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The Great Roma Questionnaire Extraordinaire, Pt. II: Serie A Review

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You've heard our thoughts on Roma's season, but what about the rest of the league?

FC Internazionale Milano v Udinese Calcio - Serie A Photo by Mattia Ozbot/Getty Images

In this morning's roundtable review of Roma's 2020-2021 season, we spoke at length about breakouts and struggles, surprises and disappointments, goals scored and goals conceded and Jonas even taught us some saucy Portuguese phrases. And while we have plenty of more season review coverage coming throughout the remainder of this week, today we're shifting the focus momentarily away from Roma to discuss the league-wide developments from this rather unique season.

The biggest heading from the recently concluded Serie A season was, quite simply, that for the first time in nearly a decade, we have a new champion to herald. Thanks to their impressive 28 wins and 91 points, Antonio Conte and Inter Milan put an end to Juventus’ nine-year run as the undisputed champions of Italy.

Time will tell if Inter can match Juve's decade-long dominance, but the black and blue side of the San Siro was far from the only noteworthy story this year, so the CdT crew gathered again to hit all the major league-wide talking points.

Enjoy!

We asked this question to our Inter colleagues, but it bears repeating: Juve’s nine-year title run was halted by Antonio Conte, so what do you think: Is this a genuine changing of the guard or just a one-year absence from Juve?

Romelu Lukaku (L) and Lautaro Martinez (R) of Fc... Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

Bren: It’s a bit hard to answer the Juve portion of this question until we see how they react to their relatively disappointing season. Certainly, if they miss out on CL and can Pirlo, I can see them compensating by getting a big-time manager and making significant investments in the transfer market. And if that’s the case, they’d certainly be eager to reclaim their place on the pecking order.

I don’t think Inter’s “project” is quite as sustainable as it seems, and indeed we’re already catching wind that they’ll have to sell Lautaro Martinez to cover some shortfalls. I hope they’re legit because having the same team win 9 titles in a row is horrible for the league’s reputation, so as much as I hate Inter, I’d like to see them maintain this peak, but I’m skeptical.

dallagente: It depends on who Juventus bring in as their next manager but, if you ask our sister site BWRAO, then Juve’s midfield is badly damaged and needs a couple of summers to put back together again. There’s also an excellent piece out of BWRAO that highlights how bad of a gamble Cristiano Ronaldo has been for Juve’s overall offensive game.

So Juve has a job ahead of them trying to fix these gambles gone wrong. I think the other teams at the top have to keep chiseling on these chinks in Juve’s armor while they’re there.

I think Inter Milan will be in the best position to keep chiseling their names on domestic trophies. They’ve now got the backing of US-based private fund Oaktree over the line, so Suning has successfully managed to start their gradual exit from the club without seriously affecting Inter’s football moving forward.

ssciavillo: I think Inter has to be favorites again next season because Juve was a seriously flawed side this season. It’ll be up to the front office to find a way to improve that side and possibly have to do it with considerably less income in order to seriously threaten the Nerazzurri. However, I agree with bren that I don’t think this Inter project is sustainable long term either. It’ll be interesting to see two years from now what the power structure of the league looks like if Juve doesn’t reinforce properly and Conte leaves Inter.

Jimmy Miotto: I think that if Juventus moves on from Pirlo, this is going to be a blip of a year. Congrats to Inter for winning the title, I guess, but every time I see a news update regarding their finances, it makes me think that they’re not built to be long-term contenders. Juventus, on the other hand, seemingly has more financial stability (although the death of The Super League might change that), or at the very least has less instability than Inter.

JonAS: I think Juve won’t reclaim their throne next year, it’s gonna take a while longer. They’re going to need a revamp (old players, managerial chances, the Ronaldo problem) while Inter are now truly a finished product. Maybe Inter needs to sell one big guy in order to raise funds but their squad is loaded and they’ll find another gem in the summer. Especially if Conte stays, I can see Inter clinching another Scudetto in 2022 with Atalanta and Napoli as underdogs. Unless Mourinho unleashes his, um, 2004 version of Mourinho and surprises everyone.

Apart from Inter winning the title, which club’s performance surprised and/or disappointed you most? Who were the under or overachievers in Serie A this season?

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

Bren: Hmm, this is a tough one to answer. I’ll get a bit creative and say AC Milan, if for no other reason than they were incredibly streaky. From nearly sacking Pioli to becoming arguably the best team in the league for much of the 2020 calendar year to leading the league this year to completely dropping out of the title race, I’m not sure we’ve seen so much chaos in such a short time span. Parma’s precipitous decline was also kind of shocking while seeing Spezia hang around mid-table was pretty exciting, too.

dallagente: Well I said Parma would get relegated before the season even began because the club was absolutely left high and dry by their old board (who have since been replaced by a new takeover) and their sporting director left the club for Genoa. Parma still played nice football in spurts, but they had over-35 players in all the areas that count and basically came into this season like turning up with a knife to a gunfight.

For me, the most disappointing team remains Fiorentina. Outside of Roma, I don’t see another club like Fiorentina that has so many promising individual names that flatter to deceive and fail to come together as a team. I think this season’s overachievers are still Verona, but credit to Claudio Ranieri at Sampdoria, too. Given the player sales Samp have racked up over the last 3 years, guiding them to 9th place is a job well done.

ssciavillo: In terms of disappointments, Torino and Fiorentina are at the top of my list. Those two teams are too talented to be where they are on the table, especially Toro which spent time in the relegation zone.

In terms of overachievers, I have to give Udinese some credit. I pegged them as a potential relegation team and they’re comfortably mid-table. So, credit to their manager Luca Gotti and talisman Rodrigo De Paul. Next year could be a different story because I can’t imagine De Paul is there another season.

Jimmy Miotto: Fiorentina is definitely the biggest flop; outside of Vlahovic, they’ve been completely underwhelming this season. The fact that Torino spent so much of the season in and out of the relegation zone is also jarring, just because I’m used to them being closer to European contention than the bottom half of the table recently. Roma disappointed me too, of course, but is that surprising?

JonAS: I knew they were strong, but boy Atalanta just keeps impressing me. What. A. Machine. Gasperini is tailor-made for this club. I thought they would collapse due to the European midweek games and not having a big squad like Inter or Juventus, but here they are again, securing CL and being Inter’s biggest challenger in the end. They scored 90+ goals in the process and arguably are the team that plays the best footy in the Peninsula.

Biggest disappointment for me is Parma. Such a fine club, full of tradition and so many talents it produced over the years. Now last-placed with only 3 wins. Surely their roster (Gervinho, Bruno Alves, Pelle, Karamoh, Conti, Cornelius…) isn’t that much worse than say Genoa, Udinese, or Spezia? Sad to see them drop back to Serie B. But hey, they comfortably beat Roma not so long ago so we look like fools now.

Which player(s) surprised and/or disappointed you most this season?

ACF Fiorentina v SSC Napoli - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Bren: I mean, it’s gotta be Dusan Vlahovic for me. Going from just six goals last season to 21 this year is remarkable. He always looked the part of a top striker but even through the first half of this season, he wasn’t doing anything extraordinary but he seemed to his stride in the spring, practically saving Fiorentina from relegation single-handedly. I’d also add Luis Muriel and Simy to my list of surprise performers.

dallagente: It was another season where I barely watched any football outside of Roma games, to be fully honest. All I can say is I’m very surprised Ruslan Malinovskyi is topping the Serie A assist charts, and I just saw him score a hell of a scorching shot in the Coppa Italia final. It annoys me Roma didn’t sign him when they had the chance. And watching Nicolo Barella play, I feel genuine envy towards Inter. Barella can do everything now, absolutely everything.

Jimmy Miotto: Vlahovic is my choice; there’s a reason I’m conducting the #DareToDusan hype train, even if he’s probably out of the Giallorossi’s price range these days. I also agree with Dalla that Barella has become quite the gem, and I don’t know if he qualifies as a “surprise”, but Giacomo Raspadori certainly seems legit.

JonAS: Achraf Hakimi from Inter surprised me a lot. Ok, so Inter bought him for 40 odd million but damn, talking about a modern fullback/wingback. A Real Madrid youth product and a good player at Dortmund but this year he really released his inner Maicon. He’s almost worth double now. 7 goals, 8 assists, not too shabby.

Close second: De Paul for keeping Udinese in Serie A all by himself.

Biggest disappointment: Chris Smalling for missing 80% of the league due to injuries even though Roma chased him the entire summer. Irony. Oh, Roma, thou are painful to follow.

Ssciavillo: In terms of the biggest surprise, I have to go with Vlahovic first and foremost. We knew the kid had talent, but he really turned it on in the second half of the season for a very underwhelming Fiorentina side. I have to agree with bren on Muriel and Simy too. I’ll also throw Rick Karsdorp into this one too. He played so well for Roma this season.

In terms of biggest disappointments, I have to say a lot more was expected out of Artur Melo for Juve. I also have to add Sandro Tonali to this list. He arrived at Milan with tons of hype, but couldn’t even establish himself as a consistent starter.

In the fall, you were asked to predict the league’s best new signing. Two parter: a) how did your pick fare? b) who actually proved to be the best new signing in the league, Roma or otherwise.

Atalanta BC v Juventus - TIMVISION Cup Final Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Bren: Well, it looks like I cheated and went with a pair of Milan players: Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sandro Tonali. Zlatan was Zlatan but I’d imagine that Milan fans were a bit underwhelmed by Tonali, who has played roughly 1,500 minutes this season. To me, the league’s best new signing was Federico Chiesa. He wasn’t new to the league, of course, but he managed the step up from Fiorentina to Juve masterfully, chipping in a 7 goal and 8 assist season.

dallagente: Cristian Romero played regularly for Atalanta, finished second in the league and reached the Champions League round of 16, before finishing off this season by getting called-up to the World Cup qualifiers with Argentina alongside clubmate and co-national Jose Palomino. It will be the first international cap in Romero’s career, and he’s still only 23 years old, which is young for a centre-half. He’s also wanted by Manchester United this summer so, yeah, I’d say Romero is doing very well.

But the best new signing was Inter getting Achraf Hakimi, in my view. Like Chiesa, Hakimi has 7 goals and 8 assists at the time of writing (there’s still one league game to go). It’s a league where most teams at the top competed with 3 at the back, which made the wide men pivotal. I think Hakimi and Theo Hernandez are in a league of their own as the league’s top wide men, but Hakimi may be the most complete of them all despite being the youngest.

Jimmy Miotto: I went with... Sam Lammers as the best signing of the mercato. He scored two goals in fifteen appearances. Can I get a mulligan on that prediction? The actual best signing was definitely Hakimi, although I’m still not entirely sure how on earth Inter are going to keep him long-term. Their finances just don’t make sense.

JonAS: Well I was AWOL during that roundtable debate. I think I would have picked Arthur from Juventus. Why? Because he came from frikkin’ Barcelona that’s why. I thought he would slot in quite easily. Brazilian midfielder ready to take Serie A by storm, Kaka style. But Juventus didn’t win the Scudetto for the first time in ten years so I guess that wasn’t the best move from the Bianconeri. Plus, they lost a key player like Pjanic in this swap deal.

I already mentioned Hakimi in the previous question so I’ll pick another guy: Osimhen from Napoli. I remember him from the Belgian league where he exploded on the scene in 2018-2019. This season he ‘only’ scored ten goals but also only featured in 22 games. I have a feeling Napoli will enjoy a lot more of him soon. Pace, agility, killer instinct, deadly in the box. A very smart buy from the Partenopei.

ssciavillo: I went with Tonali over Cristian Romero of Atalanta and that turned out to be a bad call. Tonali ended up being underwhelming in his first season in Milan. Meanwhile, I’d have to give Hakimi the nod over Chiesa just because he was so instrumental in helping the Nerazzurri win the Scudetto.

The league hasn’t announced it yet, but should win the 2020-2021 Serie A MVP, and why?

Romelu Lukaku of Fc Internazionale gestures during the... Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

Bren: I have to go with Romelu Lukaku. 23 goals and 11 assists. Inter would have been nothing without him. He’s so skilled and uses his massive frame so well. A tremendous signing for Inter and the league as a whole two years ago, so I hope he remains in Italy for the rest of his career. The league needs to retain talent like him.

dallagente: Agreed, it’s Lukaku all day. Though I can’t get over how good Barella is, too.

Jimmy Miotto: Lukaku, and it’s not particularly close.

JonAS: Ebrima Darboe and don’t you dare to change my mi… Huh? What you say? Lukaku? Ok, perhaps you’re right. Damn, look at those numbers. Yeah, Lukaku it is. Forza Belgium!

ssciavillo: Without a doubt Lukaku.

Who was the league’s best U-23 player this season and why?

FC Internazionale Milano v Udinese Calcio - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

Bren: As much as it pains me to turn to Inter again, I’m going to have to go with Achraf Hakimi. Seven goals, eight assists, and nearly one key pass per game is an incredible return from a 22-year-old defensive midfielder.

dallagente: Agreed with you, Bren, once again.

Jimmy Miotto: I’ll be a little different and say Vlahovic. Mid-table or not, his goal-scoring output this season was the stuff that dreams are made of.

JonAS: In a perfect world: Nicolo Zaniolo. But my choice would be Bastoni. I predict a very big future for him. Two seasons at Inter: second place and now Scudetto. Working with a very demanding coach like Conte. Nice job, Alessandro! Could we be looking at the next Materazzi, Cannavaro?

ssciavillo: Jeez. I didn’t realize Hakimi fit the U23 category. If that’s the case, I have to go with him. Runner up to Vlahovic.

Who was your Serie A manager of the year and why?

Atalanta BC Press Conference Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images for Lega Serie A

Bren: Conte is the easy answer but I don’t think these types of awards should automatically go to whoever won the title, so I’ll say, Gian Piero Gasperini. I know I’m not exactly reinventing the wheel with that selection, but show me another manager in the league (or the sport, quite frankly) who has been able to achieve what he has the past few years.

dallagente: That makes three-in-a-row agreeing with Bren. Though I’d say Claudio Ranieri did an excellent job at Samp punching them well above their weight. I’m not surprised to see Ranieri resigning from Samp this May. You look at results vs player recruitment there and Ranieri has helped that club find continuity in a way few coaches would have done.

Jimmy Miotto: I still wonder if there’s going to be some kind of doping scandal to come out of Gasperini’s side, bren. Call me a cynic (though in 99% of situations, I’m really not). Assuming that isn’t the case, though, I’d have to go with him too as the best manager in Serie A. My heart still belongs to Paulo Fonseca and his spiffy outfits, though.

JonAS: It has to be Conte. Finally breaking the Juventus hegemony since 2012 with nearly 90 points. Sorry, Bren, ABBA was right: the winner takes it all.

Ssciavillo: I have to agree with Conte. Ending Juve’s nine years of dominance in such an impressive way deserves coach of the year honors.

We’ve never asked this before, but dig deep and give us Serie A’s Best XI for this season. For the sake of this exercise, let’s go 4-3-3.

Italy Training Session And Press Conference Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Bren: Juan Musso in goal. Cristian Romero, Diego Godin, Theo Hernandez and Leonardo Spinazzola in defense. Hakan Calhanoglu, Rodrigo De Paul and Lorenzo Pellegrini in midfield. Lorenzo Insigne, Romelu Lukaku and Luis Muriel at forward.

dallagente: Donnarumma; Hakimi, Romero, De Ligt, Skriniar, Theo Hernandez; Barella, De Paul, Mkhitaryan; Lukaku, Muriel. Though I feel like I’m disrespecting Juan Cuadrado by leaving him out. Despite Juve’s bad season, Cuadrado had his best-ever season.

Jimmy Miotto: Donnarumma; Hakimi, Godin, Hernandez, Spinazzola; Barella, De Paul, Mkhitaryan; Insigne, Lukaku, Muriel. Honorable mention: Nicolo Zaniolo’s ACLs.

JonAS: Musso / Hakimi, Mancini, Skriniar, Hernandez / Malinovsky, Kessie, De Paul / Insigne, Lukaku, Muriel

ssciavillo: Perin/ Hakimi, Romero, Skriniar, Hernandez/ Malinovsky, De Paul, Barella/ Insigne, Lukaku, Muriel

What was the best single kit in Serie A this season?

FC Crotone v Udinese Calcio - Serie A Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

Bren: Call me crazy, but I kinda dug Udinese’s yellow and black third shirt. Get rid of the ads (duh) and that would have been a stunner. I think Roma’s home shirt would have looked AMAZING with white shorts, so I’m disappointed we never saw that actual combo.

dallagente: I liked both Fiorentina’s home and away kits from day 1, which is probably true of La Viola most seasons anyway.

Jimmy Miotto: Roma’s away kits, final answer.

JonAS: Since my girlfriend accuses me of having no taste at all, I’m going for Inter’s spectacular kit they wore at home vs Roma. Less is more? Nope, the more the better.

ssciavillo: I loved both Roma’s home and away kits this season. That being said, I’ll go in a different direction and say Napoli’s fourth kit that they started wearing after Maradona’s death. I thought the Partneopei looked sharp in the Argentina styile.

Finally, we ask this almost every year, but the European Super League brought a lot of economic/class issues in football to light. So as we wrap up the 2020-2021 season, how would you assess the health of Serie A compared to the rest of Europe’s major leagues?

The Serie A Logo Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

Bren: I’m seemingly obsessed with the health of Serie A lately but seeing how much fanfare and attention ESPN is already heaping on their acquisition of La Liga has me a bit worried about Serie A’s viability and visibility to the North American market. This isn’t the be-all-end-all metric for the health of the league but it’s hard to ignore. England is at the top but if Spain and Germany stand to make greater inroads in America, that’s going to put Italy at a disadvantage. And then you look at Inter doing so well with Conte, Lukaku and Martinez one year only to see them all linked with moves away after winning the title is incredibly concerning. I believe in the league’s potential to become the second-best in the world, but they need to cut the shit, get these clubs new stadiums, sort out their own TV and revenue deals and figure out some way to make themselves more sustainable or I fear they really will become a farmer’s league.

dallagente: We covered this recently in Totti Today, but the FIGC just re-elected Gravina as their head, and he’s doing what he can to get the FIGC out of a Mexican stand-off with Juventus over their decision to remain tied to the European Super League. As we said, Gravina won the election by proposing an “anti-debt” law in the domestic Italian game, which would be a move shifting the bargaining power from players into the hands of Italian club owners (whether we agree with that or not).

Then you’ve got Gravina getting Serie A’s European contenders onside, by bringing the top flight back the 18-team league format. That move is to make sure the extra demands of the Champions League expansion to 10 games in the CL group stage don’t put an extra burden on the top Serie A players in the league. So now Italian football is looking to have its biggest clubs play 4 fewer games domestically every season, and instead play those 4 matchdays in Europe against top competition—but crucially still only have to play a maximum of 51 games between both competitions. Will other European leagues follow suit and start shaving off their domestic calendars?

If they don’t, then Serie A could re-gain an edge in terms of player performance and deeper runs in the Champions League, Europa League, and now the new Europa Conference League. But it’s likely that other leagues will shift to an 18-team format before they let Italy re-gain any edge.

One league that IS officially considering doing that format is the new Belgium-Netherlands super league which has been approved by top clubs from both countries and is being hashed out with a view to starting up by 2025. Deloitte reckons that the league will be worth 400 million euros a year within the first year of competing, which is less than a quarter of Serie A’s current value but still would be a huge jump in income for clubs like Ajax in Europe when competing with the likes of Roma.

On the purely domestic front in Serie A, away from Europe, the break away from Sky Italia to DAZN is a big, yet very speculative move. It will live or die by Diletta Leotta being the face of Italian football, and Italy catching up with the rest of Europe in terms of reliable, pay-on-demand games watched via apps, broadband, and the web. If Italy doesn’t get its broadband and fiber-optic speeds up to shape, then the lack of TV viewers for Italian football could lead to money falling out of the Italian transfer market. DAZN really needs to be sure that they, and everyone around them, know what they’re doing.

Jimmy Miotto: I’m not too worried about Spain (minus Barca and Real) or Germany making big in-roads in the US, and honestly I think that Serie A is still going to get a decent amount of heat from being on the CBS networks. Mou coming to Rome is big news for Serie A, Ronaldo assumedly staying with Juve is going to attract eyeballs, and the Milan clubs are “fun” to watch again (at least as a neutral). If anything, I think Serie A has the potential to continue growing in ways that other leagues might not, assuming that the Super League doesn’t come to pass. The only way to truly metastasize that growth will be by getting every club their own stadiums, and that will take time. Even still, I’m optimistic.

JonAS: England and its Premier League still take the cake, with now three EPL clubs in the CL and EL finals. Germany is quite healthy as well and it seems like Leipzig is becoming a new powerhouse in the Bundesliga. France only cares about PSG. I think Italy and Spain are on the same level financially speaking. Mourinho coming to Rome is a good thing for publicity. Ronaldo needs to stay. There’s a new superstar born with Vlahovic. If Zidane and Allegri return to Serie A and perhaps bring along some big names, Serie A is ready to return on the big stage once again.

ssciavillo: I think Serie A still has the potential to be the second-best league on the continent, especially since outside of the top teams, I don’t think Spain or Germany are producing better products. The on the field play in Serie A this season made for great watching with plenty of goals, even when household names weren’t featuring. However, the league has to get stadiums built and spending in check to improve the financial health of the league. The current model is unsustainable.

I hope that stateside CBS put a bit more onus on promoting the league than ESPN did. I like the ESPN app more than Paramount+, especially on a mobile device, but ESPN didn’t even put the best match of the week on TV most week.s It was usually the 6:30 AM EST match which no casual football fans were tuning in to. I think ESPN is already promoting La Liga much more than it ever did Serie A or even the Bundesliga.

As poor as the Ronaldo signing was for Juve on the pitch in terms of its objective of winning the Champions League, it’s important for Serie A to have those big names. Hopefully, the return of Mourinho gets even more eyes Roma and the league that wouldn’t usually have paid attention.


Thank you for reading, but please share your thoughts below!