As is the case any season, Serie A has been chock full of surprises this year, with a number of players breaking onto the scene. Whether it is a budding young talent making a name for himself, or a team punching above their weight, Italian football has not been short on surprising storylines this season.
Without further ado, let’s take a deeper look and break down the most intriguing happenings of what has been a crazy year thus far:
1) Cagliari are…bad?
When the Sardinian outfit appointed Eusebio Di Francesco this past summer, Cagliari was expected to take the leap in quality. The Italian tactician went into the job with an impressive resume – despite his failures with Roma. His fluid 4-3-3 was supposed to be a perfect fit with Cagliari’s talented roster. Today, the club is on the brink of relegation, sitting five points adrift safety, while Di Francesco has since been sacked.
Cagliari added Diego Godin to its ranks this past summer, adding some much-needed depth at the back. The arrivals of Radja Nainggolan and Daniele Rugani were supposed to steady the ship in January after a rocky start to the campaign, but nothing of the sort has happened.
The club’s only consistent performer remains Joao Pedro, who has led the charge with 11 goals. Giovanni Simeone has struggled for form himself, last finding the back of the net in October. Simply put, a side that boasts their talent – including a midfield three of Nandez, Nainggolan, and Rog – has no business near the relegation zone. If Cagliari cannot turn it around, they might just be the most talented team to go down in recent history.
2) Davide Ballardini might know a thing or two about calcio.
David Ballardini has regularly been used as a stop-gap option for clubs facing relegation. Naturally, when Genoa had a bumpy start to the new year, the veteran tactician was brought in, kicking off his fourth spell with the club. As was the case in the past, expectations were low.
After all, Genoa’s roster has little quality across the board after notable departures year after year. What has transpired over the last months in Liguria has been nothing short of a total shock. I Grifoni are currently among Italy’s most in-form sides and have since pulled themselves out of the relegation zone.
Led by Ballardini, Genoa has lost just once in their last 10 games and is currently riding a seven-game unbeaten run. After bouncing around calcio’s lower tiers, it appears Ballardini has finally found a place to (temporarily) call home, even if it took him four spells. You can never get too comfortable with Enrico Preziosi at the helm.
3) Is Nicolo Barella Italy’s best midfielder?
If the past season showed us anything, it is that before this year, Nicolo Barella was severely underappreciated. The Italian international has been the catalyst behind Inter’s title charge, pulling all the right strings in the middle of the park. Operating on the right-hand side of a midfield three, Barella has formed a deadly partnership with Achraf Hakimi and Romelu Lukaku.
The former Cagliari captain has taken his game to the next level, which begs the question: Is he currently Italy’s best midfielder? Marco Verratti might have something to say about that, but the PSG man has never been able to translate his impressive exploits to the national team.
Beyond his great play, Barella has demonstrated he is ready to be a leader, constantly barking out orders on the pitch. Led by a former midfield dynamo in Antonio Conte, Barella has the perfect role model on the sidelines, helping him mould his game accordingly. Is Barella the first name on Roberto Mancini’s team-sheet? I’ll let you decide.
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