So, soccer is back. The shortest off-season ever is quickly coming to a close and Serie A is preparing to burst back into action. Last season, the emergence of FC Internazionale and SS Lazio led to a heart racing Scudetto race; however, Juventus FC’s crown remains untouched.
This season, new challengers have arrived in the shape of Benevento Calcio, FC Crotone, and Spezia Calcio. These three teams now have a chance to fight to stay in Italy’s top flight after being promoted last season. At the top of the table, AC Milan has made a statement of intent with the signing of Sandro Tonali from relegated Brescia Calcio. Inter kept their star players and even added Achraf Hakimi. The Nerazzuri came close to winning the title last season, but their squad looks stronger than ever heading into the new campaign. However, Juventus has the pieces, the youth, the skill, and the title pedigree that many teams lack. Do they still have the power to continue their domination? We will see.
First, we need to talk about the lower end of the table. The four teams we start our rankings with are all in peril of the drop. Will they be able to stay up or is there fate almost sealed?
Spezia Calcio - 20th
Will’s projected finish: 20th
The Serie B playoff winner has been relegated in five of the last seven seasons, and I fully expect this to happen to Spezia this season. The Ligurian club, which finished third-place in the second division last year, came out on top of a tightly contested mid-table that saw places 3-9 separated by just seven points. Additionally, Spezia has not had a great transfer window so far, with no notable signings besides Jeroen Zoet, a goalkeeper who played in 18 games last season in the Eredivisie. Neither Spezia’s goals for, nor goals against, were elite last year, and it is very difficult to envision anything other than relegation unless the club shocks the Italian top flight.
Doug’s projected finish: 20th
Will and I are in total agreement about Spezia. Their offense ranked ninth last season which will undoubtedly be problematical in the top league. Their saving grace is that their defense was third in the league by xG against. This is certainly a suspect body of work. If Spezia stays up, it will be on the back of the defense. Solidity at the back can help teams win some “smash-and-grab” fixtures, but it is playing with fire. If this was 2012, I would be more optimistic about Spezia’s chances, but it is not. While absolutely anything can happen, I would be surprised if Spezia survived.
FC Crotone - 19th
Will’s projected finish: 19th
FC Crotone has spent the offseason shoring up its backline, bringing in two defensive midfielders, two centre backs and a right back, according to transfermkt. The newly-promoted club’s offense will rely solely on forward Simeon Nwankwo, who scored 20 goals last season. To have any chance of staying up, Crotone will need to find some offensive magic, and I have them as my second relegated team.
Doug’s projected finish: 19th
Crotone has the stats of a team that is ready for Serie A. Their defense was the best by xG in Serie B and their offense was second best. So, you may ask, why so low? Crotone struggled to pull away from the pack last season. This is a very non-stat answer from the “stats guy”, but they dominated almost every stat and could not pull away from the rest of the pack. Great teams, and teams that are more likely to survive, separate themselves from merely good teams because they can win. If the team struggled at doing so in Serie B, then I would be surprised if they put it together in a tougher league. They are certainly a team that could surprise so I would not write their name in black ink for relegation.
Torino FC - 18th
Will’s projected finish: 15th
Andrea Belotti will need to score more than 16 goals for Torino to challenge for a mid-table position. The Turin club finished just 5 points away from the relegation zone and will have to drastically improve their form under new head coach Marco Giampaolo. Whether the former Milan manager’s distinct 4-3-1-2 will succeed remains to be seen, but the Italian has lasted at least 365 days at just 2 of his 7 stops since 2010. Torino’s only signing of note so far has been Karol Linetty, a talented central midfielder who typically plays a somewhat defensive role. The club also bought former Milan player Riccardo Rodriguez, but the offense remains the biggest concern. Torino’s xG from 2019/20 was 42.4, good for fourth-worst in the league and ranking lower than both Lecce and Brescia. Like Spezia, Torino must make other signings, as Giampaolo’s 4-3-2-1 has the potential to go terribly wrong if he does not find players that fit his system.
Doug’s projected finish: 16th
Torino landed here because of variation with teams higher up the table. They ranked fifteenth for xG and eighteenth for xG against. Il Toro were obviously poor last season, but it was truly striking to see the lows they hit. Obviously, getting smashed by Atalanta was the bottom, but their play never seemed promising. Torino still has players who I rate too. Andrea Belotti, Bremer, Armando Izzo, and Nicolas N’koulou are all too good to be in a relegation battle. However, they are still there. Maybe some stability will solve what ails them, but I could easily see Torino get trapped in another relegation battle. I do not highly rate Il Toro. Again, they have the potential to surprise, but I would not bet on it.
Genoa CFC - 17th
Will’s projected finish: 17th
Despite Genoa’s xG differential of (-)12.0 indicating that the club was unlucky to finish in seventeenth-place last season, I find it hard to see the Red and Blues doing much better in 2020/2021. The club lost high-potential, though seldom-used forwards Christian Kouamé and Iago Falqué, while Gianluca Lapadula (who had been on loan at Lecce) was sold to Benevento. New manager Rolando Maran does not inspire a lot of confidence either, as he won just 31% of his 69 matches in charge of Cagliari. The Italian’s biggest task will be developing 21-year-old Andrea Pinamonti, a former top prospect who scored a disappointing 0.20 goals per 90 minutes last season. Genoa must have a better offensive output this year: if Goran Pandev is the club’s top goalscorer again, it could be a long season.
Doug’s projected finish: 14th
Genoa was actually closer to a midtable squad last season than a relegation team. I still like their chances this year, but they are certainly in a dangerous zone. To echo Will’s observation, their striker core is extremely concerning. Pinamonti’s track record in Italy has been poor to say the least. They scored four goals less than expected last season and lost some of their most influential attackers. The Rossoblu has solved some of their issues by getting a new goalie. Mattia Perin will provide more stability in net for the upcoming season which might lower their abysmal goals above expected rate. They gave up the fourth most goals while conceding the eighth most xG against. I think that Genoa could comfortably see out their season, but they continue to flirt with relegation. If the team had a better recent track record then I might be more confident, but that is not the case. I would expect more stress in the upcoming season.