The landscape in Serie A has changed considerably since the new year started. While last December we had a four horse race at the top of the standings, we’ve seen Roma and especially Inter come back down to earth- so much so that it’s not out of the question that resurging Milan under Gattuso could make a late push for a Champions League spot.
While there’s less competition at the top of the standings, there are still many things at stake as we head into the final stages of the Serie A season: to get ready for what’s ahead, let’s look at how has made the biggest impact, in both good and bad, since the beginning of the year:
Rino Gattuso- his arrival was greeted with a lot of scepticism, especially from yours truly, but the World Cup winning midfielder has wildly exceeded expectations and has shown there’s more to him than just “grinta”. So far Gattuso looks a lot more like Capello than Brocchi and Pippo Inzaghi, all managers Milan promoted from the Primavera to the senior team.
After starting off with the ill advised 3 man defence, Gattuso has gotten the most out of his squad by sticking to the 4 3 3 formation and a regular cast of starters. Bonucci has morphed back into the defender he was at Juventus, and thanks to Romagnoli’s outstanding run of games, Milan is in the conversation for having the best centre back duo in Serie A.
Biglia is also following in Leo’s path of redemption, the former Lazio captain could be the perfect center piece in a midfield featuring Kessie’ and Bonaventura, who has been energized by Montella’s departure. As a matter a fact, most of Milan’s new players have performed much better in recent weeks, so much so that even sporting director Mirabelli’s image has been redeemed by the Ringhio makeover.
Federico Bernardeschi- just before suffering a knee injury which may cost him a significant chunk of the season, the former Fiorentina attacker had proven that he belonged at Juventus. Of course it took some time, since on top of Allegri’s tendency to always ease new players in his rotations, especially those coming from mid table teams or new leagues, Bernardeschi had to face a lot of competition at his position, but the recent injury to Cuadrado had finally given him a chance, which he took.
The highlight of Bernardeschi’s time in black and white so far was his game winning goal against his former team Fiorentina at the Franchi stadium, the same place where Roby Baggio famously refused to take a penalty kick out of respect for Fiorentina fans.
Bernardeschi’s performances have made him the main candidate to take over the Old Lady’s number ten, and unlike the previous holders of the storied jersey, he looks like he could hold on to it long term.
Under & Alisson- last summer Roma lost arguably the best keeper in Serie A from the previous season and the attacker who now looks like the best acquisition of the entire window. While it didn’t take long for Alisson to make everyone at Trigoria forget about Szczesny (who was so good for the giallorossi that Juventus picked him to be Buffon’s replacement), his recent performance in the Champions League against Shakhtar showed non Serie A fans why he’s so highly rated in Italy.
Napoli- despite still being at the top of the standings, the partenopei have had a challenging beginning to the new year. Despite numerous attempts to sign Simone Verdi and Matteo Politano, on top of the puzzling Younes’ situation, Napoli struck out in their efforts to improve Sarri’s squad- as a matter a fact their squad is arguably worse now than it was prior to Ghoulam’s first knee injury.
Simply put, with no restrictions from Financial Fair Play and a legitimate chance at a historic scudetto, Napoli had to do better than Hrvoje Milic as a reinforcement for the title run-in.
On top of the fiasco on the transfer market, Napoli got roasted by numerous pundits for their decision to essentially throw away both the Champions and Europa League. While this may end up being a pragmatic play to win the scudetto when you consider that the squad has very limited options at multiple positions, the partenopei missed a good branding opportunity- those who don’t watch Serie A regularly and who tuned in to their European matches to see what the fuss was all about regarding Sarri must have been as disappointed as the audiences at the latest Star Wars movie
Spalletti- while the Tuscan manager received a ton of praise for Inter’s strong start to the season, he’s been able to get a pass from pretty much everyone for the subsequent crisis. This is likely due to all the criticism being levied towards the nerazzurri’s ownership group Suning, for their inability to sign Javier Pastore during the January window, but if the poor results continue, it’s only a matter of time until his brand is also impacted.
In the first part of the season, we saw numerous Inter players showing improvement under Spalletti- especially Nagatomo, D’Ambrosio and Candreva, but their performances have now come back down to earth while midfielders like Vecino, Borja Valero and especially Gagliardini (who this time last year looked like a long time starter for both the nerazzurri and the Italian national team) have completely fallen off a cliff. If that weren’t enough, cross town rival Rino Gattuso is now the hot coaching name under la Madonnina.
Lazio- on the bright side Lazio had previously been able to sign Milinkovic Savic, Immobile, Strakosha and Luis Alberto to extension they failed to do so with Stefan de Vrij. The talented Dutch centre back’s current deal expires at the end of the season, and he’ll likely be joining Inter, a club Lazio is currently competing against for a Champions League spot, on a free transfer no less.
While Simone Inzaghi will at least be able to count on de Vrij through the end of the season, his now almost certain departure (and negotiations with his future club) may end up being a fairly significant distraction at a time that there’s a lot at stake in both Serie A and the Europa League for the biancocelesti.