Something about this time of year brings out the good in all of us. For a short while, we set aside hostilities, we’re a bit nicer to each other, and are at our most giving. So let me take that theme and apply it to Serie A, writes Frank Crivello.
This week, I’m going to offer you my wish for every team in the peninsula’s top flight. No, this won’t be a list of needs for every team in January.
If you listened to me on Serie A Sitdown last January, you’ll know my feelings on the winter transfer mercato — it’s all talk and speculation, with hardly anything getting done, unless a side is trying to avoid relegation, in which case they’ll make a move or two out of desperation. This is just a bit of fun. Let’s start from the bottom.
- Benevento. My wish for them is that they win a game. Simple. Roberto De Zerbi has them playing a little better, but the writing is on the wall as to their survival hopes. Seeing as we won’t see them in Serie A next season, let’s hope they at least get a win under their belt. The fans deserve it. Unfortunately it may not happen until February 18th at home against Crotone, or March 4th at home against Verona. Or April 22nd at Milan (sorry, had to do it).
- Hellas Verona. My wish for them is that Alessio Cerci becomes the Cerci of Torino and not the Cerci of Atletico Madrid or Milan. Cerci has shown flashes since joining Verona but not consistency. If he can find that form that he had at Torino when he partnered with Ciro Immobile in attack, then Hellas Verona will have every chance of surviving the drop.
- Genoa. My wish for them is for the results to keep coming under Davide Ballardini. Since taking over, he has gotten Genoa eight points from his first five Serie A matches in charge, including draws with Roma and Fiorentina. This is form that can help the Grifone work their way up the table and be safe from relegation. The team is too talented to end up in Serie B, and Ballardini is getting the results.
- SPAL. My wish for them is for Marco Borriello to get back on track and find his goal-scoring form again. Borriello got in a bit of a row with supporters after their draw with Verona that he has since apologized for. When SPAL signed him, they were clearly looking for more of a return than one goal in nine appearances. SPAL have some decent pieces in attack who are popping up for goals, but the 35-year old Borriello can still be the most prolific of them. SPAL will need it.
- Crotone. My wish for them is that new manager Walter Zenga can conjure up the magic that Davide Nicola did last season. Only two games in charge so far, Zenga has overseen a 2-1 defeat at Sassuolo and a 1-0 over Chievo at home. A small sample size it may be, but this kind of form against bottom half teams will help keep Crotone up. The form of Juventus loanee Rolando Mandragora and scoring from Ante Budimir will go a long way.
- Cagliari. My wish for them is that they learn to defend better. They’re conceding at a lower rate than last season, but they’re still worrying enough. The play of Leonardo Pavoletti has been important; he’s picked up where Borriello left off. Nicolo Barella has become a revelation, and one of Italy’s rising young stars. They have playmaking midfielders in Paolo Farago and Joao Pedro. Now, the defense has to tighten up, and if it does, Cagliari could yet be a pleasant surprise in the second half of the season.
- Sassuolo. My wish for them is obvious: more goals. A lot more goals. Matteo Politano has stepped it up in recent weeks, but in an attacking trio with Domenico Berardi and Diego Falcinelli, much more was expected. Giuseppe Iachini has taken over from Christian Bucchi as manager, and he’ll be tasked with getting the most out of this group. Just 5 goals have come from that front three so far in Serie A, and as a team, they have 11 goals through 17 games. Sassuolo should be better than this.
- Bologna. My wish for them is that they hang on to Roberto Donadoni as manager for as long as they can. Donadoni has done a great job in molding a nucleus of young talent. Simone Verdi is having a breakout season, and there are some nice pieces with Ibrahima Mbaye, Erick Pulgar and Adam Masina to name just a few. They’re not household names, but as a collective, they have given their opponents fits this season. Roberto Donadoni is getting a lot out of this group.
- Udinese. My wish for them is that they can hold on to Massimo Oddo for as long as they can. Fine, it’s repetitive, but since taking over, Oddo has the Zebrette flying. He debuted with a 1-0 loss to Napoli; he can be forgiven for that. Since then, Udinese have ripped off three straight wins in Serie A, including handing Inter their first defeat of the season at the San Siro. This is a team to watch for the second half of the season. They might be laying a foundation for what Udinese were when this millennium was in its infancy.
- Chievo. My wish for them is to figure out how this will work without Roberto Inglese. By all accounts, Inglese will be joining Napoli in January, and the Flying Donkeys are struggling for goals with him there. More will be needed from Manuel Pucciarelli, Lucas Castro and Valter Birsa, or things could get pretty uncomfortable. With the defensive issues Chievo have at times, this team could be in for a free fall. They’ll need the attack to be sharp.
- Torino. My wish for them is obvious: that Andrea Belotti regains the form that put a €100 million pricetag on his head. Some of this is harsh, because Belotti had been injured for a period, but one thing Torino has going for them is that the defending is a bit better than last season. Now they need their ace to come through with the goals. If that can happen, the Granata are a serious contender for a European place. Belotti already has the goal of the season; now he needs to produce more.
- Fiorentina. My wish for them is to simply keep it going. The first half of the season was supposed to be all about growing pains for Stefano Pioli and his men. We’ve said it repeatedly: La Viola are ahead of schedule in their rebuilding project. Federico Chiesa is the player among the young Italian stars; week in, week out, he’s showing his quality. Jordan Veretout has been under-the-radar impressive, too. There’s plenty to be excited about in Tuscany these days, so let’s hope, for the Fiorentina supporters’ sake, that they can sustain it.
- AC Milan. My wish for them is for Gennaro Gattuso to figure out that Andre Silva should be the everyday striker, flanked by Giacomo Bonaventura and Suso. I don’t know what the appeal of Nikola Kalinic is; I’ve never rated him, and as a Milan fan, I never wanted him at the club. Forget about the behind-the-scenes financial stuff, I care more (at the moment) about the product on the pitch. The Croatian “striker” has been given enough chances; it’s time to give the young Portuguese starlet a chance.
- Atalanta. My wish for them is that they make a deep run in the Europa League. Winning a group over the more brand names like Lyon and Everton was nice, but what a great advert it would be for Serie A if Gasperini’s men could at least crack the last eight of this competition. The talent is there, even if Leonardo Spinazzola joins Juventus in January. Papu Gomez and Josep Ilicic have been fantastic, and the midfield has provided a nice balance of defensive steel and attacking power.
- Sampdoria. My wish for them is to prove that they didn’t peak after beating Juventus a month ago. Since beating the Old Lady, Marco Giampaolo’s men have been winless in Serie A. Most recently, the draw at Cagliari and the loss at home to Sassuolo have been the most head-scratching. This was the team that was bothering everybody for the first third of the season, and now they need a lift to get back on track. The quality is there, as evidenced by a breakout season from Lucas Torreira and dependable scoring from Duvan Zapata and Fabio Quagliarella.
- Lazio. My wish for them is that Simone Inzaghi remains at Lazio for life. I’ve called him a Lazio lifer on this blog before, but with the job he has done with the Biancacelesti, bigger clubs will take notice and sniff around to gauge his interest. Ciro Immobile is reborn as the lead striker, and Luis Alberto has become their latest revelation this season, along with Sergei Milinkovic-Savic. Oh, and Felipe Anderson is getting fit too. Lazio aren’t going away from this table position any time soon, and could yet mount a belated title challenge.
- Roma. My wish for them is that this is all real, and Eusebio Di Francesco really has put a spine in this team. The players were there to be in this position, but no one (except me) gave them a chance in a Champions League group that included Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. The Giallorossi are not as dependent on Edin Dzeko bagging all the goals as they used to be, and in Aleksandar Kolarov, they might have the signing of the season in Serie A.
- Inter. My wish for them is that they continue to be the third team in the Scudetto discussion. I’m saying that as a Milan fan, but more so as someone who loves this league. We all expect to see Napoli and Juventus at the top, but the more teams that can join them, the better. This does mean that Inter will have to be mentally strong when the inevitable dips in form come, something that they (nor Luciano Spalletti) have historically dealt well with. And yet, with Mauro Icardi bagging goals like they are going out of style, Inter have a real shot.
- Juventus. My wish for them is that Paulo Dybala gets back to his early season form, and is able to show it both home and away. The Old Lady are back to doing that thing where they don’t let anybody score; in the last month, they have clean sheets from games against Barcelona, Napoli and Inter, but now they need to be more prolific going forward, and they need more out of their talented number 10. I said it in a previous piece: Dybala has been given a shirt that comes with big responsibility, so if he can live up to it, then Juventus are in for a big second half of the season.
- Napoli. My wish for Napoli is health. They’ll need it if they are going to sustain a Scudetto run. Long-term injuries to Arkadiusz Milik and especially Faouzi Ghoulam have had an impact. Missing Lorenzo Insigne over a few games exposed some issues in their play in the final third as well. The squad is not very deep; we praised Napoli for doing next to nothing in the summer mercato, but now their depth is being tested. Juventus have shown that they’re not going away and may be getting stronger. It will take Maurizio Sarri having his best available squad to hold off the challenge of the Old Lady, or any of the other title contenders.