Italy at the break: Five lessons from the first 17 rounds of Serie A

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It’s 2013, and Francesco Totti is still the league’s most important player

After two months sidelined with thigh injury, Francesco Totti returned to Roma’s starting lineup on Sunday, looking like his typically Tottian self. Creating five chances for this teammates, Totti was at the center of Roma’s 4-0 win over Catania, the team scoring more than twice for the first time since their talisman got hurt (Oct. 5).

With him, Roma has not lost, winning nine of 10 games. Without him, Roma also has not lost, but they’re only won three out of seven, the four draws the Giallorossi suffered between Nov. 3 and Dec. 1 allowing Juventus to build a five-point lead atop the table. In the seven games Totti missed, Roma — averaging 2.8 goals per game when Totti is healthy — has scored seven goals.

The man is 37 years old, and Roma still hasn’t found a way to live without him, a prospect that’s both thrilling and terrifying. That Totti can be this good, this important to a team at such an advanced age ads is utterly beguiling yet is utterly forgotten anytime you actually watch him play. He’s still that good.

That Roma can’t hold off Juventus without him, however, means Totti’s health may be the only thing  keeping the Serie A title race alive. And for Roma fans and Serie A followers who want a title race, that’s where the fragile 37-year-old gets terrifying.

source: Getty Images
Sidelined for the bulk for two seasons, Giuseppe Rossi has returned to lead Serie A in goals after 17 games, scoring 14 times as he re-enters the frame for Brazil 2014. (Source: Getty Images)


The €10 million Fiorentina paid for Giuseppe Rossi looked pricey at the time. After all, the Villarreal star had played nine games in the preceding 18 months, two knee injuries threatening to ruin the career of player that had developed into one of Spain’s brightest stars. Given it would be another five months before the Italian international took the field, fans had plenty of reason to ask whether Rossi was worth the risk when la Viola procured him just over one year ago.

Nobody’s asking those questions now. After a league-leading 14 goals through 17 rounds, the debate’s shifted. Now everybody’s focus is on what role Rossi should play for the Azzurri for next year’s World Cup.

On the surface, the question seems a little absurd, especially considering Rossi had been impressive for Italy in the first days of Cesare Prandelli’s tenure. Given that Italy played with Antonio Cassano in support of Mario Balotelli while making the finals of Euro 2012 (a pairing that’s unlikely to be replicated at Brazil 2014), the national team could use somebody like Rossi up top. It seems like a perfect fit, even if Rossi doesn’t end up among the 11 starting when Italy opens next summer’s tournament against England.

Only now, as Rossi’s moved three clear in the race for capocannoniere, are people starting to look beyond the comeback. For much of the fall, there’s been a kind or no-hitter jinx approach to the story, people not wanting to speak too loud lest they be blamed for Rossi’s wane. Still, the conversation is starting to pick up, with Prandelli using November’s international break to speak wishfully of a Balotelli-Rossi for Brazil 2014.

At this point, there may not be a better Italian goalscorer, let alone two. Although there were doubts about Rossi entering the season, the fall’s set us straight. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the first part of the Serie A’s 2013-14 campaign, it’s that Giuseppe Rossi’s ready for more. He’s ready to be a factor in Brazil.

source: AP
Among the most scrutinized players last season, Inter’s Ricardo Alvarez has been integral to the Nerazzurri’s 2013-14 resurgence. (Source: AP)

Ricky Alvarez IS MORE THAN a lost cause

The most maligned player in Serie A last season was Argentine Ricardo Alvarez, the then-23-year-old’s poor play distinguishing himself on a massively underperforming Inter Milan side. Whereas the former Velez creator looked like a key link between the 2010 European Champions and the group that would replace Inter’s aging stars, by 2013, Alvarez was being written off ala Philippe Coutinho, both considered Nerazzurri busts.

But just as Coutinho has proved doubters wrong after moving to Liverpool, Alvarez has resurrected his career. Under Walter Mazzarri, the five-time Argentina international has settled back into a playmaker’s role, his performances integral in countryman Rodrigo Palacio’s 10 goals in 17 games. Alvarez has added some impressive numbers of his own, his four goals and six assists crucial to the league’s second-best attack.

The turnaround is just a reminder of how bad things had gotten at Inter. From Mourinho’s heights to Benítez, Gasperini and Stramaccioni, with a little Leonardo and Rainieri in between, Inter’s had six different coaches since Alvarez was bought in 2011. From title contender to mid-table irrelevance, Inter had squandered Massimo Moratti’s commitment. Only now, having lured Mazzarri, do the Nerazzurri seem to have some semblance of stability.

Of all the positives Mazzarri has brought to Inter, revitalizing Alvarez is among his most remarkable. A player that was panned as one of the worst in the league last year is now one of the circuit’s most productive, with a bright future having been restored for the still 25-year-old star.

source: Getty Images
CEO Barbara Berlusconi saw Adriano Galliani’s transfer policies as causing Milan’s downfall. Problems, however, persist at every level of Milan’s organization. (Photo: Getty Images)

Milan WILL not turn this around

First, let’s define what “turn this around” is. It’s getting into Champions League. This is a club that defines itself by continental success as much as domestic, so there’s no way a season where a seven-time European champion misses Champions League for the first time since 2008-09 can be considered successful. It can’t even be considered acceptable, or a push. Milan, currently in 13th place (having won four of 17 league matches), needs to finish third to meet expectations. And that’s not going to happen.

Beyond being 17 points back of third place, the mere competition between that spot and theirs means next year’s Champions League will start without the Rossoneri. Max Allegri’s team would have to drastically outplay all of Napoli, Fiorentina, Inter and seven other teams to claim that spot, and while this week’s results against Roma (2-2 draw) and Inter (1-0 loss) hint they can be competitive, they’ll need to be dominant to pull off this miracle.

Allegri just doesn’t have the horses. There’s a reason the team has conceded 26 goals at the back. There’s a reason nobody’s scored more than six goals. Where they lack quality in defense, Milan also lack consistency and maturity up front. In between, the team is no better than the overall squad: Decent, but little more.

You can see why Barbara Berlusconi (pictured) is letting Adriano Galliani go, and while that may have taken some heat off Allegri by settling one debate, it won’t be long until the head coach is seen as contributing to the problems.

If 17 games have shown us anything, it’s that there’s no one quick cure for Milan. Their transfer dealings were poor. The coaching’s lack inspiration. None of the playing staff have distinguished themselves. From the top of the organizational chart to the product on the field, this may be Milan’s worst effort in 15 years. Over the course of 19 games, there is no turning this around.


After 17 rounds, seven teams in Serie A have already scored 30 goals, a statistic that happens to coincide with the entertainment value of the league. Somehow, beyond all reason and evidence on the field, the Italian league maintains a reputation for being a stuffy circuit prone to tactical deadlocks (a misconception that also gets mistakenly applied to the national team). But with Rudi Garcia’s Roma chasing goals, Walter Mazzarri haven taken his adventurous style to Inter, and teams like Napoli and Fiorentina adding scorers this summer, Italy continues to defy its long-defunct expectations. Maybe better international television deals would start to dispel old notions.

The real question is whether any of these teams are any good. I’m not talking about ‘good’ in the sense of entertainment value, or are they above average in the cosmic, absolute sense. I mean ‘are they good’ in the most naive yet applicable way possible. Are these teams good in relative to what we see at the tops of other leagues? Relative to what we see in Champions League?

It’s hard to say yes. Juventus, a team often more drilled and consistent than convincing or brilliant, went out of Champions League at the feet of a Turkish club. Napoli ended up in the wrong half of a very tough group, while Milan — the only Serie A team to advance in Europe’s biggest tournament — went through clinging for dear life in one of the draws easiest groups. Meanwhile, Roma — a team that didn’t even qualify for Europe this year, was the league’s best team for fall’s first half, while clubs like Inter, Hellas Verona, and Torino have been able to shake last year’s results (or, in Hellas’s case, stature) to be competitive this season.

And at the end of December, we’re left where we finished the last two seasons, with Juventus on top. Winners of 10 in a row, Juve finally conceded a goal this weekend, the first time they’ve done so in league since October, and while the additions of Carlos Tévez and Fernando Llorente (as well as the emergence of Paul Pogba) give the impression of an improved squad, you can’t help but wonder: How good is Serie A? And is the okay-but-not-great quality of the league the reason why Juventus, while they struggle for significance in Europe, are still on track for the third straight scudetto?

In some leagues, none of this matters. The league is either enjoying, watchable, entertaining, or it’s not, and to a certain point, Serie A’s gotten there. But for a circuit as steeped in tradition as the Italian league, it will always be a lingering question. How good is this league compared to others? Through half of 2013-14, it’s unclear the arrow’s pointed in the right direction.


Livorno 1, Udinese 2
Cagliari 1, Napoli 1
Bologna 1, Genoa 0
Torino 4, Chievo 1
Sassuolo 0, Fiorentina 1
Sampdoria 1, Parma 1
Roma 4, Catania 0
Verona 4, Lazio 1
Atalanta 1, Juventus 4
Inter 1, Milan 0


1. Juventus, 46 pts.
2. Roma, 41 pts.
3. Napoli 36 pts.
4. Fiorentina, 33 pts.
5. Inter, 31 pts.
6. Verona, 29 pts.
7. Torino, 25 pts.
8. Udinese, 20 pts.
9. Lazio, 20 pts.
10. Genoa, 20 pts.
11. Cagliari, 20 pts.
12. Parma, 20 pts.
13. Milan, 19 pts.
14. Sampdoria, 18 pts.
15. Atalanta, 18 pts.
16. Chievo, 15 pts.
17. Bologna, 15 pts.
18. Sassuolo, 14 pts.
19. Livorno, 13 pts.
20. Catania, 10 pts.

Neymar, Ronaldo, Messi are Ballon d’Or finalists; USWNT’s Lloyd up for women’s honor

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 17:  Soccer player Carli Lloyd poses for a portrait at the USOC Rio Olympics Shoot at Quixote Studios on November 17, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
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Carli Lloyd and Neymar are among the new names on the shortlists for FIFA’s top individual honors.

Of course, Barcelona’s Brazilian joins a pair of familiar faces in Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar. One will win the Ballon d’Or on Jan. 11.

On the ladies side, USWNT star Carli Lloyd has to be considered a front-runner to become just the third American to win the FIFA World Player of the Year on the women’s side.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup | Bundesliga wrap ]

Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm have also won the award, though Germany has won two-straight behind the heroics of Nadine Angerer and Nadine Kessler.

This time, it’s German striker Celia Sasic who will try to bring home the honors, and Japan’s Aya Miyama is also on the shortlist.

The coaches for Lloyd and Miyama, Jill Ellis and Norio Sasaki, are up for Women’s Coach of the Year, along with England’s Mark Sampson.

On the men’s coach side, the honor is between Luis Enrique (Barcelona), Pep Guardiola (Bayern Munich) and Jorge Sampaoli (Chile).

Premier League Playback: Costa’s time up at Chelsea?

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Diego Costa took his time as he strode out to warm up on the sidelines late in the second half of Chelsea’s draw at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. Costa, 27, looked unhappy, to say the least, and then as he returned to the bench as a petulant act occurred which may be seen as the beginning of the end of his Chelsea career.

[ MORE: Costa “privileged” at Chelsea ]

Costa took off his his warm-up bib and tossed it towards Jose Mourinho and his coaching staff flippantly as youngsters Kenedy and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were instead selected to come off the bench with Chelsea’s main striker left to stew and sit in the cold at White Hart Lane. No less than 10 minutes after the full time whistle Costa waltzed past the mixed zone and walked straight onto the Chelsea team bus where he sat for over an hour waiting for the rest of his teammates to arrive.

[ MORE: Poch trolling Mourinho? | 3 things we learned

I wonder what the Spanish international was thinking… Anyway, here’s what Mourinho (who said he has no issue with Costa) had to say post-game when asked about benching Costa following their public disagreement in Chelsea’s win away at Maccabi Tel-Aviv last week.

“Diego is very privileged because he was the last one to be on the bench,” Mourinho said. “Everyone else has been: the captain; Ivanovic, Cahill, the vice-captain of England, Fabregas, Pedro, Hazard, player of the season, Oscar, everyone was on the bench. Diego was privileged because I kept him in the team for all these matches. Today we thought the best strategy was this one. We are happy with the decision and the players. If we had won 1-0, our performance would have been considered tremendous. You will still say it was good.”

With just four goals in 17 appearances for the Blues this season, Costa’s slump is clear for all to see compared to his start to the season last year where he scored 11 goals in his first 17 games. Rumors have been rife that Mourinho is looking to buy a new striker in January to replace Costa, with the Brazilian born forward going through a tough time and Chelsea sticking by him despite two bans from the FA in 2015 for misconduct on the pitch.

Premier League Schedule – Week 14

Result Recap & Highlights
A. Villa 2-3 Watford Recap, watch here
B’mouth 3-3 Everton Recap, watch here
C. Palace 5-1 N’castle Recap, watch here
Leicester 1-1 Man Utd Recap, watch here
Liverpool 1-0 Swansea Recap, watch here
Man City 3-1 Saints Recap, watch here
Norwich 1-1 Arsenal Recap, watch here
Sunderland 2-0 Stoke Recap, watch here
Tottenham 0-0 Chelsea Recap, watch here
West Ham 1-1 WBA Recap, watch here

Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao are both set to return to action this week, so Chelsea will have options up top and given the way Eden Hazard led the line in a false nine formation at Spurs on Sunday, Costa could soon be well down the pecking order. If he continues to react anything like he did on Sunday then Mourinho will have a big decision to make with regards to his main man up top.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Hazard, who replaced Costa in the lineup, was superb. The diminutive Belgian battled against Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen on his own and won balls in the air, made intelligent runs in-behind which Mourinho applauded and the only thing he didn’t do was score as he headed over in the first half and forced Hugo Lloris into a terrific save in the second half from a wonderfully controlled volley.

ProSoccerTalk asked Mourinho about Hazard’s display and if the reigning PFA Player of the Year is getting back to his best.

“I think that was his best game of the season,” Mourinho said. “His game was more complete, in both directions: with and without the ball and he was attacking people with the ball and attacking the space without it. He was jumping and trying in the air against the two Belgian boys who are two meters tall. He did fantastically well. Even without scoring, his appetite to be important in the game and make an impact was there.”

Is Hazard, supported by Oscar, Willian and Pedro, the answer for Chelsea? Will Costa return to the starting lineup? Will Mourinho use Falcao or Remy instead?

Plenty of questions remain around the reigning champs but Mourinho has sent a clear message out to Costa which he must absorb quickly: nobody is bigger than the team. Shape up or get out.


He did it. Jamie Vardy, 28, became the first player in Premier League history to score in 11-straight games as his opener put Leicester City 1-0 up against Manchester United in a game they eventually drew 1-1.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned from Leicester 1-1 Man United ]

Vardy’s remarkable rise from non-league to the Premier League and the English national team has been much documented and he deserves all the praise he is getting for beating Ruud van Nistelrooy’s long-standing record and doing something the greats of the PL didn’t manage.

Soak in the atmosphere from the King Power Stadium in the video above as the Vardy party went on long into the night. Next up: Jimmy Dunne’s record of scoring in 12-straight games for Sheffield United in the 1931-32 English top-flight season.


Arsenal’s fans had their hearts in their mouths as Alexis Sanchez went down clutching his hamstring in the second half of the Gunners’ draw at Norwich City on Sunday.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Despair then turned to anger, most of which was directed at Arsene Wenger, as the Chilean forward was forced off with what looked like a serious hamstring pull which could keep him out of a pivotal stretch of games. In his pregame presser on Friday Wenger admitted that Sanchez was struggling with a hamstring knock. He selected him anyway and now Arsenal’s main man is out, with others dropping like flies around him.

Wenger was less than impressed when the press hounded him after the game asking: why on earth risk Sanchez when your talisman was already struggling?

“Nobody is scientifically developed enough, not even the press, to predict exactly when a guy will be injured,” Wenger said. “I would have rested him but he felt perfectly alright before the game. We declared that he had no problem. Despite all the tests he looked alright. The players are there to play football not to be rested when the press decides that they need to be rested. He [Alexis] says it is a kick on his hamstring but I believe that is not really the reality.”

The reality is that Wenger got this wrong. His vast experience should have told him that Sanchez resting against Norwich was the right decision.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Now, the Chilean superstar joins Francis Coquelin, Laurent Koscielny and Santi Cazorla (both injured in the game at Norwich), Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott on the treatment table. No matter how influential all of those players are, Sanchez is the key ingredient and Wenger simply had to manage the situation better. Not just on Sunday but in recent weeks he’s had the chance to bring Sanchez off for the final 30 minutes of games in blowout wins but has failed to do so. In truth, this is nothing new. November is always the month when Arsenal’s squad seems to suffer with injuries as their early-season promise evaporates before the festive season arrives and then reemerges around Easter when the squad is back to full health.

In the past Wenger has said that resting Sanchez has actually had an adverse impact on his play, so maybe that swayed his mind. Regardless, Wenger is a manager and has to manage the situation. Sanchez was always going to declare himself fit because, well, he’s a player. It’s up to Wenger to be a manager and make the tough decisions in the short-term which will benefit Arsenal in the long-term. Now, Sanchez could be out for a long-time and Arsenal will suffer greatly because of that.

Highlights from Arsenal’s clash with Norwich, and every game during Week 14, can be found in the video below.


The latest episode of Premier League Download is out as Roger Bennett goes behind-the-scenes to find out what Crystal Palace’s fanatical supporters are all about.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Below you can watch “South London and Proud” in full as the Eagles continue to soar up the table and American investors are ready to take over during the festive period.

Fun times ahead at Selhurst Park.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an in-depth look at the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here. 

Premier League Team of the Week – Round 14

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The 14th round of the Premier League season saw standout performances from some of the “lesser” clubs in England’s top-flight.

Aside from a pair of Manchester City players and one Spurs defender, the PL’s Team of the Week includes players from outside the upper reaches of the PL table.

[ MORE: Arsenal’s injury crisis | Latest transfer rumors ]

Well, last year’s Premier League table. A pair of players from No. 2 Leicester are also in the mix.

See the full team of the week below (and in the video above).

Premier League Team of the Week — Round 14 [ ARCHIVE ]

Goalkeeper: Willy Caballero (Manchester City)

Defenders: Robert Huth (Leicester City), Patrick Van Aanholt (Sunderland), Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur)

Midfielders: Yannick Bolasie (Crystal Palace), James McArthur (Crystal Palace), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Robbie Brady (Hull City)

Forwards: Odion Ighalo (Watford), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City), Junior Stanislas (Bournemouth)

Sherwood bashes advanced statistics, signing players from Europe

Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa - Premier League
Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images
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Being out of management hasn’t stopped Tim Sherwood from speaking atop a pedestal.

The 46-year-old former Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur manager is looking down on advanced statistics.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Sherwood politicked on behalf of lower leaguers everywhere and issued a bit of a call against foreigners.

[ MORE: Arsenal’s injury crisis | Latest transfer rumors ]

Of course, this is a man who held out for two Premier League jobs despite reported interest from the lower leagues (seemingly because the quality wasn’t good enough for his managerial skill set).

And he certainly will have his supporters when it comes to his absurd opinion on next-level statistics.

From The Telegraph:

All that data analysis can be used for something but it can’t be used to pick your players. Some of the data is not about goals, or assists, it’s about ‘expected goals’ when a player got himself in position to score, but didn’t. What a load of nonsense. Trust your eyes. You can’t get a feel for them on the screen. Any player can be made to look good on a showreel. It’s far sexier to go to the top European leagues and find these players. It’s easier to sell it to your fans.

By the way here’s who Sherwood signed this summer at Aston Villa, recognizing that the manager isn’t the only one to make personnel decisions at a club:

Jordan Ayew (Lorient — Ghana)
Jordan Amavi (Nice — France)
Mark Bunn (Norwich — England)
Jose Angel Crespo (Bologna — Spain)
Jordan Veretout (Nantes — France)
Idrissa Gueye (Lille — Senegal)
Adama Traore (Barcelona — Spain)
Joleon Lescott (West Bromwich Albion — England)
Rudy Gestede (Blackburn — Benin)

Lotta lower-league English there, Tim?

Don’t even get us started on calling expected goals “nonsense”. While they certainly aren’t as good as converting chances, that’s a terribly unfortunate opinion.