I don’t know about you, but I’m still not sure if I’ve had enough time to decompress after the 2019/20 Serie A campaign. What a season it was. The coronavirus sent things into a state of inactivity in March while Serie A’s custom way of dealing with things was once again flaunted as it figured out how or if to restart the season. Matches finally got back underway in June, with a grind of three games a week lasting all the way to August. But the table, unfortunately, didn’t quite share last year’s uniqueness.
Surprise, surprise, Juventus earned a ninth straight Scudetto (ughhhhhhh), while Inter, Atalanta, and Lazio joined the Old Lady in the Champions League. Roma and AC Milan booked Europa League spots, though our Milanese neighbors have to go through the qualifying stages first. Napoli too will be in the EL thanks to its Coppa Italia victory over Juve. SPAL, Brescia, and Lecce were dumped in to Serie B, but Benevento, Crotone, and Spezia replaced them in the top flight. This year, though, promises to be another story, one way or another.
Last season’s title race was dealt a premature ending thanks to Lazio’s collapse and Inter’s inconsistencies, all while Juventus kept chugging along. Many factors point towards that not being the case this time around, and the chase for 1st could be as tight as ever.
First and foremost is the turmoil surrounding Juventus. The reigning champs sacked Maurizio Sarri in place of first-time coach Andrea Pirlo, who has zero (!) competitive games under his belt. What type of coach he shapes out to be will go a long way in determining the outcome of Juve’s season, especially as the Old Lady’s current squad isn’t mind blowing either. The additions of Dejan Kulusevski and Arthur Melo will only improve the squad, but there remain plenty of areas of need at the Allianz Stadium. While Juve doesn’t look at its best, it’s still arguably the most talented-filled team in Italy. That doesn’t mean the competitors have simply stood still, though. In fact, the opposite.
Atalanta touched up its already lethal attack with Aleksei Miranchuk from Lokomotiv Moscow, Matteo Pessina returned from Hellas Verona, and Josep Ilicic looks ready for football again after a personal situation. So, uh, expect some goals again. The only departure (so far) has been wing-back Timothy Castagne, Hans Hateboer will slot right into the spot that the Leicester man left behind. Center-back Cristian Romero arrived from Juventus in an attempt to strengthen the three-man backline, but is that really necessary? Goals galore, in 3...2...1...
Napoli, on the other hand, quite underperformed last season, finishing in a lowly 7th by their lofty standards. Carlo Ancelotti got the sack in December, but since then Gennaro Gattuso has slowly turned the ship around, culminating in Coppa Italia success. Napoli has added plenty to its front line during the transfer window, bringing Victor Osimhen in from Lille and Andrea Petagna from SPAL. Along with Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens, and Hirving Lozano, Gattuso has quite an attack at his hands, even with the inevitable exit of Arkadiusz Milik. It too looks as though both Fabian Ruiz and Kalidou Koulibaly were persuaded into staying at the San Paolo, so last seasons strengths (midfield + defense) look as sturdy as ever. There seem to be few weaknesses in this squad if any, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Napoli regained its previous heights and challenged for its third ever Scudetto.
Another club that could reawaken, albeit from a much longer slumber, is AC Milan. The Rossoneri ended 2019/20 on a high under Stefano Piolo, closing the season with 9 wins and 3 draws. Though that wasn’t enough to reach the Champions League, it was good for keeping Piolo in his job amid speculation over a Ralf Rangnick arrival. The recent additions of Sandro Tonali and Brahim Diaz on loan from Brescia and Real Madrid will bolster the defensive and offensive sides of Milan’s midfield, though those have been the only notable move so far. Should it remain that way, the roster seems to lack enough talent from top to bottom to carry out a UCL challenge, especially if age finally catches up with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was vital in Milan’s turnaround. Still, if the form Milan that showed at the end of 2019/20 is what we’ll see on a consistent basis this season, we can drop another name into the title challengers hat.
The picture is not so cheery in Rome, however. Lazio was superb up until Serie A ground to a halt in March, as we all know, crumbled after the restart. Lack of depth was a glaring concern, and the signings of wing-back Mohamed Fares and striker Vedat Muriqi partially solve it. What it doesn’t do is make up for the overall shortage of quality in Lazio compared to other top clubs. Luis Alberto, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, and Ciro Immobile will all need to be as magnificent as they were last season, or else a regression to the mean is quite possible. Le Aquile’s reliance on Immobile is both a blessing and a curse, but the latter may be displayed more than the former this season. There are plenty of reasons suggested that seeing the Italian notch a record breaking tally of 36 goals won’t be the case again. First, 40% of last year’s goals were penalties, and it would be unwise to bet on that many refereeing decisions going Immobile’s way again. Immobile also overshot his career average of 16 goals by 20, and more than doubled his 2018/29 sum, so although last year was superb, it isn’t what we should expect. With the 30-year-old contributing to 44 of Lazio’s 79 goals in 2019/20, Le Aquile will likely need goals from someone else this season if Champions League qualification is to be repeated.
Like Lazio, Roma have kept practically all of last season’s starting XI, but with the amount of improvement teams around it have been doing, the Giallorossi may be in danger of losing their Europa League spot. Even worse for Roma is Nicolo Zaniolo’s ACL injury, despite much of last season being played without the Italian. He provided quite a spark in the games he was able to take part in, despite some less than flashy stats (6 goals, 2 assists in 26 games) Keeping Edin Dzeko healthy and bringing out more production from Carles Perez and Lorenzo Pellegrini will be vital to Roma’s fortunes, especially considering the lack of signings elsewhere across the pitch. Even Marash Kumbulla’s possible arrival is at the cost of Chris Smalling, who Roma desperately wanted to keep around. Nonetheless, there should be enough quality already on hand at the Olimpico to keep Roma well above the mid-table pack.
Speaking of mid-table, just two teams, Sassuolo and Fiorentina, look capable of breaking out of that region of the table. Let’s start with Sassuolo. The “poor man’s Atalanta” were one of the best teams to watch last year, and despite plenty of transfer rumours, kept hold of its star performers. The likes of Jeremie Boga, Manuel Locatelli, Domenico Berardi, and Francesco Caputo will all be returning to the Mapei Stadium to wreck more havoc upon the league. Defense, though, was and likely still will be an issue for the Neroverdi. That certainly makes games fun to watch, but more likely than not, it will be the only thing holding Sassuolo back from the next level.
Fiorentina, meanwhile, also look competent enough to improve on its 11th place finish last season. With Sofyan Amrabat joining a midfield already boasting the likes of Gaetano Castrovilli and Erick Pulgar, the center of the park will be a stronghold for La Viola. Nikola Milenković and Germán Pezzella are the flag bearers in defense, so scoring on Beppe Iachini’s side won’t be easy either. Attack, however, is a concern, although the potential is there. The three strikers on the roster, Dusan Vlahovic, Patrick Cutrone, and Christian Kouame, have an average age 21, but combined for only 11 goals in 56 games last year. A breakout campaign for either of the trio would be massive for Fiorentina, but there’s no guarantees that anything like that will be the case.
The other teams from last year that all looked Europa League worthy at one point or another have taken some major steps back this season. Hellas Verona has seen the quartet of Ambarat, Rrahmani, and Pessina, and perhaps even Marash Kumbulla all leave. Parma, meanwhile, lost it’s star performer Dejan Kulesevski to Juventus, while some other major parts of last season’s team were only on loan to the Tardini. But despite the changes, both Verona and Parma should steer well of relegation danger, and with a signing or twbe back in the race for Europe.
Whew. Enough of all that. Time for the fun stuff. Predictions!
Scudetto: Inter really have no excuse not to win this considering the market strategy we’ve seen so far from Conte and Co. I’m optimistic that the mix of veterans and youth will be enough to break the title drought, but then again, would you really bet against Juventus? Maybe this time. I’ll go with the Nerazzurri.
Champions League: Juventus, Atalanta, and Napoli will round out the top four, but the exact order is anyone’s guess. With a little luck, either of these three could be a title challenger, if not the champion in May.
Europa League: Milan’s renaissance will land them a 5th place finish, while Lazio drop three spots into 6th, while Roma finds itself at the periphery of Europe.
Coppa Italia: While Andrea Pirlo won’t be able to lift the Scudetto at the end of his first season in charge, he will at least have a Coppa Italia title to his name.
Relegation: It looks as though the trend of two of newly promoted teams being sent right back down into B will continue. Benevento seem the much stronger of the ex-Serie B sides, and should secure safety. Less lucky with be Crotone and Spezia, however. Genoa too will finally slip a little too far and take the tumble, though a poor run of luck could see Torino, Udinese, or Sampdoria find itself in danger as well.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming Serie A season? Let us know in the comments. There should be quite the season in store for us, so buckle up! Here we go!!