Top Three Surprises: Serie A 2020-2021

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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Sampdoria appoint Ranieri after the firing of Di Francesco

It took them few days, but Sampdoria finally hired their new coach on Friday, after dismissing Eusebio Di Francesco on Monday following a disastrous start. The veteran manager, coming off a two-month stint at Roma, agreed to a two-year contract.

Ranieri won half his matches with La Lupa last year, posting then four draws and two losses. Over his long career, he has worked in four different countries and also led the Greek national team for a while. In the Peninsula, he spent time at Cagliari, Napoli, Fiorentina, Parma, Juventus, Roma and Inter, while abroad he is best known for his spells at Valencia, Chelsea, Monaco and obviously at Leicester, where he shocked the world by winning Premier League in 2016. Continue reading

Sampdoria appoint Di Francesco


Marco Giampaolo joined Milan, but Sampdoria made a splash with their new hiring as they have picked former Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco, who has inked a three-year contract, as announced by the club on Saturday. In the last three seasons, the Blucerchiati finished tenth twice and ninth in the most recent one.

Di Francesco was sacked in March after being eliminated in Champions League’s round of 16 by Porto due to a combination of disappointing results, they were outside of the top four spots, and locker room turmoil. He had led the team to the third position and to a deep run in Europe in his first season in the Italian Capital. Continue reading

Final round in Serie A’s Coaching Carousel

Halfway through June we are starting to get a lot more clarity on the remaining seats on the coaching carousel in Serie A. Here’s the latest on the remaining vacant jobs:


Marco Giampaolo set to become Milan’s next manager


The worst kept secret in Calcio is currently the identity of the rossoneri’s next manager. Once the club’s new hierarchy at director level is revealed, we can expect Giampaolo’s arrival to be finally announced. The former Empoli manager’s style of play has been heavily influenced by Maurizio Sarri and his knack to develop players in recent years (Torreira, Skriniar, Schick who was sold for a huge fee to Roma) fits quick well with Gazidis’ vision for the club- acquire players before they become stars.

Giampaolo is arguably the best manager Milan has had since Allegri left, certainly at least on the offensive side of the equation. Piatek will likely continue to strive and could be very well suited to a formation with two strikers and a trequartista as impressive as Paqueta behind him, it feels like Berlusconi will enjoy watching this version of his former club.


Maurizio Sarri brings a new vision to Juventus 


I guess you should be careful what you wish for. Many of the Juventus fans who demanded Max Allegri’s head on a platter because he was so pragmatic with his style, are now horrified to find out he’ll be replaced by the manager who gave them the middle finger when his Napoli travelled to Turin to face Juventus in a key match in the scudetto race.

Sarri will certainly bring a radically different style to Juventus. Gone are the days of doing the bare minimum to win, with the top talent available to him in Turin, Sarri should be able to consistently play with the same flare we saw at Allianz Stadium when Juventus defeated Atletico Madrid 3-0.

Gaining the fan’s base acceptance won’t be easy for Sarri, but he can draw inspiration from his predecessors. Allegri had rocks thrown at his car when he arrived for his first training session, while the best Juventus managers of past 40 years (Lippi, Trapattoni and Conte) had won no trophies before joining Juventus, they became great coaches in Turin.



Paulo Fonseca officially joins Roma

While Roma failed to land Conte, Sarri and Mihajlovic who dropped out of contention for the job because he was concerned with how he would be received by the fan base, the giallorossi may have found a great fit for their team regardless.

While the Ukrainian league is far from competitive, Fonseca handled the pressure of replacing a legend like Lucescu very well and brought an offensive minded style to the team. Zaniolo, Kluivert, Under (assuming he stays) should fit very well in his 4 2 3 1 and Rudi Garcia, who arrived to Roma from abroad, had a very successful start to his tenure at the club.


Vincenzo Montella to stay at Fiorentina?


While the former Milan manager struggled significantly upon replacing Stefano Pioli, he’s expected to return as the Viola’s manager next season after signing a multi year deal when he was hired. Sporting director Panteleo Corvino took the fall for the Viola’s disastrous season and was officially let go on Tuesday.

Montella will likely have a short leash since Corvino’s replacement Prade’ may want to appoint his own manager should the team get off to a slow start.


Eusebio Di Francesco to Sampdoria?


Speaking of Stefano Pioli, since last week he seemed like the front runner to replace Giampaolo in Liguria. But Sampdoria’s president Ferrero met with Di Francesco to gauge his interest, while he would be an appealing candidate, the former Roma manager is asking for a significant salary on top of a guarantee he’ll have a competitive squad.

Considering that Sampdoria could be sold and the club is expected to cash in on a few key players regardless of what happens at the ownership level, Pioli is probably a safer pick to be the next manager.


Aurelio Andreazzoli to Genoa?


With one former Empoli manager on his way out in Liguria, we could have another one coming in to Sampdoria’s cross town rivals. Andreazzoli gave a massive spark to the Tuscan club when he returned at the end of the season, the final match at San Siro against Inter was just an example of how well the team was playing in the final stretch.

Andreazzoli also developed numerous players in his tenure at Empoli (Di Lorenzo, Zajc, Traore’ to name a few) and could also bring Bennacer and Caputo to his new team. Genoa had a very difficult season after foolishly letting go of Davide Ballardini, after Juric and Prandelli failed to get the team back on track, Andreazzoli is the ideal candidate to give the club a fresh start.

Roma in desperate need of reinforcements as January transfer window approaches

The final whistle sounded late Saturday evening in Turin as Roma lost their fifth match of the season thanks to their 1-0 defeat against Juventus. The defeat dropped the Giallorossi to 10th place in Serie A and marked another negative chapter in the horror novel that has been their 2018/2019 campaign.

While the performance was certainly better than what was on display in recent weeks, there was very little consolation for Roma as they’re four points off the final Champions League place.

Despite the season being nothing short of a nightmare, Roma somehow still find themselves within striking distance of that Champions League place. With crucial upcoming clashes against Parma and Sassuolo, anything short of six points would be disastrous for Eusebio Di Francesco’s men.

And the Italian tactician has shouldered the majority of the blame for the team’s struggles this season, there is no doubting that the team’s lack of depth has been a major issue — something sporting director Monchi must absolutely be held accountable for.

There’s several reasons why Roma find themselves in the position they’re currently in, but it’s certainly acceptable to point to last summer’s underwhelming transfer campaign as a major reason.

The Giallorossi waived goodbye to Radja Nainggolan, Kevin Strootman and Alisson in the summer yet still brought in big names such as Steven Nzonzi, Bryan Cristante and Javier Pastore for the midfield, while Robin Olsen was tabbed as Roma’s new #1 in goal.

Despite extremely poor seasons from Nainggolan and Strootman in 2017/2018, Roma don’t seem to miss their abilities on the pitch as much as their character and personality in the dressing room.

Manager Eusebio Di Francesco has constantly cited the team’s poor mental approach, attitude and character throughout the season — leaving many to wonder why Monchi didn’t bring in players with characteristics similar to those of the departed Belgian and Dutchman.

With the January transfer market officially opening in just a few days, Monchi now finds himself in a peculiar position: it’s obvious Roma need solutions in every area of the pitch, however, he’s essentially working with a zero budget as the club continues to spend conservatively due to their books still being in the red.

While you could make the argument that every single position needs an upgrade, the Spanish director already has his sights set on two key roles — striker and defensive midfielder.

Monchi has been holding talks for over a month to try and find a player to who can play the mediano role in Di Francesco’s 4-2-3-1. In recent days, though, talks for a new striker have been increasing dramatically. The Spaniard is ready to waive the white flag on the disastrous campaign of Patrik Schick, Roma’s most expensive purchase, and allow the Czech to leave on loan to find calm and continuity.

With Schick potentially leaving, one name Monchi has his eyes on is Michy Batshuayi. The Belgian striker, who has been enduring a nightmare loan spell with Valencia, is ready to end his tenure in Spain early and one option is joining Roma. Batshuayi would bring a much-needed scoring presence after the Giallorossi have been lifeless in attack all season — which hasn’t been helped by the long injury layoff of Edin Dzeko.

So with the January transfer just days away and lasting only for one month, Monchi will be forced to work both diligently and quickly to bring in the needed reinforcements for Roma. Should he fail to bring in the proper firepower that the Giallorossi are clearly yearning for — Roma just may see themselves miss out on the Champions League for the first time since the 2012/2013 season.

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