‘Serie A’

Pitchside Europe: European Team of the Season

“Zlatan Ibrahimović enjoyed his most prolific season to date with Milan, Bayern Munich’s Mario Gómez plundered goals with remarkable consistency, and Falcao shot Atletico Madrid to Europa League glory, but Huntelaar outscored them all. The Dutchman’s sparkling partnership with Raúl fired Schalke to Champions League qualification and with 29 goals, he trailed only Messi, Ronaldo and Robin van Persie in the running for the European Golden Shoe.”

Pitchside Europe signed off for the 2011-2012 campaign by selecting a team of the season from players plying their trade outside the English Premier League. You can see the team (and then vent your spleen about my preposterous selections) here.

Pitchside Europe: Ibra in need of a defining performance

“Ibrahimović’s year-long stint at Barça was widely seen as a failure, and yet he finished his one season at Camp Nou with a haul of 21 goals in 45 games and winner’s medals for La Liga, the FIFA Club World Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and the Supercopa de España around his neck. The 30-year-old has been named Serie A’s Best Foreign Player on four occasions and won the award for Best Player on three occasions, and yet the suspicion persists — particularly in England — that he is a myth. A flat-track bully. A big-time Charlie.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe blog, on how Zlatan Ibrahimović is still to leave his mark on the latter stages of the Champions League, can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: Skulduggery submerges Serie A showdown

“Incensed by the decision to rule out Muntari’s goal, Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani reportedly stormed down to the tunnel at half-time and became involved in an angry exchange with Conte. There was aggravation on the pitch as well, with Arturo Vidal sent off for an ugly tackle from behind on Mark van Bommel and Philippe Mexes guilty of a sly dig to the ribs of his former Roma team-mate Marco Borriello that has seen him banned for three games. Approached by French television channel Canal+ in the mixed zone, Mexes swept past, explaining: “They’ve told me not to talk.””

This week’s Pitchside Europe column for the Eurosport website, on Saturday night’s stormy 1-1 draw between Milan and Juventus in Serie A, can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: Firefighter Ranieri gets Inter back on track

“His honours list may contain only a handful of domestic cup competitions and the 2004 UEFA Super Cup, but Ranieri has nonetheless developed a unique reputation for turning around the fortunes of ailing clubs. Having restored the fortunes of Parma, Juventus and then Roma in Serie A, he is currently engaged in a similar salvage operation with Internazionale.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe column for Eurosport, on how Claudio Ranieri has helped Internazionale revive their season, can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: Juve emerge from shadow of scandal

“Juve’s insistence on kicking up a fuss over Calciopoli will not improve their popularity in the eyes of opposition fans but it has helped to foster the impression that the whole club is pulling in the same direction and is refusing to give up without a fight. In the sleek, compact Juventus Stadium – the first club-owned arena in Serie A – Juve also have a new symbol of communal identity to rally behind, as well as a menacing atrium in which to unsettle opposition teams.”

My latest Pitchside Europe column for the Eurosport website can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: Lazio move can take Miroslav closer

“The memories of Klose that will endure the longest are those that recall his World Cup exploits: the neat somersaults that followed each of his five headed goals at the 2002 tournament; the equaliser against Argentina in the 2006 quarter-final in Berlin; the opener in the 4-1 humiliation of England in Bloemfontein last year. Like Pelé, or Diego Maradona, Klose has saved his best performances for the sport’s biggest occasion.”

My latest Pitchside Europe blog, on Miroslav Klose’s anachronistic dedication to international football, can be read here (apologies for the atrocious headline).

Tactics: Robinho arrival threatens Ronaldinho’s renaissance

Right-footed, left-sided attackers are currently one of football’s most fashionable commodities (think David Villa and Robinho at the World Cup; Franck Ribéry at Bayern Munich; Nani at Manchester United), and like any self-respecting wealthy Italian man, Silvio Berlusconi has to be up with the latest trends. So he bought two. But while Robinho is hoping his transfer deadline day move to Milan will allow him to re-launch his stuttering club career, his arrival at San Siro may well turn out to be bad news for Ronaldinho.

Berlusconi might be the most ardent Ronaldinho fan on the planet, but he seems obsessed with the idea that his hero should play in the centre. Earlier this summer he spoke of his desire to see Milan play with two strikers, supported by Ronaldinho as a central playmaker. It’s a seductive idea, motivated no doubt by memories of players like Gianni Rivera and Manuel Rui Costa who wore the red and black number 10 shirt with distinction, but it’s not a role that Ronaldinho seems to enjoy.

Almost all the most enduring images of Ronaldinho during his time at Barcelona – be it his sensational goal against Sevilla or his one-man demolition job against Real Madrid at the Bernabéu – saw him picking up the ball wide on the left and cutting in at goal. As he said himself last season: “I feel great and where I’m playing I can do my best. I’m happy to play behind the strikers, but where I’m playing now [on the left] is my best position.”

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Tactics: Testing times for the trequartista

The 2009-10 Serie A campaign was all set to be the season of the trequartista. Juventus’s major pre-season signing was Brazilian playmaker Diego from Werder Bremen, Milan were so keen to get the best out of Ronaldinho that club owner Silvio Berlusconi made him stand on a table at a pre-season training camp and promise to stay out of trouble and Jose Mourinho, who has as much romance in his soul as the Terminator, was happy for Internazionale to shell out €15 million on the sublimely gifted Dutchman Wesley Sneijder.

Four months into the season, things have not gone strictly according to plan for Serie A’s most alluring talents. Diego is being booed off the pitch by his own fans, Ronaldinho’s ineffectiveness in a central role has seen him restored to the left-wing role synonymous with his Barcelona pomp and Sneijder has started just four of Inter’s last 10 league games due to a combination of injury and suspension.

Sneijder’s situation is the least troubling of the three. When fit he is usually assured of a starting role and, in any case, he is not a true trequartista. But what about Diego and Ronaldinho? How is it that two of the world’s most talented playmakers have failed to shine in a central playmaking role at two of the world’s most well-resourced clubs?

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