This week saw minimal league action in the Premier League as eight clubs participated in the FA Cup during the weekend. Still, numerous Italians featured in a variety of competitions and to various degrees of success.
Additionally, we’ve covered those in France, amongst which the ever-controversial…
Mario Balotelli – Nice
Balotelli was red carded for the third time this season representing Nice, as his side managed to grind out a commendable 1-0 win over Lorient. Balotelli was sent off at in the 68th minute, after supposedly insulting referee Tony Chapron, in English – it is reported by ESPN.
However, teammate Dante has come to Mario’s defence, stating in a post-match interview, “He didn’t say much, perhaps the referee wanted to make a name for himself. Sometimes, they give out cards for nothing.”
Whatever the case, it means Nice will be without both of their first choice strikers and may struggle in next weeks league match.
Marco Verratti & Thiago Motta – PSG
After dominating Barcelona 4-0 in the Champions League, PSG seem to have suffered something of a hangover effect from that result. In the weekend, the French champions hosted Toulouse in a match viewed by fans as a must-win. Motta started this match, with Verratti being benched in order to give him some rest. However, the latter’s absence was keenly felt in addition to Di Maria’s and it showed as PSG were poor until Verratti was subbed in to organise the midfield department.
In fact, Verratti entered the fray at half time and this impacted their game play dramatically. The ex-Pescara man went to work with his usual acumen as he set up Draxler and Motta with some brilliant opportunities to take the lead, but neither capitalised, the match ending with a disappointing 0-0.
Motta played to his usual defensive best and it can be said that Verratti was the MOTM.
Antonio Conte – Chelsea
Conte’s Chelsea continued their dominant form this season, overcoming a confident Wolves in the FA Cup fifth round to set up a date with Manchester United in the quarter finals. Wolves had eliminated two other EPL teams – Stoke and Liverpool – with their fans believing a miracle run was in order for their team. Chelsea, however, had other ideas in mind. After a suffered contest, they managed to get the 2nd goal in the 89th minute.
Chelsea played with their usual swagger, with Conte choosing to pick Costa over Batshuayi, who has looked to make this cup competition his own. This was another positive outing for the Italian coach, who is looking to replicate the exploits of his fellow Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti, who achieved this feat in 2009.
Matteo Darmian – Manchester United
Darmian featured in Manchester United’s 1-2 win over Blackburn Rovers in their fifth round tie and had a decent outing in his classic full back position. He got the best of Blackburn’s Feeney in this encounter, performing well both defensively and in attack.
Darmian has been in and out of his side this season, struggling to displace Valencia, who to his credit has performed well in his adopted position (he is a winger by trade).
Claudio Ranieri – Leicester
Really, what more can be said for the Tinkerman and his struggling EPL champions?
No matter what he attempts, nothing seems to be working. Ranieri has made player changes, formation changes and even taken a stricter approach to the degree that he admitted he will not hesitate to chop the players who drove them to the EPL title last year due to poor performance. Still, the squad is capable, but seems to have lost the drive to perform and even lost the motivation to follow Ranieri’s orders.
Ranieri, true to his word, dropped his entire first team, making 10 changes to the line up and admittedly the reserves did not perform too horribly, determined to impress.
Nonetheless, Leicester got knocked out of their fifth round cup to tie in a 1-0 loss to Millwall. Looking for some positives for King Claudio, this loss gave Ranieri the chance to test a different line-up, to see how they fared. Their only goal now is to stay in the top flight… he has 13 weeks to effect change.