Category Archives: soccer

Winners and Losers of World Cup Qualifying

World Cup Qualifying has come to an end and 32 teams have proven their worth to participate in Russia 2018. Like always, there are teams who qualified at the top of their group and showed amazing growth and potential leading to the World Cup Finals. To contrast, there are also teams who failed to qualify that shocked the world. We will be taking a look at the winners and losers of this year’s qualifying leading up to the World Cup this summer.

Winner: Brazil

After a disappointing 2014 World Cup performance and 2016 Copa America campaign, Brazilians looked to the board of directors and demanded change. Eight-time Copa America champions aren’t supposed to get eliminated in the group stages, but that’s exactly what happened. Brazilians sitting in Gillette Stadium on a windy June night were stunned as the Canaries were eliminated at the hands of Peru by a score of 1-0. In the following days, to every Brazilian’s relief, Dunga was fired, and a new manager was appointed. Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, better known as Tite was selected. Coaching Brazil is difficult because the fans demand perfection, but Tite was up to the task. The 56-year old has a history of success as in managing Corinthians to Copa Libertadores glory in 2012 and beating Chelsea in the Club World Cup final in December that same year. In 2015, Tite guided Corinthians to a Brasileiro championship by racking up a tournament-best 81 points out of a possible 114. Tite is a manager of the people and of the media, which is rare for a coach of Brazil. They say that when the coach has the same starting eleven as the people on the street, that Brazil will win again, Tite has been doing exactly that in World Cup Qualifying. He has been experimenting with young talents such as Gabriel Jesus, Luan, Alex Sandro, Ederson and Marquinhos, while also taking chances on veterans like Renato Augusto and Paulinho, which has seemed to pay off. The media loves him, the fans love him, the players love him and it shows on the field.

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Brazil finished on top of CONMEBOL qualifying with 41 points (10 points clear of second place Uruguay), scoring the most goals (41), and giving up the least amount of goals (11). The Brazilian samba way of playing is back, and the team is playing more fluidly than they ever did under Dunga. Brazil has also earned the number two ranking in the world according to FIFA. If Brazil can translate the performances from this past year to the World Cup, the spectators are truly in for some magic.

Loser: Chile

For the past three years, Chile has been on top of the soccer world. They won two straight Copa America finals (2015, 2016), beating Argentina on penalties both times, and advanced to the Confederation Cup Final this past summer (losing to Germany 1-0). They were in good shape to be in Russia next year, until the second half of qualifying. Chile finished their last five games with one win, one draw, three losses and overall poor performances. To be in the last three major tournament finals and not qualify for the World Cup is a disgrace.

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You can blame it on a lack of leadership, bad coaching, or whatever you want, but nonetheless, Chile will miss out on its first World Cup since 2006. This outcome caused confusion and heartbreak to several Chileans including Arturo Vidal, who retired, then unretired from international play stating, “This is not the end. Realistically, though, it is – Chile’s golden age is over. For Chile’s big three: Alexis (28), Vidal (30), and Vargas (27), this is the end. This was supposed to be the end of a great run. The Word Cup in Russia was going to be their finish line and whether they ran across the line in first place or not, fans would still applaud. Their efforts over the past four years will stick with fans forever, but they will unfortunately not have the sendoff they would have liked.

Winner: Germany

As of now, Germany is the best team in the world. Going 10-0-0 in Group C while scoring 43 goals and only conceding four has been impressive to say the least. Although their qualifying group wasn’t extremely challenging, the Germans put on a clinic in almost every match. This past summer, Germany defeated Chile 1-0 to lift its first Confederation Cup. Numerous awards were handed out to the Germans. Julian Draxler won the golden ball, Leon Goretzka won the bronze ball, Timo Werner won the golden boot, and Lars Stindl won the silver boot. Most of these players that Joachim Low brought to the Confederation Cup were very young, and this team was considered to be Germany’s B-squad. This only means that Germany’s future is bright – possibly brighter than the present.

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Germany was very convincing in World Cup Qualifying, thus being named the number one team in the world by FIFA a couple of weeks ago. Toni Kroos, who came off of two excellent seasons with Real Madrid in winning the Champions League and La Liga this past year, will be Germany’s number one man in the midfield. His vision and tempo have proved to help Los Blancos be successful. Hopefully, he can replicate his stellar club play to the international stage when he hooks up with Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil in their upcoming friendlies.

Loser: Netherlands

The Netherlands were rejuvenated after their World Cup run in 2010. With the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, they were a fun team to watch. After finishing fourth in group play and missing out on Euro 2016 action, soccer fans were starting to doubt the Dutch, as their core golden age players were getting old. The Dutch had a strong start to World Cup Qualifying, but dropped crucial points including an embarrassing 4-0 loss to France and a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria and would ultimately lead to their exclusion from Russia 2018. This is the end of an era for the Oranje and definitely a disappointment for the veteran players.

Winner: Peru

After knocking off Brazil in the group stages of 2016 Copa America competition, Peru’s future was looking bright. The Peruvian team finished in fifth place in CONMEBOL Qualifying with 26 points, barely edging out Chile on goal differential. Led by Sao Paulo FC midfielder Christian Cueva, Peru’s attack and chemistry has been convincing. Striker Paolo Guerrero has been another standout for Peru. The 33-year old plays for Flamengo in Brazil and is a highly rated striker amongst viewers of the Brasileiro Serie A. Failing a doping test in early November ruled him out for 30 days, thus missing the qualifying leg against New Zealand. Although the drug he used was undisclosed, a close source of ESPN Brazil said that it was a social drug. With all of this chaos going on and Peru missing their number one striker, they somehow pulled through and will be in Russia 2018. Their fans are one of a kind and I’m sure that they can pull off some surprises next summer.

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Loser: USA

Not much needs to be said about this one. The USA puts millions of dollars into their program and still didn’t qualify for the World Cup. As if the entire planet doesn’t have enough to poke fun at when it comes to the United States, they had to add getting knocked out of Russia 2018 by Trinidad to it. US Soccer took back their old coach in begging fashion, and he did a mediocre job and made a fool of himself on international television by stating, “I would love to see one of these hotshot teams from Europe come here and play in our CONCACAF qualifying and really get a taste of this and see what that’s about.”

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The only thing he did was put more pressure on his team and made the United States the laughing stock of the soccer world after they failed to qualify. After defeating Panama and putting on an excellent performance in Orlando, everyone expected them to bring the same energy to Trinidad, but that wasn’t the case at all. Everyone watching expected them to qualify in “USA fashion” in the last game at the last possible moment, but that didn’t happen either. The team simply didn’t show up and got exactly what they deserved, so now they will be watching the World Cup with the rest of us this summer – at home. The team was lead by Christian Pulisic, who is a kid. He’s 19 years old and hands down the best player on the squad. Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, who are supposed to lead by example, were ghosts for most of qualifying and especially in the last game. Some serious soul searching needs to be done within the program if the United States wants to be taken seriously by the rest of the world and by those “European hotshots”.

Loser: Italy

Italy is a four-time World Cup champion and has been a European powerhouse for generations. In the past few years, Italy has been known for their great defense, especially under Antonio Conte. The shape of the midfield and defense is what got them to the quarterfinal of the European Championships last summer. Key results against big teams like Belgium and Spain gave life to the Italians, but they would eventually be eliminated by Germany in penalty kicks. Italy finished second to Spain in a very weak qualifying group. They were matched up against Sweden in a two-leg playoff. Losing the first game in Sweden 1-0 (even though they dominated ball possession along with the game), Italy desperately needed a result in the second leg. Unfortunately for the Italians, they couldn’t get a goal and would ultimately miss out on their first World Cup since 1958.

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Head coach Gian Piero Ventura received much criticism on his tactics as well as for his lack of charisma. He was often compared to the previous manager, Antonio Conte, and it was never going to end well. Italy desperately needed a playmaker and Napoli midfielder Jorginho was waiting patiently. He failed to get a call up from Brazil so he and his agent waited on Italy. Ventura would eventually call up Jorginho for the qualifying playoff against New Zealand and after seeing his performance it was obvious that Ventura could have used him earlier. Anyone who watched the game saw how he controlled the midfield and looked so comfortable along with his Italian counterparts. Italy was missing a playmaker, but it was too late. Players like Buffon, De Rossi, and Chiellini have most likely played their last game for the Azzurri.

 

Moving On: USA’s World Cup Qualifying Catastrophe

Whether you think that the United States got unlucky in their 2-1 defeat to Trinidad or whether you think that they simply got outworked and were lazy on the pitch, one thing is certain: it’s time to move on. It’s time to move on from the old way of doing things. The old coaches, the old players, the old tactics – everything old needs to go and it couldn’t be any more obvious. The excuses are aggravating and the fans deserve more from the team. Nobody wants to hear that it’s tough to get points in Trinidad, Costa Rica or Mexico; if the United States wants to be a top international team someday, it shouldn’t matter where they play.

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“Hotshot teams from Europe” (Bruce Arena) like Germany and Spain don’t care where they play, because if they’re truly good enough, they’ll get results no matter what, and if they did play in the CONCACAF division, we all know that they would finish at the top of the group with a sizable goal differential. Millions of dollars go into the program, and the United States was simply not prepared enough and didn’t show up to play in the qualifying round. The United States could only pull out 12 points in 10 matches and at best played at a mediocre level away from home. It was shameful and they let down an entire nation. The younger generation will not be able to watch them this summer and be inspired by the glory and happiness that the World Cup can bring a country.

Bruce Arena coached the national team from 1998 until 2006, when he was fired because the United States’ failure to make it out of the group stage in the World Cup. Hiring him back after letting go of Jurgen Klinsmann didn’t make any sense at that time. It’s the equivalent of taking your ex back after getting cheated on. It didn’t work out the first time, so why would it work now? What kind of epiphany could he possibly have had that convinced US Soccer that he was the man for the job? Sometimes you need to leave the past in the past, and the USMNT simply could not do so.

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One can’t simply point fingers at the coaching staff, though. The players looked like they wished they were somewhere else Tuesday night, the complete opposite to that of the team that was on the field in Orlando just four days prior. In the first half, the United States looked jet-lagged and created minimal opportunities.

A wise man once said, “If your play isn’t entertaining for the fans, then you aren’t playing the game right.” That couldn’t have been any more true Tuesday night. The first half was a bore, and they tried to fix their mistakes too late. The United States didn’t come to play and they got what they deserved, and now it’s time to move forward.

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This all starts with the youth teams. Ever since the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, the game of soccer has expanded exponentially in this country and kids from New York to California want to get involved. The cost, however, if you’re playing for a team outside of high school can get to be a bit expensive depending on what route is taken. MLS academy teams are fully funded, but with other academy and premier teams, that isn’t always the case. To be apart of the Dallas Texans U14 and U18 academy teams, the cost will run you around $2,000. The price is equivalent for many academy and premier teams across the country. Youth coaches also need to teach tactics earlier on that kids will take into the high school level where they truly learn to hone their skills. They need to stop teaching the kids perfection based on endurance and how to act like robots, and start teaching creativity. When the United States go to the World Cup, fans of other countries compliment the team, not necessarily on their skills, but rather on their work ethic. It’s time for that to change, and it all starts with building skills during a player’s youth.

As fans and supporters of the US national team, we all have different perspectives and ideas pertaining to how to improve the team. Whether your philosophy differs from your neighbor, one thing is evident: change needs to be made and it needs to be made now.

The Favorites to Win the 2017-2018 English Premier League

Manchester United has started out strong in the current EPL season by signing Romelu Lukaku from Everton in July. Lukaku snubbed Chelsea, his former club, and instead signed with United for £75 million. The 24-year old has shown his worth by tallying seven goals and one assist in eight matches in the Premier League, while scoring three goals in two Champions League appearances. Manchester United found a real striker in the Belgian, and he has proven to be lethal in front of goal. His strength and shot power almost reminds us of a young Adriano in his Inter Milan days.

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Manchester United has been a bully to the opposition so far by scoring 24 goals and only conceding four. It seems as though the Red Devils are really starting to shine again, as many of the starting 11 have consistently been featured on team of the week selections. Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Marcus Rashford, and to everyone’s surprise, Marouane Fellaini, was featured last week.

Fellaini has been criticized by teammates such as Zlatan Ibrahmovic, and slammed by fans on twitter in the past for horrid mistakes and performances. Recently though, the 6’4” Afro-sporting Belgian has been a huge contributor to United’s recent success. With the injury of Paul Pogba looking to be a long-term concern, Jose Mourinho may have found a steady replacement in Marouane Fellaini this year. Unfortunately for United, Fellaini has been sidelined due to a knee sprain on international duty, which means that United needs immediate backup. A possible solution is to call back Andreas Pereira who is currently on loan with Valencia. Another option may be 19-year old Timothy Fosu-Mensah who was loaned out to Crystal Palace. Despite these choices, Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera would be the most logical solution to be placed alongside Matic.

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Manchester City

Manchester City has arguably been the most fun team to watch this season in the English Premier League. With a goal differential of +25 after eight matches, one could argue that City is the strongest team and favorites to lift the trophy in May. The Citizens have four players on the top-ten scorer sheet (Aguero, Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sané) thus far and their chemistry looks better than it did last season.

Kevin de Bruyne has had a great start that included a world-class finish against Chelsea. He has truly earned his Ballon d’Or nomination in the way that he controls City’s midfield game in and game out. Another key player for City has been the 21-year old German, Leroy Sané. His pace and foot skills have earned the youngster praise from manager Pep Guardiola on numerous occasions.

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Gabriel Jesus is another young player who is constantly proving doubters wrong. The Brazilian won the Brazil Serie A with Palmerias and the Olympics with Brazil in 2016. His accomplishments on the pitch earned him several transfer requests from European giants, but Manchester City would eventually earn his signature. Fans were concerned with how much playing time the 20-year old would get, but he has capitalized on every chance he has gotten, scoring seven goals and assisting four times in just 11 games in the 2016-17 EPL season. This year, he has already done enough to score 6 goals, and tally an assist.

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Experts questioned if the partnership with Sergio Agüero in 2017-2018 would actually help the team. Two major strikers playing at once sometimes causes controversy, and many argued that the two would not be able to compliment each other. The duo proved the nonbelievers wrong once again as the goals kept pouring on for City. With Agüero out injured due to a car accident for a short stint, City will look to the young guns to provide precious points to stay top of the Premier League.

 

Serie A Summer 2017 Transfer Window Grades

Atalanta

Key Acquisitions (Players they obtained) Key Losses (Players sold / let go / sent on loan / retired) Important Players that Stayed (stayed despite heavy links to leave)
Cornelius (Copenhaghen) Migliaccio (Fine Carriera) Papu Gomez
Ilicic (Fiorentina) Grassi (Spa via Napoli) Andrea Petagna
Castagne (Genk) Zukanovic (Genoa via Roma) Spinazzola
Osolini (Ascoli via Juventus) Frank Kessie (Milan)
De Roon (Middlesbrough) Conti (Milan)
Paloschi (Spal)
D’Alessandro (Benevento)

Antonio’s Grade: B-

Atalanta lost key players to bigger clubs, but that was always going to happen after their incredible display last season, culminating in a fourth place finish. The loss of Kessie might hurt the most as he absolutely dominated the midfield for them. Ilicic and Orsolini should bring creativity to the attack and bringing De Roon back after a season in the Premier League should help patch up the wound of losing Kessie. Holding onto the likes of Petagna, Spinazzola and Gomez means that the transfer market wasn’t necessarily poor, as Atalanta also made good profit which will help them long-term. They also avoided losing enough players to put them in danger of the relegation zone.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: C

When the highlight of your transfer window is keeping a 29-year-old winger, it’s not a great off-season. With the Europa League closing in, the Bergamaschi will have to do without star center midfielder Kessie, who was sold to AC Milan early on in the transfer window. Unfortunately, Atalanta did not re–invest much of the funds received from the Kessie deal and now find themselves falling back into Serie A mediocrity. The key signing for them this season will be Ilicic from Fiorentina, who could be set for a breakout season.

Benevento

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Belec (Carpi) Cragno (Cagliari) Ciciretti
Letizia (Carpi) Pajac (Cagliari) Venuti
A. Costa (Empoli) Falco (Bologna) Chibsah
Cataldi (Genoa via Lazio) Bagadur (Brescia via Fiorentina)
D’Alessandro (Atalanta) Camporese (Foggia)
Lemmello (Sassuolo) Ceravolo (Parma)
Antei (Sassuolo)
Lazaar (Newcastle)
Lombardi (Lazio)

Antonio’s Grade: C+

It wasn’t a bad mercato for Benevento when you look at some of the players they bought. They brought in some players with Serie A experience, loaned in some young talent, and kept hold of some talents. I couldn’t imagine them doing much more given their budget and considering that this is their first ever season in Serie A. However, I do not believe that they have done enough to get them away from the relegation zone. The other teams that would normally finish near the relegation zone have seemingly done enough to stay up. Bringing in Letizia and Costa definitely gives some defensive strength, and Cataldi can improve their midfield considerably, but I don’t think it’s enough. Losing Cragno and Ceravolo could prove costly in the long run. Lemmello is the only player that seems capable of scoring more than a few goals. Since their goal is to stay in Serie A, I can’t give them a high grade because they have not done enough to remain there.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: B+

Bringing in Serie A veterans such as Antei, Lazaar, and Lemmello are all crucial signings for a team that few have staying up. Cataldi from Lazio could also prove to be a revelation, but at the moment, it seems like they greatly overpaid for him. It is hard to imagine Benevento doing more than they have, and yet salvation still seems far away.

Bologna

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
De Maio (Fiorentina) Dzemaili (Montreal Impact) Verdi
G. Gonzalez (Palermo) Viviani (Spal via Verona) Di Francesco
Andrea Poli (Milan) Oikonomou (Spal) Masina
Palacio (Inter) Gastaldello (Brescia)

Antonio’s Grade: C-

It was a very dull transfer market for Bologna, and coming immediately after a terrible season has got to be painful for any Bologna fan. They didn’t bring in many names that I can see improving this side. The only good signing I can think of is De Maio, who is just a solid center back. They lost Dzemaili, who was one of their best goal scorers, and both of their starting center backs in Oikonomou and Gastaldello. Dzemaili needed to be replaced and their answer to bring in Andrea Poli is not nearly enough. Keeping Masina and Di Francesco could have positive long-term effects, but this was a poor mercato overall. I don’t think everyone’s least favorite cold-cut improved at all and they will likely finish around the same place as last season.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: D

Bologna’s back line has been upgraded with De Maio and Gonzalez, and the midfield is set to showcase former AC Milan veteran Poli, who is not a signing that will change much, and might actually take minutes away from younger players like Donsah and Pulgar. Bologna will have to be weary this year as they may fall back to where they ended last season, which would be crushing for the city and the team.

Cagliari

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Cragno (Benevento) Di Gennaro (Lazio) Joao Pedro
Cop (Gijon) Gabriel (Milan) Barella
Cigarini (Sampdoria) Bruno Alves (Glasgow Rangers)
Andreolli (Inter) Murru (Sampdoria)
Romagna (Brescia via Juventus) Tachtsidis (Olympiacos via Torino)
Gregory Van der Wiel (Fenerbahce) Mauricio Isla (Fenerbahce)
Pavoletti (Napoli) Salamon (Spal)
Borriello (Spal)

Antonio’s Grade: A-

It was just an average mercato for Cagliari until the news that Borriello would be leaving was heard. This could have been disastrous, given that there wasn’t much time to find a suitable replacement. However, Cagliari managed to make not one, but two fantastic signings in the last day or two of the mercato, in Pavoletti and Van der Wiel. They also brought in young talents like Romagna and Cragno. Cigarini should help bring balance to the midfield, while the only losses that may have hurt them were Tachtsidis and Murru as all the other players that left have been properly replaced. Overall, this was a very impressive mercato from Cagliari and they should finish closer to mid table now.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: B+

It’s a good thing that the transfer window doesn’t end in July because a month ago, Cagliari’s window looked gloomy. A month later, the Sardinian giants brought in a steady right back in Van der Wiel and a proven goal scorer in Pavoletti as a replacement for Borriello. Andreolli will also shore up the back as Cagliari look to establish themselves as a mid-table Serie A team.

Chievo Verona

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Rodriguez (Cesena) Sardo (Fine Carriera) Birsa
Pucciarelli (Empoli) De Guzman (Eintracht Francoforte via Napoli) Inglese (sold but loaned back)
Tomovic (Fiorentina) Spolli (Genoa)
Stepinski (Nantes) Gakpe (Genoa)
Mpoku (Standard Liege)
Izco (Crotene)

Antonio’s Grade: D

Surely this is the season that Chievo fails. They have finished way too high in the table for the talent their squad possesses. This mercato was a disaster in my opinion. Pucciarelli was brought in to score goals, but he has never been very good at that. Tomovic could end up being decent, but center back was not their biggest problem that needed fixing. Their goalkeeper is seemingly too past his prime to continue as a starting goalkeeper. Their midfield lacks creativity, and their attack doesn’t look very potent. Losing Izco and De Guzman with no replacements will likely cost them. Holding on to Inglese might be enough to keep them out of the relegation zone, but it’s not looking like this will be a positive season for Chievo.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: D

Every year, Chievo seems to be on the brink of failing apart and every year, they prove the doubters wrong. This year’s window was no different than the past few windows, spending very little and relying on experience. It’s hard to see this team surviving an ever more competitive league with the signings that they made.

Crotone

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Budimir (Sampdoria) Mesbah (Losanna) Ceccherini
Faraoni (Udinese) Rosi (Genoa) Martella
Kragl (Frosinone) Crisetig (Bologna)
Izco (Chievo) G. Gerrari (Sassuolo)
Ajeti (Torino) Falcinelli (Sassuolo)
Crociata (Milan) Capezzi (Sampdoria)
Mandragora (Juventus)
Tumminello (Roma)
Pavlovic (Sampdoria)

Antonio’s Grade: C-

Crotone pulled off somewhat of a miracle to stay up last season. Half-way through the season, they looked like they were probably finishing in last place, but somehow managed to stay up. A good amount of their success was due to Falcinelli’s ability to score goals, and now they can’t rely on him. He has not been replaced at all. Trotta and Budimir have extremely low chances of scoring 10 or more goals individually and possibly even combined. Mandragora and Izco are solid additions that actually make their midfield stronger than it was last season, while Crociata and Tumminello are interesting young talents that could end up making a difference. However, their goalkeeper isn’t that solid, they have no identifiable goal-scorer and their wingers really shouldn’t be on any Serie A team. Crotone didn’t do enough and will almost surely get relegated.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: C+

“Quantity over Quality” was the motto for Crotone this year after their improbable salvation last season. Having lost key players like Falcinelli and Ferrari, the arrivals of Budimir and Tumminello will need to be in-form if they are to stay up. Perhaps the January window will give Crotone another chance to add the last piece that would put them over the hump.

Fiorentina

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
V. Hugo (Palmeiras) Cristian Tello (Betis Siviglia via Barca) Chiesa
Gaspar (Vitoria) Gonzalo Rodriguez (San Lorenzo) Badelj
Veretout (Aston Villa) De Maio (Bologna via Anderlecht)
Benassi (Torino) Ilicic (Atalanta)
Eysseric (Nizza) Valero (Inter)
Giovanni Simeone (Genoa) Vecino (Inter)
Pezzella (Betis) Bernardeschi (Juventus)
Thereau (Udinese) Tatarusanu (Nantes)
Gil (Monaco) Kalinic (Milan)
Tomovic (Chievo)

Antonio’s Grade: B-

As seen above, Fiorentina have had a very busy summer in the transfer market, as they basically have a completely new team from that of last season. However, even though I believe they have lost key players that will hurt them, they have made up for it in some way by bringing in some good talent. On defense, they can no longer count on former captain Rodriguez, De Maio, or Tomovic, players who have not been properly replaced. The loss of rising star Bernardeschi might end up hurting the most as he was Fiorentina’s best player last season. Chiesa is another rising star and can partially replace Bernardeschi, but he still has some time to go before he reaches that level. Fiorentina have replaced Kalinic, their top goal-scorer for the past two seasons, with Simeone. Simeone is the son of Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone and looks to have a bright future, although I don’t think he is quite at the level of Kalanic just yet. Eysseric can replace the creativity lost from Valero going to Inter. Gil, Gaspar, and Benassi are all promising young talents that are positive additions for Fiorentina. Overall, Fiorentina are not as strong as they were just a few months ago, but this team is building for the future.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: D

Fiorentina may have a very difficult season ahead, as they lost most of their centerpieces with Vecino, Kalinic, Bernardeschi and Valero all going to greener pastures. Now it will be up to Simeone and Thereau to carry the load left by those that have gone. Overall, there is little doubt that the team was far more talented a year ago.

Genoa

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Zukanovic (Atalanta via Roma) Orban (Racing Club) Laxalt
Bertolacci (Milan) Burdisso (Torino)
Lapadula (Milan) Pinilla (Univ. de Chile)
Rodriguez (Banfield) Cataldi (Benevento)
Centurion (Boca Juniors via San Paolo) Ntcham (Celtic Glasgow via Manchester City)
Rossettini (Torino) Simeone (Fiorentina)
Ricci (Sassuolo) Hiljemark (Panathinaikos)

Antonio’s Grade: B

Last season was one of the worst seasons that Genoa have had in recent memory. They barely avoided relegation even though their team usually finishes comfortably mid-table. They clearly needed a tune-up and that’s what they got to some degree. Zukanovic and Rossettini are pretty good additions to the defense and are upgrades over the likes of Munoz and Orban. Bertolacci, if he stays healthy, can add creativity and goals. Lapadula will guarantee hard work and I reckon, quite a few goals. Centurion seems like a positive purchase as many top sides were after him this summer. Genoa didn’t lose many key players besides Simeone and Burdisso, so they shouldn’t be too worried. If Perin can stay healthy, Genoa will likely go back to finishing comfortably mid-table.

lapadula

Sebastiano’s Grade: B

Genoa covered all of the bases this summer by bringing in Rossettini and Zukanovic for the defense, Bertolacci in the midfield, and Lapadula in attack. With Simeone being the only star player leaving, Genoa should improve upon last season’s record. While the signings will not blow anyone away, they are enough to be competitive in this league.

Inter Milan

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Skriniar (Sampdoria) Ever Banega (Sevilla) Ivan Perisic
Borja Valero (Fiorentina) Medel (Besiktas) Antonio Candreva
Vecino (Fiorentina) Murillo e Kondogia (Valencia)
Dalbert (Nice) Stevan Jovetic (Monaco)
Cancelo (Valencia) Gabigol (Benfica)
Karamoh (Caen) Ansaldi (Torino)

Antonio’s Grade: B-

Inter remained fairly active in the August transfer market. They got rid of some deadweight and brought in some impressive acquisitions. However, Inter fans were promised top players from all over Europe and they didn’t really get that. This most definitely has to do with them not finishing in a European position and the fact that their big-money signings last season largely failed. I do think that Spalletti will figure out how to get the best from the players he has, which is still a strong squad. Skriniar isn’t the center back most Inter fans wanted, but he is solid nonetheless. Borja Valero could be that link that was missing from Inter last season and his midfield passing and movement is much needed. Dalbert and Cancelo are improvements over Nagatomo, Santon, and D’Ambrosio even though they didn’t get Ricardo Rodriguez or Serge Aurier. The failure to pick up a truly top-class midfielder may end up costing them in the end. Losing Murillo and Medel may actually hurt them as Inter look extremely low on center backs and defensive midfielders even if those two weren’t great in the first place.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: C+

New ownership often brings high expectations – expectations that are not always met as we can see here with the Nerazzuri. The additions of Valero and Vecino will certainly strengthen the midfield, especially after selling former Monaco man, Kondogbia. Skriniar will be an upgrade over Murillo, but with Ranocchia as the only other option to Miranda, the back line is thin. Perhaps Inter was overshadowed by its crosstown rivals, but this is not a window that will see them compete for a champions league spot just yet.

Juventus

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Bentancur (Boca) Dani Alves (Paris St. Germain) Paulo Dybala
Douglas Costa (Bayern Munich) Neto (Valencia) Alex Sandro
Mattia De Sciglio (Milan) Leonardo Bonucci (Milan)
Wojciech Szczesny (Roma via Arsenal) Mandragora (Crotone)
Bernardeschi (Fiorentina) Lemina (Southampton)
Blaise Matuidi (Paris St. Germain) Rincon (Torino)
Benedikt Howedes (Schalke)

Antonio’s Grade: B+

The major news this summer coming out of Juventus was Bonucci’s decision to leave for AC Milan. It seemed insane that Bonucci would want to leave Juventus, who have won the league six times in a row, for a team that finished in sixth place last season. People saw this as a sign of a disastrous mercato for Juve and maybe a changing of the guard. However, I believe that, in general, Juventus have done some good business this summer. They acquired a fantastic winger in Costa for a minimum price. They also made great deals by getting Szczesny, Matuidi and Howedes for very little cost. Szczesny is a great addition and gives Juventus two great goalkeepers in the squad. Matuidi fixes a lot of the midfield problems given how injury-prone Marchisio can be, and with Khedira out of steam. Howedes probably isn’t on Bonucci’s level, but he is a proven center back and adds needed depth. However, there are a few problems that they didn’t properly address. The purchase of De Sciglio to be their starting right back (and replace) Dani Alves is truly baffling. Also, I think that Juventus should have gotten rid of Sturaro and added another defensive midfielder to compensate for the aforementioned Marchisio and Khedira. Lastly, they were supposed to get Schick, but failed to do so which means that they don’t have much striker depth. Still, the likes of Bernardeschi and Bentancur are very promising youngsters, and the absence of Bonucci frees up more playing time for Daniele Rugani this season. Also, none of the purchases were very expensive, barring Bernardeschi, who deserved the price tag.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: B

How do you defend your Serie A title? You do so through buying proven winners in Matuidi, Howedes, and Costa. This is how the Bianconeri answered that question this summer. Add on some utility players like De Sciglio and Szczesny and it seems like an excellent transfer roundup. On the other hand, Juve could have easily acquired Keita Balde, Spinazzola and Shick, and failed to do so. Balde in particular was up for pennies on the dollar and Juve will surely regret not picking him up. Finally, Bonucci’s departure will be a blessing in disguise as Rugani will see more minutes and improve the squad with his presence from the start.

 Lazio

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Marusic (Ostenda) Biglia (Milan) Milinkovic-Savic
Lucas Leiva (Liverpool) Hoedt ( Southampton) De Vrij
Di Gennaro (Cagliari) Keita (Monaco)
Felipe Caicedo (Espanyol) Cataldi (Benevento)
Nani (Sporting Lisbon)  

 Antonio’s Grade: B

As usual, Lazio have had a largely inactive mercato. They sold well with Hoedt, Biglia and Keita and brought in some cheap replacements. Nani was the replacement brought in for Keita, but he definitely isn’t quite at the same level and that’s ignoring the fact that he is on the decline. Lucas Leiva is a decent replacement for Biglia, but once again, he isn’t quite on the same level. They did well to hold onto Milinkovic-Savic, who was one of the best midfielders in the league last season. They somehow managed to beat Juventus in the Supercoppa, so maybe they are better than they seem. Overall, it wasn’t a very exciting mercato and the team hasn’t really improved – but Lazio held onto most of their talents, and their squad looks good enough to finish in one of the Europa League spots.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: C+

Another perplexing transfer season for the capital’s first team, as they lose Keita Balde at a discounted price, their captain, Biglia, and promising young defender Hoedt. When one sells the center pieces of a team as is the case here, the appropriate signings must be made. Unfortunately, Lazio brought in injury prone Lucas Leiva, a winger that is past his prime in Nani, and two promising but unproven youngsters from the Braga young team – for 30 million euros. With all of the funds at their disposal, it would have been nice to see Lazio make the jump into champions league placement.

A.C. Milan

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Musacchio (Villarreal) Pasalic (Spartak Moscow) Gianluigi Donnarumma
R. Rodriguez (Wolfsburg) Mati Fernandez (Fiorentina) Suso
Kessie (Atalanta) Deulofeu (Barcelona via Everton)
Conti (Atalanta) Honda (Pachuca)
André Silva (Porto) Kucka (Trabzonspor)
Borini (Sunderland) Bertolacci (Genoa)
Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) Lapadula (Genoa)  
Bonucci (Juventus) De Sciglio (Juventus)  
Biglia (Lazio) Vangioni ( Monterrey)  
Kalinic (Fiorentina) Bacca (Villarreal)  
  Niang (Torino)  

Antonio’s Grade: A

Milan had one of the best transfer markets in all of Europe. Fassone and Mirabelli were in charge of the mercato and they completely revolutionized the team to the point where only two or three starters from last season will continue to be in the starting lineup this season. Milan brought in Rodriguez, who is one of the best left backs in the world. They signed Conti who was the highest scoring defender in all of Europe last season and is an improvement over Abate or Calabria. Calhanoglu is one of the world’s best free kick takers and is versatile. Biglia is a top midfielder and a huge improvement over Montolivo. Kalanic and Andre Silva will provide a lot of goals between them (as will Cutrone). Both strikers are much more suitable to Montella’s playing style than Bacca was. Musacchio has been one of the best center backs in all of La Liga for the past few seasons and is a much better player than Paletta or Zapata.

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The biggest signing, however, must be Bonucci. Milan were able to sign him for only around €40 million, which is a steal when you compare it to the overall market. The fact that he wanted to leave Juventus and join Milan shows that top players are interested in Milan’s project. Bonucci is considered to be one of the world’s best center backs and will be important for Milan’s goal of Champions League qualification. It was also incredibly important that Gianluigi Donnarumma stayed because he is already one of the best goalkeepers in the league and will likely be one of the best that Italy has ever had. It must also be mentioned that Milan bought almost every one of these players for a fairly cheap price and beat out other competitors (Roma and Inter) to get some of these players. Lastly, Milan did a fine job getting rid of players that shouldn’t be on the team like Bertolacci, Poli, Honda, Bacca, and Vangioni. The only missing piece is that they didn’t get another winger to replace Deulofeu and Niang, which could hurt them in the long run. Overall, it was a fantastic Mercato for Milan as they will likely finish in a Champions League spot.

Sebastiano’s Grade: A+

After years of enduring subpar players and performances, it finally seems like the return of the Milan giants is eminent. Kessie, Biglia, Bonucci, Rodriguez, Musacchio and Silva are but a few of the plethora of top level additions Milan made this offseason. It may still be early to tell just how far this team can go, but the potential is there. From the performances we have seen to date, this team may well be contending for the Scudetto as early as this season. A transfer window for the ages.

Napoli

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Ounas (Bordeaux) Pavoletti (Cagliari) Insigne
Mario Rui (Roma) D. Zapata (Sampdoria) Koulibaly
  Strinic (Sampdoria) Hysaj

Antonio’s Grade: B+

The main story for Napoli this summer is that they barely changed their team. But is this a bad thing? They kept a fantastic team together and even made a few good deals. Insigne and Koulibaly are hitting the peak of their career now and it is so important that they stayed. This Napoli side can push hard for the Scudetto this season as Juve and Roma are slightly weaker. The fact that not one of their starting players left is impressive and shows that the team is committed to their goal. The only problem I see is that Reina is getting old and is starting to make a few too many mistakes. If they had gotten Rulli, it would have been an important purchase. Also, Koulibaly probably needs a better partner than Albiol, Maksimovic and Chiriches if they want to push deep into the Champions League. However, Ounas is a solid addition, as is Mario Rui. This team looks set to do great things this season, including mounting a title challenge.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: D

There is no question that retaining your team identity and most valuable players is important in mounting a serious run in to the top. However, for a team like Napoli, bringing in one or two big names would have undoubtedly put them above most of the other teams with the exception of Juventus. With one of the most exciting teams in Europe, we would have liked to see more investments being made to better the team now and possibly to even have Napoli be a contender in the Champions League. In an age where money reigns supreme, Napoli were left behind and we will see the consequences both in the present and in the future.

Roma

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Moreno (PSV) Totti (retired) Nainggolan
Pellegrini (Sassuolo) Szczesny (Juventus via Arsenal) Manolas
Karsdorp (Feyenoord) Vermaelen (Barcelona)
Gonalons (Lyon) Salah (Liverpool)
Under (Istanbul Başakşehir) Paredes (Zenit)
Defrel (Sassuolo) Rudiger (Chelsea)
Kolarov (Manchester City)  
Schick (Sampdoria)    

Antonio’s Grade: B-

Roma brought in famous sporting director Monchi to revolutionize the team in the upcoming season. How did he do? Well, he came to a club that was in debt because of Roma’s failure to qualify for the Champions League the previous season. Monchi did a decent job at making money back with sales for decently high prices for Salah, Rudiger and Paredes. He was able to get a few players for cheap like Pellegrini, Moreno, Under and Gonalons, although none of these are top signings. Kolarov could prove to be a good purchase at left back as Roma relied far too much on Emerson last season. Towards the end of the transfer market, Roma were able to capture Schick, who may well prove to be a fantastic long term signing. However, it seems that Roma overpaid for Defrel and they never signed a true right winger to replace Salah after they failed to land Mahrez. This means that players will have to play out of position to cover for this failure. Under could end up being a player that flourishes in that role but isn’t at the level of Salah yet. This will be the first season in over 25 years that Roma can no longer rely upon the magic of Francesco Totti, so their failure to pick up multiple quality signings will hurt their chances of fighting for the Scudetto and possibly even finishing top four.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: B-

The sporting director Monchi did a decent job in his effort to mix young talent with experienced veterans, but nothing spectacular occurred in Roma’s window. Numerous key players have left, and their replacements are questionable. Defrel for 20 million still leaves us speechless as does the addition of Gonalons, while Kolarov, Pellegrini and Shick seem to be the ideal signings for a Roma team that will be battling at the top of the table for a Champions League spot.

Sampdoria

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Capezzi (Crotone) Skriniar (Inter) Torreira
Caprari (Pescara via Inter) Bruno Fernandes (Sporting) Linetty
Murru (Cagliari) Cigarini (Cagliari),
Kownacki (Lech Poznan) Muriel (Sevilla),
G. Ferrari (Crotone) Schick (Roma)
Ramirez (Middlesbrough)  
Andersen (Twente)  
Strinic (Napoli)    
D. Zapata (Napoli)    

Antonio’s Grade: B+

It looked like it was going to be another difficult season for Sampdoria after they started selling a number of their starters from last season including the center back Skriniar, attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes and striker Luis Muriel. Not too long after, Sampdoria started making important new signings. Caprari could be an interesting buy to replace the dribbling skills of Fernandes and Muriel. Gaston Ramirez is a top signing from the Premier League who improves the squad without a doubt. Anderson and Ferrari will be important in defense as Sampdoria incredibly only had two true center backs last season, which caused them problems. There probably should have been another center back brought in considering they sold Skriniar. New signings Murru and Strinic will compete for the starting left back spot. Duvan Zapata is a positive signing for the attack as well. However, losing promising young star Schick will cost them some goals even though they ended up getting a large sum of money in his sale. Keeping hold of Torreira and Linetty will be important for them. I think Sampdoria could aim slightly higher this season since they added much needed depth to the squad this season.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: B+

A couple of years ago when we saw Samuel Eto’o wear the Sampdoria shirt, we were perhaps tricked into thinking this was the start of a new Sampdoria. Instead, today we have come to realize the Genovese giants remain the same – good without being great, making astute signings without blowing anyone away. Zapata, Murru, Ferrari and Gaston Ramirez will improve the team from last season and while I would not expect anything spectacular, a top-ten finish seems almost assured.

Sassuolo

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Falcinelli (Crotone) Aquilani (Pescara) Domenico Berardi
Cassata (Ascoli via Juventus) Pellegrini (Roma) Acerbi
Goldaniga (Palermo) Defrel (Roma)
  Iemmello (Benevento)
  Ricci (Genoa)

Antonio’s Grade: C-

Sassuolo’s season was a failure. They got knocked out of the Europa League in the group stages and finished close to the relegation zone. They needed a strong mercato to make sure that they can finish in the top ten, but it doesn’t look like they have improved at all. They do have Falcinelli back who should add goals and Goldaniga is a solid defender, but they really haven’t done much. Losing Pellegrini to Roma could do a lot of damage as he might have been their best player last season. Defrel and Iemmello scored most of the goals last season, so it’s strange how they let them both go. They have to hope that Berardi has a fantastic season or it will be another failure of a season. Sassuolo needed more depth and they really didn’t get that.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: F

Having lost Defrel, Pellegrini and Antei, we expected Sassuolo to buy young exciting replacements. Instead Sassuolo failed to reinvest and are now looking like relegation contenders. Furthermore, the neroverdi have lost long-time manager Di Francesco, and this too will add to the difficulties of the upcoming season. Berardi and Duncan, the two star players of the team that stayed, will have to be in form if Sassuolo has any chance of surviving.

SPAL

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Mattiello (Juventus) Bonifazi (Torino) Meret
Oikonomou (Bologna) Del Grosso (Atalanta) Vicari
Rizzo (Bologna) Ghiglione (Pro Vercelli via Genoa)
Viviani (Bologna via Verona) Zigoni (Milan)
Felipe (Udinese) Castagnetti (Empoli)
A. Gomis (Salernitana via Torino) Giani (Spezia)
Paloschi (Atalanta)  
Konate (Malmoe)    
Grassi (Atalanta via Napoli)    
Borriello (Cagliari)    
Bonazzoli (Sampdoria)    

Antonio’s Grade: A

SPAL had a fantastic season as they won Serie B to make it into Serie A. They have also had a fantastic mercato in that their already strong squad became a lot stronger by bringing in talents from all over Serie A. The players they brought in aren’t just rejects but truly talented players. Oikonomou and Felipe are pretty good defenders. Bringing in Rizzo, Viviani, and Grassi improves their midfield considerably. Gomis and Meret will fight for the starting goalkeeper spot but Meret looks like he will have the brighter future of the two, especially after his performances last season. Most impressive of all is that they were able to bring in two proven goalscorers in Paloschi and Borriello. Borriello had a great season and scored 20 goals in 37 competitive games last season and his abilities will be important. It looks like SPAL have done more than enough to stay up, meaning this mercato has been fantastic. Still, losing players like Giani, Zigoni, and especially Bonifazi could end up costing them as they were very important for SPAL last season. Still, I think the additions brought in are good enough to get them to safety.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: A-

An excellent summer for the novel Serie A squad! Essentially revamping the entire team, SPAL managed to add young talent with many proven Serie A players. Greece star-man Oikonomou will be a pivotal addition to the defense as marquee signings, Borriello and Paloschi will take care of the goalscoring up front. There will also be competition for the starting goalkeeper spot as Meret and Gomis look like two promising Italian shot stoppers. For the funds at their disposal and their inexperience in the top flight, SPAL have enough to be the surprise of the season.

Torino

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Bonifazi (Spal) Joe Hart (West Ham) Belotti
Lyanco (San Paolo) Castan (Roma) Baselli
Sirigu (PSG) Iturbe (Roma)
Berenguer (Osasuna) Benassi (Fiorentina)
N’Koulou (Lyon) Rossettini (Genoa)
Rincon (Juventus) Zappacosta (Chelsea)
Burdisso (Genoa)  
Niang (Milan)    
Ansaldi (Inter)    

Antonio’s Grade: A

Torino had a decent season, but it looks like they have all of the right pieces to improve. Bonifazi was a beast last season for SPAL and looks to be a bright star in the future of their defense. Sirigu should be an improvement over a very poor Joe Hart. Berenguer was linked to Napoli, but the fact that Torino was able to get him is positive for them. N’Koulou is a top defender and will bring stability to the defense, which was Torino’s biggest problem last season along with mistakes from Hart. Rincon is a good replacement for the departed Benassi. Niang should add more depth to the attack and Ansaldi can play at left or right back and is also a positive signing. Torino addressed their defensive weakness and added some overall depth. Losing Zappacosta might be the only negative as he did very well for the Granata. They also don’t have a solid backup for Belotti, but Boye should be decent enough. Possibly the most important thing is that Belotti stayed with them and is guaranteed to score a lot of goals.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: A

One of the most efficient and effective transfer windows in all of Europe. This year, Torino managed to keep up with the big money spenders in Juve, Roma, Milan and Inter by purchasing numerous proven players in the likes of, Sirigu, former Cameroon captain N’Koulou, Rincon, Niang and Ansaldi. Not only this, but they were also able to keep star striker Belotti for at least another six months. Iturbe and Benassi have moved away, but Toro replaced them magnificently. Expect Toro to finish in the top seven this year.

Udinese

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Lasagna (Carpi) Kums (Gent) Jankto
Mallé (Granada) D. Zapata (Napoli) Fofana
Bizzarri (Pescara) Felipe (SPAL)
Pezzella (Palermo) Heurtaux (Verona)
Nuytinck (Anderlecht) Badu (Bursaspor)
Bajic (Koniaspor) Thereau (Fiorentina)
Behrami (Watford) Karnezis (Watford)  
Maxi Lopez (Torino) Kone (AEK Atene)  
  Wague (Watford)  

Antonio’s Grade: C+

Udinese had a disappointing season overall and their mercato is slightly disappointing as well. Udinese’s goal should be to get back into Europe, but they haven’t done nearly enough to finish among the top seven. Losing their main strikers in Thereau and Zapata will likely prove costly as Lasagna and Perica don’t seem like they will score as many goals. Felipe and Heurtaux are gone, which isn’t much of a problem, but losing Karnezis to Watford seemed like a bad decision. Maybe Scuffet can finally live up to the hype that surrounded a few seasons back, but they probably shouldn’t have made that gamble. Keeping Jankto and Fofana is important for their midfield as both are promising players. Nuytinck was a positive purchase for their defense and Behrami will bring strength to the team. Maxi Lopez was a good signing for cheap as he might be able to make a difference from the bench, as will Bajic. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but I don’t think they have done enough to considerably improve upon last season.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: D

Could this be the year that Udinese go down? With the window that they had, it may very well. With Thereau going to Fiorentina and Badu to Bursaspor, Udinese brought in Maxi Lopez and Behrami as replacements. Perhaps five years ago, these players could have been starters in Serie A, but now they are merely old and unable to be what they once were. Udinese are in trouble if they fail to splash the cash in January.

Hellas Verona

Key Acquisitions Key Losses Important Players that Stayed
Verde (Avellino) Boldor (Montreal Impact via Bologna) Fossati
Cerci (Atletico Madrid) Ganz (Pescara via Juventus) Bessa
Heurtaux (Udinese) Troianiello (Roma) Zaccagni
Silvestri (Leeds United) Pisano (Bristol)
Buchel (Empoli) Siligardi (Parma)
Caceres (Southampton) Bertolacci (Genoa)
Fossati (Cagliari) Lapadula (Genoa)  
Ferrari (Bologna) De Sciglio (Juventus)  

Antonio’s Grade: B+

Hellas Verona are back in Serie A where they should be. The mercato was decent enough to have many people saying that they will avoid relegation. They did a good job to keep some of their young talent like Bessa, Fossati, and Ferrari. Verde and Cerci add width and dribbling ability. Their defense has been improved by solid additions like former Juventus center back Caceres. Heurtaux was also brought in to solidify the defense. Kean could end up being the best signing, having shown so much promise in his youth career, and if they can hold on to him for a few seasons before he returns to Juventus, it will be a great deal for Hellas. Losing Siligardi may end up as a negative sale but they have added enough players that his loss won’t likely be felt. Still, they probably should have brought in some midfielders to add creativity as they are mainly relying on youngsters. If their goal is just to stay up, then I think they have done enough, but I don’t expect them near the top 10.

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Sebastiano’s Grade: B-

With the Cassano debacle finally done, Verona have settled what is for them a solid transfer season. Cerci and Caceres will hope to revive their careers as young prospect Kean will surely add some aggression and desire upfront. It is still too soon to tell how far this team can go, but with the pazzo Pazzini leading the front line, anything is possible.

 

 

Why Manchester City will Win the Premier League in 2017

On February 21, 2017, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City had just completed a fantastic comeback against AS Monaco. They led the game after some superb work by Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, but then trailed after Radamel Falcao and the young Kylian Mbappe finished two superb chances, and battled back to eventually take a 5-3 lead against Monaco. The attack was great; the defense – not so much. Pep came out afterwards and said, ‘”They will attack more and more, and we have to defend better. We are not going to defend that result. We have to score goals. If we don’t score a goal in Monaco, we will be eliminated.” Monaco had three away goals for their efforts in Manchester, and Pep’s defense, which had leaked goals all throughout the campaign in league play as well, was still susceptible and had identified that early on.

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Unfortunately, whatever lead City had from the first leg quickly disappeared at the end of the Round of 16, and Pep Guardiola failed to reach the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career. On the other end of things, his side’s performance in the English Premier League was also shaky. Apart from the first six weeks in which they won every game, City was struggling to maintain pace with runaway leaders Chelsea, and runners-up Tottenham. All of a sudden, Pep had found himself in a precarious situation, and one he had not experienced since the spring of 2012, in his last season with FC Barcelona. The prospect of his first trophy-less season had begun to become reality for Pep, and in the May of 2017, it indeed became a reality. City finished the season without any silverware.

Such a season was never part of the plan for City Football Group, nor was it a part of the plan for Pep when he joined. His impeccable track record in Spain and Germany guaranteed success, and thus the failure to attain any significant silverware in 2017 obviously did not sit well with either party. For Pep especially, this season was hard to swallow. The displeasure of the season could be seen as soon as the season ended, and in June, many veteran players made their way out of City. Players who had won the Premiership in 2014 like Pablo Zabaleta, Willy Caballero, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna and Jesus Navas were all let go. In came Bernardo Silva, Kyle Walker, Ederson, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo. City’s business was quick and efficient, but also expensive. Walker and Mendy both broke the record for the most expensive defender signed, a record previously held by City’s own John Stones. Ederson also broke Gianluigi Buffon’s record transfer for a goalkeeper. However expensive all these moves were, they displayed Pep’s intent.

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One year after his arrival at City, Pep now has a squad that he can truly call his own. And as such, Manchester City now have a team that should be among the favorites for winning the Premier League. The main difference is the presence of quality, young fullbacks. Over the course of last season, both Walker and Mendy have grown into players that can stretch the width of the pitch, the way that Pep initially wanted to. Last season, with Kolarov paired with Sagna or Zabaleta, he opted to overload the midfield with these fullbacks. This placed more of an emphasis on the wingers to provide width. But now, having fullbacks that can theoretically do both, the responsibility of the wingers should be more focused on creating alongside the midfield while the fullbacks stretch the play. Danilo also becomes an important addition due to his ability to play on both sides of the pitch. While he is not the best option as a starting left-back, he can provide as a more than competent backup for Mendy and Walker simultaneously.

With younger, fresher fullbacks next to them, Otamendi and Stones should be able to perform much better this upcoming season. City’s defense leaked many goals last season due to the wings being overloaded by opponents. Otamendi was superb at times last season, but also made some careless errors. He had never played on a team that focused on possession as much as Pep Guardiola does. Both in Spain and Portugal, the teams he played on relied on a more classical approach to football. At times, it was end to end, and this became something that Argentina excelled at. As last season wore on, his concentration improved and the errors decreased. In Stones, Pep has a center back with the qualities of a midfielder. As seen in his time at Everton and his first season in Manchester, Stones can distribute the ball in between lines, read plays and initiate attacks. Now, with two fullbacks like Walker and Mendy, his job becomes a lot easier this season. Last season, there a lot of uncertainty existed regarding Stones’ play. He struggled many times to move the ball quickly and read danger. At the age of 22 and at a price tag of nearly £50 million on his head, it was safe to say that the pressure got to him. Now, with a season under his belt and with the guidance of Pep Guardiola, the 2017/18 season will be the season that he can truly start reaching his potential. With Ederson behind them, the center back pairing can excel knowing that they have a pair of solid hands to keep them alive. While Claudio Bravo was theoretically a quality purchase (given that he was an important fixture in a Barcelona squad that won back to back La Liga titles), he appeared shaky in England. The world-class keeper in Spain turned into a flop, and as the season wore on, he lost confidence and was dropped for Willy Caballero. This lack of belief and instability in a goalkeeper rubs off on those in front of him, which happened several times throughout the season.

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City’s midfield never really had any problems last season. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva continued the stellar performances that they displayed in Manuel Pellegrini’s final season. They were fluid together, and under Pep, they managed to tear through any defense in front of them. De Bruyne managed to score five times and recorded 18 assists. Silva also provided a much-needed control for the team throughout the season, and scored four times and got seven assists. Both players are world-class. While Silva is getting a little older (turning 32 later this season), his quality will be vital for City in 2018. De Bruyne is arguably the best attacking midfielder in the game at the moment. His rise has been spectacular and he will only continue in this trajectory. İlkay Gündoğan is another name that will be important for City. When he joined from Borussia Dortmund, he had a fantastic start. He controlled play much like we saw Xavi do for Pep’s Barcelona side. He made deep runs to help set up and score goals, and his experience in Europe was vital. His injury setback, though, had a deep impact on City’s squad. Yaya Toure had to come in and fill the role, which he did spectacularly last season. Nonetheless, the team lost an important midfield figure. This season, if he stays fit alongside Toure, Gündoğan can provide a calmness in the midfield, while helping to create and help take the load off of De Bruyne and Silva. Toure will most likely be playing his last season at City. After a turbulent start to the season with some personal issues between himself and the manager, Toure apologized and took control of a midfield that needed his experience. He should be able to do the same this season but with a more stable back line behind him, and his responsibility will be more focused on maintaining control – something he’s always excelled at.

City’s attack has always been fluid, even when they struggled last season. Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling both grew into their roles last season. They started out a little timid, but as the season wore on, they stretched play like Guardiola wanted them to, and finished off several chances. However, most likely due to their age (Sane is 21 and Sterling is 22), they were largely inconsistent throughout the season. The understanding of what Pep wanted from them was a little lost, as was the case for the whole team. In preseason play early this season, both looked in sync with the rest of the team. For the upcoming season, both will have a better knowledge of what is expected of them, and with more consistent performances, their roles will help City lift the title. Sergio Agüero once again provides Pep with a world class finisher. While he also struggled with inconsistency, his performances have always helped the team. His ability to finish is unparalleled in the Premier League. His chemistry with the young Gabriel Jesus is also growing. Jesus only had a half season to acclimate to the Premier League, but when he had the chance, he took to England like fish in water. He was once again promising in preseason, and with Agüero by his side. He should continue to grow and eventually become a world-class striker himself.

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The one decision that Pep has made this summer that probably will most likely help him out the most is the addition of Bernardo Silva. Silva provides City with depth on the wings and in the middle. Silva was an important cog in Monaco’s system last season that took them to the Champions League semifinals. He can function both as a ball carrier and as a creator, being able to play through the center of the wing. He can almost play as a younger, less talented version of Messi for Pep. His versatility across both the forward line and the midfield can help Pep experiment with a false-nine system like in Barcelona, or the 4-1-4-1 he used in Munich. In both of these systems, Pep can replicate the great success that he had in Germany and Spain, and gives him the tactical variation that he greatly needed last season. The failures of Guardiola last season were attributed to him underestimating the Premier League. However, it seems as though this time last season, Pep overestimated the squad he had available. There were too many aging players who did not fit his plan, but he overlooked it and ultimately paid for it. This summer though, he maneuvered efficiently, cutting out the deadwood and making purchases that helped him implement his preferred playing style. And in doing so, the Premier League might see one of the most stacked teams assembled in recent history, and one that should go on and win the league title, and perhaps more this coming season, and in the future.

Casemiro – O Monstro

Casemiro is one of the most in-form players at Real Madrid at the moment. After an impressive UEFA Super Cup performance against Manchester United and praise from manager Zinedine Zidane to go with it, it seems that the Brazilian midfielder is going nowhere this transfer window.

Casemiro began his career with the youth team at Sao Paulo Futebol Club. In 2010, he was called up to the senior team to replace Hernanes, who transferred to Lazio around the same time that summer. It was while training at the Morumbi in Sao Paulo that he began to turn heads with his aggressive defensive style.

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He caught the attention of Spanish giants Real Madrid in January 2013, who had a loan deal worked out for the Brazilian. Casemiro would spend some time in the second division with Real Madrid B before being called up. Real Madrid eventually activated his six million Euro buyout clause, thus making him a first team player. Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso were in good form at the time, so Casemiro found himself as a reserve with limited minutes under Rafa Benitez.

FC Porto would come knocking in July of 2014, so Madrid sent Casemiro out for a season long loan. After his spell in the Portuguese league, Casemiro became a regular first-team player under new manager Zinedine Zidane. As the assistant manager, Zidane pushed for Casemiro’s minutes to increase, and now as head of the team, he could make that a reality.

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Since then, Casemiro has had two impressive seasons for Los Blancos, including back-to-back Champions Leagues, and a La Liga title. He is a wall that rarely gets broken down and has earned himself the nickname O Monstro from Brazilians and Real Madrid supporters. Despite backing up players like Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos and Cristiano Ronaldo, Casemiro has continued to make a name for himself as a silent destructor who can be relied upon to provide quality in the middle of the pitch. He is one of the main reasons that Real Madrid has been so successful, especially because of how Madrid has been known to be shaky defensively, if one were to nit-pick the best club in the world’s flaws. If a team controls the midfield, they are more likely to dominate possession and therefore win the game, so while Kroos and Modric are constantly trying to orchestrate the attack, Casemiro makes sure to cover the counter. He is everywhere on the field, and silences other midfielders and attacking players. Paulo Dybala was a ghost in the 2017 Champions League Final, being dispossessed by Casemiro several times.

Not only has the 25-year-old been impressive for Real Madrid, but he has also won his spot in the starting eleven for the Brazilian national team. He controls the center of the field, and contains even the flashiest of players.

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Casemiro has grown into a more agile and mobile midfielder that has added more to his arsenal as he has grown into his role. He is one of the best tacklers in the world, great in the air, and his defensive stance enables him to intercept and deflect many passes from opponents. The Brazilian’s passing was noticeably better, finishing with a passing percentage of over 85% in the 2016-17 La Liga season. He has also added a rocket of a right foot to his arsenal and has proven to be a poacher in front of goal for set pieces.

We live in a sports society that is obsessed with triple doubles, hat tricks, and statistics in general. The little things that aren’t usually measured, like defensive positioning and not losing sight of your man are underappreciated. In the final leg of the Spanish Super Cup played at the Bernabeu, Casemiro came on in the final 30 minutes and shut down Lionel Messi. He rarely lost sight of the Argentine, and his defensive positioning was outstanding. When Messi did receive the ball, he didn’t bother to turn because he knew that the six-foot Brazilian was right on his back.

Even though his name isn’t usually the one on the score sheet, players like Casemiro need to be appreciated more for their efforts. The Brazilian has demonstrated what it’s like to be the general of the midfield with his consistent work ethic, and this should be valued and treasured by all supporters.

Neymar Transfer to Improve Brazilian Chemistry

MSN, a worldwide phenomenon, came to an end on August 3, 2017.

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The trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar Jr. is no more, as FC Barcelona accepted roughly a 222 million Euro transfer for Neymar from PSG, demolishing the previous transfer record set by Manchester United for Paul Pogba just a year ago.

Fans are arguing that Neymar can’t reach his full potential in the French Ligue 1 and there’s no question that Spain’s La Liga is more competitive. Yet, a move to Paris may have peaked Neymar’s interests for reasons other than getting paid 30 million Euros a year. The opportunity to play with his Brazilian counterparts in Paris only increases the chances for Neymar and co. to bring home the World Cup in 2018. In 2010, Spain hoisted the World Cup, and in 2014, Germany were the victors.

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These two countries feature a majority of their national team players competing at home in domestic competitions. In La Liga, Real Madrid and Barcelona make up most of the national team, while in the Bundesliga, many members of the national team play for Bayern Munchen and Borussia Dortmund. Chemistry is the backbone to success in the sport of football, and it played a huge role in both Spain’s, and Germany’s World Cup wins.

Neymar will be joining Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Lucas Moura in Paris, all candidates to be selected for the national team come next summer. This upcoming season is going to be crucial if Brazil wants to avenge their 7-1 humiliation to Germany in 2014. Chemistry has been a problem for Brazil while Dunga was in charge of Brazil’s national team, but Tite has seemed to unite the Selecao.

Neymar’s transfer may bring that core closer together, thus giving the boys in yellow a chance to bring home the trophy of all trophies in Russia. In order to truly understand Neymar’s decision to leave the great club of Barcelona, we must understand the legacy that Neymar is trying to leave.

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His accomplishments on the international stage pale in comparison to that of his domestic success, and in order for him to truly be seen as the complete package, he wants to achieve success on both fronts. Such a fate can be streamlined in a tenure with PSG, as he will have the opportunity to get practice with his future national team compatriots on a regular basis. Expect big things from the Brazilians in Paris.