Football Index

Derby d’Italia

This Friday sees a huge clash in Serie A as Juventus host Inter at the Allianz Stadium in Turin. The Nerazzurri are already 11 points behind their rivals after 14 matches, and defeat here would see any small hopes of a title win fade to nothing as Juve march on towards an eighth consecutive Scudetto.

Yet more than a heavily-favoured champion facing an unfancied pretender to the belt, this is a rivalry so fierce that it was handed the title of “Derby d’Italia” (Derby of Italy) back in 1967 by journalist Gianni Brera. That teams from two separate cities – albeit separated by just 90 miles in the North of the country – now have derby status in the matches between them is testament to a series of incidents that have caused an intense dislike.

One of the most notable of these was when Juve were stripped of their Serie A title in 2005/06 and relegated to Serie B for the following campaign during the Calciopolicontroversy. A further crushing blow would then be delivered when their league win was handed to third-placed Inter after AC Milan in second were also given a points deduction.

Moving into more present times, well-loved Juventus director general Beppe Marotta looks to have made the move to San Siro after the Bianconeri opted to move forward without him. The 61-year-old has been the man responsible for sourcing Juve’s incredibly astute signings since 2010, a foundation from which their unprecedented recent success was built.

“We’ll see” was the answer given to reporters by Marotta outside a Lega Serie A meeting, when questioned over rumours that he will be officially unveiled in a new capacity at Inter ahead of Friday’s anticipated encounter. If so, it will be a poignant moment indeed, especially as this will be seen by many as a sure-fire way to close the gap.

A good summer in the transfer market saw Inter impress on paper, however boss Luciano Spalletti is yet to get his team firing on all cylinders, a tendency for inconsistency harming their chances of getting near a Juventus team that remain unbeaten in the league this term. Even if they are still a long way from making a genuine attempt at the title, a win over their despised rivals on Friday will certainly give them some hope that they are heading in the right direction.

Last year’s fixtures between the pair first saw a monumental effort from Inter secure a 0-0 away from home, but the match in Turin was poignant in that it was the last of an unbeaten start to 2017/18 for Inter – Spalletti’s side going on to notch up two losses followed by five consecutive draws. It was followed by a thrilling 3-2 away win for Juve at San Siro, scoring on 87 and 89 minutes to take home all three points in a victory which effectively handed the Bianconeri the title towards the end of the season.

All of the above factors give this fixture a real intensity, and neutral supporters can look forward to something special at the end of the working week. It is now 51 years since Brera gave this match its moniker, and it has been living up to it ever since.

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Football Index

Franck Kessie – Player Focus

“There are at least 20 clubs following the lad, including the best in Europe,” agent George Atangana told Radio Kiss Kiss Napoli about his client Franck Kessié back in March 2017. “His price? Whoever wants him will have to invest a lot.”

Full of hope – which would eventually turned out to be false – in their new Chinese owners, AC Milan would beat off the competition and win that battle to capture the Atalanta midfielder’s signature. It was part of a spending spree that would eclipse any other Italian side in summer 2017, as the Rossoneri also snapped up the likes of Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus and young Porto striker Andre Silva.

The latter pair have since moved on, yet 21-year-old Kessié is proving he is still a vital part of the Milan midfield, and why he continues to attract interest from both home and abroad. Initially signed on a two-year loan deal, the San Siro outfit have an obligation to buy the player at the end of the current campaign, meaning he could well be discussed on the European transfer market again this summer.

West Ham United and Wolverhampton Wanderers are just two of the Premier League clubs already linked with a move for the Ivorian international and it’s not difficult to see why.

“Technically he has a good foundation and an impressive physical dominance. I guess he can play one day at a big club,” former boss Gianpiero Gasperini told reporters back when the player was just 19 years old. “This is because there is a need for players with his physicality, the Italian teams in do not suffer tactically or technically, but physically. In other leagues there is greater intensity. Kessié, in this sense, can become an important player because he has everything.”

Indeed, a look at this season’s statistics backs up the faith shown in him by Gasperini, Kessié having improved in almost all areas. Already on two goals and one assist in 12 league starts for the Rossoneri,  the midfielder is averaging a career-high 88.6% passing success rate from 51.3 attempts per match. Notching up 0.9 clearances per match and 0.4 blocks highlights that this all-round player is putting in a shift defensively, but it is in his creative talent where the youngster is truly beginning to shine.

His season for Atalanta in 2016/17 yielded just 0.6 chances created for teammates on average per match, and while that figure improved upon his move to Milan last term to 1.2, this season has seen him take a leap to 1.7. Usually deployed on the right-hand side of a midfield three, his improvement in forward play has undoubtedly helped winger Suso – deployed just in front of him by boss Gennaro Gattuso – to thrive.

The former Liverpool man has scored four goals and provided eight assists this term, safe in the knowledge that he is well backed-up by Kessié behind him. This is exactly the demonstration of maturity at such a young age which will drive the Ivorian’s suitors back to him this summer, and proves that there are big things ahead for a supremely talented all-rounder.

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Football Index

Five Young Players Taking Serie A By Storm

Serie A has no shortage of young talent, but at Football Index Chloe Beresford has broken down five of the best players of 21 and under, all of whom are setting the league alight this season.

 

Federico Chiesa – Fiorentina (£3.39, here

Federico Chiesa is constantly linked with a move to one of Europe’s giants, due to a mixture of sheer talent and his famous father. Enrico Chiesa played as a striker for the likes of Fiorentina, Lazio, Parma and the Italian national team, and his son – although a winger – is following in his footsteps.

The 20-year-old leads the league in terms of number of dribbles (2.6 on average), and his sublime technical ability alongside his pace allows him to beat defenders with ease. Chiesa has developed rapidly under the tutelage of Stefano Pioli at Fiorentina, however he has a way to go yet in terms of his decision making. Still, his displays have earned him a regular place in the Italy starting XI since boss Roberto Mancini handed him his first call-up back in March.

 

Nicolò Barella – Cagliari (£2.59, here)

 Another player to have recently made his Italy debut is 21-year-old Cagliari midfielder Nicolo Barella. The youngster impressed during a 1-1 draw with Ukraine during the October international break, and reports suggest that clubs both home and abroad are interested in capturing his signature.

Liverpool, along with both Inter and AC Milan have been suggested as interested parties, undoubtedly drawn to his range of passing, energy and ability to play anywhere across the central area of the pitch. With seven goals in 42 Serie A appearances since the beginning of last term, it is already easy to see why he is so heavily desired.

“Cagliari received offers and turned them down,” Barella admitted back in September to La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I am happy to have remained with the club I support. If I had to choose between Serie A and the Premier League, I’d go for England, because I like the way they approach the game. Plus everyone there is just as irritable and prone to fouls as me!”

 

Cengiz Ünder – AS Roma (£2.70, here)

 Moving from Turkish Super Lig side Başakşehir in summer 2017, Cengiz Ünder has quickly adapted to life in Italy with AS Roma, quickly becoming an important member of Eusebio Di Francesco’s starting XI. This term, the 21-year-old attacker has weighed in two goals and three assists in seven starts in all competitions, proving his worth in both the Champions League and domestic action.

Of course, such fine displays have not gone unnoticed, with Bayern Munich and Tottenham both said to be interested in capturing his signature in the forthcoming transfer window. For now though, it seems like Ünder is settled in the Eternal City. “I’ve got used to Italy and I like it, I love the fans and city,” he told A Spor. “We’re trying to improve so we can have a great season. I feel good right now and everything is going well.”

 

Nikola Milenkovic – Fiorentina (£2.08, here)

 A shy and somewhat nervy defender arrived at Fiorentina last summer, the Serbian thrust into the side prematurely following the death of Captain Davide Astori. Such a shocking and unexpected event would’ve broken some young players, but Milenkovic rose to the challenge, playing at right-back for the Viola and in the heart of the defence for the Serbian national team at last summer’s World Cup.

https://twitter.com/FootbaIIGoaIs/status/1034081861595746306

Calm, assured, and already resembling a competent defender much older than his 21 years, Milenkovic is reportedly top of Jose Mourinho’s January list at Manchester United. Yet Fiorentina will be keen to hang on to such a dependable member of their backline, at least for as long as they possibly can.

Rodrigo Bentancur – Juventus (£1.77, here)

 After a superb debut campaign with Juventus following his transfer from Boca Juniors, Rodrigo Bentancur is another player to show maturity beyond his 21 years. Playing in the Champions League as well as featuring for Uruguay during the World Cup did not phase him, his composure one of his greatest assets as he has made himself a contender for a place in a side that has won the last seven consecutive domestic trophies.

This term, the former Boca man has improved even further, his goal and overall display versus Udinese before the International Break drawing praise from Bianconeri Coach Max Allegri. “Rodrigo Bentancur impressed me in midfield,” the tactician revealed following the aforementioned victory. “Both from a tactical and technical perspective, then he obviously scored the goal as well.”

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