Sunday, February 26, 2006

 

Lippi calls up team for Germany friendly

Goalkeepers: Buffon (Juventus), Amelia (Livorno) De Sanctis (Udinese);

Defenders: Barzagli (Palermo), Cannavaro (Juventus), Grosso (Palermo), Materazzi (Inter), Nesta (Milan), Oddo (Lazio), Pasqual (Fiorentina), Zaccardo (Palermo);

Midfielders: Barone (Palermo), Camoranesi (Juventus), De Rossi (Roma), Diana (Sampdoria), Gattuso (Milan), Perrotta (Roma), Pirlo (Milan);

Attackers: Del Piero (Juventus), Gilardino (Milan), Iaquinta (Udinese), Toni (Fiorentina), Vieri (Monaco).

Why might have Lippi selected this team?  

With Totti out for now and possibly for the World Cup as well, Lippi has to go to Plan B.  Italy has no replacement for Totti in a 4-3-1-2 or 3-4-1-2.  Del Piero has tried and is simply not as effective in that role.  Fiore can do a decent job but is not at Totti’s overall level and is wildly inconsistent.  Liverani is playing well for Lazio but is seen as a more classic midfielder. (Note Liverani and Fiore were not even called to the team).

Thus I expect the formation to be either a 4-3-3 or, more likely based on the selections made, a 4-4-2.

I believe based on the players selected that Lippi is leaning towards a 4-4-2 primarily because of the selection of Vieri over Inzaghi and because of the selection of Pasqual, which, at this late stage in the game, is a clear sign that Lippi is worried about the left side of the line-up (note Zambrotta is hurt therefore Grosso would likely line-up in his spot in the left-back side making Grosso unavailable to play left midfield).

Pasqual and Grosso are excellent crossers from the left.  Camoranesi (right mid) and Oddo (right back) are excellent crossers from the right.  It looks like Lippi will try to generate a lot of the offense from the wings to the target man Toni.  I say this because why else would Vieri be called up over Inzaghi?  Vieri, in my mind, can only be viewed as Toni’s “pure” back-up.  

Perrotta is back on the team and deservedly so.  It will be interesting to see if Lippi rides the hot hand of De Rossi and Perrotta in central midfield or prefers to go with the Gattuso and Pirlo duo.  The advantage of playing the Roma duo is that they are clearly in superior form right now carrying Roma to 11 wins in Serie A along with Coppa Italia and UEFA success.  In addition, if and when Totti comes back, the heart of the Italian team will consist of three romanisti (could be four if Panucci made it also – oh that’s right Lippi hates him from the Inter days…nevermind).
I view this unlikely though.  Pirlo and Gattuso have had more success recently with the national team and, in addition, unless Del Piero starts, Pirlo will need to be on the field for set pieces around the box.

Camoranesi’s start shouldn’t be in discussion.  Very unlikely that Diana takes his spot away.  The only other two question marks might be who starts at right-back (Oddo or Zaccardo) and who starts with Toni upfront (Del Piero or Gilardino).  I would personally prefer to see Del Piero over Gilardino at this point only because Del Piero seems to be in better form and Gilardino and Toni have, at times, had trouble spacing themselves with both heavily attracted to the center of the 18-yard box.  At right-back Oddo is clearly the superior offensive player whereas Zaccardo provides more balance.  I can see Zaccardo starting as Camoranesi should provide sufficient offense down the right side.

Let’s speculate with this line-up for now (4-4-2):

Toni & Del Piero upfront.

Pasqual – Pirlo – Gattuso – Camoranesi in midfield

Grosso – Nesta – Cannavaro – Zaccardo in defense.

Buffon

If Lippi goes with a 4-3-3 I would imagine Pasqual disappears and Gilardino joins Toni and Del Piero upfront.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

 

World Cup Draw Ready to GO!!!!

FIFA has determined the eight seeds (seeds have the luxury of not being drawn in a group with another seed) and the make-up for the four “pots” that will be used for the World Cup draw this Friday. The calculation to determine the eight seeds can be found on this link.

The eight seeds in POT 1 are:

Brazil (Defending Champions)
England
Spain
Germany (Host)
Mexico
France
Argentina
Italy

Narrowly missing was the U.S.A.

POT 2

Australia, Angola, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Tunisia, Ecuador, Paraguay

POT 3

Croatia, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine

POT 4

Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago, United States

Special POT: Serbia & Montenegro

How the draw will work:

The eight seeded teams will be drawn into eight different groups. Germany have already been allocated Group A and Brazil Group F.

The eight unseeded European sides, in POT 3, will be drawn.

The lowest-ranked European side, Serbia and Montenegro, will be allocated to one of the groups containing either Brazil, Argentina or Mexico to ensure there is no more than two European sides in any group.

The pot containing the five African countries, Australia and the two remaining South American sides, pot two, will be drawn.

The pot containing the four Asian countries, the USA, Costa Rica and Trinidad, pot four, will be drawn.

The draw is expected to take place at approximately 9:00 PM local time in Leipzig, Germany this Friday, December the 9th.

 

Serie A 05/06 - Week #14

The Serie A season has been a good one so far…especially if you are a Juventus fan. The match between Fiorentina and Juventus this past Sunday was a great one – especially the first half. I’m a romanista at heart but if there is one team that has won me over this year it has to be Fiorentina. In my Serie A preview I had Fiorentina finishing around 7th this year based on the fact that it had a relatively bad 04/05 season but had made significant additions such as Fiore, Toni and Prandelli. Toni, of course, has been simply incredible. But the team as a whole plays some really entertaining full field soccer. Fiorentina wasn’t the least bit scared to be up against Juventus and were incredibly unlucky to have hit two posts and a crossbar. I like the way Fiorentina isn’t afraid to rotate the ball to any side of the field and really spread the other team’s defense apart. In fact, Fiorentina seemed to have a better “game” for most of the Juventus match. Many times I saw Juventus hoofing the ball from defense up field. This is not a knock against Juventus. Quite the opposite. Juventus seems to be doing whatever it takes to get the win and wins are exactly what La Vecchia Signora is doing.

Fiorentina’s goal was a real work of art. Four players involved in a textbook soccer play that is simply indefensible when worked to the perfection. Fiore made a gorgeous flick to Pasqual (I believe it was him) who crossed a picture perfect ball across the field where Pazzini nailed a header under a diving Abbiati. Fiore was taken off early and it’s something that I’ve noticed many times with him before…he never seems to play through a whole game…even when he was on the national team I noticed him getting subbed off a lot. I wonder if he lacks the endurance to play hard for a whole 90 minutes.

For Juve the story at the beginning of the season was how Emerson and Vieira controlled the midfield. But lately the story seems to be increasingly that of Ibrahimovic and his ability to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Trezeguet is his quiet sidekick who you only notice when it’s time to close off the play for a goal. Trezeguet will silently end up as one of the highest goal scorers in Serie A history at this pace. It would be interesting to see Ibrahimovic play on a team with a 4-3-1-2 or 3-4-1-2 formation in the same role that Totti plays.

Juve looks to be in a very dominating position heading into the Christmas season having opened up an eight point lead which is quite large considering that only 14 matches have been played to date. Milan is just way too inconsistent right now to be considered in the hunt to come back. I do think Juve will falter a little at some point. As I spelled out in the season preview if there is one thing that can cause Juve to slow down is its lack of depth – particularly when the injuries start to mount up and the pressures of Champions League escalate. But right now the pressure in Serie A is being ratcheted down a notch for Juventus (playing Cagliari this week) while Milan goes against Inter.

Chievo 2 – AC Milan 1
Inter 1 – Ascoli 0
Fiorentina 1 – Juventus 2
Lazio 3 – Siena 2
Palermo 2 – Cagliari 2
Reggina 2 – Parma 1
Sampdoria 2 – Empoli 0
Treviso 0 – Messina 0
Udinese 0 – Livorno 2
Lecce 2 – Roma 2

Thursday, December 01, 2005

 

Serie A 05/06 - Week #13

Livorno 0 – Chievo 0
Milan 2 – Lecce 1
Ascoli 1 – Palermo 1
Cagliari 2 – Sampdoria 0
Empoli 2 – Lazio 3
Juventus 3 – Treviso 1
Messina 1 – Inter 2
Parma 1 – Udinese 2
Siena 0 – Reggina 0
Roma 1 – Fiorentina 1

Monday, November 21, 2005

 

Serie A - Week#12 Review

Juve won big at Roma this weekend.  Roma had the better of the first 30 minutes but failed to capitalize and this omission came back to haunt it dearly.  Nedved struck with a header just before the end of the first half and this was plain and simple demoralizing.  Ibrahimovic scored an absolutely beautiful goal in the second half and Trezeguet added two others to make it 4-0 before Totti got on the scoreboard for Roma to make it 4-1 on a penalty kick.

Give Juventus credit for being so clinical on almost every single opportunity it had.  This aspect of its game is firmly intact.  On the other hand I was surprised to see Roma win the midfield battle at all in the first half.  In part this had to due with Roma’s highly industrious midfield of: Perrotta, Dacourt, De Rossi and Taddei.  But finishing on the team remains spotty.  Montella looks way too isolated by himself and without a big man to play off of.  Totti is in the play making role and can not advance himself too far forward to help Montella, otherwise the team lacks any ability to link the defensive players to the attackers.  Dacourt had to start in place of an injured Mancini and Dacourt isn’t much of an offensive player.

Juve is back on track in terms of the standings, opening up a more comfortable lead now that Milan lost.  Milan had some real favorable inertia heading into the week but now that is gone.  Juve is still looking more beatable than earlier in the year in my mind.  Teams don’t seem as intimidated with the midfield after Gattuso beat Emerson and Vieira at their own game with physicality.  Camoranesi is also slightly more inconsistent than earlier in the year.  The defenders looked a little shaky in the first half against Roma but the team as whole plays great defense as a general rule.  Regardless of whether Juve is as strong or not the team nevertheless is plain and simple effective - the forwards are devastating at times and as a team Juve is still finding ways to pull off victories with surgical precision.

Milan had a chance to ride the momentum train but unfortunately they faced a team and, in particular, a player that is just way too hot right now.  Toni has provided such an influential presence both literally and figuratively that Fiorentina is producing, objectively, above its means right now.  Milan can only hope that Fiorentina plays as well against Juve in December.  Milan has the talent to recoup the deficit with Juventus and can play exceptionally effective football at times as was seen in the recent game against Udinese.  But it is also a little more likely to fall asleep on any given Sunday (or Saturday) and will have to avoid losses or draws to the “minnows” (Lecce, Chievo, Messina, Livorno, Parma) before the mid-way point of the season.  Note that some of these teams are doing very well in the classifications to date – nonetheless these are teams that Milan should be able to steamroll with the abundance of talent it has.  Only the match against Inter and perhaps, to a lesser extent, the match on the road to Roma should be in question at all.  As bad as my Roma is playing I still believe that for the big teams they prove to be a very risky proposition at all times.  The rest should be outright victories if Milan has any chance of staying close before the first half (19 matches) are complete.

Juve’s schedule is at home versus Treviso before heading on the road to Fiorentina before taking on Cagliari (at home), Lazio on the road, Siena at home, Palermo on the road and then Reggina at home.  The match against Juventus will be Fiorentina’s chance to make the leap of Scudetto pretender to the “real thing”.  While I’ll be rooting for Fiorentina I don’t think it will happen that they can replicate what happened to Milan.  I think Palermo has the ability to pull off an upset.  Juve may actually feel like they are at home since Palermo is home to so many Juventus fans.  Palermo – while being inconsistent this year – is also home to many Italian Nationals and has a coach in Del Neri that really makes use of wingers in which Palermo has some good ones.

Inter managed to get a win.  Still has an outside chance to get back in the race but it had better start a string of victories soon – especially against Milan in the upcoming derby.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

 

Italy vs. Ivory Coast today + Serie A talk

Probably starting line-up:

Forward: Gilardino, Iaquinta, Del Piero
Midfield: De Rossi, Pirlo, Barone
Defense: Grosso, Materazzi, Barzagli, Zaccardo
Keeper:   Abbiati

As you can see – plenty of turnover from Saturday’s game.  There are FOUR Palermo players in the line-up including three on defense.  This is somewhat of an experimental line-up and will give many of the individuals a chance to show their stuff.  I’m keen to see Iaquinta do well as this will then give Lippi a great option to leave Vieri off the team going forward as Iaquinta can be the back-up to Toni.  I’m also keen to see what kind of job the Italian defense does on Drogba – the Ivory Coast attacker enjoying plenty of success with Chelsea.  I suspect Materazzi will get the nod to neutralize him because of Drogba’s strength.

In Serie A news Totti is really making a stir predicting victory against Juve this weekend.  Roma hosts Juve at home.  These are bitter rivals and the insults between Totti and Capello still fly.  This should be a great match-up.

Inter is rumored to be making a serious bid for Ballack.  Moratti is talking a big game and some large $ amounts are being tossed around.  Ballack is an exceptional player.  He’s not dazzling like a Ronaldinho but he really has a great presence in the middle of the field and had a knack of scoring goals with his head.  I think this is an acquisition that would really make a difference on Inter (unlike many others that seem like they will help on the surface but then totally backfire).

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

 

Possible World Cup Seeds

Curious to know which teams might be seeded at the World Cup? Check outthis post on another website – an individual seems to have a pretty good system to handicap the teams likely to be seeded.

 

Netherlands 1 - Italy 3

What a great way for the Azzurri to make a statement by going to Amsterdam and pulling off a 3 to 1 victory.

The Dutch were certainly missing some top talent and fielded a rather youngish side.  Nevertheless, it is no easy task to beat any Dutch team as the Netherlands is one of those amongst a handful of countries that can go very deep into its active roster of available players and still put out a competitive side.

Players that really impressed me for the Italian team were:  Nesta, Gattuso, Gilardino, Toni and Abbiati.  

Nesta, who tends to be more of the silent and effective type, was more of the omnipresent and highly visible and efficacious type on this particular night.  Excellent one-on-one defending, help-defense and offensive dribbling break-outs from the back were all visible from this world class defender.  

Gattuso seemed to run more in the first half than others did in the entire game.  He really seems to be playing at his top recently and the only question I have with him is whether he can sustain it through the remainder of the year and into the tournament.  Gattuso has really worked on his offensive game over the years and although he is far from fluid he does seem to be improved sufficiently to the extent that teams can not leave him totally unmarked as they may have previously.

Gilardino is getting back into the rhythm of things that made him the most consistent Italian striker of the two previous seasons.  He moves very well and has a good knack for finding room to make himself available.  His conversion rate on good chances is also pretty high.  As long as he continues to learn how to play with Toni he will be fine for the squad at the World Cup.

Anybody following Serie A knows how dominant Toni has been this year.  He was so physically impressive against the Dutch defender who tried to slow him on his goal that I can assure you every team matched up against Italy in the World Cup will have that clip on the scouting tape.

Abbiati made some real nice saves.  There was one instance where he coughed up the ball and a Dutch goal was disallowed because of an offside ruling but aside from that he seems to have had a near-flawless game.  The Dutch seemed keen to take long shots from outside.  I’m not sure whether this was because they were looking to test Abbiati at any opportunity or because the Italian defense was dropping back into the box instead of aggressively marking the midfield Dutch players.

My biggest concerns in watching the game continued to be recurring themes.  Firstly, the issue around balance in the midfield remains.  I saw Pirlo, Del Piero and Camoranesi get out muscled on a few occasions throughout the match.  Italy fans need to acknowledge that our midfield is smallish and that this is a real risk – we may lose the trench battles against stronger more physical teams in midfield.

Camoranesi seemed testy and almost too aggressive at times.  Whereas an opposing player can lean and push against Camoranesi to win a ball, Camoranesi will often tackle aggressively to do the same.  The opposing method is generally tolerated and sustainable whereas Camoranesi is prone to getting a foul.  It can be said that Gattuso is the same way but I think Gattuso is a bit more defensively savvy and less inclined to erupt or retaliate when he is fouled hard.  Gattuso still remains one of the players “most likely to put Italy down a man” (along with the Materazzi!).   Pirlo did not impress me defensively.  I love Pirlo when he has the ball because he is patient, can buy himself time with his exceptional dribbling and can put a ball of any passing length and with any needed swerve of flight path right on a teammate’s foot.  But his “presence” without the ball is still work in progress.  Pirlo and Gattuso are good together though – they really tend to balance each other out and have plenty of experience together.  Camoranesi can be real dangerous offensively, has a great cross and is one of the few Italian players that is willing to take a player on one-on-one in the offensive area.  I find it hard to argue that any of the three shouldn’t start – I just think Lippi has to make this calculated decision to run with these three and Totti as trequartista knowing that certain midfield battles may be lost and adjust elsewhere.

Grosso is another question mark – at least against certain players.  I love Grosso – definitely more than Zaccardo.  He’s a great offensive player from the back.  Very comfortable dribbling and taking his man on 1-on-1 and always seems to be able to get off his often very dangerous cross.  But defensively the Dutch winger Castelan tore him to shreds.  I can see him getting eaten alive by a Robinho (Brazil) or Wright-Phillips (England) or C. Ronaldo (Portugal) come the World Cup.  That is, against a quick winger with fast feet and moves Grosso may prove to be more of a liability.  Although the rest of the world may not acknowledge this yet Italy right now is much more of an offensively biased team than a defensive one.  Dare I say it but it might be nice to have Maldini come back.

Del Piero was influential on the outcome with a nice corner and a nice cross that set-up two goals.  Tactically he is useful because he can play either as a midfielder or a forward but compared to Totti he does not have the same overall effect on a match.  Against the Netherlands much of the Italian offense was being generated from the wings and with crosses whereas Totti creates from all over the field.  Totti is much stronger on the ball than Del Piero and can hold off defensive opponents a bit better.  Del Piero provides better defensive coverage though and I think his position on the team is becoming increasingly safe because of Del Piero’s versatility and as Cassano continues to get farther from the team.

On the balance Italy is looking really good heading into the tournament especially compared to other recent tournaments.  The team is scoring a lot more and is playing with much more confidence and producing more victories than we are used to experiencing.  It’s impossible to gage the team’s chances at World Cup 2006.  There will be some outstanding teams there this year.  Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, the Czech Republic, England and France all come to mind.  The only prediction I’m willing to make is that Italy will score (and possibly allow) more goals than usual.

Tomorrow Italy plays Ivory Coast in Geneva.

Friday, November 11, 2005

 

Netherlands - Italy (friendly) Preview

What a great game the match Netherlands vs. Italy should be tomorrow night in Amsterdam (good chance of precipitation last time I checked).
 
It is impossible to not to think of that great semi-final match in the Euro 2000 when a young Zambrotta got a red card in the first half of the game only to see Italy hold on to a 0-0 tie and make it through on penalty kicks.  Toldo was a giant playing in net that game and Italy was finally on the right end of a penalty-kick decided outcome (the Netherlands continued their poor streak at penalty kicks)
 
The preliminary starting formation seems to be (4-4-2):
 
Keeper:  Abbiati
Defense:  Zambrotta, Nesta, Cannavaro, Grosso
Midfield:  Camoranesi, Pirlo, Gattuso, Del Piero
Forwards:  Gilardino, Toni
 
The bench players available consist of: Zaccardo, Barzagli, Materazzi, Oddo (defense); Diana, De Rossi, Barone (midfield); Iaquinta (forward).
 
Alternatively, Del Piero could shift farther forward and play as a left forward (a more natural position for him), Toni as the “punta” and Gilardino on the right side as Italy goes with a 4-3-3.  Being on the road I suspect the 4-4-2 would be a little more practical and would certainly provide more cover for a Dutch outfit that has historically relished playing all-out “total” attacking soccer.
 
Totti is hurt in case you are wondering why he isn’t starting.  Ditto for Vieri although I suspect he would be riding the pine if he were healthy anyways.  Peruzzi the keeper is also hurt and the team has really gone far down the list (due to numerous injuries) in starting Abbiati and having Amelia (Livorno keeper for heaven’s sake!) as the back-up.
 
There are no real surprises in terms of the called up players and the time for experimenting looks to be over (good thing as Italy’s remaining games are few before the start of the World Cup tournament).  Oddo is back with the team and assures the team of plenty of offensive options from the back along with Zambrotta and Grosso.
 
There are some who are a little upset that more Fiorentina players aren’t on the team given the incredible start that that outfit has had to date.  I personally am not in favor of changing the team too often for the sake of capturing the Italian players on the hottest team.  Also, Fiorentina is really a Toni story by-and-large and he’s on the Azzurri team.  Yes, Fiore could be there also but he’s a bit of a: hot one season, cold the next player.  And he’s really an offensive midfielder that the Azzurri aren’t lacking.
 
Lippi has gone on the record as saying he wants Italy to impose its game on the Netherlands.  If this is true and Italy tries aggressively to score we should see a lot of goals.
 
Coach Van Basten of the Dutch side has injury problems of his own to deal with.  Robben, Van Persie, Castelan and Van Nistelrooy are all either hurt or out altogether.
 
Nevertheless, some really solid and fun to watch players will still be available including Cocu, Van de Vaart, van Bronckhorst, and keeper Van de Saar.
 
I was particularly looking forward to seeing Van Persie who has shown some amazing touches the few times I’ve seen him play with Arsenal.
 
My prediction for the game is that 3 or more goals are scored tomorrow.  Unless of course it rains too much!

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