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SAMIR HANDANOVIC | INTER
One of the key components in Inter’s surprise title challenge, Samir Handanovic has played every single minute of the season so far, keeping eight clean sheets.
The Slovenian shot-stopper was particularly impressive in the 0-0 draw at the home of title rivals Juventus, making a whopping eight saves, and is once again being talked about as one of the game’s great goalkeepers.
MEDHI BENATIA | JUVENTUS
It’s fair to say that Medhi Benatia has taken his time to prove his worth to Juventus and some fans doubted the wisdom of the club’s decision to enact their right to buy the defender during the summer.
However, since recovering from an ankle injury at the tail end of November, the Morocco international has been brilliant, with his return to the Bianconeri starting line-up having coincided with a run of eight consecutive clean sheets in all competitions, with Benatia missing just one of those matches. He also netted the only goal of Saturday’s crucial win over title rivals Roma.
MILAN SKRINIAR | INTER
Those who had previously watched Milan Skriniar in action either for Sampdoria last season or at the European Under-21 Championship during the summer knew that Inter had pulled off an absolute steal in acquiring the Slovakian centre-half for just €20 million.
However, few could have envisaged him settling quite so quickly at San Siro, where he has become a fan favourite thanks to a succession of dominant defensive displays, three goals and a public declaration that he has no interest in joining Barcelona, who have, along with everyone else, been bowled over by the 22-year-old’s maturity and colossal potential.
KALIDOU KOULIBALY | NAPOLI
An obvious choice for our defence, the wonderfully consistent Kalidou Koulibaly has only further enhanced his reputation as a world-class centre-half this season, after attracting attention from the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Barcelona during the summer.
The Napoli ace decided to stay at the San Paolo because he is determined to end the club’s wait for a third Scudetto – 27 years and counting – and if he continues to marshal Maurizio Sarri’s back-line with his customary authority, he might just realise that dream next summer.
ANTONIO CANDREVA | INTER
Despite Antonio Conte’s best efforts, Inter managed to hold on to Antonio Candreva during the summer – and the Nerazzurri’s refusal to sell the 30-year-old to Chelsea has already been fully vindicated.
The hard-running right winger has been the Nerazzurri’s most reliable attacking outlet this season, as underlined by the fact that no player in Serie A has created more chances (59) or set up more goals (8) than Candreva.
MIRALEM PJANIC | JUVENTUS
Several Juventus players have suffered from fluctuating form this season, particularly during the opening couple of months of the campaign, but Miralem Pjanic has been consistently excellent at the heart of Massimiliano Allegri’s midfield.
There are few more intelligent or effective playmakers in the world than the Bosnian, who has created 34 chances, racked up six assists and netted three goalsso far this season.
JORGINHO | NAPOLI
How good is Jorginho at keeping the ball? Well, after another midfield masterclass against Chievo this season, the Napoli ace now occupies nine of the top 10 places for most successful passes played in a single Serie A match since Opta started recording such data in 2004-05.
The Partenopei are simply not the same side without him – everything goes through the 25-year-old metronome – and it is absolutely staggering that Brazil failed to cap him in a competitive fixture and that Italy didn’t tie him down themselves until the second leg of their World Cup play-off against Sweden.
ALEKSANDAR KOLAROV | ROMA
Pep Guardiola had no intention of offloading Aleksandar Kolarov this summer but he ultimately bowed to the Serbian’s desire to move to a club that could offer him a greater chance of regular first-team football. Manchester City’s loss has proved Roma’s gain.
Ostensibly a left-back, Kolarov has actually performed more like a winger for Eusebio Di Francesco’s side, as underlined by the fact that only Candreva, Luis Alberto and Lorenzo Insigne have bettered his tally of 43 chances created, while the 32-year-old has also contributed three assists and two goals.
LUIS ALBERTO | LAZIO
The revelation of the season so far, Liverpool flop Luis Alberto has completely turned his career around over the past few months, after struggling to make an impact during his first year in Serie A.
The 25-year-old attacking midfielder has played a pivotal role in Lazio’s strong start to the 2017-18 campaign, netting five times, creating 48 chances (second only to Candreva) and setting up six goals, and his surprisingly sensational form saw him rewarded with his first cap for Spain in November.
CIRO IMMOBILE | LAZIO
Ciro Immobile may trail Mauro Icardi in the Capocannoniere race but the Lazio striker is matching his Inter counterpart’s goal-a-game average, having struck 16 times in 16 appearances.
However, the Italy international has been directly involved in more goals than any other Serie A player in 2017-18 (23), as he has also created seven, which means he also sits seconds in the assists rankings too.
LORENZO INSIGNE | NAPOLI
As so sorely underlined in recent weeks, Napoli do not carry anything like the same attacking threat when Lorenzo Insigne is unavailable through injury. A player once considered horribly inconsistent has developed into the Partenopei’s primary source of inspiration.
The diminutive Neapolitan has racked up five goals and four assists so far this season, and ranks third in Serie A for chances created (45), behind only Candreva and Luis Alberto. Perhaps if former Italy boss Giampiero Ventura had relied more heavily on Insigne, he might still be in a job and the Azzurri would be going to the World Cup!
Juventus climbed up to second in Serie A as Miralem Pjanic inspired a comfortable 3-0 win at Bologna.
Inter suffered a first defeat of the season on Saturday, going down 3-1 at home to Udinese and leaving the door ajar for Massimiliano Allegri’s men to leapfrog them as closest challengers to leaders Napoli.
It was an opportunity the champions were forced to approach patiently at first but Bologna’s resistance and ambition appeared to desert them entirely once Pjanic’s 27th-minute free-kick had got the better of goalkeeper Antonio Mirante.
The Bosnia-Herzegovina playmaker turned provider with an excellent lofted ball for Mario Mandzukic to double the lead before half-time and any remaining doubt over the destination of the points was extinguished when Blaise Matuidi emphatically smashed in his first Juventus goal in the 64th minute.
Napoli’s advantage at the summit is now trimmed to one point as Allegri’s squad with reams of title-winning knowhow prepare for next weekend’s match against Roma – a crunch clash that arrives after a midweek Coppa Italia assignment versus Genoa.
@Miralem_Pjanic takes, @Miralem_Pjanic scores! #BolognaJuve pic.twitter.com/6HM463JT2H
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) December 17, 2017
Allegri again opted to leave Paulo Dybala on the bench and Juventus had a solid grip on possession during the first 25 minutes without creating any chances of note.
A Bologna counter-attack saw Godfred Donsah test Wojciech Szczesny’s handling with a firmly struck shot but Juve had their set-piece specialist on hand to succeed where they had failed until that point from open play.
Mattia Destro brought down Alex Sandro on the left-hand corner of the penalty area and Pjanic curled a free-kick inside the near post that Mirante could only palm into the net.
Juve swiftly doubled their advantage in the 36th minute, with Pjanic to the fore again as he picked out Mandzukic with a sublime raking pass.
The Croatia forward chested down impeccably and hooked a shot towards the far corner despite some close attention from Ibrahima Mbaye. Once more, Mirante got a hand to the shot but was unable to alter the outcome.
A classic finish from @MarioMandzukic9 ! #BolognaJuve #ForzaJuve pic.twitter.com/g3nsb25z5w
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) December 17, 2017
Bologna boss Roberto Donadoni had his decision to replace striker Destro with Bruno Petkovic whistled in the 53rd minute and the closest a home player came to putting the ball in the net before the hour was when Filip Helander almost prodded Alex Sandro’s cross into his own goal.
Helander’s attempts to clear the next cross from the Brazil full-back also left much to be desired when he shovelled a bouncing ball in the direction of Matuidi, who lashed unforgivingly into the bottom corner to ensure Juve would make it four wins from their last five top-flight away games.
Some wasteful finishing from Gonzalo Higuain prevented Juve from running up a more handsome scoreline, while fellow attacker Mandzukic limping off with 15 minutes left gave cause for some concern.
But the sight of a player as wonderfully gifted as Dybala coming on in his place and streaking clear of Bologna defenders to fire narrowly over underlined the fact that Donadoni’s worries, after six defeats the last nine, might be somewhat greater.
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The Italian champions need a result to reach the Champions League last 16 but they are facing a small injury crisis
Edin Dzeko’s stunning volley versus Cheslea has been nominated for the UEFA Champions League Goal of the Week, presented by Nissan!
The Roma man’s superb finish arrived during his side’s thrilling 3-3 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, in a game that also saw David Luiz earn a nod for matchday three’s prize for his flashed curling finish.
Dzeko and Luiz will also have to beat out competition from Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic, who once again proved himself one of the best free-kick takers on the continent as he lifted his shot effortlessly over the wall in his side’s 2-1 defeat of Sporting.
Spartak Moscow’s Denis Glushakov is also up for the gong, thanks to a splendidly controlled volley during his side’s 5-1 demolition of Sevilla.
Basel’s Taulant Xhaka rounds out the nominations with a fine run and smart finish that helped secure the Swiss side a comfortable victory at CSKA Moscow.
Click here to watch the contenders and vote for the UEFA Champions League Goal of the Week, presented by Nissan!