Napoli and Fiorentina Set to Take Serie A by Storm with Big Summer Signings

NapoliEurope’s ongoing financial crisis is proving to be less influential on major clubs this year than has been the case in previous years. Halfway through the transfer window, many clubs managed to strengthen their ranks, paying top dollars for players with relative statuses, while others are yet to dip in the market.

A quick analysis of the number of arrivals (permanent transfers - loans excluded) in the top 5 European leagues shows that the Serie A has been the most active with 212 players, followed by the English Premier League with 147, Bundesliga with 130, La Liga with 129, and finally Ligue 1 with 121. A lot can be derived from such figures, but what is certain is that Italian teams are starting to realize the importance of spending in competing for silverware, ending Juventus’ monopoly and returning to the summit of European competitions.

In the past 10 years, only three teams managed to win the league title in Italy: Inter Milan, AC Milan, and Juventus. It is not far from the duopoly that has been taking place in a number of European leagues such as Spain, but this fact could be deceiving because even with only three winning teams, the Italian league has been quite an intense competition in comparison with other European leagues.

While Inter’s previous couple of seasons showed a dip in form, Juventus and Milan are still as competitive as ever. Mainly, these three teams have been contesting for the top spot, with a slight involvement from teams such as Roma, Lazio, and Udinese. But this season might witness the emergence of  two new powerhouses in Fiorentina and Napoli which could only make the Serie A more attractive and competitive.

Usually in transfer windows, teams tend to do business in the beginning of July so as to avoid losing primary targets or overpaying for a certain player. While Milan’s director Galliani prefers to wait for the dying minutes of the transfer window to put his touch on any possible deals, the majority of European teams find it more suitable to start negotiations as early as possible in order to pursue alternatives if deals for primary targets fall through. Either way, Italian teams in general - Milan, Inter, and Roma in particular - should get their boots on and get ready to battle if they are to topple Juventus from the Italian football summit and keep up with the progress of Fiorentina and Napoli.

Of the top five teams that notched a European spot last season, Fiorentina and Napoli have been the most active in the transfer market, strengthening with no less than six new players, signaling a clear intention of building a team capable of battling with the likes of Milan and Juventus. It’s a common fact that buying players alone does not, in anyway, suffice in building a successful team or in challenging for titles.

Gonzalo HiguaínThere are many factors that determine the flourishing of a project such as continuity, proper planning, age of players, suitable coaching staff, etc. But when looking at the two clubs from Florence and Naples, one can’t but commend the work that is being put in these two ventures.

While the Partenopei’s extravagant spending this season may have been something unfamiliar in Italy, there can be no doubt that what they invested will only make them a much stronger squad than last season. The captures of Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens, Raul Albiol, Pepe Reina, Rafael, and young Croatian starlet Josip Radosevic are amazing additions to an already good squad. What makes this project interesting is that Napoli’s spending spree is far from finished, with president Aurelio De Laurentis confirming a budget of €124 million. Porto’s prolific goal scorer Jackson Martinez could be the next addition to the San Paolo revolution. After the departure of their main star Edinson Cavani, it was only fair for Napoli fans to be pessimistic.

However their controversial president wasted no time in assuring that his team is here to stay, and that their form last season was not an act of luck but merely a stepping stone to reach unprecedented heights. This is why he realized the huge task of replacing a very successful and adored coach such as Walter Mazzari, and while Rafael Benitez might not be everybody’s favorite coach, he surely is a proved winner who knows how to make the most out every situation.

On the other hand, Fiorentina are fast becoming a force to be reckoned with. With the irreplaceable Borja Valero along with Facundo Roncaglia, Adem Ljajic, and Juan Cuadrado pulling the strings, the Viola played arguably the most entertaining football in Italy last season. Also, with Ambrosini, Joaquin, Munua, Mario Gomez, Giuseppe Rossi, and Josip Ilicic added to the Florence battalion, they will have a team capable of surmounting any given task. Bookmakers might write off  Vincenzo Montella’s men following the sale of Stevan Jovetic to Manchester City, but the truth is that the Montenegrin will hardly be missed if the club manages to capitalize on the talents of Rossi, Ljajic, and Gomez.

FiorentinaIndeed, Fiorentina have bagged one of the continent’s most prolific goal scorers in Mario Gomez. Giuseppe Rossi will again be able to showcase his talent after a lengthy spell on the sideline. Adem Ljajic will continue fulfilling his potential and show why clubs such as Milan are pursuing his services. The signing of Palermo’s Josip Ilicic - one of Serie A’s most exciting and creative midfielders - is another impressive acquisition for a team that will be a bit more than a dark horse in next season’s Scudetto race. If Montella continues to show his tactical acumen, the dream of winning the Europa League won’t be far-fetched.

Since the start of the 2012-13 season, the number of Champions League places allocated to Serie A clubs was reduced to just three. This is mainly due to the drop in coefficient points due to the result of poor performances from Italian clubs in European competitions. Without diving into the debate of whether this is a justified criteria to prevent great teams such as Inter, Milan, and Juventus from participating in Europe, we can’t deny that such a decision has affected Italian football greatly, and the burden of putting Italy back on the map is a task assigned to all Serie A clubs with no exception. As much as Italian football needs re-developing and re-organizing, they are in dire need to ply their trades in Europe’s big competition in order to further their progress.

In 2001, Zinedine Zidane’s departure to Real Madrid signaled the beginning of a new period for Juventus. The Italian club invested money from the sale to build a dominant project that managed to impress, with the purchases of stars like Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram, Pavel Nedved, Marcelo Salas, and Enzo Maresca.

Are Napoli and Fiorentina on the verge of doing something similar this summer after trading Edinson Cavani and Stevan Jovetic to PSG and Manchester City? Napoli’s last Scudetto title was in the 1989-90 season, while Fiorentina’s last was in 1968-69. With Juventus, Milan, Fiorentina, and Napoli arguably on the same level, and Inter and Roma slightly trailing, this season could bring about the dethroning of a strong Juventus and the much needed emergence of the Serie A.

Written by Hassan Chakroun

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Bayern Munich Striker Mario Gomez Completes €20m Move to Fiorentina

Mario GomezOn 15 July, Mario Gomez was unveiled as a Fiorentina player to over 20,000 fans. The Florence-based club spent €20 million on the big center-forward. The move to Fiorentina followed a four-year spell at Bayern Munich, which was preceded by six years in the senior team of Stuttgart.

Gomez likely completed the move with the next World Cup in mind, as he’s never started a game at a World Cup. He came off the bench four times at the 2010 World Cup but failed to score on each occasion, and this will be his last chance to play for Germany at the biggest competition in world football. To get a place in the team he had to leave Bayern, where he played second fiddle to Mario Mandžukić last season. At Fiorentina, a first-team spot is almost certainly assured for the German striker.

Gomez should fit into Fiorentina’s side well. Last season, they deployed a 3-5-2 formation, with Pasqual and Cuadrado as wing-backs and Ljajic and Jovetic as the two strikers, or alternatively, one as an attacking midfielder and one as a striker; this brought the Serie A side large success. They finished fourth, only losing out on the Champions League by two points, their highest finish since the 2008/09 season when they also ended the season in fourth place. Gomez will probably play as the main striker with Ljajic just behind, and this could work to disastrous effect. Pasqual and Cuadrado are both good crossers of the ball, and with the right delivery, Gomez will get goals.

Gomez and Jovetic are similar in some respects; neither have a weaker foot, both are just over six feet tall, and both are predators inside the box. But there are more differences than similarities in the way they play. Jovetic is fast and quick-footed, and dribbling is an integral part of his game. He scores many of his goals from the edge of the box and he creates a lot of his goals for himself as well as others (he created 55 in 31 Serie A games last season).

Mario GomezMeanwhile a lack of pace and dribbling ability is Gomez’s main weakness, and all of his goals last season were inside the box. He relies on his team-mates to create chances for him and he doesn’t create many for others (6 in 21 league games). The differences aren’t only in the way they play, but also where they play. Jovetic played as the main striker, as the second striker, and on the right wing last season, while Gomez is usually limited to playing only as the main striker.

Mario Gomez is much more comparable with Luca Toni, who recently moved to Verona. The 36 year-old has been on rapid decline in recent years and Gomez is perfect to come in as Toni departs, not as a replacement but as an upgrade. Gomez has everything Toni has - aerial ability, strength, and a natural poaching ability - but the German has one key attribute that Toni doesn’t: passing. It’s not a big part of Gomez’s game by any means, but he has it in his locker, completing an impressive 79% of his passes last season, 13% more than the Italian.

He may have only scored 11 goals last season, but he averaged a goal every 79.7 minutes, an astonishing record and a good way better than anyone else in the Bundesliga. This is even more impressive considering Bayern weren’t playing the type of football most suited to his game. He did have some of the best wide players in the world to cross him the ball, but he was asked to chase the ball down and play a style more suited to players such as Mario Mandžukić. Gomez had a respectable 50% shot accuracy last season and scored a goal with every 27.1 touches, another astonishing feat matched by few others in the Bundesliga. Those two stats show how rarely he runs with the ball and how few touches he uses to get a shot on target, and the goals-per-minute stat shows just how clinical the big striker is.

If Pasqual and Cuadrado carry on the form they showed last season, then Gomez could set the Serie A alight, and €20 million could prove to be a steal. If Viola bring in a top-class forward to replace Jovetic, or Guiseppe Rossi can step up to the plate, the rest of the Serie A have good reason to be very worried.

Written by Sean Currie

Bayern Munich 4-0 Barcelona: German Storm Demolishes Barca in First Leg of Semi-Final

Bayern Munich 4-0 BarcelonaThe second most exciting stage of the UEFA Champions League is finally here! 28 teams from all parts of Europe have been eliminated and the strongest 4 remain. Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and Real Madrid have gotten past tough opponents to get to this stage, and in doing so, have proven to the world that they are worthy of being crowned Champions of Europe. After an exciting draw that saw defending and soon-to-be-crowned champions drawn against each other, it was time to finally see which two teams would make it to the final.

Barcelona headed to Munich on the back of a hard-earned 1-0 win against Levante in the Spanish Liga BBVA. Bayern Munich would head into this game with, perhaps, more confidence from a 6-1 win in Hanover, along with a strong home support behind them. 68,000 spectators went to the Allianz for what would be, at least to the home side, a great match.

First Half

This game started well for the Bavarians; their first chance coming in just 2 minutes after Viktor Kassai blew the first whistle. This was deeply encouraging for them, as they wanted nothing more than to score early goals. Fortunately for the Spanish visitors, Victor Valdes was wide awake to save an Arjen Robben shot. The visitors had their first real chance 7 minutes later, when they were awarded the first corner of the game. Gerard Pique headed wide.

Bayern Munich 4-0 BarcelonaFrom then on, the home side continued to threaten near the Barcelona goal. Finally, 25 minutes into the game, Thomas Muller met a Dante pass, provided by a Robben cross, and put the ball past Valdes to score the first goal of the game. This goal was enough to wake up the Spanish side, who wasted no time trying to get things level. Unfortunately for them, the ball forward was a little over-hit, and the Germans were able to escape all the way until the half-time whistle was blown.

Second Half

The Catalans knew what they had to do in the second half, and seemed determined to do so after the half-time break. Things got harder for them, however, when the hosts added to their tally just 4 minutes in. Bayern were doing so well on set-pieces, as their second goal came, yet again, from a corner. Arjen Robben’s corner got to Mario Gomez, through Thomas Muller, and the 17-year-old German made sure to put this one into the net.

And Heynckes side just wasn’t done yet; 3 minutes after their second goal, Muller got a good chance to make it a brace, but was just unlucky. The visitors knew they had to score fast, but their hosts didn’t think so. The only thing they had over their hosts was possession at this point, and it wasn’t taking them anywhere. Attempts kept coming in for Bayern, and the Spanish giants were lagging.

Bayern Munich 4-0 BarcelonaA good chance to get an important goal at the Allianz for Barcelona came in the 70th minute, but an off-balance Marc Bartra was unfortunate. Manuel Neuer had managed to escape so far and seemed to be enjoying it, naturally! 3 minutes afterwards, Luis Gustavo came in for a happy, but tired, Mario Gomez, and the home side added a 3rd goal. Arjen Robben finally got one for himself, very well assisted by Bastian Schweinsteiger.

The visitors knew they had to score and score soon! 15 minutes from time, another good chance came for Marc Bartra, but the youngster put too much on it to the disappointment of Tito & co. The question on everyone’s mind at this point was: “Where, oh where is Lionel Messi?” The Argentinian had been overpowered for a huge part of the game, and it was evident that Bayern had studied him very well.

As if they hadn’t had enough problems throughout the night, Barcelona conceded a fourth goal, and it was surely over for the Spanish side. Thomas Muller, who shortly after this made way for Pizarro, finally got his brace; all of it was made possible by some great work by David Alaba and Franck Ribery. Even if Barcelona would score, they wouldn’t be able to score 4 with only 10 minutes remaining on the clock, at least not against this team!

Bayern Munich 4-0 BarcelonaJupp Heynckes and his Spanish counterpart both made some last-minutes substitutions and introduced Shaqiri and David Villa respectively. These two wouldn’t see too much except a very good chance for Bayern to make it 5-0 in added time. Fortunately for Barca, Arjen Robben missed the target and it remained 4-0 to the German hosts.The Spanish side will now have to work, not just double or triple, but quadruple hard in the second leg of this tie if they are to reach the final instead of Bayern; something which now seems very, very unlikely. We all know how strong they can be, however, so anything is still possible. Who knows, we might see some surprises at the Camp Nou next Wednesday evening.

Bayern Munich-Barcelona
  • 36% Possession 64%
  • 9/4 Attempts on Target/Off Target 2/2
  • 13 Total Attempts 4
  • 4 Goals 0
  • 1 Saves 3
  • 11 Free Kicks 19
  • 16/10 Fouls Committed/Suffered 10/16
  • 3/0 Yellow/Red Cards 4/0

Jupp Heynckes and Tito Vilanova lined up the following squads:

Bayern Starting XI

Neuer | Dante, Boateng, Lahm (c) | Martinez, Robben, Alaba, Schweinsteiger, Ribery, Muller | Gomez
Subs: Starke, Van Buyten, Rafinha, Shaqiri, Tymoshcuk, Pizarro, and Gustavo

Barcelona Starting XI

Valdes | Dani Alves, Pique, Bartra, Alba | Xavi (c), Iniesta, Busquets | Sanchez, Messi, Pedro
Subs: Pinto, Montoya, Abidal, Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara, Villa, and Song

Final Score: Bayern Munich 4-0 Barcelona

Muller 25′, 82′, Gomez 49′, Robben 73′

Written by Ange Marline

Wigan Athletic Goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi Scores an Embarrassing Own Goal

Scoring an own goal is embarrassing, but I can’t imagine how Wigan Athletic goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi managed to pull this one off. At Wigan’s game with Reading on Saturday, Al-Habsi generously gave the Royals a second goal to make it 2-2 just before the 80 minute mark.

Down 2-1, Hal Robson-Kanu of Reading took a chance on goal, but his shot took a deflection off of a Wigan defender. It flew high up into the air, giving Al-Habsi much time to prepare for an easy catch.

As the ball slowly descended down to the ground, the Omani international’s hand-eye coordination seemed to falter for a moment. As his hands closed around the ball, for just one moment, everything seemed to end as it should have. Unfortunately for him, the ball fell right out of his grasp, and despite his desperate attempts to stop it, it went right over the line.

As Al-Habsi sank to grief, a Reading striker went into the goal and took a celebratory shot into the net. Embarrassed over what had just happened, the goalkeeper stayed on his knees for a few seconds, afraid to show his face to the rest of the world.

And the worst part, it all happened in the Premier League, which is considered the world’s most popular and competitive league. Ali Al-Habsi’s own goal could very likely be one of the world’s worst own goals in history.  In front of millions of people who tuned into the game on their televisions, the goalkeeper made a mess of a fairly routine catch, and out of all places, it bounced right into the goal.

But the goalkeeper’s screw-up did not prevent Wigan from winning the game, though. Luckily for him, striker Jordi Gomez came to save the day well into stoppage time. Previous to Gomez’s winning goal, he had already netted two for the team, his first at 57 minutes to equalize the score at 1-1 and his second just 11 minutes later to give Wigan the lead.

Gomez managed to score a winner from 10 yards away, completing his hat trick and saving both the team and the goalkeeper in the process. Had not Gomez completed his late strike, Al-Habsi would likely be the laughing stock of the Premier League.

Despite the own goal, Wigan received 3 points from the match, placing them up in 15th place with only 14 points. Considering their previous Premier League results, their currently 4-2-7 record is nothing out of the ordinary. Reading is down in 19th place with 9 points, only topping QPR on the table. They have only recorded 1 win so far this season, the other matches being 6 draws and 5 losses.

The top of the Premier League sees Manchester United in 1st with 30 points and Manchester City in a close 2nd with 29. West Bromwich Albion is currently in 3rd with 26 points, while Chelsea is trailing in 4th with only 25.

Written by FutbolPulse

Mario Gomez Returns to Bayern Munich Three Months After Ankle Injury

Germany international striker Mario Gomez has finally returned to Bayern Munich after over 3 months of recovering from ankle injuries. Gomez picked up the injury during the semi-final of the Liga-total! Cup against Werder Bremen in Hamburg. The 27 year old underwent surgeries to remove loose bodies in his right ankle in August, just before the start of the 2012-2013 Bundesliga season.

Gomez returned to the pitch on November 13th in a friendly match against minor league club FC Falke Markt Schwaben. 101 days after his last game with Bayern, he scored 4 goals for his squad, and also, destroyed a ball.

Gomez opened the scoring at 7 minutes, after which Mitch Weiser doubled their lead. Gomez, who was clearly eager to perform well for the team after his long break, made it 3-0 when he managed to kick a penalty into the net so hard that the ball deflated. By the end of the match, Gomez netted 2 more goals, with another coming from Peruvian striker Claudio Pizarro.

Proud of his 4-goal “debut,” Gomez said to, ”It’s not like I’ve been away for six years. Let’s not exaggerate, they weren’t the toughest of opponents.”

But Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes refused to let Gomez participate in their Bundesliga match with FC Nürnberg on Saturday, which ended in a shocking 1-1 draw. Heynckes later stated, “He has been out for three months, and now made his first steps. Let’s see how he copes with the match.”

But Heynckes did select Gomez in his squad for the Champions League Group F match against La Liga side Valencia CF. In Spain, Gomez played as a substitute at his first competitive game since August. Despite Valencia’s early red card, the Spanish took the lead at 77 minutes after a strike from Sofiane Feghouli. But Gomez’s substitution for Franck Ribéry just 2 minutes later proved vital to their comeback and taking the top spot in Group F. On the 82nd minute, Gomez set up and assisted a perfect goal that was sent flying into the net by fellow teammate Thomas Müller, ending the match with the score of 1-1.

But Bayern Munich has not suffered without their star striker these last few months. Mario Mandžukić and Claudio Pizarro, who were signed into Bayern this past summer, have been sending goals in game after game, making the team’s attacking end the least of their concerns. Mandžukić leads the Bundesliga scoring chart with a total of 8 goals, while Claudio Pizarro has proven to be a great alternative to the Croatian striker after completing a hat trick in their Champions League match against LOSC Lille.

So what more could they want? Now that Gomez is back, Bayern Munich will be virtually unstoppable in the Bundesliga and they will have a great chance in the Champions League. With their successes, Gomez had been nearly forgotten, but he will just be the icing on the cake (and a lot of it) now that he is back.

The German striker was Bayern’s most popular forward until his ankle injury, and he intends to keep it that way now that he has returned. But Gomez, who was last year’s top scorer, must first oust Mandžukić and show that he is the better striker despite the Croatian’s successes, as a fight for the top spot is clearly looming in the team’s future.

On Wednesday, Gomez confidently told reporters, “There’s always this talk that I’m not able to compete, but I’ve been competing for eight years with very good strikers and have managed to come out on top.” And with his return, one thing is certain: Jupp Heynckes will have big selection headaches in all of Bayern’s upcoming matches.

But, Heynckes has plenty of time to think as his side prepares for their last 7 matches of the calendar year. This gives him plenty of opportunities to rotate and adjust the squad and ease Gomez back into the team, as the German international prepares for a massive comeback for Bayern Munich.

Written by FutbolPulse