The chase for the European spots in Serie A could heat up this season. In the last few seasons, the top flight in Italy has been dominated by seven teams. These seven have finished in almost every European spot, or won the Coppa Italia. Will the 2020/21 campaign send a new Italian squad to the Europa League or Champions League or should we prepare for more of the same?
US Sassuolo Calcio, 8th
Will’s projection: 9th
Sassuolo had a fantastic season last year, eventually finishing in 8th place, right at the top of the mid table. The club returns almost all of its starters and should have another good year thanks to its dynamic offense. Domenico Berardi and Francesco Caputo are the stars of the show; the pair combined for 36 goals and 17 assists last season and are surrounded by other great players, including the versatile Jeremie Boga and elite defensive midfielder Manuel Locatelli. Because Sassuolo chose not to make any significant signings this offseason, it’s difficult to project them to place any higher than last season, but this is still a club that can stun Scudetto contenders. Sassuolo managed to draw against Juventus twice last season, while it took down Roma and Lazio once apiece. The Neroverdi scored 3 goals or more 12 times in 2019/2020, so I’d highly recommend watching their matches if you get the chance this season.
Doug’s projection: 8th
I love Sassuolo. Their blend of midfielders and attackers led to some truly fantastic games in Serie A last season. Unfortunately, for the team just outside of Modena, their defense is truly abysmal. They allowed the second most dangerous average shot over the course of the season. If they finish further down the pack, the backline will be one of the main culprits. The other, and one that probably pokes a few holes in this ranking, Sassuolo scored way above their xG total last season. When I say way above, I mean fourteen goals. Only one other team in the country finished that much above expected and, unsurprisingly, it was Atalanta BC. While I think they could repeat this again because of how dangerous four of their attackers and two of their midfielders are, it is certainly something to keep mind of early in the season. I put Neroverdi this high is because of how much I rate some of their players. Manuel Locatelli, Jérémie Boga, Domenico Berardi, Francisco Caputo, and Hamed Junior Traorè are all fantastic in their own right, but when they all play together, the team comes alive. I might be rating Sassuolo too high, but I do truly believe in them.
AS Roma, 7th
Will’s projection: 6th
Roma has had one hell of an offseason, and that might be putting it too lightly. The club lost Smalling, Zaniolo, Zappacosta, Džeko, Kolarov and Ünder, while it brought in Pedro, Milik and Kumbulla. Wow. I have absolutely no idea what to make of this club, besides the fact that Pedro looked absolutely dreadful in his debut against Hellas Verona on Sunday. Roma is going to be essentially a new team this year, and it has plenty of potential if all the pieces come together. The club was relatively inconsistent last year, and it has gotten off to a rough start so far, drawing 2-2 in a friendly with Cagliari and drawing its opening match with Verona. Roma has the budget and the coaching acumen to put together a solid showing, especially with the addition of Arkadiusz Milik. That said, I’ll have to see it to believe it, so for now I have the club missing out on the Champions League.
Doug’s projection: 7th
Roma do not strike me as a team on the rise at the moment. Letting Cengiz Ünder leave will prove to be foolish (he is highly underrated). They have a similar issue as Sassuolo, the offense works well, the defense is chaotic. At seasons end, Roma were the third best offense based on xG totals. Their actual goal totals had them finish fourth. These rates seem repeatable, but the injury total and age of the squad continues to rise. These two issues are the harbingers of an offensive collapse. Defensively, the Giallorossi seem sound, finishing the season with the seventh best xG against total. The problem? Roma started to fall apart prior to the pause and did not necessarily shower themselves in glory during the restart. I had them ranked this low because their summer window was chaotic and there is a question about their true talent. I think they are closer to fine than they are good. I expect the capital team to struggle in the new campaign.
SS Lazio, 6th
Will’s projection: 5th
Lazio had a great shot to challenge Juve for the Scudetto after the restart, and, like Doug, their collapse in the summer is a huge concern to me. Ciro Immobile is a fantastic striker, but he was incredibly lucky last season, getting the benefit of 15 penalties (14 converted) and an absurd -9.1 difference between his xG and his actual tally. Despite this discrepancy, Immobile is a proven commodity and should be good for at least 20 goals this season. Lazio even brought in reinforcements at striker, shelling out an estimated $20 million for Kosovo international Vedat Muriqi. The Roman club managed to keep its core squad together as well, so all-in-all it has been a decent transfer window for Simone Inzaghi’s side. I expect them to have another great season, but one that is not quite as historic or dramatic as last season.
Doug’s projection: 6th
Personally, I do not think highly of Lazio. Last season, Lazio lived on penalties and some incredible luck. Watch any of their highlight reels from late in the season and you will constantly see questionable penalty calls or goals occurring because a ricochet or two kept the ball in their possession. While Ciro Immoblie’s goal scoring stole the headlines in 2019/20, Sergej Milinković-Savić is the true star of the show. If the Serbian man plays poorly, the team sinks. This is the concerning aspect of Lazio, they are dependent on a handful of players, and Sergej more so than any other. The depth of the Biancocelesti has yet to survive any of the tests they have faced. While their underlying stats remain sound (fourth in both xG totals for and against last season), their utter disaster of a restart concerns me. They finished the return to play with a record of 5-1-6 and had an even goal differential. This run of form ended their title hope and even dropped them to fourth. Then, Lazio did nothing to add to their core players. Almost every other team around them got better. Lazio did not respond to this challenge and will suffer the consequences of their inaction.
SSC Napoli, 5th
Will’s projection: 7th
I think Napoli is a decent team, though I am not completely sold on the Victor Osimhen signing. The Nigerian registered 0.67 goals and assists per 90 minutes last season, so I would have waited to see more production if I was spending $80 million on a 21-year-old who played in Ligue 1, though the potential loss of Milik should help justify the cost more. Gennaro Gattuso ran a 4-3-3 last season, and while it was effective defesively, offensive struggles plagued Napoli for much of the year, especially in a disappointing winter stretch that saw the club draw against Genoa, Udinese and SPAL. The Naples club will be hoping that Osimhen can anchor a talented group of attackers that includes Roberto Insigne and Dries Mertens, though that is certainly not guaranteed. For now, I have Napoli finishing 7th in the league, but I could easily see the club finishing ahead of Lazio and Roma, given the Roman duo’s struggles in the transfer market so far. Napoli will hopefully be a more entertaining team to watch this season, and the club will definitely be looking regain its spot in the Champions League.
Doug’s projection: 5th
This was the hardest ranking of them all. Napoli are tough, scary, young, and figuring it out. While Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens are no spring chickens, Gennaro Gattuso has surrounded or replaced these two with a core of young and explosive attackers. Victor Osimhen could easily become the signing of the year. He showed his immense potential at Lille OSC. The other scary aspect, Napoli scored less goals than expected (sixth in xG total last season). That was shocking from a team with so many players that can shape a shot beautifully. In 2020/21, I expect Napoli to course correct and go back to scoring at will. Defensively, Napoli possess one of the best center back tandems on the planet. Kalidou Koulibaly and Kostas Manolas form a wall that led the team to the third ranked defense last season. Now, penetrating Napoli’s back line means that you have to get them. That is a tall task. Fabián, Piotr Zieliński, and Diego Demme form a formidable midfield trio that can go toe-to-toe with the best teams in Italy. Gli Azzurri are a Champions League team that are in an incredibly difficult league. Their underlying metrics would make them out as the fourth best team in Italy. However, one of the teams ahead of them in our projections hit a homerun in the summer window. Napoli were close to doing the same, just not close enough.