Inter’s 2020/21 campaign has been more than enough to keep our attention rooted to the Nerazzurri, but let’s take a step back for an albeit short moment. It’s easy to let the other 19 Serie A teams and each of their stories fade to the background, outside of whomever Inter is lining up against on the weekend. Now, though, we’ll go through the table top to bottom, reflecting on the past 5 months and preparing for the next 5.
This year’s Scudetto race is shaping up to be an unforgettable ride. Milan holds first place with 43 points, Inter is right on its heels with 41 points, while if Juventus wins its game in hand on the Milan clubs, it will boast 39 points. Roma (37 points), Atalanta (36), Napoli (34) can’t be ruled out either, but it would take a bit of a stretch to see either lifting the trophy in May.
Let’s start at the top with the Rossoneri. Stefano Piolo’s side surprisingly has managed to preserve its form from the end of last season, not losing until a January meeting with Juve which followed 16 games unbeaten. This has all been done without Zlatan Ibrahimovic for over half of the campaign, as the Swede has missed ten games so far. Milan has struggled by its standards recently, with three-goal losses to the Old Lady and Atalanta in its last four outings. Even so, Milan is arguably the favorite, having shown incredible strength in depth with 13 goal scorers so far and mentality (several comeback wins), even if the first team isn’t as talent-filled as other top sides. It’s hard to see this team crumbling anytime soon as many predicted, as even the ending of Milan’s lengthy unbeaten run barely appeared to faze it. But can Milan keep up its lightning pace with Inter and Juve right on its heels and prove its worth in head to head clashes?
Juventus, meanwhile, is quite the opposite of Milan’s steady progress. Andrea Pirlo’s side hasn’t found a rhythm just yet, even with a 3-0 win at Barcelona and 3-1 vs Milan under its belt. The potential is clearly there, headlined by the surprise breakout of Weston McKennie in midfield, Federico Chiesa’s occasional brilliance, and of course Cristiano Ronaldo. Whether Pirlo can find a formula that works week in and week out with this team is pivotal to Juve’s hopes of a tenth-straight title. If not, well, being played off the pitch by Inter and draws with the likes of Crotone and Benevento may be just as frequent as the aforementioned victories.
Champions League + Europa League
As if a three-horse Scudetto chase isn't enough, the battle for UCL and UEL is as fierce as ever. Third place Roma (37) is a mere three points ahead of 7th placed Lazio (34), with the likes of Juventus (36), Atalanta (36), and Napoli (34) sandwiched in between. With the bianconeri likely to jump into title contention, while Milan and Inter also seem likely for a Champions League berth, there’s just one spot for up to four (!) teams.
Roma has the upper hand in the current standings, but the Giallorossi’s grip sure is a slippery one. Paulo Fonseca’s side is known to struggle against top of the table teams, and this time around is no different. It has gone 0W-4T-4L versus 9th and above. Roma’s saving grace is how consistently it earns the three points against lower opposition, but with that sort of record in big games, there’s no way the Giallorossi earn a top 4 berth. If Roma can turn that form around in the second half of the season, the sky is the limit. But all signs point to that not happening. Roma suffered a 0-3 derby defeat to Lazio last week before falling 2-4 to Spezia in the Coppa. The pressure on Foncesca’s shoulders is tenfold, and the 30+ frontline of Dzeko-Pedro-Mkhitaryan has been looking its age in recent weeks. If the above trio return to form, January reinforcements like Stephan El Shaaraway arrive, and Fonseca rightens the ship tactically, Roma could be the favorites for 4th. That’s a big if, though, and a hefty amount needs to go Roma’s way for that to be the case.
Atalanta’s season has as entertaining as we all expected, but not exactly as the other Nerazzurri drew it up. The main storyline has been Alejandro “Papu” Gomez’s bust-up with Gianpiero Gasperini which has seen the Argentine find a home in the stands since a December 16th draw vs Juventus. And yet, Atalanta has gone 5W-3T-0L since. La Dea isn’t necessarily playing better without Gomez, but it has seamlessly transitioned into the “Post Papu” era in large part thanks to an in-form Josep Ilicic. The Slovenian has 3 goals and 6 assists since Gomez was dropped. Atalanta has now climbed itself out of the hole a poor run of form in Autumn caused, and looks set to challenge for a UCL spot at the least if its current form holds steady.
Napoli has yet to find consistency in Gennaro Gattuso’s first full season at the helm. At times, the Partenopei look unbeatable, such as in 4-1 and 4-0 wins over Atalanta and Roma respectively, as well as 6-0 conquests of Genoa and Fiorentina. But Napoli has struggled in recent weeks, looking lost across the pitch. Misfiring tactics and poor individual performances have Napoli dysfunctional in midfield and the final third when players like Lorenzo Insigne and Chucky Lozano aren’t at their best. The long-term absence of Victor Osimhen hasn’t helped, but even without the Nigerian, Napoli has loads of quality. It’s not clicking, though, and Gattuso’s seat is becoming hotter by the day. The squad is definitely worthy of UCL football, but whether Gattuso is the hand to meld the pieces into a formidable unit will be put to the test in the coming weeks.
Lazio was predicted to bounce back to the mean after overperforming last season and reaching 4th, and that’s very much the case this time around. Simone Inzaghi’s side struggled to balance UCL group stage and league action over the fall, dropping points in Serie A more often than not. But since European competition was put on hold, Lazio has turned things around with only one loss in the last nine. The biancocelesti is right back in top-four contention, and though another title run such as last year’s is unlikely, Lazio could very well end up in the Champions League once again.
The top seven may be all of the names you expect in the upper reaches of the table, but Hellas Verona and Sassuolo (both on 30 points) have proven capable of playing with the big boys so far. Both have slowly slipped down the table as the season wears on, but ruling either out of snatching a European spot wouldn’t be wise. The only other team perhaps capable of similar heights is Fiorentina, but La Viola is on its second coach of the season and all the way down in 12th.
After being the shock of the league last season when it finished 9th as a promoted team, Hellas Verona has followed that up with an equally impressive 2020/21. Ivan Juric’s Verona has one of the clearest identities in the league; be unpenetrable defensively and capitalize on the few chances it creates. The Gialloblu boasts the best defensive record in the league, conceding a mere 18 goals in 19 games, while it has scored the 15th least. In fact, Verona’s playing style has earned an incredible best record against the top 7 teams. It has gone 4W-2T-1L, with Inter being the only team it lost to. This is all the more praiseworthy considering the summer departures of key players like Marash Kumbulla (CB), Amir Rrahmani (CB), and Sofyan Amrabat (CM). Juric is proving to be by and far the best coach in Italy, and you only wonder what he could do with a team with 10x the resources of Verona (which admittedly is not much). The lack in overall quality is what’s holding back Hellas, but with one or two elite attacking pieces Europa League would only be the floor for Verona.
Sassuolo on the other hand has no trouble scoring goals, keeping them out is the problem. Roberto de Zerbi’s side plays greatly entertaining calcio, a tier below only Atalanta. The Neroverdi has tallied 32 goals, with Domenico Berardi (7g, 4a), Francesco Caputo (7g, 3a), and Filip Djuricic (4g, 2a) carrying most of the load. Sassuolo has conceded the 10th-most goals, while its depth outside of the above trio is also a serious drawback. Though Sassuolo is eye-catching, midtable is its limit without serious investment across the backline and deepening the squad. For now, though, enjoying the Neroverdi and its free-scoring style of play is more than satisfactory.
Last but not least is the fight to avoid the drop. Even if the scudetto has seemed like a foregone conclusion in recent years, the relegation battle can always be counted on to provide storylines and crucial matchups week after week. This year’s edition includes some surprising names, as Torino, Cagliari, and Fiorentina, teams expected to be midtable, are now fighting to avoid the drop at the halfway point. Two of the promoted sides, Benevento and Spezia, appear safe on the other hand. Crotone, also newly promoted, is the only side that looks sure to go down thanks to a severe gap in quality compared to the rest.
Torino sacked Marco Giampaolo after a Matchday 18 draw with Spezia, and came back from 2-0 down to pick up a point in Davide Nicola’s first match in charge. Giampaolo’s tenure will be remembered for an absurd amount of blown leads. Lead by Andrea Belotti in the attack, there is more than enough quality at the Olimpico Grande Torino to stay safe, and Nicola looks capable of the task. It won’t be easy, though, as Torino needs a lengthy winning run to even dream of comfortable safety considering how tight the table is. La Granata should squeak by, though much depends on whether Belotti can find his scoring boots again (no goals in 7 games).
Cagliari has been even more underwhelming compared to expectations, though unlike Torino it made the peculiar decision of extending head coach Eusebio Di Francesco’s contract after a run of six defeats rather than terminating it. The 51-year-old’s first season in charge has not gone to plan, with Cagliari holding the 3rd worst defensive record and lacking consistency in attack. Joao Pedro has 10 goals and 2 assists but Giovanni Simeone, Nahitan Nandez, Riccardo Sottil haven’t been able to lighten the Brazilian’s workload. If Di Francesco can find a winning formula, the roster is clearly worthy of survival but after 19 games there have been few signs of hope in Sardinia.
Parma has also gone through a coaching change, sacking Fabio Liverani for Roberto D’Aversa. It will take more than just that for safety for the league’s worst attack. Even since D’Aversa’s arrival, Parma has a mere one goal in thee games. Dejan Kulesevki hasn’t been replaced, while both strikers (Cornelius and Inglese) are yet to find the back of the net. Without substantial additions in the final third, this team will be heading down.
Udinese, Genoa, and Fiorentina could all be dragged into the dog fight with a poor run of results, but look safe for now. Udinese showed us Saturday how cohesive it is defensively, and with a clinical finisher in the lineup, it could be five places higher. Genoa has gone 3W-2T-1L since Davide Ballardini took over from Rolando Maran, and there’s reason to suspect its more than just a new coach bounce from the way Genoa has played. Fiorentina’s campaign may have gone off the rails compared to preseason expectations, but even so, relegation seems a step too far for the team with the 7th highest wage bill. La Viola hasn’t found its form under interim manager Cesare Prandelli, but its star players such as Dusan Vlahovic (ST) and Gaetano Castrovilli (CM) have stepped up, though not as often as Fiorentina would like.
Champions League: Inter, Atalanta, Milan
Europa League: Roma, Napoli, Lazio
Relegation: Crotone, Parma, Cagliari
What are your thoughts on the first half of the season? What do you predict for the next five months? Let us know in the comments.