It’s been 278 days since Giacomo Raspadori notched goal number one of the 2021/22 Serie A season in Sassuolo’s 3-2 win over Hellas Verona at the Bentengodi. 379 games and 1,089 goals later, the curtains have finally closed on this wild and wacky campaign. Serie A has given us everything from a thrilling and topsy-turvy title race to a relegation battle that went down to the final seconds of action. It’s more than understandable if you haven’t been able to keep track of each and every twist in the tale, but luckily there are people like me with way too much time on their hands on the weekend to watch this crazy league we all love so much. I took a look at every team’s (except Inter, who we’ll talk about plenty) season and the main storylines that played out across the peninsula.
Milan - An incredible effort from Pioli’s men. Few expected them to be title challengers at the start and yet the Rossoneri proved their quality again and again. The entire squad stepped up to balance out Milan’s relative lack of stars, with young talents like Rafael Leao and Sandro Tonali who jumped to the next level leading the way. Piolo also deserves a mountain of credit and the Coach of the Year award for navigating Milan’s many injuries and putting his players in a position to succeed.
Napoli - Luciano Spalletti accomplished the primary objective of top four football but it still feels like Napoli left a Scudetto on the table. If not for losses to Empoli (x2), Spezia, and Fiorentina the Partenopei very well could have been champions. Spalletti will get a fair amount of the blame for choking another title challenge (blowing a 2-0 lead in the final ten minutes at Empoli will sting in Naples for a long time) as we saw all too often at Inter. To make matters worse, the impending exit of Lorenzo Insigne and swirling rumors over Victor Osimhen mean this could easily have been Napoli’s only title window for a while. The good news, though, is that European football and all of the money it brings is heading back to the Stadio Maradona.
Juventus - A less than ideal return for Massimiliano Allegri. Juve suffered its first trophyless season in over a decade (must be nice) despite the much-touted arrivals of Manuel Locatelli and Dusan Vlahovic, was never really in the title race, and got dumped out of the UCL in the Round of 16. Allegri’s tactics also seem as outdated as ever, and though they usually garner results, few players showed any sort of improvement over the season and there was a fair amount of regression, especially amongst the attack. A busy off-season is almost certainly on its way to Turin, however, with stalwarts like Giorgio Chiellini and Paulo Dybala heading towards the exit.
Lazio - A successful first season in charge for Maurizio Sarri, though not without a number of hiccups along the way. Transitioning from Inzaghi’s 3-5-2 to a new-look 4-3-3 was always going to be tough and for much of the first half of the season, it looked like Lazio might not be able to handle it. Star players like Luis Alberto and Sergej Milenkovic Savic were struggling to find a home in the new system and Lazio had one of the worst defenses in the division. However, their porous backline began to close its gaps as the season wore on and the likes of Immobile and SMS hit a sustained run of elite form. A spot in the Europa League is about what many Laziali would have predicted in August, but the Rome club is in for an important summer window as the squad is further shaped in Sarri’s image and rumors swirl over Alberto and SMS’ future. Also worth noting, this is one of the oldest rosters in the league and Immobile turns 33 next season, though he’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Roma - Roma didn’t receive the immediate boost it expected when Jose Mourinho replaced Paulo Fonseca last summer, but the club from the Eternal City still found a lot to build on (and fix) in the Special One’s debut. Despite only picking up one more point than last season, the Giallorossi earned a Europa League spot and have a shot at their first trophy in over a decade in Wednesday’s Conference League final against Feyenoord. Tammy Abraham and Lorenzo Pellegrini shined brightly and are pieces to build on, but Roma still has a fair amount of work to do before challenging for the top four. The Giallorossi lacked consistency and never quite had a recognizable identity over the season, nor was there clear team-wide improvement from Matchday 1 to 38. You can see the makings of a Champions League side here, but as of now both the roster and Mourinho’s project are far too incomplete.
Fiorentina - Vicenzo Italiano’s first season in Florence could hardly have gone better. Fiorentina went from battling relegation to the top seven and a Conference League spot in just a year’s time, despite losing Dusan Vlahovic mid-season and getting mixed results from the trio of attackers brought in to replace him (Ikone, Piatek, Cabral). The Viola played an easy-on-the-eye style that garnered a number of results over the big sides, including a 2-0 Matchday 38 win over Juve to clinch seventh. Fiorentina was prone to collapse as well (a pair of 4-0 defeats to Udinese and Sampdoria almost entirely derailed its season), so it wasn’t all flowers and roses in Tuscany. Fiorentina will need a number of major additions to better juggle European play with Serie A next season, but for now, they can enjoy a return to continental action for the first time since 2016 and hopefully the start of something big under Italiano.
Atalanta - The team that fell out of Europe in place of Fiorentina was Atalanta. La Dea went from receiving possible Scudetto shouts in August to their lowest league finish since 2015/16. Just about everyone regressed and none of their new signings proved to be top four quality, with the exception of Davide Zappacosta. Atalanta’s free-flowing attacking play was seen less and less often this year, with the absences of Papu Gomez and Josip Ilicic starting to show their effect. Is this the beginning of the end for Gian Piero Gasperini and Atalanta? The Italian will have to show that his tactics haven’t worn out and rejuvenate a stale squad to keep Atalanta from tumbling back into mid-table obscurity after five years in the limelight.
Hellas Verona - The disastrous appointment of Eusebio Di Francesco to replace Ivan Juric was smartly ended after three losses to start the season and to great effect. His replacement, Igor Tudor, guided Verona to a comfortable midtable finish and built upon much of the same principles that Juric so successfully established. Giovanni Simeone and Gianluca Caprari were the stars of the show but even if a big club poaches them, Tudor has firmly established Verona as a top-flight club and the Mastiffs have few holes across the roster.
Torino - Ivan Juric laid a strong foundation in his debut season, leading Torino to a safe midtable finish after barely scraping by relegation last year. La Granata had one of the best defenses in the league and a strong midfield duo of Sasa Lukic and Rolando Mandragora under Juric, though the attack left a bit to be desired. They might have to wait a bit longer before making a run at the European places, however, with Bremer, Andrea Belotti, Josip Brekalo, and Tommaso Pobega all likely to leave this summer.
Sassuolo - Losing Roberto De Zerbi and Manuel Locatelli in the same summer meant there was sure to be a drop-off in Emilia Romagna but a solid midtable finish and several wins over big clubs mean there’s not too much to complain about for Sassuolo. Manager Alessio Dionisi has a bright future ahead of him after putting his first season in the top flight in the books, but as always, the question is who stays and who goes in the market. The Neroverdi’s entire starting attack and midfield have been linked away, so it’s all a matter of if the right offers arrive.
Udinese - The Fruilani weathered the losses of Rodrigo De Paul and Juan Musso admirably well and booked another season in the top flight. Interim manager and former assistant to his predecessor Luca Gotti, Gabriele Cioffi, turned Udinese into a bit of an attacking machine with BLANK goals. He’s done enough to earn an entire season at the helm next year, so the real question is how many of its key players stay at the Dacia. Gerard Deulofeu, Beto, Nahuel Molina, and Destiny Udogie are well worth keeping a watch on and make Udinese a bit easier on the eye, though the essence of the defensively solid 3-5-2 remains imprinted on the Zebrette.
Bologna - Perhaps the most midtable of midtable clubs. Never in danger of relegation but also never able to fully realize their potential in the way Verona and Torino have done. Despite a number of exciting young attackers (Orsolini, Barrow), Bologna plays a conservative style that leaves you wondering what if an attack-minded manager was at the helm. This season was no different and unfortunately, we shouldn’t expect future ones to differ from this path either.
Empoli - Always a success for a newly promoted team to stay up, especially with as little drama as Empoli managed this season. Though prone to high-scoring games on both ends of the pitch, Empoli sat safely midtable for much of the year. The collapse in the second half of the season doesn’t bode well for the future, along with the prospect of its young players heading to greener pastures - Vicario, Asllani, and Pinamonti (on loan from Inter) are just some of the many names linked away from Tuscany.
Sampdoria - Safety equals success, especially when their city rivals Genoa aren’t so lucky. Even so, this was a bit too close of a call for the Blucerchiati. They struggled to replace Claudio Ranieri and after a failed Roberto D’Aversa run, settled on Marco Giampaolo. He didn’t do much better, though Samp did manage to avoid the drop under his guidance. Without a number of additions this summer, however, Sampdoria’s aging squad will likely find itself in a very similar position in a year's time.
Spezia - A lot to be proud of for Spezia. Despite losing star manager Vicenzo Italiano and facing a two-year transfer ban, Spezia secured a third-straight year of Serie A football. Thiago Motta did excellently and is a rare example of the positives *not* sacking a manager can do. Despite several runs of awful form, Spezia stuck with him and eventually, the continuity paid off.
Salernitana - The miracle comeback. Dead and buried with 11 points and a 5-point gap from safety at the midway point (and only hours from being excluded from Serie A due to ownership), Salernitana somehow pulled off the impossible. Walter Sabatini’s many signings in January set the stage while relegation escape artist Davide Nicola did the rest. Watching the Stadio Arechi come alive as the dream of safety slowly became reality was a beautiful sight and one we likely won’t see for a long time. Along with the sporting miracle nature of Salernitana’s escape, mathematically the odds are against a repeat as well - Salernitana’s 31 points were the lowest tally to secure safety since Messina Peloro’s 31 points in the 2005/26 season. That doesn't mean Salernitana will certainly be heading down next season - if there’s one man that can build a top-flight level squad in one summer, it’s Sabatini. But no matter what happens next, the city of Salerno and Serie A in general will always have this incredible, one-of-a-kind escape to remember.
Cagliari - Years of disfunction finally resulted in the inevitable as Cagliari head down to the second division for the first time since 2015/16. It’s a deserved relegation - the Isolani have shown the bare minimum of ambition in recent years and consistently rely on late-season coaching changes to stay up. President Tommaso Giulini loves nothing more than to constantly sack coaches to put the blame on them rather than his awful managing of the club. Perhaps the worst example of his transfer “strategy” came last summer when they refused to pay Inter for on-loan star midfielder Radja Nainggolan, prompting Inter to release him. Even then, Cagliari didn’t offer the Belgian a big enough salary to stay, and he’s now at Antwerp. Nainggolan’s leadership and fight have been sorely missed since.
Genoa - Their luck finally ran out and Genoa will be heading down to B after another chaotic season in Liguria. The Grifone went through three coaches but ultimately the holes in their roster were too much to overcome. The future, though, should be brighter. Manager Alexander Blessin, appointed in January 2022, is sticking around, and for good reason. He did a respectable job establishing an identity and style for a usually hapless Genoa and could do good things with a more complete squad. Genoa’s new American ownership should also ensure further investment rather than the usual contingent of Serie A veterans that come and go from the Marassi like waves every summer.
Venezia - The early signs were promising and full of flashy attacking football, but in the end, Venezia lacked the quality and Serie A know-how to navigate a relegation battle. Its stellar jerseys didn’t do much help for a team full of youngsters and foreigners not suited to the peninsula. At 39 years old, manager Paolo Zanetti has a promising future ahead of him but he too was unaccustomed to a battle for the drop. A season in B could do its contingent of young attackers well and prepare them better for future seasons in the top flight.
And that’s that. We now have two months of recovery and rest without Serie A gracing the television every weekend until Matchday 1 of the 2022/23 season.
What are your thoughts on the season? How’d your preseason predictions fare? What teams surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments below.