Serie A Title Race Preview
It was a summer of triumph for Italy’s national team, but the new season of Serie A begins this weekend amidst change and turmoil at Italy’s top clubs. The shake up could lead to a very open title race, so here’s our run down of the runners and riders for the Scudetto.
Cost Cutting at Inter
Inter broke Juventus’ decade long strangehold on Serie A as they marched to the 2021 title, their first since Jose Mourinho guided Inter to the treble in 2010. However Inter spent huge to match Antonio Conte’s ambition and soon made it clear this summer would see cuts. Out went Ashraf Hakimi to PSG and Conte quickly called time on his two year tenure at the San Siro.
Simone Inzaghi arrived to replace Conte and some signings were made in the hugely promising defender Zinho Vanheusden from Standard Liege, Matteo Darmian made his move to Inter permanent and playmaker Hakan Calhanoglu arrived from across the Milan divide. However, Inter suffered a hammer blow with the departure of top scorer Romelu Lukaku. Roma veteran Edin Dzeko has been drafted in as a replacement but is a sticking plaster solution. A more positive move is the signing of Dutch wingback Denzel Dumfries who impressed at this summer’s Euros.
Inzaghi also has the issue of if and when he can expect Christian Eriksen to return after his horrifying collapse at the Euros. For all their problems, Inter still have a strong squad with the rocksteady back three of Stefan Dr Vrij, Milan Skrinair and Allesandro Bastoni. Marcelo Brozovic and Nicolo Barella are an enviable midfield pair and keeping Lautaro Martinez is a better long term option than Lukaku. Inzaghi will be under pressure to produce Champions League progression, the biggest failing of Conte’s time in charge, but maintaining a top four place will be the minimum requirement if the new boss is to stay the course at Inter.
Milan To Go Again
After their incredible start to last season, AC Milan fell short of ending their decade long trophy drought. However, second place guaranteed Champions League football for the first time since 2013 to showcase Milan’s progress under Stefano Pioli. Milan suffered a bitter blow when Gianluigi Donnarumma departed for PSG on a free but made an inspired move by signing Mike Maignan to replace him. The Lille goalkeeper was exceptional last season, leading Ligue 1 in clean sheets as Lille claimed the French title and looks to be one of the best young goalkeepers in world football.
Milan fans were infuriated to see Hakan Calhanoglu leave for Inter but keeping Fikayo Tomori and Sandro Tonali were vital deals for the long term health of the team and left-back Fode Ballo Toure looks another good young signing. A much older signing arrived in the shape of 34-year-old targetman Olivier Giroud. The France striker provides Milan with an impact substitute and a reliable back up for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Whilst this remains a young Milan team a pair of veterans at either end of the pitch remain pivotal players. Simon Kjaer is a proven leader in defence and is coming off a career year at the age of 32. Zlatan remains the main man, his contribution to Milan’s revival going far beyond his goals. He will turn 40 in October but has recovered from the knee injury which ruled him out of this summer’s Euros. After re-establishing themselves at Europe’s top-table Milan will be hopeful of going the distance in this season’s title hunt.
Allegri Back With The Old Lady
Last season proved a catastrophe for Juventus, they started hoping for their tenth straight title and ended the season barely scraping into the top four. It proved fatal to the short reign of Andrea Pirlo, with a familiar face returning to the dug-out, Massimiliano Allegri. Allegri took the Old Lady to the incredible heights of five straight Serie A titles, four Coppa Italia wins and two Champions League finals. Juventus hoped to replace Allegri with a manager to take the final step and bring the Champions League trophy to Turin, but Juventus have struggled without Allegri and fans are relieved he’s back.
The squad Allegri returns to isn’t quite the one he left but still contains the cast iron defensive duo of Georigio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. Chielini struggled with injury last season but was back to his best at the Euros, whilst Allegri will be looking for more from Matthijs De Ligt who has struggled to recapture his Ajax form. Allegri can no longer turn to Miralem Pjanic in midfield but Weston McKinnie has made his move to Juve permanent but may start the season without injured playmaker Adrien Rabiot.
In attack Cristiano Ronaldo is still vying for a sixth Champions League win and will lead the attack. Paulo Dybala and Alvaro Morata provide able foils for Ronaldo whilst winger Dejan Kulusevski offers a dynamic young option. This isn;t the best Juventus team Allegri has managed but the squad is incredibly deep and they start the season as title favoruites.
Atalanta at the Top Table
Atalanta continue to surprise and now look a permanent addition to Italy’s top tier of clubs. Innovative coach Gian Piero Gasperini continues to mastermind a team that retains the ability to lose key players and still get better. Last season saw star forward Papu Gomez depart, yet Atalanta still lead the league in goals thanks to the pairing of Luis Muriel and Duvan Zapata.
This summer saw the club spend their Champions League winnings on €20m goalkeeper Juan Musso whilst in central defence Christian Romero has been replaced by Juve’s Merih Demiral as Gasperini tries to sure up a defence that does concede more goals than their rivals.
Robin Gosens and Ruslan Malinovskyi both showed off their talents at the Euros and alongside Mario Pasalic and veteran Josip Ilicic provide Atalanta with a creativity that can dazzle. Another season in the Champions League awaits and if Musso shines at the back Atalanta could provide the major trophy that has so far eluded Gasperini.
A Fresh Start in Naples
The Genaro Gattuso era at Napoli ended with the club missing out on the Champions League. It paved the way for former Roma boss Luciano Spalletti to return to Serie A management. The veteran coach provides a safe pair of hands for a squad that remains largely unchanged.
Matteo Politano has made his loan move a permanent deal after a successful season and new loan moves are likely before the window closes, with a move to bring back Tiemoue Bakayoko a possibility but crucially Piotr Zielinski remains at the club. Napoli’s core remains their key veteran players lead as ever by defensive pair Kalidou Koulibaly and Konstantinos Manolas whilst Italy international Lorenzo Insigne gives them an x factor in the final third. The evergreen Dries Mertens will miss the start of the season with a shoulder injury putting more pressure on young striker Victor Osimhen to provide lead the line.
Spalletti should get more out of Napoli’s gifted squad than Gattuso and in an open season Napoli’s experienced squad are dark horses, f they can balance Thursday nights in the Europa League with Sundays in Serie A.
The Ego Has Landed in Rome
Roma suffered a hugely disappointing season but then stunned the football world by appointing Jose Mourinho. It will be Mourinho’s first job in Italy since his phenomenal success at Inter, but his last major trophy came with Manchester United in the 2017 Europa League and his recent spell at Tottenham proved a disaster. Despite his recent struggles in England, Mourinho is still hugely respected in Italy and is seen as a coupe for Roma.
Roma’s soft defence as too often been their achilles heel in recent years, Mourinho has been quick to rebuild the back line with a string of signings. In come vastly experienced goalkeeper Rui Patricio, full backs Bryan Reynolds and Matias Vina and centre back Roger Ibanez has converted his loan into a permanent deal. Club legend Edin Dezko has left for Inter after scoring over 100 goals for Roma, but Mourinho has found a fine replacement in England international Tammy Abraham, with the 23-year-old set to signing from Chelsea.
Mourinho has been on spiky form in pre-season earning himself a red card whilst his team have engaged in several mass brawls before the real season has even kicked off, it should be an entertaining watch this season in the Eternal City, with a return to the Champions League the likely target.
Sarri Returns with Lazio
The Rome derby will see a clash of former Chelsea managers with Maurizio Sarri locking horns with Mourinho. Sarri won the 2020 title with Juventus but looked an awkward fit in Turin and was sacked last summer. Ironicaly it was Lazio who gave Sarri’s Juve a fright in 2020 on the back of an inspired season from Ciro Immobile, but last season they regressed back out of the Champions League places.
The ‘sarriball’ system should work better at Lazio and the team will move to his preferred 4-3-3 system. To fit the new system Sarri has acquired fullbacks Elseid Hysaj and Dimitrije Kamenovic. Winger Felipe Anderson returned to the club this summer after a torrid three year stay with West Ham, bought back for less than 10% of the fee Lazio received for him in 2018, the Brazilian winger is a low risk wildcard.
One immediate problem facing Sarri is want away midfielder Luis Alberto. The Spanish playamker has been reluctant to return to the club and whilst Sarri has left the door open for his return it seems a parting of the ways is on the cards. If Alberto does stay his combination with top scorer Immobile will again be critical to Lazio’s fortunes.
Of those looking to spring a surprise and qualify for Europe, Sassuolo agonisingly missed out on European qualification on goal difference last season, however they look set to lose star midfielder Manual Locatelli with Juventus set to pounce. Sampdoria are another dark horse club looking to hang onto their prized asset with Danish starlet Mikkel Damsgaard linked with a move away, but the club remain hopeful he will stay another year in Genoa.
Elsewhere Hellas Verona famously stunned Italian football to win a surprise title in 1984, and look a credible threat to grab a European place with Eusebio Di Francesco’s young team this season. Fiorentina could be a team to watch having made some aggressive moves this summer, adding forward Nicolas Gonzalez from Stuttgart for a big fee and will be looking to re-establish themselves in the top half of the table.
Predicted Serie A Top 8: 1. Juventus, 2 AC Milan, 3. Atalanta, 4. Roma, 5. Inter, 6. Napoli, 7. Lazio, 8.Fiorentina
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