Which Serie A team has the most margin for improvement this season?

The second international break of the season is a good opportunity for Serie A teams to take stock of their strengths and weaknesses. Both Milan and Sampdoria went beyond a self appraisal and decided to use the two week window with no games as an opportunity to make a coaching change, but for the rest this break is the ideal time to find ways to improve.

With that in mind, which top Serie A teams have the most margins for improvement? let’s rank them

 

 

Atalanta 

While many, including yours truly, genuinely believed there would be some regression after a stellar season that saw most of their top players perform at the highest level of their careers, Atalanta have been just as devastating in Serie A where they find themselves in third place and with the second highest goal differential in the league.

But unlike the other teams listed in this article, there isn’t much margin for improvement. Duvan Zapata will be out for three weeks following an injury during the international break, the defense has performed better than expected with Kjaer seamlessly replacing Mancini and goalkeeper Gollini earning a selection to the Italian national team. Atalanta will however now be able to play their home matches in Bergamo again after their curva was rebuilt and new addition Malinovski can continue to improve while Ilicic has yet to be as consistently brilliant as last season. Atalanta will have to continue to prove they aren’t a fluke rather than looking for ways to get better.

 

Inter

 

The nerazzurri won their first six Serie A matches of the season before losing to Juventus in a close match at San Siro. They have the best goal differential in the league with plus 10, have received some strong contributions from almost all their new additions especially Godin, Barella and Sensi while Handanovic, De Vrij and Brozovic continue to be some of the best players at their respective position in all of Serie A.

While the nerazzurri have performed at almost their peak level in the domestic league, there’s still some margin for improvement once Romelu Lukaku develops more chemistry with Lautaro Martinez. With D’Ambrosio’s recent injury we’ll also likely see Valentino Lazaro make his debut- the Austrian international has the potential to be an upgrade from what we’ve seen from Candreva to so far this season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lazio 

 

No top Serie A team went through less changes than the biancocelesti who brought back manager Simone Inzaghi as well we as all of their core players. With that in mind, they have fallen short of expectations since they are in sixth place because they are unable to consistently win the matches in which they are the favorites.

Luis Alberto, Milinkovic Savic, Acerbi and especially Immobile have performed at their top level which doesn’t leave much room for growth beyond hoping new center back Vavro and wingback Lazzari can become the impactful additions they were expected to become. Lazzari had gotten off to a strong start but then struggled enough to lose playing time to Marusic.

 

Roma

The giallorossi are one of the most exciting team to watch in Serie A because of their free flowing offense and their leaky backline. Roma should be a bit concerned with the fact Dzeko and Kolarov have been their two best players, but they can also point to some significant margins for improvement once Pellegrini, Under and Mkhitaryan return from their injuries and once Gianluca Mancini and Chris Smalling can get more reps playing together.

 

 

Juventus 

 

Right before the international break, Inter were reminded of the saying “if you want to be the champ, you have to beat the champ”. Juventus displayed their depth and ruthlessness at San Siro in the final Serie A match and reminded the rest of the league why they’ve won the last eight scudetti.

If that wasn’t frightening enough, the bianconeri have considerable margins for improvement- Sarri now has more time to implement his ideas and because of the depth of his squad, he can alternate between two formations. Douglas Costa is returning from an injury, Dybala has started to develop better chemistry with Cristiano Ronaldo, and speaking of the Portuguese striker, it’s only a matter of time until he goes on a scoring streak.

If that weren’t enough De Ligt can be considerably better than what he’s shown so far, Rabiot could eventually replace Matuidi and Chiellini will be back for the stretch run of the season.

 

Milan 

 

The rossoneri are three points away from relegation zone and four behind Napoli for the last Champions League spot so they have some clear margins for improvements while also having hope they can completely turn their season around. Their new manager Pioli has been in a similar situation when he took over at Inter a few years ago and it’s hard to imagine Paqueta’ and Piatek not turning things around in a new system.

Look for Pioli to get the most out of new additions Leao, Hernandez, Bennacer and Rebic while Caldara could be an upgrade over Musacchio as Romagnoli’s partner. A healthy Bonaventura would also feel like what Galliani would describe “as like a new addition”.

 

Napoli 

 

While the partenopei are in nowhere near as dire a situation as Milan, they have the most margin for improvement of any top team. Koulibaly has really struggled since missing the pre season because of the Africa Cup, Milik will finally be fully fit for the first time this season after rehabbing from a painful injury, while both Manolas and Lozano have yet to perform at the level expected from two of the most expensive additions in the club’s history. Ancelotti’s squad could also receive a significant boost from a return to form for Lorenzo Insigne and Faouzi Ghoulam.

 

Ranking the reasons to be optimistic about Inter

It’s only been five games and they had a fairly easy schedule to start the season, but no matter which caveat you want to add, there’s no doubt Inter couldn’t have had a better start to the season in Serie A. In addition to the results on the pitch, cross town rivals Milan are in a full blown crisis, Napoli suffered a deflating home loss to Napoli and Juventus has shown some cracks in their armor.

But can Inter sustain this success? Let’s rank the reasons why it’s likely they will:

 

Singular focus on Serie A

The home draw to Slavia Prague in the Champions League, the easiest match of the group stage is either part of the plan to “pull a Napoli and punt the Champions League” or a potential blessing in disguise to give Conte’s squad a better chance at a deep scudetto run. Should Inter be eliminated early in the group stage, they can put all their eggs in the Serie A basket earlier into the season.

 

Team can improve thanks to Valentino Lazaro and Alexis Sanchez

So far Inter have received a significant boost from their new additions. Stefano Sensi is arguably so far the most impactful new player on any Serie A team, Barella is living up to the hype of his substantial transfer fee after being eased into the starting lineup slowly, Lukaku has been decisive even when he doesn’t score, Godin has shown why he’s considered one of the best defenders of his generation and Biraghi played well in his first start against Lazio.

In the coming weeks we could see Valentino Lazaro get into the right wing back rotation and Alexis Sanchez will try to regain his Arsenal (or Udinese form) while giving a breather to the starting strikers. Lazaro was a fairly significant investment for the club, so look for Conte to try to turn him into his new Victor Moses, while Sanchez is a great low risk/high reward investment.

 

Depth

Lazaro and Sanchez will bring more depth to a team that has already had to use some of its backups this season. D’Ambrosio has played as a center back and rotated with Candreva on the right wing, Asamoah and Biraghi are both starting caliber players at left wing back, while Vecino has limitations as a player his physicality and nasty streak make him a good compliment to Sensi, Barella and Brozovic 

Politano can be a deluxe version of one of Conte’s favorite players Emanuele Giaccherini. The former Sassuolo winger has a knack for making an impact off the bench and he can play in multiple roles in Inter’s current formation. Even much maligned Ranocchia was useful at the start of the season while both De Vrij and Godin nursed injuries. 

 

Conte and Marotta

Inter has won countless August and September scudetti in recent years. They are often called the winners of the summer transfer windows and/or get off to a fast start only to collapse in epic fashion before the season even gets to its second half. But because of the changes at the top, there’s ample reason to believe things will be different.

Beppe Marotta brought a Juventus like business approach to Inter. Rather than coddling Mauro Icardi last season, he was publicly stripped of the captain’s armband and was shipped out of town along with Nainggolan and Perisic, two players who also brought numerous distractions. Marotta hasn’t been afraid to speak publicly during difficult moments (maybe something Milan’s current directors can learn from) and has taken the pressure off Conte by handling tough situations head on.

Marotta built a team in Conte’s image and now the former Juventus and Chelsea manager is in the conditions to succeed, the focus is on the group of players rather than individual stars and there’s plenty of quality through out the squad. 

In recent years I’ve described Conte as the type of manager that takes a team from A to B- someone you want to take over when your club has hit rock bottom. It will be interesting to see if he can now take the foundation Spalletti built to the next level- after his recent experiences, odds are he will. One thing that Conte has clearly already improved Inter on is defeating provinciali types- in recent years, the nerazzurri squandered numerous points against the bottom table teams and so far have won those matches convincingly. 

 

Defense

While Serie A is certainly no longer a league focused on catenaccio, the old adage that offense wins game and defense wins championships is often still true. Last season Inter had the most clean sheets in Serie A and they added a blue chip player in Diego Godin to fortify a strength, Handanovic has continued to look brilliant this season- particularly in the match against Lazio- and both D’Ambrosio and Ranocchia have responded well when called upon. Conte will also likely ease in Alessandro Bastoni in his center back rotation after his positive season on loan at Parma.

 

Simone Inzaghi made mistakes against Inter – but benching Ciro Immobile wasn’t one of them

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As the news filtered through a few hours before kick-off, no one could quite believe it: Ciro Immobile would start on the bench for Lazio against Inter. 

Immobile has started the new season at his lethal best, scoring four goals in his first four games ahead of the trip to San Siro, and another for Italy on international duty.

When the official line-up came out to confirm that Felipe Caicedo would partner Joaquin Correa in attack, there was a general assumption that it must have something to do with Immobile’s strop during Sunday’s win over Parma.

In that game, the striker scored the opening goal but threw a tantrum on his way back to the bench when his number came up in the second half. Continue reading

How Beppe Marotta became Serie A’s Mister Wolfe

There are so many unforgettable characters in “Pulp Fiction”, but none are as cool as Harvey Keitel’s portrayal of Winston Wolfe. He’s the classic fixer, the person rich people or criminals call to clean up a messy situation because of their ability to think clearly under pressure and to efficiently get out of even the most complex problems.

While I don’t imagine Beppe Marotta has ever wore a tux to a party that is taking place early in the morning like when we are first introduced to mister Wolfe, Inter’s current executive director is now Calcio’s version of Mister Wolfe. After a very successful spell at Sampdoria, he was one of the architects of Juventus’ resurgence post Calciopoli and is now building a very strong foundation for Inter who are desperate to return to the glory days of the treble after a difficult stretch of years.

The season just started and we know Inter are notorious for falling apart at the worse possible time, but if you also look at how disorganized Juventus has appeared since his departure, there’s a case to be made this has been Marotta’s best summer ever when you factor Conte, Godin, Lukaku, Sensi, Barella’s arrivals coupled with Mauro Icardi leaving but not for Juventus.

To be fair Marotta inherited Inter right when they were about to get out of Financial Fair Play hell. His sporting director Piero Ausilio and his predecessors in the executive director role deserve a lot of credit for making significant plusvalenze on home grown players, which allowed Marotta to spend considerably more this summer.

Certainly, Antonio Conte wouldn’t have come to Inter until he had guarantees they would be able to spend significantly on the transfer market, but Marotta convinced him to join him at Inter after the two of them had a falling out at Juventus (Conte famously never mentioned him during his farewell from the bianconeri) because of disagreements on the transfer market.

Everyone remembers the famous quote on not being able to afford the restaurant that costs 100 euro with a 10 euro bill, but this summer Marotta broke Inter’s transfer record twice by signing first Niccolo’ Barella and later Romelu Lukaku, who had become like Moby Dick for Conte since he had tried to sign him both at Juventus and Chelsea. Inter also signed Diego Godin to a very expensive Bosman deal to complete a new version of the BBC but it turns out that so far the nerazzurri’s best addition came from Sassuolo.

While at Juventus, Marotta developed a great relationship with Sassuolo’s director Carnevali- they completed many deals which benefitted both teams on the pitch and financially. But with the way Stefano Sensi has played since he arrived at Inter, you can make a case Marotta saved the best deal with the neroverdi for his new club (just picture how good Sensi would look in Juventus midfield right now).

Certainly the incoming players have been impressive, but Marotta’s best work may have come with the Mauro Icardi situation. He set the tone right away at Conte’s introductory press conference, he stated that the Argentine striker as well as Radja Nainggolan would not be part of the project (he later on added Ivan Perisic to the list) and while many assumed Marotta would eventually have no choice but to send him to Juventus, who went so far as not assigning number 9 to keep it ready for Icardi.

Certainly, it would have been better to sell Mauro Icardi on a permanent sale, but Marotta was able to get him out of the league altogether while working on a deal that would give Icardi a significant financial incentive by staying at PSG since his contract with the French club would pay substantially more than what Inter would give him should he return. 

Marotta was able to shed Icardi, Perisic and most of Nainggolan’s significant wages by sending them off on loan. Juventus would have liked to be able to do the same with the likes of some of their unwanted veterans since now their payroll is very bloated at a time that they are also in the red on their balance sheet, it’s safe to say that Paratici and Nedved have struggled a bit in their first summer transfer window at Juventus without Marotta.

After his strong contributions to Juventus’ rebuild, Marotta is well on his way to doing the same at Inter- he’s now become Serie A’s mister Wolfe.

AC Milan 0-2 Inter: Rossoneri outplayed as Giampaolo continues to disappoint

The long-awaited derby didn’t go exactly as planned for AC Milan, as the Rossoneri were outplayed by their city rivals for most of the game. Furthermore, the team lacked the spirit to turn the game around, while Giampaolo continues to disappoint with his team selection. 

The clash started as you would expect, with both sides having a go at each other to probe the ground. However, that phase quickly faded as the Nerazzurri took control of the game, which was the sight for a majority of the first half. In terms of chances, the away side dominated, while Milan continued to struggle. Continue reading

AC Milan vs. Inter: Team news, stats and prediction

The long-awaited derby between AC Milan and Inter will take place this evening, with kick-off scheduled for 20:45 Italy time. For both sides, it will be a very important game as always, though this one seems to carry a bit more importance as both teams are heading into a new era. 

For the Rossoneri, it’s up to Marco Giampaolo to send a signal to the fans, as his side unconvincingly beat Brescia and Hellas Verona by the odd goal. Therefore, this evening, the fans will be hoping for a clear game plan as facing Antonio Conte’s side will be no walk in the park. Continue reading

Serie A’s Overpaid and Underpaid Players

While we no longer had the ambiguous Hazard quotes about potentially joining Real Madrid, we still had our usual September international break story lines. There was speculation on Messi’s future, (way too premature) January transfer window rumors and Gazzetta dello Sport’s annual article on player wages in Serie A.

We of course had confusion on the fact that wages in Italy are reported after taxes, while in most other leagues- particularly the Premier- the figures are given before taxes. The main take away is that gap between Juventus and the rest of league has widen this year, in part because of the bianconeri’s inability to move numerous expandable players  while adding three top earners in De Ligt, Ramsey, Rabiot in addition to Higuain’s return and because Milan have taken significant steps to reduce their payroll.

When looking at the individual salaries, it’s important to lay some ground rules. Younger players obviously tend to earn considerably less than veterans, even young stars like Fabian Ruiz (1.5 million), Chiesa (1.7 million) and Sensi (1.8 million) combined earn considerably less than Higuain’s 7.5 million) and some teams have essentially a hard cap on how much they pay their top players- Torino are paying Belotti, Sirigu and Izzo all 1.7 million annually, while both Milinkovic Savic and Immobile are at 2.5 million at Lazio. On the other hand players that arrive on Bosman deals like Can, Godin and Ramsey earn an inflated wage since there was no transfer fee to acquire them.

Once we account for these criteria, we can then try to figure who is underpaid, but let’s start by going over some overpaid players:

Mattia Destro 2 million: I’ll always think of Galliani ringing the striker’s doorbell during one of his last transfer window in charge at Milan. With the exception of the 2016-17 season, Destro has struggled since leaving Roma, he has scored 10 goals combined in the past two season while being Bologna’s highest paid player by a considerable margin over Sansone, Medel and Soriano who are at 1.5 million.

Radja Nainggolan 3 million: the Belgian international could have even earned more had he moved to China, so he deserves praise for going to Cagliari for a very unfortunate personal and leaving cash on the table- but he also earns more than his excellent temmates Pavoletti and Cragno combined and has looked out of shape before suffering an injury during the international break.

Pepe Reina and Lucas Biglia combined 6.5 million: this summer Milan set a hard cap on wages for new players at 3 million euro net which is what they are paying Rebic and what they offered Correa (most of their new additions were paid 1.5 million or less including Theo Hernandez, Bennacer, Leao and Kurtic) so it really stands out to see a backup keeper making 3 million and a backup like Biglia earning as much as captain Romagnoli at 3.5 million.

Javier Pastore 4.5 million: we know Monchi made numerous disastrous signings, but Pastore has single handedly changed the way Roma operates- they are now determined to only sign players over 27 on loan and to invest transfer fees just on younger players. The former Palermo striker earns more than Zaniolo (who just signed an extension) and Cristante who arrived for a substantial fee from Atalanta.

Mandzukic/Khedira 6 million each: when you hear that Juventus are planning on extending Cuardrado and Matuidi’s contract, you have to wonder if Paratici learned anything from this summer when it was almost impossible to move his overpaid veterans. At least Khedira has retained his starting spot with new coach Sarri (at least until he inevitably gets injured) and there’s hope Mandzukic will be sold to a Qatari team after he was excluded from the Champions League list and the squad for match against Fiorentina.

 

There are of course numerous players that are (at least relatively speaking) underpaid:

 

Allan 2 million: Napoli overall get the best bang for their buck considering you can make a case they have the most talent after Juventus and yet have the fifth largest payroll (Juventus, Inter, Roma and Milan are all ahead in most cases by a fairly substantial amount). While they will eventually have to pay some of their younger players, they are still getting amazing value with Allan who also still has a contract trough 2023.

Stefan De Vrij 3.8 million: the Dutch center back is the rare Bosman signing who feels significantly underpaid. The former Dutch defender may not get as much attention as Skriniar (also underpaid at 3 million plus bonuses) but make no mistake about it, he’s one of the elite players at his position in Italy and a perfect fit in Conte’s three center back formation.

Alessio Romagnol3.5 million: just like De Vrij, Romagnoli could command a much higher salary on the open marker if he was available today. The former Roma center back also earns considerably less than Donnarumma’s current annual salary of 6 million.

Luis Alberto 1.8 million, Acerbi 1.5 million: in many ways as the Spaniard striker goes, so does Lazio- when he performs the biancocelesti are almost unstoppable. As previously mentioned, Lotito’s club currently has a hard cap on wages but they will likely have to make some adjustments to it once Milinkovic Savic signs a new deal, which will likely come with an exit clause. When that happens, we’ll likely see a domino effect that will also impact Francesco Acerbi, who has been a superb replacement for De Vrij and is also carving a role for himself on the Italian national team.

 

 

Serie A’s Blue & Red Chip Players

Now that the transfer window is (FINALLY) over, we can fully assess the squads for the top Serie A teams. When ranking teams and breaking down their player personnel, I always use a method that NFL general manager Mike Lombardi employed both as an executive and analyst: name the blue and red chip players.

A blue chip player is a true difference maker, an elite player at his position who could start regularly for a title contender. A red chip player on the hand is someone who could be a significant contributor on a team that is competing for a Champions League spot. While putting together this year’s version of this column, I once again avoid putting players new to Serie A in the blue chip category because we don’t know how they will adapt to a new league.

 

So without further due, let’s take a look at how many blue chip and red chip players each top Serie A team has:

 

Juventus 

 

Blue Chip: Szczesny, Chiellini, Ronaldo, Douglas Costa 

Red Chip: De Ligt, Bonucci, Alex Sandro, Pjanic, Khedira, Ramsey, Rabiot, Dybala, Bernardeschi, Matuidi, Mandzukic, Can, Higuain, Buffon

The bianconeri are so deep that their main backups would likely contend for a Champions League spot if they had their own team so it’s not surprising to see a long list of blue chip players which could have also easily featured also Cuadrado and  Demiral. 

Douglas Costa’s speed and dribbling ability make him “fuori categoria” in Serie A (a player that is so unique there’s hardly any comparison in the league). Szczesny has been so good since arriving in Italy that those familiar with Serie A never thought for a second that Buffon was returning to Juventus to be the starter, while Ronaldo and Chiellini are still elite players at their positions despite their age. 

Last year many would have had Pjanic as a blue chip player (not me though), but his value is diminished since he doesn’t take as many free kicks with Ronaldo on the squad. Dybala went from being arguably the most valuable player on the transfer market in all of Serie A to someone who has to compete with Higuain for playing time while Khedira is a blue chip player in the eyes of pretty much any manager he ever had.

 

 

 

Napoli

 

Blue Chip: Koulibaly, Allan, Fabian Ruiz, Callejon

Red Chip: Mertens, Meret, Manolas, Zielinski, MIlik, Insigne, Lozano

Aside from Ronaldo, it’s hard to argue against Fabian Ruiz being the best player who joined Serie A from abroad last season. Napoli were able to hold on to Koulibaly and Allan who just like Fabian Ruiz could be starters on Juventus, while Callejon continues to reinvent himself and add to his game- Ancelotti has already used him a central midfielder during summer friendlies.

Aside from Dino Zoff, you can make a case that Meret has everything needed to be Napoli’s best keeper ever, while Manolas is a more than adequate replacement for Albiol. Milik is coming off a season in which he scored 18 goals in Serie A with no penalties, while Lozano looks like the perfect jolly for Ancelotti to use in different ways to compliment his front line. 

In order for the partenopei to truly contend with Juventus, they’ll need two out of Ghoulam (who was a red chip player before his injury), Malcuit and Di Lorenzo to exceed expectations this season.

 

Inter

 

Blue Chip: Handanovic, Skriniar, De Vrij, Brozovic

Red Chip: Lukaku, Godin, Barella, Sensi, Lautaro Martinez, Politano

Clearly Inter have a blue chip manager who will make players like Candreva look like red chip players most of the time, but let’s try not to be influenced too much by Conte. Inter have been able to won their first two games with Ranocchia and D’Ambrosio starting, but they’ll be even better with De Vrij- a Bosman signing who should get more praise as an incredible addition- and Godin are also starting (he was the one new addition from abroad I wanted to make a blue chip right away).

Brozovic was the nerazzurri’s most important player last season- when he performed well, they almost always won. He’ll now be joined by Sensi and Barella in a midfield with a lot of quality but very little size. Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez are difference makers on their own, but also look to be a duo that compliments each other rather well. Conte insisted on holding on to Politano and he could be quite valuable as both a wing back and a second striker.

 

Milan

 

Blue Chip: Romagnoli, Donnarumma 

Red Chip: Paqueta, Piatek, Bennacer, Suso, Bonaventura 

Say what you will about Galliani but on his watch Milan acquired Romagnoli and launched Donnarumma, two elite players at their respective positions. Since then Fassone, Leonardo and now Massara/Maldini/Boban have acquired young players who have the potential to become blue chippers- especially Paqueta, Piatek and Bennacer. The good news is that new manager Marco Giampaolo has a great track record of taking players to the next level, but doing so at Milan is a bit more complicated than at Sampdoria where there is much more built in patience.

 

Roma

 

Blue Chip: Dzeko

Red Chip: Zaniolo, Pellegrini, Kolarov, Mkhitaryan, Florenzi, Pau Lopez

 

None of the teams mentioned so far lost as many quality players as the giallorossi with Manolas, De Rossi and El Shaarawy departing. Considering he’s coming off a season in which he scored nine goals, it’s probably generous to put Dzeko as a blue chipper, especially when you consider his age, but he does impact matches in many different ways. On the bright side for Roma, Zaniolo has a everything needed to become a top player and while I didn’t list Diawara and Veretout, they have the characteristics to be quite functional in Fonseca’s system plus Pau Lopez already looks like a massive upgrade to Olsen. 

 

Atalanta

 

Blue Chip: Papu Gomez

Red Chip: Freuler, Toloi, Ilicic, Zapata, Muriel, Castagne 

 

In many ways, Gasperini is a poor man’s version of Conte- not just because of the formation they use, but also because of their ability to make average players look like difference makers. Ilicic and Zapata had career seasons at Atalanta last season and it’s very likely Muriel will follow their path. Freuler is one of the most underrated midfielders in Serie A, he’s the player many think Diawara is to this day. Look for Castagne to take a leap this season and it will be interesting to see how the defense adapts to Mancini’s departure- if Kjaer or Palomino perform like red chippers then Atalanta can once again compete for a Champions League spot. 

Lazio

 

Blue Chip: Milinkovic Savic, Acerbi, Lucas Leiva

Red Chip: Immobile, Luis Alberto, Lazzari, Correa

I’ve been known for overrating the biancocelesti, but they have a more impressive core of players than Roma and Milan in my honest opinion. Acerbi made everyone forget how good De Vrij was at Lazio, Milinkovic Savic was able to win award for best midfielder in Serie A In objectively a down season while Immobile already has 3 seasons with 20+ goals in Italy. Lazzari was already devasting at SPAL but now has so much more talent in a system he knows like the back of his hand while Correa can build on his outstanding second half of last season.

 

Miscellaneous teams

 

Blue Chip: Quagliarella, Sirigu

Red Chip: Belotti, Chiesa, Izzo, Nkolou, Cragno, Pavoletti, Pezzela, Milenkovic, Gervinho, Schone   

 

Has Serie A improved after the summer transfer window?

Following Arturo Vidal’s transfer to Bayern Munich back in the summer of 2015, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli described Serie A as a transient league- a place where players improved before they moved on to clubs able to pay them more. 

Since then we have seen some improvements when it comes the Italian clubs being able to keep their best players. Juventus have been able to increase their revenues considerably, Inter now have significantly more financial resources with Suning taking over for Erick Thohir and now no longer have to worry about Financial Fair Play, Fiorentina look much more ambitious under Rocco Comisso, while both of Napoli and Lazio’s presidents have developed a well deserved reputation as tough negotiators.

So with another summer transfer window in the books, has this trend continued? Have Serie A teams been able to increase the overall talent in the league by keeping more top players and attracting new additions that can make a difference? Let’s first take a look at the players that left.

Interestingly two of the biggest players to depart Serie A- Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic- did so on loan and there’s a fairly good chance they will return (at least temporarily). Wanda Nara has already made it clear that ultimately she and her husband/client want to go back to Inter and that they see the move to PSG as a the kind of break a couple takes to calm things down, while with Perisic it remains to be seen if Bayern Munich see him as just a short term stop gap.

Juventus and Roma did end up selling two of their top performers to make some needed plusvalenze. Losing a player of Joao Cancelo’s caliber is always painful, but becomes even more problematic when you sell him to a team who has a legitimate chance to win the trophy your fan base is obsessed over and to a manager who can get the most out of him. Stephan El Shaarawy on the other accepted an offer you can’t refuse and moved to China following a great season in Italy’s capital (I have a feeling he’ll be back in a year or two).

It shouldn’t be particularly surprising to see Sampdoria off to a very slow start this season considering they sold two of their five best players in Dennis Praet and Joachim Andersen. While many assumed both would follow Marco Giampaolo, the manager that fully developed them, to Milan they ended up going abroad for significant profits- the Danish center back joined Lyon and the Belgian midfielder headed to Leicester.

We also had two home grown players bring significant profits to Milan and Juventus respectively because they had no amortized value to offset. Patrick Cutrone essentially financed most of Milan’s incoming moves for this fiscal year by joining Wolves, while Moise Kean landed at Everton when he had just one year left on his contract at Juventus.

The other significant outgoing moves outside of Italy involved numerous Monchi rejects at Roma- Coric, NZonzi, Karsdorp and Schick will all try to regain some value on the transfer market and jump start their careers outside of Italy.

So you could look at the fact there weren’t many top players that left as either a sign Italian teams are in a stronger position or that the talent overall in Serie A wasn’t very good last season since only Cancelo, Kean, Praet, Andersen and El Shaarawy fetched significant fees- I tend to think it’s more the former also because we have seen a good amount of players that in previous years would have gone abroad- Manolas, Barella, Bennacer, Mancini, Sensi, Demiral and Lazzari- ended up being transferred to other Serie A, in addition to players like Milinkovic Savic, Chiesa, De Paul, Donnarumma, Izzo and Suso who on paper looked fairly certain to leave just ended up staying at their respective clubs.

But how did Serie A fair on the incoming side overall? Juventus continued to demonstrate their ability with Bosman signings by snagging Rabiot, who was linked to Barcelona for a long time, and Ramsey who left a top Premier League team to come to Italy. But the bianconeri weren’t the only one flexing on the market for players with expiring contracts- Inter added one of the best defenders in the world in Diego Godin while Napoli signed Fernando Llorente to give Ancelotti another option up front.

Interestingly we had quite a few players return to Serie A after a stint abroad (although even the most fervent Calcio cheerleader would have a hard time characterizing other leagues being transient and improving these footballers) including Buffon, Higuain, Darmain, Kalinic, Zappacosta, Rebic, Alexis Sanchez, Obiang, Kjaer, Murillo and Balotelli.

We saw Inter break their transfer record by acquiring Romelu Lukaku, Napoli doing the same with Lozano, Juventus defeat Barcelona and PSG in the race for Mathis De Ligt, Milan landing some intriguing prospects in Leao and Theo Hernandez, Roma acquire their most expensive keeper ever with Pau Lopez, Genoa shock the world by convincing Schone to leave Ajax to play in Liguria and Commisso make a huge splash by signing Ribery. 

In addition to players, we have also seen Serie A bring back two great managers in Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri while Paul Fonseca brought his intriguing offensive mind to Italy. I think it’s safe to say the talent level in Italy has increased this summer, but I’ll let you decide by just listing the names

 

 

 

In- Muriel, Kjaer, Ribery, Ghezzal, Schone, Balotelli, Joronen, Vavro, Nandez, Lukaku, Godin, Lazaro, De Ligt, Ramsey, Rabiot, Higuain, Danilo, Buffon, Jony, Darmian, Smalling, Zappacosta, Mkhitaryan, Kalinic, Pau Lopez, Obiang, Murillo, Lozano, Elmas, Theo Hernandez, Duarte, Rebic, Leao

 

Out- Nagy, Helander, Donsah, Lafont, Kean, Cancelo, Perisic, Icardi, Joao Mario, Praet, Andersen, Nzonzi, El Shaarawy, Karsdorp, Schick

 

Once Upon A Time On Transfer Market

Tarantino’s latest film “One Upon a Time in Hollywood” is ultimately about transitions. The end of the peace and love phase with the Manson murders (at least in real life), Hollywood ushering in the era of the great directors of the 70s and the big life changes in store for the main characters Cliff Booth and Rick Dalton who are on their way down, while Sharon Tate is raising to the top.

By the same token Serie A also feels like it’s in transition. Inter are taking things to the next level after years of dealing with Financial Fair Play restrictions, Roma moving away from both Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, Milan fully embracing the youth movement, Juventus trying to expand their brand to rival the top clubs in the world and Napoli going after higher caliber players following Ancelotti’s hire last year.

So considering the parallels, I couldn’t help but use my favorite quotes from Tarantino’s new film to break down what we saw in the summer transfer window in Italy.

Interviewer: So, Rick, explain to the audience exactly what a stunt double does.

Rick Dalton: Actors are required to do a lot of dangerous stuff. Cliff here is meant to help carry the load.

Interviewer: Is that how you describe your job, Cliff?

Cliff Booth: What, carrying his load? Yeah, it’s about right.

When they both worked at Juventus, Fabio Paratici was the one getting most of the credit for the great moves like discovering Arturo Vidal while Beppe Marotta was the one getting mocked for all the loan with option to buy deals and inability to sign a top striker for multiple years. When Juventus pulled off the Matthijs De Ligt signing in early August, many bianconeri fans actually stated that it would have never happened had Marotta still been at the club because he was too “cheap” to spend so much on one big name.

Well things radically changed in the following weeks- with Marotta at the helm, Inter broke their transfer fee record first on Niccolo’ Barella (although on a loan with option to buy deal) and subsequently on Romelu Lukaku- also the most expensive player to move from the Premier League to Serie A.

Meanwhile at Juventus, following all the praise for the De Ligt acquisition, Paratici received a ton of criticism for selling Moise Kean, Joao Cancelo and shopping Paulo Dybala. While Juventus was known for their great ability to plan, they looked as disorganized as ever because of their inability to move players with massive salaries forcing them to consider sacrificing younger players because they had a bigger appeal on the market.

Marotta and Inter on the other hand waited patiently to find new homes for Radja Nainggolan, Ivan Perisic and Joao Mario to get them off Conte’s squad. If that weren’t enough, while many expected Inter to have no choice but to ship Icardi to Juventus to get rid of their biggest headache, Marotta was able to send him outside of Serie A on the last day of the deadline. Marotta went from carrying Paratici’s load by taking all the criticism at Juventus, to looking like the one who really knew what he was doing which is also a perfect description of the relationship between Cliff and Rick in Tarantino’s movie.

Woman at a Party: Sharon absolutely has a type: cute, short, talented guys who look like 12 year old boys

At the end of May, Ivan Gazidis gave a long interview to Gazzetta dello Sport in which he outlined Milan’s plans for the next year. The former Arsenal director stated that the club would target players who could become stars at Milan rather than established players- and that is exactly what he did.

Milan acquired Leao (born in 99), Ismael Bennacer (born in December of 97), Theo Hernandez (born in 97),  Duarte (born in 96) with Rade Krunic and Ante Rebic as the only new additions older than 25. In addition to sticking to a type on the transfer market, Milan hired a manager who has a great track record of developing players.

While at Sampdoria, Marco Giampaolo launched Skriniar, Torreira, Schick and Praet who were all sold for substantial plusvalenze. Milan on the other hand wants Giampaolo to develop their new additions (as well as Piatek and Paqueta) so that they can become the backbone of their squad moving forward. The question is will Milan fans have the patience to see this project through after many disappointing seasons. 

 

Jay Sebring: Is everyone ok?

Rick Dalton: Well, the f*cking hippies aren’t

Gianluca Petrachi rightfully received a lot of praise for his work as Roma’s new sporting director. He resigned Edin Dzeko and Nicolo’ Zaniolo, brought in Diawara, Zappacosta, Vertout, Pau Lopez, Spinazzola, Mancini, Smalling and Mkhitaryan (we won’t hold Kalinic against him since he replaced Schick who was a massive bust) which on paper made the team rather intriguing.

But prior to Petrachi’s arrival, the giallorossi suffered some very significant losses. Roma had a poor defense last season and they lost their only above average center back in Manolas, they lost their captain Daniele De Rossi who was still very effective when he played, as well Stephan El Shaarawy who was the team’s most consistent player last season. Roma is in better shape than Manson’s hippies at the end of the movie, but we cannot forget about all their losses when praising their additions- they may not be as okay as some think.

Sadie Atkins:My idea is to kill the people who taught us to kill!”

To Napoli’s credit they have done a good of challenging Juventus in recent years despite a massive difference in revenues. But as we well know both Sarri (when he worked there) and De Laurentiis were never shy to bring this up when they inevitably feel short of winning the scudetto.

But this year Napoli made a significant change with their policies. While in previous years, they avoided working with two of the top player agents in the game, Mino Raiola and Jorge Mendes, this summer they fully embraced it. Creating strong relationships with agents and showing willingness to pay big commissions has worked well for Juventus so it made sense for Napoli to embrace this same strategy to try to further bridge the gap.

While Napoli feel short of signing one of Mendes’ top clients in James Rodriguez (mainly because he didn’t want another loan deal following his stint at Bayern Munich), they did get deals for Manolas and Lozano, two of Raiola’s players, across the line. Look for Napoli to continue to build on these relationship to try to finally pass Juventus in the standings.

 

Rick DaltonYou can do anything you want to him. Throw him off a building, right? Hit him with a Lincoln! Right? Get creative?

You have to hand it to Claudio Lotito- he does things on his terms. Lazio’s president has gotten great returns on players on expiring deals (Hernanes, Biglia, Candreva), a player some felt he held on to for too long (Felipe Anderson) while assembling a strong squad.

But Lotito can also pretty bombastic with his quotes and this summer he wasn’t afraid to publicly attack Luis Alberto and admit he had run out of ammunition to hold on to Milinkovic Savic. However, he was able to keep both in addition to his sporting director Tare’ and manager Inzaghi who were linked to Milan. The continuity in addition to the very shrewd addition of Manuel Lazzari may finally get Lazio to the Champions League

 

Randy: you know my wife Janet?

Cliff: Yeah

Randy: Steer clear of her

One of my favorite things about “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is that Kurt Russell is the narrator and Tarantino’s long time stuntman coordinator plays Janet’s role (she’s the one that breaks up the fight between Cliff Booth and Bruce Lee). This particular line is so easy to apply to Wanda Nara, who dominated the summer transfer window often with cryptic messages on Instagram.

Wanda certainly broke new ground in the agent game this summer- she used her pulpit on a major national Calcio TV program by making a statement Marotta had to later deny, she threatened to sue Inter to reintegrate Icardi, only to agree to join Paris St Germain just a few days later. But don’t forget this is a loan deal, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll be back at square one next summer.

 

Pussycat: Are you an actor?

Cliff: No, I’m a stuntman

The stretch of the film after Cliff picks up Pussycat and drives her to the old film studio is one of the best of Tarantino’s career. In any event, this line makes me think of the fact that this summer it became very evident that young players- particularly those who came up through a club’s youth system- are often just financial assets.

Now Inter had been using many of the players from their impressive Primavera squads for years to raise funds to meet their Financial Fair Play parameters, but this summer they made headlines for Vanheudsen’s 12 million transfer to Standard Liegi. At least Cutrone and Kean had significant name recognition, but a thing all these players have in common is their incoming transfer fee was essentially a pure capital gain (“plusvalenza”) since they had little to no amortized value on the books. Look for this to continue to be a trend and remember this quote next time you read about a rich club’s Loan Army or great youth system.

 

 

Cliff: what’s the matter partner?

Rick: It’s official, I’m a has been

Mkhytarian, Darmian, Alexis Sanchez, Zappacosta, Imbula, Ghezzal and I’m probably forgetting a few more. These are the names of Premier League players who arrived in Serie A at the very end of the transfer window mostly on loan deals. While it’s very unlikely any of them will turn into the new Mohamed Salah, who made a triumphant return to England after a spell in Serie A, they have intensified a trend that Mario Balotelli started after his disastrous spell at Liverpool.

 

 

 

I dedicate this column to my beloved cat Cianci