Giorgio Chiellini

Rakitic
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Transfer rumor roundup: Spurs lead race for Rakitic; Juve-Barca talk swap

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Sunday’s transfer rumor mill churns out beneficial news for a player Jose Mourinho believes is one of the very best center midfielders are on Earth (He’s not wrong).

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A report out of Spain’s Mundo Deportivo says Tottenham has pulled in front of a pack of chasers in the race to sign Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona.

Rakitic, 32, has another season on his contract and Spurs are said to be best suited to land him due to Juventus preferring a younger player and Atletico less willing to give a longer contract.

The Swiss-born Croatian has 106 international caps with 15 goals and is one appearance away from making his 300th in a Barcelona shirt.

He won the Europa League with Sevilla in 2014 before claiming the Champions League with Barca one year later. Rakitic’s minutes and attacking numbers have taken a hit this season, as 11 of his 21 La Liga appearances have come off the bench.

Other unrelated reports have linked Tanguy Ndombele with a move in the other direction. Spurs would do well to act regardless of Ndombele’s destination, depending on the length of the deal for Rakitic. If he’s not a contract albatross in four years time, Spurs will have a valuable asset in their race to rejoin the UCL elite.

But would Daniel Levy be willing to sanction a higher salary for an older player? That will be key here.

Marca has two aforementioned clubs in an interesting swap deal, where Barcelona would acquire Miralem Pjanic from Juventus in exchange for Arthur.

The 30-year-old Pjanic has again been a key player for Juventus, scoring three times with two assists in 22 Serie A appearances.

Arthur, 23, has played much less at Barcelona and it would be a symptom of its sick if they cast him aside despite strong play in limited use.

The defensive midfielder has chimed in with three goals and three assists in 700 fewer minutes. He’s missed nine La Liga games with various injuries this season.

Pjanic would certainly fit the bill of a Barca quality player but Juventus would make out like a bandit here, as Arthur has barely begun an already impressive career.

In the same report, Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici said he expects very few clubs will be able to afford Paul Pogba after the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and that Gianluigi Buffalo and Giorgio Chiellini will spend another year with The Old Lady.

Chiellini on track for imminent Juventus return

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35-year-old Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini has been out since tearing his ACL in late August just one game into the Serie A campaign.

Just over five months later, the Juventus captain could be set for a return to the field in the coming weeks, with Juve confirming that Chiellini has returned to partial training and reports claiming he has his eye on a few significant matches later this month for his possible comeback.

Ahead of Juventus’s weekend match against Chievo Verona, manager Maurizio Sarri said during his Friday press conference, “We are on schedule after his surgery, at the moment he is training with the group.”

That follows Wednesday’s edition of Gazzetta dello Sport that stated Chiellini is hoping to be back for the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 matchup against Lyon on February 26. That would mean theoretically he would be available for the critical game against Inter that weekend on March 1 and the second leg of their Coppa Italia semifinal against AC Milan the following Wednesday, March 4.

In Chiellini’s absence, young Matthijs de Ligt has partnered in defense with stand-in captain Leonardo Bonucci to moderate success, with Merih Demiral occasionally standing in as well. However, should Chiellini return to full fitness, it’s likely he would regain his place in the starting lineup. De Ligt has occasionally had to answer for costly mistakes, saying back in late January, “If I had been in their [fans’] shoes, I would also be angry at such mistakes. But as a player these are problems that shouldn’t interest me. I just have to think about working to improve myself, understand if I’m making progress or not.”

With that in mind, and given that de Ligt is still just 20 years old and has plenty of time to continue developing at Juventus, Chiellini is likely to see the field again after returning. However, on the flip side, the Italian is at an advanced age that may require a slower reintegration to full appearances, making just the simple fact of his imminent return impressive to begin with, and fans might need to be patient as he regains the ability to consistently pump out 90-minute performances at the highest level.

Italy suffers another injury as Insigne departs squad

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The injuries are piling up for the Italian national team ahead of European Championship qualifiers against Armenia and Finland this international break.

Lorenzo Insigne became the latest casualty as the Napoli attacker departed the squad with a muscular injury, the Italian national team announced Tuesday morning.

Insigne, who scored a brace in Napoli’s season-opening win over Fiorentina back on August 24, has been a regular in the Italian starting lineup, starting 10 of the country’s last 14 matches, with two of those misses due to injury. He even captained the side in a friendly against the Netherlands back in the summer of 2018 during the run-up to the World Cup which neither side qualified for.

He was injured in the dramatic 4-3 loss to Juventus over the weekend, withdrawn from the match at halftime, but still reported to the Italian national team camp hoping to push through.

Unable to shake off the injury, the 28-year-old joins Giorgio Chiellini, Mattia De Sciglio, and Bryan Cristante as players to recently withdraw from the squad due to injury. Chiellini’s torn ACL will leave him sidelined for much of – if not the entire – club season, while de Sciglio has been sidelined with a thigh injury that has ruled him out for at least 10 days.

While no replacement has yet been drawn in for Insigne, the other injured trio was replaced by Francesco Acerbi, Danilo D’Ambrosio and Sandro Tonali. Italy is currently top of Euro 2020 qualification Group J with a perfect 12 points through the first four matches.

Chiellini tears ACL, de Ligt next man up

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Juventus confirmed on Friday that captain and veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini has suffered a torn ACL in his right knee and will undergo surgery, leaving his status for the rest of the season in serious doubt.

The injury took place in training earlier in the day, and the club did not give any official timeline for the 35-year-old’s recovery. ACL tears usually take 6-8 months for a full recovery to match fitness, although his advanced age could contribute to a potentially longer recovery time.

Chiellini’s injury is a stunning one, given that the stalwort defender has not missed significant time in his entire 12-year Juventus career. He joined in 2005 from Fiorentina, appearing in 17 games his first season in Turin has he broke into the squad, and he has not looked back, registering at least 21 league appearances in every single season since, although he has tapered off a bit, failing to reach 30 league appearances in any of the last five campaigns.

The 35-year-old started and played the full 90 minutes in Juve’s Serie A season opener last weekend against Parma, starting at center-back alongside fellow veteran Leonardo Bonucci. 20-year-old Matthijs de Ligt, whom Juventus signed this summer for a whopping $97 million, was on the bench and is likely the next man up to take Chiellini’s place, meaning he will play a significant role in his first season with the Italian giants.

While serious injuries such as ACL tears do strike any and all demographic of athlete, Juventus was smart to bring in de Ligt as long-term cover for Chiellini as they rely on both he and the 32-year-old Bonucci in the starting lineup, with older players more at risk for injury. Behind de Ligt, the cover at center-back is extremely thin at Juventus. 21-year-old Merih Demiral made the matchday squad and rode the bench alongside de Ligt for Juve’s season opener, while 25-year-old Daniele Rugani is rumored to be headed out of the club after making just 15 appearances last season, although that could now change after Chiellini’s serious injury.

There could be some growing pains for de Ligt as he is thrust into the spotlight, but the Dutch kid is as experienced as they come for someone so young, having captained Ajax to the Champions League semifinals last season and seeing time with the senior international squad as well, already the owner of 15 international caps.

Mancini wants to ‘bring Italy back where it belongs’

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MILAN (AP) A year after its stunning elimination by Sweden in a World Cup playoff, Italy is back at the San Siro stadium for another potentially decisive match.

The Azzurri have to beat Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal on Saturday and then hope the European champion does not defeat Poland three days later in order to reach the UEFA Nations League finals.

[ MORE: Netherlands wins, Germany relegated ]

“We would like to advance, and we’ll try to, but the No. 1 objective remains qualifying for the European Championship,” coach Roberto Mancini said on Friday.

Portugal leads Group 4 with a perfect six points, Italy has four, and Poland one.

The group winner advances to the Final Four in June. Poland is already assured of finishing last in the group and will be relegated to League B.

Mancini was hired after previous coach Gian Piero Ventura was blamed for Italy’s failed World Cup qualification.

“I see a team that wants to roll its sleeves up and bring Italy back where it belongs,” Mancini said. “Let’s be clear, we still need some time, but we’re on the right path.”

Defender Giorgio Chiellini is slated to make his 100th appearance for Italy while wearing the captain’s armband.

“I want to celebrate the achievement only at the end of the match,” Chiellini said. “First let’s focus on Portugal, try to bring home three points and provide continuity to the good work done to this point.”

Chiellini retired from the national team in the aftermath of the loss to Sweden but then changed his mind.

“The real disappointment came in June when many of my club teammates left for Russia while I was preparing my suitcases for vacation,” Chiellini said.

Fellow defender Alessio Romagnoli left Italy’s squad on Friday with a muscular injury, and Italy is also without forward Federico Bernardeschi.

Bernardeschi was a key performer in the 1-0 win over Poland last month, lining up alongside Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa.

Unable to use the same lineup, Mancini announced that Ciro Immobile will likely start at center forward.

Italy has had trouble scoring.

The last time the Azzurri scored more than one goal was in May, a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in a friendly , while the last time they accomplished the feat in a competitive match was in June 2017, a 5-0 victory over Liechtenstein in a World Cup qualifier.

Italy next plays the United States in a friendly in Genk, Belgium, on Tuesday.

Mancini announced Chiellini, Alessandro Florenzi, Jorginho and Insigne would be sent home after the Portugal game and Gianluca Mancini and Moise Kean would be called up from the under-21 side.

Mancini and Chiellini both expressed disappointment that Ronaldo, who is taking a break from the national team, isn’t with Portugal.

“It’s always great to face the best players,” Mancini said. “Anyhow, Portugal remains a great squad even without Cristiano.”

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