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Paulo Dybala nears Palermo exit as bidding war begins

Paulo Dybala has enjoyed a prolific season in Serie A and has attracted both Arsenal and Juventus.

Paulo Dybala has enjoyed a prolific season in Serie A and has attracted both Arsenal and Juventus.

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Paulo Dybala is set to be the subject of an intense bidding war between Arsenal and Juventus with Palermo owner Maurizio Zamparini claiming a sale will take place in April with Dybala’s representatives having been given permission to travel to both London and Paris to seek offers for the 21-year-old forward.

We will sell Dybala by the end of April, Pierpaolo Triulzi has the green light from me and is going to Paris and London to listen to offers, then we’ll evaluate them together.

Dybala has enjoyed a prolific season in Serie A netting thirteen goals in twenty nine appearances attracting the interest of Arsene Wenger who may eventually be put off by Palermo’s £30million asking price.

Palermo have found the crux of their business model in identifying talented young players from South America and presenting them with a pressure free environment to begin their career in Europe before selling them to a major force for a sizable profit. The names Javier Pastore and Edinson Cavani spring to mind as two of the more recent examples of Zamparini’s business model.

It is difficult to see just where Dybala would fit in at Arsenal given the wealth of attacking talent already at the club.

There is a real fear that Theo Walcott may leave the club sooner rather than later with the club’s hierarchy believed to be particularly unenthused at the prospect of dealing with the 26-year-old’s representatives in contract talks once more which would perhaps present an opening for Dybala.

The futures of Joel Campbell and Tomas Rosicky are also in doubt as we approach the summer transfer window with the Costa Rican World Cup star having been unable to impress at the Emirates before being loaned to Villarreal as part of the Gabriel Paulista transfer.

The move itself would represent a significant shift away from Arsenal’s prudent transfer policy over the past decade. Of course the London club have shown their ability to part with huge fees to attract the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez over the past two summers yet spending such a significant figure on a player with just two seasons of top-flight experience is a certain risk which doesn’t entirely fit with Arsene Wenger’s ethos.

The Frenchman has been known to take a chance of players over the course of his spell with Arsenal but never at such a sizable fee with only Francis Jeffers and Jose Antonio Reyes being expensive disappointments at the club. Wenger has often had much more success when taking players for very low fees and moulding them into first-team stars for example Alex Song and Kolo Toure.

It is believed that Juventus remains the player’s first choice with Dybala himself having publically spoken of his admiration for the Italian Serie A and its teams,

As I child I followed all championships, but always chose Italian teams on the PlayStation. I love all the championships for their diversity, but Italy remains the best choice for players from Argentina, especially because of the importance given to tactics.

AS Roma hold an interest in the player too but following last season’s expensive pursuit of Juan Iturbe it would be a surprise if the club were able to commit financially to Dybala and Palermo.

Juventus themselves may well be facing a summer of change with the club expected to reshuffle their forward line. The long pursuit of Fernando Llorente from Athletic Club has ended up being a disappointment with the Spaniard having not replicated the quality shown with the Basque club in Turin.

Carlos Tevez may also leave Juventus this summer with the former Manchester United and City striker believed to desire a return home to Argentina with former club Boca Juniors. Tevez’s contract in Turin runs until June 2016 however the Italian giants may well allow the 31-year-old to leave a year early especially given the quality he has provided in European competition with Juventus set to reach their first Champions League semi-final for over a decade.

If Juventus were to part with the £30million required to sign Dybala it could well be the deal which kick-starts the transfer market in earnest with the futures of Domenico Berardi and Simone Zaza then becoming an issue.

Berardi is currently on loan at Sassuolo from Juventus and with the 20-year-old forward having twenty six Serie A goals in his two seasons with Sassuolo it is expected the Italian champions will bring him back to the club. If Juventus were to sign Dybala then there would have to be numerous departures in the forward line to avoid a bloated squad.

Zaza on the other hand is a player who was sold to Sassuolo outright by Juventus on the condition that Juve could buy him back for £11million this summer. Zaza has enjoyed a breakthrough season with Sassuolo scoring eight league goals along with being handed his first Azzurri cap by Antonio Conte. If Dybala was signed it would make such a deal wholly unlikely and could bring Tottenham Hotspur back into play with the London club holding a strong interest in 23-year-old Zaza.

Paris Saint-Germain are a club on the periphery of the Dybala transfer saga with it seeming more likely that the player’s representatives are attempting to drum up interest from the French giants. PSG may wish to rejuvenate their forward line this summer with Zlatan Ibrahimovic approaching the end of his career and Edinson Cavani enduring a second straight difficult season in France.

However given the Financial Fair Play restrictions placed upon the club last year, they have to be very careful in monitoring their spending and with home-grown players regulations always a worry it could be the case that Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette would be their preferred option.

Palermo would welcome the cash injection from the sale of Dybala with it still as yet unclear as to whom may replace the skilful Argentine. Former Real Madrid youth prospect Alberto Bueno, now plying his trade with Rayo Vallecano, has been muted as one possible target for the Italian club who sit eleventh in Serie A, just three and four points behind Internazionale and AC Milan respectively, in their first season back in the top-flight.

Palermo may also have to contend with another departure this summer with Dybala’s partner in crime Franco Vazquez also muted to be heading towards the exit door at Renzo Barbera.

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Bayern Munich reach near perfection in Eternal City

Bayern Munich's players celebrate in front of the travelling support at full-time. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Bayern Munich’s players celebrate in front of the travelling support at full-time. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Every so often you see something in football that makes your jaw drop, yet next to no words follow. FC Barcelona’s comprehensive domination of Manchester United in the 2011 European Cup final was one such occasion, as was Germany’s 7-1 victory over hosts Brazil in the semi-final of this summer’s World Cup. Last night Bayern Munich forced another such moment with their 7-1 victory over AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, a scoreline which nobody could have predicted.

It was by no means a surprise that Bayern Munich won, that isn’t the issue, it was clear before kick-off that Pep Guardiola’s side has a wealth of talent however this wasn’t a mismatch on paper. Roma, despite finishing second in Serie A last season, are perhaps, due to the exit of Antonio Conte at Juventus, the best team in Italy. Under Rudi Garcia, Roma have returned to Europe’s top table and can be considered, quite fairly, an elite team.

Bayern Munich, however were on another level in the Italian capital last night. It was quite captivating just how close the Bavarian giants came to reaching football perfection, a description solely reserved for Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team in more recent times.

Throughout last season Bayern Munich were impressive, winning the Bundesliga title, German Cup and reaching the last four of the European Cup. It is fair to say that in spite of all that success there was always a feeling that something just hadn’t quite clicked into place as yet, this is by no means a criticism of Bayern as adapting to a new coach, especially one as unique and demanding as Pep Guardiola, is always likely to take time.

Last night however felt to me like the line in the sand performance. The moment where Bayern have entered that sphere that most football teams are never able to, the sphere that Guardiola’s Barcelona reached between 2009 and 2011. Everything seemed to click into place.

Interestingly enough it was Roma who started the match the better with the hosts galvanised by Manchester City’s rather inexplicable failure to hold onto a 2-0 lead away in Moscow. A victory from Roma would have sent the Italians to the top of the group with qualification a serious possibility. Gervinho was busy running through the gap of Boateng and Benatia in Bayern’s back four and Rudi Garcia’s side were comfortable in possession inside their own half.

Of course this was just a five to six minute period but it looked as if we were in for a classic cagey, yet enthralling, European tie.

Then with what seemed like a flick of a switch Bayern turned things up a gear. Arjen Robben received the ball inside Roma’s penalty area and punished Ashley Cole for showing him inside to a shooting lane in the most emphatic way possible. Robben arrowed the ball past Morgan De Sanctis and into the far corner. This is the moment Pep changed the game.

The first shot of celebration on camera was between Guardiola and Neuer however it was more a case of Guardiola giving Neuer instructions. One of the keys to Guardiola’s success as a coach has been a quick pressing game and a high defensive line. Bayern’s defensive line had actually been uncharacteristically deep until the goal, to the visible frustration of Guardiola on the touchline, and it appeared that Neuer had been instructed to tell the defence to push up and thus start controlling the game as well as pushing further forward himself.

From this moment we saw a totally different shape from the visitors. Bayern’s defensive line pushed right up to the half-way line and penned Roma into their half.

Two of Roma’s most influential players, Francesco Totti and Miralem Pjanic were taken completely out of the game. This was the beauty of Bayern’s tactical switch. Roma now had no single outlet to retain possession or possibility to clear the ball and regain their own shape.

The only thing Bayern had to worry about was Gervinho nipping into the space between the two centre-halves and beating the offside trap however this is not a sustainable model of attack given the 50/50 nature of being called offside. Again another means of Bayern holding control.

Boateng and Benatia sat on the halfway line whilst Juan Bernat and Xabi Alonso pressed with speed and penned Totti and Pjanic into a small circle just inside the left side of Roma’s half, thus taking them out of the game completely. With Roma’s midfield bypassed, Bayern could solely focus on attacking and putting pressure on the two full-backs, Torosidis and Cole, who were both enduring nightmare performances.

Singling out one player can fully illustrate Bayern’s development as a team under Guardiola. Xabi Alonso’s pressing work in the midfield was surprisingly quick for a player not known for his speed. In his position last season was Toni Kroos, a player whom Pep Guardiola was hugely reliant on during that period. However one of Kroos’ weaknesses is his physical attributes, he isn’t an energetic midfielder and doesn’t have the tools to press quickly and then regain a shape.

His outstanding talents all come with the ball at his feet, which in a Guardiola team, may be too one dimensional to excel. With Alonso’s willingness to press came a tactic which took Roma’s midfield out of the game and allowed Bayern to show their footballing dominance in the form of seven goals.

An illustration of Bayern's effective high defensive line. Totti and Pjanic are totally cocooned inside the small red circle, outnumbered by the trio of Bernat, Boateng and Benatia. Alonso and Bernat's pressing work ensure that the pair have no time on the ball as well as forcing Roma deeper and deeper towards their penalty area.

An illustration of Bayern’s effective high defensive line. Totti and Pjanic are totally cocooned inside the small red circle, outnumbered by the trio of Bernat, Boateng and Benatia. Alonso and Bernat’s pressing work ensure that the pair have no time on the ball as well as forcing Roma deeper and deeper towards their penalty area.

What followed was a football team hitting their absolute peak and an opposition team having absolutely no answer. The shots rained in on De Sanctis’ goal and despite a drop in intensity in the middle period of the second-half, the final score could have read a lot worse than 7-1 from a Roman perspective.

Guardiola was keen to urge caution following last night’s result, claiming Bayern “must do better” before labelling the scoreline “an exception” however you would expect nothing less from a coach always in pursuit of total perfection. Last night we saw a football team with natural talent that we have been aware of for the past 2-3 years, however we saw the first real moment of total acclimatisation to Guardiola’s system and one which cannot be reversed and for the rest of Europe, that is indeed a worrying prospect.

Roma brought back down to earth

Serie A league leaders AS Roma were brought back down to earth last night when their perfect start to the season of ten wins in a row was put to an end by a plucky Torino side who managed to hold the Giallorossi to a 1-1 draw after an impressive performance from their wide midfielder Alessio Cerci. Cerci, a boyhood Roma fan and a former member of the AS Roma Primavera was effective all night long particularly down the right hand side of midfield mainly due to the woeful defensive display from Federico Balzaretti.

Totti and Gervinho were two key men missing for Roma's visit to Torino.

Totti and Gervinho were two key men missing for Roma’s visit to Torino.

After their midweek victory of Chievo Verona took them passed the nine straight wins at the beginning of a Serie A season record formerly set by Fabio Capello’s Juventus team in 2005-2006, Roma were determined to keep their impressive run of form going as the gap between themselves and Napoli was still just four points which is a real testament to the widespread quality in the upper echelons of the Italian top flight this season. Roma headed to Torino’s Stadio Olimpico without a number of key figures who were missing through injury, the most notable of those absentees were the attacking duo of Francesco Totti and Gervinho which forced Rudi Garcia to place Marco Borriello in the starting line-up. In a very attacking 4-3-3 system Borriello looked a bit like a lost sheep with the Italian forward being unable to stay on the same wavelength as his partners Miralem Pjanic and Alessandro Florenzi.

This was one of the greatest contributing factors to Roma’s demise yesterday evening as Garcia’s men couldn’t capitalise on their opening goal through Kevin Strootman, Borriello’s limited movement made it very easy for the Torino defensive pairing of Kamil Glik and Matteo Darmian to make him out of the game and limit his link-up with Pjanic and Florenzi.

It was a difficult first half for Roma with the hosts stifling their limited creativity with a very industrious approach to the match, with ten men behind the ball and looking to hit the visitors on the counter attack through Cerci and El Kaddouri respectively. Roma had a lot of possession in the midfield as they were afforded time to think on the ball courtesy of Torino’s game plan and the Giallorossi’s patience did eventually pay off when they got their aforementioned opening goal just before the half hour. An excellent defence splitting pass from Balzaretti set the inform Pjanic free inside the penalty area and he duly cut it back into the path of Strootman who powered past Padelli in the Torino goal.

Roma should have capitalised on this and looked for a second goal but Garcia’s charges simply didn’t have the raw creativity in the forward areas to break down the Torino backline with any great consistency. Many Roma supporters bemoaned the selection of Michael Bradley in the centre of midfield alongside Strootman and club icon Daniele De Rossi citing the American’s lack of mobility and creativity as reasons for Roma’s faltering display yesterday evening.

From the moment Roma took the lead it was as if Torino had been given a second wind so to speak, the hosts began venturing forward out of their own half and were receiving a lot more of the ball than in the previous half hour. The catalyst for this was the energetic Cerci who, after switching from the left hand side of midfield to the right midway through the first period, ran Roma ragged. The former Fiorentina man put real pressure on Balzaretti who in truth isn’t the most able player defensively at the best of times and the mistakes came. Cerci dribbled past numerous Roma defenders on several occasions near the climax of the first half and won a number of free kicks which he then went close with despite not forcing a save from the experienced Morgan De Sanctis.

If Roma’s first half performance was considered a shadow of their brilliant best then their second half display defies description.  The Giallorossi couldn’t get into the game at all, it was as if the break had killed any momentum they had. Borriello became even more isolated than in the first half and through Cerci, Torino began to take the game to Roma. A smart move down the left hand side just short of the hour mark took advantage of Maicon’s poor positioning and Torino were unfortunate not to level the match when Meggiorini’s strike forced a diving save out of De Sanctis.

Alessio Cerci, the former Roma man, was in sensational form last evening and he rescued a point for Ventura's Torino side.

Alessio Cerci, the former Roma man, was in sensational form last evening and he rescued a point for Ventura’s Torino side.

Torino’s precious equaliser was to come just four minutes after, an almost identical move to the one which led to Roma’s goal in the first half saw Meggiorini outmuscle Mehdi Benatia before cutting the ball across the face of goal where Cerci applied a near post finish. With Roma now somewhat stunned into action, Rudi Garcia immediately withdrew Borriello in place of the exciting Adem Ljajic in the hope the Serbian could inject some impetus into Roma’s performance.

Roma were still struggling to build anything like the rhythm they had displayed in their previous ten Serie A matches however they may well feel aggrieved that they did not receive a penalty ten minutes from time when Maicon broke into the Torino penalty area and appeared to be tripped however replays showed the initial contact to be outside the box and once inside Maicon in actual fact, tripped over his own feet.

The game finished 1-1 and the final ten minutes were certainly not a period of football for the ages, with Roma desperately trying to continue their perfect start to the season the visitors threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Torino but due to fatigue and the personnel on the field at the time there was never really any great threat to the Torino goal. Such was the surprise at the result the Torino side lapped up the atmosphere and celebrated a 1-1 draw with their own supporters as you would after winning a domestic cup however who can blame them? They had just matched the standout side in the Italian top flight and had lifted themselves into 12th position, a full three points away from the relegation zone.

Roma on the other hand have been brought back to earth, after seven hundred and forty three, yes 743, minutes without conceding a league goal it does appear as if Rudi Garcia’s men are human after all and with Napoli and Juventus only three points behind in second and third place respectively it will be an important period for Roma to return to form when they face Sassuolo at the Olimpico next weekend, not least because Juventus and Napoli face each other on the same weekend.

Written by Chris Winterburn

You can follow and get in touch with Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

 

Roma working the transfer market, Destro in, Borini out

‘Destro’ Roma’s new forward

The 2011-2012 Serie A campaign had promised so much for AS Roma, they had just gained new American owners who had promised to back them financially to allow the Giallorossi to once again compete in the transfer market, they had managed to prise former Barcelona midfielder Luis Enrique away from his coaching position with the B team of the Catalan giants to appoint him as the new head coach with the expectation that he would bring the ‘Tiki Taka’ football that had in recent years revolutionised FC Barcelona to the Stadio Olimpico. However the campaign proved to be one of major disappointment for Roma with Enrique’s methods not quite connecting well enough will all members of the squad and as a result of inconsistent performances by the team it was to be a year of mediocrity from Roma with ‘I Lupi’ finishing in seventh place in Serie A and as a result not qualifying for any European competition for the 2012-2013 season. At the end of the season Luis Enrique was dismissed despite having a year left on his contract and the iconic Zdenek Zeman returned to the club for his second spell in charge. Zeman often revered by the Roma fans for his revolutionary tactics and relationship with the players in particular Francesco Totti, has set about rejuvenating a Roma squad that has been bereft of real quality for a number of years and has shown this with his as yet sensible and economical behaviour in the transfer market this summer.

It was announced last week that Fabio Borini was to become Brendan Rodgers’ first signing at Liverpool with Roma allowing their young striker to be reunited with the former Swansea manager at Anfield for a fee of around €13m. This was a move that was met with a certain sense of unease by the Roma faithful with fans questioning why they had allowed their second highest goalscorer in the previous campaign to leave the club without any sign of a replacement signing on the horizon, however Zeman did indeed have a plan. Borini had in his only season with the Giallorossi scored nine goals in Serie A only two behind Daniel Osvaldo’s eleven and whilst this low number of goals from their two main strikers may well be a reflection of Roma’s poor final league position it must be remembered that it was a debut season in Rome for both players. The general expectation was that Borini would kick on for Roma next season with the ever ageing Francesco Totti expected to play even less of a part in the club’s campaign with his fantastic footballing career ebbing quickly towards its end. Borini’s record of ten goals in twenty six appearances was on the whole impressive for a debut season at a club of the magnitude of Roma and his performances even saw the Bentivoglio born forward earn a place in Cesare Prandelli’s Italy squad for the European championships in Ukraine and Poland although the former Roma striker did not make a single appearance throughout Italy’s route to the final of the tournament which they would go on to lose convincingly against the irresistible Spanish.

It was made evidently clear by last season’s collective lack of goals that Roma would need to replace Fabio Borini and Zdenek Zeman set about completing this goal quickly, there was the annual link between Roma and Fiorentina’s talismanic Montenegrin forward Stevan Jovetic which is the same with any top club in Italy once the transfer window opens and whilst it seems like he will leave the Florence based club sooner rather than later his destination will not be Rome. Rumours then started to appear in the Italian media that Roma were indeed interested in signing the co-owned Genoa and Siena forward Mattia Destro with the former Internazionale man moving closer to a permanent move to Genoa with ‘I Rossoblu’ submitting an offer to secure full registration of the player however this was no guarantee that he wouldn’t leave Genoa straight away just mere assurance that they would receive a full transfer fee. Mattia Destro in his debut season with Siena registered twelve goals in Serie A perfectly illustrating just why he had been on the books of Internazionale Milan, this goal tally just two behind Jovetic alerted several of Italy’s top clubs with reported interest from AC Milan as they look to try and replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic following his record breaking transfer to Paris Saint-Germain however the interest from Milan was purely speculation with representatives from both Siena and Genoa simply meeting in Milan to discuss the deal for Destro involving their clubs respectively. Destro’s high level of performance in Serie A in the past season very much like Borini was noticed by Prandelli and he was included as backup in the final twenty three man squad for Euro 2012 however with no injuries Destro did not travel to the tournament.

It has often been said that Zdenek Zeman works fantastically well with forwards with his tactical system often giving them great opportunities to get forward and put themselves in positions to score a significant number of goals, which is indeed something Roma need to improve on from last season. Roma icon Francesco Totti last week said this of Zeman and the Czech’s tactics ” With Zeman’s playing system, I could score 20 goals a season even as an old man” This bodes well for young Destro who following his impressive year with the Tuscan club last season will be looking to impress even further in the Italian first city and it is expected that a forward pairing of Destro and Osvaldo will work wonders for Roma in the upcoming season. The deal agreed between Genoa and Roma for Destro is in financial terms an astute move from AS Roma with them agreeing to pay just €7m for the twenty year old forward. This leaves the overall profit made from the sale of Borini and the signature of Destro at €6m with this money being spent in yet again another wise way by Zeman on the signature of American international Michael Bradley to sure up the Romans in the centre of midfield.

With Roma having replaced a striker with a slightly younger model who in the past campaign scored more goals and having also made a profit of €6m it is considered that Roma are working the transfer market to their favour thus far this summer, after last summer’s heavy spending to try and force the club into the upper echelons of European football quickly it appears that with Zeman at the helm the Giallorossi are taking a much more patient approach to the transfer market purchasing players when it is necessary and for the right price. This can only bode well for Roma in the upcoming Serie A season as they look to re-establish themselves among Italy’s elite of which they have been apart from for far too long.

Written by Chris Winterburn