Serie A season preview: The most open Scudetto race in a decade

Date: 19th August 2021 at 4:20pm
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Just six weeks after the Italian men’s national team triumphed at Euro 2020, domestic football returns to the peninsula, with the 2021/22 Serie A campaign looking set to be the most exciting and unpredictable in seasons.

With Inter somewhat imploded since lifting the Scudetto last term, Juventus will look to recapture a crown they lost for the first time in nine seasons, while Atalanta and AC Milan will also challenge for top spot.

Mourinho tops a raft of coaching changes

Even by Italian standards, Serie A has experienced a phenomenal turnover of coaches this summer. The 2020/21 season had barely ended when champions Inter watched coach Antonio Conte walk away, with the club unable to match his vision and ambitions for the future.

However, before the previous campaign had finished, Roma dropped a coaching bombshell more unexpected than the Italian’s departure from the Milanese giants, as controversial ex-Nerazzurri coach Jose Mourinho announced he would take the reins at Roma.

While the Portuguese is expected to bring more media attention than success, hopes are higher at Lazio, where Simone Inzaghi left the capital for Inter and Maurizio Sarri ended his post-Juventus sabbatical to take over at the Biancocelesti. The duo should now ensure entertainment both on and off the pitch in Rome.

After losing their Serie A crown, the Bianconeri dumped Andrea Pirlo and rekindled their relationship with old flame Massimiliano Allegri. The tactician’s familiarity with the Old Lady could well help Juventus reclaim the Scudetto.

Also arriving in Turin is Ivan Juric at Torino, who leaves Hellas Verona in the hands of former Sassuolo coach Eusebio Di Francesco. While I Neroverdi turned to Alessio Dionisi to continue the impressive work of predecessor Roberto De Zerbi, now with Shakhtar Donetsk.

Veteran coach Luciano Spalletti returns after a two-year absence at Napoli. Gennaro Gattuso left Naples for Fiorentina, but lasted just three weeks in Florence, so La Viola prised Vincenzo Italiano away from Spezia (Thiago Motta his replacement).

With Empoli (Aurelio Andreazzoli) and Sampdoria (Roberto D’Aversa) making it 12 of the 20 top-flight clubs changing coaching strategy, this term could be as unpredictable as a Mourinho press conference.

Major transfers in short supply outside of Milan

When the Inter hierarchy signalled a need to part with some major assets to balance the books ahead of the new season, Nerazzurri fans believed the sale of Achraf Hakimi to Paris Saint-Germain for €68 million had lessened the need for further departures.

Therefore, despite Champions League winners Chelsea handing over a whopping €111m for idol Romelu Lukaku just ahead of the new campaign, Interisti did not hide their disappointment with both club and player.

Although Edin Dzeko and Hakan Calhanoglu have arrived from Serie A rivals, Roma and Milan respectively, Il Biscione has lost some attacking bite, but wing-back Denzel Dumfries of PSV Eindhoven is an impressive Hakimi replacement.

Crosstown rivals Milan had a similar-sized hole to fill with Euro 2020 hero Gianluigi Donnarumma also heading to PSG and the incoming Mike Maignan from Lille must make a quick start with the Rossoneri.

Il Diavolo benefited from Chelsea’s need to make space for Lukaku by signing veteran striker Olivier Giroud, while much will be expected from former teammate Tammy Abraham, who became Roma’s record signing at €40m.

Scudetto rivals Atalanta lost Pierluigi Gollini and Cristian Romero to Tottenham Hotspur, but have arguably upgraded in one, if not both, positions, with the arrivals of Juan Musso from Udinese and Juventus’ Merih Demiral.

The Bianconeri have struggled to refresh a squad that looked their weakest for several years last season, but, after signing Manuel Locatelli from Sassuolo, hope to welcome Miralem Pjanic back from Barcelona to bolster the midfield.

A big loss for Serie A is Rodrigo De Paul, with Udinese unable to resist a €35m offer from Atletico Madrid, but Fiorentina’s €25m investment in Stuttgart attacker Nicolas Gonzalez could yield a similar level of excitement further down the table.

While the return to Italy of Felipe Anderson at Lazio and the unpredictable Marko Arnautovic who joined Bologna, also have the potential to entertain the crowds returning to stadia.

Could this be the most exciting title race in years?

Until the summer transfer window closes, no one quite knows what state the Inter squad will be in as they look to defend the Serie A title, but I Nerazzurri will be weaker than that which dominated last season.

Add a change of coach to the player departures and it presents an opportunity for those clubs that have maintained an element of stability, namely Atalanta and Milan, to make a significant challenge for the Scudetto this term.

When you consider the performances and consistency of La Dea under the direction of Gian Piero Gasperini since 2016, there has been a switch from hope to expectancy amongst fans of the Bergamo-based that this could be a historic season for the club.

Champions League qualification will be the primary focus for Lazio and Napoli, but sneak undetected into contention the longer they remain with the hunting pack, and Mourinho will also view the situation as an ideal opportunity to reignite brand Jose with a title challenge.

Meanwhile, Juventus will be determined to show that last season was just a blip in a largely flawless decade domestically and clinch a Scudetto that could signal another period of dominance on the peninsula.

At the other end of the table, newly promoted Empoli, Venezia and Salernitana will expect to scrap for top-flight survival, but if just one can avoid what appears an almost inevitable return to Serie B, it will be a tremendous achievement.


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