Il Tifosi

Sep 07

Serie A Analysis: Juventus Owned Simone Zaza


With Mario Balotelli left out of his first Italy squad, there was much interest in seeing which forwards Antonio Conte would opt to start for his debut on the Azzurri bench. Ciro Immobile – the top scorer in Serie A last term – was almost certain to feature, but the name alongside him came as something as a surprise. Rather than another well-known figure, the former Juve boss chose Simone Zaza, arguably not even the best attacking player for his club side.

Domenico Berardi, thanks to a maiden top flight campaign which yielded sixteen goals and six assists, perhaps steals that honour, and his ability was discussed in greater detail here. Yet, despite being somewhat overshadowed by the incredible impact made by his 20-year-old team-mate, Zaza too had a wonderful 2013-14. Unlike Berardi, his rise was not as meteoric or sudden and he has worked hard to achieve the success he is currently enjoying, having taken a well-trodden path that many Italian players have been forced to follow.

Born in the tiny town of Policoro in the deep south of the peninsula, he first played with local sides Stella Azzurra and Valdera, before being signed by Atalanta in 2006. Aged just fifteen, the move was a smart one for Zaza, the Bergamo club long having a reputation as one of the best academy set ups in the country. Slowly progressing through the various age groups, his first breakthrough came in late 2009 when Gigi Delneri handed him his first team debut, and the youngster would make three appearances for the Orobici before the end of the campaign.

The coach would move on that summer and his replacement – none other than Conte himself – failed to hand the striker any further appearances. That, allied with the major interest showed in him by another man with Juventus connections, would spell the end of Zaza’s time in Bergamo, and the following summer he would be on the move once again. Fabio Paratici, the right-hand man of Beppe Marotta, was fulfilling the same role with Sampdoria at the time, and was enamored with what he had seen from the forward, bringing him to the Genoa-based club for no fee.


The two men - along with Delneri - moved to Turin before Zaza arrived at the Blucerchiati, but he began to represent their Primavera and once again made a handful Serie A appearances. An ill-suited loan to Juve Stabia hindered his progress, just as similar moves have stalled the careers of countless other promising Italians, but a subsequent move to Viareggio soon saw him back on track. Netting eleven goals in 18 appearances in the third tier was followed by a spell with Serie B side Ascoli, where he scored 18 time in 35 matches.

Paris Saint-Germain – buoyed by the success of Marco Verratti – showed an interest in him that summer, and were rumoured to have tabled a €7 million bid for his services. That never came to fruition however, and Paratici would intervene once more, again his presence having a positive impact on the player’s fledgling career. A co-ownership deal saw Juventus invest €2.5 million in Zaza, who would join a newly-promoted and largely unfancied Sassuolo side, who had won the Serie B title and earned their first ever trip to the top flight.

Under the tutelage of Eusebio Di Francesco, the club’s vibrant attacking players would thrive, winning over observers and neutral supporters with a thrilling style which saw them involved in some of last year’s most entertaining matches. Making 24 starts, Zaza would play a full part in helping secure their survival, netting nine goals and adding a single assist in a season which saw him finally announce his arrival to a wider audience.


He works hard defensively, his averages of 0.8 tackles and 0.3 interceptions per game failing to display the effort he puts forth in closing down his opponents. His dribbling improved throughout the campaign, so despite the above graphic – courtesy of – showing he completed just 30% of his attempts, watching him closely his quality here is much more apparent.

Part of that comes from learning to better judge when and where to try beat a defender, and that he completed his only attempted take-on this season is indicative of that insight. Zaza has come to remind many of a young Christian Vieri, a player remarkably un-Italian in style and one who – when at his very best – played with a determination unsurpassed by his peers. Like the former Inter man, he is unafraid of physical battles, but has a delicate touch which stands in stark contrast to his bustling manner on the pitch.

Stats site highlights his aerial ability, showing he won an average of 2.3 duels per appearance, trailing only much taller strikers in that department. His style of play often belies the fact he stands a mere 1.87m (6’ 1½) tall and he uses his muscular frame well in this regard, often forcing his way into an advantageous position.


Yet Zaza still has much room for improvement. Like Berardi, it must be noted he is overly reliant on his left foot, netting all but one of his goals with it – the other coming via a header – and he also needs to work on the accuracy of his shooting. That is clearly a by-product of his poor right foot, but the above graphic shows he found the target with just 37% of his 87 attempts last term whilst he also completed just 70.7% of his passes.

It is worth noting however, that he ended 2013-14 strongly, recording three goals and an assist in his last six appearances, and that he has begun the new campaign in that same rich vein of form. After netting to secure Sassuolo’s 1-1 draw with Cagliari on the opening weekend, he received his first call-up to the full Italy squad and looked immediately at home, despite still only being 23 years old. It was he who earned the penalty for Italy’s second goal, drawing the foul which saw Bruno Martins Indi sent off and effectively seal a 2-0 win over the Netherlands.

That impact saw him named man of the match by La Gazzetta dello Sport, the pink paper won over by his “incessant activity on the attacking front and his ability to create chances.” Indeed, the player himself acknowledged he wasted a golden opportunity to net a dream debut as speaking to RAI shortly after the match was over, he told the Italian state broadcaster;

“I am very happy and satisfied with my performance. I earned a penalty, but I also missed a sitter! Unfortunately my limit is that I can score some difficult goals and sometimes miss the easier ones, but I am trying to improve that too.”

Clearly his mind remains focused elsewhere, calling his maiden cap “just the starting point for me,” and he evidently has his sights set on much greater glory. Juventus are fully aware of ambition and his quality, ensuring the club retain a purchase option on the player for the following two summers.

Set at €15 million next year or €18 million twelve months later, it seems certain that Simone Zaza will pull on those famous black and white stripes at some point in the not-too-distant future. Fabio Paratici wouldn’t have it any other way.

Oct 31

“Sebastian Giovinco is finally in good shape, above all psychologically, so we need the fans to start applauding & supporting him. He is a product of our youth academy & should be considered a source of pride for our colours.” — Antonio Conte, October 2013

Oct 23

Adam Digby & Kay Murray preview Real Madrid-Juventus

Oct 22

“We have to prove we’re up to the standard of this great football stage, not with words but on the pitch.” — Antonio Conte on playing at the Bernabeu

Oct 18

Foreign Defenders Taking Over Serie A

It appears the great well of Italian talent has run dry. Much like our sports channels are filled with games from Argentina, France or beyond, Serie A defences have been globalised. Beyond Juventus, who arguably have the four best central defenders available to the Azzurri, Cesare Prandelli is somewhat short of options as a quick look through the statistics highlights.


Oct 16

Juventus Primavera Latest: Daniele Rugani In Focus

Daniele Rugani, signed permanently by Juventus this summer, is a product of the Empoli Youth Sector and has made a superb start to the 2013-14 campaign. Born in 1994, he joined the Tuscan club aged just nine and has been nurtured perfectly ever since. He should be of little surprise to anyone familiar with the Tuscan club’s Youth Sector, widely regarded as one of the best in Europe.


Sep 12

Alessandro Del Piero’s Twenty Year Legacy Is Our History

Twenty years ago a fifteen year old boy, taken to Turin’s Stadio Delle Alpi as a birthday gift saw a young striker score on his home debut in a game against Reggiana. All the boy could talk about on his way home was the fact he’d seen Roberto Baggio score in the flesh and that Juventus had won 4-0. His father turned to him & said “That last goal was nice, need to keep an eye on that kid.”

Much has changed since that day. Roberto Baggio moved on long ago, the two youngsters are now well into their thirties, both lost their fathers soon into the new millennium. Even the stadium that united the three men in late 1993 no longer stands.

But some things remain constant; the fathers advice went well heeded, the son watched the young goal scorer mature. Eight Scudetti, a Champions League win, that crippling injury in Udinese, a World Cup and the agony of relegation have all followed. A special bond was born that September afternoon has enjoyed and endured many highs, with the occasional low. The young striker became a talismanic captain and a household name across the world.

Since that debut strike Alessandro Del Piero evolved into an icon of Juventus, playing more times and scoring more goals for the club than any other player in history. He has broken every record and then continued to seemingly raise the bar higher and higher every time he set foot on the field in those famous black and white stripes.

Fast forward to an October evening in 2010 and Milan’s San Siro brought the latest instalment in the entwined story. With an injury ravaged Juve already leading 1-0 against all the odds, Momo Sissoko stumbled into the opposition penalty area, the ball almost an after thought. A Rossoneri defender struggled to deal with the midfielders unorthodox style, Christian Abbiati in the Milan goal unsure whether to come for the ball or stand his ground.

Enter Del Piero. Calm, cool and collected as he always was. He rifled a shot past the stranded goalkeeper, the net bulging to seal another milestone. Once given the nickname ‘Pinturiccio’ by the late Gianni Agnelli, the apprentice became an undoubted master of his craft. It was Serie A goal number 179 for Del Piero, taking him past Giampiero Boniperti’s top flight record. Another day, another record, the latest chapter in what became an almost relentless march to greatness.

To witness such a career was an honour. To see that quiet unassuming substitute mature into a legend shaped my love for the game and this club. To watch records tumble one after the other showed we truly were witnessing greatness. Through it all he showed dignity and class, saying he is just a fan, “a part of the great Juventus flag.”

Even now, as his story continues in Australia, to count him as one of us is the real privilege for Juventus fans. For me, seeing Alesandro Del Piero’s legacy writ large in Juventus history will always take me back to that late summer afternoon.

Grazie Capitano for twenty years of wonderful memories.

Sep 03


Sep 02

Serie A Week Two Round Up: Goals, Goals, Goals!

Last week, as Serie A returned, Luca Toni and his newly promoted Hellas Verona grabbed the headlines after the big old striker inspired an unlikely win over Milan. His trademark celebration failed to make an appearance this past weekend however, as the Gialloblu were one of only two sides not to get on the scoresheet in Week Two.

The rest of the league had no such problem, scoring from all angles as the round featured no fewer than 43 goals. Yes, forty three times the net bulged, yet still commentators will discuss ‘cat and nacho’s’ next time a team from the peninsula dares to defend properly in European competition.

Indeed, looking back at this weekend’s action, a number of sides could do with a few defensive reinforcements before the transfer window slams shut later today. The flood of goals began in Saturday’s early kick off as Napoli took on Chievo. The Partenopei have often struggled against the ‘Flying Donkeys’, especially once the Stadio Bentagodi pitch begins to resemble a potato patch. For the moment however, its grass is real rather than painted on, and Rafael Benitez’ new look side took full advantage.

Two goals from Marek Hamšík, another from José Callejón and Gonzalo Higuaín’s first official goal for the club gave them the three points, despite Pepe Reina making a real mess and gifting the outmatched opponents a lifeline. The performance prompted the coach to say Hamsik “lacked Steven Gerrard’s strength, but is a more tactically intelligent player.” Judging by the response from posting that comment on twitter, insulting a man’s tactical intelligence must be Scouse for something concerning his mother.

The goals continued to rain in as the action shifted to Juventus Stadium, which hosted Lazio and a Super Cup rematch. “The difference between the teams is not four goals,” promised coach Vladimir Petkovic two weeks ago, but he will be disappointed that his players only reduced the deficit to three.

The Bianconeri backed up their 4-0 demolition with an equally commanding 4-1 rout this time, although their cause was significantly aided by a red card for Hernanes. For his part, Antonio Conte berated his own midfielders for relaxing too much, no doubt ensuring that the two-time title winners stay hungry over the international break.

Sunday afternoon saw Milan comfortably despatch Cagliari, despite the Rossoneri still awaiting the return of Kaka to shore up their ailing defence, or reduce the playing time of Stefan El Shaarawy. Whichever.

Atalanta posted a smart 2-0 win over Torino - the other side not to score - just as Hellas were capitulating in Rome. I’m not sure what their game plan was, but it’s safe to assume coach Andrea Mandorlini didn’t instruct fullback Fabrizio Cacciatore to turn crosses from Francesco Totti into the back of his own net.

Yet, just a few minutes later, the 53 year old was himself applauding Roma’s second goal, a sublime chipped effort from Miralem Pjanic. Their evening took a sour note later however, with Roma fans attacking the Hellas team bus so badly the players were forced to spend the night in the capital.

A statement from club president Maurizio Setti noted that “miraculously, no one was hurt,” but the reputation of Italian football is once again left battered and bruised at the hands of a few mindless idiots.

Cinque Chiavi

1. Manolo Gabbiadini celebrated his call up to the Italy squad with Sampdoria’s equaliser against Bologna. With Mario Balotelli and Pablo Osvaldo suspended on Friday, the Azzurri will hope he can snatch them a goal.

2. Fiorentina continue to impress, putting five past Genoa as Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez flourished, prompting coach Vincenzo Montella to say the pair were “born to play together.”

3. Walter Mazzarri and Inter won again, recording an impressive victory away to Catania. Still early days but things look promising for the Nerazzurri.

4. The same cannot be said for Sassuolo, losing badly again this week, this time a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of fellow new boys Livorno. They should prepare now for their 2014-15 Serie B campaign.

5. There was one bright note for Lazio as Miroslav Klose finally netted against Juventus. Straw. Clutched.

Week Two Results; Chievo 2-4 Napoli, Juventus 4-1 Lazio, Roma 3-0 Hellas, Milan 3-1 Cagliari, Atalanta 2-0 Torino, Bologna 2-2 Sampdoria, Catania 0-3 Inter, Genoa 2-5 Fiorentina, Sassuolo 1-4 Livorno, Udinese 3-1 Parma

Aug 26

Serie A Week One Round Up: It’s Like You Never Left…

Some columns this morning will tell you how great it is that Serie A is ‘back,’ and eulogise over how long it seems since the Calcio stopped and the summer began. However, any true fan of Italian football will tell you that the action is endless, that even when the games are scheduled they’re often just a side note in the circus which continues in boardrooms and smokey corridors 365 days a year.

This summer has been relatively quiet by the peninsula’s usual standard, yet we’ve still had another/more/the same match fixing investigation taking place. This time Lazio are at the centre with their captain Stefano Mauri now appealing a ban for his role in a wide reaching betting operation.

Transfer sagas have raged as, following the departures of Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Javier Pastore, more recognisable faces have departed, although not all of them to Paris Saint-Germain. Well, Edinson Cavani did (wouldn’t it have been easier for their owners to buy an Italian club?) but Stevan Jovetic headed to Manchester and Pablo Osvaldo took talents (and his life size Mick Jagger statue!) to Southampton.

Yet there were still plenty of reasons to look forward to the 2013-14 season. Big names flocked to Serie A, with Turin’s Old Lady proving two consecutive league titles will quickly make men forgive and forget. Antonio Conte’s reigning champions have another restoration project on their hands in Spanish international Fernando Llorente, but it seems Carlos Tevez is ready to go from the first whistle.

Having helped Juventus demolish Lazio in the Italian Super Cup last weekend, the Argentinean was at it again on Saturday night. His strike proved to be the only goal of the game away to Sampdoria as the Bianconeri overcame a side who beat them twice last season.

However, earlier on Saturday it was some older names who stole all the headlines. Hellas Verona returned to Serie A for the first time in a decade and played host to Milan. The Rossoneri have been incredibly quiet on the transfer front and the build up to the game mostly centred on the level of abuse Mario Balotelli would suffer at the hands of the home side’s notoriously racist Ultra.

But the Brigate Gialloblu turned in a performance they can be hugely proud of, giving Milan and their star striker a warm welcome onto the pitch. Massimiliano Allegri’s men seemed determined to be equally gracious, gifting 36 year old Luca Toni a virtually free header in the box. That goal gave the newly promoted side a famous 2-1 win and prompted endless repeats of this

Sunday’s games would return to promoting the new over the tried and trusted. Roma have once again spent the time between May and August acting like a teenage girl after a bad breakup. Just as they did with Luis Enrique, anything which might vaguely remind them of Zdenek Zeman has been burned, buried or sold, and Rudi Garcia is now the next victim, sorry, I mean new coach.

He got off to a good start, not only recording a 2-0 win away to Livorno but coaxing a superb performance from Daniele De Rossi. The Frenchman did cause a stir however, picking up the phone when his radio link to the stands failed. He will likely face a fine from the league authorities, we must just hope he hasn’t got a Swiss SIM card…

Napoli too are filled with new faces, a real (Real?) Spanish flavour to Rafael Benitez’ side. With Pepe Reina, Jose Maria Callejon and Raul Albiol joining Gonzalo Higuain, the Southern side have reinforced well and a comfortable 3-0 win over Bologna bodes well for the campaign ahead.

A good start is vital in the capital and neighbours Lazio rebounded well from that Super Cup loss to defeat Udinese 2-1. Hernanes and Antonio Candreva’s goals proved too much for the Friuli side who are having their traditional August struggle.

Fiorentina have spent as well as anyone, and yes, that includes free-spending Tottenham, who perhaps should’ve checked their Spanish lottery numbers before running out and blowing the jackpot. Vincenzo Montella’s squad now boasts not only a now healthy Giuseppe Rossi and Josip Ilicic, but the Stadio Artemio Franchi has also had a Mario Gomez button installed.

The Viola caused some serious panic in Milan last season, when it looked as though they might steal the final Champions League berth. Tonight (Monday) they host Catania, and if the new faces gel there may be one or two bigger clubs looking slightly worried.

Oh Serie A is back, but in truth it never really went away!

Cinque Chiavi

1. Udinese always struggle in the early part of the season but may have overdone things this term. With the owners focused more on Watford, Francesco Guidolin may not have the loaves and fishes his usual miracle requires!

2. It looks like a long slog is in store for Sassuolo. Losing 2-0 to Torino in the club’s first ever top flight match does not bode well for their survival hopes.

3. Hold judgement on Inter. Yes they recorded a win over Genoa but it was as ugly as they come. Neither side managed a single shot in the first half, Yuto Nagatomo’s goal arrived via a huge deflection and the Grifone may well be among the favourites for relegation.

4. The same goes for cross town rivals Milan for whom nothing counts until the transfer window closes. Adriano Galliani is the undisputed king of last minute shopping and he could yet pull off another masterstroke to transform their squad.

5. “I’m fed up of this situation… I have neither the time nor the desire to wait for him!” said Vincenzo Montella when asked about Adem Ljajic. With his contract expiring and Fiorentina backing the coach, expect the Serbian to be finding a new home very soon.

Week One Results; Hella 2-1 Milan, Sampdoria 0-1 Juventus, Inter 2-0 Genoa, Torino 2-0 Sassuolo, Cagliari 2-1 Atalanta, Lazio 2-1 Udinese, Livorno 0-2 Roma, Napoli 3-0 Bologna, Parma 0-0 Chievo, Fiorentina P-P Catania (Monday)

Aug 01

Master of all he surveys

Master of all he surveys

Jul 23

"After my first day of training I realised that I’ll certainly have to run much more than in England!" - Carlos Tevez

"After my first day of training I realised that I’ll certainly have to run much more than in England!" - Carlos Tevez

Jul 15

“I have already made friends with everyone in the locker room. For me it was very important to learn Italian before getting here. I’m glad I made the effort to learn, I already feel like a part of the group” — New signing Fernando Llorente

Jun 18


Jun 13