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Juventus May Have Won Again, but Serie A Was Full of Intrigue This Season

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With legitimate races at the top, bottom and middle of the table, Serie A was perhaps the most interesting league in Europe.

Juventus v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Chris Ricco/Getty Images

The days of Italy being a bastion of slow, stodgy and boring football are dead and gone. Italian clubs made up 13 of the top 40 scoring teams in Europe's big five leagues this season, three of Europe's top six goal scorers played in Serie A, including the Golden Boot winner Ciro Immobile, and the league as a whole averaged 1.48 goals per match, second only to the Bundesliga's 1.56.

And what's more, Serie A was the most competitive league among the big five this season, with the championship being settled by one single point, by far the closest margin between Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and the Premiership.

Juventus remains at the top of the heap in Serie A, but thanks in part to rising clubs like Atalanta, Lazio and Inter Milan, Italian football football has an exciting and competitive future.

With such a unique, interesting and intense season in the books, we assembled to crew to assess the season gone by. Stay tuned tomorrow for our Roma-focused review.

Enjoy!


1. Let’s start with the title race. Juventus claimed their ninth straight title in the closest race since 2003. But was this a sign that the league is catching up to Juve or just an aberration?

Juventus v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

dallagente: Sarri always takes more than a season to get his feet under the table at any club, so I’m not getting too excited about a Juve decline just yet. I’m still trying to figure out what it means that the other 4 clubs out of the Top 5 all outscored Juve, and all of them except Atalanta and Roma conceded less than Juve. I guess it really is about picking your moments.

Bren: Yeah, that’s an excellent point about the Sarri acclimation period, but I’d also point to the fact that Juve will casually be adding Dejan Kuluselvski and his 10 goals and 8 assists to the mix next season. Juve’s advantages run so deep, I’m not sure we should read too deeply into this one year blip, especially since it looks like Inter and Conte are heading for a potentially combustible divorce.

ssciavillo: I agree about the Sarri point. I expect improvements from Juve in his second season. Plus he’ll have some reinforcements next season like Kuluseveski and Arthur. Therefore part of me thinks this was the field’s best chance of catching the Bianconeri. That being said, Inter continues to improve so depending on what happens with Conte, the Nerazzurri could be even better next season. We’ll see what happens with other potential challengers like Roma, Atalanta, Napoli, Milan, and Lazio, but overall I do think the quality of the teams chasing Juve is improving.

Jimmy Miotto: I think the league is catching up, but I also think that we don’t recognize how Juventus’ dominance over Serie A isn’t that bizarre in the top leagues. Since 2010, Barcelona won La Liga six times, with Real Madrid winning three of the other four titles. Bayern Munich has won the Bundesliga eight times since 2010, and they haven’t lost the Bundesliga since the 2012-2013 season. We all know that PSG dominate Ligue 1, and for all the talk of parity in the Premier League, Manchester City won the title four times in the 2010s. Inter, Napoli, Lazio, and yes, Roma with the right pieces all look like they could catch up to Juve in the next few years. But we shouldn’t treat Juventus’ dominance over the domestic league as that much of an aberration from the rest of European football.

JonAS: I hope next season is gonna be as tight as this one. I do see some cracks in Juve’s wall: Dybala is basically their only real superstar who is not nearing or in his 30s. Buffon, Schez, Bonucci, Chiellini, Matuidi, Ronaldo, Ramsey, Khedira, Douglas Costa, Cuadrado, Higuain are not the youngest anymore, their core is aging fast. Pjanic left too, that’s quite some goals + assists that they lose. Ok so they got Kulusevski but he won’t drag a team like Juve through difficult times as such a young age. And will Arthur settle in Serie A? If Inter keep Conte on board and get 2-3 more studs, they could make the jump. Milan post-Covid is dangerous too. Hmm, what you say? AS Roma? Next question please.

2. Who was your Serie A MVP and why?

SS Lazio v Brescia Calcio - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

dallagente: If we’re talking new signings, then Kulusevski was an amazing loan for Parma and Theo Hernandez was well worth it for Milan. I also envy Napoli for Fabian Ruiz.

Bren: There were a lot of great and a lot of surprising performances this season but I’m going to have to go the obvious route and say Ciro Immobile; its hard to argue against 36 goals and 9 assists, though we should at least mention Domenico Berardi turning in the only double-double this season: 14 goals and 10 assists. There’s a multiverse out there somewhere in which Monchi was able to land him for EDF and everything is sunshine and rainbows.

ssciavillo: I think it has to be Immobile. Anytime someone ties the single season scoring record it’s hard to say they’re not the MVP. But great shout on Berardi as an unsung MVP outside of the obvious choices.

Jimmy: I hate to admit it, and I hate to say the say the same thing as the rest of the guys, but Ciro Immobile is the right answer. 36 goals is just something you don’t see very often, particularly in a league like Serie A. I just wish he didn’t play for Lazio.

JonAS: Ewww, so much Lazio love. Plus, Immobile scored like 20 penalties, even Dzeko could hit those numbers if he took the rigore in Roma. I have not watched many other games except the Roma ones, but I read a lot of praise for Gomez and Ilicic from Atalanta week in week out. I always had a soft spot for Papu and I’m glad he finally gets the international recognition he deserves. Basically the entire 11 from Atalanta deserve it IMO, such an entertaining side (Zapata, Hateboer, Gosens, Muriel…).

3. Who was your Serie A LVP (Least Valuable Player) and why was he so disappointing?

Referee Daniele Chiffi (L) shows red card to Florian Aye (... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

dallagente: Imagine watching your club pay “15m” euros for Stefano Sturaro, then waiting until the final day of the season to know you’ve survived the drop to Serie B. You’d be upset.

Bren: I’m stretching the meaning of “least valuable” here, but I’m going with Nicolo Barella. For all the hype he generated last summer, he didn’t really fit the bill as one of Italy’s top young talents in his first season with Inter. He’ll likely improve dramatically going forward, but 27 appearances, one goal, four assists and 11 yellows wasn’t terribly impressive.

ssciavillo: I can’t think of an obvious choice off the top of my head, but Alex Meret comes to mind. After arriving last season as a highly-regarded young keeper, losing his job to David Ospina has to be an indictment of his Napoli career so far.

Jimmy: Mario Balotelli is the answer here, right? His signing with Brescia was one of the bigger moments of the transfer window last summer, what with all of the homecoming elements to the story. He just never worked out at the club, and they got relegated. It’s kind of incredible that he’s only 29 and has gone from the top of the top to not even helping out a relegation-bound side very much.

JonAS: Pastore. For obvious reasons. Is there any other player in Serie A who’s intrinsically as talented as Javier but only managed 11 games and zero goals, doing nothing noteworthy? He’s totally fallen off a cliff. And I’m so kind not to mention his absurd wage bill. Well damn, I just did. It’s a close call with Eriksen though. I do expected more of him at Inter.

4. We each made predictions a year ago, but now that the season is officially in the books, who was the best new signing in all of Serie A (new to the league, that is)?

Romelu Lukaku of FC Internazionale gestures during the Serie... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

dallagente: I’d say Chris Smalling and Romelu Lukaku. And it’s early days, but Milan may have signed a really good one in Alexis Saelemaekers. Cagliari also took a decent gamble on Nandez.

Bren: Well, I picked Lukaku as my capocannoniere last August, so I’m sticking with him. 23 goals in 36 appearances is a phenomenal return. I’ll touch on this in a few seconds, but landing an in prime star striker from the Premiership is surely a good sign for the league.

ssciavillo: Lukaku is a great choice, but I’m going to go with Smalling. Lukaku came in for a big fee with a lot of hype, while Smalling was a last minute head-scratching loan. The Englishman turned out to be a coup and really solidified a Roma backline that had plenty of holes. Roma couldn’t have asked for any better from him. Now let’s hope they can find a way to retain him.

Jimmy: Chris Smalling has to be the answer here, which I never thought would happen when he signed for Roma. It’s a shame that his future is so up in the air (as I’m writing this, it looks like he’s trying to get back to Rome, but Manchester United is being a total pain); particularly when combined with Gianluca Mancini, he was part of one of the best center-back pairings in Italy.

JonAS: Sometimes it’s best to let the others do the talking. I agree with everyone above.

5. Ciro Immobile scored the most goals in Europe’s Big Five, six of the top 15 scoring teams in the Big Five are from Italy and four of the top 10 individual scorers play in Italy. So, are we finally seeing the rebirth of Serie A? What must the league and its clubs do to build on this momentum?

Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus FC dissappointed during the... Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

dallagente: Our answers have to be short, so I’ll be the devil’s advocate here. First, how many of those goals are penalties? As Gasperini says “some penalties are only given in Italy”, this was actually backed up by the evidence that Italian referees don’t award the same amount of penalties in Champions League and Europa games, as they do in Serie A for the very same offences. Second, Italian youth players have been trained to look at their off the ball decisions and movement for the last decade. But are Italian clubs graduating enough technically good midfielders on the ball? Or are we just conceding goals from Italian midfields that don’t know how to control space? Third, will people give Atalanta the credit they deserve? They’ve done more than Inter Milan to uphold Serie A’s coefficient in Europe. Yet you’ll still have people openly saying we need to do more to bring the Milan clubs back to glory in Europe. I legitimately don’t know the answers to these questions, but I’m asking.

Bren: Well, at this point, whether it’s deserved or not, no one is dislodging the Premiership from the top of the heap, but I think the notion that Italy is a reserved and stoic league is fading away bit by bit. Beyond the goals scored, I think there need to be consistent and legitimate threats to Juve’s reign at the top of the league in order for Italy to really reclaim its status among the elite leagues. I would suspect that’s where the call for the Milan clubs to return to their former glory comes in—it takes $$$$ to compete with Juve and as fun as the Atalanta story is, can they really keep that up over the long haul?

ssciavillo: I do believe that the league has been improving despite Juve’s dominance. However, some victories in Europe by Italian teams would go a long way in reviving the league’s profile. Despite the improvements that many of us see from the league as a whole, as long as Juve continues to dominate, outsiders will have a hard time seeing Serie A as legit. Similar to Germany with Bayern and France with PSG, Serie A continues to be dominated by one team which hurts the league’s reputation overall.

Jimmy: I think that an Italian team needs to win the Champions League and the Europa League for us to really have any conversation about the rebirth of Serie A. I mentioned earlier that most of the big leagues aren’t that equitable, but the one thing that does change relatively frequently is the winner of the Champions League. If Italian clubs start winning that, or to a lesser extent the Europa League, more frequently, then we can talk about Serie A being the second- or third-best football league out there. Until then, it’s comfortably fourth, Immobile and Ronaldo notwithstanding.

JonAS: I hope so. Atalanta’s CL run doesn’t hurt the allure of Italian football. Ronaldo’s still here, alongside others legends like Zlatan and Buffon. Studs like Dybala, Lukaku and Milinkovic-Savic. Fierce trainers like Conte, Gattusso. Crazy ass presidents. Great kits. It may not be the ‘best league’ but certainly the most unique one. My only wish for Serie A is to break the Juventus hegemony ASAP, anyone except Lazio please.

6. What did you make of the five-sub rule? Leagues have been given permission to utilize it next season, so should Serie A continue to take advantage? Are there any other new rules or wrinkles you’d like to see instituted?

Parma Calcio 1913 v Atalanta - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

dallagente: I’ve no complaints with the subs rule. I’d like a time-limit on how long VAR can be consulted. If you have to watch an incident from a dozen different angles, slowed down to a hundredth of the speed, and rewatching it for a half-minute, that’s just crap. And the new handball rules just feel wrong to me right now.

Bren: Funny you mention VAR, the manner in which the MLS uses it—televising the conference between the referee and the video officials—seems to increase speed and accountability, so perhaps they should follow suit. I do like the five sub rule and think they should use it next season, but it definitely skews in favor of larger, deeper clubs.

ssciavillo: I do like the five sub rule and I think it should be used again next season. I agree that VAR needs to be streamlined. It shouldn’t take five minutes to break down a call. And 100% the handball rule needs to be looked at. There were way too many penalties given for handballs this season.

Jimmy: I’m happy the five-sub rule will stay on until the end or next season at the least, and I’m not really against it staying on period. We have enough injuries in Rome as is - maybe letting wo more players not play the full ninety each match might help shrink that number.

JonAS: Yeah, fan of those five subs as well. Means more minutes to share and less unhappy players as almost half of your bench can be brought in. A coach can even change formations multiple times in one game. Then again, it’s the perfect way to waste time if a team is up 1-0, can be frustrating if you’re behind. Also, no more VAR please. I wanna see players cheer as a madman after a goal instead of looking at the ref, wait five minutes and then do a simple high five with a teammate next to him. Lame.

7. By some estimates, Serie A awards a penalty roughly every 250 minutes, the highest mark among the Big Five European leagues. Does Italy have an officiating problem? Give us your overall impression of the men in fluorescent yellow.

Juventus v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

dallagente: So yeah, I jumped the gun by touching on this earlier. But Gasperini is onto something when it comes to this topic.

Bren: The per-minute averages weren’t that extreme, but you can’t argue with the results. There were a lot of penalties in the league this season, and Italy can never quite shake the rap of having fraudulent officials. Despite how long it takes, I do feel like they’re implementing VAR quite well, but man, those penalty calls are all over the map.

ssciavillo: I think there were too many penalties conceded and I think a lot of that had to do with the handball rule. Some changes do need to be made. More consistency amongst the officials and streamling VAR would top the list.

Jimmy: Like any refereeing, VAR has its flaws. People complain about referees from Rome to Rio de Janeiro. The real problem is that Italy has the reputation of crooked refs, and that allows any accusation of crookedness on the referee’s part to have more weight than it probably should. Given that, I’d say that Italy has less of an officiating problem that a lot of people might say, but yes, it does have one.

JonAS: Give us your overall impression of the men in fluorescent yellow. Not my cup of tea really. I like ladies in red. And fluorescent yellow? So ugly and out of fashion years ago.

8. Is there any chance...any…that all these closed-door matches could help Italy see the error of their ways in terms of fan violence and incidences of racism at matches? Will the time apart help people realize that football matches are a privilege and not a right?

Atalanta fans cheer on before the UEFA Champions League... Photo by Andrea Staccioli/LightRocket via Getty Images

dallagente: I don’t feel football has the power to make that kind of impact on this issue, as things stand right now. But you never know. I guess you’d have to look at people who’ve been banned from attending games for racist and violence abuse. Ask them today, if they felt even more disenfranchised then they already did before. Did it make them focus their energy into something more productive? Or did they just hold onto their frustration and take their abuse elsewhere?

Bren: Well, apparently there were even some territorial chants in a few of the round 38 matches between the club staff, so perhaps it’s more endemic than I imagined. But I think that when we talk about where Italy lags behind, this certainly can’t be ignored. Having no fans in the stands whatsoever would seem like an opportunity for clubs to analyze the type of gameday experience they offer their fans.

dallagente: Between staff? Damn, that is shameful. I know there were anti-Napolitano comments exchanged between Atalanta staff and Napoli fans after that game, but that’s a very local form of racism that can only be changed within Italy. And I’ve spoken to a couple of civil rights activists on the frontline this year, who insist change can only be started on a local and hyper-local level in any country.

ssciavillo: In a perfect world, absence from the stadiums would make people realize how much of a privilege it is to attend sporting events. However, I’m afraid that much won’t change, especially when you see incidents like the one bren pointed out. People are creatures of habit and it’s going to take a lot of work (and some harsh penalties for offenders) to change people’s behavior.

Jimmy: I don’t think it will have any impact on fan violence or racism at matches, and that’s a damn shame. Like Steven said, the penalties need to be far stricter when fans are in the stadium, and like Dalla said, a lot of this needs to come from a local level. Having the second half of the 2019-2020 season behind closed doors due to COVID-19 isn’t going to cause these racists to have an epiphany.

JonAS: Unfortunately I think it takes a lot more than that. A complete change in mentality. People, what a bunch of bastards. But maybe some of them will return to the stadium as men reborn. Football isn’t about politics, it should be about joy, entertainment, emotions. Things we all sorely missed during this pandemic.

9. Who or what was the biggest surprise of the 2019-2020 Serie A season?

Atalanta BC v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

dallagente: Gasperini’s Atalanta.

Bren: I’m going to say the re-start. When compared to some of our experiences in America (I’m looking at you, Miami Marlins), it went off without a hitch. There were many times we thought we’d never seen Serie A again this season, but the league and its clubs managed this excellently and they deserve all the credit in the world.

ssciavillo: I was also pleasantly surprised with how well the re-start went. Considering where Italy came from, in terms of the virus, and where it is now, a lot of credit has to be given to the league, players, and the country as a whole.

Jimmy: I wasn’t too surprised by the restart, because despite the high peaks of Italy’s COVID epidemic, they also went much further in their attempts to contain it than the United States ever did. Because of that, I’ll go with Atalanta; I certainly wouldn’t have pegged them to be in third at the beginning of the season.

JonAS: Hellas Verona had a pretty relaxed season and even had a shot at European qualification. Juric did a great job with a lot of unknowns and they performed a lot better than I predicted back in September. We all knew Juve was gonna win the Scudetto. We all knew Inter would finish top 4 under Conte. We already knew Atalanta was a great side before the season started. We knew Milan were still far from their best. And I refuse to say Lazio so Hellas it is.

10. Finally, choose a five-a-side team of the best Serie A performers from this season.

AC Milan v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

dallagente: Donnarumma-Saelemaekers-Gosens-Kulusevski-Gome

{Bonus points to dalla, as he was the only one capable of counting to five here. Bravo.}

Bren: Joronen in Goal, Chris Smalling and Theo Hernandez in defense then I’m running with Illicic, Papu Gomez and Ciro Immobile in attack.

ssciavillo: Donnarumma, Smalling, Theo, SMS, Dybala, Ciro

Jimmy: Donnarumma; Smalling, Gosens; Mkhitaryan, Dybala, Immobile.

JonAS: Buffon - Smalling - Radja - Papu Gomez- Zlatan -Ronaldo. Admit it, you wanna see that team play in your back garden while mowing the lawn bare chested.


Well, that's our take. What about yours? Is Serie A back on the rise? Is Juve's reign coming to an end?