Bianchi: ‘Napoli can win Scudetto’

Ottavio Bianchi won the Scudetto with Napoli and believes Maurizio Sarri can follow in his footsteps. “Juventus are getting old.”

The Partenopei are among the main contenders for the Serie A title, battling Juventus, Roma, Inter and Milan.

“This year Napoli start ahead of Roma, because the Giallorossi changed so much in terms of organisation, coaching staff and squad. It’ll take time for them to settle and find their balance,” former Coach Bianchi told Tuttosport.

“Spending a lot on the transfer market is no guarantee of success, because you risk losing points while the Coach finds the right mix. Napoli could take advantage of that time that other sides will be struggling.

“Juventus made a few changes and they’ve got to slip up eventually, not to mention the side is getting a little old. Even if they have won so much, it’s not easy to keep on winning. Having said that, Juve are the only Italian team capable of competing with the top European clubs.”

Sarri has earned much praise all over Europe for his style of football imposed at the Stadio San Paolo.

“I’ve never seen a Coach win by himself, but he becomes important when he can get the best out of the side at his disposal,” continued Bianchi, who took the Scudetto in 1986-87.

“So far this year, I’ve seen squad rotation and that bodes well. If the same XI always play, a drop in form is always round the corner.

“As far as I can see, the only really big problem for Napoli is they like themselves too much. They must learn to win ugly and be more determined. You can’t always play at full strength to win a game.

“If Napoli are on a good day, they are unstoppable, but that’s not always possible.”

There is one other issue that Bianchi has with Napoli.

“It’s a pity Lorenzo Insigne is the only Neapolitan. I like to watch Italian players, so lately I have to see Sassuolo.”


De Rossi message to Azzurri fans

Daniele De Rossi sent a video message to the Italy fans watching tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Spain.

It kicks off at the Bernabeu in Madrid at 19.45 UK time (18.45 GMT).

“This is the big night, we are playing this very important match at the Bernabeu,” said De Rossi in his Instagram recording.

“I wanted to thank all the fans who will be at the stadium, I know there are over 2,000, and also all those who are watching from home.

“I ask everyone to give us great support and we hope to give you great joy in return.”

Italy have not beaten Spain on their own turf in 68 years.

Only the group winners go directly into the 2018 World Cup, with the runners-up requiring a play-off round.

The two sides are currently joint top of the group, with Spain ahead on goal difference.


Monchi: ‘Pressure motivates Roma’

Monchi explains why Roma didn’t buy another centre-back, invested in Patrik Schick and kept their top stars, but welcomes the pressure.

The director of sport answered fan questions on the official Giallorossi website and naturally many enquiries were about the transfer window.

“We considered all our options and came to the conclusion that the five centre-backs we have in our squad – Leandro Castan, Kostas Manolas, Juan Jesus, Federico Fazio and Hector Moreno – provide enough cover for the three competitions we’re in,” said Monchi.

“I’ve said before that you can always improve your squad, but considering the circumstances, the financial and the football aspects, and the number of players we have in our squad, we felt we’re well covered to cope with three competitions.”

“We should be happy to have Gregoire Defrel, Patrik and Edin Dzeko in our squad. They can play in different positions, especially Patrik and Defrel. Personally I’m very happy that we have three such good players in our squad.

“Defrel offers lots of different things. We’ve already said that Patrik is a hugely important player for our present and future. Edin was a key player last season and will be again this year.

“So getting back to the question, I don’t think it was a waste of money and I think we’re lucky to have such top-quality players.

“Working the transfer market is not just buying and selling players. There’s a third side to it, which is being able to keep hold of your big players, the ones who can guide the new players coming in as well as those already at the club. That’s what we have with Radja Nainggolan, Kevin Strootman and Daniele De Rossi.

“It was one of the targets I set myself when I first came to Roma and I’m happy to have succeeded.”

The Lupi have a tough Champions League draw with Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and Qarabag.

“I think we should be ambitious and believe we can go as far as possible although obviously we have to keep our feet on the ground. Our first target must be to reach the knockout stages and after that we can start dreaming.

“I’ve said (Roma want to win silverware) since the first day I arrived and it’s something I always have in my mind. I think about it when I go to bed and when I’m in my office. One day I want to make Roma fans’ dreams come true. That’s my guiding point, what drives me. I want Roma fans to be able to celebrate a trophy.

“Roma are a great club and Rome is a big city. Everything is magnified and the repercussions are felt a lot more here. Obviously that increases the pressure. I wasn’t surprised by anything when I joined.

“When I decided to come to Roma, I didn’t expect to find a club where everything is nice and calm. Pressure is part of the game. Expectations are part of the game. You have that at Roma but I think it’s a good thing. It’s good that we’re ambitious and it’s good that we’re under pressure from the fans and the media. It should motivate us to do better.

“I’ve always said there are three things you need to be good at (to be a sporting director). You need to love working and be capable of working very hard. You need to be able to take decisions without bowing to external pressure. And you need to a good psychologist when dealing with the Coach and players.”

Monchi is aided in settling in by working with Francesco Totti, who retired to join his staff.

“I think it’s what every Roma fan dreams of and what I’m lucky to be able to do. Francesco is an open book in terms of his knowledge of Roma, the club’s history, the fans, the media and the city. It’s as if I’m studying for a Roma Master’s degree with the best professor in the world.”


Sacchi: ‘Spain-Italy culture clash’

Arrigo Sacchi outlined the historic differences between Italian and Spanish football, how Giampiero Ventura and Maurizio Sarri “raised the cultural level.”

The World Cup qualifier kicks off at the Bernabeu in Madrid at 19.45 UK time (18.45 GMT).

Only the group winners go straight into the 2018 tournament in Russia, while the runners-up need to go through a play-off.

“I am optimistic, I believe that we’ll go to the World Cup regardless, maybe even directly as group winners. But let us remember that courage is always worth more than fear,” Sacchi told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“I hope that the philosophies of Spain and Italy can come together. There are many Coaches here now who think football is more than just sport: it’s beauty, entertainment, emotion and art. A metaphor for life. It knows how to replicate strengths and weaknesses of the society it represents.

“We have never really defined our football in Italy. We still practice it the same way we did 2,000 years ago, with stadiums similar to ancient Roman arenas where, and it’s no coincidence, the crowd was baying for blood.

“We developed ferocious aggression and determination that compensated historically for our failings. Elsewhere, winning without merit is not winning.

“Spain always seek perfection: as that is impossible to reach, they are constantly learning and educating. The truth is, there wasn’t that much of a gap between Italian and Spanish football, so our character used to give us the upper hand, while they sought individual talents.

“The step up in quality for Spanish football came after my Milan gave a football lesson to Real Madrid: that day they realised that football cannot be interpreted individually, but as a team.

“They gradually brought in Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, already playing as a collective both on and off the ball. Added to their existing technique, they learned pressing and how to cover their defensive frailties.

“Spaniards run more risks than we do. Who in Italy would’ve played little Dani Carvajal against the giant Mario Mandzukic in the Champions League Final? But for someone who thinks football is a team sport, that’s no problem.”

Giampiero Ventura looks set to use a 4-2-4 formation, though he tested 3-4-1-2 during training this week, as Spain traditionally struggle against three-man defences.

“In any case, even if we did play three at the back, it’d still really be five. Spain have two centre-backs and two attacking full-backs. We have three centre-backs and two full-backs who stick to midfield. The system becomes 5-2-3, which means you are overwhelmed in midfield,” explained Sacchi.

“Ventura is doing a very good job in a complicated situation, considering what he has at his disposal. If our characteristics are defending and counter-attacks, it’s natural he’ll go back to that.

“I’ve always kept an eye on Ventura, his Bari was exciting. It was a 4-2-4 that became 4-4-2, because football is movement, yet it was spectacular.

“It’s wonderful when a Coach seeks a style like they do in Spain: Maurizio Sarri does it at Napoli, while Paulo Sousa tried at Fiorentina, as did Eusebio Di Francesco at Sassuolo and Marco Giampaolo at Sampdoria. Others are getting closer, because Gian Piero Gasperini has his approach with Atalanta, seeking superiority with an often ultra-attacking pressing game.”

Antonio Conte’s defend and counter-attack approach worked perfectly at Euro 2016 to defeat Spain, after Roberto Donadoni lost on penalties at Euro 2008.

“Juventus beat Real Madrid two years ago with the same style: if they are not at their best, you focus on a solid defence and hit them on the counter. Now people call it ‘transition,’ but it’s still a counter-attack.

“I like teams who try to force their style on to the game: it’s either down to arrogance or being aware of their own qualities. The greatest teams are remembered because they controlled the game, like my Milan.

“Ventura is very good, but unfortunately he has to deal with the culture at large: if there’s a tough test, you don’t trust your own strength, you focus on covering up.

“It’s strange, we won two World Cups without ever thinking we were superior to the rest. As Winston Churchill said, we play football matches as if they are wars and lose wars as if they are football matches. But we are growing.

“Football is played more with the mind than the feet. Napoli are now going against history. They went to Nice with a 2-0 first leg lead and attacked for 90 minutes: imagine if they had conceded a decisive goal on the counter, what people would’ve said! But Sarri dared, he raised the cultural level: now in Naples the fans applaud finishing third, because Sarri is giving style to Italian football, which doesn’t in itself have a recognisable style.

“Historically, Italian teams raise their game in the big matches. Spain will suffer a lot, we make everyone struggle, like a boxer nobody wants to face in the ring. I hope Ventura can give Italy the same style he gave to Bari.”


Roma win Chapecoense friendly

Alessandro Florenzi scored on his return, as Roma won 4-1 in their friendly with Chapecoense.

The Giallorossi took on the Brazilian side at the Olimpico tonight, in a match to raise money for the visitors after the tragic plane crash which killed almost their entire squad last year.

Florenzi captained the side, and he opened the scoring from the penalty spot just before the half hour mark.

Diego Perotti doubled the lead, before Mirko Antenucci added a third just before half-time.

Roma legend Francesco Totti came onto the pitch at half time to receive a Chapecoense shirt bearing his name and the number 10.

Antenucci added his second of the evening on 50 minutes to make it 4-0, before Chape captain Alan Ruschel got one back with a penalty.

Patrik Schick made his debut after 67 minutes, but he couldn’t add to the scoring.

The Lupi’s Brazilian defender Juan Jesus spoke to Sky after the match, as his former teammate Josimar was killed in the crash.

“It’s a unique emotion, I lost a teammate in the tragedy and I’m very sorry,” the centre-back said.

“We didn’t want to play this friendly to remember such a terrible thing, but to help. They’re not doing well right now in the Brazilian league, but they’ll improve.

“Everyone in Brazil says they want to help Chapecoense, but it’s not like that, God knows what’s best for them.”