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Serie A 2020/21 Season Preview
It hardly seems like any time at all since the 2019/20 campaign came to its long-awaited conclusion, but here we are, ready to start a brand new season.
Even with a short recess, much has changed in Italy’s top division, so here’s your handy guide for what to look out for this term as well as players to watch from all 20 Serie A clubs.
Serie A Title race
Juventus surprised everyone at the start of August by sacking Maurizio Sarri – who had been brought in just a year earlier for what was supposed to be a long-term project – and replacing him with former midfielder Andrea Pirlo.
The world of football was shocked by such a daring appointment from one of Europe’s biggest clubs as Pirlo had only been appointed as Juve U23 boss 10 days earlier, and has no previous coaching experience whatsoever.
We may never know what prompted such a surprising about-turn, but the hiring of a rookie boss after winning nine consecutive Serie A titles may just give us a thrilling title race this season as Pirlo goes up against his former Coach Antonio Conte.
Inter look set to be Juve’s main rivals this season as Conte failed to push his former side as hard as he would’ve liked last term, the Bianconeri sealing the title with two games to spare.
Yet the determined Conte has a squad unaffected by player sales as well as the additions of talented young wing-back Acraf Hakimi, the experienced Aleksandar Kolarov and the possibility of a reunion with Arturo Vidal on the cards.
Adding in a vastly strengthened Milan side, the feisty Atalanta, an experienced Lazio and a Roma side under new ownership as outsiders for the title and definite candidates for a Champions League place, it looks like we are in for a treat in Serie A this season.
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This year’s promoted sides – Benevento, Crotone and Spezia – will always be the favourites to make a swift return to Serie B as the gulf between the top flight and the second tier in Italy is consistently large.
Yet there are other teams that are in danger of the drop as a bad season for any of the consistently mediocre sides such as Udinese and Genoa could see them relegated. Watch out for Parma this season too.
They fired Roberto D’Aversa in favour of former Lecce boss Fabio Liverani this summer and have a squad of ageing and distinctly average players.
Those who watched the Ducali last term will have noted that the supremely talented Dejan Kulusevski was carrying the side, but they will not benefit from his services as the youngster will take his place in the Juve starting lineup instead.
Serie A Top Scorer
Last season saw Lazio striker Ciro Immobile equal the Serie A single season goal scoring record, his 36 goals matching Gonzalo Higuain’s contribution for Napoli in 2015/16.
There is no reason to think that Immobile won’t be challenging for the Capocannoniere award once again in 2020/21 but he faces stiff competition.
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored consistently for Juventus in Serie A, his 31 strikes and six assists for teammates last term showing that he is not ready to slow down even at the age of 36.
Another former Manchester United player in Romelu Lukaku took to life in Italy straight away last season, netting 23 times for Inter in domestic action and equalling Brazilian Ronaldo’s record of scoring 36 times in all competitions in his first season with the Nerazzurri.
Atalanta are a goal machine in themselves as they found the back of the net no less than 98 times in 38 league matches last season, with Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel finishing up the campaign with 18 goals apiece.
There must also be a shoutout to veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who contributed 10 goals and five assists in just 16 starts for Milan, at the grand old age of 38. The Swedish superstar will turn 39 at the start of October, but has signed on for another year with the Rossoneri.
Players to watch at each Serie A club in 2020/21
You only have to look at the way Atalanta play to realise that their attacking philosophy relies on all of their players accepting their part in Coach Gian Piero Gasperini’s rotation system. For example, Luis Muriel fired in 18 times after only 10 starts and 24 appearances from the bench last season. Expect goals from all of Muriel, Zapata, Josip Ilicic, Mario Pasalic, Papu Gomez and Ruslan Malinovskiy during the forthcoming campaign.
Last time Benevento were in Serie A, they went straight back down to the second tier with barely more than a whimper, conceding 84 goals and earning just 21 points over 38 matches. Yet this time, the Campanian outfit seem better prepared. Coach Pippo Inzaghi will have to prove that he is not just a Serie B Coach, but he will have the experience of former Torino centre-back Kamil Glik to rely on, as well as goals from Gianluca Lapadula, who scored 11 times for Lecce last season.
While Bologna seem destined to be perpetual mid-table finishers, look out for defender Takehiro Tomiyasu, who is attracting attention after some superb performances in the Rossoblu backline last season. Goalkeeper Lucasz Skorupski is also one to watch as a consistent performer in the Italian top flight.
Cagliari will adopt new boss Eusebio Di Francesco’s favoured 4-3-3 system this season, and there are two former Fiorentina players to look out for in the attack. Giovanni Simeone – son of Diego – has signed permanently from La Viola and scored 12 times for the Sardinians last term, and young star Riccardo Sottil who will look to gain experience whilst on loan, playing on the right-hand side of the attack.
Newly-promoted Crotone may not have any household names in their squad list, but keep an eye on Nigerian striker Simy Nwankwo, who scored 20 goals in Serie B last season.
Fiorentina are making steady progress under US-based owner Rocco Commisso, and have plenty of players to look out for in 2020/21. Gaetano Castrovilli will start only his second ever season in the top flight, but his clear talent has seen him nail down a regular place in the starting XI. Franck Ribery continues to perform at an incredible level despite his advancing years, and will be supported by former Milan attacking midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura, a free signing this summer that will add more valuable experience to this young team. Perhaps the jewel in the crown is Sofiyan Amrabat, a midfield maestro who has arrived from Hellas Verona this summer.
After flirting with relegation and suffering from a real lack of investment in the team over the last few season, Genoa’s side is relatively uninspiring. Look out for goalkeeper Mattia Perin, a talented stopper who was tipped to take over from Gianluigi Buffon at Juventus but for his numerous issues with injury.
It really goes without saying that Inter’s forward line of Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez, Christian Eriksen and Alexis Sanchez as backup is worth watching this season. That said, there are others that stand out in this Nerazzurri lineup, including young defender Alessandro Bastoni who performed brilliantly last season, and Nicolo Barella, a battling midfielder signed from Cagliari last summer. New signing Acraf Hakimi is also tipped for great things as a wingback in Conte’s 3-5-2.
How Andrea Pirlo will approach his new role in management is really anyone’s guess at this point, but Juve have at last made moves to address a lineup that was way past its best in many ways. The swap that saw Miralem Pjanic move to Barcelona and Arthur Melo join the Torinese giants will be a much needed injection of youth and enthusiasm to the midfield alongside Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur.
Yet the biggest addition to the side that has won the Scudetto for the last nine consecutive seasons is undoubtedly Dejan Kulusevski, the 20-year-old one of the brightest young talents in Serie A. Combining skill with strength and the ability to swap wings with Cristiano Ronaldo due to being able to use both feet with equal effectiveness, the Sweden international has a bright future ahead of him.
It seems like talented midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic will remain at Lazio, despite continued interest from at home and abroad, where he will keep battling to win back the ball, covering the space between both boxes and setting up chances which will likely be gratefully accepted by Ciro Immobile. Watch out for new strike partner Fedat Muriqi, who looks set to join the club from Fenerbache in the coming days. The 6’4” forward fired in 15 goals in 32 appearances in the Turkish Super League last season.
Milan have pulled of one of the very best moves in the transfer window by capturing Brescia midfielder Sandro Tonali. The 20-year-old looks set to be a generational talent in Italy, his ability to hold off defenders and make exquisite passes more reminiscent of Zinedine Zidane than Andrea Pirlo who he is often compared to.
Elsewhere, the talent of Gianluigi Donnarumma and Alessio Romagnoli have already been well-documented, and the addition of Brahim Diaz on loan from Real Madrid could really make the difference in the three that support Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front. This could be the year that the Rossoneri finally make it back into the Champions League.
Like Atalanta, Napoli have excellent depth in terms of attacking players. New acquisition Victor Osimhen is certainly one to watch this season, and boss Gennaro Gattuso will have Lorenzo Insigne, Matteo Politano, Dries Mertens and Hirving “Chucky” Lozano to choose from alongside him.
The midfield looks much more balanced after Gattuso added an extra man when he took over from Carlo Ancelotti, who opted for a 4-4-2. Diego Demme and Fabian Ruiz compliment each other superbly, while Piotr Zielinski will likely weigh in with goals. Perhaps the only doubt for Neapolitan fans is whether they will keep hold of defender Kalidou Koulibaly, who has been linked with an €80 million move to Manchester City.
After finishing in a respectable 11th place in the table last season, Parma look likely to struggle this term following the loss of Kulusevski after his loan with the club came to an end. Gervinho looks jaded after the first 20 minutes of a match, while Bruno Alves in the heart of their defence is almost 39 years old. Andreas Cornelius may come to the rescue with some goals, the former Atalanta man having scored 12 times in Serie A for the Ducali last season.
It remains to be seen whether Roma will make a change up front, with Edin Dzeko rumoured to be making a move to Juventus as Arkadiusz Milik said to be coming in from Napoli. Whatever happens, these are exciting times in Rome with new American owners The Friedkin Group looking to make sensible investments in order to move the club towards success. The Giallorossi have already captured the signing of Pedro from Chelsea and have been pushing Manchester United hard in order to bring back Chris Smalling, who enjoyed an exceptional season in Roma’s backline last term.
If talks continue to stall, look out for an alternative capture in Marash Kumbulla, who was extremely highly rated as a central defender at Hellas Verona last season. Nicolo Zaniolo is of course a young Italian superstar, but he will be out for most of 2020/21 after suffering the second ACL injury in the space of two years.
Veteran boss Claudio Ranieri will be once again asked to work his magic with a fairly mediocre set of players at Sampdoria. 37-year-old Fabio Quagliarella will once again appear for the Blucerchiati, a truly special player although advanced in years.
Two words. Jeremie Boga. If Sassuolo can hang onto the former Chelsea youth product, you can guarantee he will once again be the difference-maker in Sassuolo’s attack-minded squad. Francesco Caputo and Domenico Berardi will once again be looking to be among the goals, as highly-rated boss Roberto De Zerbi will try one more time to take this side to a European qualification place.
This is Spezia’s first ever season in the top flight, and it will take nothing short of a miracle for them to stay up this season. Look out for 26-year-old Emmanuel Gyasi who showed excellent pace and dribbling on the wings in Serie B last season and will be likely to bag plenty of goals for his side in the top flight.
The addition of Marco Giampaolo as Coach will likely revitalise a Torino side that had faded badly last season. Striker Andrea Belotti is always likely to reach at least double figures in terms of goals, and the addition of Karol Linetty on the left-hand side of midfield is a superb signing, especially as he will be backed by former Milan left-back Riccardo Rodriguez. The Granata have also paid €5.5 million for highly rated Kosovan right-back Mergim Vojvoda from Standard Liege.
This Udinese side has been uninspiring for far too long, and will be even more so if they lose attacking midfielder Rodrigo De Paul as rumoured this summer. Their front two of Kevin Lasagna and Stefano Okaka is perhaps the only saving grace in this rather stagnant team.
After becoming a yo-yo side between Serie A and Serie B in recent years, Hellas Verona bucked up their ideas last season as boss Ivan Juric put together a superb campaign with a young side that looked like they could’ve made Europe before falling away after the post COVID restart.
They have already lost Amrabat to Fiorentina and they may well end up selling in-demand centre back Kumbulla before the end of the transfer window, yet they still have some excellent players in the squad.
Miguel Veloso continues to perform well in the midfield and was ranked at 53 in the Gazzetta dello Sport Top 100 players of 2019/20 and trequartista Mattia Zaccagni blossomed under Juric after he was plucked from the club’s youth season last summer.
Darko Lazovic also had a superb season on the left wing and 31-year-old Samuel Di Carmine performed well up front, with eight goals after his previous tally of 11 helped the club earn promotion to Serie A the season before.
For week by week analysis of Serie A, we would advise you check these out.