Stefano Sturaro: The young Juventino that stood out against the Los Merengues

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The big team selection news prior to Juventus’ wonderful victory over Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday was the inclusion of 22 year-old midfielder Stefano Sturaro. The young Italian impressed, as he put in a terrific defensive display - imposing  himself against the likes of Toni Kroos and Sergio Ramos.  So, who is the player that registered just four minutes of European football before that clash in Turin? Here is the lowdown.

Born in the north-western town of Sanremo in Italy, Stefano started playing calcio for the local side, he made an impact at such a young age which resulted in several top clubs from Italy eyeing him up - they included the likes of Sampdoria, Lazio and Genoa.

It was Genoa who snapped him up in 2008 and was immediately assigned to their Primavera squad. He had a successful two years in Genoa’s youth squad, winning the title during that time.

Sturaro was then called up to the senior squad, however, he was loaned out to Serie B side Modena in the summer of 2012 to gain that fundamental senior experience. He returned to Genoa as a more confident player for the 2013/14 season - he made 16 appearances for the side, scoring once.

Goals and assists is not part of his game, his priority is to break up play and protect the defence, which he does very well – no wonder he is labelled as the new Gennaro Gattuso by the Italian press.

His solid performances attracted the interest from reigning Champions Juventus, they purchased the player for €5.5 million in the summer of 2014 on a five year deal.  It was agreed between the two clubs that Stefano would be loaned back to Genoa for the following season, but that was not to be the case.

In January 2015, Juventus were still fighting on all fronts – Serie A, Coppa Italia and the Champions League. The Italian giants had suffered with injuries in the midfield, in particularly to Andrea Pirlo, they needed reinforcements to cover. So, Juventus reached an agreement with Genoa to cut his loan spell and call him up to the squad.

Since his move back to Turin, Sturaro has made eight appearances and helped the side clinch their fourth consecutive Scudetto and reach the Champions League semi-final. As mentioned, Sturaro started alongside Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal in Juve’s 2-1 win over Real Madrid in the first leg. He played a pivotal role.

Most notably, pulling off a great piece of defending - intercepting James Rodriguez’s header on to the crossbar.

After that performance there is talk of Antonio Conte calling him up to the Italian national side. I think it’s only a matter of time considering Italy isn’t exactly blessed with an array of talent at the moment.

I hope he gets a chance to prove himself at international level.


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Alberto Bueno: Ex-Real Madrid prospect firing on all cylinders with the Vallecans

It may be a slight on the lack of strength in depth of La Liga that its most poverty-stricken clubs can fight competitively to continue to demand a place in Spain’s top league. It is a miracle that Eibar, the city with a population of 28,000 and the club whose stadium hosts just 5,200 fans, even reached La Liga for the first ever time last summer and now possess a chance of surviving with three games left.

Elche have failed to pay their players since January amidst crippling debts that may yet see them relegated, but they sit 10 points clear of the relegation zone. Getafe, Levante and Almeria are the other clubs on miniscule incomes who are again set to beat the drop, following the standard set by Rayo Vallecano in the fight to get to by on meagre resources. Promoted back to the Primera in 2011 after an 8 year absence, Rayo have battled to finish 15th, 8th, and 12th and now currently lie in 11th place despite again going with a squad patched together with free transfers and loans.

It is fifteen years since Vallecano last spent money on a transfer, £1.76 million to bring in Elvir Bolic from Fenerbahce in 2000, but continue to punch their weight in a league that boasts the luxury of Neymar, Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Gareth Bale. Of that list, Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar, occupy three of the top four spots in La Liga’s goal-scoring charts while Antoine Griezmann, who cost Atletico Madrid £24 million last summer, is third. Suarez cost Barcelona £75 million and has scored 16, a figure that only puts him joint-6th together with Alberto Bueno, one of the many players begged, stole and borrowed by Vallecano and their manager Paco Jemez over the years.

Bueno’s 16 goals means he has chipped in with 40% of Rayo’s total goal horde so far in a remarkable campaign for the striker who before moving to the Vallecas in 2013 had never managed more than seven in a single season. Jemez’s ability to produce the best form out of journeymen and unwanted cast-offs has again been present in Bueno, who has now hit 27 goals across his two seasons with Vallecano after previously scoring 18 across three terms with Real Valladolid and a season-long loan with Derby County.

The fifteen-minute four-goal blitz against Levante, in which he notched a perfect hat-trick in the space of 6 minutes, remains the scarcely believable highlight of the season for Bueno but a brace in a 2-2 draw with Deportivo, winners over Celta Vigo and Villarreal as well as goals in recent games with relegation rivals Eibar and Granada have been hugely important to Vallecano’s fate. He has laid on 4 goals for others, a stat only bettered in the Vallecano squad by Gael Kakuta, while the French winger and Roberto Trashorras are the only players to create more chances than Bueno’s 24.

Nobody has more shots than Bueno’s 86, with which the 27 year old has been accurate with almost 50% of, and they are stats that have been produced with Bueno not even playing as a conventional striker. Jemez has preferred Bueno in a support role to the more physical Leo Baptistao but with the Brazilian only managing seven goals so far, the true star of Vallecano’s season has undisputedly been the Spaniard that had previously been written-off.

It will be a shame for Vallecano to lose Bueno to Porto at the end of the season (Bueno’s contract expires in the summer), but with Rayo acknowledging they simply can’t offer the same terms as the Portuguese giants, they are likely to step aside and watch him go, full of appreciation and gratitude for his two years of service in the outskirts of Madrid.

Colombian Jackson Martinez is primed to leave the Estadio Dragao on the back of his own impressive goal-scoring exploits of 88 goals in 128 games in three seasons with Porto and while Bueno may not be a designated replacement, he will be a cheap and attractive addition to the squad having finally shown his ability to score consistently in a top European league.

The transfer to Porto will see him reunited with Julen Lopetegui, the coach who was in charge of Real Madrid’s Castilla when Bueno was in his last year with the club in 2008-09. Fabio Capello fast-tracked the striker to train with the likes of David Beckham and Luis Figo in 06-07 but despite making his league and Champions League debuts two seasons later, it quickly became apparent he would have to move elsewhere to forge a successful first-team career.

That season also proved to be the end of a promising youth career that saw Bueno win the 2006 under-19 European Championship with Spain before competing in the under-20 World Cup in 2007. His transformation into senior football hasn’t quite gone with quite the same level of success, but now at the age of 27 he is starting to rediscover his talent. Jemez has helped him to do that at Vallecano and now Lopetegui is poised to carry the job on with Porto.


Written by Adam Gray

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Ricardo Pereira: Highly-regarded prospect groomed to be Danilo’s replacement at Porto

Ricardo Pereira is one of a number of young prospects who were thrown in at the deep end at Vitória Guimarães – and grew up fast.

The northern club was in financial meltdown in 2011 when newly appointed coach, the aptly named Rui Vitória, decided to start from scratch, relying on largely unknown youth players. In truth he had no choice as any bankable assets in the squad were sold off, but the policy led to a spectacular change in fortunes


Forsaken by Sporting

As well as building a consistently competitive side, in 2013 Vitória Guimarães won their first piece of major silverware, lifting the Portuguese Cup. Ricardo Pereira played a key role in their success. It must have been particularly satisfying for the Lisbon-born 19-year-old, having had to head north to further his career after failing to make the grade at Sporting’s famed Alcochete academy.

Known simply as Ricardo in Portugal, he crowned an outstanding 2012/13 season with a late winner in the shock 2-1 win over Benfica in the cup final. He had also been decisive in the semi-final, notching a brace in the 2-0 victory over Belenenses, but it was on that sunny May afternoon that he first experienced true adulation after a mazy run saw him skip past a number of challenges before firing a deflected 20-yard shot low into the net to seal the cup triumph.

“It was without doubt the highest point of my career,” he told Portuguese website “Neno (the assistant coach) said we would only realise the enormity of what we had achieved a few days later, and it was true. It’s always great looking back on it, belonging to that team, winning that trophy for fans as passionate as the Guimarães supporters.”


Eye for goal

But it was not just Ricardo’s heroics that day that earned him a move to FC Porto. In his first full season in Portugal’s top flight his direct, skilful and productive wing play was allied to a lethal eye for goal as he scored 8 goals in all competitions.

He has also prospered at international level, hitting 6 goals in 13 appearances for Portugal’s U21 side, making himself a mainstay in the team despite fierce competition as one of what many pundits consider an emerging golden generation.



At Porto he has had to show patience with limited playing time in an expensively assembled squad. He has been adapted into an attacking right-back this season, with conspicuous success, even playing a Champions League quarter-final there.

His former coach Rui Vitória has no doubts he has what it takes to go far in the game: “He’s got enormous potential, an excellent capacity to learn, strong belief in what he does and he reacts very well to challenges.”

With Porto right-back Danilo sold to Real Madrid, Ricardo is gearing himself up for his next challenge: to establish himself as a first-team regular for the Blue and Whites. Don’t put it past him.


Written by Tom Kundert

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Benfica’s Andre Almeida: Time to stick or twist

A series of star-studded Benfica sides have enjoyed considerable success domestically and abroad over recent seasons. In a club that employs a constant revolving door policy with regard to the playing squad, the unchanging pillars of the side, although few and far between, play a pivotal role.

Captain Luisão and right-back Maxi Pereira are the foremost examples, but utility player André Almeida has proven an equally crucial cog to keep Benfica’s engine purring smoothly amid the frenetic comings and goings.

He has never done anything other than a thoroughly competent job when called upon to play at right-back, left-back, or as a defensive midfielder. The fact he is asked to switch between all three roles has denied him the opportunity to excel in any one of them over a sustained period of time, when his flawless performances suggest it would not be beyond him.

Tactically astute, a good tackler, accurate passer and a tireless worker Almeida would be a certain starter in almost any other team in Portugal, and his relatively infrequent appearances have done no damage to his reputation as a dependable, albeit unspectacular, performer.

Coach Jorge Jesus likes his full-backs to bomb forward, something which does not come naturally to Almeida, although the two excellent assists in the recent 5-1 hammering of Académica de Coimbra shows he’s no slouch in the attacking third. But it’s his staunch defensive qualities that are most appreciated, and the Lisbon-born player has often been selected in the starting XI over the usual incumbent for crunch games when Benfica adopt a more circumspect approach.

As for international football, specialists in the positions he usually fills in for naturally get the nod ahead of a jack-of-all-trades, although in tournament play this very adaptability is an important trump card in his favour, and one which earned him a place in Portugal’s 2014 World Cup squad. He has 8 senior Portugal caps to his name.

Still only 24 years old, Almeida is edging towards 100 appearances in his four years at Benfica, and may feel the time has come to either stick or twist – to seek assurances of a more prominent role in the team or to further his career elsewhere.


Written by Tom Kundert

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Felipe Anderson: Lazio’s Standout Player of the Season

With seven games remaining in Serie A, Lazio have managed to leapfrog their bitter rivals Roma in second place, on goal difference.  They are having a tremendous season under coach Stefano Pioli. They have some top performers;  Antonio Candreva, Marco Parolo, Miroslav Klose and Stefan de Vrij to name a few.  The stand-out player for me is Brazilian Felipe Anderson.

In the summer of 2013, Anderson left Brazilian side Santos to showcase his qualities in Europe. Several big clubs such as AC Milan and Bayern Munich were interested in the highly rated attacking midfielder at the time. But it was Lazio who would win his signature and sign for approximately €8 million.

It was a very slow start to life in Italy, he only made a total of thirteen appearances and started just seven league games - failing to score or assist.  Many had by then written the Brazilian off, labelling him as just another young South American player who had earned his big move to Europe and failed to prosper.

Now into his second full season, it’s fair to say it’s been nothing short of revolutionary.  It took a slice of good fortune for him to get a real chance, when Antonio Candreva was injured back in December. Pioli gambled on him in the Coppa Italia fixture. Four months on, Felipe is now considered as one of the league’s star performers. The midfielder has already registered 10 goals and has been ever present in Lazio’s Champions League chasing campaign.

The 22 year old has an outstanding range of talents, and the most important of them is that he is naturally two footed. The Brazilian is equally comfortable controlling the ball or shooting with either foot, and that – together with his lightning speed and change of direction – makes him a nightmare for his opponents.

The stand out performance for me was when Lazio travelled to Milan to face Inter back in December, the match finished 2-2 – Anderson scored both goals.

After just two minutes the young Brazilian – starting the game on the right flank – received a low cross in the Inter penalty area. With one touch he deftly took the pace off the ball, controlling it and skipping past the Andrea Ranocchia all at once, before firing home firmly with his left foot.

For his second, Anderson then popped on the left flank just before the 40th minute mark. With the ball bouncing just inside the Inter half, Anderson nodded it into his path and advanced at speed. His compatriot, Juan Jesus, came across to cover him, but was evidently aware of Anderson’s pace. Jinking inside the penalty area and on to his right foot and slotted home. Outstanding.

More top performances followed, Lazio’s system seems to suit Anderson - Stefano Pioli has created an effective unit since he took charge last summer, with Anderson now an important component on the right or left wing of a 4-1-4-1 formation.

Unsurprisingly, the likes of Barcelona and PSG have been linked with the Lazio starlet. If he keeps this up, I think it will be difficult for Lazio to hold on to him. Nevertheless, they should receive a big fee, which they can invest in other areas of their squad.


Written by Serie A Writer

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Nathan: What becomes of Chelsea’s latest example of needless indulgence?

It is indeed odd for Jose Mourinho to react to the £4.5 million his club have spent this week on a player that “at the moment is not a player for my squad, he is not a player I am waiting for.” The player the Chelsea manager was referring to was the Brazilian Nathan, who arrives from Atletico Paranaense after breaking through into their first team just under a year ago.

Chelsea have beaten off competition from the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal for the 19 year old but it is a deal with the future clearly in mind. It is a future that is potentially bright at Stamford Bridge, with the club’s under-18s into the FA Youth Cup final for the sixth time in eight years and their under-19s having just won the UEFA Youth League by beating Shakhtar Donetsk.

Mourinho has spoken of the talent in Isiah Brown, Dom Solanke, Lewis Baker and Ruben Loftus-Cheek while this year 20 year old Kurt Zouma, a £12 million signing from Saint-Etienne a season and a half ago, has broken into the first team.

Nathan, superb for Brazil in the under 17s World Cup of 2013, will add to Chelsea’s youth contingent that also includes fellow Brazilians Lucas Piazon, who is now on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt after spells at Malaga and Vitesse Arnhem, and Wallace, now among a raft of players farmed out to Vitesse, Chelsea’s partner club.

19 year old Bertrand Traore of Burkina Faso is also at Vitesse alongside Josh McEachran who in 2011 won the club’s young player of the year award in his breakthrough season before embarking on a series of loan spells that has taken in Swansea, Middlesbrough, Watford, Wigan and now Arnhem.

Now 22, McEachran has failed to make a single appearance for Chelsea since October 2011 and is now synonymous with a youth system that has now become paradoxical; an intent to progress youngsters from the development squad to the first team yet willing to spend vast money on talent that hinders the very youngsters that are tipped to make it.

Nathan, now an international for the Brazil under-20s, is a case in point. The attacking midfielder has been locked in a contract dispute with Atletico since October, a saga that has involved the courts and Nathan being demoted to the under 23s. The playmaker still hasn’t played a full 90 minutes for Paranaense and has made just 11 appearances in the Brazilian Serie A. His relative lack of senior experience and Jose Mourinho’s acknowledgement that he is not yet ready for the Chelsea first-team is likely to see him add to Chelsea’s already huge list of 26 loanees, most likely heading out to Vitesse.

Nathan’s emergence at the under-17 World Cup saw him score 5 times as he linked up with Vasco De Gama’s Mosquito, operating in the hole behind the central striker to devastating effect, and a place in the team of the tournament. His ability in the final third to both score and create, both-footed, direct and quick, has seen him compared to Liverpool’s Phillipe Coutinho. He is, as South American pundit Tim Vickery calls, “a playmaker who can thread a pass”.

As Vickery ponders Chelsea are already well-stocked in the position of creative attacker, boasting Nathan’s fellow Brazilians Willian and Oscar, Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Juan Cuadrado, as well as current out-on-loan options Marko Marin, Victor Moses, Mario Pasalic, Christian Atsu, Gael Kakuta, Piazon and Traore as players who can operate in the attacking midfield positions.

Izzy Brown and Lewis Baker, of whom Mourinho said would blame himself if they did not manage to break into the England squad in three years, both add to the list of attacking midfielders Chelsea have at their gargantuan squad list. The signing of Nathan is the latest in the practice of hoarding the best talent in order to steal a march on close rivals who may also be interested in signing them.

“He did well at under 17 level but poorly at under 20 level. It’s difficult to see what he has done in the last season to justify it” says Vickery, perhaps ominously for Nathan who will be the latest player to find his progression to the Chelsea first-team stymied.

The likes of McEachran and Ryan Bertrand have been tagged as promising academy graduates yet had to move elsewhere for first-team opportunities, not boding well for a club that is intent on producing its own stars from an academy that costs Chelsea £8 million a year to run, in the age where Roman Abramovich’s luxurious spending has been curved by Financial Fair Play.

Nemanja Matic, another who spent time at Vitesse after making a £1.5 million move from Kosice in 2009, had to leave for Benfica to make his name, eventually being bought back to Stamford Bridge for a fee of £21 million. Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Mohamed Salah are among the many who have found it difficult to break into the Chelsea side and have all thrived since leaving to play elsewhere.

They have all been sold to vast profits, marking out an impressive business acumen, but with 34 year old John Terry still the sole first-team representative of their Cobham academy since making his debut all the way back in 1998, it sadly appears to be all Chelsea’s youth teams and development squads are currently geared towards; a long-term money-making exercise.

Nathan, for all the talent the emerging Brazilian star may have, is likely to be the latest expendable asset to Chelsea’s buy, hoard and sell philosophy.


Written by Adam Gray

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Karim Bellarabi: Leverkusen star puts stuttering years behind him to shine for the Bundesliga high-flyers

Locked in battle with Borussia Monchendgladbach for the Bundesliga’s 3rd automatic Champions League qualification spot, Bayer Leverkusen winger Karim Bellarabi is clear where he wants his team to finish. “Now we are up where we want to still be at the end of the season” he said, after his winner against Schalke in late March had put Leverkusen above Monchengladbach into third place.

That was the 25 year old’s eleventh goal of the season for Leverkusen and such form has attracted Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal to an £11 million release clause in his contract. With Bayer eliminated from the Champions League and the German Cup, a top 3 finish is their sole target for the remainder of the season and manager Roger Schmidt would probably share the same intent as his winger to finish there in order to give his club more leverage as they come to keeping their major stars at the BayArena for next season.

A defence that is only bettered for goals conceded by Bayern Munich and Monchengladbach, and not shipped a single goal for the past 5 games, is certainly effective but it is in his vibrant attacking quadrant where Schmidt finds his main assets.

Midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu has been named the “new Ozil” and has also garnered interest from Arsenal, Korean Heung-Min Son has 10 goals from his station on the left-wing and Stefan Kiessling and Josip Drmic each have 6 goals as they share centre-forward duties. On the right of the four, you find Bellarabi, the pacey wide-man who has 4 assists to go with his 11 goals. With 40 chances created, he his 2nd only to Calhanoglu in the Leverkusen squad on the table of their most creative players.

Ahead of the DFB Pokal quarter final with Bayern, Bellarabi was singled out for praise by Pep Guardiola. “If Bayer Leverkusen wins the ball they are looking for direct contact with the strikers. This is accomplished with players like Julian Brandt or particularly Karim Bellarabi” he said, before he witnessed the winger terrorise his defence in the BayArena only to see him denied by the superb form of Manuel Neuer.

The German stopper saved 3 times from Bellarabi and also denied Kiessling from the winger’s cross, while Rafinha had to make a desperate lunge to prevent Brandt turning in another dangerous ball in from the right. It was an excellent display from Bellarabi but it couldn’t stop Bayer going out on penalties, similarly to their Champions League exit to Atletico Madrid.

Like Guardiola hinted at, Bellarabi is indeed direct and quick, offering a superb balance on the right side of Schmidt’s attacking midfield 3 that has Calhanoglu central and Min Son on the left. He is powerful and tricky with his feet, traits that make him so dangerous cutting inside to get involved in the play and head towards goal.

His total of 251 attempted dribbles is by far in excess of anybody else in the Leverkusen squad, coming at a rate of 5.2 successful dribbles per game, while his tally of 97 shots is also the highest at the club.

Two statistics that translate directly to a simple but effective game of taking on his defender with pace and skill before getting shots away. Such intent to make his way towards goal and an unerring coolness in front of it earned him a goal within 9 seconds in the season’s opening game with Borussia Dortmund, inserting his name in the record books by hitting the Bundesliga’s fastest ever goal.

It was a fitting start to a campaign where the winger has burst into Joachim Low’s national side and made more appearances for Leverkusen than he has over the past 4 years with the club. For a 25 year old, it seems odd that this should be his breakthrough year but a series of injuries, loss of form and managerial changes has meant his Leverkusen career has never really managed to take off before now.

A loan spell at Eintracht Braunschweig, the club that handed him his senior debut back in 2008, saw him get back to full fitness and form despite failing to keep them in the Bundesliga, and it was enough for Leverkusen’s sporting director Rudi Voller to urge Roger Schmidt, who had only just taken over last summer, to include him from the start. “He’s taken our style of play and made it his style of play,” said the manager after he made his blistering introduction against Dortmund. “He’s not just quick on the ball, but off the ball.”

That potency and those attributes saw him called up to the Germany squad last October and Bellarabi, who opted to play for the country of his birth despite Moroccan parentage after spending time in the under-20 and 21 squads, has since registered 5 caps. In a team that has lost some of its vigour since claiming the World Cup last summer, he will certainly be hard to dislodge.

That resilience and desire was forged and honed, says Bellarabi, playing on the streets of Bremen as a youngster. “You had to learn to impose yourself. I don’t mind being described as a street footballer nowadays.”

He is still definitely imposing himself, no longer on the street but on the pitch, where he is showing his quality for both club and country.


Written by Adam Gray

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Cédric Soares: Suitors lining up for the Sporting right-back

Cédric Soares is the latest of Sporting Lisbon’s highly promising crop of young players to be linked with a lucrative move, either abroad or domestically.

Contract talks with the Portugal right-back have stalled over several months amid rumours that both FC Porto and Benfica are keen on prising the 23-year-old away from their direct rivals, while Napoli and Bayer Leverkusen are also reported to be keeping close tabs on him. Premier league giants Arsenal have also been linked.

Cédric, as he is known in Portugal, has been a regular in Sporting’s back four over the last two seasons, his sparkling displays helping the club’s resurgence and also earning him his first Portugal caps.


Attacking inclination

The full-back loves to bomb forward, his intelligent combination play and outstanding crossing ability, even when space is at a premium, a potent attacking weapon, as is his long-range shooting.

Born in Germany to Portuguese emigrants, the Soares family returned to Portugal when Cédric was a toddler. His parents were keen to instil what they considered good German habits in their children, and enrolled Cédric and his brother in the Deutschen Schule Lissabon, which was located right next to one of Sporting’s training facilities. At just six years of age Cédric was taken to a kids’ scouting session and that was that.

He officially joined Sporting’s academy set-up when turning seven, and worked his way through the youth system all the way until he started training with the senior squad in 2010/11, making his debut in May 2011.


Glory at Académica

The following year he was loaned to Académica, along with midfielder Adrien, and the move proved hugely beneficial for both players as they matured rapidly.

An automatic starter throughout his time at the Coimbra club, Cédric had his first taste of real success at the end of the season as Académica sensationally won the Portuguese Cup for the first time since 1939, ironically beating Sporting in the final.

The defender duly returned to his parent club, became a regular and has continued to improve year-on-year. So much so that he earned his first Portugal caps under new coach Fernando Santos earlier this season and is fully expected to make the position in the national team his own.


Written by Tom Kundert

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Paulo Dybala: Palermo’s destructive weapon

Despite making a slow start to the season, newly promoted Palermo have grown in confidence to a huge extent. The horrible defense punished the attack as Palermo had failed to hold on the leads in their opening three games of the season against Sampdoria, Hellas Verona and Inter respectively. Earning a point after going two goals down in the opening 10 minutes of the game against attack-enriched Napoli telecasted the Rosanero’s fighting spirit.

When following Palermo’s campaign, it is easy to spot Paulo Dybala as the Aquile’s significant performer. Dybala’s contributions have alone secured 18 points of the acquired 35 so far for Palermo this season.

Moving to Palermo in 2012 after a highly successful season in the Argentine second division with Instituto, Dybala’s opportunities in his maiden season at Sicily were limited because of the veteran Fabrizio Miccoli. Following the departure of Miccoli in 2013, Dybala’s partnership along with Abel Hernandez and Andrea Belotti upfront has earned the promotion for the Aquile back to Serie A with Palermo emerging as Serie B winners.

Dybala is a natural footballer. The 20-year old has fed up with amazing qualities that cannot be manually taught. Dybala’s finishing qualities, movements on and off the ball and crossing abilities make him a top footballer. The Argentine’s skills while moving forward and tendency to get past the defenders often push journalists to compare him with Sergio Aguero.

Dybala has already scored 13 goals this season and has seven assists under his name.

According to, Dybala has possessed the passing accuracy of 82.5% in this Serie A campaign and average 1.5 key passes per game. The Argentine has made 2.7 dribbles per game and been fouled 2.6 times per game, with seven in the dangerous areas of increasing the possibility of scoring. He averages 3.6 shots on goal per game.

Speaking to the Argentine newspaper La Manana, Dybala once said: “I always try to keep it simple. One or two touches and then I look for the return ball. And I also run to win the ball back. I would like to handle the set pieces as well, but that’s difficult at the moment.”

In the first three games, coach, Giuseppe Lachini played 3-5-2 with Dybala and Franco Vazquez upfront. But considering the lack of efficiency in moving forward, Vazquez was pulled back to midfield and Andrea Belotti was brought back to the line-up to lead the attack with Dybala for the Napoli game.

Despite conceding two goals within 10 minutes of the game, Belotti’s partnership with Dybala secured a point for Palermo, which was just a symbolic representation to highlight Dybala’s versatility to pair with anyone upfront.

Pairing up with Vazquez, Belotti and the new acquisition, Joao Silva, Dybala’s role is very important for Palermo to finish in the first half of the Serie A table, which will possibly lead him to greener pastures with many of Europe’s top clubs reportedly keeping a watchful eye on the Aquile’s destructive weapon. Watch this space.


Written by Raghuvarman Sampathu

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Danilo: The good and the bad of Florentino Perez on show once again with Real Madrid’s latest signing


In the quarter finals of the Champions League and still very much in the race for the La Liga title after they thumped Granada 9-1 on Sunday, Real Madrid’s season is far from over. Form has fluctuated nervously to leave the future of manager Carlo Ancelotti in doubt, but the prospect of becoming the first side in two decades to defend the European Cup and a first league title in four years looms large on the horizon.

Real could be looking at life after Ancelotti in the summer with Zinedine Zidane a possible candidate to takeover, but this uncertainty hasn’t prevented president Florentino Perez, never one to pass up on an opportunity to open the chequebook, heading into the market for a new player. Los Blancos have added 21 year old Lucas Silva and the 16 year old Martin Odegaard to the squad this term for a combined fee in excess of £11 million, but while those deals were geared towards the task of building a bright future, the £23 million signing of Danilo from Porto is for the here and now.

The deal makes the 23 year old Brazilian the fourth most expensive right-back ever, only bettered by Luke Shaw’s €37.5 million move to Manchester United, Lilian Thuram’s €36 million move to Juventus and Dani Alves’s €35.5 million switch to Barcelona. He becomes Real Madrid’s most expensive ever defender, if indication is needed to how determined Madrid were to take the right-back to the Bernabeu.

A marauding, full of energy Brazilian right-back, Danilo can be compared to the latter and Madrid will be hoping he can have the same effect in the Bernabeu as Alves, a 4-time La Liga winner and 2-time Champions League winner as an integral part of Pep Guardiola’s era of dominance, had in Catalonia after moving from Sevilla in 2008.

Danilo was seen by the hierarchy at the Nou Camp as the 31 year old Alves’s long-term replacement but hindered by the transfer ban that runs into 2016, Madrid seized the opportunity to land their man early. It can arguably be billed as another Galactico acquisition by Perez who has timed the deal to perfection, diverting attention away from a series of poor results on the pitch and reaffirming his own power in a period of disruption and media revolt.

It is undoubtedly a good signing but also an unnecessary one. If Danilo can be placed in the Galactico bracket if not for his talent then it certainly can be for a deal that is perhaps more about Madrid indulgently flexing their financial muscle to land a coveted player ahead of their rivals. A signing more about status than actual requirement. Dani Carvajal has been impressive since resigning from Bayer Leverkusen for a bargain €5 million in 2013, making the right-back slot his own as Madrid won last season’s La Decima, but Danilo’s arrival will harshly see him replaced.

The Spaniard undisputedly required better cover and competition for his place than the error-prone Alvaro Arbeloa but the money it has taken to land Danilo, partnered with the profile he arrives with from Porto, suggests he isn’t going to be a bench option. While Danilo doesn’t particularly represent an upgrade on Carvajal, both are strong defensively as well as dangerous going forward, the Brazilian possesses physical strength and a strong, vocal personality, similarly to Alves, which will be attractive to Ancelotti or any possible successor.

Playing with a robust physique and a dynamism that sees him charge down the right-flank, he is more in the mould of Maicon than Alves when it comes to comparing him to Brazilian right-backs. He is comfortable on the ball enough to use the ball wisely in all situations and it is why his pass-completion percentage for Porto this season stands in excess of 92%.

Both-footed and often one to cut-in and shoot on his left even though he is predominantly right-footed, he can slot into right-wing and central-midfield roles with ease like he did in Brazil with Santos, such is his understanding of the game. Madrid are getting a superb player for their money.

With Arbeloa due to exit the club and Carvajal finding himself second choice, the main point of contention with the Danilo signing will be a suspicion that Madrid’s Spanish element is beginning to be marginalised. Xabi Alonso departed for Bayern Munich last summer while Asier Illaramendi is out of favour and is likely to follow him out this coming transfer window.

Club captain Iker Casillas faces questions over his future as a series of high-profile errors have crept into his game at the age of 33, while Jese has struggled for opportunities since returning from injury.

Isco has performed impressively in midfield but faces stiff competition for his place from James Rodriguez and now Carvajal faces losing his place, it could be possible that Real will boast just one Spaniard, Sergio Ramos, in their first-choice starting XI next season. That will undermine Perez’s philosophy of creating a team that merges natives and international stalwarts.

“Real Madrid should have several of the best players in the world and several of the best from Spain, many of whom are in the national team, and players from the youth team”, said the president when he returned to the club in 2009.

With Carvajal, a product of the youth academy, about to be dropped not for form but for a more luxurious name, another failure to integrate home-grown talent will not go down well with the club’s most avid support who are already disillusioned with Perez’s running of the club. Aside from the politics however, Madrid have got themselves a supremely gifted footballer and they’ve stole a march on their rivals to land him.

In the short-term world of luxury that Perez lives in, where deals are done more for status than the balance of the team, that’s all that matters.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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