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An In-Depth Look at the New Boys in Serie A From a Special Guest

Benevento, Crotone, and Spezia are all put under the microscope by @TotalSerieB

FC Crotone v AC Spezia - Serie B Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

If you want to know the enterprises of Serie B, Italy’s second division, there’s one place to go. The @TotalSerieB account on Twitter. He gave me practically all of my Serie B knowledge last season, and as you’ll see below, is immensely knowledgeable about calcio. Safe to say, he’s worth a follow.

Anyways, a massive thanks to him for giving us an exquisite rundown on the three teams entering Serie A this season, Benevento, Crotone, and Spezia.

The 2020-21 Serie A season is nearly upon us, which means we will soon get our first glimpse at the fresh faces joining the league from the second division. In doing so, we will be treated to a side making only their second appearance in the top flight, a squad of sharks led by a Nigerian marksman, as well as a Serie A debutant on the heels of a dramatic playoff victory. Looking to exchange pleasantries and get on a first-name basis with the collection of Serie A newcomers? Of course you are.

Benevento Calcio v Venezia FC - Serie B Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images for Lega Serie B

Benevento Calcio | Benevento, Campania | Stadio CigoVigorito

Known colloquially as Gli Stregoni (the Scorerers) or Le Streghe (The Witches) due to local folklore dating back hundreds of years, Benevento hail from the city of the same name situated roughly 70 kilometers northeast of Naples which was allegedly a meeting place for witches at one point. Originally founded in 1929 and restructured in 2005, their meteoric rise to the upper echelon of the Italian game has occurred in the last five years thanks to back-to-back promotions in the 2015-16 and 2016-2017 seasons.

The Giallorossi introduced themselves to the football world at large in early June of 2017, when they miraculously achieved a first promotion to Serie A in club history via the playoff and onlookers quickly became enamored with their unique badge. A fifth-place finish earned a spot in postseason play and one-goal wins over Spezia, Perugia, and Carpi in the final sent the Campanian city into hysteria for weeks.

Although they produced a considerable number of spirited performances and probably deserved a bit more than their 21 points on the table might suggest about their quality, they ultimately finished bottom of the table and immediately returned to the second tier. The most memorable moment came as an early Christmas gift on December 3, when a splendid header by goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli at the death earned a famous first point against Milan. Look away, Rossoneri fans.

Since then, they have been steadily plugging away at a return. Once again, a finish near the top of the table in 2018-19 earned a spot in the promotion playoff, but they went tumbling out at the hands of Cittadella in the semifinal. Fans must still be pinching themselves following their thorough domination of the competition over the past year and second promotion in club history.

Le Streghe are now primed and ready for Serie A Act II and have every reason to believe they can avoid the drop this time around. Their historic season in the second division, which equaled Palermo’s record points tally (86), was buoyed by their airtight defense and ability to find the back of the net from a variety of positions. Pippo Inzaghi’s men conceded a paltry 27 goals in 38 matches, 13 fewer than the next best defense, and goalkeeper Lorenzo Montipò kept a staggering 18 clean sheats. In the offensive phase, Marco Sau led the way with 13 goals but there was plenty of love to go around with Nicolas Viola, Roberto Insigne, and Massimo Coda each scoring seven or more. An added treat this campaign will be the sight of Insigne lining up against his brother Lorenzo in a pair of Campanian derbies against Napoli.

SC Benevento v SC Reggina - Football friendly Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Head coach Pippo Inzaghi has a bit of personal redemption in his sights after unsuccessful spells at Milan and Bologna. The skipper has quite the array of weapons at his disposal already, and an array of notable acquisitions this summer will have the 47-year-old much more confident in his starting XI and squad depth.

Veteran defender Kamil Glik brings boatloads of experience in the top flights of Italy and France, midfielder Bryan Dabo will be looking to have a standout year following spells at Fiorentina and SPAL, Gianluca Lapadula can add his offensive prowess to the mix on the heels of a solid season up top for Lecce, and Gianluca Caprari’s arrival from Sampdoria offers quality at the second striker position. Finally, Moldovan midfielder Artur Ionita can be a pillar in the middle of the park with a four-year stay and 132 appearances at Cagliari in the rear view.

With Benevento’s opener against Sampdoria fast approaching, Inzaghi is particularly thrilled with how quickly Glik and Ionita have settled into the squad.

“Glik and Ionita seem to have been working with us for years,” the manager told Football Italia during the week.

It’s quite an uphill battle attempting to hang with the big boys of Serie A, and we’ll soon know if Benevento have a bit more magic up their sleeves in their second shot at staying afloat.

F.C. Crotone | Crotone, Calabria | Stadio Alberto Picco

FC Crotone v Frosinone Calcio - Serie B Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images for Lega Serie B

Founded in 1910 on the eastern coast of Calabria, Crotone is the second in a pair of southern outfits to make the leap to the top flight this year. They should be a familiar name and color scheme for those who have had any sort of passing interest in Italian football in recent years, as they were narrowly edged out by SPAL in the 2017-18 season to finish in 18th position and tumbled into Serie B alongside Benevento.

This rather unfortunate turn of events came in year two in Serie A after securing their first ever at the top of the Italian pyramid just a year before Benevento did the same. The club boasts a quality range of nicknames, including GliSquali (The Sharks), I Pitagorici (The Pythagoreans in light of the area’s Greek history), or simply the Rossoblùdue to the badge and kit colors.

Crotone are a lovely example of the incredibly competitive nature of the second division, often resulting in sharp rises and falls from one year to the next for even the most historic of clubs such as Perugia tumbling into Serie C this season. A 12th-place finish in the 2018-19 season, which included a league-worst winless run of 11 matches, certainly didn’t bode well for their chances of finishing near the top of the table subsequently, let alone securing automatic promotion with a Golden Boot winner. Nevertheless, here we are welcoming manager Giovanni Stroppa and company.

FC Crotone v Frosinone Calcio - Serie B
Crotone’s leading scorer Simy Nwankwo
Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images for Lega Serie B

Simeon “Simy” Nwankwo is the main man up top on the heels of the most successful year of his career. The Nigerian made history as the first African player to conquer the scoring charts of any professional division in Italy with 20 tallies to his name. The 28-year-old was often at the heart of everything his side did well with nearly a third of their goals (20 of 63), but Brazilian winger Junior Messiaswill once again look to stretch opposing back lines and make his presence known after finishing second on the team in goals + assists (six and four). Finishing only four back of Benevento in the goals department is commendable in and of itself, but hitting the woodwork 20 times – good for most in the league – exemplifies just how dangerous they proved to be in the final third.

Perhaps the biggest challenging awaiting the team is their quest to hold onto the ball close to the level they’re accustomed to. Roughly 61% possession was head and shoulders above the competition and center back Luca Marrone, who recently completed a permanent move from Hellas Verona, was pivotal with his distribution in conjunction with steadfast defending. The fact that the former Juventus midfielder-turned-defender led the team in accurate passes per match (61) illustrates credence to his calmness on the ball and gives a glimpse into Crotone’s style of play.

Crotone have been busy bees in the transfer market with perhaps a bit more work to do than Benevento to build a competitive squad. Notable acquisitions looking to immediately slot into the starting lineup include striker Emmanuel Riviere from Cosenza, a familiar name in midfielder Luca Cigarini from Cagliari, outside back Andrea Rispoli from Lecce, and defensive midfielder Eduardo on loan from Portuguese outfit Sporting Lisbon. Lastly, center back Lisandro Magallán has arrived on loan from Ajax and is a player that everyone should be keeping an eye on this season . The 26-year-old Argentine has landed on the Italian peninsula following a year suiting up for Alavés in La Liga.

Spezia Calcio | La Spezia, Liguria | Stadio Alberto Picco

Spezia Calcio v Frosinone Calcio - Serie B Playoff Final
Spezia celebrating its first ever promotion
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images for Lega Serie B

After emerging unscathed in the 2020 Serie B Promotion Playoff, Spezia’s maiden Serie A voyage has supporters on the Ligurian coast beeming with pride. Founded in 1906 and restructured in 2008 following bankruptcy, the Aquile(Eagles) do have a bit of notable history to their name in the form of a Campionato Alta Italia win, a regional competition held in 1944 that the Italian Federation deems an honorary title, but this is undoubtedly the biggest stage they have ever taken. It was some scene when they edged past Frosinone despite falling 1-0 in the second leg of the final.

Manager Vincenzo Italiano has seen his stock soar in a few short years with what he has been able to accomplish at Arzignano, Trapani, and now Spezia. The 42-year-old only hung up his playing boots six years ago, but as leader of the dugout he has overseen three consecutive promotions for three different clubs. His efforts to pass the most daunting test of his young managerial career will be boosted by returning standout players.

Spezia Calcio v Frosinone Calcio - Serie B Playoff Final
Manager Vicenzo Italiano gestures during the match
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images for Lega Serie B

Paolo Bartoleomei, Emmanuel Gyasi, and Giulio Maggiore are a few names to know who will be pulling on the Bianconero shirt once again. Bartolomei, 31, pulled the strings all season long from midfield and finished second in the league with 11 assists, while Maggiore is a rising talent at 22 years of age and can pick out a pass of his own alongside Bartolomei with seven assists. 26-year-old Gyasi finished atop the team’s scoring chart with nine strikes, and his pace and dribbling skills should make him a handful for Serie A back lines. Spezia will likely need someone to step up with double digits in light of last year’s dynamic of scoring by committee; Gyasiwas joined by four other players who scored between five and nine goals.

Many deemed Simone Scuffet to be the next big thing between the sticks in Italy, but a few disappointing seasons at Udinese stalled his ascent. A loan move to Spezia was the best possible thing for his career, as he finished in the conversation for best goalkeeper in the league and was key to their third-place finish. It’s a bit of an interesting pivot, however, as Dutch shot stopper Jeroen Zoet was brought in from PSV Eindhoven and will presumably be the starter.

Spezia’s reinforcements have largely been chosen in an effort to short things up at the back. A pair of Atalanta loanees recently arrived in La Spezia, namely defender Federico Mattiello and forward Roberto Piccoli. With 70 Serie A appearances at Cagliari and Bologna to his name, Mattiello will likely slide right in at the right back position. Piccoli, on the other hand, will surely need more time to train and develop at a tender 19 years of age. Secured from Hajduk Split for a fee of roughly €2 million, Albanian defender Ardian Ismajli is an intriguing talent at center back. Soon to be 24, he cracked into the Albanian national team in 2018 and has since made 11 appearances. Finally, defender Riccardo Marchizza, 22, has been steadily rising through the youth ranks of the Italian national team and brings valuable versatility as a left-footed player who can play centrally or at left back.

In bocca al lupo to the new additions to our wonderfully hectic league!