This section of the table will probably be the most competitive this year, and our lack of agreement on three of the four picks reflects this likelihood. Expect this group of clubs to be scrappy defensively and have low offensive outputs, as they will have to fight for every point to avoid the bottom tier that was covered in our last article. These are teams that we believe should be safe, but they could easily find themselves in the relegation battle if things go wrong.
Cagliari Calcio, 16th
Will’s projection: 16th
Last season, Cagliari got off to a great start before collapsing down the stretch, losing nine of its last 16 matches. Manager Walter Zenga was fired during the offseason and was replaced by former Roma boss Eusebio Di Francesco, who prefers the 4-2-3-1. This defensive shape should fit this Cagliari squad rather well, especially with the addition of 20-year-old right back Gabriele Zappa. However, Cagliari’s offense is a huge concern to me. The club outperformed its xGoals by 10.8 last season, indicating that their shooting percentage should regress significantly this season. I just don’t see how Cagliari will score this season, especially in a formation that will allow just one of Giovanni Simeone or João Pedro to take the pitch at striker. On the bright side, it does look like the club has a decent chance to add Diego Godin from Inter, who would further supplement Gli Isolani’s solid defense.
Doug’s projection: 15th
I remember writing about Cagliari’s frailties in December and predicting that they would collapse. Well, they did. They finished the season in seventeenth for xG total, fifteenth in xG against total, and sixteenth in expected points. Sometimes, teams out perform their expected numbers because when they take shots, they are incredibly dangerous, but Cagliari finished 17th in xG per shot. The team was scoring on every half chance they had and were racking up wonder goals. When Cagliari was in fourth from matchday twelve to fifteen, the writing was on the wall that they were on the edge of collapse. Now, the team has lost Radja Nainggolan and Luca Cigarini, both were incredibly influential during the initial crazy run of form. The team then added a coach who struggles in player selection. Di Francesco has had his success, but his starting lineups and defensive tactics regressed in his most recent seasons. Cagliari has many more question marks now then last season. I would be worried if I was a fan of theirs.
Benevento Calcio, 15th
Will’s projection: 12th
This is by far my most ambitious prediction for the upcoming campaign. I think Benevento could legitimately have a Verona-like season and push the top half of the table this year. Last season, the club lost just once before clinching the Serie B title, largely thanks to its strong defensive showing, allowing just 27 goals. The newcomers have upgraded both their offense and defense, bringing in Polish icon Kamil Glik, former Milan forward Gianluca Lapadula and Gianluca Caprari, a solid number nine depth option. I think Benevento’s roster has a decent amount of talent, and it should be very competitive with teams like Parma, Udinese and Genoa. Look for former Milan manager Filippo Inzaghi to work some magic with the Serie B champions.
Doug’s projection: 17th
While I might disagree with Will here, I do understand his reasoning. Benevento ran away with the league title last season. However, They did not win any expected categories last season. So, while their point totals might have been amazing, the foundation for that success might have a suspect structure. The age of the squad is the other concerning factor. They fielded the oldest average team in Serie B last year. They stay safe this seasons because of other teams problems. Maybe Filippo Inzaghi has concocted a magical formula to see his side to success. Personally, I do not see it for this season.
Parma Calcio, 14th
Will’s projection: 11th
I might be way too high on Parma this year, but I have them finishing 11th, largely due to the hire of Fabio Liverani. Though his Lecce side was relegated last season, the Italian manager has a history of overachieving with smaller clubs. I think that Parma’s set of forwards should perform much better this season; Gervinho and Andreas Cornelius are legitimate double digit goal scorers, while Roberto Inglese and Yann Karamoh provide reliable depth options from the bench. Parma will likely transition to either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-1-2, the two preferred formations of Liverani at Lecce, which should greatly help the defense. The club mostly ran a 4-3-3 last season, an open formation that often left the backline exposed when the midfield neglected its defensive responsibilities. Expect Parma to be much more compact this year, and midfielder Hernani should play more defensively above veteran centre backs Simone Iacoponi and Bruno Alves.
Doug’s projection: 18th
Controversy. Will and I might be high and low on Parma respectively. He gave you the positive, here is the negative. Parma fielded the oldest average team last season in Serie A and then lost Dejan Kulusevski. The Swedish man was one of the best chance creating wingers on the planet last season. Unless I Gialoblu have some secret weapon waiting in the wings, I do not see how they replace a player who created 4.12 shots and 0.28 xA per game (both 93rd percentile in the top five leagues). Hiring Fabio Liverani may help solve their future offensive problems. However, it does not change the fact that his defense was the worst in the league in 2019/20. They gave up the most goals in the league by six and most expected goals by ten (that is a chasm). What is more concerning for Parma is that the team was already poor defensively. They finished seventeenth in xG against last year. Parma might score a lot next season, but they will get hammered defensively. I certainly could see some ugly results in their future. Personally, I think they get relegated because of this reality.
UC Sampdoria, 13th
Will’s projection: 18th
Sampdoria is my third choice to be relegated this season, following Spezia and Crotone. I just don’t like what I see on this roster. Ronaldo Viera didn’t cut it for Leeds in the English Championship. Fabio Quagliarella is now 37 and scored 5 of his 11 goals last season from the penalty spot. Lorenzo Tonelli has made just 35 league appearances since the 2015/2016 season. Sampdoria did make a few nice young signings, like Mikkel Damsgaard, but a 20-year-old winger from the Danish top flight is not going to make or break the season. Now the club is being linked with Danny Drinkwater, whose last two years have been an unmitigated disaster. To cap it all off, Claudio Ranieri’s record since winning the Premier League with Leicester City in 2016 has been suspect. The 68-year-old was atrocious at FC Nantes and Fulham, did not impress much at Roma and has won just 32 percent of his matches with Sampdoria. The club also sold Polish international Karol Linetty, a midfielder who I think is vastly underrated, to Torino, which is a significant blow to Sampdoria’s midfield. I think this club’s ceiling is 16th place, and I expect them to finish much lower.
Doug’s projection: 11th
More controversy. This may shock you, but by expected points, Sampdoria finished ninth last season. In xG total they finished tenth and xG against they finished ninth. My question is how did they leave thirteen expected points on the table. I have said this before, but winning a game is a skill. There is a certain mentality and focus that prevents teams from dropping points late in games or securing a win by not constantly wasting chances. Sampdoria’s main concern is their excess of thirteen goals against above expected. Emil Audero was one of the worst goalies in the top five leagues last season. While Sampdoria might want to see what he turns into, but he has yet to put together any convincing results. Again, but in reverse, I think that Will might have shown you what could happen if everything goes wrong and I am writing about the best possible outcome. The Genoan team will most likely be safe, but could easily stumble.