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Serpents Loan Watch: 2 March (Italy)

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Part Two of Week One. If that makes sense.

Frosinone Calcio v AC Cesena - Serie B Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images for Lega Serie B

On Thursday we published the very first edition of the Serpents Loan Watch (here, if you missed it), a new feature dedicated to Inter’s loan players that we’ll be running on a weekly basis from now on.

However given that this is the first edition and we’re already in March, we felt it necessary to recap how everybody has got on throughout this season before getting into weekly updates, and so we’ve split this week’s Loan Watch into two articles (because otherwise it would have been way too long).

With Thursday’s piece having looked into how Inter’s loan players abroad have been getting on, this one aims to get everybody up to speed with how our domestic loanees have been doing over the last seven months.

So, without further ado...

Serie A

Alessandro Bastoni (Atalanta)

⚫️ #forzaatalanta ❤

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This Season: After joining Inter for a fee of €8m at the end of last summer’s transfer window, Alessandro Bastoni was immediately sent back on loan to Atalanta for two seasons so that he could continue developing at the club he’s been at since the age of 7.

That loan was very nearly curtailed by eighteen months this winter when the Nerazzurri were looking for a fourth centre-back to give to Luciano Spalletti, but in the end the signing of Lisandro Lopez meant that the 18 year-old was able to stay where he was, and so he will make his return to base in June 2019 as originally planned.

Unfortunately, despite his undeniable talent (50 caps and 3 goals across Italy’s various youth teams speak for themselves), Bastoni has been afforded very little space in Atalanta’s first team this season - just 104 minutes between Serie A and the Coppa Italia (one appearance in each), despite 15 call-ups - with Gian Piero Gasperini consistently preferring Gianluca Mancini to him in defence whenever he has decided to rotate his team.

Atalanta stand to gain an extra €2m from Inter in bonuses if Bastoni meets a certain set of performance-related targets between now and the end of his loan spell, but at the moment it seems they are willing to forego that money in favour of developing a player (Mancini) who unlike Alessandro is still 100% theirs.

Alongside his first-team call-ups Bastoni has made 11 appearances for Atalanta’s Primavera this season, scoring 1 goal. He will turn 19 in April of this year.

This Week: Bastoni had been included in Atalanta’s squad for their Serie A match away to Juventus on Sunday evening, but the avalanche of snow that fell on Turin ensured that the game was postponed. Wednesday’s Coppa Italia semi-final second leg against the same opponent did go ahead as planned, but the Interista wasn’t involved as he was busy taking part in a training camp with the Italian national team at Coverciano (a training camp that close friend Andrea Pinamonti was also present at).

Serie B

Ionut Radu (Avellino)

This Season: Having enjoyed an excellent start to 2016 in which he won the Coppa Italia Primavera with Inter and made his first-team debut for the Nerazzurri (against Sassuolo), Radu’s blossoming career suffered a big setback in the autumn when he was forced to have surgery on a partially dislocated shoulder.

As a result the Romanian keeper missed almost all of the 2016-17 campaign due to injury, making just two appearances between the sticks for the Primavera, and has only been able to get his first taste of professional football this season, for which he joined Serie B side Avellino on loan with an option to buy (and a counter-option for Inter).

Image courtesy of Alfredo Spagnuolo.

Radu’s performances for the Lupi this year, however, would suggest that he’s keen to make up for lost time. They are having an underwhelming campaign after a start to the season which promised better but it hasn’t been for their young keeper’s want of trying, who has made 17 appearances for them in goal and hardly played badly once in the process.

Former Milan and Manchester United keeper Massimo Taibi has described the 20 year-old this season as ‘a great prospect’, while Avellino sporting director Enzo De Vito recently said ‘I see a bright future for him’.

At the end of the video below you can see the penalty he saved, with his legs, against Cittadella in December.

This Week: Unfortunately Radu is out injured again at the moment, having sustained some kind of muscular problem after Avellino’s match with Cesena on 10 February. He has therefore missed the Irpini’s last three games, with former Fiorentina keeper Luca Lezzerini - himself a decent prospect, but kept out of the team all season by our young Romanian - stepping in for Saturday’s win over Novara (2-1) and Tuesday’s draw away at Empoli (1-1).

Hopefully he’ll be back to full fitness soon.

Niccolò Belloni (Carpi)

Great job fellas⚽️ ⚪️ #carpifc

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This Season: Having been sent to play for Modena, Pro Vercelli, Ternana and Avellino since leaving the Inter Primavera in 2013, this year it was Carpi’s turn to welcome Niccolò Belloni on loan for the season, at the end of a summer that saw them ring wholesale changes to a squad that had run its natural course after three incredible seasons under Fabrizio Castori.

Having signed for the Emiliani in the very last hour of the transfer window (and therefore having missed their entire pre-season program) it took a while for Belloni to gain the trust of new head coach Antonio Calabro, but he started getting more game-time from November onwards until suffering an injury during training in January, from which he is yet to return.

At the moment Belloni has made 11 appearances (481 minutes, 5 starts) for Carpi and he has made them in five different positions - right wing-back (in a 3-5-2), left midfield (4-4-2), central midfielder (3-5-2), right winger (3-4-3, I think) and even centre-forward on one occasion (3-5-1, when Carpi were down to 10 men). His biggest strength as a player is his versatility.

This Week: Carpi, currently 12th in Serie B, were booed off on Saturday after a dire goalless draw at home to Virtus Entella, before having their midweek match at Pescara postponed due to heavy snow. Belloni was unavailable for both games.

Francesco Bardi (Frosinone)

This Season: After two difficult seasons between Chievo, Espanyol and Frosinone in which he mustered just 15 appearances in all competitions - albeit one of them, a 3-3 draw against Milan at San Siro in which he saved EVERYTHING and more (including a penalty from Mario Balotelli), was pretty damn special - last year Francesco Bardi was reunited with the mojo that had led him to be considered one of the brightest young Italian keepers in circulation until 2015.

Frosinone Calcio v Parma Calcio - Serie B Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Bardi returned to Frosinone for the 2016-17 season after spending the second half of the previous campaign there, but unlike during those six months he was signed to be their undisputed first-choice keeper, and so he put in a good campaign that helped the Ciociari come to within an inch of promotion to Serie A.

This season Moreno Longo’s men are once again considered by many to be the outright favourites for a top two finish, but Bardi has dealt with the pressure fairly well. Before getting injured three weeks ago he’d played all but one of Frosinone’s league games, and for the most part he’d played them well - although he does still look uncertain at times when required to come out of his goal.

This Week: Frosinone suffered their first home defeat of the season on Saturday as they went down 3-1 to Perugia, before coming from 2-0 down to draw away to Cremonese in midweek. Bardi was unavailable for both matches.

George Puscas (Novara)

Benevento Calcio v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

This Season: Undoubtedly the most in-form of Inter’s loanees at this moment in time. Having not been given as much game-time as he’d hoped at Benevento during the first half of the season (12 appearances, 8 starts, 1 goal - against Milan in the Alberto Brignoli game), Puscas opted to cut short his loan deal with the Sanniti and embark upon a third career loan spell in Serie B - a league he has a decent strike rate in (18 goals in 43 games as things stand, play-offs included) - where struggling Novara were waiting to welcome him with open arms.

And with good reason. Since joining the Piedmontese outfit in January Puscas has scored 5 goals in 5 games, including a hat-trick against Cittadella in Domenico Di Carlo’s first game in charge as head coach (see the video below), and generally given them the penalty box presence that they were so desperately lacking during the first half of the season (Novara don’t have the league’s worst home record by chance).

He’s also proved himself to be a complete centre-forward: of the 6 goals he’s scored this season 1 was a left-footed finish, 2 were right-footed finishes and 3 were headers. (Although my impression is that he still doesn’t quite trust his left foot yet.)

This Week: Puscas played 66 minutes of Novara’s 2-1 defeat to Avellino on Saturday (and didn’t get up to much in the process), before playing the full 90 on Tuesday in their loss at home to Foggia. He had two half-chances but he dragged both of them wide of the post. (Gazzetta dello Sport ratings - 6 [vs Avellino] & 5.5 [vs Foggia])

Marco Carraro (Pescara)

This Season: A key figure in Inter’s Scudetto-winning Primavera side last season, Carraro is getting his first taste of senior football this season under the wily gaze of Zdenek Zeman at Pescara, and after a slow start to the campaign he’s found his feet rather nicely.

Parma Calcio v Pescara - Serie B Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Having struggled initially (by his own admission) to adapt to the intensity of first-team training Carraro began the season as an understudy to Mattia Proietti in the deep-lying play-maker position, but the latter’s injury towards the end of October presented the 20 year-old with a golden opportunity and it’s fair to say he’s grabbed it with both hands. Since then he’s been one of the first names on Zeman’s team-sheet and is now on 19 appearances for the season (16 starts) in all competitions.

He may not be the quickest of midfielders but Carraro is a lovely ‘regista’ in the making, boasting the classic ‘cultured left foot’ and a fine passing range, as well as a solid positional sense and an impressive agility in tight spaces. If he can improve the consistency of his performances (by which I mean from half to half, not just from game to game) then Serie A is by no means a mirage.

This Week: Carraro played the full 90 minutes in Pescara’s 0-0 draw with Cremonese on Saturday, putting in one of his less sparkling performances which nonetheless confirmed his defensive application. Tuesday’s game with Carpi was postponed due to the snow. (Gazzetta dello Sport rating: 5.5)

Andrea Palazzi (Pescara)

This Season: After one season at Livorno and one season at Pro Vercelli Palazzi has moved to Pescara for his third year amongst the professionals, in the hope of benefiting from Zdenek Zeman’s unique style of coaching to take his game to the next level.

Sadly, what was becoming a positive campaign at one point has been curtailed by the long-term injury he sustained during Pescara’s loss to Spezia on 25 November, which saw him tear the ACL ligaments in his right knee and (barring surprises) finish his season six months ahead of schedule.

Before the injury Palazzi had accumulated 9 appearances in midfield, 7 of which were from the start (586 minutes in total). A week after it, teammate Luca Valzania dedicated one of the goals he scored in Pescara’s match against Ternana to him by holding up his shirt during his celebration. ‘It’s the little things that make the difference and make your day,” Palazzi wrote on his Instagram profile.

This Week: Palazzi was unavailable for Pescara’s 0-0 draw with Cremonese, while their home game with Carpi in midweek was postponed.

Raffaele Di Gennaro (Spezia)

This Season: In addition to Radu and Bardi Inter also have a third goalkeeper on loan in Serie B this season, and if you believe the numbers he’s the best of the lot.

Di Gennaro is currently enjoying his fifth year in Italy’s second tier after spells at Cittadella, Latina and Ternana, and ‘enjoying’ really is the right verb in the circumstances - with 24 just goals conceded in 27 matches Spezia have statistically the best defence in the division, and a large part of that has been down to his performances between the sticks.

In truth, though, the Interista’s individual stats are even better than that, because of those 24 goals conceded he has only personally conceded 9 of them, with the other 15 having flown in during nine matches that he wasn’t playing in (due to injury).

Di Gennaro has kept 11 clean sheets in 18 appearances this season and is conceding an average of 0.5 goals per game: it’s no wonder former Lazio keeper Luca Marchegiani (a man who follows Serie B very closely for Sky Italy) thinks he’s been one of the best keepers in the division this season.

This Week: Di Gennaro played the full 90 minutes in Spezia’s 3-0 win over Salernitana last Friday, although his 11th clean sheet of the season was as much down to the Aquilotti’s dominance as it was to any particularly impressive saves he had to make. Tuesday’s game with Bari was one of the four games in midweek that were postponed due to snow. (Gazzetta dello Sport rating: 6.5)

Francesco Forte (Spezia)

This Season: Fighting off the itch to move elsewhere during the January transfer window was in itself an achievement of sorts for Francesco Forte; by committing himself to Spezia until the end of the year this will be the first season since 2013-14 (Pisa) that he finishes at the same club with which he started it.

Forli and then Lucchese, Cremonese and then Teramo, Lucchese (again) and then Perugia: never in the last three seasons has he been capable of completing a full campaign anywhere, but on this occasion there was no reason to up sticks because in Spezia he has perhaps found the right club for him. (Perhaps.)

Despite some very stiff competition in the Liguri’s attacking department - World Cup winner Alberto Gilardino and Serie B veteran Pablo Granoche are the other two out-and-out no. 9s Fabio Gallo has to choose from - Forte has managed to rack up over 1000 minutes of football in 21 appearances this season (11 starts), scoring 4 goals (2 with his left foot, 2 with his weaker right foot) and providing 1 assist in the process. Not bad going, even if Spezia do play with two strikers.

Of those 4 goals scored the one that sticks most in the mind is the one he got in the 4-0 win over Pescara in November - not because of the delicate finish (although that was nice too), but because of his manic hard-man celebration afterwards.

Rather you than me in that weather...

This Week: Forte started the 3-0 win over Salernitana last Friday and played 75 minutes before being substituted. No clear-cut chances, but lots of hard work for the team. (Gazzetta dello Sport rating: 6.5)

Rigoberto Rivas (Brescia)

This Season: After impressing under Stefano Vecchi in the Primavera last season (8 goals and 5 assists in all competitions) the 19 year-old Honduran forward was sent to Brescia for his first season amongst the professionals, and to start with it looked as if he’d made a good move, with head coach Roberto Boscaglia playing him in 7 of the first 9 matches he was available for after signing.

ICC Singapore - FC Internazionale v Chelsea FC Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images for ICC

Unfortunately his game-time has almost completely dried up since then: in the 17 games that have followed Rivas has been afforded just 44 minutes of action (split between 4 appearances), while he hasn’t even been included in Brescia’s match-day squad for four of their last five matches.

He has played 348 minutes so far this season but there’s no guarantee he’ll get any more between now and May.

This Week: Rivas was not included in Brescia’s squad for their 2-1 victory over Foggia on Saturday, while Tuesday’s game away to Perugia was postponed due to the snow.

Andrea Bandini (Brescia)

This Season: I’ll be honest: until I started gathering information for this piece I’d forgotten he was even at Brescia, such is the lack of visibility he has had this season.

FC Internazionale Milano v AS Roma - Supercoppa Primavera Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Before joining the Rondinelle last summer Bandini had spent the entirety of his career post-Primavera in Lega Pro (Reggiana, Prato, Südtirol and then Mantova last season), and his failure to make any kind of impact on Serie B this season would suggest that that is his level. Just the one appearance in seven months of football, playing 81 minutes of Brescia’s match with Ternana in September, and on 15 occasions this season (out of 27) he hasn’t even been included in the match-day squad.

This Week: Bandini hasn’t made the match-day squad for any of Brescia’s last 5 games, his last call-up coming for the match at home to Avellino on 21 January.