Juve have dominated the Serie A for the last seven seasons, with no challenger really coming close to contesting the ‘Old Lady’ for the title of Italy’s best team. Looking back, Italian football in general has taken a decline in terms of quality of players entering the league, football being played and financial incentive and management from the Serie A commission. Unlike the Premiere League, where even the relegated clubs are making near €100 Mio through the Premiere League’s new TV broadcasting deal, Serie A clubs don’t attract the same kind of attention. Aside from Juventus, the last club to step-up internationally was Inter Milan, when they won their famous treble in 09/10. Since then, they have, like their neighbours, fallen into both financial and sporting decline. Both Milan clubs are now under foreign ownership, and are slowly steering themselves towards the top of the Serie A again. In their absence, Napoli and Roma have stepped up as Juve’s prime contenders to the throne, but at the end of the day, come nowhere close to competing with the Turin club. We will take a look at Juve’s main competitors in the Serie A this year, and analyse what steps they must take to stop Juventus from winning an eighth championship.
- Fill the holes at the back
While Roma did have the second best defence in the Serie A last year, conceding 38 goals in total (Juve only had 27), Eusebio Di Francesco’s men have to compensate the loss of Antonio Rüdiger to Chelsea, along with the departure of Mario Rui to Napoli. Their departure leaves holes at the right-back, left-back and centre-back spot (Rüdiger played both at right and centre-back for them last season). The possible departure of Kostas Manolas to Zenit also doesn’t make the situation look any better. The addition of Hector Moreno does add an extra body add centre-back, but whether Federico Fazio and he can deal with the likes of Gonzalo Higuian or more agile players like Dries Mertens remains to be seen. The right back spot seems to be filled by Rick Karsdorp, who arrived from Feyenord, but if he can fit into the more tactical environment of Italian football is also another open question. Hence, signing a quality centre-back and another backup to the left-back spot, given that either Bruno Peres or Emerson start on that left-side, would give the Roma necessary depth to push Juventus over thirty-eight games.
- Domenico Berardi
The loss of Mohamed Salah may sting a bit, but the €42 Mio they received is a fair compensation for his talents. The next step would be to replace the quick Egyptian, and there is one name that has proven time and time again that he is ready to step into the picture of a bigger Serie A club. Domenico Berardi. The young Italian winger, only 23, is partially owned by Di Francesco’s ex-club Sassuolo and Juventus, therefore he would not come cheap. This should not matter for them as he has shown repeatedly over the last three seasons that he can carry a team via his natural goal driven instincts and ability to involve his team-mates in attacks. Berardi would also be no stranger to Di Francesco; therefore he would be able to work with a coach who can maximise his strengths.
- Sign a competent backup for Dzeko
While Edin Dzeko has regained his goal-scoring touch that he appeared to have lost in his final two seasons at Manchester City, he is already 31 and is not getting any younger. He did remain largely injury free last year, but that does not mean you should not prepare for the worst. Even if Dzeko does not suffer drastic injuries, a competent back-up would relieve some of the pressure of Dzeko, and allow him to rest against less formidable opponents.
- Rotate the youngster’s into the team
If you look at the Napoli team on paper, they have a lot of quality in their starting line-up, but they have even more untapped talent in their reserves. Last year, Amadou Diawara and Piotr Zielinski were two of the youngster that made their break-through into the first team, and by the end of the year, were playing some significant minutes. This year, Napoli has Marko Rog, Alberto Grassi and new addition Adam Ounas to add to that talented line-up. With these youngsters, Mauricio Sarri has talented back-up options for almost every position on the team, and shouldn’t be afraid on giving the youngster a chance to shine.
2. Switch to three at the back
This may seem redundant given that Napoli were the highest scoring team in the Serie A last season, while also only conceding 39 goals, which was the third best rating behind the aforementioned Roma and Juve, but if Napoli want to maximise the attacking potential of Dries Mertens and Arkadius Milik, they need to switch systems. If Sarri were to employ a 3-5-2 system, with a three-man defence consisting of Koulibaly, Albiol or Tonelli and new addition Nikola Maksimovic, it would allow Napoli to dominate most opposing midfields with Faouzi Ghoulam and Elseid Hysaj playing as wing-backs (Jose Callejon may get the nod over Hysaj) and a central midfield trio of Hamsik, Jorginho and Zielinski providing energy and passes to the front-men. Alternatively, they could also switch to 3-4-3, keeping the same front-three system of last year, yet sacrificing a man in the centre of midfield.
- Find out what works and what doesn’t
Milan have been the most active team in this year’s transfer window so far, spending almost close to €200 Mil (if the Bonucci deal goes through) on new players. Along with the potential arrival (return) of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Milan has a strong-case for the Serie A this season. But, unlike in the play-station game, putting all their big-names into the starting line-up may not produce the best results. Vincenzo Montella should take his time to figure out what system suits his players the best, and which selection of his players complement each other.
2.Clear-out the excess
Milan’s summer spending has added nine new players to the team, while only three players have departed (Juraj Kucka, Keisuke Honda and Andrea Poli), which leaves Milan with a squad of thirty-seven players, and with another two potentially arriving as well, it would good for squad environment and also financially to cut some ties with players who no longer contribute meaningfully. In defence, the arrival of Musacchio and the potential arrival of Bonucci should see some combination of Gabriel Paletta, Cristian Zapata, Jherson Vergara and Rodgrigo Ely depart. Similarly, the additions of Andrea Conti and Ricardo Rodriguez should spell the end for either Luca Antonelli or Leonel Vangioni, with Vangioni being the more likely candidate. On the other side, Conti’s arrival signals the end of Ignazio Abate’s time in Milan, but that will depend on if Mattia De Sciglio is included in the deal for Bonucci. In midfield, Jose Sosa should be sold and Manuel Locatelli could possibly be loaned out to gain some experience given the increased competition for places in central midfield. In attack, Gianluca Lapadula should be offloaded, along with M’Baye Niang, who does not want to remain with the club. Yet, Niang’s future could change depending on what happens to Carlos Bacca. Overall, Milan could clear up to eight roster spots with the sales of, as well as achieving some revenue.
- Stop signing short-term/Find a plan
From all the teams on this list, Inter are probably the furthest away from ending Juve’s dominance. Inter’s transfer strategy has been all-over the place in recent years, overpaying on foreign youngsters, while gambling on players that just don’t fit their system. The constant alteration of coaching staff probably has not helped the team either. Inter need to sit-down and outline a plan on where the club is going, and that plan should consist of building a team that will develop over time. With Mauro Icardi, they have a talented player in his prime, ready to take on the title of ‘saviour’. If new manager Dario Baccin wants to maximise his talents, they should aim to build around the Argentinian. The addition of Milan Skriniar looks promising, but they have once again negated away from that path by signing Borja Valero, who at 32 is no longer at the heights of his talents. Inter have some talented midfielders by the names of Joao Mario, Marcelo Brozovic and Roberto Gagliardini, and the addition of Valero adds some experience, but he is basically the same player as Ever Banega only two years older, who they sold back to Sevilla after one year in Italy. Besides that, Inter’s main contributors from last year, with the exception of Icardi, are Perisic(29) and Candreva(30), with the former being linked with a move to Manchester United. This doesn’t qualify as a platform from which the team can build around, and Inter would be better suited to cash-in on Perisic and bring in some younger players.
2.Don’t give up on Gabigol
When Inter confirmed the signing of Brazilian youngster Gabriel Barbosa or Gabigol last summer for €29.5 Million, many were looking forward to seeing the man dubbed as ‘new Neymar’ show off his talents at the San Siro. In total, Barbosa appeared for a total of 111 minutes in the Serie A and played 72 minutes in the Coppa Italia. He registered a singular goal. Not exactly the ‘Neymar-like’ performances that one had expected. That shouldn’t concern Inter or Gabigol too much as he is obviously talented, and had a tough time integrating into his new surroundings. The young Brazilian needs time to find his feet, and while this season he may go out on loan, he shouldn’t be written off as a flop already. It is also difficult to integrate into the tactical nature of the Serie A, especially coming from Brazil, on a team where he had almost unlimited freedom to do whatever he wanted with the ball. If Inter play their cards right, and let the youngster develop, over time, we should see a player comparable to another gifted Brazilian striker that donned the Inter jersey.