The dust has long since settled on the 2020/21 Serie A season and already the first major international tournament of the summer is approaching. But that hasn’t kept us from looking back at a remarkable campaign on the peninsula.
1. Inter, Milan, Atalanta, and Juve made the top four, Napoli and Lazio landed in the Europa League, while Crotone, Parma, and Benevento found themselves relegated. How do the final standings compare to your preseason expectations? Which team surprised you the most and which fell furthest from their potential?
Michael: Milan have to be the surprise club of the season. To run off that many wins at the beginning of the season and hold onto the top spot in the league for as long as they did with that squad is an impressive feat. I expected Inter, Atalanta, and Juventus in the top four. I did not expect Milan. Napoli would have been my fourth choice at the beginning of the season and they were close.
I expected Benevento to stay up given the summer they had, bringing in experienced veterans like Kamil Glik who was in that cult classic 2016-2017 Monaco side. They also had an impressive start to the season, but they are now 0 for 2 in trying to stay in the top flight for more than one season. Hopefully they will be able to put something together again in the future.
David: Milan of course were a huge surprise. To be in first for so long is quite an achievement and even if they did almost collapse in the spring, last season was a huge success for the Rossoneri. I’m interested to see how Milan balances UCL and Serie A next season and whether they’ll be in the top four consistently, or if this season was a one-off. Spezia also overshot expectations by staying up in their first ever campaign in the top-flight. Vicenzo Italiano could be the next big thing in the Italian coaching sphere.
As for disappointment, Fiorentina. La Viola barely avoided a relegation dogfight thanks to Dusan Vlahovic’s breakout season. Europe was never even a possibility for the team with the 7th-highest wage bill on the peninsula. Fiorentina went through two coaching changes last season and the level of quality in Tuscany is miles above how they’re playing. Maybe Gennaro Gattuso is the man to fix things next season.
2. Which player surprised you the most and went far above expectations?
David: I was taken off guard by how quickly Federico Chiesa took his game to the next level at Juventus. He had always been a hot-and-cold player at Fiorentina but he proved to be one of Juve’s better players from September to May. The Old Lady’s season didn’t go to plan but Chiesa’s eight goals and eight assists surely gave those in Turin cause to smile.
Michael: Chiesa definitely took off at Juventus in a way I didn’t expect. Especially in such a lackluster team. I also think Dusan Vlahovic really established himself in the league this season for Fiorentina. His 21 league goals made him one of the few reasons they avoided a serious relegation scrap.
3. On the flip side, which player disappointed you the most and why?
David: Another high-priced summer import was Victor Osimhen to Napoli. He cost the Partenopei €63 million but ended up missing over half of Napoli’s season. Osimhen had only 2 goals through his first ten games and took until April to start contributing game-in, game-out for Napoli. But while his debut season was a mixed bag, I see the Nigerian taking control of the league this Fall. He had seven goals and two assists in an eight-game stretch this spring and I think we’ll see that Osimhen come 2021/22.
Michael: I honestly thought Marash Kumbulla would tear it up in Rome after making the move to Roma over Inter. He made 21 league starts this season, but just did not look the same player he did at Hellas Verona. However, he is still only 21. Maybe Jose Mourinho can make him into the player he has the potential to be.
4. Who deserves Serie A MVP and why?
David: Lukaku for sure. He was second in Serie A in both goals and assists and led Inter every step of the way to the title.
Michael: It has to be Romelu Lukaku, no doubt. He is the player with the most goal contributions in the league and the centerpiece of the first title-winning Inter since 2010. If he does not win it, I don’t know what to tell you about this league.
5. The failings of Serie A coaches are well documented (see: six midseason managerial changes this season). But which manager most impressed you? Who was the Coach of the Season?
David: No other manager impressed anywhere near as much as Antonio Conte (though Pioli has an argument), so he’s my manager of the year. Anything less than a Scudetto would have been a failure but Conte was able to get Inter locked in and firing on all cylinders when it mattered. The long run of one-goal victories and the incredible mentality Inter showed there doesn’t happen with another manager.
Michael: It has to be Conte. No one had succeeded in getting Inter running at the level they did this season since Jose Mourinho. It takes a special manager to handle Inter. And it will take another to do it again after Conte.
6. Name your Serie A best XI from the past season.
David (4-4-2 diamond): Donnarumma; Gosens, de Vrij, Skriniar, Calabria; Kessie, Brozovic, De Paul, Barella; Lukaku, Muriel
Michael (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Gosens, Bastoni, Skriniar, Hakimi; Kessie, Barella; Insigne, De Paul, Berardi; Lukaku