Thanks to a mini spending spree and two spectacular seasons from Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi, Inter Milan were able to upset Juve's nine-year run at the top of the Serie A table. Of course, thanks to that profligate spending, Inter were forced to sell both their star players this summer, But those were far from the only headline-grabbing moves in Italian football this summer.
With high-profile managers like José Mourinho, Maurizio Sarri, and Luciano Spalletti all returning to the league, new TV deals almost across the board, and, um, some interesting kits from Puma, Serie A definitely wasn't lacking storylines this summer.
To get a feel for the new season, we assembled the crew to discuss all the major plotlines ahead of the ‘21-'22 season.
Please note: Some of these answers were submitted over a week ago, so the timing may be a bit off on some of the transfer-related questions. Enjoy!
The transfer market is fresh on everyone’s minds, so let’s start there. What Serie A signing intrigues you most? And which one will have the biggest impact on the pitch?
JonAS: Demiral to Atalanta. He’s gonna explode under Gasperini and his 3-5-2 system as he’ll be the star of the defense unlike at Juve where you have the duo Chiellini-Bonucci (aka Walter Matthau & Jack Lemmon in Grumpy Old Men) and De Ligt who I think is not THAT good as people say. Smart move from Atalanta.
ssciavillo: If the Locatelli move to Juventus ever materializes then I’d say that would be a huge upgrade over what the Bianconeri had last season in the center of the park. I think JonAS made a great shout with Demiral, but I do think he’s a downgrade compared to Romero in current form. With that being said I’ll go with a different Atalanta signing: Juan Musso. With him, La Dea secured one of the best keepers in Serie A.
Bren: There is certainly no shortage of options, but I’m going with a surprisingly under-the-radar move: Juan Musso Atalanta. We all know Atalanta as an offensive juggernaut, but they quietly added one of the best young keepers in Europe, which should help them become more balanced and tougher to beat...yay.
dallagente: The two Atalanta names you guys mention are good shouts, so I’m just going to go with Salernitana. I wonder if a team can finally make 11 free-transfer signings gel together and beat the drop. But this has been a relatively inactive mercato so we could see the biggest deals happen right at the end of the window.
Jimmy Miotto: This might be the honeymoon period of pre-season talking, but I’m definitely intrigued by Roma’s move for Eldor Shomurodov. Not only does he have a fantastic name, he’s been an absolute breath of fresh air at striker with Edin Džeko leaving for Inter. We’ll only really know if he’s legit once he starts playing games with actual meaning, and it’s still an open question what his role will be with the Giallorossi signing Tammy Abraham, but I’m certainly excited by what I’ve seen so far.
Lukaku may be the obvious answer, but which team suffered the most on the transfer market? In other words, which outgoing Serie A transfer will be the toughest to replace?
JonAS: Inter got screwed twice already this summer. Hakimi and Lukaku were two pillars of the Scudetto team and shared a ton of goals and assists between them. If I had to pick one then I’ll go for Hakimi since goals are easier to replace than assists. Ok, Inter got a nice sum of money for both but ironically they can’t spend as much for their replacements so there will be a downgrade. And they lost coach Conte as well. No wonder their fans are going crazy. Inter right now makes Roma look like Club Med.
Bren: Excellent point there, Jonas. Lukaku’s absence will draw all the headlines, but I think you’re spot-on: Hakimi is a sensational player, I don’t think people genuinely appreciate how good he is. But, I hate Inter, so I’m loving their summer market!
dallagente: It’s hard to look past Inter as Hakimi and Lukaku were the core of their attacking strategy, but they’ve done amazingly well to get Dumfries as Hakimi’s replacement. I’m going to namedrop Udinese losing De Paul and Milan losing Donnarumma as two losses they may struggle to replace, especially as Milan’s passive play was very reliant on Donnarumma (as more than just a keeper) to make it work. Manager-wise, the way Italiano walked out on Spezia takes the award for the biggest loss of the summer. That club played some seriously aggressive football and showed unity to beat the odds last season. We’ll get to see if most of that was a credit to the team or the coach, now that Thiago Motta has taken over.
ssciavillo: I think Inter is the obvious answer, but I agree with dalla that Udinese and Milan can’t be overlooked. The fact that Udinese lost both De Paul and Musso in the same window could have them in line for a relegation battling campaign. Also, Milan losing arguably Europe’s best keeper plus Hakan Calhanoglu could seriously weaken their side as well.
Jimmy Miotto: Both Milan clubs suffered this summer, but I’m going with the Rossoneri as the ultimate sufferers. There’s no replacing either Lukaku or Donnarumma, but at least Inter has some intriguing young prospects and veterans to fill his shoes by committee. Milan, meanwhile, have signed Mike Maignan - a decent keeper, sure, but excuse me if I’m not immediately confident Lille’s former goalkeeper is going to light up Serie A.
Speaking of Inter, they ran away with the title last season, winning by 12 points, only to see their squad basically dismantled. Is this strictly a Serie A quirk or a symptom of a much more pernicious disease infecting the sport? How concerned should Roma fans be about suffering a similar fate?
JonAS: Roma fans are used to it by now. Alisson, Cassano, Salah, Pjanic, Rüdiger, Marquinhos, Lamela,.. We could never retain our superstars unless they were Romans. It’s not only a Serie A quirk, football has become big business. Only the happy few can keep their stars and bring in even more of them. Yes PSG and Man City, I’m looking at you.
Bren: Well, this all comes against the backdrop of PSG adding, like, a billion dollars worth of talent this summer, punctuated by their Messi capture. If you wanted to single out one transaction that shines a light on all of European football’s issues, well, look no further, you’ve found it. PSG and City appear to be immune to the ravages of the free market, and if they keep hoarding all the talent and skewing the salary scales, the sport may become unsustainable. In that scenario, the only real path forward may be following the Atalanta model: hiring a manager/cult of personality and hoping they can make diamonds out of coal overnight.
dallagente: There are two aspects of this issue specific to Serie A: No other league pays as big of a share of the club’s income to players’ wages as Italian football does, which is a hangover from the legacy of the 1980s Serie A expansion. Second, Italian clubs are more dependent on TV money than the other Big 5 Leagues. There are some potential red flags for fans in terms of how clubs have chosen to survive the loss of income during the pandemic (the cryptocurrency sponsorships and more web-based fan involvement is another move away from giving domestic-based fans any real stake in the club) but that’s another topic.
We’re still waiting on what UEFA’s answer is to potentially scrap Financial Fair Play permanently in 2022. If the early rumours are true and UEFA are planning to announce a salary cap and luxury tax next month, then that reform hits Serie A the hardest out of the Big 5 leagues. I actually feel the luxury tax is a good way for UEFA to bring back solidarity payments to grassroots football with a vengeance, and it gives club owners like Friedkin more autonomy to decide if they want to pay the price of keeping a competitive team together, or not. No more forced player sales by a hard deadline if the owner’s wallet can bear it! But one war will not go away in the bigger picture here: the tension between clubs and players over how to split the pot.
All non-Super League clubs will be looking at any opportunity to clamp down on player earning power. The Super League will keep presenting itself as an ally to players’ earning potential and long-term career security. The Super League has one trend on its side: More paying fans are becoming loyal to players over clubs. It’ll be interesting to see where and how Roma ultimately chooses to play its political cards here.
ssciavillo: I think for all of the reasons mentioned above it’s a much larger issue than Serie A issue. Just looking at this summer we even see the likes of Barcelona paying the ultimate price to mismanagement by having to bid farewell to Leo Messi. It seems like PSG and the EPL clubs are currently playing by a different set of rules because they have so much cash flow. We’ll see where the salary cap goes, but something has to be done.
Jimmy Miotto: Other than PSG, Chelsea, and Manchester City, every club has been feeling their wallets get a little thinner this summer, from Spezia to Real Madrid. I agree with Steve - something’s gotta give here, though I’m worried that a salary cap might be even worse than FFP for Roma in the long term. That’s all speculation, of course, but I worry about Roma’s cap being tiny unless they get a new stadium up and running pronto.
Following that, Inter halted Juve’s decade-long run at the top. Don’t give us a top-four prediction just yet, but how do you see the league’s power dynamics shaping up? Will a new team step up and fill the void likely left by Inter? Will Juve rebound after a year away? Can Inter possibly repeat?
JonAS: I don’t see an Inter repeat because of all the things said above. Inzaghi is a good manager but he has very big shoes to fill. The return of Allegri could give a boost to Juve. Atalanta is always dangerous but once again have CL midweek games which could hurt them in the long run. Same for Milan although Giroud can bang in some goals and keep them alive. I’m excited about Spalletti’s Napoli though. And the Lazio-Sarri combination scares me (a bit). And Jose Mourinho, well, Roma can either be no1 in January or rock bottom next to Salernitana and Empoli, who knows?
Bren: I really don’t care as long as Juventus don’t win. I can’t stand another nine years of that! But Inter being sold for spare parts and Juve having some uncertainty could open the door for Atalanta to make a legitimate run at the Scudetto, which would be amazing for neutral observers. Roma aren’t likely to contend this year, so if this new reality allows a club like Atalanta to lay claim to the top of the table, sign me up.
dallagente: I personally hope Atalanta win it this season. I think AC Milan are definitely going for it, too. I don’t really fear Milan’s first eleven but they do have strength in depth over everyone else. I just have major question marks over them adjusting a post-Donnarumma era and I ask myself if Maignan (as good as people say he is) won’t need a season to adjust. Either way, I see Juventus as the favourites. I can’t decide between Inter and Napoli because their mercato campaign can still change drastically. Right now Inter are signing Dumfries and that’s fantastic for them.
ssciavillo: I think Juve likely enters as the favorite following the losses of Lukaku, Hakimi, and Conte for Inter, while also having Allegri return to its own helm. However, they really haven’t improved their squad yet. So, favorites on paper might not mean anything if they perform like last season. I think the race could be wide open again this season. I think if Atalanta is ever going to win the Scudetto it could be this season. And I also think that Spalletti’s Napoli has a pretty good shot at making a go of it. It’ll be interesting to see if the Pioli magic begins to wear off or not at Milan, especially after the losses of Donnarumma and Hakan. And then the capital could be intriguing where Mourinho and Sarri will also be gunning for top-four as well with Roma and Lazio. It could be a fun season with a tight top-four race yet again.
Jimmy Miotto: It’s a tossup between Juve and Inter in my eyes, but if the rumors are true and Ronaldo is going to play in Turin for only one more season, I think that creates enough of an incentive for the Old Lady to steal it away from a highly depleted Nerazzuri side. I think it’s going to be seven clubs fighting for top-four this season, and honestly? I could see Roma in the thick of it. The pandemic has added so many x-factors here that it’s hard to pin down one obvious favorite.
Which new manager has the best chance for immediate success with their new club?
JonAS: Cursing in Church right now but I’m going to say Sarri at Lazio. He inherits a team that has years of chemistry coupled with some nice additions like Hysaj and Felipe Anderson. I predict they start slowly to get used to Sarriball, but then by New Year they’ll pick up steam and end strong. A very serious contender for a top 4 finish (God please make me eat my words).
Bren: Yeah, no worries there, Jonas. I think you’re 100% correct. As intrigued as I may be by Mourinho, I really wanted Sarri to sign on the dotted line. Lazio have done reasonably well to retain all their top talents and if Sarri can improve their goal-scoring record, they could make some noise in the top four.
dallagente: Max Allegri, if he really counts as a new manager with a new club. Though I can just as easily see some Juve players taking Allegri’s return as an excuse to take it easy. Elsewhere, if Roma get the Abraham signing done and a mobile, physical DM who can dribble out of pressure then I do think Pinto lived up to his word and put Mourinho in the best position of the new managers outside of Allegri.
ssciavillo: While I think Sarri could have a big impact with some of the talents Lazio have, I think Spalletti is inheriting an even stronger all-around roster. So, I’m going to go with Spalletti at Napoli.
Jimmy Miotto: It’s either Max Allegri or Jose Mourinho. I agree with Dalla that the Tammy Abraham signing could be crucial—he’s the largest transfer of the summer mercato for Serie A, and I think the combination of Zaniolo with Shomurodov and Abraham could turn into one of the most potent attacks in Europe. I’m dangerously optimistic for this season, though, so take all of my opinions with a grain of salt.
Prediction time: Who takes home the scoring title this season?
JonAS: Osimhen mixed with Spalletti’s brand of football, next to Insigne, Ruiz, Lozano, and Zielinski? Yeah, look no further than him.
dallagente: I’ve no idea, I’m never good at this question.
ssciavillo: I think Osimhen is a great shout. A full healthy season and he could very well take it.
Bren: Damn, Jonas, you’re destroying this survey! Your logic is bulletproof, though. If Spalletti made Dzeko into a capo, then it’s not out of the question he could do the same with Osimhen. But I’ll take the other obvious candidate: Cristiano Ronaldo, and I’ll say he gets 27
Jimmy Miotto: Yeah, this isn’t my strength either, but I’ll go with Ohimsen. I’m not going to do anything stupid like curse a Roma player by betting on them, but I would love it if Mourinho unlocked something in one of our forwards.
Who dishes out the most assists?
JonAS: Lorenzo Pellegrini. This is it, the season of confirmation for our local boy. Ow and a nice transfer to Manchester United in 2022 of course.
dallagente: Let’s go for Malinovsky. He was on fire at the business end of last season.
ssciavillo: Luis Alberto in Sarri’s system could create plenty of goals. Malinovsky is certainly one to keep an eye on though. If Tammy, Eldor, and Nico have their goalscoring boots on then Pellegrini or Mkhi could also be in the mix. But, I’ll go with Alberto.
Bren: If Mourinho was more of an attack at all costs manager, I think I’d feel safer picking a Roma player, but I’m going with the logical extension of the prior questions and I’ll say Zielinksi improves on his 10 assists from last year and doles out 14 helpers to Napoli’s horde of attackers.
Jimmy Miotto: Lorenzo Pellegrini, final answer. I’m even going to restrain myself from buying his kit this season so I don’t jinx him - the last kit I bought was a Zaniolo one, and I wore it the day he tore his ACL versus Juve. I’m sorry for the bad luck, folks.
We had two double-doubles (goals and assists) last season with Lukaku and Mkhitaryan. Which player(s) have the best chance of cracking the double-double this season?
JonAS: This is a tough one. Insigne, Malinovsky, Rebic, Luis Alberto, Kulusevski, Calhanoglu, Zaniolo, literally every top club has a possible candidate. Some even have multiple players capable of doing that. I just hope it’s one of Roma who gets the job done.
dallagente: I’ll go with Malinovsky, Kulusevski or Dybala.
ssciavillo: I’ll go with Insigne.
Bren: I think Mkhitaryan is entirely capable of doing the double-double two years in a row, provided he’s healthy, but we can’t count out Malinovsky or Dybala either. What I’d love to see is a triple-double: goals-assists-yellow cards! I bet Nainggolan could have done that unde Spalletti.
Jimmy Miotto: Lorenzo Pellegrini, Nicolo Zaniolo, and Lorenzo Insigne are my three candidates. I think Mkhitaryan is going to start showing his age, sad as that sounds.
Who’s getting relegated this year?
JonAS: I’m looking at the newbies as usual but teams like Torino, Udinese, and Spezia won’t be safe until deep in the season. Damn Bren, stop asking me difficult questions!
dallagente: I think Venezia are down. Empoli and Salernitana don’t look promising either, but Spezia are basically starting the season with their manager walking out on them, they’ve been banned from the transfer market by FIFA and they’ve had no pre-season training because of a Covid outbreak. Udinese still haven’t replaced De Paul and are putting too much pressure on Pereyra to make up the slack. Ditto for Genoa who are hoping Sirigu can whip them into shape but haven’t done much else to fix their own problems. It’s between those 6 clubs for me. I’ll go with Venezia, Spezia and Salernitana.
ssciavillo: Of all of the relegation clubs, I think Venezia could be the one to find a way to survive, but that could be me thinking it’s cool to have a club from Venice in the top flight with some of the best kits in the league. For those reasons and the young Americans they brought in, I’ll be rooting for them to survive. For the reasons mentioned by dalla, Spezia looks like they could be in trouble. As much as I want to tip Udinese after the sales of De Paul and Musso, they always seem to find a way to survive. Therefore, I’ll go with Salernitana, Spezia, and Empoli. Although it wouldn’t surprise me if Venezia or Udinese go down. Keep an eye on Verona as well. After losing Juric, they could be in trouble given EDF’s recent track record.
Bren: I think Venezia will be a one-and-done story and I can’t see Salernitana lasting either, so I’ll say those two and...hmm...Udinese. Losing Musso and De Paul could crater them.
Jimmy: Those Venezia kits make me hope they stick around, but I don’t see it happening. Torino and Udinese will be the other two - that’s what you get for playing hardball with Roma over the Belotti transfer, Urbano Cairo.
Take a stab at it: Who’s coming up next season?
JonAS: Easy: Reggina, Lecce and Cosenza. Long live the South!
dallagente: I’ll go with Parma and Crotone. Cremonese and Como as outsiders to face each other in the playoff final, with Como winning.
ssciavillo: I’ve got to stick with my Pugliese roots so I’ll go with Lecce. Then I’ll go with SPAL and Parma. SPAL was recently bought by Joe Tacopina after his Catania deal fell apart. He’s an ambitious owner who had a big hand in Venezia climbing back to relevance. And I think Parma just belongs in Serie A and will find a way with Gigi Buffon inspiring the team from between the sticks.
Bren: I think SPAL, Benevento, and Brescia are coming back up because...why not? Although, it’s always fun when a team that’s never been promoted, or hasn’t in several decades, makes a resurgence.
Jimmy Miotto: SPAL, Benevento, and Lecce. I know very little about Serie B but my quick perusal of the squads makes me think those three have a decent shout.
Who takes home the 2021-2022 Serie A MVP?
JonAS: Let’s pretend Juve will once again conquer the Scudetto under Max. Then it’s gonna be one of their young stars, Chiesa or Kulusevski. My money’s on Chiesa.
dallagente: Whoever agrees not to take a move to the Premier League in the very same summer. We’re trying to promote Serie A with this MVP award, not make it look bad!
ssciavillo: Since I picked him for the double-double and think Napoli will be in the title mix I’ll go with Insigne.
Bren: If Mkhitaryan can sustain last season’s pace and avoid a dip, I think we can make a legitimate case for him, particularly if he racks up, like, 13 goals and 11 assists, but this award typically goes to the big goal scorers, so I just pray that it’s not Ronaldo again. I do like the Chiesa suggestion, particularly if he builds on his Euro 2020 momentum, so he’ll be my actual pick because, with that surrounding cast, he could put up epic numbers.
Jimmy Miotto: My bet is that this season is Federico Chiesa’s real coming-out party at Juventus. If he can be as good as I think he can be, Juve might not even miss CR7 when he inevitably hits the road for PSG.
Finally, predict the top four
JonAS: Juventus / Napoli / Inter / Lazio
Who cares though, we have Mourinho!
dallagente: It depends on the mercato. If Napoli stay strong then Atalanta/Juventus/Napoli/Inter is my top 4. But if the mercato moves away from Napoli and Inter towards Roma’s plans then it’s Atalanta/Juventus/Roma/Inter for me.
ssciavillo: Like dalla said, a lot could still change based on the mercato. Overall, Italian teams have been quiet so far, so there are still moves to be made. If Roma continues to fill Mou’s wish list I think Roma can make that push for the top 4. But I think it could be 7 teams in the race into the spring like last season in a tight race because I don’t think anyone is head and shoulders above the others.
Bren: Juventus/Napoli/Atalanta/Milan. As much as I don’t want it to happen, Inter’s firesale pretty much opens the door again for Juve, particularly with Allegri calling the shots.
Jimmy Miotto: Juventus/Roma/Inter/Atalanta. And it’s going to be a lot tighter between first and second than it usually was during the 2010s.
We hope you enjoyed this and feel free to answer any or all of the questions in the comments. Be sure to check back later for our Roma-themed questionnaire.