Uncategorized

Will Juventus Finally be Toppled?

Serie A has been a procession for one club the past eight years, but could this season be season Juventus are toppled? The Turin club have dominated Italian football since 2011, along with as becoming a force in European football.

The most supported club in Italy have reached two Champions League finals, in 2015 and 2017, and have swept aside their nations best for almost a decade. Their dominance has brought them world recognition, along with a host of trophies and money. This money has only increased their advantage, as they have been able to buy the best world talent.

Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was brought in with an Italian record transfer worth £99.2m last summer, along with Mathias de Ligt this summer for £67.5m. The club also likes to do its scouting closer to home, frequently buying the best talent in Serie A.

ronaldo-signs-for-juventus-july2018-940x625-1

Ronaldo was a marquee signing for Juventus, but with FFP could this move backfire if they have to sell players to balance the books? Photo: Juventus FC

The club have in recent years signed the likes of top scorer Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli, Paulo Dybala from Palermo and Miralem Pjanic from Roma. Their massive financial advantage over the other club has meant they can effectively use the rest of Serie A as a farm system.

Despite the massive advantage they hold, this season things seem to be changing slightly. Juventus have faced challenges in recent seasons, notably from Napoli and Roma, but have always done enough to win the Scudetto. A number of factors happening in one season could see a new title winner in Italy this season.

Juventus themselves have transitioned from long-time manager Max Allegri to new man Maurizio Sarri. Sarri challenged Juventus with his Napoli side in 2017-18, yet for the first time in a long while Juventus seem fallible this season. After 23 games they sit second with 54 points, their worst total at this stage since the 2015-16 season.

serie-a-juventus-v-napoli_0f0d0138-46b1-11e8-b98f-44ca1ff8ed36

Maurizio Sarri was an icon at Napoli, taking them to within four points of a Serie A title in 2017-18. How well suited is he to Juventus long term? Photo: Reuters

Even in their victories they have often relied on coming back from behind, showing they have not been able to assert their dominance as easily this season despite having the best squad.

Along with a drop from Juventus, has been the rise of a new challenger. Inter Milan have made great strides to become title contenders again. They brought in former Juventus manager Antonio Conte and have spent lavishly this season.

They have brought in the likes of Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United, Christian Eriksen from Tottenham and Diego Godin from Athletico Madrid. They have also brought in promising young Italian talent such as Matteo Politano and Stefano Sensi from Sassuolo and Nicolo Barella from Cagliari. All three have become regular contributors this season.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-AC MILAN-INTER

Lukaku celebrating his Milan derby goal with coach Antonio Conte. Both have been instrumental in Inter’s revival and title challenge this season. Photo: AFP

Inter have only lost one game all season, although have drawn more than Juventus. The club have all the right people in place to take advantage of a down year for Juventus, with the club impressing with their performances in the Champions League also. Now they have dropped into the Europa League, the focus will likely shift back to Serie A.

The outside contender that nobody predicted this season was Lazio. The Rome club have always been in the top six in recent years, but have never broken through into the top four. The club didn’t spend big in the summer, but manager Simone Inzaghi has made them into the most in-form team in Italy.

They are unbeaten in 18 games, including an eleven match winning streak. This incredible form has propelled them to third, only a point behind Inter and Juventus. They welcome Inter to the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday, a match with massive title implications.

hi-res-f676b6e2986e41dfc79886df289146a1_crop_north

Ciro Immobile has been crucial to Lazio’s unlikely title challenge. He’s on pace to be the leagues top scorer ahead of illustrious names like Ronaldo and Lukaku. Photo: MB Media/Getty Images

They do still face tough fixtures away to Atalanta, Juventus and Napoli, but are scary to every opponent they face. Striker Ciro Immobile is on fire this season, as top scorer with 25 goals in 23 games so far. Attacking midfielder Luis Alberto also tops the assists charts with eleven, showing the attacking prowess of Lazio.

The title race will come down to these three, but could there be more in the future? Atalanta have taken Italy and Europe by storm with their giant killing acts, and could continue their progress if they can sustain this in coming seasons. Regular Champions League qualification will bring in the money to take this team to the next level.

City rivals A.C Milan may be languishing in tenth, but they have the infrastructure to compete in Serie A. It’s been a tough half-decade for this once dominant side, but they could compete in future seasons if they can find the right building blocks. The same goes for Napoli, who are undergoing a transition as talismanic figures like Sarri have left the club in recent seasons.

Roma have performed similarly to Lazio in recent seasons, could they perform similar miracles in the coming years? Serie A has always been a giant of European football, but with such dominance in other leagues like the Premier League and Ligue 1 to have a genuine title race that could down to the last game will entice new fans. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Serie A this season!

Thank you for reading this article I really appreciate it! Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism if you have any comments at all. 

The Wilder Revival at Sheffield United

20th August 2016. Former giant Sheffield United sit bottom of the League One table with one point from their opening four games. The club are facing financial difficulties, and new manager Chris Wilder struggling the future looked bleak. Even the most optimistic Blades fan would have suggested three years later they would be back in Premier League for the first time in 12 years.

Wilder is a lifelong fan and had two separate spells there, before taking charge in May 2016. Wilder has developed in the lower ranks, with a Conference final win with Oxford United in 2010 and a League Two title with Northampton Town in 2015-16. At the time of his arrival Wilder was a rising star in the Football League, but was walking into a tough job.

Despite investment from Saudi Prince Abdullah Al Saud in 2013 the club was in a difficult financial position. Wilder relied mostly on free transfers, and balanced the books by selling Aaron Ramsdale to Bournemouth, Dominic Calvert-Lewin to Everton and Che Adams to Birmingham for a combined £4.5m.

image

Wilder being presented in May 2016, along side chairman Kevin McCabe and assistant Alan Knill. Photo: Sport Image/Sheffield Star.

A new manager and a large squad overhaul helps explain the poor start, but from here the team went on a tear. With club captain and boyhood fan Billy Sharp banging in 30 goals, enough to be the leagues top scorer, the team lost only three of their remaining 42 games. They romped to the title with 100 points, 14 more than second placed Bolton.

Wilder won plaudits for his teams playing style, and a testament to his coaching is that the spine of his League One team remains in the Premier League. Defender Jack O’Connell, midfielders John Fleck and Chris Basham along with target man Sharp were all regulars in the third tier.

The following season saw Wilder add full backs George Baldock and Enda Stevens, both of whom were signed from lower league clubs and have earned plaudits in the Premier League this season. The full backs are a vital part of Wilder’s attacking style of play, something other Premier League opponents have struggled to handle.

1_Sheffield-United-v-Bradford-City-Sky-Bet-League-One-Bramall-Lane

Wilder celebrating League One promotion with star striker Billy Sharp. Both are life long fans of the club and both have already cemented legend status. Photo: Press Association.

Tenth in the Championship in their debut season is very tough to do, especially as their biggest listed transfer was midfielder Lee Evans from Wolves for £750 000 pounds in January. The team was on the right track, with the majority of its current team already in place.

The club boosted its transfer funds with the sale of midfielder David Brooks to Bournemouth for £11.5m. This allowed them to break their transfer record to sign defender John Egan from Brentford for £4.05m, along with Oliver Norwood in January from Brighton for £2.4m. Along with David McGoldrick on a free, all three of which are now Premier League regulars.

Two losses wasn’t the start they wanted, but they were consistently brilliant from here on out. From early September they were never outside the play-off places, with a late surge to overcome a faltering Leeds to secure the second automatic promotion place. Just three short years after joining them, Wilder had led them back to the Premier League.

fbl-eng-pr-sheffield-utd-arsenal-5dae18453c1108022a000001

Sheffield United players celebrating Lys Mousset’s goal in a 1-0 win over Arsenal. The club are the antithesis of the North London club and have earned plenty of plaudits this season. Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images. 

Many fans and pundits questioned whether Sheffield United’s style of play would translate to the Premier League, as they tipped them for relegation. This is despite enhancing the squad with the signings of striker Lys Mousset for £10m and midfielder Oli McBurnie for £20m from Bournemouth and Swansea respectively.

In what has been so far an unusual Premier League season, absolutely nobody would have predicted Sheffield United to shock the world and be sitting in fifth after 26 games, only two points away from the Champions League. The team have by far the smallest wage budget, but they play with a desire and resilience unlike many other teams.

They have rescued points from losing positions ten times already this season, showing the fight that fans love from their team. The club have just smashed their transfer record to sign Sander Berge from Genk for £22m, as the club continues to progress. It cannot be stressed enough how impressive their achievements have been this season, with the stats showing that the team with the smallest wage budget has been relegated 15 times from 24 in the Premier League.

The team have earned plaudits for their attacking style, and were it not for a historic Liverpool season Wilder would be the favourite for manager of the year. Nobody saw the rise of this historic club, so future expectations are hard to predict. With Wilder in charge this club has all of the right ingredients to create their own fairy tale, much like Bournemouth have over the past decade. The future looks very bright for the red half of Sheffield.

Zacharie Robichon Interview

2019 was the year that Zacharie Robichon emerged on the GT racing scene. The young Canadian was 3rd in the GTD standings with the Pfaff Porsche, in his first year in the IMSA WeatherTech series. He was previously the 2018 Porsche GT3 Cup Canada champion.

It’s tough to improve upon third with two wins in your rookie campaign, but Robichon has a great chance to in 2020. He is partnered with Porsche supported driver Dennis Olsen, and is joined by fellow factory drivers Lars Kern and Patrick Pilet for the Rolex.

Just before race week got underway I asked Robichon some quick questions about the upcoming season.

Can you reflect on what a good 2019 season it was?

The beginning of the 2019 season was a big eye opener for myself and the team. We learnt quickly that to be successful in endurance racing it was as much about being smart as it was about being fast.

Once we settled in, we had a great run to end the year which ultimately finished in the sprint cup championship for myself. Looking back it, I don’t think I ever imagined we would be able to perform at that level by the end of the season but it certainly gives us confidence moving forward.

9-pfaff-motorsports-porsche-91-1-3

Robichon was a revelation for Pfaff in 2019, and is now one of the hottest young talents in the IMSA GTD class. Photo: Motorsport.com

What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the Porsche at Daytona?

The Porsche has always been strong on the brakes and in the infield, I think that trend will continue this year. There are so many questions marks regarding which setup you decide to run so it is hard to say exactly where the car will be at its strongest / weakest compared to the other competitors.

The one thing we do know is that Porsche always provides us with a car capable of winning and I don’t expect anything different this time around.

What is it like being joined by Porsche factory drivers Patrick Pilet and Lars Kern for Daytona?

Anytime you get the opportunity to share the car with drivers of that caliber its very special. Obviously Patrick’s success and experience from this race in the past is something that we will lean on heavily throughout the race to make the best decisions as a team to put us in the best situation throughout the race.

I’m very happy to have Lars joining us once again not only for Daytona but for the four long races this year. He was a great addition to our team last year and I expect him to keep learning and improving as he gets to know the North American tracks better.

Who are your main rivals at the Rolex 24 this year?

It’s so hard to pick any one team. This year in GTD I believe the level has stepped up to another level over last year and just about any car on the grid could win the race with the right decisions and luck!

9-pfaff-motorsports-porsche-91-1-4

Despite this small off at the Roar, the Pfaff team can feel confident going into 2020, starting at the Rolex 24. Photo: Motorsport.com

What are the biggest things the team can improve upon in 2020?

The team has stepped up immensely and grown since this time last year. We are much calmer as a group then we were this time last year and if we can keep that mentality and focus that we finished the year off with last year I believe we have a great chance at success not only at Daytona but for the entire season.

Would you be interested in racing international GT3 events in the future?

I would love the opportunity to do some international races, the beauty of the GT3 platform is that the cars and rules are extremely similar around the world which gives drivers the opportunity to move around in familiar equipment if the opportunity were to present itself.

My thanks go to Zacharie for these great answers. I wish him and his #9 team the best of luck this season! Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism if you liked this article!

Dennis Olsen Interview

The off-season has been one of mixed emotions for Dennis Olsen. The 23-year old Norwegian ended the year as Intercontinental GT Challenge champion in November, but lost his Porsche Young Professional driver status in December. Olsen remains contracted to Porsche, and still hopes to become an official Porsche factory driver.

The decision seems strange from Porsche, as Olsen is a very promising talent. A burgeoning single-seater career ended at Formula Renault Eurocup, before switching to Porsche Carrera Cup in 2016. He has since won that title in 2017, along with second in Porsche Supercup that same year.

For now not much has changed for Olsen, as I asked him about his preparations for the upcoming season.

How happy are you to be back with Pfaff Motorsport for the Rolex 24?

I’m very excited to be back with Pfaff for the Rolex 24 – after a strong first season where they gained a lot of experience I’m very confident in the whole crew and also in the car we are bringing to the 24.

porschewin1

Dennis Olsen celebrating his Intercontinental GT title last year. Photo: Porsche AG.

How tough was it to recover from losing your Porsche young professional status despite a good 2019 season?

It was for sure not the best time of my career, but I do still feel strong and prepared to show them that I am worth keeping as their driver – I had a great season last year and I’m looking to have a even stronger one this year using all the tools I learnt last year.

How was the Roar test for the #9 team?

The Roar was very positive for us, we managed to find a good balance for the long runs and the crew did good after having a winter break.

Who are your main class rivals at the Rolex 24 this year?

I think we will see after the first few hours who is our Main rivals, but looking at the Roar the Lambo, Lexus and Acura seems strong.

9-pfaff-motorsports-porsche-91-1-2

Olsen is back with Zacharie Robichon for the season with Pfaff, and will be looking to impress Porsche this year. Photo: Motorsport.com 

Are you likely to do more endurance rounds with Pfaff this year?

Yes, I will do the whole championship for Pfaff together with Zach Robichon.

How confident are you that you can become a Porsche factory driver in the coming years and what would that mean for you?

I hope that they can see my qualities and hopefully I will become a factory driver soon – with the performance I had last year, and also the consistency to win championships means that I know whats needed to win the titles. I love to race, and I want to keep doing this for a long time on the highest level possible. I’m a racer.

What are your racing plans for 2020?

Until now it’s just IMSA confirmed, but I’m confident that there will be more coming soon.

I would like to extend my thanks to Dennis for taking the time to answer these questions, and wish the #9 team the best of luck this weekend. Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism if you liked this article.

Lars Kern Interview

It’s been an interesting path for Lars Kern to reach this point. The 32-year old German has been associated with Porsche for almost ten years now, but is only beginning to emerge in motorsport.

He holds a number of production car lap records thanks to his role as a development and test driver for the German marque. Only in the past three years has he been incorporated in GT3 racing. He has primarily raced in VLN and the 24 Hour series, before making his IMSA debut with Pfaff Motorsport last year.

He returns to Pfaff this year, joining Dennis Olsen, Zacharie Robichon and Patrick Pilet for the Rolex 24. Before the race I asked him some quick questions surrounding his plans for Daytona and the 2020 season.

How happy are you to be back with Pfaff Motorsport for the Rolex 24?

24h Daytona is such a special race. But even if you’re fully prepared it’s a huge gamble. You have to get every little detail right to go for the win. Pfaff is an amazing team and it’s a honor for me to be with them for another year.

porsche-911-gt3-r-lechner-racing-9-saul-hack-za-lars-kern-d-dylan-pereira-lux

Kern’s role with Porsche has expanded in recent years, including this Intercontinental GT drive in Kyalami late last year. Photo: Porsche AG.

What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the Porsche at Daytona?

I think we have a super reliable and good handling car. We don’t have the best pace i guess but we have a great package.

How was the Roar test for the #9 team?

The Roar Test went super smooth. We just did our program, checked all set-up directions and found a good rhythm.

Who are your main class rivals at the Rolex 24 this year?

Basically every car can win GTD. If you go through the drivers and teams, the quality is incredible.

9-pfaff-motorsports-porsche-91-1-1

Kern and the Pfaff Porsche return in 2020, and will be hard to miss with their plaid livery. Photo: Motorsport.com 

Are you likely to do more endurance rounds with Pfaff this year?

Yes, I’ll do all four endurance Races with Pfaff and my mates Zach and Dennis. And I’m really looking forward to it.

Describe your role as a Porsche test/racing driver?

The role is pretty spread up between racing and testing. Racing is the side job, Testing and engineering is my daily job. It’s important to constantly work on the performance, driveability and Quality of our cars. This sums it up!

What are your racing plans for 2020?

In 2020 I’ll compete in IMSA Endurance and Nuerburgring Endurance Championship incl. 24h Nuerburgring. Let’s see if there are more races but this is already a great program so far.

I would like to thank Lars for giving us these great answers. I also wish him and his #9 team the best of luck this weekend! Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism if you liked this article!

Jesse Krohn Interview

Jesse Krohn has been retained by BMW Team RLL for the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech series campaign. The Finn had a burgeoning career in Formula Ford and Formula Renault in Europe, before being picked up as a BMW junior driver in 2014.

He developed with various customer BMW teams in GT3 racing, with a 2017-18 Asian Le Mans Series GT title along with sporadic IMSA GTD drives. Since 2018 he has been placed with BMW Team RLL, partnering American John Edwards.

Both are hoping to take the next step in 2020, having yet to win in their two years together. Just before he left for Florida I asked Krohn some quick questions to gauge his thoughts entering the 2020 season. I also interviewed team mate Edwards, which you can find here.

imsa-vir-2017-96-turner-motorsport-bmw-m6-gt3-jens-klingmann-jesse-krohn

Krohn impressed with Turner Motorsport in GTD across 2016-17 before stepping up with BMW Team RLL in 2018. Photo: Motorsport.com

What has your off-season been like and are you excited to get the season started?

Off season has been less busy than in the last couple of years as I didn’t drive in any of the Asian GT events after IMSA season finished. This has given me a great chance to focus more on training to be fully prepared at Daytona and the coming IMSA season.

What developments have BMW made to remain competitive in GTLM?

At this point it is more about fine tuning what we have instead of introducing any major updates. We have learned a lot about the car over the past two years and now it is all about using that knowledge to get the best out of our package.

What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the BMW at Daytona?

Difficult to say where we might be stronger or weaker compared to our competition as they have new cars which we have not raced against.

caed60ec-abef-467a-98ee-ad1281cada82-orginal-1200x675-1

Krohn is partnered by John Edwards for their third season together. Photo: Motorsport.com

How was the Roar test for the #24 team?

Roar was very productive and we managed to get thru our testing program without any issues.

Who are your main rivals in GTLM at the Rolex 24 this year?

There are no weak opponents in GTLM and all team have proven to be able to win any race on any track. I would consider all the cars to be our main rivals.

Could you describe your relationship with the team and John Edwards, you’ve been with the team for a number of years now.

John has been my longest standing team mate and we have a super good relationship. I have a lot of trust in his ability as he has proven to be able to get the best out of any situation.

I don’t have to worry about anything while he is in the car. Over the last few years we have been able to fine tune our team work to the max and we are more ready than ever to get the season started and start winning races.

Are you going to be a part of a potential BMW entry at the Le Mans 24 Hours this year?

Unfortunately I have no knowledge on this topic.

Is IMSA your primary program this year or will you compete in global GT events for BMW also this year?

IMSA is my primary championship but I will also take part in other GT races. I don’t know exactly which ones yet, but that will be confirmed at a later date.

I would like to thank Jesse for taking the time to answer these questions, and wish him and his #24 team the best of luck this weekend. Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism if you liked this article.

 

John Edwards Interview

John Edwards is back for his seventh season with BMW Team RLL, racing the M8 GTE in the GTLM class of the IMSA WeatherTech series. The 28-year old American is partnered with Finnish driver Jesse Krohn for their third year together. 2019 was tough for BMW, outside of a surprise Rolex 24 win.

BMW closed it’s WEC program after one season, but remain committed to IMSA. Augusto Farfus and Chaz Mostert join the duo for the Rolex 24. Edwards has been racing cars since age 12, and was twice a Star Mazda champion before switching to sportscars in 2010. He developed in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, before being picked up by BMW full-time in 2014.

Just before the race week began I was able to ask him some quick questions surrounding his preparations for the 2020 season.

imsa-victory01-1200x675-1

BMW Team RLL celebrating their Rolex 24 GTLM win last year. Photo: BMW Team RLL.

What was your off-season like and are you excited to get the season started?

This was my best off season yet since I got married the week after Petit! My wife Serena and I had a perfect day and have enjoyed our first few months of married life, but as usual I’m itching to race again and can’t wait to get the season started this week.

Describe your working relationship with Jesse Krohn?

I’ve known Jesse quite a few years as we raced together in Germany prior to him coming over to IMSA. He adapted quickly to the team and we all know he’s got speed.

In endurance racing, it’s always hard to be out of the car watching someone else drive, but Jesse and I have faith in each other so I always know he can get it done in qualifying or the race when I’m watching his stint from the pit box. It’s nice going into the new season with the same co-driver and same engineer as the prior year, as consistency should bring results.

What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the BMW at Daytona?

Power-down traction is probably our weakest point since we are competing against mid-engine cars. But we have good straight-line speed and great handling in the high speed, so we are consistently the quickest in the bus stop, which helps us get a run to make passes in to T1.

24-bmw-team-rll-bmw-m8-gte-gtl-1

Edwards and Krohn are looking to improve upon a poor 2019 season, with two second places their highlights. Photo: Motorsport.com

How was the Roar test for the #24 team?

The Roar was interesting this year since Porsche and Corvette both have new cars and it was our first chance to evaluate how the compare. From our perspective, it was pretty routine as we got back in the swing of things after a few months off.

Who do you think are your main rivals in GTLM this year?

The great part about GTLM is that anyone can win on a given weekend. We have a small field but it’s deep with talent and we always have to be at our best to compete.

What are the teams expectations for the season?

We showed speed last year, but lacked consistency weekend to weekend. This year the goal is to be in the championship fight by avoiding the up and down results.

I would like to thank John for taking the time to answer my questions, and I wish both him and BMW Team RLL the best of luck this weekend! Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism if you liked this article!