Follow the Progress of Massimo Oddo at Udinese

In a short space of time Massimo Oddo has turned Udinese’s form around and his progress as Zebrette coach is worth keeping an eye out for.

He replaced Luigi Delneri as the coach of the Friuli side on November 21, and although he lost 1-0 to Napoli on his debut with the northern Italian side, he had already given his squad purpose and a structure.

When Delneri was coaching the Friulani, the players would line-up in the 4-4-2 or the 4-3-3 formation, but the team often lacked balance as well as a clear identity. Since Oddo took over, he has used the 3-5-2 formation and the side now has the right balance in defence and in attack.

Since that defeat to the Partenopei on November 26, Udinese has its last four competitive fixtures including the 3-1 away victory to Inter on Saturday afternoon CET. Before the clash in Milan, the Zebrette had defeated relegation battlers Crotone 3-0 and Benevento 2-0 so winning against one of Italy’s giants was a great step forward for Oddo and his team.

The Friulani defended deep against Inter but they counter-attacked at pace and made an often watertight Nerazzurri defence look vulnerable. Left-back Davide Santon received most the embarrassment due to being dispossessed by Silvan Widmer for the first goal scored by Kevin Lasagna and then his handball enabled Rodrigo De Paul to convert the penalty which gave the away side a 2-1 lead.

Inter had 66 per cent possession compared to Udinese’s 34 but most of it was predictable and lacking in conviction. Albano Bizzarri made a few decisive saves in the Zebrette goal while Biscione right-winger Antonio Candreva made a bad habit of blasting his long-range efforts over the crossbar.

Oddo has created a team that defends in numbers and the back line often keeps things tight while his players make quick transitions from defence to attack. The midfielders are often comfortable on the ball and they can make late runs into the penalty area, as evidenced by the third Udinese goal on Saturday.

De Paul found Jakub Jankto on the left-wing, who then crossed low to Antonin Barak at the far post. Barak had made the run into the box and then he side-footed the ball softly over the head of Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.

Udinese is now in 11th place in the Serie A table with 21 points after 16 matches, it is three points off a Europa League spot, and it has a game in hand against Lazio in January. It is still the Coppa Italia after demolishing Serie B team Perugia 8-3, which was Oddo’s first victory as coach.

At this moment coaching the Zebrette is the ideal role for the 41-year-old. In his first senior role as a coach, he took Pescara from Serie B to Serie A through the play-offs in 2015/16 and relied a lot on goals from Gianluca Lapadula.

When the striker was sold to AC Milan, the Delfini played entertaining football but struggled for goals and thus struggled to obtain points. Experimenting with Gianluca Caprari and then Ahmad Benali in the “false nine” role did not work and natural centre-forward Stefano Pettinari looked out of his depth.

With a better squad to work with thanks to Udinese’s great scouting system, Oddo now has a team that can defend well and score freely. The aforementioned Lasagna has scored four times in those four competitive victories under the new coach, Jankto has two goals and two assists in the last three league wins, and Maxi Lopez score four in that victory against Perugia.

If Udinese keeps climbing up the table and obtaining impressive results, Massimo Oddo will surely gain more attention from the bigger Italian clubs.


Sampdoria Draw Against Cagliari Two Points Lost

Sampdoria drew 2-2 with Cagliari at the Sardegna Arena on Saturday night CET and was a case of two points lost for the Blucerchiati after failing to capitalise on their early dominance of the match.

Two goals in the first half from veteran striker Fabio Quagliarella gave Il Doria a reasonably comfortable lead at half-time but a horrendous error from Emiliano Viviano resulted in Diego Farias pulling the score back to 2-1 and former Genoa striker Leonardo Pavoletti equalised four minutes later.

The Farias goal came from an insipid clearance from the Samp goalkeeper 11 minutes into the second half when he kicked the ball into the Brazilian forward and it rolled rapidly into the net.

Viviano must shoulder the responsibility for both of the goals he conceded while former Isolani left-back Nicola Murru can also share the blame for the second goal after he was dispossessed by Farias, who then found Artur Ionita and he crossed to Pavoletti.

Sampdoria can also feel unlucky though because of the excellent performance from Cagliari goalkeeper Alessio Cragno. The Doriani should have lead by more than two goals before half-time and had the opportunities to regain the lead after the Isolani equalised but Cragno made several decisive saves.

The aforementioned Quagliarella scored two goals in less than 20 minutes but he could have scored another two or three. One of those addition efforts was an audacious chip from roughly 30 metres and Cragno was off his line but the Samp striker failed to hit the target.

Uruguayan starlet Lucas Torreira advanced forward more than usual and he too nearly found the back of the net but Cragno denied him after he played a one-two with Quagliarella.

Playing behind the strikers was Gaston Ramirez, who was in excellent form in the first half. He provided the assists for both goals scored by Quagliarella and his turn and long-range shot almost resulted in another Sampdoria goal but the Cagliari shot-stopper made another excellent save.

Ramirez was replaced in the second half by Gianluca Caprari and had two chances to score near the end of the match. The first was a low angled drive in the penalty area and the second a shot from about 25 metres but Cragno was quick to parry both efforts away.

For all the attempts Il Doria had on goal, it was a bit of surprise that Duvan Zapata failed to test the Isolani goalkeeper. Although his link-up play was adequate, he was not getting into clear scoring positions like in previous Serie A games.

Aside from the inability to add to the two goals, this result feels like a defeat because Cagliari coach Diego Lopez had to use all three substitutes before half-time while Sampdoria tactician Marco Giampaolo only used two. Despite the early changes, Viviano’s error gave the Sardi confidence and the moment swung in the home side’s favour before Caprari came on.

Sampdoria has gone three Serie A games without a win and with AC Milan defeating Bologna 2-1 on Sunday night CET, sixth place in the table could be at risk.

There aren’t any serious flaws with Giampaolo’s tactics but the Blucerchiati must be clinical with their finishing and less individual errors in defence must be committed.

Italian Football Needs to Shift from Brera Ideology

The late Italian journalist Gianni Brera once said that “the perfect match would end 0-0” and he would have been impressed with the results involving the Top Four sides in Round 16 of the 2017/18 Serie A season if he was alive today.

Juventus v Inter, Chievo v Roma, and Napoli v Fiorentina ended in 0-0 draws and all three games were typical of his ideology of football. Although there were scoring chances created in those games, it was evident that the goalkeepers and defences were the dominant figures in those matches.

Although these happened in one round of Serie A action, this must not become a trend in the Italian game because Italian teams so far this season have shown that they can do well when they attack.

Many teams in Serie A and several more in Serie B are adapting a more proactive approach to football but there are still a few coaches in Italy that prioritise defending and nullifying opponents instead of seizing the initiative.

Although Juventus and Inter are giants of Italian and world football, they both play in a conservative fashion; Roma had to travel away to Verona and face arguably the most defensive team in the modern Italian game; and Napoli once again had to face a team that parked the bus to stifle its possessed-based approach.

Hopefully this round of Serie A action was an exception to the rule because most of the top teams are still scoring freely. Inter is averaging 2.06 goals per match, Napoli averages 2.19, and Juventus averages 2.56. Lazio has averaged 2.5 goals per match prior to the Monday night CET match with Torino while Sampdoria averages 2.

The way the 2017/18 season has been progressing is against the beliefs of Brera, who was a difensivista, a person who favoured defensive football over attacking philosophies.

He also had this absolutely absurd belief that Italians had to play defensive because they were not strong enough physically to play offensively. Perhaps someone should have told him that not everyone plays with speed and strength like a stereotypical British team.

One person who was against Brera’s mentality was former AC Milan and Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi. He once said:

Brera used to say that Italian clubs had to focus on defending because of our diets. But I could see that in other sports we would excel and that our success proved that we were not inferior physically. And I so became convinced that the real problem was our mentality, which was defensive and lazy.

When Brera rose to prominence as a journalist, World War II had ended and Italy was in a mess. Then the Azzurri underperformed at the 1950 and 1954 World Cups and losing players from Il Grande Torino in the Superga air disaster in 1949 impacted on Italy’s squad depth. In those circumstances, you can understand why Italian coaches had to do something to be competitive.

In 2017 Brera’s thoughts sound outdated whereas Sacchi’s comments are still applicable to this day. Although there have been signs of progress, Italian football still has problems with its mentality and Italy failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup illustrates some of these mindset problems.

Since the Azzurri won the 1982 World Cup, people involved in Italian football as well as the supporters have this idea that Italy can take it easy in qualifying and in the early stages of major tournaments before peaking in the knockout stages.

This approach does not work all the time because the Italian national team have shown at times that they struggle to get out of first gear. After Espana 82, Italy has only won one major trophy since then, the 2006 World Cup in Germany. What has happened the other times?

There have been tournaments in which the Azzurri have been unlucky due to penalty shoot-outs and controversial refereeing decisions but they cannot be used as excuses. Italian teams at club and international level must control their own destiny and not worry too much about things out of their control.

Unfortunately Italy’s football mentality in addition to other factors contributed to the national team missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1958. Carlo Tavecchio was a horrible appointment as FIGC president in 2014 and then his decision to replace Antonio Conte with Giampiero Ventura as Azzurri coach two years later was worse.

Ventura’s national team lacked a clear football identity and he was reliant on veterans instead of integrating more of the new generation. If losing 3-0 away to Spain in September this year was not a enough of an indicator, losing 1-0 on aggregate to Sweden in the qualifying play-offs confirmed that Italian football needs a revolution.

Italian teams cannot take it easy in so-called meaningless matches because eventually it affects them one way or another. It could impact on the goal difference in a table or the opposition will persist in a relentless chance for whereas the Italian side would likely defend a “comfortable lead”.

On the weekend, Serie A fans saw some of Italy’s biggest clubs cancelling each other out, which is not ideal from a marketing perspective. Italian football still has its fair share or critics and haters who are keen to rubbish it whenever possible so it would be great to avoid giving them ammunition to spill out dated stereotypes or be Italophobic.

Most of the current Serie A campaign has consisted of exciting games which go against the notion of the Italian style being cautious and defensive. This is the path Italian teams must go down, not just because it pleases the neutrals, but it is the best way for them to be competitive and get results.

Tactics and defensive organisation are important parts of the game, especially in Italy, but so are football intelligence and technical skill. It is important to avoid defensive naivety but having the confidence and the guile to create goals are fundamental too.

Italians are considered to be “the masters of defence” but there is an old saying that “offence is the best form of defence” so Italian teams and coaches should make more of an effort to be masters in attacking because Italy does produce technically gifted players.

Italy can be proud to have produced great goalkeepers such as Gianluigi Buffon, Dino Zoff, Giampiero Combi, Walter Zenga, and Gianluca Pagliuca as well as great defenders such as Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Giacinto Facchetti, Gaetano Scirea, Alessandro Nesta, and Fabio Cannavaro but Italy is also the land of many great attacking talents.

For a football nation known for its defensive prowess, it has still been able to produce such footballing geniuses such as Giuseppe Meazza, Gianni Rivera, Roberto Baggio, Valentino and Sandro Mazzola, Gigi Riva, Silvio Piola, Andrea Pirlo, and Francesco Totti among countless others. Why just play for 0-0 draws and 1-0 wins?

The new generation isn’t well-known to most non-Italian football fans but with the right nurturing and coaching, they can become stars. Goalkeepers such as Gianluigi Donnarumma, Alex Meret, Simone Scuffet, and Alessio Cragno have great potential while Alessio Romagnoli, Mattia Caldara, Daniele Rugani, Andrea Conti, and Antonio Barreca can be stars in defence.

When it comes to attack-minded players, some of the players to look out for include Federico Chiesa, Federico Bernardeschi, Patrick Cutrone, Domenico Berardi, Riccardo Orsolini, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Manuel Locatelli, Bryan Cristante, and Nicolo Barella. Players like this must not believe that 0-0 is a perfect score and they should be taught to score as many goals as possible against an opponent.

Gianni Brera might not have liked goals but the rest of the world does and Italian teams are capable of scoring goals.For the sake of Italian football rising again and also earning deserved praise, the results from the weekend must not be a trend and they should be an exception instead.

The Italian way of playing football must become the antithesis of Brera’s ideology as opposed to remaining true to it.

Spalletti Produced a Complete Inter Against Chievo

Inter demolished Chievo 5-0 on Sunday afternoon CET and the performance from the Nerazzurri was the most complete one so far under new coach Luciano Spalletti.

The former Roma tactician was missing three key players in Miranda, Matias Vecino, and Roberto Gagliardini but the Biscione remarkably played better without them and balanced defensive solidarity with attacking impetus.

Previous performances from Inter were scrappy at best but the Milanese giants were able to collect points despite their unconvincing displays. On Sunday the Nerazzurri were the dominant side from the first whistle despite some attacking forays from the Veronese team in the first half.

Without the three aforementioned absentees, Spalletti started Andrea Ranocchia in defence while Marcelo Brozovic and Joao Mario started in midfield. The changes in personnel also allowed Spanish midfielder Borja Valero to play in a deep-lying playmaker role instead of operating as an attacking midfielder behind Mauro Icardi.

Making these adjustments to the team without switching formation worked to Inter’s advantage. Valero had arguably his best game for the Biscione, completing 101 passes and passing with 98 per cent accuracy. Playing deeper allowed him to dictate the play and he had more space to do so than if he had played as a trequartista.

Joao Mario operated as an auxiliary playmaker in midfield by keeping his passes simple and effective. He wasted two chances to score in the first half but his attempted shot at the end of the match became an assist for Ivan Perisic’s third goal and the Bauscia‘s fifth of the match.

The attacking midfield role was occupied by Brozovic, who provided the assist for Icardi’s strike, and he also played a part in Milan Skriniar’s goal by switching the ball to Antonio Candreva on the right-wing before the former Lazio winger crossed for the Slovakian defender to head it in.

Candreva put in another energetic display on the right-wing and he could have scored in the opening minutes of the second half, but the clear standout individual was left-winger Ivan Perisic, who scored a hat-trick.

The Croatian international has been a match-winner for Inter in the past but has also lacked consistency. In 2017/18 he has scored seven goals in 15 Serie A matches and on current form he should be able to add to that tally with ease.

One of Inter’s clear strengths is its defence but it is incredible to see certain players in that back line against Chievo perform well under Spalletti’s tutelage. Danilo D’Ambrosio’s form this season has earned him call-ups to the Italian national team, Davide Santon reminded people why he was so highly rated in his teens, and Ranocchia was surprisingly reliable and confident.

D’Ambrosio made his regular forays forward but Santon in particular looked dangerous. He took a shot from the left before Perisic opened the scoring with the rebound and another powerful shot of his just went wide.

The 26-year-old has struggled with injuries in recent seasons but against Chievo he looked rapid and energetic, demonstrating why he was compared to Italian legends Giacinto Facchetti and Paolo Maldini in the late 2000s.

In recent years Ranocchia has been a source of ridicule because of his calamitous errors but he looked like transformed player against the Mussi Volanti. Solid in defence, comfortable playing the ball out from the back, and an aerial threat at set-pieces, the 29-year-old was able to join his team in attack without neglecting his defensive duties too much.

For all the outstanding performers in the team, it was intriguing that Inter centre-forward and captain Mauro Icardi scored just one goal, but it is a testament to his teammates for contributing with the goals and providing the Nerazzurri with additional scoring options.

The victory against Chievo result puts them on top of the Serie A table after 15 rounds and Spalletti’s team looks more convincing than what it was under Roberto Mancini two seasons ago.

Spalletti is in his first season as Inter coach but he has already created stability as well as demonstrating the ability to put out-of-form players back on track and the win against the Flying Donkeys was a fine of example of how the Nerazzurri squad have bought into his methods in a short time.

Sampdoria Reserves Show Their Worth Against Pescara

Starting an abundance of players that are usually reserves can sometimes throw a team off balance but Sampdoria won comfortably in its Coppa Italia fourth round fixture with Pescara with only a few of the regulars featuring from the first whistle.

Coach Marco Giampaolo started just three of his regulars in Il Doria’s 4-1 victory against the Delfini, and although their opponents rested some of their own players, the Blucerchiati reserves made the most of their opportunity.

Samp lost 3-0 in their Round 14 Serie A match away to Bologna so there needed to be a response and the changes made by Giampaolo paid dividends.

The clear standout was Polish starlet Dawid Kownacki, who scored two goals and created one for Gaston Ramirez. The Pole opened the scoring with a tap-in after Valerio Verre headed down Ramirez’s free-kick and then he sealed the result with a low diagonal drive from the right side of the penalty box.

Originally seen as a replacement for the departed Patrik Schick, Kownacki is a striker with similar attributes and could emulate the Czech prodigy at Sampdoria. Tall and elegant, he too can score goals despite limited opportunities. So far the 20-year-old has played just 68 minutes of Serie A time but has scored every 34 minutes.

He was paired with Gianluca Caprari in attack, who has been in-and-out of the Doriani squad but the former Pescara forward is another player capable of making the most of limited opportunities.

Although he squandered a great chance to make it 2-0 when he was one-on-one with Delfini goalkeeper Mirko Pigliacelli by shooting wide, he atoned for it by exchanging passes with Ramirez and scored the third goal of the match.

Giampaolo usually uses Caprari as a trequartista behind Duvan Zapata and Fabio Quagliarella but he played as a support striker against Pescara and he benefited from playing a more familiar role. He now has two goals in the Coppa Italia in addition to his three strikes in Serie A.

Another former Pescara player who played well for Sampdoria against the Delfini was midfielder Valerio Verre. In addition to creating Kownacki’s first goal, he was praised for his ball-winning abilities in the TuttoMercatoWeb player ratings.

Giampaolo has gradually given the 23-year-old more playing time in Serie A and he is starting to be more influential in games. The likes of Dennis Praet, Edgar Barreto and Karol Linetty are likely to play more in the league fixtures but the improved form of Verre adds healthy competition for midfield spots.

Back-up goalkeeper Christian Puggioni was another Il Doria player who performed admirably despite not being a first-choice player.

Although he started the first 10 matches of the 2017/18 Serie A season, he lost his spot in the team once Emiliano Viviano returned from injury but the 36-year-old demonstrated that he is a fine deputy by making excellent saves from a Marco Carraro strike and two efforts from Simone Ganz.

The defence in front of Puggioni did not fare too greatly in the ratings from the Italian press but Vasco Regini was given a 7/10 by La Gazzetta dello Sport. Often criticised on social media by Samp fans, the former captain has played better when he is plays in central defence instead of the left-back role.

It is important for reserve players to make their most of their opportunities whenever the regulars are injured or rested and it is arguably more crucial for the smaller teams because injuries to key players can really affect them.

Sampdoria might have been playing against a Serie B team but those players on the pitch made the most of their time and hopefully it sends a signal to the regulars that no spots can be guaranteed this season.


Italian Clubs Must Learn from Modena Demise

Modena has been forced into folding after failing to pay off its debts and will not be allowed to finish the 2017/18 Serie C campaign off.

The Canarini had been declining since being relegated from Serie A in 2003/04 and then Serie B in 2015/16 but the final straw came after they forfeited their last four Serie C Girone B matches against Mestre, AlbinoLeffe, Padova, and Santarcangelo, which resulted in the Emilia-Romagna club being expelled on November 6.

It is a shame that Italian teams keep falling into crises like these but presidents and directors must change the way the clubs are being run these days.

Gone are the days when Italian industrialists could spend billions of Lire or millions of Euros to purchase the best players in the world and now these stars are more like to play in the Spanish Primera Division (La Liga) or the English Premier League.

We need to see Italian clubs invest more wisely and also become more realistic about the targets. There is little point in trying to overachieve if it results in a club going in debt later on.

Clubs such as Fiorentina, Napoli, Parma, and Venezia are just a few of the clubs that have gone bankrupt in the last two decades and they had to reform. Most of those clubs spent an abundance on money on gigantic transfer fees but it hurt them financially in the long term.

Italian clubs need to provide more stability unlike Cagliari, Palermo, and Genoa that have a history of sacking coaches regularly and constantly changing their squads. How can clubs progress up the Serie A table if there is instability on and off the field?

Throughout the 2010s, there have been a number of teams that have climbed from the lower divisions in Italy and have earned promotion to the top flight.

Clubs such as Novara, Sassuolo, Carpi, Frosinone, Crotone, SPAL, and Benevento have shown that it is not necessary to spend vast sums of money and it is better to focus on good scouting and developing youth instead.

Aside from SPAL – who come from Ferrara in the Emilia-Romagna region – and Novara, these teams come from towns with less than 100,000 people so achieving promotion to Serie A is more remarkable for these sides.

The rise of both Carpi and Sassuolo are particularly remarkable because they both come from the province of Modena. The Canarini are now defunct yet their local rivals have been run far more shrewdly and have clear projects.

The biancorossi used to acquire the best young players in the amateur leagues thanks to sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli and they went from playing in Serie D in 2009/10 to playing in Serie A in 2015/16 while the Neroverdi thanks to the financial support of Mapei have become a stable Serie A side and have been keen to prioritise the development of Italian starlets.

Perhaps Modena was lacking that sort of project or those recruitment policies but once the club is reformed, the new owners and directors need to find financial stability and identify talent in better ways.

Sadly the Gialloblu are not the only club to have been run poorly and fold in recent years. Numerous others in Italy have endured this fate and it needs to stop. Dreams cannot be confused with reality and clubs cannot look for quick solutions to reach the top.

Italian football must learn from the expulsion of Modena because incompetent management and poor spending should not be tolerated.


Benevento Must Have Faith in De Zerbi

Although Benevento has failed to collect points in its maiden Serie A campaign, the Stregoni must not believe that all is lost and they must persist with Roberto De Zerbi as coach.

The former Palermo tactician has replaced Marco Baroni as coach but the newly-promoted side still have not collected their first points in Italy’s top flight. The Campanian club almost got its first point on Sunday against Sassuolo but the Emilian team won 2-1 at the death.

De Zerbi worked wonders in Lega Pro with Foggia in 2015/16, with current Benevento striker Pietro Iemmello playing under him back then, and it would be fantastic if they could succeed in Serie A.

Although he is not a defensive-minded tactician, he knew his team’s limitations and the Sanniti were able to take a shock lead against Juventus thanks to a sumptuous Amato Ciciretti free-kick before succumbing to a 2-1 defeat in Round 12.

More often that not, De Zerbi will encourage his team to attack, but the roster he has to work with is weak. Benevento has quick wingers but the rest of the team lacks technique or they are not good enough to play at the highest level.

For the Streghe to be more competitive in Italy’s top flight, they need to adapt to the methods of their coach quickly. Ideally the team must be well organised and play at a high tempo.

Unsettling opponents with pace and instinct are needed to atone for a lack of skill and good positioning as well as creating spaces are important in helping De Zerbi’s philosophy work.

Palermo was a bad place for the former Foggia coach to impose his methods on the squad because of the limited patience of Rosanero president Maurizio Zamparini so perhaps Benevento could provide him with a more tranquil work environment despite the club’s current position in the league table.

If the Sanniti can turn things around and finally get their first Serie A points, then president Oreste Vigorito and sporting director Salvatore Di Somma should give him time for him to implement his methods properly.

De Zerbi is a Pep Guardiola imitator whereas his predecessor Baroni did not mimic a particular coach or style of play so I expect Benevento to develop more of an identity under the 38-year-old.

Iemmello could be a prolific scorer if he is provided with the right service and he can improve his accuracy. Ciciretti and Marco D’Alessandro have the ability to provide assists from the wings but central midfield is a concern. Ledian Memushaj might not be a playmaker of Serie A standard despite being an Albanian international and Danilo Cataldi has not been able to live up to his potential.

The Streghe should consider looking improving the midfield in January and I reckon they should look at players like Leonardo Capezzi and Valerio Verre from Sampdoria, Alberto Grassi at SPAL, Simone Pontisso from Udinese, Lorenzo Crisetig from Bologna, and Riccardo Saponara from Fiorentina.

It would be great if De Zerbi can create a miracle at Benevento and help the club survive because Italian football needs more attack-minded coaches and less conservative ones.

Despite working with squad that looks out of his depth in Serie A, the former Foggia tactician has philosophy and if he can make it work, it will make a Stregoni miracle feel even sweeter.

Marco Verratti Looks Like the New Riccardo Montolivo

Although he was touted as a star of the future, Italy playmaker Marco Verratti is looking more like the new Riccardo Montolivo than the next Andrea Pirlo.

The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder made his breakthrough for his local club Pescara which won the 2011/12 Serie B and he left Italy before his 20th birthday.

Despite what he has achieved in France, the 25-year-old has not transmitted that form onto the international stage, scoring just once and proving only two assists in 24 matches for Italy.

Verratti lacks confidence when he plays for Italy and his play is unimaginative and predictable. He is a player with excellent technical ability but he does not express it enough on the international stage.

Not all the blame can be placed on the diminutive midfielder for having such an underwhelming international career. Italian football in general has declined since the Azzurri won the 2006 World Cup and the Calciopoli scandal and he has already played under three different national team coaches that have different philosophies. Injuries also ruled him out of Euro 2016.

Giampiero Ventura has been a disappointment as the Azzurri coach but if Verratti was the star that he was expected to be, he would have the ability to carry the team by providing leadership and creating moments of magic out of nothing.

There are two Italian playmakers of recent times that the former Pescara midfielder can be compared to on the basis of the roles they play: Andrea Pirlo and Riccardo Montolivo.

Pirlo was a playmaker that took time to get going but he proved to be a player who got better with age just like a fine wine. He has retired so to compare Verratti with him might seem unfair but the PSG midfielder is a player does possess a lot of talent which he does not show often enough.

Montolivo, on the other hand, was expected to be a star in midfield for Italy but he has often been a rather timid player at club level and on the international stage. Although Verratti has produced some excellent performances with Les Parisiens, he has never been a match-winner or dominant figure in a game for the Azzurri and the same can be said about Montolivo’s international career.

Leading into the World Cup play-offs against Sweden, he was already on a yellow card and he managed to get one in the 1-0 defeat in Stockholm, ruling him out of the second leg on Monday evening CET (Tuesday morning AEDT).

He had a chance to change the game but he played poorly and got a rating of 4/10 by Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Due to his lack of influence for his country, he cannot really be considered to be a great loss for the second leg. Perhaps he cannot cope with the pressure and expectations that were placed upon him at a young age or he might not be as great as originally expected.

At 25 years of age, Verratti still has time to improve as well as fulfil his potential, but on the basis of what Azzurri fans have seen so far, he might go down as a “what-if” than an all-time great.

Sampdoria Coach Giampaolo is the Genoa Slayer

Forget about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Meet Marco Giampaolo the Genoa slayer.

Since he became the coach of Sampdoria in 2016, he has won all three Derby della Lanterna clashes that he has been involved and that included winning both Genoa Derbies in the 2016/17 campaign.

Before last season, the last time the Doriani had won both derbies in a Serie A campaign was in 1959/60, but Giampaolo achieved that in his first year and with a young squad too.

When Sampdoria last won three Genoa Derbies in a row, it was a streak that started in 1950/51 and it continued when the Rossoblu returned in 1953/54. Those results were achieved under different coaches Giampaolo achieved three consecutive victories himself.

On Saturday evening CET (Sunday morning AEDT) Sampdoria defeated Genoa 2-0 in what was the Grifone’s home game at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris but it was Il Doria that dominated the match. Although Samp weren’t at their fluid best, they were still able to dictate the play despite the pressure that the Rossoblu tried to apply.

While Genoa coach Ivan Juric had to rely on Adel Taarabt and Gianluca Lapadula to create and finish off chances for his side, Giampaolo’s football is about the collective despite having players who are capable of producing moments of brilliance.

The Derby della Lanterna in the last decade has often produced matches that are tight and physical but the latest edition was not as vigorous as others aside from the first half moment when Armando Izzo stomped on Fabio Quagliarella’s leg and surprisingly the Genoa defender was not sent off.

There were parts of the second half in which the Blucerchiati dropped back and the Genoani pressed hard for the equaliser but Quagliarella and Ricky Alvarez squandered chances to seal the victory before the 34-year-old striker scored the second with six minutes remaining.

Since Giampaolo has arrived at the club, he has persisted in a compact 4-3-1-2 formation and he encourages his team to take the initiative against opposing sides. Sampdoria plays a lot of short passes and the players often take one or two touches to control the ball before giving the ball to a teammate.

Although the 4-3-1-2 is a formation that encourages narrow play, strikers Duvan Zapata and Quagliarella provide plenty of movement and they happy to drift towards the wings when necessary. Zapata was excellent on Saturday, setting-up both Doria goals.

Club patron Massimo Ferrero has allowed the tactician time and space to implement his philosophy whereas Genoa has had a habit of changing coaches regularly. This allows the Blucerchiati players to understand Giampaolo’s methods and the squad has clearly accepted his way of coaching.

When Gian Piero Gasperini coached the Grifone, his teams played excellent football against most opponents but they were cynical and thuggish in derby games. Giampaolo does not need to sink low and he encourages Sampdoria to stick to its own style as opposed to changing it because of the circumstances and opponent.

In under 18 months Giampaolo has collected some impressive results as Sampdoria coach. Last season he defeated both Milanese clubs at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, won both clashes against Inter, defeated second place Roma 3-2, and he is responsible for Il Doria’s current hegemony in the Derby della Lanterna.

With his ability to collect victories in one of Italy’s most passionate and colourful derbies, the Sampdoria tactician should be referred to now on as the Genoa slayer.

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