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SoM Staff Roundtable: Serie A Season Preview

It’s calcio time again on the peninsula and the SoM crew got together to prepare for the upcoming season of Italy’s top flight

FC Internazionale Training Session Photo by Mattia Ozbot/Inter via Getty Images

La Liga and the EPL might be fun, but football hasn’t really started until Serie A is back. The last of Europe’s big five leagues to get underway is set to get rolling Saturday afternoon with the simultaneous kickoff of Inter vs Genoa and Hellas Verona against Sassuolo.

With everything from the reintroduction of Jose Mourinho to Italy, to another furious offseason managerial merry-go-round, and an incredibly competitive top of the table, the next 38 matchdays promise to entertain one way or another!

FC Twente v SS Lazio - Preseason Friendly Match Photo by Jeroen Meuwsen/BSR Agency/Getty Images

What non-Inter team are you most looking forward to watching?


Mario:

Lazio. After Inzaghi left for us, they replaced him with Maurizio Sarri. Lazio have a solid core midfield group of Sergei Milinkovic-Savic, Luis Alberto and Lucas Leiva. These three will be key to SarriBall, and if it all works out they could ball out.

Josh:

There’s only one answer. AS Roma is being managed by José Mourinho. In case you weren’t paying attention to football this summer, the man himself came to Serie A. He saw a chance at the crown with Inter selling anyone great and Juventus floundering. Now we get to see his hopes and dreams fall apart.

David:

Fiorentina and Atalanta (obviously) have me excited but I have to go with Josh and say Roma. I don’t expect the Giallorossi to start winning trophies left and right but seeing Jose Mourinho back in Serie A promises to entertain. After unsuccessful stints in England, Roma will give him time, and most importantly money, to build a long-term project and I can see it ending any number of ways. Plus, the signings Eldor Shomodurov and Tammy Abraham are really intriguing, not to mention the return of Nicolo Zaniolo. But mainly, Jose Mourinho is back folks!

My hipster pick would be Venezia. They have some of the best kits in Europe and signed a pair of young Americans from MLS that have my attention perked as a certified MLS enjoyer™.

Aerial view of Venezia’s home ground. Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo is the second oldest continually used stadium in Italy (1913). Accessible only by foot OR BY BOAT, the historic venue is uniquely cool in a quintessentially Venetian way

InterPool:

Roma will almost definitely be the most fun to follow from afar because of the inevitable spectacle that will result from the Mourinho experience clashing with the media capital (and, y’know, also the actual capital) of Italy!

Sarri’s Lazio, Spalletti’s Napoli, and of course Gasperini’s Atalanta should all be among the most exciting to actually watch on the pitch.

I also wholeheartedly second David’s hipster pick of Venezia, although in that case I’ve got to admit some personal bias — Venice is the specific city where a lot of my Italian ancestry comes from, so I definitely have a soft spot for them.

Also, out of all teams in the entire world, Venezia has arguably the coolest stadium (see the aerial image above)... AND arguably the coolest nickname — “I Leoni Alati” or, in English, “The Winged Lions”.

Michael:

At the top of the table, Luciano Spaletti’s Napoli. His abundance of wingers could really make that team a menace. Towards the bottom, Thiago Motta’s Spezia. Vincenzo Italiano set some interesting blueprints for that side last season. Enough to get him a job at Fiorentina. Motta has some similar ideas for how to play progressive football, but they have yet to stick.

AS Roma v Raja Casablanca - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

Who had the best summer transfer window and improved the most on paper?


Mario:

Allegri to Juve is the only upgrade (if you want to count it).

David:

Almost all of the top teams in Italy downgraded so this is a tough one to hand out. Maybe Roma, though their main additions all have question marks of varying sizes. Even Atalanta, usually so well-run, lost last season’s defender of the year in Cristian Romero. I’ll go with Juve as well if they manage to bring in Manuel Locatelli.

Michael:

Napoli were able to hold onto their cards and bring in a top four specialist in Spalletti. To me, that is the best move to get a club to their short term goal needed for a longer project by way of securing Champions League football, something Napoli have missed out on recently.

InterPool:

I hate to give Rubentus any credit, but Allegri is obviously a much more proven manager than Pirlo last season in his very first year ever as a coach... and Locatelli provides EXACTLY what their midfield had been missing for the last few years, especially after losing Pjanic.

Roma fixed their biggest issue by bringing in Rui Patricio as an experienced goalkeeper upgrade. Also, their squad has a ton of up-and-coming talent — Mancini, Ibañez, and Kumbulla in defense... Darboe (definitely one to watch), Pellegrini (their captain), Diawara, Cristante, and Villar in midfield... plus Zaniolo, Carles Perez (from Barcelona), Mayoral (from Real Madrid), and now Tammy Abraham in attack. ALL of those players are 26 years old at most, and many of them are several years younger... the question is how much Mourinho will use and develop them, however.

Hellas Verona FC v Udinese Calcio - Serie A Photo by MB Media/Getty Images

Is there any team you see taking a major step backward?


Mario:

Inter will not be winning the Scudetto, so that will be an instant downgrade.

Josh:

The obvious choice as Mario pointed out is Inter. So I’m gonna take a chance and say Milan just for my own hopes.

David:

Hellas Verona and Udinese will have their work cut out for them to stay in the top-flight after relatively safe finishes last season.

The former went from Ivan Juric to Eusebio Di Francesco, completely changing tactical systems and not improving the squad. Juric arguably was heavily overperforming so my money’s on Di Francesco not lasting through the new year.

As for Udinese, it has a Rodrigo De Paul-shaped hole to fill. The Argentine was the only reason Udinese avoided relegation in recent years and if the €35 million Atletico paid for him isn’t smartly reinvested, I Friulani will be facing the drop.

InterPool:

Sassuolo is a wild card. I Neroverdi still have some significant talent in their squad even without Locatelli... but the combination of losing that talented regista AND their manager (De Zerbi moved to Shakhtar Donetsk) in the same summer might be too much for the neutral/hipster’s favorite overachievers last season.

Even if Sassuolo still manages to punch above their weight in terms of table position, those were the two worst possible people to lose in terms of the club’s possession-controlling “modern” tactical identity.

Michael:

Sassuolo for sure. Locatelli is now gone, De Zerbi is in Ukraine, and Berardi wants out. Those three represent the core of that team, especially club icon Berardi. While there are still some talented players in that team, those three leave a massive hole to fill.

Juventus v Hellas Verona FC - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Do any players have a breakout season ahead of them?

Of the many youngsters in the league, who will you be giving special attention to?


Mario:

Luka Romero from Lazio is highly touted as “The Next Messi” When you have a label like that, I’ll give you a minute to see if its legit or not. Lautaro should make strides in his progression, we should see him in an improved role now that he is no longer in the shadows of a preferred striker like Icardi or Lukaku. I think Arthur from Juventus also turns heads under Allegri’s guidance.

David:

It wouldn’t surprise me if Atalanta’s new center-backs, Matteo Lovato and Merih Demiral, followed their predecessor's path of development in Bergamo. Romero was relatively unproven before he arrived at La Dea and look at where he is now after just one year in Atalanta colors.

InterPool:

Probably either some dude named Zlatan or that new Parmesan goalkeeper!

Seriously though, Osimhen showed flashes of elite potential last season after Napoli paid a huge transfer fee for him. Injuries interrupted his momentum settling in, but if the 22-year-old Nigerian can stay fit more consistently, then I expect him to thrive under Spalletti.

Also, as I mentioned above, Darboe at Roma is definitely one to watch — the Gambian 20-year-old got his first few opportunities with the first team at the end of last season, and was extremely impressive, despite the tactical requirements of defensive midfield making it a tricky position for youngsters to adapt to at the top level.

Michael:

Giacomo Raspadori may have a chance to assert himself in a Sassuolo team in transition. He looked good near the end of last season and spent the summer with the European Champions. He’s starting to get some attention from around the league, and it is time for him to back it up.

FC Internazionale v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

There have been twelve coaching changes over the summer throughout Serie A, including five of the teams representing Italy in Europe.

Let’s focus on those five managers:

Inzaghi, Allegri, Spalletti, Mourinho, and Sarri


Who’s set up for success?

Who has the toughest task ahead of them?

Who will be the first to face the sack?


Mario:

Allegri will win the league with Juve, but can he take them to the next step and make strides in Champions League? Sarri will try to take a Lazio team to their next level, excited to see what he does with his talented group of players. Mourinho, not sure if he lasts, Roma should be patient with him but I’m not sure how much patience they will realistically have. Spalletti is an upgrade to Gattuso so he should be able to get them going in the right direction and fight for a top 4 spot.

David:

I could see Aurelio De Laurentiis getting fed up with Luciano Spalletti if Napoli isn’t immediately challenging for top four or Stefano Pioli facing the sack after a few months of mediocrity from Milan. Everyone else is somewhat safe unless something drastic happens in my eyes. Allegri is most likely to succeed just because of how much of an upgrade he is over Andrea Pirlo, though it might take a little longer for Maurizio Sarri and Jose Mourinho to settle in and sculpt their squads to satisfaction.

Michael:

Signing Allegri has set Juve up very well. Signing a serious midfielder in Locatelli will also help return their midfield to a respectable state. They are very much in title contention.

Inzaghi came into Inter and immediately got slapped with the Hakimi and Lukaku departures. With the club coming off a title as well as the pressure and media circus inherent with Inter, he has a very hard task coming.

Mourinho and Sarri are the most fickle of the five and have moved to two of the most fickle clubs. They certainly have to be the favorites for leaving their respective clubs first.

InterPool:

All five are strangely difficult cases to predict for different reasons.

Spalletti and Sarri are both wild cards — Aurelio de Laurentiis at Napoli and Claudio Lotito at Lazio are both notoriously difficult owners to work with, but at least on paper, those two squads each have talent that should suit Spalletti and Sarri’s tactical styles well.

Allegri in theory should have the easiest job, but could potentially find himself burdened by the weight of trophy expectations — Rube fans are happy to accept his defensive tactics as long as it’s working, but who knows how much patience they will show if they have to suffer through boring matches AND underwhelming results again as they did in Allegri’s last season with them.

Inzaghi has the most straightforward transition in terms of tactics — he was probably the best choice in the entire world in terms of “Conte-nuity” with the same exact primary formation as what our team has used throughout the last two seasons. Despite taking over a title-winning team, he also probably has the most margin for error, considering how our fanbase will almost certainly place the vast majority of the blame for any underachievement on the Zhangs for several major reasons.

Mourinho would be the easy choice to predict for being sacked first... but as the first new manager hired since The Friedkin Group became Roma’s new owners, so far it is impossible to know how much patience and support they will show. Inter fans know better than anyone how much “The Special One” can accomplish in the right environment.

Cagliari Calcio v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Enrico Locci/Getty Images

Who wins the capocannoniere?


Mario:

Ronaldo with 38 goals.

Josh:

Sir Ronaldo is an easy pick and the right one.

David:

I’ll go off on a very flimsy limb and say Tammy Abraham. Fair warning, if I’m right I won’t let anyone forget it!

InterPool:

CR7 is obviously the favorite, but I think a few others are at least worth mentioning as potential contenders:

The most realistic — assuming that he actually plays enough minutes — is probably Luis Muriel. Last season he actually led the league by far with 1.38 goals per 90, which is almost half a goal per 90 more than Cristiano’s 0.93 rate!

Vlahovic, Lautaro, and potentially Osimhen are also young potential superstar strikers who seem poised to take the next step.

Immobile remains a wild card as well. Throughout his entire career, he’s underachieved with virtually every single manager he’s played for... and the only major exception has now moved on (moved up) to become our own club’s manager! In theory though, Immobile could absolutely thrive under Sarri.

Michael:

Ronaldo will feast on another season of penalties and tap-ins, unfortunately.

Juventus v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

What’s your prediction for the Scudetto race and top four?


Mario:

Juve, Inter, Milan, Napoli

Josh:

Juve, Atalanta, Inter, Milan

David:

Atalanta, Juve, Inter, Milan

InterPool:

  1. INTERNAZIONALE
  2. Atalanta
  3. Napoli
  4. Roma

(with Rube and Bilan both relegated of course!)

Michael:

Juve, Inter, Napoli, Milan