Cheat Sheet: Serie A 20/21

Want to chat calcio with your cool barista or impress your new signorina’s staunch old nonno? Keep reading, amico!

By Nick Boffa

Style of Play

Italian football is known to be more tactical than many of the other top leagues around Europe and this is reflected in the high reputation abroad of Italian coaches. Serie A teams will tend to be less about helter-skelter football and more about pulling opposition defences apart with patient build up or a killer through-ball. Italy is the land of the regista, meaning ‘director’ in English; a deep-lying playmaker that acts as the metronome of a side (think Andrea Pirlo). In the 90s, Italian football was dominated by defenders with a licence to hack the bone and while times have changed, attackers will need to be prepared to ride some brutal challenges as referees keep the whistle away. Juventus have cleaned up in recent years but the league standard is improving, after some lean years saw Serie A lose much of its financial pull and an ensuing talent drain. Top talent is returning, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, and Italy is witnessing a new generation of local talent take centre stage (more on that below).

Serie A is available on Kayo for Australian football lovers. The official YouTube channel also offers high-quality highlights reels for most games!  

Likely Top 4

Juventus

Let’s face it, The Old Lady has won nine league titles on the bounce (yep, nine) and they have Cristiano. Can’t see them dropping out of the top four, to be honest. They have definitely made things interesting with the appointment of club legend Andrea Pirlo as new manager. Watch this space but don’t expect a sudden drop in standards with Cristiano Ronaldo as driven as ever.

Inter

Antonio Conte is building something at the Nerazzurri and things certainly went well last season. The steely Italian tactician has recruited well with Romelu Lukaku taking Serie A and the Europa League by storm last season and the club has added Achraf Hakimi, veteran Aleksandar Kolarov and Arturo Vidal. These guys have some mates too with the best yet to come from Alexis Sanchez and Christian Eriksen. Inter has quality on every line and will be hoping for further improvement from home-grown young gun Nicolò Barella and wonder kid Sebastiano Esposito (remember this name!). As a bonus, it looks like Inter has kept hold of Argentine star Lautaro Martinez who looked set for a move to Barcelona. This is good news for those hoping Inter can improve on their second place last year.  

AC Milan

Heading across the San Siro now and things are afoot at AC Milan. The powerhouse has been disappointing in recent years with turmoil aplenty, but the Rossoneri could be waking from their proverbial slumber. Human headline Zlatan Ibrahimović has started well with a brace in the first game and the usual accompanying zinger for the press. In big news though, AC Milan beat a host of other clubs to the signature of highly-coveted young midfielder Sandro Tonali. In addition to Tonali, Stefano Pioli has added Brahim Diaz on loan from Real Madrid to the team that finished sixth last season. Milan have a squad packed with talent and will be looking for Croatian hitman Ante Rebić to pick up where he left off. Keep your eyes on highly-rated youngsters including Franck Kessié, Alexis Saelemakers and Ismaël Bennacer as the Rossoneri plot a return to Champions League football, which is looking likely at this early point of the season.

Lazio

Lazio thoroughly outshone their Roman neighbours last season, much to the delight of their fans, and played some exhilarating football to achieve a fourth place finish and a return to Champions League football under Simone Inzaghi. The Biancocelesti have crucially kept hold of their most prized assets in the form of Sergej Malinković-Savić, Luis Alberto and the reigning capocannoniere (top-scorer), Ciro Immobile. Lazio have added Spanish custodian Pepe Reina to the squad along with raw talent in the form of Kosovan striker Vedat Muriqi, who arrives with a big reputation for scoring goals in Turkey with Fenerbahçe. More investment is probably needed to compete on all fronts but expect Lazio to cling to a consecutive Champions League place amongst stern challenges, if only just.

Four teams to watch

Hellas Verona

Verona was one of the surprise packets of the year last season as they achieved a top-ten finish. They have lost prized-asset Marash Kumbulla to AS Roma and they will need to cover for his absence in defence if they are to repeat their heroics. They got off to a fortuitous start against Roma, who gifted them the three points after a clerical error led to them fielding an ineligible player. Verona will be looking to build some form and get early points to help set up a successful year. Miguel Veloso is their captain and has plenty of experience while scoring enough goals will be crucial to their success.

Atalanta

Well, it’s certainly going to be tough to expect Atalanta to better their dream season last campaign. But that won’t stop La Dea and their fans from pushing hard! The boys from Bergamo have passed their first test by keeping much of their unsung heroes together, although defenders Gianluca Mancini and Timothy Castagne have departed for Roma and Leicester City respectively. Mario Pašalić has made his loan from Chelsea permanent and Atalanta welcome midfielder Aleksei Miranchuk from Lokomotiv Moscow. Atalanta has one of the most in-demand Italian managers in Gian Piero Gasperini, who has enhanced his own reputation after the heroics of last season. Can he repeat the feats and maybe reach greater heights?

Genoa

This promises to be a huge season for Genoa as they seek to bounce back from a disappointing campaign. Things were looking very grim indeed at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris as the Rossoblù eventually finished in 17th. However, there’s a new Mister in the dugout in the form of Rolando Maran, previously with Cagliari, and he will be hoping to get the best out of the decent squad at his disposal. Maran will have been encouraged by the opening win – albeit against new boys Crotone – with new signings Marko Pjaca and Davide Zappacosta both on the scoresheet. Andrea Pinamonti is the big-money arrival from Inter and he will be expected to hit the ground running, but Maran also has plenty of experience in the side featuring Mattia Destro, Mattia Perin and Goran Pandev. Significant improvement is a must.    

Benevento

There is great excitement around the return of Benevento to top-tier football in Italy, particularly in their home region of Campania. Gli Stregoni (The Sorcerers) competed in their maiden top-flight season in 2017-18 but return as the champions of Serie B under the guidance of ex-Milan legend, Filippo Inzaghi. “Pippo” has a modest squad at his disposal comprised largely of domestic talent. This includes veteran wing-back Christian Maggio and marquee signing, Gianluca Lapadula, nicknamed Lapagol, who enjoyed his best season with Pescara notching 30 goals in 43 games in 2015-16 (earning him a stint at AC Milan). To most it would seem that Inzaghi would do well to keep the side up longer than their previous stay, which lasted only a single season.  

Players to watch

Àlvaro Morata

Many Australian fans will remember Morata for a relatively barren spell at Chelsea, but he set the world alight in his previous spell with the Bianconeri. Morata arrives in Turin on loan from Atlético Madrid but he is fondly remembered in Turin, particularly for netting the winner in the Coppa Italia final and five goals in the Champions League for The Old Lady in 2014-15. The fondness is mutual, with Morata claiming he’s happy to “be home” at the Allianz. This could be a shrewd signing by new manager Andrea Pirlo as he looks to keep Juventus firmly at the top of Italian football.

Lautaro Martinez

The young Argentine was superb last season for Inter and many expected him to join Barcelona, but he remains for now and Inter will need another big year from him as they look to go one better. Martinez, 22, is a key player for them and his goals will be crucial. There’s a lot of pressure to prove himself more than a one-season wonder and maybe head off to Barcelona when the year is out. Big year for player and club. 

Sandro Tonali

The boy from Brescia with the swishy fringe, air of elegance in midfield and slow, deliberate style. You’re talking about Pirlo, right? Wrong. Tonali is said to be the heir to Il Professore for all the reasons listed above and his future was the subject of non-stop speculation last season – particularly as Brescia looked destined to drop down. Juventus and Inter were said to be fighting it out and in somewhat of a shock move, Tonali finds himself at AC Milan. He’ll need to step up another gear but few in Italy have any doubts over his ability to do just that. Tonali has three senior caps to his name and has thus far handled himself with aplomb on the big stage. He’ll be looking to improve on his one goal and seven assists last season with more quality teammates around him.

Sandro Tonali

Cristian Romero

Never heard of him? Well, you can be forgiven for that, but Romero must be doing something right because he’s on the books at Juventus and is of great interest to Barcelona. The 22-year-old Argentine is said to model his game on Giorgio Chiellini and Virgil Van Dijk and he certainly impressed on loan at Genoa last season. He is strong in the tackle and competes well in the air, standing at 186cm. This season he’s on loan again – this time at Atalanta. Romero can play centrally or on the right side of defence and he’ll need to help Atalanta compete on more fronts as they participate in the Champions League.

Four Cult Heroes

Francesco “Ciccio” Caputo

The undisputed hero of Sassuolo last season as he led them to an eight-placed finish, Caputo endeared himself to all Italians with a famous goal celebration. At the height of the Covid-19 destruction being felt in Emilia-Romagna (the region in which Sassuolo sits), Caputo displayed a heartfelt message after the game that read “Andrà Tutto Bene #restateacasa”. This translates to “Everything will be ok. #stayathome”. The journeyman produced more than a tender moment last year as he rifled in 21 goals and seven assists in Serie A to make the Neroverdi one of the surprise packets of the season. Can he back it up?

Lorenzo Insigne

The boy from Frattamaggiore living the dream as an icon, and the captain no less, at his beloved Napoli. Insigne is also a regular in the national team and the pint-sized forward is ever-reliable for the Partenopei since graduating from the youth team in 2010. Insigne fired in 13 goals in all competitions last season playing as a left winger and second striker and he is the heartbeat of the Napoli team. The Insigne family will certainly enjoy the Napoli fixture against Benevento as Lorenzo will line up against his brother, Roberto, if all goes to plan. Insigne will need to be at his brilliant best and will no doubt be relieved to have his partner in crime Dries Mertens sticking around the Stadio San Paolo. Whatever happens, you can guarantee Insigne will bleed azzurro for Napoli as he always has done. 

Zlatan

The man needs no introduction and let’s face it – if you haven’t heard about his exploits, he’ll be the first to remedy that. Still going strong at 38, Zlatan bagged himself a brace in the opening match and he seems highly motivated this year, even by his own confrontational standards. If that’s the case, it’s great news for Milanisti. You get the impression the rest of his teammates walk taller with the Swede in the side and Zlatan has added real quality at the tip of the spear.

Franck Ribéry

You could be forgiven for forgetting the evergreen and polarising Frenchman was still playing in a top European league (to be fair, his time in Italy has been about as low-profile as it gets for Franck). However, the 37-year-old has certainly played his part since arriving in Florence and started the first game of the season for La Viola. Ribéry contributed three goals last season yet is still more than capable of adding to his flush highlight reel. This season he’s set to support the development of many of his young teammates including Christian Kouamé, Patrick Cutrone and Federico Chiesa. The winger still has a fiery side and his exploits last season included a three-game ban for pushing an official. Anything could happen here!

Franck Ribery

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