The first nine or ten matches of the season are what’s known as the getting to know you phase. It’s at that point where we have a good understanding of what each team will be about and can get a real feel for the title contenders, title pretenders, and who’s doomed for the drop, writes Frank Crivello.
After seven match weeks in this Serie A season, I feel pretty good about what we are going to get with each team.
A combination of our season preview podcast over at Serie A Sitdown, along with my final table predictions, are looking pretty decent. Some teams have exceeded expectations (Lazio) while others are failing to live up to them (Sassuolo), so let’s have a look at each team, what we’ve learned, and what might be expected. We’ll conduct this based on table position, BUT, will go from worst to first this time.
- What we’ve learned: They are who we thought they were, to take a line from a ranting American football coach from a few years ago. Punching way above their weight, with the lack of talent to compete in the league, which was most evident in their back–to–back drubbings at the hands of Napoli and Lazio.
- What we might expect: That they’re in 20th and they are there to stay. Sure, they might steal a point from a team here and there, and maybe grab one win, but this is a bridge way too far for Benevento.
- What we’ve learned: That their table position may not do them justice. Sure, they have only two points from their first seven games, but they have had to deal with Juventus, Lazio and Inter among their early fixtures. They put up a fight in each of those matches, too. Ivan Juric is right — the Grifone are putting in some good performances, especially goalkeeper Mattia Perin.
- What we might expect: That Genoa won’t be in this position for long, and that wins will eventually come. A goalscorer is desperately needed; maybe wunderkind Pietro Pellegri channels his “next Messi” potential (though I still think Preziosi is ridiculous for making that statement). The team is better than a handful of the sides ahead of them, and their table position will soon match their talent.
18. Hellas Verona
- What we’ve learned: When Verona lose, they get hammered. Also, it doesn’t help that they opened their season playing the likes of Napoli, Roma, Sampdoria and Lazio (though they did manage a draw against Samp). It also doesn’t look good losing 5-0 at home to a Fiorentina side that were in reorganizing mode. They have plenty of Serie A experience in their team, but they’re just not living up to it.
- What we might expect: They went into the International break with a comeback draw at Torino, indicative of the fight that many of us expected of them. They have Benevento home and Chievo away in their next two fixtures, and a minimum of 4 points is very attainable before going to Atalanta and hosting Inter. Hellas Verona have the experience, now they need the production to match it.
- What we’ve learned: That Eusebio di Francesco was an absolute magician in his time with the Neroverde. Cristian Bucchi brought with him an attractive brand of football that should suit the likes of Matteo Politano, Diego Falcinelli and Domenico Berardi. They might have had some difficult matches to start this campaign, but no way would I have believed anyone that this crop of attackers would only have four goals through their first seven games. Something is not right at the Mapei.
- What we might expect: Chievo, at SPAL, and Udinese is a fixture list that is great opportunity for the Neroverde to bounce back. At least six points should happen here, if not all nine, before the trip to Napoli to validate the players’ belief in Bucchi’s project. However, if the points continue to be dropped, Bucchi might find his seat to be uncomfortably warm.
- What we’ve learned: The obvious — that it was going to take something special to get them scoring goals without Diego Falcinelli’s services. Rolando Mandragora has proven a bright spot in their midfield. I predicted relegation for them, and draws with fellow relegation strugglers Verona and SPAL are not particularly encouraging.
- What we might expect: In the short term, a team headed towards the drop zone, and maybe for the long term as well. Torino, at Sampdoria, at Roma, and Fiorentina is not a friendly slate for a team that desperately needs points, not to mention goals.
- What we’ve learned: Pesky little bunch, aren’t they? Gave Napoli a real test and were seven minutes away from denying the Partenopei their perfect record. Milan needed two penalties to beat them, and Inter left it late in beating them too. Leonardo Semplici’s men are proving a handful. Ask Lazio how hard it was to score on them.
- What we might expect: With the performances to date against the better sides, SPAL might have some staying power to them. They need to get more wins; at Bologna will be a challenge, but home to a struggling Sassuolo provides a good chance to do so. I think the stubbornness they have played with so far this season will be a staple of their survival aspirations, and the big boys are going to continue having fits against them.
- What we’ve learned: The Sardinians might be the happiest of the teams in the bottom half; away matches with Juventus, Milan and Napoli are all in the past. Their defending is a little better this season, but that’s not saying a lot considering how porous they were last time around. Cagliari are showing off a creative spark with Joao Pedro, and a young revelation in Nicolo Barella. However, no goals in their last three games is cause for concern.
- What we might expect: Massimo Rastelli’s men are good enough to comfortably survive this season with what they’ve had on offer. Someone has to step up and do the goalscoring. The defending is better, as mentioned, but it might still be an issue going forward. At Lazio and at Torino are among their next four fixtures, where that may yet again get exposed. Wins at home against Genoa and Benevento coming up would take some of the pressure off.
- What we’ve learned: That their growing pains are real. Prior to their surprise 4-0 win over Sampdoria, Udinese had conceded 13 goals in their first six matches. And no, Napoli wasn’t among those games (even though Roma and Torino were). Luigi Del Neri is relying on younger players more than veterans to see it through, so it had to be expected that there would be early struggles.
- What we might expect: That the shock win over Samp will be the exception more than the norm. Fiorentina away, and home dates with Juventus and Atalanta are among the upcoming fixtures. While they were tough on Juve in two games last season, it’s hard to see them sustain that at this point. And yet, they’re 13th. I predicted that they’d finish there, and in all likelihood this is where they’ll be wallowing for the rest of the season.
- What we’ve learned: That despite the player turnover, you could argue that Stefano Pioli’s rebuilding project is ahead of schedule. They got over the nasty opening defeats to crush Verona 5-0, beat a better–than–you–think Bologna, gave Juventus a fight, and drew against Atalanta (with everybody feeling they deserved to win). The Chievo defeat is typical of the setbacks you’d expect of this team, but this is a better start from La Viola than I expected.
- What we might expect: Fiorentina are not going to threaten for a European place this season, but they look like they are making the progress to finish comfortably in the top half. Federico Chiesa is assuming the responsibilities expected of him with all the departures, and the new players are starting to settle in. There will be disappointing defeats along the way to stunt their upward mobility in the table, but under Pioli, this is a team that will make life difficult for the better teams.
- What we’ve learned: That Gasperini’s men are definitely serious about their Europa League aspirations, as evidenced by their masterclass over Everton and their hard fought draw at Lyon. Domestically, they overcame a brutal opening slate to the season (Roma home, Napoli away) and have gotten back on track, including a comeback draw against Juventus. Papu Gomez has picked up where he left off last season.
- What we might expect: The success in Europe will continue and we should expect them to contend for another European place for next season. With the talent and new signings starting to gel, Atalanta won’t be 11th for long.
- What we’ve learned: Roberto Donadoni’s predicted demise as manager by many might be premature. The Rossoblu have proven to be a tough draw for everyone, aside from Napoli of course. They drew with Torino, gave Fiorentina a battle before losing, and outplayed Inter in a draw that they deserved to win. Simone Verdi has been at the center of this with his performances, but the defense have performed admirably. Set aside the 3-0 loss to Napoli, and they’re only conceding a goal every other game.
- What we might expect: I’m not sure that Bologna have the depth of squad to sustain this form. SPAL, at Atalanta, Lazio, and at Roma is a daunting slate for Donadoni’s men to navigate. Come out of this with six points, and Bologna will need to be taken seriously as a mid-table team.
- What we’ve learned: That Rolando Maran’s men are going to attack. Maran’s men are also going to have little to no regard for defending, as evidenced by just one clean sheet in a win at Cagliari. Chievo have been led by Roberto Inglese, Valter Birsa, and Lucas Castro. Those three have formed a nice nucleus, and others have contributed too. Chievo have the look of a classic mid-table Serie A team.
- What we might expect: It will be hard to see them any higher than this. Atalanta and Fiorentina will get better (despite Chievo taking four of a possible six points off them). I just don’t think the defending is good enough for Chievo to sustain a top half place. Additionally, Roberto Inglese being owned by Napoli is something to keep an eye on; he may be headed back to the Partenopei in January.
- What we’ve learned: That they are genuine contenders for a European place, and they are going to ruin somebody’s season. Marco Giampaolo has been able to integrate the new signings with surprising effect, and is steadily becoming one of Italy’s up–and–coming managers. I’m not bothered by the 4-0 defeat at Udinese; they played most of the match with ten men, and three of the goals were penalties. Duvan Zapata and Gianluca Caprari are coming along nicely, and Samp have been able to rely on old-man Fabio Quagliarella for goals, too. Signoro Ferrero looks as though his next profit will be off of Lucas Torreira, a beast of a midfielder who is proving his talent with each game.
- What we might expect: For everyone to catch on to the quality of this team, and Giampaolo’s qualities as manager. Future Italy National Team coach? I think he could be. Anyway, Samp are going to pull off more surprises this season — a 5th or 6th place finish is not beyond their reach.
- What we’ve learned: That the process is going to take a little longer than die hard Milanisti would prefer. I in particular hoped that the team would have gelled before the match against Roma. Truth is, it’s unreasonable to expect eleven new signings to integrate with existing players and be cohesive in quick fashion. The good? They are beating the teams they should be beating, and have had games they won that they wouldn’t lost or drawn in the past. The bad? They looked way off the pace at Lazio and at Sampdoria. The Roma defeat was the first good opponent where they kept themselves in it, but eventually bottomed out. This team needs more time.
- What we might expect: That there is too much talent to be this mediocre against the big boys for long. The Milan Derby is this weekend, so I’m not delusional in thinking that the mediocrity will all of a sudden vanish. With Juventus also coming up, there better be some urgency. Milan need to finish top four to validate all the signings, and don’t want too big a mountain to climb.
- What we’ve learned: That they still stink defensively. ten goals conceded in their last four matches will make it very hard for the Granata to maintain this position. Worse, Andrea Belotti is now out for an indeterminate time through injury. For a team that was so reliant on his goals last season, this is a big problem.
- What we might expect: A lot of thrilling multiple goal games with Torino just finishing short of the European places. If anything, the games should be a great watch for neutrals. Roma and Fiorentina away are two of their next four fixtures.
- What we’ve learned: That Eusebio di Francesco is the next big thing in a line of quality Italian managers. Lost Paredes, Salah, and Rudiger? No biggie — the Giallorossi are clipping along with fourteen goals and four against in just six games. Reigning Capocannoniere Edin Dzeko is getting among the goals again, which is not good news for the rest of Serie A. Take away twenty awful – and I mean awful – minutes in that home defeat to Inter, and Roma would have a 100% record. Rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.
- What we might expect: Clearly you still can’t expect 87 points like last season. We’ll also see how they perform when the meat of the Champions League group games come thick and fast. Home and away with Chelsea followed by Atletico Madrid are not going to be helpful among Serie A games where Roma are chasing a top four place. Despite the strong start, I think you still have to expect a little regression. We’ll see when they come back from this break, as they host Napoli.
- What we’ve learned: Rumors of Lazio’s demise might have been greatly exaggerated, too. Simone Inzaghi has done a great job in moulding the Biancacelesti into a competitive side again this season. They lose Lucas Biglia and Keita Balde, plus Felipe Anderson hasn’t played a game yet, and they’re still winning games. Ciro Immobile’s goalscoring form has been immense, but flying under the radar is the play of Sergei Milinkovic-Savic, who has happily taken the reigns in the midfield. Luis Alberto has also been a revelation so far.
- What we might expect: That this is going to be hard for them to sustain. Some of this start has been the fortune of some easy opponents (despite only drawing against SPAL). Lazio were tagged at home by Napoli, which is worrying as to how good they’ll be against some of the better teams around them. Milan should be better than when Lazio beat them 4-1 earlier this season as well. Tougher times may be ahead.
- What we’ve learned: The best defense in Serie A is… Inter? Yep, just three goals against in their first seven; not even Juventus can say that. The trio of Perisic-Icardi-Candreva can be better under Luciano Spalletti than Salah-Dzeko-Perotti when the manager was at Roma last season. Flew out of the blocks with convincing wins over Fiorentina and at Roma.
- What we might expect: It still concerns me that there are games where they are not at their sharpest and that has been evident recently. They were lucky to get a point at Bologna, and needed everything in the tank to beat SPAL, Genoa and Benevento. While the opening two wins are impressive, what do we have with this Inter team? If the mentality issues of last season creep back in, then this third-placed start is definitely not sustainable. A dip in form will come, and we’ll know what we have with Inter at that point, and how they cope with it.
- What we’ve learned: That their best defense this season might be their attack. The Bianconeri have twenty goals through their first seven games, and have scored multiple times in every game bar one (the 1-0 win over Fiorentina). Had it not been for Napoli’s blistering start, we’d be talking more about Juve’s attack. Paulo Dybala, in particular, has been fantastic domestically, with a league–leading ten goals. There’s still a concern about his presence in big away matches, and hopefully that is something he overcomes. Juventus, meanwhile, have overcome injuries, showing their depth. And it’s Juventus — the defense will continue to improve.
- What we might expect: That they are the defending champions and will contend for the Scudetto once again. Napoli won’t be perfect this season, and the time will come when they drop points. The Old Lady still have the experience and the leadership to navigate through this season.
- What we’ve learned: That they are absolutely ruthless going forward. Maurizio Sarri’s men are off to a played seven, won seven start, with 25 goals in the for column. That’s a pace for 136 goals this season! Dries Mertens shouldered a lot of the scoring load last season; this season it’s been more balanced, and that’s a scary proposition for defenses. The defending so far is holding up as well, but there is still concern about defending set piece situations, and they have conceded a couple goals that way too.
- What we might expect: For them to be title contenders with Juventus, but definitely have to expect a regression as well. Napoli have a 100% record, but largely they’ve beaten bottom half teams, with the win at home against Atalanta and the away victory at Lazio the two exceptions. When pushed by Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, they didn’t come through. We’ll see what the Partenopei are really made of right away, too; at Roma, at Manchester City (Champions League), and home versus Inter are their next three games.