Europa League

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Does the Premier League Need a Winter Break?

The Christmas and New Year period is for the large majority of the nation an opportunity to spend time with loved ones, however in the world of English club football this period is the busiest of the season. With many teams facing the prospect of three games within a week over this period, has the time come for serious debate over whether a winter break period should be adopted?

The English football league is an anomaly amongst its European counterparts, with a vast majority of other European leagues taking a winter break. Even the Scottish leagues have a break over the new year period. South of the border teams are forced to exhaust all avenues of their squad as they have to prepare their teams to face three fixtures in six days, an exercise that seems an archaic throwback to previous era’s of football.

Some football fans will want to retain the hectic Christmas fixture list, maybe as a nostalgic ode to how things used to be. On the other hand, at a time when English football is going through a period of introspection after successive failures for the national team, club teams also find themselves on the back foot.

The Premier League is widely seen as the most competitive major league in the world thanks to its high level of talent, but in major competition they face a disadvantage. When the next rounds of the Champions League and Europa League take place in the middle of February, for English teams they will already have done three quarters of their season, and will be suitably showing the exertion this places on a squad. European rivals however will be just a few weeks into the second half of their seasons after the break.

The winter break is not simply a time to rest however. Many clubs will hold winter training camps or play international friendlies to raise the profile of their clubs. The more controlled nature of these however ensure that the players efforts do not replicate what takes place in a normal league fixture. The risk of injuries or suspensions is also very much reduced, keeping as much as the squad fit and healthy for the second half of the season.

The period of non-stop fixtures takes a heavy toll on English teams, leaving them at a disadvantage as the season goes on. This month there is the added burden of the African Cup of Nations, of which many top players will compete in, although this is something that every major club will have to deal with, however some clubs may be affected more than others by the tournament.

Whilst some fans and pundits in England have lamented state of football in this country, it seems obvious that when other major clubs around you have several weeks off whilst they have to face the most congested period of the season, of course this is going to put you at a disadvantage to your rivals. Whilst the solution would be for the English leagues to adopt a winter break, this is far easier said than done.

The English Premier League especially generates huge amounts of revenue and has the largest worldwide fan base of any major league. It’s become a global brand and therefore it will be very hard for the F.A to implement a winter break when fans are used to having such a busy Christmas/New Year period. Fans may be able to stage some form of protest, although this issue is for the majority not their highest priority.

Next month will see the return of the Champions League and Europa League, and I hope I am proved wrong about the disadvantages facing the English teams competing. If however they struggle against their respective opponents, factor in the relative games both sets of players have already competed in.

Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and thank you for reading!