With the January transfer window behind us and the return of European competitions we are finally starting the key stretch of the Serie A season, which is expected to be quite exciting. Unlike the other top leagues in Europe, we have a legitimate title race in Italy- but that is by no means the only juicy story line.
Can Milan make a late push for a Champions League spot? Will all three newly promoted teams return to Serie B? These are just some of the other things going on in the sunny peninsula, so with that in mind let’s look at some best and worst case scenarios for the top clubs in Italy…
Best Case- the partenopei received a lot of criticism for their lack of effort in the Europa League last Thursday, but not surprisingly most of the club’s fans were fine with Sarri’s approach. Going into 2018 the squad was already thin, especially up front, and after the club dramatically failed to make any additions in the January window, Ghoulam’s injury happened right as he was about to return, a development as devastating as one of the attacks in “Dunkirk”.
So at this point there is no middle ground: Napoli’s decision to punt all other competitions to solely focus on the scudetto will either result in De Laurentiis, Giuntoli and Sarri looking like pragmatic geniuses who deserve credit for knowing their team’s limitations or the team will be mocked for their lack of ambition or even be disparaged for not honoring the competitions they should feel honored being part of.
For Napoli to win the scudetto they’ll need to avoid any further injuries, hope Mario Rui returns to being the player he was at Empoli under Sarri, and get a great stretch run from their offensive trio of Insigne, Mertens and Callejon. But even that won’t likely be enough to win the scudetto, so they’ll also have to replicate Tottenham’s recent performance in Turin in what will likely be the key match to decide the next scudetto winner when they face Juventus in late April.
âWorst Case- should Napoli fail in their quest to win their first title in over 25 years, there will be a lot of chatter on how you can’t win with Sarri’s entertainment football and that the club squandered an opportunity to further establish their brand as the cool hipster team in Europe.
The lack of depth upfront may come back to bite the team should Mertens/Callejon and Insigne run out of gas, and not having a more reliable keeper than Pepe Reina could prove to be a downfall when competing with a team that has either Szczesny or Buffon sitting on the bench on any given match. Speaking of Juventus, should they be eliminated in this round of the Champions League their odds of winning their seventh scudetto in a row would likely rise considerably.
Best Case- Allegri is known for easing in his new players very slowly and for building up his teams so that they can peak in performance by March. While this approach causes a lot of consternation with fans of the Old Lady on Twitter, it has proven to be a winning a formula.
âPrior to suffering a recent injury, Bernardeschi looked like the latest beneficiary of Allegri’s slow but steady approach with new additions. His return along with Cuadrado’s could be the shot in the arm Juventus needs in the stretch run in Serie A.
âWhile Juventus struggled on defense in the first few months of the season as they adapted to life without Bonucci, they’ve received great performances from Benatia since the debacle against Sampdoria. Should Rugani and De Sciglio follow in the foot steps of the former Roma center back, Allegri could have a better squad than the one that lost in Cardiff.
âWorst Case- Allegri’s very pragmatic approach could really come back to bite him in the Champions League. While Juventus have made it to two out the last three finals, the puzzling match in the first leg against Tottenham could translate in Juventus second elimination in the round of sixteen in the past three years.
âJuventus are also facing their toughest opponent in Serie A since Ibrahimovic left for Paris St Germain, Napoli could end up stealing a page from Pochettino’s play book and take a giant leap forward towards the scudetto on April 22nd when they travel to Piemonte. It’s also not out of the question that the Buffon dilemma- should he retire or not?- could end up being a fairly significant distraction.
Best Case- the giallorossi had to a do a lot of damage control with their fan base after the club’s top striker Edin Dzeko almost joined Chelsea during the January transfer window. But now that Under has been carrying the team’s offense in recent weeks, Roma may have finally found the replacement for Salah and a partner for their Bosnian attacker.
Worst Case- should Under and Alisson start struggling it’s not out of the question that Roma could fall behind two out of Lazio, Milan and Inter in the standings ending their streaks of participations in the Champions League- a development which would prove disastrous for the club’s financial well being.
We may also look back to the January window as a huge sliding door moment- Roma sold a promising young left back in Emerson Palmieri while holding on to an older striker after investing significantly in Schick, history may tell us Roma should have done the opposite and focused on starting a real rebuild project.
Best Case- Milinkovic Savic’s stock on the transfer market continues to rise, while Felipe Anderson’s full time return to the starting lineup gives Simone Inzaghi even more option up front. Immobile goes on another scoring streak and challenges Higuain’s current record for goals in a season, while Luis Alberto ends up being the most improved player in Serie A.
âWorst Case- De Vrij and the club’s failure to agree to an extension become a major distraction while Lucas Leiva can’t keep up his imitation of Andrea Pirlo in his first season at Juventus. Inter gets back on track and/or Milan makes a late season push leaving Lotito’s club on the outside looking in of the Champions League.
Best Case- Karamoh becomes a full time starter, while Cancelo establishes himself as the best right back in Serie A. After fully regaining his match fitness, Rafinha becomes this season’s version of Salah becoming a key player on Spalletti’s squad after arriving during the January window. Thanks to Perisic returns to form, Icardi leads Serie A in scoring on his way to his first qualification to the Champions League.
Worst Case- Vecino and Gagliradini turn out to be complete busts, while Borja Valero becomes a full blown liability in the midfield. The tension in the locker room reaches new levels, Brozovic is forced to close down his Instagram account and both Icardi and Spalletti bail on the Suning project at the end of the season.
Best Case- while Milan has regretted promoting two of their former Primavera coaches in Brocchi and Inzaghi, Rino Gattuso follows in Fabio Capello’s foot steps. Capello had also been promoted from the top youth team, and while he inherited a much better squad than Ringhio today, it’s not out of the question that they follow a similar career path- former Milan players who become a very successful manager for the rossoneri.
Since Gattuso took over we’ve seen players like Kessie’, Bonaventura, Calhanoglu and Calabaria vastly improve while young striker Cutrone hasn’t stopped scoring. Should Biglia, Andre Silva and Conti (who is ready to return from his knee injury) give a further boost to the squad, Milan could make a late push for a Champions League spot.
Worst Case- while Stefano Pioli doesn’t have the same name recognition as Gattuso, this time last year he had Inter performing so well that many wondered if he should just keep the job rather than pursuing Antonio Conte- we all know how things ended up, and it’s not out of the question that Milan comes back down to earth.
Milan’s directors will also have to continue working on the ownership situation while making sure it doesn’t become a distraction for the team. In the coming weeks, there should be more developments with the refinancing of the debt owed to the Elliott Fund as well as the agreement with UEFA.