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. 

8 Players Unlucky To Not Be at the 2018 World Cup

With only 23 players available for each squad, it means some players miss out for some particular reason. Whether it’s injury or manager had better options, these are players who would feel a bit unlucky that they won’t be in Russia this summer.

Mauro Icardi

When Sampoali was appointed the manager of Argentina, I thought this would be a chance for change in team selection. While Dybala is finally getting the chance he so rightfully deserves, Icardi is still not getting the same chances. Argentina have the joys of having so many attacking options, in Aguero, Messi and Higuain. It means other players getting a chance can be difficult. Icardi has for 4 years straight, been one of the most consistent strikers in Europe. He is a very good all around finisher, whether it is with his feet or with his head. He was the top scorer of Serie A last season, with 29 goals. It is just so surprising that the top scorer in Italy isn’t going to the world cup. I think he should be going instead of Higuain. Higuain is now 30, and Icardi is 26. Icardi has another world cup left in him. Bringing a much more inform striker, one who is still in his prime. Just makes much more sense.

Philipp Max

While many would say Alex Sandro is unlucky to miss out, it hard to argue when both Marcelo and Felipe Luis were both better last season. However an argument can be made for Philipp Max being taken to the World Cup. The Augsburg full back was easily the best left back last season in the Bundesliga. He averages a solid 3 tackles and interceptions per 90, but that isn’t why you play Max. His creative output is incredible. He averages an outrageous 2.4 key passes per 90. That’s more than David Silva and Paul Pogba. He also averages 3.2 crosses per 90, which is far superior than Plattenhardt’s 1.5. I completely understand that Lowe has a system and certain players he favours, but not taking the most inform German left back in Europe, is a huge mistake.

Radja Nainggolan

Another player who should be rightfully unhappy for not being selected. While Nainggolan did drop off compared to how incredible he was in the 2016/17, he was still very good. He averaged 2 shots per game and 1.9 key passes per 90. He still was more than good for Roma. I myself do not like Roberto Martinez in the slightest. He somehow has got the Belgium job, after 2 11th places with Everton. It doesn’t make any sense to me how a mediocre manager gets rewards with a team full of talented players. Why Nainggolan should feel angry is because Fellaini was chosen instead. My feelings on Fellaini have been made very clear. He is not good enough for the top level and never will be. Nainggolan offers so much more and definitely should have been chosen instead.

Aleksandr Kokorin

The hosts go into this tournament with no sort of expectations, except to make their country proud. Their squad has a serious age problem. The average age for their 23 man squad is 28.4, which is just too old. One big miss for Russia is the Zenit forward Aleksandr Kokorin. He was in outstanding form last season, scoring 16 and assisting 5 in all competitions. He is your classic big striker, winning 1.8 aerial duels per 90. Having such a physical prescence in the opposition box is always a plus. While having Dzyuba and Chalov, both who are also in pretty good form, is still fine, it would have been better to have a guy who has been consistent up until his injury. Kokorin suffered a terrible injury in the Europa league, ruling him out for the entire world cup. It will be a big miss and they hope they will still get through a relatively tough group.

Harry Winks

Another player who is unfortunately missing the world cup through injury. Winks has been a brilliant player to watch grow, from an occasional cameo, to an important squad for Spurs. One of my favourite things about spurs squad is their depth in midfield. Both Dyer and Wanyama can offer a very physical prescence, Sissoko might not have much talent, but does have a lot of energy, and Winks is a great passer of the ball. He has a great 90% pass accuracy, with 3 long balls per game, showing his range of passing. His progression was cut short when he suffered a serious injury early on in the season. His lack of games makes his stats look worse, such as his low 0.5 key passes. This could have been higher if more games were under his belt. I wrote a piece a couple of months ago saying that Winks should have start, but that injury has ruined a chance for him to show England and world that they have a quality player who could be the future for that team for years.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlein

When the Ox signed for Liverpool last season, many questions were asked. During his time in London, he always showed promise, but Wenger constantly played him in multiple positions, which would eventually lead to him wanting to leave the club. He then joined Liverpool, the club he supported as a youth and dreamed of playing for. From then on, he finally hit the heights we all thought he could reach. Oxlade-Chamberlein was brilliant last season, in playing as an energetic midfielder who would help transition by winning the ball back high up the pitch. His contribution of 5 goals and 7 assists really helped Liverpool advance to the champions league final. But when he suffered that ACL injury against Roma, it was not a shame for the Reds, but also for England. England’s midfield is easily their biggest weakness. While I like Henderson and Dier as defensive midfielders, but don’t offer much in an attacking threat, and Delph is a good box to box midfielder. Ox would add a bit of a direct player to that midfield, and help drive England forward up the pitch to speed up transition.

Ruben Neves

Originally I was going to include Neves in my players who could be become superstars, but then I found out he wasn’t even included in the Portugal squad. Neves was by far the best player in the championship last season, and shown why he was bought for £16m from Porto. What has shown him to be a player above the rest is his passing, He ranked 5th in the championship in passes completed. What’s important to note is all the players above are Fulham players, who played 3 extra games since they qualified through the play offs. He also takes 2.2 shots per game from defensive midfield. What’s most impressive is 2.1 of those shots are from outside the box, which resulted in 6 brilliant goals from outside the box. He also averages 4 tackles and interceptions per game, which proves he doesn’t let his defensive work go. He had one brilliant season, which makes it real shame he wasn’t picked.

Fabinho

The final player is a real surprising one. I have a lot of respect for Tite in the aspect of picking players to fit a particular system, but Fabinho should feel a bit hard done by. He had another brilliant season for Monaco. While many of the big stars like Mbappe, Mendy and Silva all left, he stayed, and continued to show his class. He’s averaged 4.7 tackles and interceptions per 90. What makes this even more impressive is his passing numbers. He averaged a good 1.1 key passes per 90 in Ligue 1, and averaged 4.7 long balls per 90, showing his range in passing. He also contributes to 8 goals and 3 assists. While Monaco themselves dropped off compared to their league winning season, Fabinho can be one of the high points. Tite has stuck with the experienced Fernandinho and Paulinho, and the dynamic Fred and Casemiro. Bringing Fabinho might have been too much, but such a good player should feel a bit unfortunate.