Serie A: The return to form in one of Europe’s greatest leagues

Serie A: The return to form in one of Europe’s greatest leagues

Is Italian football finally getting back to its fullest potential?

Around a year ago, we spoke of the signs of improvement shown by AC Milan and how they could finally be starting something new at the San Siro, helped greatly by their cup win in the Supercoppa Italiana. Since that point, they’ve gone through plenty more changes, with it mostly being down to the significant financial investment seen by their new owners. There’s been a major feeling of transformation throughout the Serie A over the past year. France’s Ligue 1 has steadily grown into a far more worthwhile league and both the German Bundesliga and Spanish La Liga have their own cases for being worth keeping tabs on, but Italian football could finally be about to return to the glory to which it was once so accustomed.

Overthrowing The Old Lady

Back in 2012, the wheels were falling off what was previously a strong period for AC Milan, who’ve never been quite the same since. They finished second in the table, only beaten by the four point gap made by Juventus at top of the Serie A. Many saw it as being a one-off but what it’s ended up being perceived as, is a changing of the guard, where The Old Lady have gone on to scoop the league title in all seasons played since. Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was the man at the helm, capitalising on what was obviously a pivotal change in proceedings, which was made all the more impressive as the footballing world were still attempting to trust Juventus following the match-fixing scandal just six years prior.

The dominance over Italian football seen by Juventus has been positive to keep the nation on the map, but not good for all other sides in the country, as it’s made the league into a monopoly in the same way that Bayern Munich is in the German Bundesliga over practically every season played. Last season saw the first genuine indication that they could face a fight for the title, as both Roma and Napoli pushed up very closely to Juve in the resulting few months of the campaign. Juventus ended up conquering that all-important league trophy but the current attempt hasn’t been quite so easy, as Massimiliano Allegri’s men now sit second behind Napoli, with Inter Milan just a point behind them, and far too much time spent with both sides ahead of them.

AC Milan were able to snatch the Supercoppa Italiana from Juventus’ clutches back in December and Lazio shocked the division with their own Supercoppa Italiana victory over The Old Lady this season. It left Allegri and his fans scratching their heads over how it happened, and unnerved over how it could affect their campaign, with it clearly being a visibly damaging factor in their Serie A campaign.

Massimiliano Allegri looks unlikely to achieve Juve’s seventh successive league title

Respecting the past but looking forward to the future

Former AC Milan and Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo recently announced his retirement after playing out a swan song period in the American MLS. Italian football has suffered a setback in having to part ways with these legends of the game, with Roma striker Francesco Totti retiring last season and Juve ‘keeper Gianluigi Buffon likely to do the same at the end of the season. If anything, the Serie A has begun to look more exciting since they’ve hung up their boots, but that could be a mere coincidence and nothing more. It can’t help but feel as if we need to wave goodbye to the period in the late 90s and early 2000s before welcoming in this new regime, as some teams look stuck in a grey area between new and old, something that could be currently hindering teams like AC Milan, who spent so heavily in the summer but look similar to the side they were in the previous campaign.

Meanwhile, it’s teams like Atalanta and Lazio who are chopping and changing where necessary in order to look forward to a far brighter future around the corner, with it working far better than those who remain stuck in the past. We see similar issues in different leagues – Liverpool having to fend for themselves without Steven Gerrard in midfield, Bayern Munich adjusting to new defensive leadership through the retirement of Philipp Lahm, and Chelsea working to fill the gaps left by Frank Lampard and John Terry in both the starting eleven and the changing room.

All former heroes in Italy are gradually hanging up their boots

Whatever Juve can do, we can do better

Resulting at fourth and fifth in the Serie A table, both Atalanta and Lazio proved that they were worthy of challenging the very best in Italy. Gian Piero Gasperini had only got as far as managing Juventus’ youth team during his coaching career but clearly takes experience from the eight managerial tenures he’s seen, making a side who finished thirteenth in the previous season, into an Atalanta side that are currently fighting for another perfectly likely finish in the top six once again, defeating Everton in their Europa League campaign in the process. Winger Alejandro Gomez has been talismanic for The Goddess, even breaking into the Argentina national team, that everyone readily knows are most competitive in attacking positions.

Lazio are currently being led out by Simone Inzaghi, brother to former AC Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi. He’d taken over Lazio midway through the 2015/16 season, where Stefano Pioli was sacked after not making the most of the capable squad he had at his own disposal. The caretaker tenure lasted until the end of the campaign, where he put out a far more organised side than the man he replaced but the club still opted to bring in former Athletic Bilbao and Marseille manager Marcelo Bielsa as his replacement.

In a shocking turn of events, Bielsa left the position just a day later but Lazio were certain in who could handle the job, putting Inzaghi in charge on a permanent basis, where they’ve not looked back since. He clinched a fifth place position in his first full season and has had The Eagles sitting in and around the top few places in the table ever since. They continue to dominate most teams they face and even look like an interesting outsider to shine in this season’s Europa League, sat top of Group K with wins in all their games.

Atalanta winger Alejandro Gomez has forced his way into the Argentine national side

Future legends of the Serie A

Ciro Immobile was once one of the most exciting prospects in the Serie A, going unnoticed when starting his career at Juventus but finding form at Torino, where he was such a prolific figure that Jurgen Klopp brought him to Borussia Dortmund to fill the massive boots left by Robert Lewandowski. The move was his downfall though, leading to a disappointing season in Germany and only slightly less upset with Sevilla in the year that followed. Returning to Serie A with Lazio in 2016 has seen him back to his roots, as he returned to old ways, now going down as the league’s top scorer, netting fourteen goals in twelve league games and being one of those strikers who make a shortlist to score in almost every game they play.

Juventus aren’t down and out in the runnings either, as Argentine striker Paulo Dybala has become a dangerous man to face, helped by being gifted the iconic number 10 shirt over the summer. He kicked off the campaign with an incredible goalscoring record, only thwarted by the experience that came with Ciro Immobile’s composure in front of goal. Dybala now battles with Inter Milan number 9 Mauro Icardi for a place in the Argentina national squad – a player who also looks like one to watch, as they both sit level on scoring eleven goals in twelve games, and plays a major role in Internazionale’s return to the big time.

Mauro Icardi takes note from playing alongside Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero

The attacking force seen by Napoli presents a threat to any side they face, all put into gear by Slovakian attacking midfielder Marek Hamsik and the stunning utility player that is Dries Mertens. Lorenzo Insigne completes the trio, with his unstoppable pace and firm sharpshooting making all the more reason for Napoli’s admirable place at the top of the table. Roma are hailed for being able to keep hold of Radja Nainggolan, who forms part of a solid midfield alongside Daniele De Rossi, and is one of Europe’s hot properties. AC Milan haven’t been anywhere near as good as expected after spending so heavily in the summer but the invested funds has meant that they now possess Portuguese forward Andre Silva, Turkish attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu, Ivorian central midfielder Franck Kessie and Swiss left-back Ricardo Rodriguez.

While the top sides get to enjoy some of Europe’s most exciting players, the lower positions still look forward to big futures from their best players, Torino being a fine example, as they continue to improve the form of rising star Andrea Belotti. Fiorentina had to accept allowing Nikola Zigic and Borja Valero to leave to Serie A rivals in the summer but go on with other attacking option in the form of Giovanni Simeone and Cyril Thereau. Sampdoria are also looking like this season’s top outsiders, bolstered by signing promising striker Duvan Zapata on loan from Napoli.

Ciro Immobile has been unstoppable as Italian top scorer

Is there a future for Italian football?

It’s not to say we don’t enjoy Juventus’ period as Italy’s best side, as it’s been something to enjoy while it lasted, especially on the two occasions when they’ve even made it to Champions League finals. The main worry is that their domination over the Serie A could be so strong that it prevents any variation, making it dull and no longer worth watching. Both Inter Milan and AC Milan’s rise from the ashes is what we want to see and it also gives us some enjoyable nostalgia over the sorts of teams who once battled with Europe’s elite. Roma and Napoli bought fought to overthrow defensively solid Juventus in the last term but it now looks possible that someone will fulfil that prophecy in the current attempt.

Looking to the world stage, Lazio have shown how much of a force they can be in the Europa League and will be certain to push for the Serie A as the months trail on. Roma looked capable of the same last season before they came up against an even more deadly Lyon side, but they in themselves were only fighting so hard in order to prove that French football wasn’t entirely ran by Paris Saint Germain. Monaco’s league winning campaign also indicated the same because nobody wants to see a monopoly over any league, even if the team are as regimented as Massimiliano Allegri’s Old Lady.

The rise in performance levels from so many teams in Italy is plain to see and it’s going to go down to the wire over whether any side can remain as consistent as Juventus. Napoli are top of the Serie A, Inter Milan are third, Lazio are pushing to a perfect run in the Europa League and Roma are already showing signs of life under new manager Eusebio Di Francesco in the Champions League. It’s hard for anyone except their own fans to admit how much of a game-changer it would be to see someone else at the top of table by the time the current campaign comes to its end, but it could be enough to see even more investment and followers in Italy’s top tier.

Radja Nainggolan has turned down several advances from Manchester United and Chelsea in years gone by

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