Category Archives: soccer

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.

Pietro-Iemmello

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.

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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.

The Redemption of Les Bleus

Being on top of the world is a second-to-none feeling. Being a champion allows a team to be respected as the best, and the sense of pride and achievement that comes along with it is unparalleled. However, many will tell you that being on top is also a position of high vulnerability. When you are the best, you have a target on your back; the plunge to the bottom seems daunting…and sometimes inevitable. The French National Team was arguably the world’s most dominant unit between 1998 and 2006. During this time, France reached two World Cup finals, winning the tournament in 1998. In addition to this magnificent triumph, they won the Euro Cup in 2000 and two Confederations Cup tournaments. Stars like Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira led a talented group of French players that took over football on both the club level and international level. Fame and glory was embedded within the culture of Les Bleus, but the team’s fate took a devastating turn after the 2006 World Cup Final.

The game stood at a draw of 1-1 in extra time, and with a penalty shootout on its way, France would have liked their chances against Italy for the title, but things took a turn for the worst. After Italy’s Marco Materazzi muttered some words in the direction of Zidane, the French captain responded in a manner that left the whole world in shock. Zidane jogged a few steps ahead of Materazzi, turned around, and butted his head straight into the chest of the Italian. Zidane was shown a red card and sent off. That red card was not only a ticket for Zidane to exit the field, but a ticket that took France directly out of the world-football powerhouse conversation for years to come. The entire world was hoping that a legend would close out his career at the top that day. Instead, France’s leader left the field in embarrassing fashion. Though he was insulted, he responded with emotion; individual ego that superseded the team’s desire to be the best. A dejected squad was dragged down for the rest of the fixture. As Zidane exited the field, he walked right past the World Cup trophy; the moment when France lost its grip on it.

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Zidane (pictured) walks off the pitch after being shown a red card in the 2006 World Cup.

France not only missed their expert penalty taker; they fell apart in the most important moment of the entire tournament, and maybe in the teams’ history. Italy triumphed in a game that felt like a tragedy to many. ‘It should not have ended that way,’ many thought; it was a sour finish to a brilliant run. France’s dream of being the best team in the world – the dream that every country aspires to one day achieve – died that day. Another World Cup win would have made them immortals of the era. Yet, that dream became lifeless, and then came the inevitable fall of Les Bleus. The French team capitulated in a series of events that was worse than a nightmare. Their decline officially began with the 2008 European Cup. With a chance to respond to their last major defeat, and their backs against the wall, France performed terribly. They were eliminated in the group stage of the competition, losing in convincing fashion to both Italy and the Netherlands. Les Bleus finished the group in dead last and had a goal differential of -5 in the three games. Then came a shaky qualifying campaign, where France eventually had to settle for a playoff to even get to the World Cup. In the playoff against Ireland, France barely survived, winning 2-1 on aggregate on a deciding goal surrounded with controversy. Henry’s handball failed to be called, thus allowing him to set up William Gallas for the winning score.

Amidst all of the controversy, France still had a chance to prove that they were capable of being a football powerhouse. At the 2010 World Cup, France was favored to win a group that included Mexico, Uruguay and South Africa. Yet, the tournament soon became the event where the world witnessed the disaster that was French football. The team filled with talented superstars paled in comparison to the countries in their group, and finished last. They scored just one goal the entire tournament, and were embarrassed by Mexico and South Africa. However, the on-field failures seemed to be overshadowed by the off-field issues. Nicolas Anelka reportedly cursed out manager Raymond Domenech and was sent home. The star player losing his professionalism set off a chain of events in the French dressing room; mutiny began and the players who supported Anelka went on strike.

The French players refused to train, and Domenech was forced to state to the press that his team no longer desired to compete in the tournament. France had hit rock bottom. Individual veteran egos had once again distracted them from what was important. To make matters worse, France’s two most accomplished players at the time, Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery, were involved in an underage prostitution scandal. It seemed a joke at this point; France was the laughing stock of sports, and they seemingly could not do anything right. The French no longer had their backs against the wall; they were buried six feet under and the image of the team was tarnished. In September of 2010, the team fell to its lowest ever FIFA World Ranking (27).

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Djibril Cisse (left) and Abou Diaby (right) displaying the mood of dejection felt by the whole French National team at the 2010 World Cup.

This is where the redemption story starts. French soccer took a stand and handed lengthy bans to players that they saw as detrimental to the team’s dynamic. The savior, however, who truly led France out of the storm, was their new head coach: Didier Deschamps. Deschamps started his campaign with some unpopular, but very effective moves. He started promoting younger players in place of many veteran, high-quality players. Deschamps rejuvenated the team with young, talented roster who were all eager to represent their country. To him, the talent was not the issue. He was more concerned with the dignity and image of French football. He made it clear that no matter how talented a player was, playing for France meant that you were part of a family and that the game never revolves around the talent of one single man. He brought unity and a sense of togetherness back into the squad that seemed so distant from the French team in recent times. Younger stars like Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud shined under his coaching tenure, not only as footballing stars, but as Frenchmen who were playing for the spirit of their country.

Deschamps’ first test was the 2012 European Cup. France was a young team that showed some promise and had made it to the quarterfinals, where they lost to the eventual champions in Spain. A quarterfinal appearance in the European Cup was not a major accomplishment, but it showed signs that France was headed in the right direction. France played well in World Cup qualifying and in the years leading up to the 2014 World Cup, they displayed some of their best football in years. The 2014 World Cup showcased France’s brilliance as they made it to the quarterfinals and lost to the eventual champions, Germany, by a score of 1-0. The biggest validation of France’s potential came at the 2016 European Cup. France turned in a dominating performance at the tournament in which many stars were born. Dimitri Payet shocked the world with his fantastic control of the game, drawing comparisons to the great Zidane. Pogba and Griezmann also shined and let the world know that they were two of the best players at their positions. Pogba drew comparisons to France’s great Vieira, while Griezmann won player of the tournament. However, the biggest sign that the French process had worked was Olivier Giroud. Giroud was given a spot in place of star player Karim Benzema, in a move that was heavily unpopular with French fans. Benzema had continued to be involved in serious issues off of the pitch and simply could not keep his head straight. Deschamps showed that he cared about the team, not about the favor of any individual. He knew that Giroud was a countryman willing to play for his nation and he knew that Giroud wanted to prove that he belongs.

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Antoine Griezmann (middle) scores the second goal over Germany in the semi-final to help France complete a famous win.

That semifinal victory over Germany in the 2016 European Cup was a sign that France was back. They were a world football power once again. Beating an experienced Germany side that many regarded as the best in the world showed the potential of this team. The French not only avenged their defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup, they had also avenged all of the sorrows that they had endured for the past few years. The Blues would go on to dominate the final, but lose to Portugal in one of the most shocking upsets of the year. They lost by a goal in extra time in a match where they dominated. The French players were distraught because it was their tournament to lose. The delightful mood among the young French players seemed to have completely died after the match; it felt like the 2006 World Cup Final defeat. The pain was visible, and just like the defeat to Italy, the moment felt incomplete. It should not have ended this way.

This time, with a team filled with young and promising star players, France picked itself up. This team knew that it had to look forward and continued to fight. The players brushed themselves off and realized that this was just the start. They have led an impressive World Cup qualification campaign thus far and have shown themselves to be serious contenders to win the 2018 World Cup. Players like Pogba and Griezmann are nearing the primes of their career, taking the football world over in the process. Youngsters like Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman have shown their promise with speed and versatility that is unmatched by players of their age. This time, the defeat does not feel as bad. This time, France can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Les Bleus is no longer a sorry excuse of a team, but a group of young, patriotic and highly-driven individuals. These individuals have no ego; they play for the team. They will continue to dominate football and they are here to stay. The 2018 World Cup is France’s stage to show the world that redemption is possible. They are going to Russia to show the world that only France can beat France, and no one else. Don’t be surprised if they are lifting the trophy in Russia next summer.

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Griezmann (left), Pogba (middle) and Giroud (right) shown celebrating.

 

Farewell, Neymar: Analyzing his Departure from Barcelona

On February 14, 2017, FC Barcelona left the city of Paris with their tails tucked between their legs, after a 4-0 drubbing. Utterly humiliated by the capital team, Paris Saint Germain, Barça left France with their season in tatters. They lagged behind the leaders of La Liga and the team’s biggest rival, Real Madrid, and were now facing elimination in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League for the first time since the 2007/08 season. There was little hope for the returning leg. No team in the history of the competition had ever recovered from a 4-0 loss. Critics from across the world analyzed the game, and gave their take on the comeback: impossible, was the verdict.

A core group of fans believed. They rallied behind their beloved players, and ‘Remuntada’, Catalan for comeback, became the word for hope. And somewhere along the way, the players began to believe as well: especially one Neymar Jr. He posted a quote on Instagram and Twitter, stating: “As long as there is a 1 percent chance, we will have 99% belief”. And so, with the words spoken from their beloved number 11, Barça fans believed. Then came the day, March 8th 2017. Camp Nou was filled to the brim, and the teams lined up. Barcelona needed five goals to win, and six goals if PSG scored; both very difficult tasks.  Yet, after an early goal by Luis Suarez, an own goal by Layvin Kurzawa and a penalty easily tucked away by Lionel Messi, Barça seemed to be heading towards the impossible. A goal by Edinson Cavani knocked their progress, and with PSG having one goal back, Barca now needed six goals to win on aggregate. 30 minutes remained still, but three goals seemed unlikely. As time ran out, so did hope. That was until the young Brazilian, Neymar, stepped up. With three minutes of regular time remaining, the left winger produced an outstanding goal from a dangerous free kick. He then stepped up for a penalty in the 90th minute to draw Barça level. Finally, with stoppage time running out, Neymar provided a sublime pass for Sergi Roberto, to score the sixth goal of the game. And just like that, the Remuntada was complete. The impossible was done and Camp Nou erupted. The players celebrated in awe, while PSG were stunned; baffled at how they had surrendered a four-goal lead. And while Lionel Messi was usually the first name to sing praises for, tonight, a different man had stepped up in the time of need for Barcelona. The man whom Barça fans had put their faith in since he had arrived, and christened the heir of Messi. It was Neymar, who had led the team to this comeback. He was now their very own.

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Four months later, and only a Copa Del Rey trophy in hand after a tough season, the love story between Neymar and Barcelona has grown somewhat cold. Over the last two weeks, a lot of speculation has been made over a possible transfer for Neymar to PSG. On the morning of July 18, Brazilian journalist Marcelo Bechler made what seemed to be an outlandish claim (at the time). He stated that reports from Paris and close friends of Neymar had revealed that the Parisian club would pay the astronomical release clause in Neymar’s contract, and sign the player. While many dismissed the rumor because the fee being mentioned was very large (£196 million or 222 million euros), the value of this transaction would shatter the current world record fee paid for Paul Pogba last summer by Manchester United (which was 100 million euros and incredible in its own right). But, within the last two weeks, several developments and events have turned this potential transfer into a likely possibility.

Within the next few days, Paris Saint Germain should have the world’s greatest talent within their ranks, and Barcelona will be 222 million euros richer. But, the real question arises as to why Neymar would leave Barcelona. He would be leaving a team in which he’s settled, playing with arguably the best player in the world in Lionel Messi, and part of a core group of players poised to compete for every trophy every season. Last year, Kevin Durant was ridiculed for joining the Warriors: a team that his own Oklahoma City side had relinquished a 3-1 lead to in the Western Conference Finals. Many criticized his attitude, and while the decision betrayed the team that had given him so much, it made sense on a sporting level. By the end of the 2016/17 season, Durant was the NBA Finals’ MVP, and had a ring to his name. In Neymar’s case, it seems he’s taking the opposite path. He’s poised to join a team that he himself embarrassed, and a team that does not seem to be able to consistently compete against other European Giants.

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Prior to joining Barcelona in 2013, Neymar was the biggest sensation and young talent in the world. He was touted as the next best, hailed by legends like Pele, and clubs all around Europe were chasing his signature. When Barça won that signature, he came to the club ready to learn and work in tandem with Messi. He said all of the right things, and after a somewhat rocky start, was firing on all cylinders. He was instrumental in the treble that Barça won in 2015, scoring 23 times in the league, and 10 times in the Champions League, with most of those goals coming in the knockout stages, and one in the final. He then got a chance to carry the team in the fall of 2015 when Messi was injured for a couple of months. Neymar lifted the team at that time with his best performance coming in the Santiago Bernabeu, where Barcelona demolished Real Madrid on their own turf. He would play a big part in helping his team win a second domestic double. And even in a less-than-stellar season for Barça, Neymar produced moments of magic, such as in the ‘Remuntada’. Yet, it feels as though Neymar desires something more. All of the greatest athletes have egos. And to be the best, they must believe in their own abilities. While Neymar has played the role of a sidekick very well, he finds himself at a crossroads. His ambition remains to be the best, and win the Balon d’Or, something he believes he cannot do with Messi in his team.

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Yet, joining PSG does seem slightly inadvisable. While he will be joining up with several fellow countrymen such as Dani Alves, Thiago Silva and Marquinhos, Neymar would also be joining a team that still seems to struggle to perform at the highest level: on the international stage. His signing would definitely provide the team with a lift in morale. After all, Paris would be securing the world’s best after Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and would also be weakening a tough opponent in the process. Neymar could also become Paris’s own version of these two players, and becoming a legend is something that he has always desired. But, beneath the surface, it feels as though this decision is one made in haste. Staying at Barça would instead be a more positive move for the young Brazilian. Yes, Lionel Messi is and will be top dog, but the Argentine star has never shied away from letting Neymar have the spotlight. Instead of showing fear of being in the shadow of his teammate, Neymar should use the genius of “La Pulga” to his advantage.  Luis Suarez benefited from the help of Lionel Messi, scoring 40 times in La Liga, as Barça stormed their way to the league title. Eventually, Neymar would take over, as Messi is now 30 years old. While Messi will continue to play for years, time will take a toll, and his influence will wane slightly. And by then, Neymar will be able to take over the team.

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Neymar’s move, in the end, comes at great risk and great reward for all parties. Neymar will move to a team that he can make his own and take to the next level. Paris will have one of the best current players, and the best player of the future. Barcelona, while losing an important cog in their system, will have an influx in funds to fix what many consider to be a broken midfield – so long as they don’t blow it all on a Neymar replacement like Mbappe or Griezmann. As for Neymar, he may want to reconsider his options. His move to PSG may or may not work out. He could become a Messi-like figure for Paris. However,  he may also end up like his own idol, Robinho, who after joining Real Madrid, never had the same success as he had in Brazil and played for several clubs across Europe without achieving anything. Neymar has truly made a huge decision in moving, but let’s just hope that it helps him be at his best, for he is the face of football.