Positions twelfth through ninth in the Serie A table have become hotly contested over the last few seasons. Teams like FC Internazionale and AC Milan do not find themselves living through mid-table obscurity anymore. Now, these positions are dominated by teams who are building an interesting squad, or past Europa League level teams looking for more stability. In this article, Will and Doug write about what makes these middle-of-the-pack teams interesting. Never forget that in Serie A, even the most average team can still bring some flair.
Udinese Calcio, 12th
Will’s projection: 14th
It’s a bit odd to have Udinese at 12th when neither Douglas nor I had them that high, but that’s due to having several ties in our table average. Udinese has had a strange offseason, losing two major starters in Ken Sema and Seko Fofana, while loanee Giuseppe Pezzella permanently joined Parma. Manager Luca Gotti’s side made an estimated $17 million from these sales, but has not spent a penny, preferring to bring in two depth options on free transfers, as well as a left wing back on loan to replace Sema. Gotti, who was promoted from an assistant managerial position last year, runs a 3-5-2 that utilizes pacey wing backs and forwards to run the pitch. His formation can become more defensive, with the three centre midfielders playing deep while one of the two strikers, usually Stefano Okaka, shifts to an attacking midfield role. I would’ve liked to see Udinese purchase a true creative midfielder or striker this offseason, as Udinese finished 19th in the league with just 40.7 xGoals last season, but clearly the club is fine with relying on Okaka and Kevin Lasagna for their offensive output. If Udinese has defensive issues, it could legitimately be a relegation contender this season, but for now I’m counting on Gotti’s system to repeat its strong performance.
Doug’s projection: 13th
To echo Will here, I think Udinese will be lower than twelfth. They could even be lower than my prediction. If management continues to sell players in the manner they have, then expect their season to go poorly (which is putting it lightly). Udinese had the third worst offense last season by xG, and that was with Rodrigo de Paul. I cannot imagine it improves without the Argentinian midfielder (rumored to be headed to Leeds United FC). They were the twelfth ranked defense last season (xG against), which does not inspire any confidence. If I had to predict their upcoming campaign, I would most likely drop them down further. There are many teams in Serie A currently that have some ghastly metrics from their previous campaign. However, it comes down to the battle of the worst combination of offense and defense and Udinese was at least around average at defense. That could be just enough to save them in the upcoming campaign. Maybe, there is enough defensive solidity to have Udinese finish right in the midtable group.
Hellas Verona, 11th
Will’s projection: 13th
While Hellas Verona had a fantastic 2019/20 season, the club really should have been come in 11th were it not for Serie A’s idiotic disdain for goal differential. The 2018 Serie B playoff winners mostly relied on its strong defense to keep them in matches while its sporadic offense would occasionally surge, like in the legendary 3-3 draw with Sassuolo. Verona has lost much of its production from last season, including 41 percent of its minutes played, 170 starts and 34 percent of its goals scored. With all this, I see Verona as a below average team that might get a shot to break into the top half if it’s lucky. The club will need strong seasons from new signings Kevin Rüegg and Adrien Tamèze if it wants to repeat its success from last year.
Doug’s projection: 12th
Hellas Verona is a soccer team. That enough? No? Well. (This is a joke).
Hellas Veronaa are not to be forgotten. They finished in ninth last season in actual points and eleventh in expected points. They ranked thirteenth by xG total for and tenth for xG against total. Verona are the epitome of a midtable team. I Mastini will need to plug the hole in the back line left by Marash Kumbulla (Hellas are called the mastifs). The Albanian centerback finished the season at or above the ninetieth percentile in succesful pressures and possession adjusted interceptions and tackles won. His loss will be felt. Offensively, Hellas has built their attack around players who do one, maybe two things well. However, almost all of their attackers struggle to be elite in more than one aspect of their game or have a third talent. When it all clicks, watch out. The issue is that when it does not, the team is stagnant offensively. I expect Hellas to be midtable.
Bologna FC, 10th
Will’s projection: 11th
Another example of a former Milan head coach who has gone on to have success in the mid table, Siniša Mihajlović has helped Bologna put together a decent squad. Typically running a 4-2-3-1, the club has a dangerous attacking midfield that consists of youngsters Musa Barrow and Riccardo Orsolini on the wings and Roberto Soriano at the number 10. Barrow, a 21-year-old Gambian international, is Bologna’s best player, scoring 0.60 goals per 90 after his midseason loan from Atalanta last year. This is a really, really good midfield and I think it will lead Bologna in the right direction. The club really needs to sign another striker however, either to replace or supplement 36-year-old Rodrigo Palacio. The veteran striker has scored just 14 goals in 91 matches for Bologna; bringing in a younger, quicker option could really help this team take the next step.
Doug’s projection: 10th
Ready for a hot take? Musa Barrow is the best attacking player for Bologna. In half the minutes as Riccardo Orsolini last season, Barrow had more goals and a similar expected assist rate per ninety minutes. While Atalanta BC have a buy-back clause, signing Barrow is a massive victory for Bologna. Something else strange, Andrea Poli was one of the better defensive midfielders last season. The main takeaway; Bologna has a core of intriguing players. The team ranked eighth in the league for xG totals last season and eleventh in xG against. Bologna showed their ability to explode offensively in 2019/20. Siniša Mihajlović has created a perfectly midtable club that can put together an awesome highlight reel. I recommend watching their games in the upcoming campaign. At a minimum, they will be fun.
ACF Fiorentina, 9th
Will’s projection: 8th
I’m not really sure how I feel about Fiorentina. The club has several fantastic defensive midfield options, including Sofyan Amrabat, Erick Pulgar and Alfred Duncan, who had a fantastic match against Torino on Saturday. It also has a solid attacking duo of Franck Ribéry and Christian Kouamé, who form the top of Giuseppe Iachini’s 3-5-2, though, like Doug noted, La Viola lack a truly elite offensive weapon. To be frank, I see this side as one of many that could end up anywhere from 13th-8th by the end of the season. This is a team that will draw many of its games, but I think Fiorentina will grind out enough wins to make it to 8th in the standings.
Doug’s projection: 9th
I will say this at the beginning. I seriously do not like a lot of things about Fiorentina. Their attack ranked ninth last year, which is fine, but they scored six less goals than expected. Shockingly, their best quality as a team is their defense. La Viola finished fifth last season for xG against total. I think this is a structural reason rather than anything any players do. Almost every player on Fiorentina is a bit of a one-trick-pony. Their offensive players are either dribble heavy, high distance shooting, and support players or they are pure poachers. Their midfielders either progress play and cannot play defense or the opposite. Their defensive players intercept passes more than anything else. Honestly, Fiorentina could use an elite attacker, but I would be surprised if any dawns the iconic purple kits anytime soon (Federico Chiesa very much included). I think they are perfectly poised to finish as a top half squad that takes a few points from the more prominent seven teams in Italy. Still, they are on the outside looking in when it comes to the truly highly talented teams in the division. Will’s prediction is equally as correct as mine. They still win the Italian greatest jersey ever competition.