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Italian Column: Jeremy Menez back to his frustrating self while Paulo Dybala rises to the occasion

A brand new feature on this website is the introduction of weekly & fortnightly columns focusing on various leagues, countries and regions across the World.  Rhys Montanarello here documents the latest talking points in Italian football.

The honeymoon period has definitely ended for Menez

Flashback to Milan’s outrageous 5-4 win over Parma on the 14th of September, and one spectacular piece of skill will stick out above the rest. Jeremy Menez knocks the ball past Antonio Mirante from an errant back pass, rounds the keeper, and then buries the finish with a cheekily chipped backheel over a scrambling 31-year-old keeper. That goal marked Menez’s third of the campaign in two matches, and his name was on the lips of fans around the world, with people wondering if this was a rejuvenated player ready to take Italy by storm, or merely a fantastic beginning before an eventual demise back to reality. Here we are in mid-November, and it appears the answer to that question is the latter.

Menez did score and have an assist this weekend, but that does not reflect the wastefulness and selfishness that has been seen in his play over the past couple months. Besides, three of his goals this year have been penalties, and he went on a stretch of eight matches without registering a single goal or assist, which has dearly hurt his side. He has gone from the savior of Milan to its enigma in the space of weeks, and the fans fear for what may lay ahead. What was first seen as brilliant nonchalance has turned into irritating arrogance as Menez has cost his side possession and chances on countless occasions in the past few match days. He holds the ball far too long in possession, dribbles directly into pressure (most often trying to fall over and get a foul at the end of it) and shoots when there are far better options available.

Menez seems to have reverted to his normal frustrating self that was seen so often at PSG, and whether that is due to Milan’s poor form or whether he feels too self-entitled to care remains to be seen. However, fans will be hoping that Pippo can ignite a fire under his rear to stop this terrible on-field attitude in which Menez does not even seem to understand that he has ten teammates alongside him.

Napoli extend unbeaten run with Koulibaly solidifying the defence

Despite a great deal of criticism regarding his work this season, it appears that Rafael Benitez finally has Napoli heading on the right track after working their way back into the Champions League places with a win over Fiorentina this past weekend and extending their unbeaten run to 8 games. While the season began with Jose Callejon carrying the side on his shoulders, it appears the rest of the side is finally pulling its weight. Gonzalo Higuain has scored all six of his league goals in the last four matches, and the inspirational defensive displays of 23-year old Kalidou Koulibaly have partially solidified a shaky back line.

Koulibaly has proved to be one of the most shrewd signings of the offseason in Serie A, and Benitez’s side have been reaping the rewards. He has played every minute in the league so far, and averages 3.5 tackles and 2.5 interceptions per game (via WhoScored). He is an immense physical presence, standing at 195 cm (about 6’3”), which helps him dominate aerially. When partnered with ex-Madrid man Albiol, Napoli have a rather formidable defensive pairing, which will help young keeper Rafael Cabral as he continues adjusting in his role as first-choice keeper.

On the more negative side, star winger Lorenzo Insigne has recently been sidelined with a 6-month injury. This is not a massive issue quality wise, as Benitez has the more than capable Dries Mertens to call upon (some fans feel Mertens should be starting even if Insigne is fit), but it could spell trouble depth wise if any more injuries are accumulated. For now though, Napoli should feel rather confident going into their next league matches against Cagliari, Sampdoria, and Empoli as they continue their quest for Champions League football next year.

Palermo returns to Serie A in style as young Dybala rises to the occasion

Since returning to the top flight, Palermo has enjoyed a rather fruitful run of form; taking points from Inter, Napoli, Milan, and most recently Udinese. Zamparini is loving life right now, and has not even had to sack a manager yet, as shocking as that may sound. At the head of this inspirational return has been 20-year old attacker Paulo Dybala, who has done nothing but impress during this campaign.

With his mazy runs, set piece delivery, and exceptional finishing skills, Dybala will surely become one of the hottest commodities in Italy this year. He has picked up four goals and two assists, and has formed a great partnership with Franco Vasquez at the top of their XI. After the departure of Abel Hernandez to Hull City this summer, many were skeptical how Palermo would respond offensively, but there’s not much doubting that Hernandez is nothing but a memory at this point. Iachini’s current 3-5-2 set up has produced some delightful and aesthetically pleasing football, with the midfielders/attackers being offered a great deal of freedom to roam and create throughout the pitch. At the back, newly acquired center back Giancarlo Gonzalez has adjusted perfectly since his move from MLS side Columbus, and has put in a great string of performances over recent weeks.

Iachini is in dream land right now, but he will have to make sure his side continues to perform this well to avoid the ever-swinging managerial axe of his zany President.

Talent Radar Player of the Week- El Shaarawy

While the likes of Icardi, Morata, and Dybala make a strong case to be included here this week, I could not help but pick Il Farone after he broke his Serie A scoring duck that extends all the way back to February 2013. Early in the first half, El Shaarawy receives the ball in Sampdoria territory, progresses to the edge of the box, cuts in, then curls a splendid finish past Romero into the far corner. The impact of his goal cannot be understated, as he fell on his knees and appeared to begin to weep from relief after finally scoring. He continued to perform well throughout the rest of the match, and fans around the world will be hoping this goal helps the young Italian get back to the form we saw during the start of the 12/13 season.

Written by Rhys Montanarello.

Rhys Montanarello

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