FC Internazionale Milano v AS Roma - Serie A

Italy: One-two battle the latest chance for Roma to show title-contending form

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Roma answered lingering questions with their win at Inter, the 3-0 result before the international break running the Giallorossi’s record to 7-0-0. It was the first major test of the Rudi Garcia era, one Serie A’s leaders passed with with unexpected ease. With a +20 goal difference through seven rounds (having conceded only once), there’s little doubt Roma’s image has now transcended its early, upstart status. They’re full-fledged contenders now.

Whether they’re favorites is a different discussion entirely, though that debate may come to a quick a resolution tomorrow. That’s when Napoli, sitting second in Italy, visit the Stadio Olimpico for the premier match of the European weekend – one that’s been moved up a day to avoid weekend protests in Italy. Combined, the two teams have taken 40 of a possible 42 points this season.

In the buildup to the match, much has been made of the relationship between the club’s two new coaches, with Garcia’s acquaintance with Rafa Benítez dating back to the latter’s time at Valencia. The stylistic differences between the two, however, could prove decisive on Friday. Benítez has become known for a type of conservative pragmatism that leads detractors to bemoan the sometimes dull results. Garcia, on the other hand, maintains the same entertaining, often open style he used with great success at Lille. Whereas Benítez is practical, Garcia remains a dreamer.

At least, you have to be a dreamer to envision Roma, a team that failed to qualify for Europe last season, could play as this level, but thanks to Garcia’s approach and the club’s typical slew of offseason changes, the Giallorossi are one of Europe’s pleasant surprises. They’re experiencing the type of success they’ve lacked since parting with Luciano Spalletti, and even under the current Zenit boss, Roma never experienced runs quite like this. Destroyer Daniele De Rossi’s been commanding in front of the defense, midfielders Miralem Pjanic and Kevin Strootman have set up seven goals between them, while Gervinho and Alexandro Florenzi have used Francisco Totti’s creativity to score seven between them.

The combination will stress Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami, the Swiss midfielders tasked with protecting Napoli’s defensive in Benítez’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Given how Roma play, the tandem could be overwhelmed in the space above the line, not only dealing with Totti’s trequarista tendencies but also contending with Gervinho, Florenzi, Pjanic and Strootman, all of whom frequently threaten that space. They’ll need help from Miguel Britos and Raul Albiol, Napoli’s likely starters in central defense, through the desire to follow Totti into midfield and help the holders could leave vital space Roma’s captain can exploit – space where Gervinho and Florenzi have thrived.

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Slovakian international Marek Hamsik has been one of Italy’s best players this season, scoring five times in as many games during Napoli’s 6-0-1 start. (Photo: Getty Images.)

The numbers dictate Benítez come up with some way to counter Roma’s threats, though if that happens, Napoli have their own advantages at the other end. The work of striker Gonzalo Higuain will ensure Leandro Castan and Mehdi Benatia are occupied in central defense, leaving De Rossi one-on-one with Marek Hamsik (five goals already this season) and a replacement left back to contain José Callejon. Federico Balzaretti, Garcia’s first choice on that side, picked up a red card against Inter Milan, leaving him suspended for tomorrow’s match. If Roma’s sterling defensive record’s about to be compromised, it may be through Balzaretti’s spot.

But this game could come down to the dreamer versus the pragmatist. Benítez may see an early season match on the road as a reason to contain, not impose. It’s an approach that may have hurt Napoli in London, where a seemingly tentative side saw Arsenal run past them in Champions League. Roma carries the same potential to overwhelm the partenopei.

If, however, Benítez can come up with a plan that can show Garcia’s dreams to be naiveté, Napoli may issue a wake-up call. Regardless, we’ll find out whether Roma are favorites or mere contenders. An 8-0-0 mark would force us to consider whether they and not Juventus are most likely to claim this year’s scudetto.

Other notes on tomorrow’s match:

  • Kevin Strootman picked up an ankle injury on international duty, creating the slight chance recovering U.S. international Michael Bradley could be thrown into the fray after his own battle with an ankle problem. Strootman, however, looks set to start, as does Miralem Pjanic, who is said to be dealing with a slight knee problem.
  • Rudi Garcia said Gervinho was also a small fitness concerned but hinted the Ivorian will play on Friday.
  • Garcia, on his fullback selection issues: “I have options on the left and on the right of defence: (Greece international Vasilis) Torosidis has done very well. I can drop Marquinho back into a deeper role or even start (Alessio) Romagnoli. Dodò? He’s getting back from serious injury, but is better now … But I’ll make my decisions tomorrow. I prefer to have to make tough selection decisions rather than have no selection decisions to make at all.”
  • Napoli have their own injury concerns, though many of which have cleared up. Gonzalo Higuaín and Raul Albiol earlier this week, but having come through recent training sessions with no setbacks, each are expected to feature in Benítez’s starting XI.
  • Fullback Juan Camilo Zuñiga, however, is out for Napoli. Look for Pablo Amero to get the start at left back.
  • With Lorenzo Insigne having played Tuesday for Italy, Benítez will likely choose Belgian Dries Mertens to start on the left side of his attack. The 26-year-old recorded two assists in Napoli’s 4-0, pre-break win over Livorno.

Replacement for Mahrez? Leicester linked with Polish winger Kapustka

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 21: Ruslan Rotan of Ukraine and Bartosz Kapustka of Poland compete for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Ukraine and Poland at Stade Velodrome on June 21, 2016 in Marseille, France.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Leicester City have been linked with a move to Polish international winger Bartosz Kapustka following his impressive form in the European Championships this summer.

Kapustka played in four of Poland’s five games at EURO 2016 and was suspended for their Round of 16 win against Switzerland.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Sky Sports believe that the Foxes have made a bid of $7 million for Kapustka and have been in talks with his club side Cracovia since he starred at EURO 2016 for Poland. Last season he had a breakout year in Poland’s top flight, scoring four goals in 33 appearances.

Just 19, Kapustka shone out wide with his speed, trickery and eye for goal.

Sound like someone else?

[ MORE: Pro, cons of winter break in the PL ]

Now, the biggest thought which comes to mind when you think about Leicester bidding for a promising, skillful winger, is that they could potentially be lining up a replacement for Riyad Mahrez.

Of course, Claudio Ranieri has insisted that Mahrez is going nowhere despite interest from Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Barcelona among others, plus he could just be bolstering his squad ahead of their UEFA Champions League campaign this season. With Jeffrey Schlupp linked with a move to West Bromwich Albion, maybe Ranieri just wants an extra wide player around at the King Power Stadium?

Regardless, reported interest in another winger will only add further tension to a situation Leicester’s fans will no doubt want clarified before the new season begins.

Multiple reports suggest Mahrez has been offered a new long-term contract at Leicester but he’s yet to sign it. With N'Golo Kante signing for Chelsea this summer, the Algerian winger may be reluctant to lock down his long-term future with Leicester. Maybe he will stay with the Foxes until January to see how their UCL campaign and PL title defense starts?

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Pogba’s move stalling due to agents fee

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United looks on during Paul Scholes' Testimonial Match between Manchester United and New York Cosmos at Old Trafford on August 5, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Paul Pogba to Manchester United is inching closer but Sky Italy is reporting a major snag is holding up the deal.

According to Sky Italy, Juventus and Manchester United are still disputing the transfer fee for Pogba, 23, with United offering $120 million for the French international midfielder with add-ons but Juve want over $130 million plus another $13 million in add-ons.

[ MORE: Winter break pros and cons for PL ]

However, the major point of contention isn’t the transfer fee: it is the fee paid to Pogba’s agent.

Pogba has been seen laughing and joking on vacation in Miami with his agent, Mino Raiola, but it is believed that deal is being held up due to the teams not agreeing on who should pay the reported agent fee of up to $22 million.  No wonder Raiola is having a good time…

Until someone steps down, the fee is waived or another solution is reached, it seems like an impasse has been reached in the Pogba deal. Even though Juve sealed the $98.7 million transfer of Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli on Tuesday which would suggest they are expecting to receive some very serious cash very soon.

With Jose Mourinho talking about other players available to United, maybe they will instead move for Blaise Matuidi who would deliver defensive solidity as well as marauding runs from midfield. He’d be much cheaper and even though he’s six years older than Pogba, is the asking price from Juve and the agents fee just getting a bit too insane even for a club as rich as United?


With Napoli all but sealing star striker Higuain to Juventus, another player could be leaving the side who finished second in Serie A last season: Kalidou Koulibaly.

According to his agent, via RMC, Koulibaly is apparently leaving Napoli this summer. Both Everton and Chelsea have been linked with a move for the powerful central defender and the Senegal international is certainly capable of slotting straight into either team.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Chelsea have John Terry, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and Matt Miazga as central defensive options, plus Kurt Zouma who is continuing his comeback from a horrific knee injury suffered against Manchester United last season. As for Everton, they have Phil Jagielka, Ramiero Funes Mori and John Stones. The latter has been linked with a move to Manchester City this summer so Ronald Koeman is said to be on the lookout for another central defender as Jagielka is now 32 and was riddled by injuries last term.

Koulibaly, 25, would cost in excess of $60 million if he was to move from Napoli which could be a huge stumbling block as Napoli look to make it difficult for him to leave.

Lyon rejects bid of $38.5 million for Lacazette from Arsenal

LISBON, PORTUGAL - JULY 23: Lyon's forward Alexandre Lacazette reacts during the Friendly match between Sporting CP and Lyon at Estadio Jose Alvalade on July 23, 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
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LYON, France (AP) Lyon has refused an offer of 35 million euros ($38.5 million) from Premier League side Arsenal for striker Alexandre Lacazette.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Lyon says “Lacazette is irreplaceable and one of the main leaders” in coach Bruno Genesio’s team.

The 25-year-old Lacazette top-scored with 27 league goals in the French league two seasons ago – outscoring even Zlatan Ibrahimovic – and netted 21 last season.

[ MORE: Pros, cons of winter break ]

He is under contract at Lyon until 2019.

In a statement on its Twitter page, Lyon denied a local newspaper report saying it turned down a higher offer of 48 million ($52.9 million) from Arsenal.

Higuain to seal $98.7 million Juve move; Pogba to Man United closer?

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 22:  Paul Pogba of Juventus is tackled by Gonzalo Higuain of Napoli during the 2014 Italian Super Cup match between Juventus FC v SSC Napoli at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on December 22, 2014 in Doha, Qatar.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
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A major domino has fallen in the summer transfer window pack.

Gonzalo Higuain has completed his monster move from Napoli to Juventus in Serie A.

Juventus confirmed the deal for Higuain has been completed with the Argentine ace arriving in Turin for a transfer fee of $98.7 million (his release clause) and on a four-year contract believed to be worth over $8.2 million per season.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Higuain, 28, scored 36 goals in 35 games for Napoli last season and has scored 71 goals in 104 Serie A appearances since arriving from Real Madrid in 2013. Obviously he can score goals but is he worth $98.7 million? At his age, maybe not, and especially with Juve making so many impressive signings already this summer as Miralem Pjanic, Mehdi Benatia and Dani Alves all on board, plus Paulo Dyabla looking razor sharp in preseason.

That $98.7 million transfer fee would make Higuain the third-most expensive signing of all-time, although he could be overtaken by one man very soon: Paul Pogba.

Apparently Juve are locked in talks with Manchester United to try and finalize a move for Pogba, 23, and this huge outlay of cash on Higuain could suggest they’ve agreed the reported $130 million transfer of the French international midfielder.

[ MORE: Winter break pros and cons for PL ]

Pogba has been seen laughing and joking on vacation in Miami with his agent, Mino Raiola, but it is believed that deal is being held up due to the teams not agreeing on who should pay the reported agent fee of up to $22 million. No wonder Raiola is laughing.

Seriously, though, let’s see how this plays out but it is highly unlikely Juve would’ve dropped that much cash on Higuain if they didn’t have some major cash coming in from selling a certain player.

We all know who that is…