Football Index

Paqueta & Piatek Showing Early Signs Of Greatness

 

As Sunday evening Serie A fixtures go, AS Roma’s encounter with AC Milan was a thoroughly entertaining 1-1 draw between two sides who have shown inconsistent form this term. The Rossoneri may have been without Gonzalo Higuain (£3.73) after the Argentina international finally secured a move to Chelsea, but Coach Gennaro Gattuso had rolled up his sleeves and got on with the job in hand in typical style.

On the surface, Milan had lost a truly big-name striker in Higuain, but in his place they have acquired a duo who could surprisingly be more effective than a man who never really looked at home in their famous red and black shirt.

Highly-rated Lucas Paquetá (£3.52) had arrived from Flamengo in his native Brazil for a fee of £30.5 million, followed by Krzysztof Piatek from Genoa for the same fee, the latter having set Serie A on fire in his opening few months in the Italian top flight.

Piatek (£4.51) was virtually unknown before the beginning of the current campaign, arriving last summer from Cracovia, but took no time at all in adjusting to life in Italy, firing in 13 goals in his first 18 starts for the Grifone. That would immediately familiarise Serie A fans with his talent, and such an explosion onto the scene meant that Milan were at the front of the queue this January.

“Piatek already had five months of Serie A football with Genoa in which he scored with practically every touch, so he was no surprise,” admitted Gattuso in his press conference before the match with Roma. “Paquetá is a surprise, because he is ready for European football straight away. He soaks up information like a sponge, is very curious about tactics and wants to be informed on everything. He’s not a typical Brazilian player.”

Indeed, it had taken just 29 total minutes of play Piatek before he opened his account at San Siro, firing in a brace to defeat Napoli in order to secure his side’s place in the Coppa Italia semi-final last week. That would earn him a start on Sunday night away to Roma, and once again it was the new man that found the back of the net.

That he was assisted by the lesser-known new man Paquetá – who had got forward from the left-hand side of midfield in order to deliver an excellent cross – is a sign of hope for Gattuso’s men as they push forward to reach the promised land of a Champions League place this season.

Statistics according to Whoscored.com highlight that the Brazilian finished the match with one cross, two accurate long balls, one shot, one key pass and one dribble, figures that will surely increase with extra experience of the league and versus lesser opposition. Of course, Piatek scored the only goal and therefore the headlines, and his Coach was ready to praise him after the final whistle.

“Piatek is a player who frightens the opponents, and when the passing channels open up he makes the defenders backtrack, which creates spaces we can work in,” the Coach told Sky Italia in his post-match press conference. “He is in great form and helping us a lot at the moment.”

In truth, it’s not just striker Piatek that is helping this Milan side, as his fellow newcomer proved on Sunday. Supporters can expect to hear a lot more from this duo of talented young players as the Serie A season progresses.

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Serie A Top Five performances In A Crazy Weekend Of Action

 

Week 21 in Serie A proved to be yet another enthralling round of football, with comebacks, shocks and some stunning individual performances too.

Here’s the top five performers from the weekend’s action.

 Fabio Quagliarella

This Serie A stalwart turns 36 at the end of the month, but is currently in the form of his life. With a brace versus Udinese, Fabio Quagliarella (£1.27) moved to the top of the goal-scoring charts and also drew level with Gabriel Batistuta’s 1994 record by scoring in his last 11 consecutive matches for Sampdoria.

“It’s unthinkable. I get emotional, because just to be able to imagine something like that. Just naming Batistuta gives me goosebumps,” he told Sky Italia after the match, choking back the tears. “I am speechless too, believe me! This is my life.”

“I’ll be 36 in a few days, so this makes me so proud. All that happened in the past and all these sacrifices led to this, something I never thought could happen. I always thought with every game that the run would be interrupted, surely, but it kept going.”

Papu Gomez

Atalanta were among the comeback kings of the round, as they fought back from 3-0 down at home to AS Roma to earn an unlikely 3-3 draw. Duvan Zapata (£2.44) was once again on the scoresheet, registering his 9th consecutive game with a goal to his name, but fellow forward Papu Gomez (£1.75) was once again the unsung hero.

Two of Atalanta’s three strikes were assisted by the Captain, whilst statistics according to Whoscored.com revealed that the 30-year-old also provided no less than seven key passes, six crosses and connected with 93.9% of 66 passing attempts.

 Sergej Milinkovic-Savic

Make no mistake, Lazio had Juventus on the ropes for much of Sunday evening’s match, even though the Bianconeri emerged with all three points in a 2-1 victory. The performance of star midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (£3.49) was vital to a superb display by the Biancocelesti at Stadio Olimpico as it seems like the highly-coveted player has finally emerged from a slump in form that has blighted him since the summer.

 

Joao Cancelo

Juve boss Max Allegri has often been able to change the outcome of matches with intelligent substitutions, and there was no doubt that the introduction of Joao Cancelo (£2.98) along with Federico Bernardeschi (£1.93) changed the game versus Lazio.

The Portuguese wing-back demonstrated his clear ability as his introduction with 20 minutes to go caused the home side all kinds of problems, and it took him just four minutes to level the scoring, after a clever run saw him in the right place to finish Paulo Dybala’s (£7.76) parried shot. Cancelo would then earn a penalty which was coolly finished by compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo (£9.72), earning Juve their 19th win from 21 matches this term.

 

Federico Chiesa

A crazy match between bottom of the table Chievo Verona and visitors Fiorentina ended up with a 3-4 scoreline, with young Italian Federico Chiesa (£3.47) the star for the Viola. It was a topsy-turvy performance from Stefano Pioli’s men, who allowed their struggling opponents back into the match on too many occasions.

Yet Chiesa supplied that bit of individual quality that was needed, firing in two superb goals to eventually seal all three points.

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Higuain

 

Both AC Milan and Juventus are in Saudi Arabia, but – rather than focussing on Wednesday night’s Supercoppa Italiana between the two Serie A clubs – the headlines are very much centred around a player that has a history with each of them. Gonzalo Higuain moved to San Siro on loan in the summer after becoming surplus to requirements in Turin, for the most part due to the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Argentina international often displays a lack of mental toughness and has struggled to adjust to life in a red and black shirt, prompting multiple claims in the press that he could be due to join up with one of his former bosses at Chelsea. Under the tutelage of Maurizio Sarri at Napoli, Higuain had the best campaign of his career to date, breaking the Serie A single season scoring record with an astonishing 36 goals.

Now, reports of a move are gathering pace, with Sky Italia having reported on Tuesday that the striker will sit out of the SuperCoppa ahead of the impending transfer. Of course, the finer details will have to be ironed out, as Milan paid Juventus a £16 million fee for a season-long loan. The Rossoneri will have to be reimbursed somehow, as will his parent club, with the Premier League outfit liable to cover the bill.

But why is the striker so keen to move already? His initial transfer was lauded as a fresh challenge, and supporters of the Milan giants were hoping that this was the missing piece of the puzzle that could see them qualify for the Champions League. “I chose Milan because I liked the conviction with which they sought me out and the conviction in their project,” the Argentine confessed to La Gazzetta dello Sport back in October.

Time moves on swiftly in football, and after a quick flurry of goals in his first three months after arriving in Milan, Higuain now has just one goal to his name since the end of October. That period also saw him sent off in a match against former club Juve, his tendency to lose his cool under pressure rearing its ugly head once again.

The striker does seem to enjoy a good relationship with Gennaro Gattuso at least, the boss having joked that if it was up to him he would “invite him to my house, lock him in a room and throw him food every two to three hours” after last weekend’s Coppa Italia win over Sampdoria. Even his Coach admits he can’t put his finger on the exact problem, however it does look as though the current environment just isn’t right for him at the present time.

It was his former boss at Real Madrid, Fabio Capello, that hit the nail on the head regarding the situation. “I hope that for Milan’s sake, he can overcome his mental block and score lots of goals between now and the end of the season,” he told Radio Anch’io Sport earlier this week. Higuain’s quality isn’t up for discussion. My feeling is that Higuain wants to go and play under a Coach who knows his qualities and can enhance them.

They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and Milan don’t need a striker that is unable to score goals. Chelsea, on the other hand, could find that the signing of Higuain will become golden as he makes his emotional reunion with Maurizio Sarri.

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Maurizio Sarri Looking For Comfort In Former Player Elseid Hysaj

 

It’s no surprise that Chelsea have been linked with Napoli right-back Elseid Hysaj (£1.16). Not only has the 24-year-old been one of the Serie A side’s most consistent performers since joining the club in 2015, but he is a player in which Coach Maurizio Sarri truly trusts.

Life must’ve been hard for the Hysaj family growing up in Albania, as Elseid’s father emigrated to Italy just two months after he was born to find work as a bricklayer. By the age of 14, he was already a promising footballer and had joined his father on the peninsula in order to search for a club. The Empoli youth sector was the destination, having been rejected by nearby Fiorentina, but it wasn’t until the club were promoted to Serie A under Sarri that Hysaj began to shine.

In 2014/15, he would make 33 appearances for the club as the Coach perfected his attractive passing style, honed under methods such as drone technology in order to further increase the precision of his system.

It was no surprise that the right-back was one of the players Sarri would insist on taking Hysaj him to Napoli after he was recruited for the following campaign. His right-back made the third-highest number of average passes per game for Empoli in 14/15 (46.3) and connected with 80.4% of those attempts, all in a position not usually known for a high number in this particular stat.

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Hysaj would go on to make 37, 34 and 35 appearances respectively in each of the three seasons Sarri took charge of the Partenopei, reinforcing exactly how important the full-back is for a man who relies on regularity in order to achieve the necessary results. “Sarri leaving Napoli is not good news for me, as we’ve been working together for six years,” the player declared this summer after receiving news of his boss’ appointment at Stamford Bridge.

Despite heavy links to Chelsea last summer, Hysaj would remain at Napoli and has since made 14 league starts under new boss Carlo Ancelotti. However, the opening of the January transfer window has now reignited those claims, and the rumours have continued to be fuelled by the player’s agent.

“The important thing is hearing that Ancelotti respects Hysaj,” representative Mario Giuffredi told RAI after a meeting with the club last week. “He confirmed his faith in him. Of course, the January transfer window is always to be evaluated and there has been talk of Chelsea, for example. If there are situations that are mutually advantageous, then we’d evaluate them. If nothing happens in January, then we’ll discuss a contract extension.”

Yet the question of whether his arrival at Chelsea is what the club need right now remains to be seen. Sarri’s over-reliance on certain players is something the Coach was heavily criticised for during his time in the Italian top-flight, and such lack of rotation ultimately cost Napoli the chance to win the Scudetto last term.

“He tries to get players that he knows fit his style of football,” Empoli season ticket holder Francesco Sani thas said. “In itself this is nothing particularly out of the ordinary, but I see it as one of his weaknesses.”

Sarri’s “comfort blanket” approach with some of his former players is perhaps a cause for concern, but nor should this detract from the clear talent of Hysaj. The right-back is certainly an improvement on former Torino man Davide Zappacosta, and for this reason alone it may be worth a bid from Chelsea before the end of the month.

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Europe’s Biggest Clubs On Icardi Alert

 

It’s hard to believe that this season marks the first time in which Inter striker Mauro Icardi (£4.29) has ever played in the Champions League, such has been the furore surrounding his talent since he moved to San Siro from Sampdoria at the beginning of the 2013/14 campaign. The Nerazzurri qualified on the final day of last season, entering for the first time since 2011/12, but would exit at the group stage thanks to a 2-1 loss to PSV Eindhoven.

That initial sortie into Europe’s most prestigious knockout competition would see Icardi return to Camp Nou for the first time in his professional career, since he spent three years in the Blaugrana youth sector between 2008 and 2011. However, progress since then in his trademark deadly marksmanship has led to him continually linked with top teams both at home and abroad.

“I’m fine at Inter,” declared the Argentine to La Gazzetta dello Sport before that aforementioned match with Barcelona. “I’ve no intention of going away. Me and my family are fine in Milan. I want to reach my goals and I want to give my contribution to improve the image of Inter. I’m the captain of this team and I want to fight for these colours. That’s why I’ve never thought of moving away, despite the offers that I’ve received and that I will receive.”

This all paints a rosy picture. Yet there have been a number of off-field incidents that have tainted Icardi’s tenure as club Captain, including a £90,000 fine issued by the club this week as the striker reported back late for training after the holidays.

Another bone of contention is his wife and agent Wanda Nara. Reports in the Italian press have suggested that the Nerazzurri hierarchy have suggested that Icardi seeks new representation after she caused alarm with both comments in the press and risque videos of herself posted on social media. “It’ll always be Wanda Icardi who takes care of my and our interests until the end of my career,” the player tweeted in response to those claims.

Seemingly – *ahem* – unwilling to leave anything to the imagination, Nara herself broached the subject of a contract renewal that has completely stalled in the press this week.

“We’re far from reaching an agreement,” she told AS. “The figures being talked about in Italy aren’t true and we haven’t received a satisfactory proposal from Inter yet. I won’t deny that we can reach an agreement, but right now we’re very far apart. It’s not logical to renew Mauro’s contract for the amount he currently earns.

“We believe Mauro is worth more than that. There are some very important clubs interested in signing him. For example, there are the two biggest clubs in Spain, with whom we have excellent relationships, plus an English team and a French one.”

Her hints over which clubs are showing interest are typically unsubtle, and it doesn’t take a genius to deduce that Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG and either Chelsea or Manchester United make up this list after what has already been reported in the press.

But is this for real, or is it a high-stakes bluff to force Inter into offering more money?

It’s currently hard to tell, but it certainly seems like this is the closest Icardi has ever come to choosing to leave Inter, and the interested parties will be watching how this plays out in order to bag a striker who is one of the best available in terms of shooting accuracy.

However, this saga concludes, you are bound to hear and see every part of the negotiation thanks to the inimitable Wanda Nara, who somehow manages to overshadow her husband’s brilliant play with off-field drama.

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Five Serie A Players That WouldSuit A January Move To The Premier League

 

Serie A is once again a showcase for a plethora of talent, and it is somewhat inevitable that many end up being linked with a move to the cash-rich environment of the Premier League.

Here at Football Index, we have taken a look at five of those players that would suit a move to the English top-flight.

Nicolo Barella (Cagliari, £3.25)

“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,” reported Chelsea target Nicolo Barella told La Gazzetta dello Sport earlier this season. “Plus everyone there is just as irritable and prone to fouls as me!”

It’s true that the 21-year-old star is tough in the tackle and needs to work on his discipline but – a regular in the Cagliari side for the last two seasons – he possesses the kind of natural talent that lends itself to the EPL even more than the aforementioned tenacity.

Barella’s ability to win the ball back and turn defence into attack with crisp passing, excellent agility and keen ball control has earned him four caps in the senior Italy national team, with boss Roberto Mancini describing him as a “phenomenon”.

Milan Skriniar (Inter, £2.88)

Already on the radar of Manchester United as they search for quality reinforcements at centre-back, Milan Skriniar is certainly a player that would suit the demands of Premier League football. The calm and collected Slovakian has an excellent tactical awareness, thanks to his typically thorough Italian education on the subject at Sampdoria and now at San Siro.

Reports in the Italian press state that the defender has been offered a one-year extension to his current deal, but it remains to be seen whether he will accept or seek to pursue the very clear interest shown from some of Europe’s top sides.

Gonzalo Higuain (AC Milan, £2.70)

A return to working with Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri would make perfect sense for Gonzalo Higuain. The current Milan striker broke the Serie A single season goalscoring record at Napoli under the tutelage of the Blues boss as he notched up 36 league strikes in 2015/16. A move would be complicated by the fact he is on loan at San Siro from Juventus, but the Stamford Bridge outfit sorely need an alternative to the misfiring Alvaro Morata.

“There’s no point following rumours and gossip,” declared a distinctly cheesed-off Rossoneri director Leonardo. “He is here right now. Seeing as he is here, he needs to get down and actually do something for this team.”

Alex Sandro (Juventus, £2.78)

Another player who has readily admitted a desire to play in the Premier League is Juventus left-back Alex Sandro. The Brazilian has just signed a contract extension with the Bianconeri, however his skills as a wing-back mean he is often linked with a move to England, and a big-money offer is never too far away.

Allan Napoli, (£1.56)

Paris Saint-Germain are the latest club said to be preparing a £90 million offer for Napoli midfielder Allan, the kind of fee which his current club would not likely be able to turn down. This 28-year-old does much of the hard graft in the centre of the park that allows others to take centre stage but also finished last season with four goals and five assists.

It is no surprise then, that Allan has been linked with a move to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, a place where he would feel right at home after working as a key part of Maurizio Sarri’s similarly precise system at Napoli.

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Serie A’s Top Performers During Match Day 19

 

Last Saturday saw the Italian top flight reach its halfway point, the first matchday to be played on December 29th in Serie A history wrapping up the opening part of the campaign. It was unbelievable that had taken Chievo Verona until Week 19 to win their first match of the season, with a 1-0 victory versus fellow strugglers Frosinone in the last game before the Winter Break.

Controversial VAR decisions were the order of the day, as both Juventus and Sampdoria were awarded penalties after dubious handball appeals in their match, and Fiorentina were denied what looked to be an obvious spot-kick of their own for handball even after the referee had reviewed the tape.

AC Milan finally won a match after three consecutive league fixtures without scoring, while Napoli scraped a 3-2 win at home to Bologna with a last-gasp strike. Meanwhile, Sampdoria looked to have earned a point away to Juve when Riccardo Saponara finished superbly after the 90 minutes were already over, only for his effort to be correctly ruled out for offside.

Indeed, that win saw the Bianconeri reach a total of 53 points after just 19 games, a record in the Italian top flight during the 20-team era. Veteran striker Fabio Quagliarella also became the first player since to score nine goals in nine games in Serie A since former Juve hitman David Trezeguet did so back in 2005, the Sampdoria man now closing in on Gabriel Batistuta’s record of 11 in 11.

Top Performers – Week 19

 

Cristiano Ronaldo – Juventus (£10.23)

 This was a round that saw attacking players truly shine, and CR7 proved his worth with a trademark cooly-taken penalty which helped his side to victory. That strike saw him rise to the peak of the top-scorers chart, a position he will not relinquish easily as the second half of the campaign gets underway.

 

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic – Lazio (£3.47)

 After being heavily linked to a £100 million move away from Lazio last season, the form of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has not lived up to expectations in the current campaign. That said, his performances are steadily improving as the January window comes around once again, and he scored a sublime goal to earn his side a 1-1 draw with Torino last Saturday.

 

Josip Ilicic – Atalanta (£1.40)

 Netting a hat-trick in a 6-2 away victory versus Sassuolo, Josip Ilicic put in a superb performance for Atalanta on Saturday. The Slovenian may not be the most consistent of players, but his trio of goals was his third in Serie A, placing him as a joint record-holder in Europe’s top five leagues along with Sergio Aguero of Manchester City and Lionel Messi of Barcelona.

 

Arkadiusz Milik – Napoli (£2.05)

His first two seasons at Napoli were wiped out thanks to ACL tears in consecutive campaigns, but an injury-free Arkadiusz Milik is now proving his worth for Carlo Ancelotti. His brace helped to secure an important 3-2 win over Bologna at the weekend, and marked the fifth occasion in which the Poland international had scored twice in the same match at the Stadio San Paolo.

 

Cengiz Under – AS Roma (£3.28)

Roma Sporting Director Monchi may insist that the club “is not a supermarket,” but in truth the Giallorossi may struggle to hang on to Turkish forward Cengiz Under in future. After scoring a wonder goal versus Inter at the beginning of the month, the 21-year-old ended December with a goal and an assist versus Parma, the 2-0 win easing the pressure on his previously underperforming side.

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Chelsea Loanee Ola Aina Impressing in Serie A

 

Even the most diehard of Serie A supporters would likely admit that they had not heard of Torino wing-back Ola Aina before the current campaign began. Born in Southwark, the 22-year-old represented England at almost all international youth levels before opting to play for the Nigeria senior side, where he already has seven caps for the Super Eagles.

He arrived in Turin on loan from Chelsea this past summer having also spent a temporary spell with Hull City in the Championship during the previous season, the youngster becoming a regular feature on Humberside with 44 appearances to his name in 2017/18.

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Making another loan move was clearly the right decision for him as opportunities in the Chelsea first team would have been scarce, Maurizio Sarri blessed with the likes of Marcos Alonso, Cesar Azpilicueta, Davide Zappacosta and Emerson Palmieri already fighting for the two wing back slots.

“I know this is a club that believes in young people and this is very important,” Aina declared upon his move to Turin, making a thinly-veiled dig towards his parent club. “In Italy I know that I can learn a lot, because the tactics and organisation of play are essential.”

He is indeed correct, and recent performances versus AC Milan and in the Turin derby with Juventus show that he is already benefiting from the tutelage of experienced boss Walter Mazzarri in the more tactical Italian game. While his statistics were always going to be lower versus the superiority of the still unbeaten Juve, a look at his previous match demonstrates just how well Aina is adapting to life in the Italian top flight.

At San Siro, he made one cross, three dribbles, and one shot on goal, while he also created two chances for team-mates and completed 93.1% of 29 passes attempted. The Chelsea loanee also impressed the defensive duties that his role demands, helping to keep Milan to a 0-0 scoreline with two tackles and one clearance in total.

 

David Amoyal

@DavidAmoyal

 

Bakayoko & Ola Aina both excellent tonight, look like keepers & long term starters for Milan and Torino

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While the player has stated his desire to play in the Premier League in the long-term, it is understood that Torino are ready to pay the £7 million buyout clause in his contract to keep him in Italy on a permanent basis, and his performances in Mazzarri’s 3-5-2 system certainly prove he deserves it.

Playing top-flight football offers me different challenges,” Aina revealed to Goal.com. “It has helped me to become a better player. I am bringing what I have learned here into the national side and I hope it will pay off in the long run.

“The players are really established and experienced so it was good to come up against that calibre of footballer. It will just make me better. I am working on the tactical side, positioning, staying concentrated and just being able to affect the game higher up the pitch as well.”

Whatever happens next, it is clear that Ola Aina is one to watch out for in the future.

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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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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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