Predictions for Serie A – 19/20

Last, but certainly not least, is Serie A. While not my favourite league to watch, there are still plenty of things to look forward to. With the Milan clubs under new management, Napoli ready to challenge Juve and Atalanta now in the Champions League, let’s go through who will stand out and who will fall behind.

Outside Shout – Roma

After their fantastic 16/17 season, which saw them finish with over 90 points, there was supposed to be light at the end of the tunnel. Nainggolan had a stand out season playing as a forward, Mohamed Salah reached his potential and Dzeko had arguably his best season since winning the title with Wolfsburg. The season did end in the departures of club legend Francesco Totti and manager Luciano Spaletti. However, the arrival of Monchi did present a future where they could remain competitive with Juventus. The appointment of Eusebio Di Francesco, who finished 10th with an interesting Sassuolo side, seemed to be a promising choice as Spaletti’s replacement.

However, Roma became a lot worse over the space of a few months, and for obvious reasons. Nainggolan’s goal output vanished, and Salah’s departure was huge. This was the same season where Dzeko began to decline in terms of goal output. The problem Roma have had since Monchi’s arrival, and even after the Spaniard’s time as head of recruitment, is their failure to replace their best assets. The 17/18 season epitomised this perfectly. With Salah, Rudiger, Totti and Parades all departing, finding adequate replacements for them was vital. However, they opted to take 4 low-cost gambles on players, in an attempt to highlight how good Monchi is at finding those diamonds in the rough. Cengiz Under, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Patrik Schick and Rick Karsdorp all arrived for a combined £44.3 million. While the financial risk isn’t bad, there was a lot of pressure on the young players to succeed. It just hasn’t worked out for any of them, with the reliance on the older players still prevalent. Under is arguably the most significant success out of the bunch, with the Turkish winger starting over 15 games in Serie A in each of his two full seasons. While his game time is impressive, considering he was 20 when he arrived, he still has a lot of work to do in regards to development. He’s an average dribbler with a weak shot selection, with Under often going for a spectacular effort over what’s best for the team. The other three have suffered from other problems. Karsdorp has struggled with injuries since day one. Pellegrini just doesn’t seem in favour at the club, and Schick just couldn’t replicate the form he showed at Sampdoria.

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After last season, which saw Di Francesco sacked following a defeat to a relatively weak Porto side in the Champions League and a defeat to arch-rivals Lazio. Monchi shortly followed him out the door, showing how the whole project was a massive failure. This was such a shame because a majority of football wanted to see Monchi work his magic in Italy, and hopefully lead to Juventus’s dominance finally being toppled.

So where do Roma go from here? Well, there have been some optimism in terms of their recruitment. Paulo Fonseca has finally arrived in one of the top leagues. His work with Shaktar earned him plenty of plaudits, getting the best out of their model in discovering some of Brazil’s most promising talents. His arrival coincided with a window full of smart signings and risks. Spinnazola and Zappacosta are reunited since leaving Atalanta and give Roma two attack-minded full-backs with more athleticism than their options in the past. Veretout and Diawara arrive to add even more talent in that midfield. Veretout is a reliable creator with the habit of gathering plenty of yellow cards, while Diawara was once one of the hottest prospects in Italy. He signed for Napoli with the expectation of succeeding Jorginho, but never got the game time required for a young player. This move to Roma could be his best chance at finally playing games, and showing why he was rated so highly at Bologna. These good signings blend well with some intriguing risks. Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan arrive after being pushed out by Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer and Unai Emery respectively. There’s a good chance they’ll fail, but they’re only on loan, meaning their failure wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen.

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It’s difficult to predict how good Roma will be. In an ideal world, all of their signings could work out a top 4 push would be entirely possible. There is still a chance that these risks don’t pan out, and Roma finish behind the Milan clubs once again. Nevertheless, Roma are a team you have to watch this season.

Over-achievers – Inter Milan

Antonio Conte is a fantastic coach and can turn any side into an organised, well-drilled machine. While his Chelsea side did have a very mediocre second season under the Italian, that can primarily go down to a lack of backing in the market. Conte turned two underachievers in Chelsea and Juventus into title winners and some of the best sides their respective leagues have ever seen. I must admit, however, this Inter team is arguably the most challenging task in Conte’s career as of yet. The Nerazzurri have been a mess for years now, due to poor recruitment, which lead to multiple investigations from FFP. My biggest issue with Inter has been the overreliance on their more established talent to drag them over the line. Dalbert, Gagliardini and Keita Balde were all extremely underused last season. Lautaro Martinez did eventually get the game he so very much deserved, primarily down to the controversy surrounding Mauro Icardi.

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The absolutely dreadful signing of Nainggolan and Icardi finally tiring Inter with his drama seemed to have changed Inter. Before the start of the season, Conte made it very clear that the pair of misfits had no future at the club, and had to leave. They did, alongside Miranda, Joao Mario, Perisic, Dalbert and Ansaldi. Many of these players overstayed their welcome, and their departure meant a better and less drama-filled future.

The reason why Inter Milan are my potential over-achievers this season is simply down to the magic of Conte. If Inter do manage to reach the top four, it’ll primarily go down to the Italian. He will fix this Inter side and will find as much value out of many of their less talented players. Inter do not possess the same talent as Juventus, Napoli and arguably their local rivals. However, a good defence can carry you through large chunks of the season.

Under-achievers – AC Milan 

Milan’s summer recruitment was on a whole, impressive. Bennacer, Leao, Hernandez and Duarte highlighted a summer with a focus more on younger talent, with the oldest arrival being Ante Rebic, who’s still only 25. This new focus mixed well with the appointment of Marco Giampaolo. While his league finishes with Sampdoria were slightly underwhelming, his ability to get the best out of young players seemed to be exactly what Milan were looking for. The Italian helped bring the best out of talent like Joachim Andersen, Lucas Torreira, Milan Skriniar and Bruno Fernandes. His Sampdoria side played a more enjoyable brand of football than Gattuso’s Milan, who scored less than Giampaolo’s former club. With the new young arrivals, as well current talent like Piatek, Paqueta, Calabria, Donnaruma and Kessie, this side, if kept together, could be a side to reach those Champions League places once again.

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That is precisely why they’re my under-achievers this season. There is a lot of promise in Milan, but this is definitely a transitional season. It’s all about finding the best system to fit all of their new players. Piatek has to be the player to watch. He has done well since arriving in January but could be taken to the next level under Giampaolo, who managed to get 26 goals out of a very old Quagliarella. He is the key to what Milan do in the next few years. Depending on the performances on the pitch, this could be the start of something big from Europe’s most successful clubs.

Best Transfer – Hirving Lozano

I tweeted back in June that if Napoli did manage to bring Chucky Lozano to Serie A, it would be the signing of the summer. Even though I loved De Ligt’s signing, Lozano is just so perfect for Napoli. Ancelotti’s side were excellent last season, but the weaknesses in their team were becoming apparent. Callejon and Mertens were starting to show their age and right-back still had a massive question mark, even with Malcuit’s impressive form. I wasn’t sold on a majority of Napoli’s business over the summer. The rumours of Milik possibly leaving were confusing considering how good he was last season, and they massively overspent on Kostas Manolas. I mentioned in my preview for Napoli’s season that they were the favourites to sign James Rodriguez. If they did, they’d comfortably be the favourites to challenge Juventus. However, they couldn’t agree on terms with Madrid. Missing out on him was huge and would have taken them onto the next level.

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One benefit or downside depending on how you see it, with Ancelotti is he can give a group of talented players the push they need to succeed. He can quickly devise a system to get the best players into the same team. However, Napoli still wasn’t nearly as good as their final season under Sarri. If they wanted to compete, they needed an elite winger, someone to replace Callejon on the long term, and Lozano fits that profile. The Mexican international was fantastic during his 2 years with PSV, contributing to 50 goals in the Eredivisie. He was a perfect attacker, being able to create and score, while also possessing elite dribbling. He’s such a direct player and represents everything good about Ancelotti’s Napoli side, just like Jorginho did with Sarri’s. 

Potential Flop – Alexis Sanchez

Manchester United’s worst signing of the decade was easily Alexis Sanchez. It wasn’t only his consistently poor performances on the pitch, but the effect he had on the rest of the team. Both Pogba and De Gea wanting pay rises due to their importance to the side, while the best-paid player was sitting on the bench. Sanchez needed to leave for the sake of everyone involved. While United are still paying half of his wages, he has finally departed the club for the season, joining Inter on loan. Sanchez could rediscover the form he showed for over half a decade, with a change scenery being what he needs. However, I’m genuinely not a fan of this move in the slightest. It’s as backwards as PSG signing Mauro Icardi when they made it clear they were done searching for superstars. Sanchez represents everything Inter wanted to change. A superstar with a big ego, who has the potential to be a huge problem. 

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Ryan Fraser and Improving Arsenal

While many like to look at Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas or Nasri as some of Arsenal’s sales that have left a whole in the squad, Santi Cazorla is a hole they seemingly cannot replace. The Spaniard had one of the best debut seasons in the past decade, reaching double figures for both goals and assists. As Arsenal added expensive signings like Ozil, Sanchez and Xhaka, Cazorla remained to be their most important player. After the Arsenal medical staff failing to foresee the long term ankle injury (an injury that was noticed but not resolved until it was fatal), it left Cazorla in a terrible position, as well as Arsenal. While a midfield of Coquelin and Cazorla isn’t perfect, they balanced out each other and allowed them both to play to their strengths. Cazorla helped take pressure away from Ozil in the creativity department. In the 2015/16 season, Ozil was the best creator in Europe, making 4.2 key passes per game. The German was the only player who created more chances than Cazorla’s 2.5 key passes per game. It made Arsenal less predictable, ensuring that there was always one technically superb player on the pitch to assist the forwards. Cazorla was also influencial in transition, completing 2.5 dribbles per game. The Spaniard was arguably their best player during Wenger’s final years in charge.

So what does Cazorla have to do with a Scotsman who was sent out on loan to Ispwich while Arsenal were challenging for a title? Well with Arsenal in desperate need for creativity, thanks to Ozil seemingly falling out with Emery, it seems the Gunners will turn to Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser as the saviour. He could help give Arsenal extra creativity from the wide areas, so let’s find out if he is the man to help Arsenal challenge for top four.

Since breaking into Bournemouth’s first team back in the 2013/14 season, Fraser has found it difficult to find a place in the starting XI. While he did start 23 games in his first season in the Premier League, he was in a very poor Bournemouth side. However thanks to Eddie Howe building a much better attack, it gave all of his forwards a spark, and Fraser was by far the one who benefitted the most from the change. While Wilson finally seemed to be scoring the amount of goals we’ve all been waiting for him to reach, Fraser turned into one of the best creators in the league. The former Aberdeen winger formed a deadly partnership with Wilson, with the pair nearly breaking Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton’s record for most goal combinations between two players with 12. It highlights where Fraser strength has been in the final third. He is one of the best players in the league for making that final pass. It’s where he has become so vital for Bournemouth. His eye for an assist has turned him into the most important player for the Cherries. Fraser is the player the rest of the team look for. He is technically gifted and his passing is spectacular. his 2.4 key passes per game rank 4th in the league, with the likes of Maddison and Hazard ahead of him. His crossing is also an area to be admired. The Scottsman completes 2 crosses a game, the 2nd highest in the league. He is his side’s chief playmaker, and seems to embrace the responsibility entrusted in him by his manager.

So is there anything wrong with Fraser? There is actually a few things to note, starting with his dribbling. He isn’t exactly a good dribbler.  Fraser is completing less than a dribble a game. While Bournemouth rank 14th for dribbles per game, it’s an area of concern. The reason why Cazorla was spoken about so highly is because he is still a player they need to replace. His combination of high chance creation and expert transitional play made him an almost perfect Wenger player. If Fraser will be able to replicate Cazorla’s creativity, there is still a hole to be filled. This isn’t to complete diminish Fraser’s strengths. In fact, his lack of dribbling does highlight one of his better qualities. His ability to get into positions where he is able to cross for his team is what has made him such a threat for Bournemouth. He doesn’t have to dribble because there is no one to beat. It’s a concern for if he signs for Arsenal because it’s hard to know if he would be able to adapt in a way to suit what Emery might want. Arsenal have let Walcott, Sanchez, Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlein go and haven’t replaced them in what they added to the team, being the ability to beat players an add that element of unpredictability, something Fraser might not be able to add.

I like Fraser a lot, and would suit a side like Southampton, one which is starved of creativity, but are full of players who are excellent dribblers. These are more of the players that Arsenal should be looking for. Players who amase high dribble numbers. While players like Januzaj, Thuram or Sarr might not offer the same amount of assists as Fraser, they will make Arsenal a much better side.