Way back on August 21st, Serie A kicked off its 93rd season (in the current format) with a pair of 6:30 pm local time fixtures between Verona-Sassuolo and Inter Milan-Genoa. In the intervening 10 months, the league saw teams and players rise and fall (as is always the case) before we were treated to one of the tightest title races we've seen over the past 10 years. When the dust settled, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Rossoneri of AC Milan bested their city rivals by two measly points to capture their 19th league title. This season also featured a rather heated relegation battle, as four to five teams fought tooth and nail to avoid the drop before Cagliari, Genoa, and Venezia were relegated back to Serie B.
Italian football may be plagued by outdated stereotypes, but thanks to sterling performances from players as varied as Tammy Abraham, Ciro Immobile, Rafael Leao, Bremer, and Lautaro Martinez, among many others, Serie A proved once again that its critics are woefully misguided—to put it mildly.
While we necessarily spend most of our time dedicated to all things Roma, there's no harm in broadening our scope for an afternoon, so join us as we discuss all the highs and lows from the 2021-2022 season. And please feel free to give us your thoughts in the comment section—we'd love to get your take!
Let’s jump right in with the big picture stuff. It was a close race this season, but the two Milan clubs pulled away in the end. Is this a genuine changing of the guard in Serie A, or should we expect an Old Lady resurrection next season?
JonAS: Nah, I think we’ll return to an Inter/Milan/Juve supremacy with tighter Scudetto races, not one big favorite. The 4th place will be a massive battle between Napoli, Roma, Lazio, Atalanta, and the yearly surprise package like Fiorentina or Torino.
Bren: I suspect you’re correct, Jonas. But if we have faith that The Friedkin Group are genuine in their desire to lift Roma in that class, I wouldn’t count them out over the next 3-5 years. I’m not saying it’ll happen overnight, but if the commitment is there from the top, anything is possible.
ssciavillo: I think the top will definitely be more competitive now that the Juve hegemony of the league is over. The resurgence of the Milan clubs is good for the league in that sense. However, it’s bad for clubs like Roma and Napoli who were the biggest threats to the Bianconeri for almost a decade. I do agree with Bren here though, you can’t discount the Friedkins’ ambitions with Mourinho in charge. I wouldn’t completely count Roma out of the mix with the right investment over the next few years.
Jimmy: I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop on Inter and Milan - their finances seem sketchy at best. Given that, I think the next couple years in Serie A could honestly go any number of ways, but if I was a betting man, I’d say that the typical top four will include Juventus, Roma, Milan, and Inter. That’s how it’s usually been throughout history, anyway.
BSanti: I think it all depends on Juventus’ summer transfer market. We know they’ve lost Dybala, but when you’re linked with signing the likes of Di Maria and Pogba, you’re never too far away from a massive comeback. Juventus have long been a club that takes advantage of “free” transfers, but can they get it right this time? If not, I imagine it may be a two-horse race again next year.
Which team(s) surprised and/or disappointed you most this year and why?
JonAS: I’m sad for Cagliari, I liked this club. And Sardegna is such a beautiful island. Wishing them a speedy return to Serie A. I was also hoping Venezia would make it, so I can laugh at their ugly shirts again.
I must say Pioli’s Milan really surprised me. Juve and Inter have more quality in general but they were a really well-oiled machine this season and deserved the Scudetto. There are no more household names like Maldini, Nesta, Kaka, Inzaghi, Sheva, or Seedorf. I mean: Krunic? Saelemakers? Bennacer? Tomori? Kjaer? Messias? Kalulu? Rebic? Calabria? They’re ok I guess but long gone are the days of Ancelotti’s AC Milan.
Bren: Yeah, I didn’t really see what the big deal about Venezia’s shirts was either. I mean they were good, but not worth all that hype! I guess I was surprised how far Atalanta slipped down the table–kind of. Their project always seemed a tad unsustainable given the sheer amount of money their competitors have, not to mention the monumental effort/commitment it takes to sustain that brand of attacking football, but I mean 8th place, after what they’ve done recently? Pretty surprising still.
ssciavillo: Salernitana surviving relegation at the hands of Genoa and Cagliari was certainly a shocker. They looked like the worst Serie A club in a long time for much of the season. And hats off to Milan on the title. I never thought that roster was good enough to beat out their city rivals. The biggest disappointments to me have to be Genoa and Atalanta. I never thought the Grifoni would get relegated or that Atalanta would finish outside of the European places. I’ll be curious to see how they rebound next season.
Jimmy: Salernitana in a positive sense, Genoa and Cagliari in a negative sense. Genoa is just such a mainstay of Serie A in my head that them being in Serie B is going to be really odd. Atalanta’s underperformance was odd to me as well, and part of me has to wonder if it’s a one-season blip or a sign of a downturn in fortunes for La Dea.
BSanti: Has to be Juventus, no? Sure, they lost Ronaldo right on the eve of the season starting, but you’d be forgiven for expecting a stronger title challenge from the Old Lady following the return of Max Allegri, given how dominant they were in his last spell at the club.
Roma or otherwise, who was the best new signing in Serie A this season?
JonAS: Rui Patricio. Just because Roma had a problem between the posts for so long and now we finally have someone who can win us points like Alisson or De Sanctis did before. And for a fairly reasonable price. Imagine Olsen or Pau in goal, would we have won the Conference League or ended sixth?
Bren: I mean, it has to be Abraham. Let’s not get cute here. He exceeded expectations this season and was far and away the best new signing in the league. I’d also give Nico Lopez from Fiorentina a shout: 7 goals and 6 assists is nothing to sneeze at for a youngish player making the jump to Serie A
Jimmy: Tammy Abraham, with Mike Maignan in a close second. Both overhauled their respective parts of the pitch for their respective clubs, but Tammy’s instant impact at forward looks like it will have long-lasting effects on the league.
BSanti: Great shout with Maignan there, Jimmy. But I agree with Bren, it has to be Tammy. New league, new country, new language? No problem for the Englishman. As excited as we were when the signing was announced, I don’t think anybody expected he would have the season he did.
ssciavillo: As much as I want to go with Tammy Abraham here, I’m going to put my Roma bias aside and say Mike Maignan. The Frenchman was outstanding in replacing the previous season’s Serie A goalkeeper of the season, Gigi Donnarumma. Maignan was a big reason why Milan won the Scudetto.
Who was your league MVP?
ssciavillo: I’m also going to tip Maignan as my league MVP as well. It’s not every day I’d tip a keeper but he had 17 clean sheets and a +8.0 PSxG+/-. That’s a huge reason why Milan won the title. If he plays to his true PSxG and those 8 goals are likely enough to swing the title race.
JonAS: Hmm, I’ll have to pick one of the Scudetto winners of course. Then it must be Rafael Leao, their most exciting prospect and talent. Someone who can turn a game around. And he did multiple times this season.
Bren: I’ll go with a darkhorse candidate and say, Domenico Berardi. Do you realize he scored 15 goals AND provided 14 assists? That’s nuts! Give him the MVP!
Jimmy: Don’t make me want Roma to sign Berardi again, Bren. I thought I had finally gotten off of that hype train! My league MVP is the same as JonAS, Rafael Leao. I’d probably give second-place honors to both Tammy Abraham and Lorenzo Pellegrini, though.
BSanti: If you’re going for someone from the Scudetto winner it’s a tie between Maignan and Leao for me, with our very own Alessandro Florenzi in a distant third of course.
Manager of the year?
JonAS: Pioli. Yeah, no doubt. Davide Nicola close second though, for doing the impossible: saving Salernitana from relegation
ssciavillo: Agreed. It has to be Pioli. He did amazing work with a Milan side that wasn’t star-studded. Nicola is certainly a close second for pulling off Salernitana’s survival miracle.
Bren: Yeah, I’ll go with Nicola for no other reason than he kept Salernitana up for another year. That’s incredibly impressive. I think the knee-jerk reaction is to give these awards to the title winners, which is certainly understandable, but there are other managers that merit recognition and Nicola’s performance literally saved his club millions of dollars.
Jimmy: Pioli and Nicola for very different reasons, as everyone has already made clear before me.
BSanti: Have to go Pioli here, but special shout-out to Inzaghi for guiding Inter to a season-long title challenge despite some massive losses last summer.
U-23 Player of the Year?
JonAS: I already mentioned Leao but I’m gonna drop another one here: Dusan Vlahovic who just kept on scoring goals after switching from Fiorentina to Juve.
ssciavillo: I’ll go with Leao. He had an outstanding season with 11 goals and 10 assists. Pulling the double is no small feat and he was a constant in Milan’s attack when everyone else seemed to have long spells out injured.
Bren: Well, I haven’t said Rafael Leão, so he’s my choice. 11 goals, 10 assists, and 21 goal-creating actions at only 22-years-old. I’m starting to hate Milan.
Jimmy: Leao! As much as I hate to see Milan with such an intriguing prospect, it’ll be very cool to see how he continues to develop over the next few seasons.
BSanti: Man, you guys are really taking the wind out of my sails here… of course it’s Leao!
Roma is doing yeoman’s work keeping the league’s European co-efficient alive and well. So what sort of gift should the rest of the league give them?
JonAS: +5 points at the start of Serie A 2022-2023. Thank you very much.
ssciavillo: Fair refereeing is all I ask for. Roma doesn’t need any handouts.
Bren: Maybe some deodorant and a nice cool beverage for the poor soul that has to wear that wolf costume every weekend–oof, the smell must be unbearable. Apart from that, maybe a nice bottle of absinthe?
Jimmy: Striped kits for next season, so the refs are nicer to us.
BSanti: An extra 100 million in the transfer war chest, please?
Why have Italian teams struggled lately in European competitions? Is there anything to the notion that the league’s officiating customs harm Serie A clubs in Europe?
JonAS: When you look at the squads and talent of Real, PSG, Bayern, City, Liverpool or Chelsea, then you understand why it’s hard for Italian teams to compete. Inter were champions last season and simply lost Lukaku and Hakimi to Chelsea and PSG. Just like that. Ronaldo left Juve for Manchester. Italy needs a new Inter 2010 or AC Milan 2007 soon.
And concerning Europa or Conference League: apart from Roma, no one really cares in Italy. Not Lazio, not Napoli, not Atalanta. They are all so fixated on reaching the top 4 and the CL money although they tell otherwise in the media.
ssciavillo: It’s going to be difficult to compete at the highest levels of Europe (UCL) with the current financial gap between Italian teams, the EPL, Real, PSG, and Bayern. That being said I do think the approach from some Italian teams, especially in the Europa League needs to be addressed. Too often are Italian teams content to crash out in the EL to avoid the extra matches and focus on the league.
There’s a reason why the last Italian team to lift a European trophy was Mourinho’s Inter prior to Roma. He’s in it to win it. Not every Italian team feels that way. I can guarantee at least one Italian team from Rome will try and win the EL. I don’t know if I can say the same about the other. Hopefully, Roma’s ECL trophy makes other teams realize the extra matches are worth it.
Bren: You raise an interesting point regarding motivation, Jonas. But I wonder if seeing how enraptured Roma fans (and players) were by winning the UECL might inspire some of these squads to take the lesser-known European competitions more seriously. But I don’t think the spending gap is the big culprit, Jonas. Juve and Inter have put together some pretty impressive teams lately, so they shouldn’t be also-rans in any European competition.
I’m not entirely sure why Italian teams struggle to advance in European competitions, but if you’re accustomed to one style of play and one style of officiating every other day of the week and you don’t get that on those European nights, that’s bound to eff with their heads, right?
Jimmy: I agree with Steven, it’s about motivation. I never feel like other Italian clubs care about European competitions as much; Mourinho clearly does, which is why the only Italian clubs to have won a European competition since 2010 were helmed by him.
BSanti: While there certainly is an argument to be made about the financial disparity between the Italian giants and the other top teams across Europe, I think the motivation argument is closer to the mark. We saw Inter dethrone Liverpool at Anfield this season, so we know these teams are capable, but when it comes down to a run in Europe or a Scudetto push, we see time and time again these teams picking the latter option.
Okay, but now say something nice about Serie A officials–Go!
JonAS: Well, uh, these officials blow. They really blow. (Did I do it right?)
ssciavillo: Their highlighter yellow shirts really catch the eye.
Bren: They have some cool surnames: Chiffi, Maresca, Orsato, Di Bello, Abisso, Pairetto. So that’s something.
Jimmy: I’m sure the beach houses they get from certain ownership groups are very nice.
BSanti: I prefer not to speak, if I speak, I’ll be in big trouble. And I don’t want to be in big trouble.
Lastly, and I feel like we ask this every year, what must the league do to shrink the gap (perceived or otherwise) behind the likes of the Premiership, La Liga, or the Bundesliga?
JonAS: New modern stadiums, better training and coaching for officials. The return of guys like Mourinho, Allegri, and Sarri also gives Serie A more media attention and prestige. Maybe lure back Ancelotti to the Peninsula? And hope that talents like Vlahovic, Leao, Pellegrini, Dybala, and Lautaro Martinez remain in Serie A for a long time.
ssciavillo: Lots of great points by Jonas that I agree with. I’ll also throw in that Italian teams need to show that they can win in Europe again. Hopefully, Roma winning the ECL was the first step in seeing more silverware come back to the peninsula.
Bren: Yeah, as much as we decry the finances, the TV deals, and all that, the first brick that needs to be laid (pun intended, I guess) is the actual stadium infrastructure in Italy, which is woefully behind some other Western European nations. Sort that out and people may be more excited to play and watch the league, which would, in turn, beget more eyeballs and more income.
The battle for supremacy in Europe has as much to do with perception as anything else. If players and fans across the world view Serie A as antiquated and second-rate, that’s a tough reputation to erase, but start with the infrastructure, clean up the matchday experience, and make it more hospitable and the rest will eventually follow. No one will ever catch the Premiership because they have the enormous advantage of the built-in English-speaking audience, but Italy can and should be second-best.
Jimmy: New stadiums, final answer. I think it’s really as simple as that; without the financial benefits of a new stadium, it’s going to be next to impossible for Serie A to catch up to the Premier League. A bigger TV deal would be helpful too, but that seems like far more of a pipe dream than some of these new-look owners for Serie A clubs deciding to invest in new stadiums.
BSanti: Remember when the goal was to have Totti play his final season in Roma’s new stadium - the stadium that would finally allow the club to compete for titles year in and year out? However many years later and here we are, with Totti retired and missing a new stadium. Let’s get it going, folks!
Thanks for reading and please give us your take on these questions or any that we may have missed, and be sure to check back tomorrow for our Roma-centric roundtable!