While great coaching, intangibles and luck play a part in winning, at the end of the day the teams with the most talent tend to find themselves at the top of the standings. While Juventus are once again a step above the rest in Serie A, this season it feels like there isn’t much of a gap between the other top 5 teams- so when it comes time to rank them the easiest way is to just look at the players on the squad.
Certainly, rating players is a subjective exercise, but to try to make it as objective as possible I have stolen a ranking system from Mike Lombardi, a former General Manager who now covers the NFL on the Ringer. Lombardi breaks down players in blue and red chippers- with the blue being players who are at the top of their respective positions in their respective leagues and the red chippers being players good enough to start for the top teams in the league.
To add my own flavor to this, I have also added a wild card category for new players to the league and those who have the potential to make a very big impact even though they aren’t starters. So now that you know the rules, let’s get into the rankings…
Blue Chip: Ronaldo, Dybala, Douglas Costa, Pjanic, Chiellini, Bonucci
Red Chip: Szczesny, Cancelo, Alex Sandro, Khedira, Matuidi, Bernardeschi, Cuadrado, Benatia, Mandzukic
Wild Card: Can, Perin
It should come as no surprise that the team with the highest payroll, by a substantial margin no less, would have the most amount of blue and red chippers combined. Allegri’s squad features the best Juventus attack of my life time when you consider that Ronaldo is arguably the most accomplished player to wear the club’s jersey, they have starting striker for the runner up at the recent World Cup as well as Dybala, Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa who would be described as “fuori categoria” in Italy because his speed and dribbling ability is at a level rarely seen in Italy in the past 5 years.
It also wasn’t long ago that Alex Sandro would have been considered a blue chipper with no questions asked, and the club is so loaded at the center back position that their best defender from last season, Mehdi Benatia, is now a backup. While there isn’t a Juve fan that I know that rates him highly, Sami Khedira is certainly a blue chipper in Max Allegri’s heart, and his doppelganger Emre Can could bring qualities Juve has lacked in the midfield since Arturo Vidal left for Bayern Munich.
Blue Chip: Handanovic, Skriniar, de Vrij, Miranda, Perisic, Icardi, Nainggolan
Red Chip: Brozovic, Asamoah, Vrsaljko, Keita Balde
Wild Card: Martinez, Gagliardini
The may have fallen short in their pursuit of Luka Modric, but Inter still added two blue chip players from rival Serie A teams and nabbed arguably Juve’s best wingback from last season in addition to Keita Balde who was devastating at Lazio just two years ago.
To become the closest thing to being Juventus’ antagonist, the nerazzurri will need Brozovic to consistently perform like he did in the World Cup even without Modric and Rakitic, for Nainggolan to return to his form from 2/3 years ago and for Vrsaljko to match Cancelo’s offensive production while also being at least adequately defensively.
Blue Chip: Koulibaly, Allan, Zielinski, Callejon, Insigne, Mertens, Ghoulam
Red Chip: Hysaj, Milik, Diawara, Verdi, Hamsik, Albiol
Wild Card: Fabian Ruiz, Ounas
Despite having a payroll less than half of the size of Juventus’, the partenopei not only retained all of the key performers that got them to 91 points except for Jorginho but also added Verdi and Fabian Ruiz- two players that should give Ancelotti the opportunity to rotate way more than his predecessor.
On paper Napoli’s midfield is loaded even with Hamsik looking like a player that De Laurentiis would have been fine to let go of for a big offer from China, it’s likely that we’ll see Diawara take the same leap that we saw from Zielinski last season. While a lot was made about Sarri’s attacking players, he turned Koulibaly into arguably the best center back in Serie A and rejuvenated Albiol who recently returned to the Spanish national- having a fully healthy Ghoulam would also give Ancelotti a key weapon at left back.
Blue Chip: Dzeko, Manolas, NZonzi
Red Chip: Florenzi, Fazio, Kolarov, Under, Cristante, Schick, Pastore
Wild Card: Kluivert, Zaniolo, Karsdorp, Olsen, Coric
Feels like Monchi and Pallotta’s plan is to take a step back to take two forward by the time they can get a new stadium and/or when Juventus’ cycle finally comes to an end. The giallorossi sold two key veterans in the midfield with Nainggolan and Strootman and replaced them in short term with N’Zonzi and Pastore, the long term plan is hopefully for Coric and Zaniolo to emerge.
In addition to all of the new faces from this summer, Di Francesco would love to receive a boost from two acquisitions from a year ago in Kardsorp and Schick, the most expensive purchase in Roma’s history. While Nainggolan and Strootman had seen better days in Italy’s capital and there’s reason to hope the replacements will at least match their contributions from last year, the downgrade from Alisson to Olsen could be so substantial that qualifying for the Champions League is far from a given for the giallorossi.
Blue Chip: Milinkovic Savic, Immobile, Luis Alberto, Lucas Leiva
Red Chip: Strakosha, Parolo, Acerbi, Caceres, Badelj, Marusic, Lulic, Correa
Wild Card: Berisha, Durmissi
Lazio would love for Badelj to make the same type of impact as Lucas Leiva last season and for Acerbi to build on his promising start to the season as de Vrij’s replacement. While Miliknkovic Savic and Luis Alberto struggled substantially in the first two matches of the season, they were amongst the very best at their respective positions last season and there’s no reason not to expect them to do the same as the season progresses.
It will be interesting to see if sporting director Igli Tare’ can continue his streak of finding talents abroad for cheap prices- Berisha and Durmissi could turn out to be Milinkovic Savic and Lulic’s long term replacement while Correa will be asked to replace Felipe Anderson’s production immediately.
Blue Chip: Romagnoli, Higuain, Suso, Calhanoglu
Red Chip: Caldara, Bonaventura, Kessie, Laxalt, Biglia, Cutrone, Donnarumma
Wild Card: Bakayoko, Castillejo, Reina, Conti
Last season Romagnoli took the next step in his development and is well on his way to being the next great Italian defender, but unfortunately for the rossoneri Donnarumma took a pretty big step back after a stellar first season. While Suso struggled once Gattuso took over for Montella, Calhanoglu showed enough after the coaching change to be considered a legitimate building block long term.
Milan does have some intriguing wild cards in Bakayoko, who at the end of the 2016/17 season was in the Champions League squad of the season, Conti and new addition Castillejo who has some of the attributes that Deulofeu brought to the table not that long ago. Roberto Mancini better hope that some of Milan’s red chippers turn into blue chippers since the rossoneri feature more Italians than any other high profile Serie A team.