Italian Calcio Season 2015-2016 – Story So Far!
This is an ideal time to review the top 6 teams in Serie A, as the traditional Christmas/New Year break, now kicks in. All the indications are, that this season’s Scudetto chase, will be one of the most fascinating and competitive in years. After 17 rounds, the top 6 clubs are covered by 8 points, whilst only 4 points cover the first 5 – incredible. Serie A resumes with week 18 on the week end of the 6 January 2016
So here it is positions 1st to 6th after Week 17. I’ve been waiting for this one.
1st-Inter Milan-36 points–Region Lombardy-(known as I Nerazzurri the black and blues) -Ground Giuseppe Meazza (San Siro)- Cap 80,018-Manager Roberto Mancini.
Seasons’ form-WWWWWLDDDWWWWLWWL- After a poor 2014-15 season, by their standards, which resulted in them missing out on a European place, they invested heavily over the summer on proven quality players, Stevan Jovetic (loan), Geoffrey Kondogbia, Ivan Persic, Jeison Murillo, Felipe Mello, and Miranda. As with all major projects, these players will take time to bed in, however the signs so far over the first part of the season has been encouraging, for the Inter tifosi.
The centre-half partnership of Murillo and Miranda at the back in front of goal-keeper Samir Handanovic have been a real success. The defence has been scrooge like having conceded only 11 through 17 rounds, with 4 of those being in a 1-4 reversal at the San Siro v Fiorentina. Huge credit needs to go to Handanovic one of the best goalkeepers in Serie A and Europe, his shot to save ratio of 84% is the highest in the league, whilst his latest penalty save in Round 17 v Lazio was his 22nd only two off Gianluca Pagliuca’s record of 24.
Inter’s midfield of Kondogbia, Medel and Mello is very physical and combative, this has resulted in 13 yellow and 1 red cards between them. Scoring goals has been a major problem, only 23 scored in 17 league fixtures (the lowest of the top 6 teams).
Last seasons Caponconniere, Icardi sums it up perfectly after scoring in round 10 in a 1-0 win against Bologna “When the ball comes to me, I can score. In 10 matches I’ve had 4 (decent passes) and scored three, I think that’s a good average”. Mancini has used 17 different formations through 17 rounds, which in some way has inhibited a free flowing style of football (Inter have perfected the 1 nil result this season, 8 in total). I feel to get the best out of this squad he needs to make better use of the likes of Ljajic, Brozovic and Perisic who, when played have made vital and major contributions to the team.They need a flair midfielder to supplement the physical aspects of the side, I expect that signing to be made before the window closes. Very strong contenders for the Scudetto, they do not have the distraction of mid-week European matches to hinder their progress. Will invest again in January. Will go very close to winning the Serie A title this season, (if they can keep there discipline), particularly with Mancini’s track record.
2nd-Fiorentina-35 points-Region Tuscany- (known as I Viola-the purples)-Ground Stadio Artemio Franchi (Cap. 47,290)- Manager Paulo Sousa.
Season’s form-WLWWWWWLLWWWDDWLW-Well what a start we have had to the 2015-16 Serie A campaign. If
someone had said that the Viola would be top by a point after round 8 and going into the Xmas break second (first time in the top three since 1998-99) on the same points as Napoli and only 1 point behind Inter, no one would have believed you.
This has been no fluke, Fiorentina appointed Paolo Sousa (yes the same manager who took Swansea to their highest league position in 27 years, more recently wining championships in Israel with Maccabi Tel Aviv F.C. and Switzerland with FC Basel).
The Viola lost Mario Gomez, Mo Saleh, Stevan Savic, Joaquin, Alberto Aquilani, David Pizzaro, Juan Vargas and goalkeeper Netto whilst gaining Mario Suarez, Nikola Kalinic, Davide Astori and Jakup Blaszcyzykowski, who have proved to be inspired signings. But what about Paolo Sousa who has taken over a good, but inconsistent team from Vincenzo Montella, making it better, balancing brilliant attacking play with solid defending based on centre-halfs Rodriguez and Astori (keeping 9 clean sheets in 17 matches). Based on Sousa’s preferred 3-4-1-2 high-pressing formation, the evolution of Borja Valero under Sousa has been nothing more than sensational occupying the “fantasisti”or “trequartisti” role behind an inspirational Nikola Kalinic (ex of Blackburn) 10 goals this season, one of the most improved players in Serie A this season Josip Ilicic, the young talented Khouma Babacar and brilliant youngster Federico Bernardeschi and the returning Giuseppe Rossi. Anchored brilliantly in midfield by Matias Vecino and Milan Badelj. One huge mention for a player who once played for Bolton and the Mackems, Marcos Alonso who has been a revelation in this new set up playing the attacking wingback role with aplomb.
The Viola, have a first-rate squad, and quality players, behind them lies an ambitious project that has been well developed. Their investments are intelligent and aimed for the long-term, even in terms of their sales. Juan Cuadrado was immediately replaced. Take Kalinic, he has scored the most away goals in this Serie A season, 6 out of his 10 in total, an excellent buy. Like being a Newcastle supporter, following the Viola is one long roller- coaster however if and it is a big if, this early season form is replicated throughout the season and we can cut out individual defensive errors, whisper it, we may have a chance of the Scudetto. Bringing in 2 or 3 players in the transfer window is essential to strength further this team, if they do that the dream is on. He’s hoping.
3rd- Napoli-35 points-Region Campania-(known as Partenopei, Gli Azzurri –the light blues)-Ground Stadio San Paolo-Cap 60,240-Manager Maurizio Sari.
Season’s form-LDDWDWWWWWDWWWLDW -The appointment of Maurizio Sarri has to be said, was not greeted by the Neopolitan tifosi with the greatest of acclaim, which was compounded by the slow start they made, 3 points from the first 3 matches. However since then Napoli have exploded onto the Serie A scene playing some of the most exciting football seen anywhere in Europe.
For me, this has not come as shock, as the team, Sarri built at Empoli played some of the best football seen in Serie A in the 2014-15 season. The already strong Napoli squad has been added to this summer with the most impressive piece of business was the steal of the European transfer market, the 12m euro Allan Marques Loureiro a 24 year old Brasilian, simply known as Allan. A dynamic central or defensive midfield player he has been simply sensational so far this season. For any observer of Italian Calcio, this was going to be a nailed on success. He possesses good dribbling ability, is very pacy, as hard as nails, he also has a good long range passing ability and the difference from last season is he has added goals to his repertoire. Gonzalo Higuain the natural successor to Carlos Tevez as the hardest working forward in Serie A, has improved even further under Sarri. This prolific goal scorer, leads the Serie A charts with an outstanding 16 goals through 17 rounds, the best tally at this stage since Luca Toni in 2005-06 and one shy of Gabriel Batistuta’s 17 in 1998-99, both for Fiorentina. In Serie A history only eight players have had a stronger start than Higuain and Antonio Valentin Angelillo holds the record with 22 goals in 1958-59.
Higuain is currently second in the Golden Boot charts for Europe’s top clubs, just behind Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on 18 goals. He has scored 51 goals in just 86 Serie A games. He is backed up, by an absolutely brilliant, Lorenzo Insigne who is already being compared to the great Diego Armando Maradona in Naples. The player Sarri has got the most out of is Jorginho who was earmarked to leave the club, however he has been a revelation under Sarris tutelage conducting the team from midfield virtually every ball goes through him (Against Verona he touched the ball 212 times-once every 24.2 secs-the most in Europes top 5 leagues this season) The most improved defence in SerieA, has been superbly marshalled by the most improved centre-half in Europe Kalidou Koulibaly ( who has gone from being a complete donkey last year to being likened to the great Lilian Thuram this) and anchored by the rock solid Pepe Reina. Only 13 goals conceded in 17 rounds says it all.
Sarri himself is a Neopolitan born and bred, working as a bank manager he came into the lower Italian leagues working his way through them via Empoli to Napoli. An workaholic and a meticulous planner who is known to work hours on setting his defense up When a journalist asked him if he was angry about being the lowest-paid coach in Serie A this season, he replied: “Angry? Let’s not joke. They pay me for some thing, I would have done for free after work. I’m lucky.”
Sarri was dubbed ‘Mister 33’ after reportedly preparing 33 set plays for use at dead-ball situations while at Sansovino. “We used four or five of them in the end,” he later explained. According to Sarri, only meticulous preparation and profound knowledge can defeat opponents, who are studied intensely to identify potential weaknesses. Fond of the 4-2-3-1 system, Sarri began to use a 4-3-1-2 template at Empoli. Whatever the formation, though, the focus is always on perfect organisation of the defensive line
A fantastic manager/coach, who is now, only getting belated recognition he deserves. Napoli have only lost 2 matches through 17 rounds, winning five in a row at one point. This winning streak came to an abrupt and shock end away at a resurgent Bologna 3-2 especially as in the previous round they had defeated a very strong Inter side 1 -0 at home. Napoli are one of the most exciting teams in Europe at the moment, managed by a brilliant Mister, remember his name. Will be very strong contenders, for this years Lo Scudetto.
4th- Juventus -33 points- Region, Piedmont -(known as I Bianconeri the white and blacks or affectionately La Veccia Signora -the Old Lady)-Ground Juventus Stadium-Cap 41,475- Manager Massimiliano Allegri.
Seasons’ form-LLDWDLWDWLWWWWWWW- lost their first two Serie A matches for the first time in their history after a summer spent recruiting Paulo Dybala 32m euro, Sammi Khedira free, Mario Mandzukic 19m euro, plus Zaza 17 m euro along with Neto, Pereyra and Rugani to replace the departing Tevez, Pirlo and Vidal.
In is not surprising that their season got off to such a slow start, the loss of three world class players, one of whom has been the best forward in Serie A for the last two seasons Carlos Tevez and in Pirlo one of the greatest midfielder in the history of football, had to have repercussions. Paul Pogba has been given the main central midfield role backed up by Marchisio and Khedira. Dybala has grown into his role in the team backed up by Morata Cuadradro. The defence is as solid as ever, the back three, Bonucci, Chiellini, and Andrea Barzagli backed up by one of Italys rising stars Daniele Rugani, in front of one of the Worlds greatest ever goalkeepers, Gigi Buffon. Alex Sandro has been exceptional since forcing his way into the side whilst Maro Mandzukic has began to show his class.
This season Juve have had some excellent results in Europe whilst in Serie A they could not string a series of results together over the first 10 rounds, the defeat in that round at Sassuolo 1-0 brought a stinging rebuke from Gigi Buffon “We all played badly. The first half was simply unacceptable. I am stunned, as I am the captain and it hurts my soul to see my team dominated like that, to see my team not realise how important this game is and what attitude to take. There was also too much arguing with the referee. Talking about the referee all the time is what losers do and we do not stoop to that level. We wear the Juventus shirt and must do it justice.” (Our fans take note re the referee). After that defeat they bounced back in some style and some more, the real Juventus shining through inspired by the absolutely brilliant Paulo Dyabala, registered a seventh straight League win against Carpi in round 17, a new personal best for Max Allegri’s career. The Bianconeri amassed 81 Serie A points in 2015, more than any other club, followed by Fiorentina’s 75, Napoli 71 and Inter 70.
Mario Mandzukic got his maiden brace for Juve in that match and for the first time found the net in two consecutive Serie A games. The Croatian has scored five times in the last six rounds. Let this sink in, Juve were 10 points behind Inter in Week 6, and are now only trailing the leaders by three points after Week 17.
After a difficult start, Marotta Juventus CEO believes that was to be expected
“The team that goes onto the pitch is a representation of the club hierarchy. We took responsibility early in the season. ……..“We implemented a policy of renewal, we closed a winning cycle and decided to change 10 players out of 24, which is not easy.”
Well they are now well and truly in the mix for their fifth Scuddeto in a row, those players have bedded in and are firing on all cylinders. What an achievement after their start. Ignore at your peril.
5th Roma-32 points -Region Lazio- (known as I Giallorossi-the yellow-reds)-Ground Stadio Olimpico -Cap 70,634-Manager-Rudi Garcia.
Season’s form-DWWDLWWWWWLWDLWDW-As with Inter, they have to be strong contenders for the Scudetto, Roma’s owner James Palotta has kept faith with Rudi Garcia, after last seasons disappointments, the cynics will say the compensation needed to be paid to to sack him has concentrated the Presidents mind. The buying during the summer seems to have been of a better quality than last January ‘s transfer window (Doumbia and Ibarbo being complete failures in Rome). Dzeko, Falque and Salah have been brought in, to boost their underperforming attack, whilst Digne and Rudiger have added quality and depth at the back. Pivot players will again be Pjanic, De Rossi and Naingollan backed up by the legend Francesco Totti. One of the most impressive performers for the club so far this season has been Allessandro Florenzi who has already established himself as one of the very best fullbacks/midfielder in Italy and Europe. Round 12s defeat of city rivals Lazio was played out in a deserted Olympico with both sets of Ultras choosing to stay away over a dispute with the City council over partitioning of the Curva. Another son of Rome Daniele De Rossi completed 500 appearances for his one and only club, combined with Francesco Totti‘s 746 appearances, represent both individual and combined phenomenal achievements. Totti sums it in this quote “I hope De Rossi realises what I’ve managed to. We are the last remaining bandiere.” Also Totti became the first player in Italian Calcio history to score 300 goals for ONE club. What a man, a true legend. With 9 victories, 5 draws and 3 defeats through 17 rounds, indications were Roma were again back on track to be contesting their title challenge long into the season, however an absolutely disgraceful defeat away to Barcelona 6-1 (reminiscent of last seasons heavy CL defeat to Bayern Munich at home) has seen their form and performances over the three round, since that defeat, dip dramatically. The defeat of Genoa 2 -0 in Round 17, has probably saved the managers skin. The President is growing increasingly concerned with Rudi Garcia’s and the teams performance, if form does not pick up, except a managerial change.
6th-A.C.Milan -28 points -Region Lombardy (known as I Rossoneri the red and blacks)- Ground San Siro- Cap 80,018-Manager Sinisa Mihajlovic.
Seasons’ form-LWLWWLLDWWWDLWDDW-after a disastrous 2014-15 Milan have spent 80m euro during the summer on forwards Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano, midfielder Andrea Bertolacci and 21 year old central defender Alessio Romagnoli, whilst bringing in new manager Sinisa Mihajlovic and as we stand very little has changed. The Milan Ultras have continued with their very effective protests over their clubs transfer policy, the Curva Sud being empty for some matches whilst making telling protests against the club hierarchy in others.
Main problem appears to be in mid-field which has been totally ineffectual except for the exciting attacking midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura. No one is supplying the right ball to one of the best strikers in Europe in Carlos Bacca (some how he has still managed to score 8 goals with only 14 shots on target). Riccardo Montolivo has been inconsistent and Bertolacci who I had high hopes of after his great play for Genoa last season has been totally ineffectual. Romagnoli the young 20 year-old centre-half is starting to find his feet, bought from Roma for 25m euro he is being compared to the great Allesandro Nesta (given the same shirt number), no pressure there. With this misfiring unit Milan were the model of inconsistency over the first 8 matches, pressure was relieved by 3 straight wins however in round 12 they were unable to break down a stubborn Atalanta team at the San Siro drawing 0-0. They then lost 0-1 against a surging Juventus side in round 13,they beat a pathetic Sampdoria side 4-1 then drew 0-0 against the second bottom side Carpi in rounds 14 and 15 respectively. Milans home form of 5 wins 2 draws and 1 defeat is keeping them out of the bottom half of the table. The one bright spot in Milans season has been the emergence of the 16 year old goal keeping sensation 6ft 5in Gianluigi Donnarumma ,who was given his chance by Mihajlovic . This he has well and truly grasped, being an ever present since his debut match. It is no exaggeration to say this kid is phenomenal and I will predict he will be the Milan goalkeeper for the next 20 years and Gigi Buffoons natural successor for the national team. So the pressure is really on Adriano Galliani CEO Football to deliver a top central midfield player to enhance their prospects of a top 3 finish. Milan’s season could go either-way, without doubt the jury is firmly out on this A.C. Milan side. Should be one of the top sides in Europe unfortunately far from it.
So there we are a complete review of Serie A after 16 rounds. Take you pick of who you believe will top the table, it could be any of the top six for Lo Scudetto, this year. Who ever it is, for the fans of Serie A it is going to be fascinating to watch and for those who support a particular team in the top 6, a rollercoaster of highs and lows. Exciting times in Serie A.
Over the weekend of December 4th,5th and 6th I witnessed this first hand taking in matches Lazio v Juventus (Fri 20 45) Torino v Roma (Sat 15 00) Inter v Genoa (Sat 20 45) and Fiorentina v Udinese (Sun 1500) a full report of that trip to follow.
Future trips planned
Sat 30 January 2016 Atalanta v Sassuolo (17 00)
Sun 31 January 2016 Genoa v Fiorentina (14 00)
Sun 31 January 2016 Milan v Inter (19 45)
Fri 19 February 2016 Bologna v Juventus (19 45)
For those of you who are still undecided over Serie A I will leave you with this stat. There have been only 8 (yes 8) 0-0 draws in 169 Serie A games this season. Never boring always atmospheric (despite TV dumbing the sound down) and very competitive. Trust me watch and soaked it up, even better go to Italy and take it in yourself, you will not be disappointed.
If anyone wants to contact me feel free to do so.
Felice Cristmas e un prospero Anno Nuovo Calcio
Happy Christmas and a prosperous Calcio New Year.
PETER EMBLETON – Follow Peter on @PEFIORENTINA
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