost nothing on his first loan from Dinamo Bucharest. He has easily repaid the £3.96 million fee he garnered at the beginning of the 2008/9 season, as we can see from long rangers like this one.

14-11 Lazio3

Even he’s surprised he was such a bargain

Another strength of Lazio’s is delving in European leagues that do a good job of spotting and molding young talent.  This is how Lazio snagged both Senad Lulic (Young Boys Berne) and Stephan Lichtsteiner (Lille).

Lichtsteiner cost just as much as Liboz Kozak (£1.06 million), the two both being sold for far more, the former to Juventus for £8.8 million, the latter to Aston Villa for £5.72 million. The list goes on and on: Alexksander Kolarov and Fernando Muslera cost £704.000 and £2.64 million respectively, whilst long-term servants Giuseppe Biava and Andre Dias cost less than £3 million combined. Lulic is still here, showcasing another one of Lazio’s strong points: endurance. Stefano Mauri may not be the kind of fellow you’d take home to meet your parents, but he cost the Biancocelesti just over £3 million back in 2006. He is still at the club, his performances on the pitch earning him a flurry of Azzurri caps, his misdemeanours off it attracting the interest of the police. He arrived at the same time as Christian Ledesma, who for under £4.7 million has truly been a find. He may not have started all the time, but has always been a reliable mainstay.

Hernanes has been one of Lazio’s most expensive recent deals, being finally bought from Sao Paulo at the hefty price of £11.88 million in 2010. Thing is, Inter were willing to pay even more (£17.6 million) in order to secure his service this year. So Lazio not only bought one of the best midfielders of their (and Serie A’s) recent history, but also made a decent profit out of it. Though he has been a definite plus in Milan, suspicions abound that he is on the way down. It’s not every day you sell a 29-year-old for near £20 million.

The Good Deals

Claudio Lotito and Igli Tare have been just as adept at restocking their roster, and finding the right talent at the right price. One of the Eagles’ cleverest deals is their signing of Stef De Vrij, likely one summer short of going for a bigger sum (Lazio picked him up for £7.48 million). The Oranje international has done much to turn heads in the Eredivisie, and looks more and more like the future of the national team too.  Though he’s had a couple of rough games (which include a sending-off), he’s adapting to life in Italy quite quickly, and is currently the 22nd best central defender in Serie A with a healthy 7.22 rating. Because he’s only 10 weeks into his current adventure, he remains in this category. For now.

Typical Italian welcome

A typical Italian welcome

Edson Braafheid is, on the other hand, a good example of finding a cheap fill-in for the Biancocelesti’s defence. At 31, his resale value is limited, but Lazio have re-stocked their squad with a former Bundesliga talent, one who should supplement one of Serie A’s least convincing defenses last time round.

Lazio have generally scouted cleverly in Italy, too: Marco Parolo was one of Serie A’s most consistent performers last year, bossing Parma’s midfield in their (ultimately futile) European campaign. Lazio paid just below market value for him, and though there is the risk that they may have overpaid considering his sudden (and possibly unsustainable) spike in goalscoring form, chances are that the investment is justified. Worst case scenario, Lazio have picked up one of the most sought-after Serie A players available. And at £4.84 they certainly didn’t pay through the nose for him.

At £4.58 million, Federico Marchetti joined Lazio at just the right price: a former No.2 for the national side in their disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign, Lazio bought low on someone who has certainly not looked bad since, though he hasn’t reached the heady heights once expected of him. He was even replaced last year by Etrit Berisha (another steal at £264.000), as his fear of recurring injury saw him hesitate when diving. Lazio were said to be considering offers for the shotstopper earlier this season, but he has since recovered and played four games in a row for the first time in months.

Antonio Candreva should truly belong to the steal category for the amount of seasons he played at Lazio for very little, the result of a co-ownership (how we will miss it) deal that had the Roman team pay around £404.000 a year in loan fees to the Little Zebras. A bargain for a player who has become one of Serie A’s most consistent midfielders, scoring a monstrous 12 goals last season. He is, at the time of writing, the most expensive midfielder available in one of Italy’s most popular fantasy football leagues, costing just under what one can normally spend on a reliable striker. Comparatively speaking, Lazio certainly didn’t stake the house on him even when finally spent in excess of £9 million for him.

Abdoulay Konko is another example of good Serie A recruiting, the reliable contributor being bought for £3.52 million from Genoa.

The worthwhile punts (even if they’re misses)

Lazio’s policy of searching for low-cost diamonds in the rough has also come up with a few stinkers: Luis Saha and Gael Kakuta barely contributed, but were good ideas at the time. Saha was a former EPL hitman and, as odd as it sounds, wouldn’t have been the first player to remain injury-free after a change of air. Kakuta was a teenage prodigy Chelsea ended up getting suspended over, but who had had a rough time of it at Vitesse. Had either made it big, they’d have been major coups.

14-11 Lazio 4

Yeah… not so much

Pereirinha may not have turned into the kind of contributor Lazio were expecting, but arrived from a team on the brink of financial ruin for free, and was a regular in one of Portugal’s premier clubs. Felipe Anderson
came up at Santos at the same time as close friend Neymar , and still has time to emerge at Lazio. Having been slowed down by injuries and homesickness last season, he is working his way into the setup.

Where Lazio can improve

The Biancocelesti’s transfer policy has been excellent when it is viewed within the context of the club’s terrible finances. A few bad deals are par for the course for any club, even for one that has been so effective at finding talent at low prices or getting as much as possible out of each acquisition. What’s striking, however, is how few of these players have been sold on. It really does feel like Lazio squeeze every single ounce of football out of its players.

It’s almost as if Lazio are buying players to survive, not to thrive. The club only made £132.000 over the last transfer window. One of the reasons for this could be that many of their targets are of a certain age. Parolo was 29 when Lazio bought him, and wasn’t the only one to have arrived too late to truly score a big fee. Even worse, Serie A’s limited exposure isn’t helping when it comes to promoting talent.

To sum up, it’s almost as if Lazio’s model has gone from making virtue of necessity, to making necessity of virtue. Just because they have been successful at picking up talent of a certain age and doing well enough, doesn’t mean they have to keep doing this.Though Lotito has made a concerted effort to sign some of his bigger players (like Candreva) to important contracts (and has doubled the players’ budget), it doesn’t feel like the club is doing more than plodding along. Though putting a lot of money into youth, only to see many of those players leave soon after, also has its drawbacks, it does at least bring in more: Ajax have raked in £112.44 million over the past five seasons. Lazio £73.67.

* all numbers are provided by the excellent transfermarkt.co.uk.