Juventus vs Roma Highlights… Interpreted by a Studio Full of Italian Analysts

More internet gold from the people at QSVS.

Seattle Sounders: Prospect Hits Fantastic Free-Kick

Young Argentine Pablo Rossi is a potential signing for the Sounders’ new squad, S2. Here’s a stunning free kick he scored in a recent friendly against the University of Portland.

Juventus Transfers: Alvaro Morata Quickly Making Fernando Llorente Expandable

Over the summer, it was obvious that Juventus were in the market for another attacker to bolster the incumbent duo of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente. The club was linked to Radamel Falcao and nearly signed him, but in the end brought in Real Madrid youngster Alvaro Morata.

While not nearly at the level of Falcao, Morata is only 22-years-old and possess about as much potential as a young striker can have. A knee injury prevented him from integrating himself immediately, but as the season has progressed, the Spaniard has become a crucial member of the squad. So crucial in fact that he is pushing countryman Fernando Llorente out of the starting lineup. Llorente has struggled with form and Morata has seized the opportunity to pass the towering hit-man with some superb displays.

On the surface, the two Spanish strikers’ numbers are very similar.

 Morata                 Llorente

Appearances (All Competitions)       28                           28

Goals                                                  9                              6

Assists                                                4                              2

Pass Success Percentage              75.1                        72

Shots Per Game                               1.8                          1.8

Average WhoScored Rating             6.78                        6.77

 

Despite the similarities, there are differences. Llorente is skilled in the air (mainly due to the fact that he towers over defenders at 6’5”) and averages 2.3 aerials won per match. Morata (who’s no slouch at 6’3”) only averages a singular aerial win per game. Morata takes the cake in terms of assists with four compared to Llorente’s one. Despite all this, the biggest difference may come in minutes played. Morata has logged 1,065 minutes on the year while Llorente clocks in at 1,728. That’s a difference of 663 minutes, or seven full games and change.

It’s pretty clear that Morata has been more efficient with his times.

His goal against Borussia Dortmund in this week’s Champions League knockout round first leg insured Juve had a 2-1 advantage heading into the second leg in Germany.

With the exception of a yellow card against Atalanta, Morata has been on fire. He had a hand in both goals in a 2-2 draw with Cesena, scoring one and setting up another. He also tallied a goal and an assist in a 3-1 over Milan, earning Man of the Match honors. Before that he netted the only goal in a 1-0 Coppa Italia victory for the Bianconeri against Parma. Other recent conquests include an assist each in blowout wins over Napoli (3-1) and Verona (4-0). Morata also scored in a separate demolition of Verona, this one finishing 6-1. That’s five goals and four assists in his last 10 matches, six of which he played the full 90. Llorente only managed two goals and two assists in his last 10 games. He played the full 90 minutes only twice in that span.

Throw in the fact that Morata is a full eight years younger than Llorente and it makes sense that the former Real Madrid man is making Llorente expendable.

Given Llorente’s play and age, and the fact that Carlos Tevez will return to Argentina when his contract expires, Juve will need some new attackers.

Sassuolo duo Domenico Berardi and Simone Zaza are both forwards who have been heavily mentioned as possibilities to move to Turin in the near future.

Berardi is actually owned by Juve and is spending the year on loan with the Neroverdi. He has seven goals and six assists in 19 appearances for Sassuolo and provides tactical flexibility thanks to his ability to play on the right wing. Zaza is actually Neroverdi property, but Juventus has a $15 million buy-back option on the forward’s contract this summer. Zaza has nine goals and an assist in 21 appearances for his club and has already opened his scoring account for the Italian National Team with a goal in the Azzurri’s 2-0 win over Norway in a Euro 2016 qualifying match.

Llorente has been linked with moves to Tottenham, Marseille, Liverpool and Arsenal, so there are suitors. Should a sale occur, their will clearly be funds for Juve to get a new striker to replace the struggling Llorente in the team. The Old Lady don’t necessarily need a replacement for Llorente, but a long-term one for Tevez. They already have Llorente’s replacement in-house—Alvaro Morata

All stats courtesy of http://www.whoscored.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Seattle Sports: Highlights of the Professional Sports Team’s Public Twitter Discussion Concerning a Road Trip to Arizona

The following is a fantastic use of Twitter. It happened after the Seahawks came back to beat the Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

Juventus: Notes and Stats from 2-0 Champions League Win Against Malmo

Tevez scores again

Carlos Tevez scored yet another Champions League goal with his 88th minute strike clinching the win for Juventus. Much was made of the striker’s lack of goals in Europe, but the Argentine now has three goals in five Champions League games this season.

Four man back line success

Massimiliano Allegri went to the four man back line once again on Tuesday and it paid dividends. Stephan Lichtsteiner was particularly dangerous on the right and Simone Padoin had some positive moments going forward on the left. Juventus have lined up with a four man back line during the last four games. The combined score in those games? 14-2 in Juve’s favor.

Llorente continues his strong form

Spanish striker Fernando Llorente only has four goals this season, but three of them have come in the last two games while all four have occurred in the previous six contests.

Claudio Marchisio’s day

One of the reasons for Juve’s recent success has been the resurgence of Claudio Marchisio. The Italian midfielder has two assists in his previous two outings and produced five shots against Malmo. None of the five found the back of the net, as Marchisio was continually denied by keeper Robin Olsen, but the midfielder had a strong day nonetheless.

Possession Game

Juventus finished the game with a whopping 61% of the possession.

All stats courtesy of http://www.whoscored.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Italian National Team: Familiarity in Conte’s First Squad Selection and will the Trend Continue?

In some situations you go with what you know. That’s exactly what new Italian National Team coach Antonio Conte did with his first squad selection. Of the players selected, many were familiar to Conte at Juve. Some selections seemed more confusing than logical, but no one can argue with the results. Conte dispatched World Cup semifinalist the Netherlands 2-0 in his first game in charge before trumping Norway by an identical score in his first Euro 2016 qualifier.

Of the players called up, 11 have Juve connections to Conte, a potential 12th call up, Andrea Pirlo, was out with an injury. Among the 11 were captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, defenders Giorgio Chiellini, Angelo Ogbonna and Leonardo Bonucci, midfielders Claudio Marchisio and Emanuele Giaccherini as well as forwards Simone Zaza, Fabio Quagliarella, Ciro Immobile and Sebastian Giovinco. Another player with a connection to Conte, former Bianconeri forward Daniel Osvaldo was ruled out due to injury.

It remains to be seen how many of these players Conte will use in the future. Form and injury will affect his selections going forward, but it will be interesting to see if he sticks with consistently calling up players he has experience with.

Of the Juve/ex-Juve player contingent, some players are logical locks to be continually called up. Buffon, Pirlo, Chiellini, Bonucci, Marchisio and Immobile can all be placed in that category. Giaccherini is another player who will likely be constantly called upon. Previous coach Cesare Prandelli used the Sunderland midfielder in a utility role while Conte deployed him similarly at Juventus. It’s likely the England-based player will stay with the Azzurri. When healthy, Andrea Barzagli is one of the better center backs in the world, however, injuries have derailed him of late. When he recovers, expect the Juve defenseman to play a part in the national setup at least through the 2016 Euros. Zaza’s recent fine form and a potential move back to Juve could see him cement his place in the national team, regardless of what happens with Mario Balotelli.

The last four are harder to predict. Ogbonna and Giovinco have showed glimpses of talent worthy of the national team, however both have had stretches of inconsistency. In addition, neither are established starters in Turin—something that could work against them. Quagliarella and Osvaldo are harder still to predict. Italy’s forward situation is far from certain. Giuseppe Rossi would be the unquestioned first choice, but another injury will keep the New Jersey born forward out for an extended amount of time. When he finally recovers, he’ll be the number one striker option for Conte. In addition, Alberto Gilardino and Antonio Cassano are both near the end of their international careers while Alessio Cerci, Lorenzo Insigne and Stephan El Shaarawy are all talented but are more likely to play behind the striker, or even in an advanced midfield position. Because of all the depth, it will be interesting to see where Quagliarella and Osvaldo fit with the team moving forward.

Overall, Conte will continue to deploy his old Juve players—most of them at least. Established starters like Buffon, Pirlo and Chiellini will all continue to suit up for their former coach. Other players are harder to predict, but if anything is to be learned from this, it’s that Conte goes with what whom he thinks will fit his tactics. For now, that’s a contingent of Juve players. The main reason is because he knows what he wants to do tactically and he knows that his former players can fit into his system.

Why Euro 2016 Will be a Crucial Tournament for Europe’s Best

With the World Cup over, the collective attention of the footballing world has turned to the club season. However— most fans will also be looking forward to the next biggest international tournament. The 2016 European Championships. Like the World Cup, the “Euros” are held every four years and feature a slate of qualification games leading up to the tournament.

Compared to past Euros, Euro 2016 will have a very different feel to it, because it will be a crucial tournament for every country involved. Here are some of those countries and why the tournament will be key for them.

Spain

La Roja’s era of dominance is over. The cracks started to show, however briefly, at the last Euros. By the time Brazil 2014 came and went, Spain’s reign had unceremoniously ended. With the departures of team pillars Xavi, David Villa and Xabi Alonso, the Spaniards will be handed over to a mix of youngsters and veterans to carry the team. The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Ramos and David Silva will still feature heavily, but Spain must do a better job of integrating younger talents such as Koke, Isco and Daniel Carvajal if they are to stop the tailspin they are in. Euro 2016 will be crucial for Spain. As it stands, they are on the fence – the fence between the world’s elite (i.e. Germany, Argentina and the Netherlands) and the upper echelon’s middle class (i.e. England, Mexico and Croatia). If Spain can integrate its youth, it stands a chance to stay at the big kid table. If it doesn’t, slipping is a real possibility.

France

France carries the weight of a nation, or rather the support of one. The French will host in 2016, and after a favorable showing in Brazil, Les Bleus will look to build upon the positivity. The team only lost by one goal to eventual champs Germany, something that can’t be said of Brazil, and seamlessly integrated future stars Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann into the team. For one reason or another, the team that went to Brazil didn’t feature Samir Nasri, Clement Grenier or Gael Clichy. If Didier Deschamps can integrate those players, along with talented youngster such as Florian Thauvin and Alexandre Lacazette in the same fashion he introduced Pogba and Griezmann into the side then France could win the tournament on home soil.

Italy

Like various other European powers (see Spain, England, and Portugal) Italy struggled in Brazil. The victim of somewhat unfortunate circumstances, cannibalism included, the Azzurri struggled. With new coach Antonio Conte in charge, the team suddenly has a much brighter future. Conte, the former Juventus manager, relied heavily on a back three in his formational forays at Juve. His goalkeeper and back three at the Old Lady typically had Gianluigi Buffon in goal with the trio of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli sitting in front. All four will be at his disposal with the national team. Because of the renaissance the back-three has experienced in world football and the Juve players’ familiarity and success with the formation, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Italy achieve success at Euro 2016.

Germany

The World Cup winners lost Phillip Lahm, Per Mertesacker and Miroslav Klose to international retirement. However, thanks to their status as World Cup trophy winners, and their tremendous depth, the team should be considered favorites heading into 2016. Germany has an abundance of quality to replace Lahm, Mertesacker and Klose, with the respective likes of Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Howedes and Mario Gomez (among others) waiting to fill in. The 2016 Euros will be especially crucial for the Germans as they look to build a dynasty similar to the one Spain recently had. Only this time, with the tremendous depth and development in the German senior and youth ranks, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Die Mannschaft win more trophies than the Spanish.  

England

England is in transition. With Steven Gerrard retired and Frank Lampard likely to follow the same path before too long, the Three Lions will be without the midfield backbone they’ve had for the past decade. The fate of England lies with its youngsters. If exiting talents like Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw can continue their trajectory towards being elite, world-class players, then the one-time world champs will have a chance in France. If not, it could be a long road back. Wayne Rooney is the only consistent/elite leg the English have to stand on. Despite a roster littered with Premier League veterans, Roy Hodgson’s team looked challenged in Brazil. If the youth comes through, England shouldn’t be discounted. On the other hand, if the youth falters, it will be another international tournament where Wayne Rooney carries more of a burden than is necessary.

Portugal, Sweden and Wales

All three teams are extremely star driven. For Portugal it’s Cristiano Ronaldo, for the Swedes it Zlatan Ibrahimovic and for the Welsh its Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale.

Ronaldo will be 31 in 2016, and it may be the Portuguese’s last chance to win a major piece of silverware with the world’s best player. The situation is similar for Sweden. After failing to make it to Brazil 2014, 2016 could be the last time we see Zlatan on a big international stage. This could be the last time for each to make their mark internationally.

Wales’ duo of Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale won’t be going away any time soon, but this will be a crucial tournament for the Welsh as they look to establish themselves as respectable players in world football. The team isn’t just Ramsey and Bale either, the Welsh also boast quality players like Swansea captain Ashley Williams, recent Spurs signing Ben Davis and Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen. The 2016 European Championships will be Wales’ chance to get their foot in the door of international football.

Cinderella-type runs aren’t as unheard of at the Euros as they are at the World Cup. Greece won it all in 2004 and Italy made a run out of nowhere to finish second in 2012. All three countries (Portugal, Sweden and Wales) certainly have the talent to do it.

Croatia  

The Croatian national team has some truly gifteded players like Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric just to name a few.  However, outside of group stage exits, the country doesn’t have much, to show for since finishing third at the 1998 World Cup. The 2016 Euros and 2018 World Cup are the last chances for a supremely talented generation of Croatians to prove that they can make an impact. If the team can put in a positive, lengthy run at 2016, they can build momentum for a strong finish in 2018. Maybe a return to France (where their 1998 World Cup success occurred) will help Croatia. They certainly have the talent to accomplish bigger things.

The Netherlands

Similar to other European nations, this may be the Dutch’s last chance to add to their trophy cabinet while Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie are still playing. The rest of the Dutch team is loaded with youth and potential, but for three of the world’s most feared attacking players their international careers are winding down. After finishing second in South Africa and third in Brazil another piece of silverware certainly isn’t out of the question. If the Dutch can continue to mesh young players with their key veterans, they will not only have a chance to be successful in 2016, but also at the 2018 World Cup and beyond.

The European Championships in 2016 will be crucial for just about every contender in Europe. Some countries will be looking to build for the future while other countries will attempt to eke out one last glorious run from an aging generation. Either way, 2016 will be of the upmost importance.

Euro 2016: Why the Serbian National Team is a Dark Horse

The Serbian national football team hasn’t qualified for the European Championships since 2000 when they reached the quarter-finals. 2016 could be different. Qualifying has yet to officially begin, but the Serbs have been handed a manageable group—Portugal, Denmark, Armenia and Albania are their rivals in qualification. This won’t be a cake walk by any stretch; Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal is one of the top 20 teams in the world, Denmark is a solid squad and Armenia just missed qualifying for the playoff to get into Brazil 2014. Still, with the talent Serbia has, you would favor them to advance.

Coach Dick Advocaat’s selection pool features players plying their trade in numerous top leagues. With Serbs employed at club teams in Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal and France among others, there’s certainly talent. However, Advocaat’s strongest contingent comes from the Serbian internationals playing in England’s top flight. With players at top clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City, the team has a strong nucleus. The team is especially strong in midfield and defense, two reasons why they could do serious damage in 2016.

Sitting in front of veteran shot-stopper and onetime Wigan keeper Vladimir Stojkovic is a defense that could arguably be one of the finest in Europe. The two most-capped players on the back line are Chelsea stalwart Branislav Ivanovic and Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov. These two will man the wide positions while the center back options give Advocaat a plethora of potential selections. At the coach’s disposal is Borussia Dortmund star Neven Subotic, Serie A veteran Dusan Basta, Kolorav’s club teammate Mastija Nastasic and Lyon defenseman Milan Bisevac. A theoretical back line of Ivanovic, Kolarov, Subotic and Nastasic arguably provides more stability and quality than the defenses of European big boys Spain and England.

Further up the pitch in the midfield are a diverse group of Serbs that provide dynamic play and defensive support. Whatever tactical formation is used, you can bet that Chelsea man Nemanja Matic will be sitting in front of the back four, providing key passing and making timely tackles. In addition to him, Advocaat can deploy a number of quality players in the central and wide areas of midfield. These includes recent Liverpool signing and lightning-quick Lazar Markovic, Southampton’s newest goal-creating threat Dusan Tadic, Roma attacker Adem Ljajic and Benfica owned Filip Duricic.

Serbia’s depth and quality is nowhere near that of Belgium, another recent dark horse from Europe, but they are similar in talent to Switzerland, a team that pushed Argentina to the brink in the World Cup. The Serbs won’t win Euro 2016, and at this point they haven’t qualified, but if they get there, they’ll make some noise.

Defending Antonio Conte’s Omission of Mario Balotelli

Newly-minted Italian national team coach Antonio Conte made headlines when he selected his first official squad for a friendly against the Netherlands and the Azzurri’s first Euro 2016 qualifying match against Norway. Those headlines were made based on who he did, and more importantly didn’t, call up. Or in other words, Conte made headlines for not calling up Mario Balotelli.

The coach insists that he is not sending a message with the omission, and it shouldn’t be looked at as such. First off, no player is entitled to a call up every time around. Yes, Balotelli is clearly the most talented striker at Conte’s disposal, but that alone doesn’t merit a call up. It should also be remembered that the last international matches for Italy were at the World Cup—a competition where the Italians struggled. There were few Italian bright spots in Brazil and the former AC Milan striker wasn’t one of them.

Based on Brazil, the only Azzurri members who would have been locks for inclusion in these two games would have been Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, Lazio’s Antonio Candreva, Torino defender Matteo Darmian and PSG duo Salvatore Sirigu and Marco Verratti. Balotelli obviously is not one of those players.

The newest Liverpool signing is mercurial. In fact, if you look the word “mercurial” in the dictionary, you probably get a picture of Mario Balotelli. Not only that, he picks up his fair share of cards. Among those cards included were two yellows compiled in Brazil including one in Italy’s final game. Because the Italians didn’t progress in the tournament, their star striker will have to sit out the next competitive game on the international calendar. That game is the first Euro qualifier against Norway.

Most will point to the fact of Claudio Marchisio’s inclusion in the team as one of the key reasons why Conte is sending a message by leaving out Balotelli. Marchisio picked up a red card in the Italy/Uruguay game, and like Balotelli will miss the Norway match through suspension. However, this is Conte’s first camp in charge of the Azzurri. He will be implementing his system, his style of play and things of that nature. Not only does Marchisio understand Conte and his tactics from their time together at Juve, he also provides leadership and experience in the midfield. Conte has also been forced to call up a relatively inexperienced group due to injuries. Usual call ups Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo and Thiago Motta are all out with injuries. Because of this, the likes of Marco Parolo, Alessandro Florenzi and Andrea Poli all been brought in. All have fewer than six caps.

As odd as it sounds, leaving out Balotelli may let Conte evaluate his options in a more comprehensive manner. If Balotelli is in the team, he’s starting. Leaving him at home gives Conte the chance to experiment with and give more minutes to the likes of Mattia Destro, Ciro Immobile, Simone Zaza and Stephan El Shaarawy up front. Doing so will be crucial as all four are under the age of 24 and will play vital roles for the Azzurri leading up to Euro 2016 and Russia 2018.

Antonio Conte’s decision to leave Mario Balotelli off his first Italy roster didn’t sit well with some fans. However, when you consider Balotelli’s mercurial play, suspension and other factors, it makes sense why Liverpool’s newest player was left off the Azzurri team.

Real Madrid: Why Kroos and James Don’t Make Sense Tactically & How the Hoarding and Exorbitant Spending Produce Results

Real Madrid has a tendency, or, more like a need, to employ the best players in the world in their team. In the process, the club spends absurd amounts of money. They will routinely spend tens of millions of dollars just for squad players.

Recent signings Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez are hardly squad players, but it shows how far the team is willing to go to be the best. Both signings undoubtedly help the team improve (they would help any team) but they don’t make the most sense tactically. In coach Carlo Ancelotti’s favored 4-3-3 formation, Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria were favored as the midfield trio. Admittedly, the team sold Di Maria, but with Kroos’ addition, the team will now field an overcrowded midfield group. A group that includes Modric, Alonso, Kroos, a healthy Sami Khedira and last summer’s splurge signings Isco and Asier Illarramendi. That’s a lot of midfielders who, if you combine their transfer fees, could fix a country’s economy.

While Kroos’ signing gives Madrid even more quality in the middle of the park, the team’s signing of Rodriguez produces questions. Lots of them. James is a superbly talented player, and his skill probably merits a place on a team like Madrid’s roster, but tactically it is a bit tough to fit him into the current team.

James Rodriguez can play as an attacking midfielder, a true No. 10 or he can be deployed out wide as a winger. In the current 4-3-3 that Ancelotti employs, there is no way on Earth Rodriguez displaces either Gareth Bale or Cristiano Ronaldo. It simply won’t happen. And to be fair, no one in the world is going replace Madrid’s two most expensive players. The team could alter the 4-3-3 and play him in his favored position as a traditional No. 10 with two pivot midfielders sitting behind him. This could provide deadly results offensively, but it would also limit the number of central midfielders Ancelotti can use. With a huge glut of them already, to accommodate Rodriguez he may have to sacrifice one of them, hence pushing someone further down the totem pole and potentially off the team all together.

This is where the hoarding strategy comes into play. Real Madrid is able to sell off star players in order to make room for star players. Or they simply sell off their highly priced squad players to other clubs where those players will play prominent roles.  While it may not be the most fiscally responsible thing in the world, it helps the team avoid the swinging axe that is Financial Fair Play.

Last summer the team spent over 150 million euros (a little over 200 million US dollars) bringing Bale, Isco, Illarramendi, Daniel Carvajal and Casemiro into the fold. Normally a team spending that kind of capital would be hit with FFP sanctions. However, unlike fellow big spenders PSG and Manchester City, Madrid made some cash to offset that absurd sum. They unloaded Mesut Ozil to Arsenal for 50 million euros and sold striker Gonzalo Higuain to Napoli for 40 million euros. Combine those with the sales of Raul Albiol, Jose Callejon (both also to Napoli) among others and Madrid made nearly 130 million euros from outgoing players.

This allows the team to recoup some of the money they spent, but more importantly it allows them to escape those FFP sanctions. PSG wasn’t able to avoid the axe as they spent nearly 140 million euros on four players. Of the players they sold or let go, they collectively brought back 26 million euros.

City, on the other hand, spent north of 90 million pounds, while recouping a little over 15 million pounds on player sales.

These may not seem like serious issues, but they have impacted both teams’ current offseason spending. PSG, who doesn’t want to cross the line with FFP having already been sanctioned, tried and failed to acquire Di Maria from Madrid without paying a deservedly large sum of money. This is mainly due to the fact that they don’t want to, and can’t spend too much money.

Meanwhile, City has lost a number of spots on their team as part of the sanctions, and thus their international slots are full. Because of this, the team had to sell Spanish midfielder Javi Garcia in order to acquire long rumored target and French center back Equiliam Mangala.

The penalties only get worse for clubs like PSG and City if they continue to breach FFP guidelines. Real Madrid seems to have figured it out. The team buys star players. Should the star players fail to adapt or a bigger, better star comes along, then the incumbent stars get the boot. Because of this, Madrid escapes Financial Fair Play penalties all the while being one of the best, if not the best, club in the world.