Straight from the dark heart of Italy
After the international break it's back to the domestic Serie A action this weekend, and James Horncastle highlights five special new talents to watch
Maxi Moralez, AtalantaStanding at 5’2” Maxi Moralez is the shortest player in Serie A by two important inches. One of the nicknames by which he is known back home in Argentina is El Enano, the midget. He even makes Sebastian Giovinco, the so-called Atomic Ant, look like a giant at 5'4.5". But as Xavi and Andrés Iniesta have shown, technique beats physique in creative positions, and it’s from down low that Moralez is sending Atalanta on high.
With a six-point penalty to overcome and a ban abruptly ending the career of talismanic captain Cristiano Doni following the Last Bet match-fixing scandal, Atalanta were in need of a new saviour. Their director of sport Pier Paolo Marino, the man who brought Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi to Napoli, personally went to watch Moralez at Velez Sarsfield and liked what he saw.
The 24-year-old was a key member of the Clausura championship-winning side, much more so than his teammate Ricardo Alvarez who joined Inter earlier in the summer for £10.5m. Moralez cost half that figure and has thrived playing off German Denis either as a trequartista or a second striker in Atalanta’s 4-4-1-1 formation. “I have always played both roles,” he said. “I feel myself in them.”
Moralez made his mark by scoring twice on his Serie A debut in a 2-2 draw away to Genoa. “For an hour, he was a nightmare for the defence,” wrote La Gazzetta dello Sport. His coach Stefano Colantuono agreed. “Maxi is intelligent. He knows how to move himself between the lines and is used to these games as he won two domestic titles in Argentina.”
Such is his reputation, opponents are already doubling up in their marking of Moralez, though that won’t stop him from attempting to score from 55 yards like he tried on Palermo’s visit to the Atleti Azzurri d’Italia. Unfortunately, it didn’t come off, but the intention was applauded and it goes without saying that getting the maximum out of Maxi is Atalanta’s best chance of survival this season.
Gabriel Torje, Udinese Hyped as the Lionel Messi of Romania on his arrival in Italy and treated by some as a welcome excuse to reminisce over compatriot Gheorghe Hagi's 1990s spell with Brescia, Torje has somehow managed to live up to expectation following his €3.6m move from Dinamo Bucharest.
Udinese's esteemed scouting department appears to have come good again in finding a typically low-cost replacement for the Barcelona-bound Alexis Sanchez. Coach Francesco Guidolin looked on in silent amazement as Torje scored six goals in the opening 20 minutes of his first full training session in Friuli.
His adaptation has been uncommonly quick. Torje spoke confidently in Italian at his presentation to the media in September and said: "I must only respond with facts on the pitch, not with words, but it's clear that I already feel under pressure." If he was nervous it certainly didn't show during his Serie A debut.
On a baking hot day in Lecce, the 21-year-old was magnificent scheming left, right and centre between the lines in and around Antonio Di Natale. Unable to pick him up, Torje's opponents were fooled by his low centre of gravity, as well as the pace he demonstrated on and off the ball, allied to his innate technical ability.
"I am not Sanchez," he humbly claimed. Not for the moment anyway. But given time, Torje could be better still.
Cristóbal Jorquera, Genoa Advised to watch the tape of a March 2008 Copa Libertadores match from between Boca Juniors and Colo-Colo before pressing ahead with negotiations for Rodrigo Palacio, Genoa owner Enrico Preziosi nodded in approval as the club's principal transfer target scored in a 4-3 win.
Another player, however, contrived to steal the show. Colo-Colo midfielder Cristóbal Jorquera took the game by the scruff of the neck and laid on three assists for his team-mates. Palacio signed for Genoa in July 2009, but Preziosi was understandably intrigued to discover more about Jorquera and gathered no fewer than 30 DVDs of his performances in his office.
Two years later, Jorquera joined his former adversary at Genoa. Signed for £1.5m this summer, he made his first Serie A appearance as a second-half substitute away to Lazio. His team were 1-0 down at the time and he changed the game, setting up Palacio as Genoa came back to record a 2-1 victory.
"No one wins games by themselves, but he deserves all the compliments that he received," Genoa coach Alberto Malesani told reporters. "I threw him in because he disrupts tactical systems and creates lots of problems for them.”
Jorquera has since become an established member of the starting XI and plays at the tip of his team's midfield diamond in a 4-3-1-2 formation. He put Palacio through to score again a week later in Verona, only to see Genoa relinquish their lead and lose to Chievo.
Nicknamed El Niño Vertical for his directness, he is recognised as the successor to Jorge Valdivia in Chile. "I am from the 1988 generation, the same as Alexis Sanchez," he said. There's a theme here, isn't there? Even so, that's certainly not bad company to be in.
Thiago Ribeiro, CagliariWith Robert Acquafresca gone, it was thought that Cagliari would struggle for goals this season. Not so now that Thiago Ribeiro, the top scorer in the 2010 Copa Libertadores, has struck up a fine understanding with Joaquin Larrivey and fellow Brazilian Nenê since his arrival from South America in a complex third-party loan deal.
Mobile and fast, the 25-year-old second striker has taken Serie A by surprise. “The less people know you, the less they expect of you,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. A teenage flop at Bordeaux, and blighted by injury throughout much of a career which has already included a stint in Qatar, Ribeiro represents a gamble, but one that already looks like paying off for Cagliari.
“I like to vary my play in attack, starting out on the flank, running and moving a lot,” he said. Tactically Ribeiro may step on the toes of playmaker Andrea Cossu, but his dribbling and desire to take players on adds another element to his team’s play.
He opened his account in Serie A with a nice header against Novara and was man of the match a week later at home to Udinese, creating chance after chance which his teammates failed to take in a 0-0 draw. Continuing his rich vein of form, he also got the opener in Cagliari’s 2-0 win away to Lecce.
Ribeiro isn’t quite Gigi Riva, but he has at least put the Samba in Sardinia.
Eran Zahavi, PalermoNo stranger to spectacular goals, as his perfectly executed bicycle kick for Hapoel Tel Aviv showed in last season's Champions League match at Lyon, Eran Zahavi made an instant impression at his new club Palermo when he hit a shot from the edge of the box that curled beyond Cagliari goalkeeper Michael Agazzi barely 18 seconds into his first Serie A start.
That strike ensured Zahavi became only the second-ever Israeli to find the net in Serie A, 14 years after Tal Banin put his country on the Italian football map with a goal for Brescia against Empoli. "I felt indescribable emotions, thousands of emotions all together," Zahavi said after dedicating it to his girlfriend Shai.
Snapped up for a bargain €1.6m, he steps into the boots of PSG-bound Argentinian playmaker Javier Pastore. Yet his position is notably different. "Zahavi does the job that I ask of a wide player," Palermo coach Devis Mangia revealed, and so far he has started on the left of midfield in a 4-4-2 where he has been asked to cut inside on his right foot.
Zahavi's technical ability is there for all to see, though his rake-like frame needs bulking up if he is to cope with the rigours of Serie A, not that he'll be stuffing his face with local delicacies. "Unfortunately typical Sicilian dishes aren't recommended under the rules of the Jewish religion," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"Here there are no temples for my religion, so I pray at home.” Palermo fans, on the other hand, are in need of a new idol to worship every Sunday and he could just be the one.
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