Sami Khedira Signs for Juventus: Signing Shows Juve’s Intent

The fact that Sami Khedira, like Paolo Dybala before him, has signed for Juventus only shows the Italian champions’ willingness to reload and re-launch in terms of winning European hardware next season. Both signings are moves that take the Old Lady “from strength to strength” thanks to loaded player selections in the center of the pitch and in attack.

The signings also give just another reason why Juve decision-maker Beppe Marotta is the best in the business. Marotta has snagged Khedira, Andrea Pirlo, Fernando Llorente and Paul Pogba for free while signing stars Arturo Vidal, Carlos Tevez, Patrice Evra and Andrea Barzagli on cut-rate deals. You paid more for your last batch of groceries than Marotta paid to sign Khedira, Pirlo and Pogba. There should be some kind of award for that.

Khedira missed large parts of the season for Madrid last term, making just 12 appearances over all competitions. However, when you can sign a player for free who was a regular starter at Real Madrid and won the Bundesliga, the Champions League, La Liga and the World Cup before the age of 29, you know you’ve had a solid day at the office.

The German international leaves a crowded midfield situation at the Bernabeu and joins a midfield grouping in Turin where he will receive his fair share of starts.  

While competing with Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio for starts won’t be easy, it will provide him much less competition than in Spain where Khedira was stuck behind James Rodriguez, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Additionally, Khedira would have had to fight off Asier Illarramendi, Lucas Silva and Casemiro for time off the bench.

Khedira will likely provide a change-of-pace to Pirlo in midfield, serving more as a destroyer to Pirlo’s metronome. He doesn’t possess the passing acumen as his new Italian teammate, but Khedira is a reliable passer nonetheless. The German will likely be charged with shielding the defense as a descriptive force while providing steady passing. He’s not Pirlo, but he’ll give opposing teams something to think about nonetheless.

If anything, the decision to bring in a player of Khedira’s quality to essentially serve as the first midfielder off the bench only shows the club’s desire to not only make it back to Europe’s biggest game, like they did this past season, but win the game—no matter who the opponent.

For more Juventus, click here. For more from the world of Serie A, click here. For more Soccer/Football, click here. For Vine videos (including Champions League highlights and Europa League highlights), click here.

Juventus vs Barcelona Champions League Final: Who Owns the Midfield Advantage

In Saturday’s Champions League Final between Juventus and Barcelona, the center of the pitch, and specifically the midfielders who make their living there, will decide the final. While legendary luminaries like Gianluigi Buffon and Lionel Messi will play their part, it’s the midfielders who will decide the match.

The center of the pitch is the one area where the two teams are the most comparable.

Juve’s defense, organized and led by Buffon, is Europe’s best goal-preventing unit. The Bianconeri held Borussia Dortmund, Monaco and Real Madrid to three goals, one of which was a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty, while another came off a rare defensive error.

Similarly, Barcelona may boast Europe’s best goal-scoring unit with Messi leading an offensive unit that includes the likes of Neymar, Pedro and Luis Suarez.

When Juventus’ defense and Barcelona’s offense collide, the midfielders will be responsible for breaking the inevitable cancelling-out of the defense and offense.

The Juventus Midfield:

The Starters: Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal

The Key Reserves: Roberto Pereyra and Stefano Sturaro

The Old Lady’s starting quartet of midfielders are the secret to the team’s success. Much has been made of Juve being a defensive juggernaut, which they are. However, the midfield might be Juventus best group of players (which is significant because you have Buffon in goal and Carlos Tevez leading the attack).

The four generally line up with Pirlo sitting deep, dictating play and providing killer long balls. Two of the remaining three flank the midfield maestro while the fourth plays in a more advanced position, supporting the strikers. All three have found success in the advanced role, with Vidal getting the nod in both of Juve’s matchups with Madrid.

 Off the bench, the two most likely names to be called are Roberto Pereyra and Stefano Sturaro. Pereyra is one of Max Allegri’s most called-upon reserves and earned minutes in both legs against Los Blancos. The Udinese-loanee provides a spark off the bench and generally comes on to provide fresh, relentless legs to run at the defense. While Pereyra operates higher up the pitch, Sturaro is more centrally located, combative and defensive presence. His deflection of James Rodriguez header ended up putting Juve through to the final.

The Barcelona Midfield:

The Starters: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic

The Key Reserves: Xavi, Rafinha

Barcelona continues to use their patented 4-3-3 system with Sergio Busquets operating as both a passing outlet and a last-line of defense. His defensive ability lets Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic do damage offensively, with the former often playing much higher up the pitch than his two midfield teammates.

Coming off a summer transfer from Sevilla, Rakitic has moved into Xavi’s place in the starting eleven, providing seven goals and eight assists across all competitions. Rakitic possess great technical skill, maybe not on the level of the man he replaced in midfield, but good nonetheless.

Coming off the bench, Xavi has been severely limited this season, but has still managed to hand out eight assists while scoring two goals as a deep-lying playmaker. In what will be his final game in a Barcelona shirt, Xavi will likely start on the bench. Given the number of appearances (seventh most on the team in La Liga, ninth most in the Champions League) despite the lack of starts, you’d think he would get into the match at some point.

Joining him on the bench is Rafinha, the brother of Bayern Munich’s Thiago. Similar to his brother and most all Barcelona midfielders/players, Rafinha is adept on the ball. At 22, he’s also developing as a contributor on defense. He has one goal and three assists in 30 appearances in all caps, generally playing in the center of the park.

Verdict: Juventus

Playing the game is a completely different story, but on paper, Juventus would seem to have the advantage. They have perhaps the best deep-lying playmaker in the world surrounded by a trio of excellent two-way midfielders who are world class on both sides of the ball. This is a stark contrast to Barcelona, who very much rely on Busquets to do the dirty work on defense so Iniesta and the other attackers can run free.

For more Soccer/Football, click here. For more Juventus, click here. For more from the world of Serie A, click here. To see Vine videos, (including Champions League highlights and Europa League highlights) click here.

To see highlights of the Bianconeri’s triumph over Real Madrid, click herehere and here.

For highlights of Barcelona’s triumph over Bayern Munich, click here.

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

Khedira and Dybala Transfers Step in Right Direction for Juventus

Sami Khedira and Paulo Dybala have both been linked with Champions League finalist Juventus, and now according to the Guardian’s Ed Aarons, the Bianconeri could announce the announce the signings soon.

(RELATED: 2015 Champions League Final Storylines to Watch: #Juventus vs #Barcelona)

Both are monumental signings for the club and signal a step in the right direction for Juventus. Here are just a few reasons why the signings are good for the Old Lady.

Transfer Fees

Sami Khedira is about to join a select club that features the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Fernando Llorente and Kingsley Coman. What do an Italian, a Spaniard and two Frenchman have in common? They were all signed on free transfers by Beppe Marotta.

Adding Khedira, a player who at 28 has already won the Bundesliga, La Liga, the Champions League and the World Cup, for no money may go down as one of Marotta’s best acquisitions. It probably would have been his best if he, you know, hadn’t acquired Pirlo and Pogba for a combined zero dollars/euros/pounds.

While Khedira is arriving on a free transfer, Dybala’s fee isn’t public knowledge. It’s likely in the €30 million range, and while that may seem like a ton of cash, the soon-to-be former Palermo striker has world-class upside. In five years, he and Alvaro Morata may provide Juve with the most dangerous attacking duo in world football.

If you still don’t like the fact that Juve paid €30 million for a player, just think of Dybala and Khedira’s signings as a package deal. Paying €30 million combined for the two is a steal.

Beating the Competition

The perception of Premier League teams, at least the upper-echelon ones, is that they can buy pretty much whoever they want. These British teams are flush with cash and generally can pry international players away from their old teams. However with Khedira and Dybala, two of the most typed/printed names in the transfer rumor sections, set to join Italian giants Juventus, it represents a major win for Juve.

Both have been linked with big-money spenders Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United with Dybala also being targeted by Liverpool.

Depth

Maybe the biggest positive about signing Khedira and Dybala is that neither represent a current area of need for the Old Lady.

The midfield is set with Pirlo, Pogba, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Roberto Pereyra, but Khedira adds extra quality and a player who will push for a starting spot in a midfield that is quickly becoming one of the best in Europe.

Dybala joins a similarly talented attack force that includes the likes of Morata, Coman, Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente.

It is completely feasible that neither player is a consistent starter for Juventus next season given the talent on the team, but the club will need depth and rotation for a shot at potential back-to-back trebles.

(RELATED: #Juventus Transfer Rumors: Players Who Could Leave Turin in the Summer Transfer Window)

Selling Club

Khedira and Dybala weren’t brought in as replacements for outgoing players and arrived before any departures, signaling that Juve has no desire to be a selling club.

Given the economic state of Italian football, it may not seem like Juve are prime candidates to be a buying club, but that’s exactly what the Bianconeri are doing.

Additionally, the club must have seen what happened to other clubs who made the Champions League final in past seasons and then saw their squads disassemble.

Borussia Dortmund lost Mario Gotze the season after reaching the final and saw Robert Lewandowski leave soon after. The German giants are set to lose manager Jurgen Klopp with Ilkay Gundogan likely to follow him out the door. In terms of the Champions League, they haven’t made it past the quarter-finals since losing to Bayern in the final.

Similarly, Atletico Madrid weren’t the same team this season after making it to the Champions League Final last term. Thibaut Courtois returning to Chelsea was a given after a long loan spell, but Atleti also lost Diego Costa and Felipe Luis to the west London club while David Villa departed for MLS club New York City F.C.

Atleti beat Barcelona by three points in last season’s title race, but finished 16 points behind the Catalan club as they finished third. Atletico also finished 14 points off cross-town rivals Real Madrid for second place.

Even if Pirlo leaves as rumored, Juve won’t lose much of their core, or first team at that. Adding Khedira and Dybala only strengthens the team ahead of next season.

For more Juventus, click here. For more from the world of Serie A, click here. For more Soccer/Football, click here. For Vine videos (including Champions League highlights and Europa League highlights), click here.

2015 Champions League Final Storylines to Watch: Juventus vs Barcelona

With Juventus set to face Barcelona in Berlin next month, here are some early storylines to watch for.

Rest

With the Scudetto already in hand, Juve will be able to limit playing time for their key performers. You can bet Max Allegri will play his players just enough to keep them sharp, but will give them significant rest. The added time will also allow Paul Pogba time to shake off any lingering rust from his injury lay-off. Juve will play Lazio in the Coppa Italia Final in Rome on May 20th.

Barcelona may have La Liga in hand, but haven’t won it yet. They’ll face a tough test from Atletico in Madrid before finishing up against Deportivo La Coruna on the 23rd. Like Juve, they’re in position to win their domestic cup as well. Barcelona will host Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey Final.

Giorgio Chiellini vs Luis Suarez: BiteGate 2.0

Chiellini was superb against Madrid and will a shot at revenge against Suarez, who along with the rest of the Uruguay knocked Chiellini (and six other Juve players including Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo) out of the World Cup. Oh yeah, Suarez also bit Chiellini.

Patrice Evra vs Suarez

Like Chiellini, Evra has his own history with Suarez. The forward racially abused the Juventus defenseman when Evra was with Manchester United and Suarez was with Liverpool. You can bet that Juve will be up to the challenge of defending Suarez, especially if he tries attacking the left side of the Juventus defense. Juve play with a back four. The team’s preferred left back and left-center back pairing? That would be Chiellini and Evra.

Carlos Tevez vs Javier Mascherano

The former West Ham teammates made a controversial move to England from South America. The Argentines now find themselves on opposite sides of the pitch.

The Italian Defenders vs Yet Another Vaunted Attacking Trio

After making Madrid’s attacking trident of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema uncomfortable and largely ineffective, the central defense combination of Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli, along with outside backs Evra and Stephan Lichtsteiner will be tasked with slowing down another potent attacking trio, this one made up of Lionel Messi, Neymar and the cannibal Suarez

Buffon for the Win

The World Cup winner has yet to lay his hands on a Champions League trophy. Based on his reaction to defeating Real Madrid, you can bet he’ll want to take down Los Blancos biggest rivals as well.

Andrea Pirlo vs Iniesta and/or Xavi

The matchup between the Old Lady and the Spanish giants will feature three of the most talented and successful midfielders of the last 15 years. Must see TV to put it plainly.

Opposites Attract

Juve a strong defensive team thanks to a defensive foundation that know each other’s tendencies inside and out. While the Bianconeri don’t receive enough credit for their offense, their defense will be on display versus the talented attacking trio of Barcelona.

For more Soccer/Football, click here. For more Juventus, click here. For more from the world of Serie A, click here. To see Vine videos, (including Champions League highlights and Europa League highlights) click here.

To see highlights of the Bianconeri’s triumph over Real Madrid, click here, here and here.

For highlights of Barcelona’s triumph over Bayern Munich, click here.

Your Say

Did you think I missed any storylines to watch? If so, let your thoughts be known in the comments.

Juventus: Scudetto Only Emphasizes the Rest of Serie A’s Struggles

Before they match up with Real Madrid in Tuesday’s first leg of the Champions League Semi-Finals, Juve were given the opportunity to celebrate their fourth consecutive Scudetto. Their success in the league has been tremendous for the club, and has helped vault the Old Lady to their current position in Europe.

Indeed, Juve’s success has been a boom for the club. They’ll receive a financial windfall for reaching this late stage in the competition while also standing a good bet to advance vs Real thanks to their role as extremely-overlooked underdogs.

While the success has been wonderful for Juve (they’ve outlasted comparables in Ligue 1 as well as every club representing the mighty, mighty Premier League), the same cannot be said for the rest of Serie A.

Italian football is not what it once was. This much is true. Players are no longer flocking to the peninsula, in fact, players are staying away from it. Top level players at least. Elite talent tends to seek out teams in England, Germany or atop La Liga as opposed to playing in Italy. This makes the fact that Juve out-lasted every English, financial powerhouse (and PSG) all the more outstanding.

While the Bianconeri are clearly the best team in Serie A, their quick assent to the title this year has been aided by poor play from the rest of the league, at least comparative to past years. It seems Juve will continue to carry the banner for Italian football in Europe. They may be alone in this duty.

After Juventus, the two most historically successful Italian teams are the Milan clubs. Inter and A.C. Milan. Sadly, as Serie A has fallen, so to have the Milan clubs. Inter won the treble in 2010 under Jose Mourinho, but haven’t been the same since. Their core players from the Mourinho days have grown old, and suitable replacements are yet to be found. Inter currently sit in eighth place in the standings with 49 points, thirty behind champions Juve with 79.

Inter’s Milanese counterparts have also fallen victim to losing their core. Like Inter, Milan’s nucleus consisting of the likes of Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf and Alessandro Nesta, grew old. Also like Inter, the team is still searching for worthy replacements.

Additionally, Milan has lost its contingent of star players, namely Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andrea Pirlo and Thiago Silva. These losses, coupled with the departures of Antonio Cassano and Alexandre Pato, have left the cupboard bare in Milan. The club has attempted to replace their former stars with the likes of Cristian Zapata and Nigel de Jong, as such they haven’t been able to reach the same heights. A.C. Milan are actually fairing worse than Inter. The Rossoneri are eleventh in Serie A with 43 points. If they had lost two more games they’d be in fourteenth place on goal differential.  

Over the past few years, Roma and Napoli have replaced the Milan clubs as challengers to Juve’s throne. Both have spent heavily in order to upset their rivals in Turin and both found moderate success (stress moderate) before struggling.

Roma have swung and miss with some acquisitions (Juan Iturbe, Ashley Cole) while Napoli simply haven’t been able to make up ground despite their numerous investments.

Thanks to a lack of domestic success, non-Juve Italian teams have struggled in making major strides in Europe. Napoli failed to qualify for the Champions League for this season and have been stuck in the Europa League. The Naples-based club deserves props for destroying Wolfsburg (who currently sit second in the Bundesliga), but Napoli’s other competition has been Anderlecht and Dynamo Moscow. They play Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in the Semi-Finals. Hardly the stuff of legends.

Roma has an entirely different story to tell. The Romans were placed in an admittedly tough Champions League group with Bayern and Manchester City. The finished third, but were only relegated to the Europa League on goal differential thanks to finishing even on points with CSKA Moscow, a team thirteen points off of first place in the Russian Premier League.

A.S. Roma barely got by Feyenoord in the Europa League Round of 32 before losing to Fiorentina, a team they are currently 12 points ahead of in Serie A, by an aggregate score of 4-1. They were embarrassed by the Tuscans 3-0 in Rome. In two European matches (in Rome) against Bayern and Fiorentina, Roma lost by a combined score of 10-1.

Outside of Napoli and Roma, the closest team to Juve in the standings is plucky Lazio. The other Roman club is one point behind their archrivals in the standings. They’ve played well this season, but could have issues moving forward. Lazio were extremely frugal in the last transfer window and are staring at the prospect of losing Miroslav Klose.

Juventus won Serie A, and for the fourth consecutive time I might add, but the Turin-based club could use more help domestically. Serie A’s reputation is slipping if it hasn’t already slipped. For Juve to continue their success in Europe and domestically, they need the league to start performing better. This will draw better players to the league, which will in turn make the league more competitive in Europe. The added competition should help Juve greatly.

Regardless, Juve will continue to be the favorite in Serie A, but they could use some help in raising the league’s profile from the rest of the peninsula.

For more Juventus, click here. For more Soccer/Football, click here. For more from the world of Serie A, click here.

Juventus: Rare Cost-Efficient Champions League Success

The upcoming slate of Champions League games features some of European football’s usual suspects joining Juve in the last eight: Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid. Monaco and Porto have also qualified.

With the exception of Porto, all of these teams differ from Juve in the fact that they spend an exorbitant amount of money on new players. Sure, Atleti and Bayern sell a number of high-level players too, but they still spend top dollar to replace them.

Juventus are the rare success story in terms of not spending a ridiculous amount of money. Sure they’ve splurged on a player or two, but they tend to keep it conservative with their spending. With the exception of three players, every single Bianconeri player was acquired in 2010 or later. Captain Gianluigi Buffon and Vice-captains Giorgio Chiellini and Claudio Marchisio (an academy product) are the only exceptions.

All three have been catalysts of Juve’s recent success with Buffon and Chiellini anchoring one of Europe’s best and most cohesive defensive units. Martin Caceres would be suiting up alongside the Italian duo, but an ankle injury in March sidelined the Uruguayan defender. Caceres is a versatile defending option who can play any position on the back line. He cost Juve a mere €8 million. Rising Italian defender Angelo Ogbonna cost the Bianconeri €13 million plus half of Ciro Immobile’s rights. Andrea Barzagli, who when healthy is one of Europe most consistent and underrated defenders, cost Juve €300,000. Barzagli’s teammate Leonardo Bonucci may be the best passing central defender in the world. He cost Juventus €15.5 million. This justifiable when you consider he is only 27 and developing into one of the better players at his position. Right back Stephan Lichtsteiner joined Juve €10 million while his counterpart on the left side of the defense, Patrice Evra, cost a mere €1.2 million.

So just to recap, arguably the best defensive unit in Europe cost Juve the following, in order of cheapest to most expensive:

  • Andrea Barzagli: €300,000
  • Patrice Evra: €1.2 million
  • Caceres: €8 million
  • Stephan Lichtsteiner: €10 million
  • Ogbonna: €13 million (Plus half of Ciro Immobile’s rights. Juve would later sell the other half of Immobile’s rights to Torino for €8 million.)
  • Leonardo Bonucci: €15.5 million

Remember, PSG spent over €69 million during the last summer transfer window for David Luiz alone while Barcelona splurged €42 million on the defensive trio of Jeremy Mathieu, Thomas Vermaelen and Douglas in the last calendar year. Real Madrid just agreed to pay Porto €31 million for another defender, Danilo.

Slightly further up the pitch, Juventus relies on a midfield grouping that generally consists of some combination of Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal, Simone Pepe and Roberto Pereyra. Marchisio was an academy product, and as such didn’t require a transfer fee. Pogba, one of the world’s best and a future Ballon d’Or winner cost Juventus less money than it would cost you to buy a potted plant. He came on a free transfer. Azzurri legend, masterclass passer and metronome Andrea Pirlo arrived for free as well. Vidal and Pepe were slightly more expensive, costing a combined €20.6 million (Vidal €10.5, Pepe €10.1). Did I forget to mention, when on form, Arturo Vidal may be the best two-way player in the world? Oh, I did? Let me say it again. When on form, Arturo Vidal may be the best two-way footballer in the world. He cost €10.5 million. Pereyra is on loan from Udinese. In order to bring the attacking midfielder in on loan, Juve paid a mere €1.5 million. Even if you factor in utility/squad player Simone Padoin’s €5 million fee, Juve haven’t surrendered much financially form one of Europe’s best midfields.

  • Marchisio: Free* (academy product)
  • Pirlo: Free
  • Pogba: Free
  • Pereyra: €1.5 million (Loan fee. Juventus have the option to make the move permanent for €14 million over the summer.)
  • Padoin: €5 million
  • Pepe €10.1
  • Vidal €10.5

In other words, that’s a combined €27.1 for a midfield that could potentially guide Juventus into the Champions League semifinals. Real Madrid doled out €25 million for the rights to Toni Kroos, not to mention €80 million for another midfielder, albeit more of an attacking type in James Rodriguez. Barcelona paid more for Ivan Rakitic (€18 million) than Juve did for their four best midfielders in Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba and Vidal (€10.5). The same can be said of Bayern Munich, who in the summer of 2013, paid €37 million for Mario Gotze and €25 million for Thiago.

As we move further up the pitch, transfer fees get more expensive. Barcelona paid €81.25 million for Luis Suarez this past summer transfer window. Real Madrid paid a combined €185 million for their star duo of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. Atletico Madrid remade their attacking contingent over the summer by paying a combined €86 million for forwards Alessio Cerci (€16 million), Angel Correa (€7.5 million), Raul Jimenez (€10.5 million), Mario Mandzukic (€22 million) and Antoine Griezmann (€30 million).

Juventus possess a dangerous strike force that was significantly cheaper than the likes of the near free-spending clubs listed above.

The Bianconeri admittedly splurged €20 million on Alvaro Morata, but the young Spaniard already looks like a bargain thanks to some strong performances. Like the midfield, Juventus used a number of free transfers and loaned players to fill out their roster. Promising youngster Kingsley Coman was signed for nothing while towering striker Fernando Llorente was also brought in for free. Alessandro Matri rejoined the club on a loan deal to provide depth. While €20 million seems like a bargain for Morata, the real bargain came when the team bought Carlos Tevez from Manchester City. Tevez cost an initial €13 million (and change) and has gone on to reestablish himself as one of Europe’s most dangerous strikers. Here’s just a taste of what Carlitos has done lately.

Here’s what Juve paid for their attackers:

  • Coman: Free
  • Llorente: Free
  • Matri: Free* (On Loan)
  • Tevez: €13.89 million
  • Morata: €20 million

Considering the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid have recently spent enough money on attacking players to fix a small country’s economy, €38.89 million seems like a relatively small price to pay for a group of strikers that have advanced Juve as far as their Spanish counterparts.

While teams like PSG, Barcelona and Real Madrid spend exuberantly when they get the chance, Juve have made it just as far with much cheaper, but just as effective talent. It’s also worth noting that Juventus, the champions of Serie A, widely regarded as a struggling league from a financial standpoint, made it further in the competition than every single English team. England’s Premier League is widely regarded as the most financially prosperous league on the planet.

Of Juventus players listed above, the Bianconeri paid €108.99 million. Real, Barca and Atleti all paid more than that amount for players in the most recent summer transfer window. Monaco are in the position they are now because of a heavy investment in their squad that cost them over €140 million during last season’s summer transfer window. PSG sonly spent €58 million this past summer transfer window, but during the previous two seasons, they spent over €130 million in each summer window.

The Bianconeri are in a position to make the Champions League semifinals thanks to a favorable matchup with Monaco. The French club have dialed back their spending after a summer of spending cash last season. They’re more of the less of a group of evils than being a favorable matchup. There are no easy games at this stage of the Champions League, but Monaco seems to be the least intimating of the final eight. While most of the other eight teams bought elite talent for top dollar, Juventus have found their own elite talent through more cost-efficient methods, something that is a rarity these days.

For more Juventus, click here. For more Soccer/Football, click here. For more from the world of Serie A, click here.

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.

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.

Juventus: What Happened to Milan Under Allegri and Why it Must Not Happen in Turin

Since Antonio Conte’s departure from Juventus, the club has made an equally shocking move by hiring Massimiliano Allegri – one of the architects of AC Milan’s descent from continental power to borderline mid-table Serie A team.

Allegri inherited a talented Milan squad, one that finished third in Serie A. he took that talent and infused it with a wealth of attacking options. In came the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Robinho and Antonio Cassano. All four players helped the coach claim the Scudetto in his first season on the job. After that, however, it was a steady diet of decline for the Milan club. The following year they slipped to second, after that third and after that an uncharacteristic eighth.

Some of this had to do with personnel. For one reason or another, players left Milan at a somewhat alarming rate over the course of Allegri’s tenure. Now to be fair, player movement is anything but uncommon, but at a winning club, you would think it wouldn’t be as pronounced as in a weaker team.

One of the coach’s most common lineups in his Scudetto winning tenure featured Christian Abbiati in goal with a four man defense of Ignazio Abate, Alessandro Nesta, Thiago Silva and Luca Antonini protecting him. Sitting in front of them was the midfield diamond of Mark van Bommel, Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso and Boateng supporting Robinho and Ibrahimovic in attack.

Allegri showed a strange resolve not to use Pirlo as much as he could. I don’t care who you have on your team, if you are a manager, you should start Pirlo. If it’s a three-man midfield and the likes of Pirlo, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger are at your disposal, you should sit one of them in favor of the bearded wonder.

This is what Allegri did, preferring to use Gattuso, Seedorf, van Bommel (upon his arrival) instead of Pirlo. To be fair, Milan did have an embarrassment of riches in central midfield with the aforementioned trio, Pirlo and club legend Massimo Ambrosini. All five were some of the finer midfield players of their generation, but there is absolutely no way you leave arguably the best passer of the last 15 years on the bench.

Ok, if he doesn’t start, at least give him a “super-sub” role. That sounds like the smart thing to do in the situation. Is that what Allegri did? Eh, not really. The coach handed Mathieu Flamini more appearances in terms of players who weren’t established starters.

It’s a little more acceptable to sit Pirlo behind legends like Seedorf and Gattuso as opposed to Flamini. Don’t get me wrong, Flamini is a fine player who has enjoyed an extremely successful career, but Pirlo should be playing ahead of him 98 times out of 100.

This led to Pirlo ultimately leaving and signing with Juventus, where he has since gone on to beat Milan to three straight Scudettos.

Pirlo wasn’t the only face to leave the northern club throughout Allegri’s tenure. Of his starting XI that claimed the title in his first season – Abbiati, Abate, Nesta, Silva, Antonini, Gattuso, van Bommel, Seedorf, Boateng, Ibrahimovic and Robinho – only Abbiati, Abate, Antonini, Boateng and Robinho remained on the team two years later. Four years later and the list shrinks to Abbiati, Abate and Robinho with only the former as a starter on a weekly basis.

Ok, so maybe some of the players like Nesta and Gattuso were close to retirement and it isn’t that surprising that they left, but players still left in hoards. Of the 23 players to make ten or more appearances across all competitions in the championship winning season, only four remain with the team. Of those 23, 18 of them were gone by the beginning of last season.

The lack of stars like of Pirlo, Ibrahimovic and Silva, left a massive void in the Milan team. They were never quite able to recover after the latter two left. These weren’t the only names to leave northern Italy during Allegri’s spell. Slipping through the cracks was then young and up-and-coming players like Matteo Darmian and current Dortmund pair Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

Despite the departures, some Allegri did make a few smart signings as replacements. Riccardo Montolivo was a fantastic free transfer acquisition, as was getting Philippe Mexes for free. Milan also bought Stephan El Shaarawy outright and signed Mario Balotelli. Antonio Nocerino was a superb signing upon arrival, but struggled following the departure of Ibrahimovic and company. He has since been farmed out to West Ham and Torino on loan.

Under Allegri, Milan went from spending on top-level talent like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kevin-Prince Boateng to splurging a significant amount of money on misfiring striker Alessandro Matri (a player Juve fans know well) when the team already had Balotelli, Robinho, Giampaolo Pazzini and El Shaarawy under contract and glaring holes elsewhere on the roster.

Is all this going to happen at Juventus? No. Could it? Yes. Allegri won’t make the same blunder with Pirlo that he made the first time. He, along with anyone who’s familiar with football who has seen Juve play, knows that Juve runs through the bearded maestro. Running through Pirlo has netted the Bianconeri three straight titles. I get the feeling Allegri’s not going to mess with that. Juve must win to maintain everything, namely their roster. Allegri must be successful; otherwise players could leave in hoards. You would think if the team truly struggled after a long period of time, a team with Juve’s ambitions would cut the chord with Allegri rather than experience a prolonged nightmare like Milan. This is a proven winner, Allegri shouldn’t be make any bizarre personnel decisions like he did at Milan in fear of upsetting the proven formula. Allegri is in a completely different situation then Milan. He must produce results, and judging by what he’s already said, he has the right mind-set. Either way, the gradual nose dive that occurred at Milan won’t happen at Juventus.

World Cup 2014: Positives from Italy’s Campaign

Italy didn’t experience the best of World Cups – not by their own prestigious standards, or the standards of anyone else for that matter. The Azzurri were eliminated in the group stage with one win and two losses to show for it. One of those losses was to an underrated Costa Rica side, the other loss was marred by near-cannibalism. Regardless, Italy didn’t just miss out on the knockout rounds because of a singular incident (although you could make a case with Suarez’ bite…)  they looked slow and uncreative at times.

Once you get past these maladies, there were some bright spots to be had. Here are a few of them.

Matteo Darmian

The 24 year old Torino right back burst onto the scene in his competitive debut for Italy, combining with Antonio Candreva to terrorize England down the right flank in both team’s opening game. Darmian looked solid defensively as well and was one of six Italians to start every game. The others? Established starters Claudio Marchisio, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli. That’s pretty good company for a player who made his international debut just weeks before the tournament began. The performance helps Darmian even more so because it solidifies his hold on the position. With Ignazio Abate unable to hold down the position and Christian Maggio getting older, Italy may have found their right back for the next eight years.

Salvatore Sirigu

At age 36, captain Gianluigi Buffon doesn’t look like he’s slowing down, but at some point he won’t be around to mind the net for the Azzurri. For a while, no keepers embraced the mantle of Buffon’s successor. At one point in time, you could have pegged it on Marco Amelia or Federico Marchetti, but both have fallen by the relative wayside. Now the title firmly belongs to Salvatore Sirigu. The 27 year old shot-stopper is already a full-time starter at French giant PSG, arguably one of the top clubs in the world. Winning games in Ligue 1 and the Champions League is one thing, but winning and playing well at the international level is a completely different animal. Sirigu, starting for an injured Buffon, performed admirably against England in Italy’s win. He looked solid in goal all game, and would have kept a clean sheet had it not been for a smash of a goal from Daniel Sturridge that few goalkeepers could have stopped.

Marco Verratti

Another member of the Italy’s “heir-apparent club” is Verratti. Like his PSG teammate Sirigu, is the long-term replacement for another Azzurri legend, Andrea Pirlo. Unlike Sirigu in goal, you can play more than one midfielder in a game, so Verratti is afforded the rare opportunities to play alongside the man he may one day replace. At 21, he was arguably one of Italy’s best and most consistent players at the World Cup. Like Pirlo, he is a superb passer and regularly is handed starts at the club level ahead of the likes of Javier Pastore and Yohan Cabaye.

Giuseppe Rossi

This isn’t fair, Rossi didn’t make the team that went to Brazil. Nonetheless, he remains a bright spot. Why? Because of the role he will play in the future after Italy’s attacking options faltered in South America. Of the five forwards Cesare Prandelli brought to the World Cup, Alessio Cerci and Lorenzo Insigne only made two substitute appearances. Besides those two, you had the trio of Ciro Immobile, Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli. Immobile, still only 24, looked nothing like the goal-scorer he was at Torino. Cassano looked exceedingly sluggish and seemed to struggle physically. Balotelli’s play meanwhile was once again, mercurial. Except this time, it took a downward trajectory as opposed to his previous positive displays in an Italy shirt. After scoring against England, he was relatively quiet and missed a key chance to score versus Costa Rica. However, his yellow card against Uruguay changed the game in a bad way for the Europeans. This meant, if Italy advanced, they would have been without their most dangerous striker. On top of that Prandelli took him out to avoid going down to ten  men only to see the referee give Claudio Marchisio a straight red a few minutes later. The point I’m making with Rossi is that none of Italy’s strikers wowed anyone in Brazil. Together they managed just a singular goal. Teams need goals to win, and Italy needs players who can get them those goals. Sure, the Azzurri have a superbly talented group of midfielders who can score, but the team needs strikers who can consistently put the ball in the back of the net. They know that they have that in the New Jersey born Rossi.