By Frank Risorto
The past month in Serie A has had it all! Late winners and second half comebacks (thank you Verona and Atalanta), individual goals of the highest calibre (take a bow SMS, Simeone, Scamacca) and high scoring draws (looking at you Udinese and Lazio).
You name it and if you’ve been watching Serie A you’ll have likely seen it!
We’ve got managers adapting on the run and transforming their sides for the umpteenth time and finding answers (Gasperini, Inzaghi, Tudor) and others still searching inside the pannettone box for their answers, (Allegri, Mourinho, Mazzarri) only coming up with crumbs.
So, let’s go for another 10 degrees of Serie A starting in Naples where …
Dries Merten’s doing his best impersonation of Ciro from Gomorrah, coming back from the supposed dead more than making up for the loss of injured Napoli striker Victor Osimhen.
The Belgian has turned back the clock and at the time of writing is averaging a goal every 42 minutes (hat tip to the always excellent @JoeFischetti5 for that stat) for I Partenopei.
With all expecting Andrea Petagna to fill the Osimhen void instead it fell to the diminutive Belgian and with five goals in five games Mertens has made a strong start to replacing the injured Nigerian.
Much to his mangers delight I’m sure, the Belgian’s proving there’s still a place in Naples for a small forward (just sign the deal Lorenzo!) certainly something that’s not quite happening in Udine as …
Beto, continues to make a name for himself.
Hands up at the start of the season had the 6’4” Portuguese striker transitioning into the one of the league’s most dangerous forwards? Can you hear that noise folks? That’s the sound of crickets.
Udinese are trying to rebuild post Rodrigo DePaul and Juan Musso, and like the ship stuck in the suez canal it’s been a slow process.
Beto gives the impression he’s trying to speed up the rebuild.
They don’t tank in Udine.
Try this comparison and see who’d you rather.
Player A (21 years-old) has started 15 Serie A matches and excluding penalties scored 8 goals at an average of a goal every 0.81 minutes and add to the mix successful defensive pressures as a forward 146 at 28%, three successful tackles, and a passing success rate of 69.8%.
Beto has started 13 Serie A matches and excluding penalties scored 8 goals at an average of a goal every 0.58 minutes, defensive pressures 176 at a success of 26%, ten successful tackles, and a passing success rate of 67.8%.
Player A is Fiorentina’s Dusan Vlahovic.
Yes, as always statistics can be misleading, and I’m not saying Beto is better than Vlahovic, you can pick and choose what’s relevant for your argument, but I get the sense it won’t be long before Beto will be on everyone’s tip sheet as one to watch. Same goes in Venezia where …
Paolo Zanetti’s side are riding the Serie A wave, getting dumped on one wave before coming up for air making their way out the back, and catching a perfect barrel on the next.
Their results this past six weeks (2W, 1D, 3L) and despite sitting 16th for most of the season it’s been the manner of their topsy turvy Serie A ride.
A scoreless draw against relegation rivals Genoa, a 3–2 win at home against AS Roma followed up by another home win against an in-form Bologna 1–0 then saw them lose 2–0 to Inter, a 4–0 loss to Atalanta in Bergamo and heartbreakingly lose 4–3 to Hellas Verona at home despite leading 3–0 at half-time.
American midfielder Gianluca Busio and Nigerian forward David Okereke have been standouts for Zanetti’s side but with a fixture list on the horizon including Juventus, Lazio, AC Milan, Inter and Napoli, Zanetti’s men need to take maximum points in their upcoming fixtures against Sampdoria, Empoli and Salernitana who desperately need …
Simy, to find his form of last season proving he’s more than a one season wonder in Italy’s topflight.
So far, the Nigerian looks out of touch and lacking in confidence, and if Salernitana are to get any return on their investment this season they’ll need more than the one goal and two assists the striker has returned in his first 16 matches for the club.
Fun fact, according to Transfermarkt, Simy has played 222 matches in his professional career with a return of 89 goals. He started one match as a left winger in 2018. His opponent that day in Serie B, Salernitana.
Was it living in Crotone’s relative anonymity that made Simy the player he was? Probably not, although it did in large part have something to do with a bloke who infamously once delivered electrical appliances around Turin …
Junior Messias, Serie A’s most famous ex-delivery driver.
The Brazilian’s improbable rise is one for the ages. His relationship with Simy saw the two reach their peak value and despite not being able to save Crotone ultimately from relegation the attacker made the move to the surprise of many to AC Milan.
We know Stefano Pioli isn’t one to throw his players in the deep end and often takes the slowly slowly approach when trying to integrate players with his system and it is slowly paying dividends of recent times with the Brazilian.
Scoring the winner against Atletico Madrid to steer AC Milan through to the knockout stages of the Champions League was worth the €2.6M loan fee (with an option to buy for a reported €5.4M fee).
Messias could turn out to be a handy replacement for the consistently inconsistent …
Hakan Calhanoglu, who’s already performing way above any of Inter’s expectations.
No one expected the Turkish attacking midfielder to adapt so quickly in Milan, something to be said maybe for having a player settled off the field — not having to move to a new city, learn a new language, take kids out of school etc.
Calhanoglu’s personally performing, dare I say it, at a level unseen in Milan (on the red and black side anyway) and his set pieces have already saved Inter on more than one occasion.
In what seems an unlikely pairing, Calhanoglu’s relationship with Brozovic on the field has been outstanding post Milan derby, and the two of them look like they’ve played together for years, something which no one could’ve predicted when the Turkish midfielder joined Inter.
His goals (four goals in the last five matches) and assists have won the large majority of Inter fans over and it’s a credit to his personality that even his general disposition looks to have improved since his move from AC Milan.
At times he looked as though he was playing with the world, or in some cases the crowd, on his back so it’s a refreshing change to see him playing with a smile on his face and who doesn’t love it when players express their emotion like …
Arthur Theate who’s attaining and building a cult following amongst Bologna fans.
The Belgian defender, who joined the club in the shadows of the Takehiro Tomiyasu deal, has proved an instant hit with the Bologna faithful not only for his performances but his enthusiasm and energy.
Whether it’s celebrating a goal or a tackle the Belgian, who plays well above his height of 1.86M, has proved a towering and energetic force at the back for Bologna.
And most importantly for Sinisa Mihajlovic’s side allowed Lorenzo De Silvestri to make the move to his preferred right-back, giving Theate the ability to add balance and speed to Bologna’s defensive central pairing alongside Adama Soumarao, something sorely lacking last season.
Theate’s performance against AS Roma was a standout as highlighted by @BelgianPlayers, and with the Belgian signing a one year loan deal, Bologna surely have in their hot hands the most obvious no doubt obligation to buy from parent club KV Oostende at seasons end.
Bologna have an absolute bargain on their hands which sounds like a phrase you would often hear in Bergamo, look no further than …
Mario Pasalic, the 26-year-old Atalanta midfielder who quietly has quietly gone about putting together, statistically at least, one of the best starts to a season for any player with more than 10 starts.
On track to surpass his most successful season in Italian football Pasalic in his first 11 games has more goals than Lorenzo Pellegrini (13 games), Nicolo Barella (15 games — give this man a rest!) and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (15 games).
Pasalic leads the league in assists, equal with Barella and SMS, has a successful passing rate a fraction behind Barella and SMS and has almost as many effective defensive pressures as Barella than all three players mentioned in less minutes on the pitch.
If the Croatian keeps this up the reported €14M Atalanta paid Chelsea a ridiculous fee in todays market.
Atalanta aren’t alone in rummaging around the bargain bin, Sassuolo are frequent visitors to the cheap shop yet it’s their talismanic and ‘do as I do, not as I say’ leader in …
Domenico Berardi who leads the way as always for the Neroverdi.
Fresh off winning the Euros this summer with Italy the forward got off to a slow start, much like his team, but as the season has progressed the Calabrian is warming up to the challenge and now with help up front, in the form of Gianluca Scamacca and Giacomo Raspadori, it doesn’t all rest on the shoulders of Berardi to be the creative and driving force behind Sassuolo’s rise up the standings.
If you were to extrapolate the 26-year-old’s season you’d see he’s well on his way to his most productive season in terms of goals and assists so far, (7 goals/5 assists) and compared to a few other creative forces around the league Berardi works his defensive tail off drawing more fouls than any Sassuolo player, recovering the ball more than any of his team-mates and is up there with two of his regular back three when it comes to defensive interceptions.
Fun fact, my dad refuses to learn Berardi’s name and still refers to him as ‘the Calabrian from Sassuolo’ and no matter how many times I correct him, it’s the Calabrian who’s won the heart of my football loving father.
An attacking wide winger who with positional duality who can score goals and apply defensive pressure like few in his side?
Sounds like the idea of a player any side would love to have at their disposal, in particular …
Max Allegri, who is in desperate need of something, anything, to give the Turin side a renewed sense of hope heading into 2022.
For so long the dominant force in Italian football Juventus look bereft of ideas, tactics and I’ll say this as quietly and discreetly, look a shadow of themselves.
Is it too late for them to make their run? Am I seriously ruling Juventus out of the Scudetto race before Christmas, surely not?
This seems impossible, but if they want to make a run at Inter’s heavyweight title they better get a move along.
Sidenote. Will Chiesa even want to stay next season if they don’t finish in the top four?
To finish off December Juve take on Venezia, Bologna, and Cagliari whilst they open the new year with back to back fixtures against Napoli and Roma.
Whatever Allegri wants and needs for his side to transition to a competitive side it’s got to come quick otherwise the Turin side may find themselves looking up on la classifica at a few provincial clubs who would gladly swap Juve’s ‘struggles’ for their own if it means finishing in the top six.
Allegri has looked frustrated, dazed and confused and is struggling to find his sides identity and what he wants Juve to be going forward and with Giuseppe Marotta no longer at the club it certainly has a ‘lunatic’ and ‘asylum’ feel about the place.
Merry Christmas all, thanks for reading and stay safe.