They might both be giants | Football Italia_3

  If the Serie A season had started after lockdown, this would have been a top of the table clash. It speaks volumes, however, that it was much more of a surprise for Milan to be setting such a pace than it was for Atalanta. Their match in the eerily quiet San Siro told us how far one team had come and the journey still facing the other.

  That the Rossoneri have made progress under Stefano Pioli – with additions of no little note like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer – is undeniable. The resurgence earned their coach a deserved contract extension in a U-turn well worthy of the soap opera the club has appeared in recent times. Why overhaul everything when you actually have some decent foundations in place anyway? Don’t wreck it Ralf Rangnick felt like a pragmatic decision which probably suited everyone involved.

  There was a spell of about 20 years from the early 1990s when a visit of the boys from Bergamo was a pretty much guaranteed home win for the Milanese giants, but those days are long gone. More recent times have confirmed the Bergamaschi as one of the most glorious realities of Italian football. It has coincided with a pretty shambolic spell in the post-Silvio Berlusconi age at one of Europe’s most successful sides. Under the Friday night lights, though, there was definitely more hope than despair for once.

  A lot of the credit for that must go to Pioli, although Rino Gattuso might be looking on thinking what wonders he could have done with some of the new arrivals at the club. It doesn’t feel like he has done anything revolutionary, simply given a chaotic set-up a decent structure and shape. Since football returned, Hakan Calhanoglu has looked like a different player. The reason according to him? He is playing in his preferred trequartista role – who would have thought it?

  This more gentle evolution is probably exactly what Milan needed. You could see in this game that the presence of Ibra has inspired those around him to give a little more and to think a little more of themselves. If anyone was going to give the red and black devils a bit more fire in their bellies, it was probably him.

  It is more than that, of course. Alongside belief has come a bit of stability and a growing confidence acquired with each positive result. No wonder they decided not to rip everything up this summer and start again. Financially, too, let’s be honest that it probably makes more sense to carry out a smaller scale restyling under Pioli than might otherwise have taken place.

  It was enough to stand toe to toe with one of Italy’s best at the moment and make them sweat for most of their 90 minutes. Yes, there were spells where the slick Atalanta machine threatened to sweep them aside, but there were also periods where they more than held their own. If you remember the 5-0 hammering from earlier this season, such a recovery hardly seemed possible in the space of one – undeniably lengthy – campaign.

  As for Papu Gomez and company, they were a little below their best for this encounter, which again tells us much about what we have come to expect from them. Maybe even they don’t believe – despite Juve’s setback in Udine – that the Scudetto is a serious prospect. The way they are keeping Josip Ilicic wrapped up would suggest that the Champions League is quite heavily on their mind.

  That sentence says everything about the amazing story which has unfolded at the club in recent times. To have pushed the Bianconeri so close in the league – and it might have been closer without a couple of handball penalties – would be a big enough achievement for a side of their size. The fact that they are being whispered of as sneaky outsiders for the biggest competition in the continent is absolutely incredible. We think of the Champions League as a closed shop for the big boys only, but Atalanta are rattling on that door with a wonderful disregard for the established order.

  Indeed, Friday night showed us that, ultimately, there is room for teams to rise and fall above and below their traditional positions. Milan took a step towards the Europa League which they would historically have thought beneath themselves, while Gian Piero Gasperini’s side will be in Europe’s top competition, where they have looked more and more at home. Between them, they dished up an entertaining encounter where everyone could take away a positive. La Dea looks increasingly divine with each passing game and – if this side can be held together – could be on the verge of more special moments. And the Rossoneri? They might finally be on the right track – if they show a bit of patience and good sense in how they rebuild. Who knows, they could even catch up to Atalanta one day.

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Dybala: ‘Juve aiming for 10th Scudetto’ | Football Italia

  Juventus forward Paulo Dybala has admitted the Old Lady are ‘already thinking about a 10th’ Scudetto in 2020-21.

  Check out the preview for Juventus v Roma on

  The Bianconeri extended their own record by securing a ninth consecutive title in Italy and Dybala has claimed Juventus have the ‘strongest players in the world in every position’.

  “It can be hard to maintain concentration and ambition,” Dybala told The Guardian. “But every win is special.

  “I think that’s the most important thing. I like to win, my teammates like to win, and the club likes to win, and it’s that desire that makes us winners.

  “But, of course it helps that we have the strongest players in the world in every position. We’re proud of ourselves, to win nine titles in a row is incredible, and we’re already thinking about a 10th.”

  Juventus end the campaign at home against Roma on Saturday, before they embark on another challenge in Europe.

  The Old Lady lost 1-0 to Olympique Lyonnais at the Groupama Stadium and must turn the tie around in Turin on August 7 to join the other quarter-finalists for a mini-tournament in Lisbon, Portugal.

  “First though, we need to turn our attention to the Champions League. It’s been such a long season already.

  “The first game against Lyon was five months ago and so many things have happened in between, but we know what we can still achieve.

  “It’ll be strange to play in the Champions League without fans, and to play just one tie in each round, but first we have to win in Turin. For now, that’s all that matters.”

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Pioli: ‘Not just Zlatan’ | Football Italia

  Coach Stefano Pioli said Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been ‘important’ to help Milan turn their season around but stressed there have been several factors ‘allowing us to deliver excellent performances’.

  The Swede, who turns 39 in October, was on target against Sampdoria yesterday, when his brace helped the Rossoneri secure a 4-1 win at the Marassi.

  Zlatan joked he doesn’t age after the performance and Pioli has again praised the veteran’s impact at San Siro since January but underlined that there are other factors

  “Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been very important for our development, but there hasn’t been only this,” Pioli said at the post-match press conference.

  “The work we have put down in the past months, the arrival of [Simon] Kjaer and a change of positions on the pitch.

  “There’s a number of things that have allowed us to deliver excellent performances with the right continuity.”

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Osimhen can light up Napoli | Football Italia_3

  It might sound strange, but 2020 just keeps getting better and better for Napoli from a footballing point of view.

  The Partenopei were a complete mess back in December when the infamous row between the players and the club resulted in Carlo Ancelotti’s sacking. However, Gennaro Gattuso has been doing wonders ever since, winning the Coppa Italia and building a solid foundation for next season.

  Putting the results aside, Napoli have done extremely well in the January transfer window, bringing in Diego Demme, Stanislav Lobotka and Matteo Politano, while also securing the services of Amir Rrahmani from Verona and SPAL’s top goalscorer Andrea Petagna for next term.

  While Aurelio De Laurentiis has done well to add quality and depth to the squad, it’s hard to say that any of those signings bring the excitement that the Napoletani are used to seeing. That’s where Victor Osimhen comes in.

  The 21-year-old striker is set to become Napoli’s most expensive signing ever, as the Partenopei are set to pay a stunning €50m plus Orestis Karnezis and bonuses to Lille OSC for the Nigerian talent. The reports of €81m seem far-fetched and probably included the wages for his entire contract. It’s still a lot more than the Partenopei paid for their current most expensive acquisition Hirving Lozano, who arrived for €42m from PSV Eindhoven last summer.

  It’s obvious that even for €50m the expectations towards Osimhen will go way beyond the pure excitement that such a signing brings, but what exactly can he bring to Napoli?

  The Nigerian’s numbers clearly can’t justify his gigantic rumoured €81m transfer fee, as Osimhen scored 18 goals and four assists in all competitions for Lille, before Ligue 1 was cancelled due to the COVID situation. However, his age and playing style are what make him perfect for Napoli, as the 185cm tall striker possess impressive speed and physique, while his off the ball movement is simply remarkable.

  Osimhen is a player who likes to run in the channels and behind the back of opposition defences, which makes him a good for Napoli’s playing style. His acceleration and ability to run with the ball also mean he would be perfect for Gattuso’s counter-attacking approach in certain games.

  While neither Arkadiusz Milik nor Dries Mertens combine those qualities, Osimhen’s biggest advantage over them is the intensity of his pressing gamе. The Nigerian averages 1.3 recoveries in the final third, which is significantly higher than Milik’s 0.9, while his speed and agility are far superior to those of Mertens, who at 33, often loses some of his intensity in the latter stages of games.

  Osimhen’s presence in Napoli’s attack would allow the Partenopei to recover possession much easier and in more advanced areas of the pitch, while his speed and positioning in the penalty area will make the transition from defence to attack much smoother. This is further highlighted by Osimhen’s 78.9% progressive passes success rate, which is equal to Mertens, but significantly higher than Milik’s 64%.

  In terms of shooting, Osimhen is also far more composed than his age might suggest, as 44% of his shots hit the target, which is much better than Mertens’ 35%. Milik’s stats look similar in that regard, but considering that the Pole seems eager to leave, it would certainly help if Napoli have a player of similar height and shooting accuracy.

  The Nigerian’s technical ability is not to be underestimated as well, as although he is right-footed, he is also very capable with his left, scoring seven goals with his supposed weaker foot.

  Of course, pointing out only the strong aspects of Osimhen’s game would be wrong, so just like Martin Schmidt who used to coach him at Wolfsburg admitted recently, the youngster still has a long way to go tactically. However, he already has remarkable speed and athleticism, so he already is a very strong player.

  Mentality wise, just like every young player, the 21-year-old needs to improve his concentration, but he plays with such fire and passion that could potentially make him instrumental for Gattuso’s vision of the team.

  Despite all this, the fact remains that Osimhen’s transfer is a huge gamble for Napoli. Becoming Napoli’s most expensive signing ever and one of the most expensive African players of all time surely comes with a burden, so the big risk here is to avoid the exaggerated transfer fee putting in unrealistic expectations towards the player.

  It is no coincidence that the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea have shown interest in the Nigerian, so there is little doubt that Osihmen can light up Naples. He just needs to be given the chance.

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Inzaghi: ‘End Lazio season on a high’ | Football Italia

  Simone Inzaghi wants to ‘end this memorable season on a high’ with a win against Napoli, Ciro Immobile’s record and potentially second place.

  It kicks off on Saturday at 19.45 UK time (18.45 GMT), click here for a match preview.

  If Atalanta and Inter draw, then Lazio can still leapfrog them both into second with a victory.

  “I am focusing only on Napoli, as it’s the final push in a very long season, we had 12 games in a row that were really tough,” said Inzaghi in his press conference.

  “We want to end on a high for this season that has been memorable for everyone. We’ve been able to win a trophy and get back into the Champions League after 13 years.

  “Cristiano Ronaldo permitting, Immobile can win the Capocannoniere trophy and Golden Boot, Luis Alberto provide more assists than anyone else and there’s also my personal record as the Lazio coach with the most games under his belt.”

  That’s this term, what does Inzaghi see for the future of the Biancocelesti?

  “We want to reach the Champions League in the best way and it’d be disappointing for us to finish fourth, considering the team deserved more. It has been a fantastic season, including the Italian Super Cup, 11 consecutive victories and many individual targets for the players too.

  “Hopefully, we can start the next season with a ‘normal’ fixture list and fans in the stadium. We can’t play every two days, it’s like a knockout tournament to see which players get injured first.”

  Because of the lack of strength in depth, Lazio will have to invest heavily in the transfer market this summer.

  “We’ve got to expand the squad, we know where the gaps are. There is a constant exchange of ideas and opinions with the club.”

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Orsolini: ‘Miha should have told me in private’ | Football Italia

  Bologna forward Riccardo Orsolini struggled to explain the Rossoblu’s poor form and revealed he confronted coach Sinisa Mihajlovic. ‘I didn’t like certain things he said about me’.

  The Rossoblu have only picked up one win in their seven last games and Orsolini admitted that the players ‘don’t know what happened’.

  “We ask ourselves; we also gave ourselves some explanations but they’re not enough,” Orsolini told Il Corriere dello Sport. “We felt the drop physically, but in the end, we don’t know what happened.”

  But the 23-year-old revealed that Mihajlovic has left them in silence to ‘reflect’ on the performances in recent weeks.

  “He didn’t speak to us; he didn’t give us any lessons. It was more of a deafening silence than harsh words.

  “The silence makes you reflect and the more you think, the worse you feel.”

  But the coach has always had a special rapport with Orsolini and publicly said he ‘expects more’ from the Italy international.

  “We have a frank relationship,” Orsolini added. “We often talk, and I didn’t like certain things he said about me at the press conference.

  “I didn’t like it when he said I have to wake up, but I didn’t hide from him. It would have been better if he told me in private.

  “He said it to shake me.”

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Pioli praises Ibra and Kjaer | Football Italia

  Milan coach Stefano Pioli has praised January signings Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer ahead of the match against Sampdoria tomorrow.

  The Rossoneri have climbed to sixth in Serie A, four points behind Roma at fifth, much thanks to the additions made in January.

  Pioli underlined how important Ibrahimovic has been in recent months, both on and off the pitch.

  “Ibra improved us in many ways on the pitch, he gave us solutions we didn’t have,” Pioli said at a press conference. “Ibra has an important presence both physically and technically.

  “He creates a lot of space for his teammates. Regarding his personality and character, he was definitely decisive.”

  Together with Ibrahimovic’s move from LA Galaxy, the Denmark international Kjaer came to Milan from Sevilla the same month.

  The 31-year-old has played 13 Serie A games since and has formed a great partnership with captain Alessio Romagnoli since he replaced Mateo Musacchio in the side.

  “Kjaer is doing well, he was another January signing that contributed in an important way.”

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Longo: ‘Roma found tactical balance’ | Football Italia

  Torino coach Moreno Longo acknowledges Roma have ‘found a certain balance’ with the change of system and tries to boost his team’s confidence.

  It kicks off on Wednesday at 20.45 UK time (19.45 GMT), click here for a match preview.

  “This has been a tough period for everyone, as the mental and physical fatigue is starting to really pile up, but I thank the players for acting like real athletes on and off the field,” said Longo in his press conference.

  “Roma have been one of the best teams since the lockdown, as they changed tactical system and found a certain balance that they lacked before. They are in good shape and can rotate their squad without losing anything in terms of quality.”

  Toro also made tactical adjustments in recent weeks, placing Simone Verdi as a trequartista behind Andrea Belotti and Simone Zaza.

  “I think Verdi is very intelligent and honest when critiquing his own performances. Not everyone can do that in football. He just needs to break through that psychological block in his initial approach to games.

  “Sasa Lukic also should believe more in his capabilities, while we trust Bremer can become one of the best defenders in Serie A.”

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Ancelotti: ‘Everton for the long haul’ | Football Italia

  Carlo Ancelotti confirms ‘I’d like to have a very long experience’ at Everton, where he is planning ‘an evolution, not a revolution’.

  Ancelotti has not lasted more than two years in any of his six jobs since his tenure at Milan ended in 2009, but he is hoping to buck that trend at Everton.

  “I feel part of this project, which started for me in December, and I hope it lasts for a long time,” the 61-year-old told Sky Sport Italia.

  “I’ve never had very long experiences in my career, but I’d like to have one here: Liverpool took five years to get to the top.

  “Everton want to build a new stadium and have the ambition of fighting for a place in Europe.

  “I’d like to be part of this project for a long time. Being appreciated gives me a lot of pleasure and motivation, but at the same time it also gives you a lot of responsibility.

  “You’re appreciated for what you’ve done, but you’d also like to be appreciated for what you’re going to do.

  “That’s my objective. Doing it for those who appreciate you is much more stimulating.”

  The former Napoli boss is coming to the end of his first half-season in charge of the Toffees, lifting them to safety amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

  “The balance sheet is a positive one, considering it’s been a very strange season.

  “I came here during the Christmas period with the team in trouble and then there was the pandemic.

  “One of the most positive aspects is the great welcome that the fans reserved for me, plus I have to say that I found a very organised club, with beautiful structures and a fabulous training ground.”

  Finally, Carletto was asked about Everton’s plans in the upcoming transfer window.

  “The club’s ambition is to improve and we’ll focus on the transfer window once the season finishes.

  “It’ll last until 5 October, so there will be plenty of time to improve the team. I’m not thinking of a revolution but maybe an evolution.”

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Mbappe’ to miss Atalanta? | Football Italia

  Kylian Mbappé limped off in tears during the Coupe de France Final and could now be at risk for PSG’s Champions League quarter-final with Atalanta.

  Just 30 minutes into the first competitive match in France since the lockdown in March, Saint-Etienne legend Loic Perrin was sent off for an horrific tackle on Mbappé.

  The striker’s ankle turned very badly indeed and he limped off in tears.

  The incident also sparked a brawl between the two sets of players, with Italy international Marco Verratti booked despite being on the bench at the time.

  Thilo Kehrer also went off injured in the opening minutes.

  Paris Saint-Germain and Atalanta will go head-to-head in the Champions League quarter-final on August 12.

  It is a one-off game on neutral turf in Lisbon.

  Tackle just on Mbappe !!!! Horrible tackle !!!

  — Justin (@jutin__) July 24, 2020

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