Serie A: Inter and AC Milan Rebuilding Their Rosters with Castoffs from Europe’s Elite Clubs

It’s safe to say that two of Serie A’s historically successful teams aren’t performing to their usual standards. Both finished last season outside of European qualifying places in the standings with Inter coming in eighth and Milan placing tenth.

Even before last season, things weren’t working in Northern Italy. In addition to focusing more on youth, both Milanese teams adopted a similar approach to rebuilding their rosters—sign castoffs from Europe’s elite.

Inter haven’t been in the Champions League since the 2011/2012 season. The only European cameos since then have been a pair of Round of 16 appearances. Under relatively new manager Roberto Mancini, the club has made it a point to restock their roster mainly with players from elite European clubs.

Mancini brought in Juan Miranda from Atletico Madrid while also signing Martin Montoya (who wasn’t receiving much playing time behind Dani Alves) on a two-year loan deal from Barcelona F.C. The duo are joined in defense by former Manchester United legend/center back Nemanja Vidic.

In addition to Miranda and Montoya, Mancini also added defensive-minded talent in the midfield, signing Geoffrey Kondogbia from French giant Monaco.

Inter’s other (recent) marquee addition summer transfer window addition was Manchester City forward Stevan Jovetic. Mancini signed the striker on loan from his former employers to replace the outgoing Xherdan Shaqiri (who himself was signed from a major European club—Bayern Munich).

Not to be outdone, Inter have had/currently employ a number of players who once suited up for Europe’s elite.

Defender Alex and attacker Jeremy Menez were both signed from Paris Saint-Germain on free transfers during last season’s summer transfer window. The Rossoneri‘s goalkeeper is also formerly of a major European powerhouse. Diego Lopez was also signed for free, but from Real Madrid.

Milan also employ Alessio Cerci, who is on loan from Atletico. He joined Milan in a loan-swap deal with Atleti in which Fernando Torres (who was signed from Chelsea) went the other way.

Mario Balotelli recently rejoined the Milanese club on loan from Liverpool after Milan sold him to the Premier League club. However, before he was sold to Liverpool, Milan bought him from Manchester City.

Yet another forward/striker on the frontline to play for Milan is Alessandro Matri. Matri was bought from Juventus after failing to establish himself in Turin. So far during his tenure in Milan he’s been loaned out to Fiorentina, Genoa and Juve. He’s made 18 appearances for Milan since signing in 2013.

While not with the team anymore (he’s signed with Panathinaikos) Michael Essien was signed from Chelsea and also suited up for Real Madrid.

In Conclusion

Both Milan clubs have yet to return to the peak of European football, where they spent so many years. However, the teams’ brass and fan bases will be hoping that these castoffs from Europe’s elite will propel the Milan teams back to the top of the mountain.

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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.

Juventus Transfer News: Potential Oscar Signing Makes Sense

If recent reports are to be believed, Juventus are attempting land Chelsea/Brazil playmaker Oscar in a cut-rate transfer.

Out-performed and out-played by the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazzard and Willian, Chelsea’s number eight could be deemed surplus. Should Juventus land him, it would represent another bargain transfer buy for Beppe Marotta, who has already acquired the likes of Carlos Tevez, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Barzagli on the cheap (relative to their current value).

(RELATED: Khedira and Dybala Transfers Step in the Right Direction for Juventus)

Oscar provided 7 goals and eight assists in 34 appearances for Chelsea across all competitions mainly as a central attacking midfielder. This is the same position that current Juve midfielder Roberto Pereyra plays.

Pereyra is on loan in Turin this season with an option to make the move permanent at the end of the season. The Argentine’s loan deal in Turin can be made permanent if the Bianconeri cough up €14 million to parent club Udinese.

Reports have Juve attempting to pry Oscar away from Chelsea for what equates to a little over €12 million.

Signing Oscar (who played a hand in 15 goals this season) to replace Pereyra (three goals and three assists) would be a massive upgrade and one that would provide Juventus with the depth to make yet another assault on Europe next season, regardless of how the final versus Barcelona plays out.

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.

Real Madrid vs #Juventus Highlights As Interpreted by an Enthusiastic Italian Analyst

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#Juventus vs Real Madrid Highlights As Interpreted by a Studio of Enthusiastic Italian Analysts

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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.

Real Madrid vs Juventus Vine Highlights: Juve’s Celebration

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To see Alvaro Morata’s goal, click here. 

To see Gianluigi Buffon’s celebration, click here.

Real Madrid vs Juventus Vine Highlights: Gianluigi Buffon’s Celebration

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

To see Alvaro Morata’s goal, click here.