Nick Jehamy | January 3rd, 2020
Italian soccer league, Serie A, for once is not just Juventus sitting at the top of the table with Napoli just barely holding on behind them enough to make things interesting. Napoli is currently out of the top six, whereas Juventus sits tied atop the table in jeopardy of winning another championship to make it nine in a row. Inter Milan is tied at the top with Juventus, followed by Lazio, Roma, Atalanta, and Cagliari. Can Lazio or Roma catch up with the two at the top? Who will place in the top six cup-qualifying positions at the end of the season? Let’s take a look at the clubs in that position right now. The top four clubs at the end of the season qualify for the Champions League, fifth place qualifies for the Europa League group stage and the sixth place club qualifies for the Europa League Qualifiers.
Top Six in the Table
Internazionale Milan (1st Place, 42 Points)
Inter Milan has three fourth-place finishes in the last five years, finishing in seventh and eighth the other two. This year is different as they have decided to give Juventus a run for their money and run Juventus off their league winning streak. Inter Milan’s last championship win was in 2010, the last of a five-year winning streak and one year before the last time Juventus didn’t win it. Halfway through the season, Inter has an identical record to Juventus but leads the league in both the least goals against and goal differential.
Inter Milan has one of the best defensive lines in Serie A which is notoriously known for having some of the strongest defensive clubs in Europe, with the likes of Milan Skriniar and Stefan de Vrij. Goalkeeper Samir Handanovic currently leads the league with seven clean sheets on the season as Inter Milan leads the league with a total of 14 goals given up through 17 matches. Offensively Inter has possibly one of Europe’s best strikers in Romelu Lukaku who currently is second in Serie A with 12 goals scored. The pairing of Lukaku and Argentinian Lautaro Martinez at the front line with Skriniar and Vrij holding the backline has been a key to Inter’s success and hoping to keep Inter in the fight with Juventus through the end of the season.
The transfer window is one that Inter will be affected by for better or worse. Inter has multiple of their depth players being looked at by other clubs, as well as still being in the buyers market this January. The result of this transfer window can possibly be the turning point in their push to take the Serie A title.
Inter Milan comes back to Serie A play on January 6th against Napoli. After a disappointing Champions League, Inter match against Ludogorets in what can be the beginning of a contending run at the Europa League title.
Juventus F.C. (2nd Place, 42 Points)
The all-time winningest club in Serie A, Juventus are making a run for their ninth title in a row, but aren’t going to win it so easily this time around. Currently on pace to replicate last year’s numbers they may have to do better than that if they want to win the league title this year with how Inter has been playing. Losing the Super Coppa to Lazio before the end of the calendar year was disappointing but they look to bounce back after the winter break.
Juventus has had the best defense in Serie A over the past few seasons, giving up the fewest goals in Serie A each of the last five years. This year they are tied for third currently with 17 goals given up on the season, one per match played. Recent play from Merih Demiral has solidified their defense even further in addition to veteran Leonardo Bonucci and young star Matthijs de Ligt. This is all without their captain Giorgio Chiellini who has been sidelined with an injury but is looking to return in the next few months. With solid goalkeeping from Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny and Italian veteran Gianluigi Buffon, Juventus may take the honor of best defense in the league by the end of this year as well.
If Cristiano Ronaldo and company are not enough, Juventus is still always active in the transfer market. Sometimes too active, Juventus has more starting quality on their roster than they have spots to start them. With many older players though, bringing in young potential such as the recent signing of 19-year-old Dejan Kulusekvski from Atalanta who is currently on loan at Parma.
Watch Juventus return to Serie A action on January 6th against the current number six club Cagliari. In February they continue their Champions League run in the round of 16 against Lyon.
SS Lazio (3rd Place, 36 Points)
Lazio has placed in the top half of the Serie A table all through the last decade, never placing lower than ninth but only placing in the top four twice, the last time being the 2014-2015 season where they placed third. Currently, Lazio has played only 16 matches compared to the majority of the league that has played 17, with that they may even be closer to the top two teams than it shows. Lazio beat Juventus just before the end of the calendar year to win the Super Coppa, they are looking to pull this success into the second half of the season.
Lazio is home to the league-leading goal scorer Ciro Immobile, who has 17 goals through 17 matches as well as producing 5 assists on top of that. Lazio also has the league assist leader, Luis Alberto, who has 11 on the season so far. Immobile’s 17 goals are almost half of the club’s total on the season, 38, which is the second most in Serie A as of now. Immobile and Alberto have been a two-man wrecking squad for Lazio, but as a whole team, they have been one of the most efficient offenses in the league as well. Lazio has the best shots on target percentage and the second-highest goals per shot taken.
Everyone has been talking about Inter Milan and Juventus this season but Lazio should be right up there with the other two. This seems to be Lazio’s best chance of taking the title for themselves which they haven’t done since the year 2000. For that to happen they will either need Immobile and Alberto to continue at their dynamite pace or some assistance from the rest of the squad who is very capable in their own rights as well.
Lazio is the only club to have won their last five matches and tries to continue their Serie A run when they return January 5th to play against Brescia.
A.S. Roma (4th Place, 35 Points)
Roma has finished in the top six every year since the 2011-2012 season, not only that but they have finished in the top six every year except for that season in the 21st century. Last year finishing in sixth was a disappointment as the club has finished in the top three, four of the last five seasons. Currently, in fourth place going into the new year, Roma is still very much in the hunt for not only a top-three position but the league title as well.
Roma does not have the big names they’ve had in the past such as Stephan El Shaarawy and Mohamed Salah. That being said, they are still one of the most well-rounded clubs in Serie A and have been proving it by only conceding two losses on the season so far. Top five in both goals for and goals against they have been at the top of their game trying to force their way into the conversation of who can take the Serie A title this season. Edin Dzeko has been leading the club offensively with seven goals on the season and in the top ten in Serie A for goals plus assists. In net Pau Lopez has some big shoes to fill as Roma has had some strong keepers in the recent past, Liverpool’s Alisson, Juventus’ Wojciech Szczesny, and the retired Morgan de Sanctis. Lopez didn’t perform the greatest in La Liga but has been having a career-best season so far with Roma.
Roma doesn’t seem to be in danger of losing anyone to the winter transfer window, but they are definitely in the market to buy. Roma has an interest in multiple players across different positions as they can use some depth all over the pitch, the biggest move they can make this season though is making a long term deal with Chris Smalling who currently on loan and has been having a great season so far. Finding a fullback while Davide Zappacosta is sidelined by injury would be another smart move for Roma to make. The most interesting buy still to come for Roma is that of the club itself, which is in talks to be bought by billionaire Dan Friedkin.
Roma will face Torino on January 5th in their return to Serie A play. February 20th Roma also matches against Gent in their first of two legs in the round of 32 of the Europa League.
Atalanta B.C. (5th Place, 31 Points)
Atalanta has not been one of the strongest Italian clubs in the past, bouncing back and forth between Serie A and Serie B. Over the last three years though they have stepped up their game placing fourth, seventh, and third. Currently, in place for another cup qualifying finish, Atalanta has been a club to watch.
Atalanta has the third-best goal differential in Serie A, this is due to their offensive dominance this season leading the league with 43 goals in 17 matches. They are not one of the best defensive clubs near the top of the table with 25 goals given up on the season so far, so this dominant offense is the reason Atalanta is in the spot they are in today. Four different players for Atalanta have five or more goals on the season so far, including ten from Luis Muriel who leads the club so far, as well as five goals and six assists from team captain Papu Gomez. In the end, this season can come down to the play of goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini as the club currently has the worst save percentage in the league at .583, the only club under .600.
Atalanta doesn’t seem to be making any big moves buying in the transfer market that we can tell. They did just lose 19-year-old Dejan Kulusekvski who was on loan at Parma, the young potential star will be heading to Juventus after the season’s end. The offensive barrage they have unleashed in Serie A must continue for this club to move on up the table going forward, but can they keep it up?
Atalanta returns to Serie A play against Parma on January 6th. As the first team to ever advance past the group stage without a win, Atalanta takes on Valencia on February 19th in the Champions League.
Cagliari (6th Place, 29 Points)
In the last twenty years, Cagliari has not had a cup qualifying finish, with their best finish being ninth in 2009 and being demoted to Serie B twice over that span. In 6th place Cagliari is looking to perform at a level they haven’t since the early 1970s. Currently, Cagliari is six points away from a top-four finish and a four-point cushion over seventh place Parma.
Offensively led by Joao Pedro (11 goals, 1 assist) and Radja Nainggolan (4 goals, 5 assists), Cagliari is fourth in goals scored in Serie A with 33. Joao Pedro‘s 11 goals are only behind Immobile and Lukaku, making him third in Serie A. Cagliari is being carried heavily by on-loan players from many of their Italian rival clubs. Six players total are on loan from Juventus, Inter Milan, Roma, Fiorentina, Napoli, and Atalanta. Including goalkeeper Robin Olsen, midfielder Radja Nainggolan, and forward Giovanni Simeone who is second on the team in goals scored.
Cagliari comes into this transfer window in search of a defender to solidify one of the weaker areas on their squad. One of the names mentioned that seems to have died down is Napoli defender Lorenzo Tonelli. Can Cagliari keep up their performance and be a cinderella team in Serie A?
Cagliari takes on reigning champions Juventus on January 6th in their return to Serie A play in 2020.
Who Else Can Contend?
There are two clubs directly outside the top six that have a chance to push their way into contention, as well as one further down the table that can possibly make a run and sneak their way in.
Parma’s track record this decade has not been a great one as the club has trended downwards since their exceptional play in the early 2000s. Parma is in seventh place right now with 25 points, only four out of a cup qualifying position. Juventus signed Dejan Kulusekvski who has four goals and seven assists for Parma so far this season, thankfully he will remain in Parma for the rest of the season which keeps their chances alive.
The club outside of the top six with the best chance to fight their way in is Napoli. In eighth place right now, they are five points out of sixth place and eleven points out of fourth. Napoli is a strong defensive club with a core of veteran forwards as their captains; Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon, and Dries Mertens. Napoli’s 2020 fate can be predicted more clearly once the transfer market really gets going as multiple of the club’s defenders are being looked upon by other European clubs this winter.
A.C. Milan may not even be in the top ten as of right now but do not sleep on a possible run from them that can vault them up the table quickly. Milan’s biggest issue is their offense, fifth-worst in goals scored on the season they have only scored 16 through 17 matches. Milan has made one of the biggest moves of the transfer market already by bringing back Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Seria A and A.C. Milan. Zlatan can single handily make a difference to the offense of a club and if he can give this club the boost it desperately needs do not count them out of pulling in to the top six by the end of the season.
Fear of Relegation
After last season Brescia, Lecce, and Verona were all promoted up into Seria A. Verona is currently in the middle of the table while Lecce is just outside of relegation holding on by a single point. Brescia though is currently in place to be sent back down to Serie B at the end of the season.
Currently in the position for relegation is Brescia, SPAL, and Genoa. Genoa is currently last place on the table, they came in sixth place in 2015 but have been spiraling downwards ever since. Genoa has some help on the way though, in agreement with Juventus former Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin will be returning on loan. The goalkeeper will hopefully make a positive impact for the club as they currently own the second-worst save percentage in Serie A. SPAL has scored the least goals in Serie A this season, they have only been up from Serie B for four years and it looks like they will be heading back down soon. Brescia just came up from Serie B so this is not a desirable spot for them halfway through the season, being tied for second-most goals against is not an optimistic statistic when looking at their chances either.
Thankfully for these three clubs, there is a congested group of clubs placed within arms reach just outside the relegation zone. Three clubs are within three points of Brescia with three others within five points, with half the season left to go it is still very up in the air of who will end the season in the bottom three.
Immobile, Lukaku, and Pedro are currently the top three goal scorers in Serie A. By the end of the season it is very likely Immobile will hold the top spot and Lukaku will remain within the top three between second and third, but the last player is still up for grabs with Ronaldo and Muriel one goal behind Pedro. In terms of assists, it will take a lot for someone to overtake Luis Alberto in first place with 11 so far, four ahead of anyone else in the league.
Juventus’ Szczesny has the best save percentage in Serie A at .796. Parma’s Luigi Sepe currently os second of all goalkeepers in save percentage at .787, This statistic is even better facing the fact that he has faced the second-most shots on target in the league, double the amount that Szczesny has faced.
Predictions for the New Year
Everyone would love to see an upset after the run Juventus has had… but unfortunately for them this year will not be when that run ends. Juventus will end at the top of the table with Lazio and Inter Milan at a close two and three most likely only one or two points separating the two. Roma will just barely hold off Atalanta keeping the number four spot with Atalanta just missing out on the Champions League next year as they will end in fifth and head to the Europa League. The sixth spot is where it gets interesting, Cagliari is going to have a very difficult time holding their position. The transfer market will tell it all, if Napoli loses some of their big names like Kalidou Koulibay then they may just miss out on a cup qualifying spot this season, but that spot is definitely up for grabs. I do not believe Zlatan will be enough for Milan to jump into the top six but from 11th right now I believe they can make a move up to eighth maybe even seventh place by the end of the season.
With Perin in goal, I think Genoa can just sneak their way out of relegation this season. SPAL just is not good enough for Serie A play right now and will likely end second to last in the league and be relegated. Brescia will head back down to Serie B as well, they give away too many goals off of sets and have been trending downwards, I believe they will end in last place this season. The final team is up for grabs but I think it will be between Lecce and Udinese who get relegated along with SPAL and Brescia by the end of the season.
In league play, we can possibly see two clubs in the quarter-finals of both the Champions League and Europa League. In what may be a little crazier of an opinion, there can very likely be an Italian club winning each of the titles. Juventus making a run for the Champions League title, whereas in the Europa League there is both Roma and Inter Milan who will be tough to beat.
Questions and comments?
Follow Us on Twitter @thescorecrow
Follow Us on Reddit at u/TheScorecrow
Follow Us on Facebook at The Scorecrow
Follow Us on Instagram at The Scorecrow
Facebook Group where you can read and post articles at The Scorecrow
Reddit Group where everyone can post without fear of being banned at The Scorecrow
Follow Nick Jehamy on Twitter @NickJ56
Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images