THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY

Soccer 360 - - Inside -

THE GOOD

The bit­ter ri­valry be­tween Ju­ven­tus and Fiorentina is well doc­u­mented, with the ac­qui­si­tion of lo­cal lad and Vi­ola idol Federico Bernarde­schi fur­ther height­en­ing the ill-feel­ing be­tween the sides af­ter the Ital­ian winger sealed his switch to the Bian­coneri in July 2017. Fast for­ward 18 months and it’s Federico Chiesa at the centre of a tug of war that could see Fiorentina lose an­other of their prized as­sets to their fierce ri­vals. But a touch­ing ges­ture prior to the first meeting of the sea­son be­tween the sides, in mem­ory of the late Da­vide As­tori, showed how football pales into the back­ground at times of tragedy.

Nev­er­the­less, in a heart-warm­ing mo­ment and one of the im­ages of the cam­paign to date, the cham­pi­ons and Fiorentina put their dif­fer­ences to one side as Juve Gior­gio Chiellini, on be­half of his team­mates, placed flow­ers in front of the Fiorentina bench be­fore the League clash on De­cem­ber 1.

The ges­ture earned wide­spread re­spect from not only the football com­mu­nity, but the Florence na­tives.

Chiellini, of course, was a col­league of

As­tori at in­ter­na­tional level, and the duo formed a close re­la­tion­ship dur­ing their time with the na­tional team. Bernarde­schi, Gian­luigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci and An­drea Barza­gli were all notably ap­plauded upon their ar­rival to As­tori’s funeral in

March and the el­e­gant de­fender will live long in the mem­ory as his peers con­tinue to hon­our his legacy.

In Oc­to­ber 2018, Fiorentina left-back Cris­tiano Bi­raghi, mak­ing only his third ap­pear­ance for Italy, net­ted a dra­matic

92nd minute win­ner as the Az­zurri squeezed past Poland in their Na­tions League clash, and it was the poignant cel­e­bra­tion which struck a chord. Bi­raghi notably played along­side As­tori in de­fence last year and while the three points did enough to en­sure the four-time world cham­pi­ons avoided de­mo­tion to the sec­ond tier of UEFA’s new tour­na­ment, for Bi­raghi, it was a mo­ment of re­flec­tion as he looked up to the sky and thought of his dear friend. The 26-year-old has often cited As­tori as an in­stru­men­tal fig­ure in his call-up to the na­tional setup.

THE BAD

Fol­low­ing Cris­tiano Ron­aldo’s block­buster sum­mer ar­rival, Ju­ven­tus’ at­tack­ing op­tions in­cluded Dou­glas Costa, Gon­zalo Higuain, Mario Mandzu­kic, Paulo Dy­bala and Federico Bernarde­schi. And that’s without even men­tion­ing Juan Cuadrado and Marko

Pjaca, fur­ther high­light­ing the ex­tra­or­di­nary depth of re­sources at Max Al­le­gri’s dis­posal. The Ital­ian tac­ti­cian tended to ro­tate

Higuain and Mandzu­kic dur­ing the 201718 cam­paign to good ef­fect, with both for­wards en­joy­ing reg­u­lar play­ing time and shar­ing the work­load. Of course, with Ron­aldo in town, some­one had to make way, and much to the shock of his team­mates, it was Higuain who was ush­ered out the door.

The for­mer Los Blan­cos attacker, who had played and won hon­ours along­side Ron­aldo dur­ing their four sea­sons to­gether at San­ti­ago Bern­abéu, was quickly cast aside de­spite be­ing just two years in to the Bian­coneri con­tract he signed in July 2016. The Brest-born hit­man had lit­tle choice but to ac­cept his fate, with Chelsea and Mi­lan his only op­tions of a tem­po­rary switch, with for­mer boss Mau­r­izio Sarri ex­tremely keen on tak­ing the player with him to London. Sarri and Higuain con­nected dur­ing their time in Naples and while Sarri had no mal­ice to­wards his star attacker, Higuain gave up ev­ery­thing to pur­sue his move to Ju­ven­tus.

Fast for­ward to Novem­ber 11 and one of the big­gest fix­tures in the League cal­en­dar as Mi­lan hosted Ju­ven­tus, and the Ar­gen­tine came face-to-face with his friends and for­mer team­mates. The vis­i­tors ran out 2-0 win­ners on the night but the big talk­ing point was the ac­tions of Higuain. The 31-year-old, usu­ally so mild-man­nered, and rarely in­volved in con­tro­versy or on field skir­mishes, re­ceived his marching or­ders in the clos­ing stages of the show­down.

Higuain first missed a penalty to put his side ahead, be­fore let­ting the oc­ca­sion – and his emo­tions – get the bet­ter of him as he be­rated the ref­eree for show­ing him a yel­low card – it was quickly fol­lowed by a sec­ond yel­low. The Di­avolo loa­nee was vis­i­bly dev­as­tated and ar­guably wouldn’t have self-de­struc­ted if Mi­lan were play­ing any­one else in the Di­vi­sion.

THE UGLY

Fol­low­ing Roma’s dis­mal 1-0 de­feat away at Udi­nese to­wards the end of Novem­ber, Coach Euse­bio Di Francesco pub­licly tore in to his troops for their ab­ject per­for­mance. The for­mer Sas­suolo tac­ti­cian, renowned for his usu­ally calm tem­per­a­ment, didn’t hold back, claim­ing his men lacked de­sire and hunger, be­fore crit­i­cis­ing their men­tal­ity. Di Francesco was right­fully lauded in the 2017-18 cam­paign for his tremen­dous ef­forts in guid­ing the Lupi to not only a third place fin­ish, but a semi-fi­nal berth in the Cham­pi­ons League. The Gial­lorossi trainer earned rave re­views, and was her­alded as a fu­ture Italy boss, such was the scale of his achievement and the ex­pec­ta­tion was Roma would go from strength to strength this year, par­tic­u­larly af­ter trans­fer guru and Sport­ing Di­rec­tor Monchi was able to bring in so many of his first choice tar­gets in to the club.

In truth, while the prodi­gious tal­ents of Justin Kluiv­ert, Ni­colò Zan­iolo and

Ante Ćorić may even­tu­ally flour­ish, what Roma needed was a core of sea­soned pro­fes­sion­als, but un­for­tu­nately, a com­bi­na­tion of a never-end­ing in­jury list and lack of ex­pe­ri­ence have con­trib­uted to an in­con­sis­tent first half of the do­mes­tic cam­paign.

From a goalscor­ing point of view, lead­ing marks­man and at­tack­ing fig­ure­head Edin Dzeko is so im­por­tant and if the Bos­nian is not on his game, those around him fail to step up and help the goal machine. As of early De­cem­ber, the ex-Manch­ester City ti­tle win­ner only had two Serie A ef­forts to his name. In con­trast, Cris­tiano Ron­aldo has dou­ble fig­ures and with Pa­trik Schick also mis­fir­ing, alarm bells are ring­ing.

With In­ter and Napoli bat­tling it out to be Ju­ven­tus’ run­ner-up, Roma face a real fight on their hands even to get in to con­tention for a top four spot with Mi­lan, neigh­bours Lazio and sur­prise pack­age Torino all far­ing well.

ABOVE:THE GOOD, ChielliniABOVE LEFT:THE BAD, HiguainLEFT:THE UGLY, Di Francesco

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