Archive for the ‘Round-Ups’ Category

Another good week. I now feel sufficiently educated on the major events that have defined Bologna’s history, but I’m sure I’ll come across more as my calcio research continues. I could’ve spent more time profiling Schiavio, Bulgarelli & co., but there’s only so much time in the day.

This week’s history-centric format worked well, I think. Ideally I’d spent two weeks with each club: one outlining their history, the other covering other topics (profiles, successes, failures, etc.). Sadly, Serie A has 24 rounds to play and I still have nine teams to cover. Spending a fortnight with every club before the season’s end just isn’t possible.

That said, Bologna are one of the clubs I’ll be revisiting in 2012. I’ve covered a lot of ground with them, but I feel like there’s still plenty to learn. It’ll be interesting to see how Pioli’s mini-revival progresses after a few months have elapsed.

I still haven’t decided which team to write about next week so check back tomorrow for a quick briefing. Here’s what I’ve written this week:-

  • After the Goldrush: The fallout from Bologna’s golden era and a good excuse for a Neil Young reference.
  • (Off-topic) (Serie A Weekly) Fiorentina Defeat Farcical Roma: The latest edition of my Team of the Week column, focusing on Fiorentina’s performance against Roma last weekend.


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This Week on ATP: U.S. Lecce

That was a lot of fun. It’s a shame that “Genoa week” turned into “Genoa fortnight,” but I probably should’ve seen it coming. Blame my birthday celebrations for the tardiness, but I managed to cover everything I wanted to write about in the end. Maybe next time I’ll expand on the 2005 match fixing scandal and their dodgy owner, but I’m pretty satisfied with what accomplished.

I’ve learned a lot this past couple of weeks and I definitely feel a stronger affection for Genoa because of it. This has been the most in-depth and educational club to cover, and I put that down to the wealth of Genoa information available in English. If only covering every club was this easy!

Looking forward, I’m going to be covering Lecce this week. I know absolutely nothing about this team bar their name and colours. Honestly, I can’t even name a single Lecce player off the top of my head. I am therefore anticipating this to be a busy week: literally everything I learn about Lecce will be new to me, and I’ll have to pick and choose what to write about.

As always I’m excited to be getting my teeth sunk into a brand new team. Check back soon for more on Lecce.

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I am sad to report that “Novara week” came to a disappointing end on Sunday. The Biancoazzuri lost 2-1 away to fellow Serie A returnees Atalanta to cap-off a rollercoaster week that started with a 3-1 defeat of Inter. Novara were excellent on Tuesday, bettering the Nerazzurri in every department and well-worth their historic win. Their fire and grinta were too much for an Inter side too uncomfortable and wobbly to pose a threat, they had a far rougher time this weekend.

Novara were admittedly unlucky. They’d been playing well until Giuseppe Gemiti’s defensive lapse gave Ezequiel Schelotto a free header on 34 minutes. The goal was harsh on the away side who’d created more opportunities than Atalanta in the opening stages with Riccardo Meggiorini looking particularly threatening.

Unfortunately the Biancoazzurri amped-up the sloppiness after the opener and chance after chance went begging. Marco Rigoni flashed a header across goal before Meggiorini wasted two great chances from close range. Attilio Tesser’s side had nobody else to blame but themselves when Luca Cigarini scored Atalanta’s second after 59 minutes, such was Novara’s wastefulness in-front of goal.

Novara refused to give-up. They continued to push Atalanta and Rigoni come close again midway through the second-half. Eventually Novara got the goal they’d been looking for when Filippo Porcari struck on the 89th minute. The comeback was on, and the Biancoazzurri had the ball in the net again in stoppage time but substitute Pablo Granoche’s tap-in was ruled offside.

Replays, however, clearly show that this was the wrong decision. The speed of Porcari’s through-ball caught the Atalanta defence flat-footed which gave Granoche plenty of space behind them, but he was evidently onside when the ball was played.

The Biancoazzurri were unfortunate not to get something from the game. Their equalizer definitely wasn’t offside and they balance of play was even throughout with Novara managing 11 shots and 47% possession. But as unlucky as Novara were, they really shot themselves in the foot by not taking their chances. They probably could’ve had the game won by half-time and definitely created enough goalscoring opportunities to earn at least a point.

I’ve talked about Novara’s lack of a goal threat before but never has it been more apparent. The Biancoazzurri are going to run into serious difficulties this season if their frontmen don’t sharpen-up. As decent as their general play is it’ll mean little if they can’t take their chances, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Novara signed a striker or two in January.

This has been the most enjoyable week of the season so far. I’ve learned a lot about Novara, their history and some of the people who’ve shaped the club. I can’t wait to revisit Silvio Piola’s legacy when I look at some of his other clubs, and I loved researching Attilio Tesser’s managerial career and the uplifting change in fortunes he’s gone through lately.

I’ll definitely be revisiting Novara Calcio when the fixtures repeat themselves in the new year. For now, though, it’s onto this week’s feature club…

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I didn’t take an in-depth look at last week’s AC Milan vs. Napoli tie for a reason. From now on I’ll be working on a weekly “Team of the Week” article for the good folks at Serie A Weekly. Each week I’ll be taking the team I feel had the best weekend and taking a look at their performance (while analysing their current situation and prospects). This week I chose Napoli for their impressive counter-attacking display against the Scudetto holders.

Take a look at the article here.

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Well that sure was interesting. Lovely counter-attacking from Napoli to expose Milan’s chronic lack of pace and another three goals for Edinson Cavani. I shan’t be going into too much detail on this game at the moment, but I will be analysing the game and its implications early in the week. Unfortunately it’s going to fall outside of “Milan week,” but you’ll understand why when it comes.

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A.C. Milan 2 – 2 Barcelona

Tuesday 13th September, 2011

Last night’s Champions League clash between the Rossoneri and Barcelona didn’t quite live up to Adriano Galliani’s “Derby of the World” billing, but it was a far from drab affair. Many had predicted another Barca whitewash before the game, but Massimiliano Allegri’s gameplan was spot-on and won a point for the seven-time tournament winners.

Injury-stricken Milan took to the pitch minus Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Philippe Mexes, Taye Taiwo, Mathieu Flamini and Gennaro Gattuso. Antonio Cassano and Pato, Milan’s only available forwards, started up-front, supported by trequartista Kevin-Prince Boateng and midfielders Mark van Bommel, Antonio Nocerino and Clarence Seedorf. Regular starters Ignazio Abate, Thiago Silva and Alessandro Nesta started in defence with Gianluca Zambrotta at left-back and Christian Abbiati between the posts.

It’s testament to Milan’s strength-in-depth these days that the Rossoneri were still able to field such a strong squad even with six players missing. They were able to leave players of Alberto Aquilani and Massimo Ambrosini’s calibre on the bench which really highlights the excellent job Milan have done of padding-out their squad this summer.

The Catalans goals came from a defensive lapse and a moment of brilliance. Milan were never outclassed despite the statistics (Barcelona had 75% possession and 22 shots to Milan’s 6). With the Rossoneri sitting deep, Barca were often reduced to long-range shots and could only convert 9% of their chances into goals. Allegri’s narrow formation stifled Barcelona’s ability to play between the lines and his decision to chase the game and increase pressing in the second-half helped drag Milan back into the game.

Barcelona dominated possession and created more chances, but this was always going to be the case. Allegri’s tactics simply trumped Guardiola’s. Yes Barcelona probably deserved to win given the balance of play, and yes they’d been forced to play with a makeshift Busquest/Mascherano centre-back pairing, but they couldn’t better Milan’s gameplan.

Both Rossoneri goals were well taken. Pato took advantage of some uncharacteristic Barcelona sloppiness, knocking the ball between Busquets and Mascherano in the middle of the park before burning the flat-footed Busquets for pace and finishing deftly. Thiago Silva’s headed equaliser was excellent: the Brazilian leapt like a salmon, meeting the ball at the peak of his jump and powering it past Victor Valdes.

Calcio is this blog’s primary focus, but not giving Barcelona their due credit would be unfair. That even teams of Milan’s stature are forced but to employ defensive gameplans against the Catalans says everything of their global supremacy. They dominated possession and would surely have faired better with Puyol and Pique in the side. Villa’s 30-yard free-kick was inch-perfect, and, truthfully, they probably should’ve scored more.

Tiki-taka afficionados will complain about Milan’s defensiveness, but Barcelona were foiled by a true Italian defensive masterclass. Alessandro Nesta was flawless: the 35-year old’s superior reading of the game defies his declining physical attributes, and last night showed that he can still compete with the world’s best players. A flawlessly executed challenge on Leo Messi that left the Argentine punching the ground says all you need to know about both players’ respective performances.

Thiago Silva looked assured beside Nesta and popped-up with the crucial equaliser, while Gianluca Zambrotta had an excellent game as a defensive left back. Zambrotta rarely ventured forward, instead focusing his attention of stopping the usually rampant Dani Alves down Barca’s right flank. Zambrotta kept his opponent on the inside, forcing Barcelona to play through Milan’s wall of defensive players and neutralising one of their most potent attacking threats.

Antonio Cassano was largely anonymous, but the ex-Sampdoria man’s inability to impose himself had little bearing on his strike partner’s performance. Pato had a good game, breaking through Barcelona’s midfield to trouble a wobbly Catalan defence on a couple of occasions. Always a good goalscorer and one of the most composed forwards in the world, Pato took his goal well and could have a breakthrough season in the Champions League if he can stay fit.

Attack-minded purists will be cynical of Milan’s performance but Allegri’s men did exactly what they needed to. The Rossoneri conceded possession but they were mostly successful in stopping Barca’s play between the lines and they did a good job of shackling Messi and Alves. Barcelona didn’t have enough in their armoury to break Milan down on the night, and that’s why they couldn’t win.

All-in-all, an encouraging performance from Milan after the disappointing of drawing with Lazio at the weekend. The Rossoneri have enough bodies to rotate for Sunday’s tie with Napoli, so hopefully tiredness shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Having watched them perform admirably as underdogs I now look forward to seeing how they setout against a team they’d hope to be beating.

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Cesena fell to a 3-1 defeat at the Stadio Manuzzi last night as Napoli capitalised on Yohan Benalouane’s with a much-improved second half performance. The Partenopei were good value for their win and thoroughly deserved their three points but things could’ve been so different if it weren’t for the red card.

The first Serie A match to ever take place on artificial was a highly-entertaining affair with hosts Cesena matching their opponents during the first-half. Cesena should’ve taken the lead early-on when Comotto missed a free header with the ball dropping onto Benalouane’s head then wide of the goal. Napoli opened the scoring just a minute later when Lavezzi ran onto a long throw through a sleeping Cesena defence before stabbing the ball home from close range.

Lavezzi on-target: El Pocho opened the scoring for Napoli.

It was a poor goal to concede from Cesena’s point of view. The throw was taken quickly with the Seahorses’ backline standred high up the pitch. Credit to Napoli for recognising this and taking advantage, but to see such disorganisation from the home side’s backline was disappointing.

Nevertheless, Cesena continued to push forward and continually asked questions of Napoli’s defence on the break. They moved forward quickly and purposefully, with the stadium’s new surface providing the perfect conduit for a high-tempo game. Particularly impressive was Antonio Candreva, whose strong, direct running helped Cesena break into the final third and won a few free-kicks along the way.

Comotto rose well from a corner on the 22nd minute but, much like earlier in the game, the ball bounce wide of the post. Cesena would get the goal their play merited two minutes later, though, as the excellent Guana finished a move he’d started on the halfway line. Winning possession, Guana moved the ball on and made a lung-bursting run into the box, finishing deftly from Eder’s low cross.

After equalising Cesena continued to look good going forward, but, like so many teams of their ilk, their defence looked increasingly suspect. At times it seemed like they were too focused on playing the ball out of the danger zone when a clearance would’ve sufficed. The Seahorses can consider themselves fortunate that Napoli didn’t have more of a cutting edge, as they sloppily conceded possession in dangerous positions far too often.

Napoli were in ascendancy in the second-half, but Benalouane’s sending-off completely changed the course of the game. Penalised for a needless handball, the Tunisian received his marching orders as Marek Hamsik took to the pitch. Napoli started to dominate as Cesena struggled to get hold of the ball, and the home side conceded another sloppy goal on the 66th minute. A seemingly harmless Hamsik cross bobbled through two Cesena defenders and Hugo Campagnaro was at the back post to slide it come from point-blank range.

An astonishing open-goal miss from Goran Pandev followed, before Hamsik smashed-in a vicious half-volley to make it 3-1. Cesena had a few late flourishes (particularly after the introduction of Jorge Martinez) but struggled to create any real chances after Benalouane’s sending-off. It’s difficult to tell how the game would’ve gone if the Tunisian had stayed on the pitch: Cesena definitely outplayed Napoli for periods in the first-half, but Napoli definitely looked the better side after the break (even before the red card).

A disappointing result in the end, but Cesena certainly gave a good account of themselves. Their attacks were launched quickly and they passed like a team that had been playing together for years; impressive given the amount of players that have passed through the club this summer. What was most impressive about their performance, however, was the way they reacted to going 1-0 down. It would’ve been easy for them to capitulate after conceding such a disappointing goal, but they refused to compromise their style and kept their heads. In a buzzing Stadio Manuzzi Cesena defied the vocal away support and rallied superbly, as the quality of their equaliser testifies.

Ex-Palermo man Roberto Guana had a fine debut for Cesena.

Sadly their defensive display was quite the opposite. The Seahorses looked disorganised and ramshackle at the back, and coach Marco Giampaolo will shake his head when looking back at Napoli’s first two goals. Defend against players as good as Hamsik and Lavezzi like Cesena did and you’re going to be punished. It’s that simple. This won’t be as big a problem against lesser sides, but if Cesena hope to improve on last season’s 15th place finish they’re going to have to tighten-up at the back.

I’ve learned plenty about A.C. Cesena this weekend. This is an exciting, explosive side who can be thrilling to watch. Their attacking play is very pro-active, and teams will struggle to contain their slick passing and fast counter-attacks. Candreva looks right at home on the left wing, Mutu still has a touch of class about him, and Guana will be a vital physical presence in midfield if he can maintain this form.

While they should score plenty of goals this season, Cesena will also concede a lot if they don’t improve their defensive organisation. The speed at which they reacted to Campagnaro’s long throw was embarassing, and they defended Napoli’s second goal like unsure amateurs. Perhaps the likes of Comotto just need time to settle, but the Seahorses have a lot of work to do to forge a cohesive defensive unit out of these players.

Despite their defensive frailties, I stand-by my earlier assertion that Cesena can improve on last season. Relegation will always be a threat, but they have more quality going forward than a lot of Serie A teams and they have plenty of time to sort their defence out. It’s going to be an exciting season for the Seahorses, and I’m really looking forward to coming back to them after the turn of the year.

Cesena 1-3 Napoli: Highlights (101greatgoals.com)

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