In terms of title races, the last decade of Serie A has been something of a non-event, with Juventus winning an unprecedented nine Scudetti in a row. Inter look increasingly likely to finally release that stranglehold, but as they sit atop the league and look down on those in the chasing pack, they’ll see some familiar faces staring angrily up at them.
The top seven as it stands looks almost certain to be the top seven at the season’s end, and if they do manage to fight off those beneath them it will represent the fourth time in the last five seasons that the top seven in Serie A has contained those same teams. The teams in question are of course Milan, Inter, Juventus, Lazio, Napoli, Roma and, somewhat remarkably, Atalanta. Even in the exceptional season of 2018/19 when Torino snuck into 7th, Lazio weren’t far behind in 8th.
This is nothing new to watchers of Serie A who may recall the era of “Le Sette Sorelle” – The Seven Sisters of the mid 90’s and early 2000’s. Of those “sisters” the five clubs of Milan, Rome and Turin remain unmoved whilst Fiorentina and Parma have been replaced by Napoli and Atalanta in the sisterhood.
But who can break up this habitual heptad? Here at GIFN we have assessed and rated the chances of four prospective candidates including a club well-versed in upsetting the applecart, a steady climber ready to make the next step and one former sister desperate to regain her place in the family.
The Club – Of our four candidates Sassuolo are the ones with the least Serie A experience and the only club without a league title to their name. In fact, they have never won a trophy in their 101-year history but since their first ever promotion eight years ago they have finished in the top eight twice and are well placed to do so again this season.
Rating: 4th out of 4
The Manager – Roberto de Zerbi may not yet have managed any of Serie A’s heavy hitters but he certainly has plenty of admirers. The 41-year-old has long been seen as one of the most promising coaches of Italian football and has drawn comparisons with the likes of Pep Guardiola for the way he sets his team up to dominate possession and attack with fluidity.
The Players – Domenico Beradi is a bona fide Sassuolo legend, having fired them to promotion from Serie B before scoring almost 100 goals in the top division. Alongside him, Francesco Caputo continues to find the net whilst Manuel Locatelli pulls the strings behind them. Mix in Jérémie Boga’s pace and directness from the wing and you’ve got the core of a very good team.
The Budget – Sassuolo are not the richest club in Italy but they certainly aren’t the poorest either. In Mapei they have stable owners who have been with the club for almost 20 years, and although they occupy 13th place in the league’s wage table, according to Transfermarkt they have the highest valued squad of our four candidates which suggests that some clever selling could free up some funds.
The Club – Although something of a yo-yo club in recent years, Hellas have a long and proud history in Serie A including their sensational Scudetto of 1984/85 – the only one to their name. Since their latest promotion in 2019, they have earned a reputation for bloodying the noses of the big boys and after finishing 9th last season, they sit pretty in and around the same spot as the season enters its last third.
The Manager – Giampaolo Gasperini’s Atalanta are the blueprint for any side trying to barge their way into Serie A’s elite and few can have seen the inside workings of “Gasp’s” methods as closely as Ivan Jurić. Having been on the Atalanta head coach’s staff at Inter and then Palermo, the Croatian has been a revelation at Hellas after three quite bizarre stints as head coach of Genoa.
The Players – Hellas are very much a team rather than a group of individuals and with a number of the playing staff being in Verona on a temporary basis, it is hard to put a finger on the true quality of the squad moving forward. They would be wise to exercise their options to buy both Antonín Barák and Federico Dimarco permanently whilst youngsters Pawel Dawidowicz and Matteo Lovato have impressed at centre back. Mattia Zaccagni’s goals and assists are crucial to the team, and he continues to attract the interest of sides higher up in the food chain.
The Budget – As you would expect, Hellas’ spending has increased dramatically since their promotion in 2019 and in the last two years they spent three times more than they did in the previous three combined. However, they operate on the third smallest wage budget in the league and would have to be looking to change this in order to build on two hugely impressive campaigns.
The Club – Bologna is an important city in terms of economy and trade in Italy but its football team has long ceased to be the force that the city deserves. The last of their seven Scudetti arrived in 1964 and while only eight teams have spent more seasons in Serie A than their tally of 74, they have rarely ventured into the top half during this century. However, recent investment in the team and some encouraging league finishes have seen optimism somewhat restored.
The Manager – You would be hard pushed to find a more colourful character in football than Siniša Mihajlović. The legendary free kick king has bags of Serie A experience and returned for his second spell at Bologna in 2019, guiding them to a respectable 12th placed finish, just four shy of 8th-placed Sassuolo. That he did so whilst facing a personal battle against leukaemia is all the more impressive.
The Players – Youth is very much the order of the day at Bologna, which adds to the notion that they are a club with a long-term plan. Riccardo Orsolini and Musa Barrow are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch but with talents like Takehiro Tomiyasu, Matthias Svanberg, Nicolás Domínguez and Andreas Skov Olsen all 22 or under and getting regular game time, the future certainly looks interesting for I Rossoblù.
The Budget – Since Canadian Joey Saputo took up the chairmanship of Bologna in 2014, they haven’t been afraid to flex their muscle in the market. In 2019 they spent over 60 million Euros to acquire many of the youngsters that make up a large portion of the squad today. A similar approach in markets to come is possible given Saputo’s reported 5 billion fortune and could certainly see them as one to keep an eye on.
The Club – Part of the original “Le Sette Sorelle”, La Viola will be assessing just how they go about returning to former glories after a difficult few years. Despite being one of Italy’s most recognisable and iconic clubs, they only have two Scudetti to their name, the second of which came way back in 1969. So much talent has passed through Florence in the intervening years, but after finishing 10th with a late flurry last season and with a bottom half finish on the cards this year, they look a little way from challenging at the top again.
The Manager – Having been fired in November, Giuseppe Iachini is back in charge following Cesare Prandelli’s emotional resignation last month. Fiorentina fans will be hoping there is a big name lined up to take over for 2021/22 but whether that will be the case remains to be seen. Get this appointment right and the foundations are there to launch the club towards the European places. Get it wrong and another period of limbo could await.
The Players – At times this season it has appeared that Fiorentina are being carried by 21-year-old striker Dušan Vlahović. His goals have kept the league position respectable but beyond him there are talented players who can do better. Gaetano Castrovilli is a player to build a team around and with 23-year-old stalwarts Nikola Milenković and Bartłomiej Drągowski behind him they have an impressive spine to build on. Add in the mercurial but aging talents of Franck Ribéry and José Callejón as well as Sofyan Amrabat, and they have more firepower than their league position would suggest.
The Budget: Given their poor form, some may be dismissive of Fiorentina’s chances of breaking up the top seven but given that their wage bill is the 7th highest in the division they could and should be pushing those above them harder. Add to that fact that owner Rocco Commisso’s fortune is greater than any of the teams listed here and the potential for them to once again be one of Serie A’s top clubs is there.
Giving four points for a 1/4 rating and 1 point for a 4/4 rating, our extremely scientific points scoring system makes Fiorentina the club best placed to challenge the current “Big Seven” domination. They have the biggest budget and a squad who on paper are capable of fighting for the European places. Of course, football is not played on paper and a lot will depend on who is next in the hot seat at Artemio Franchi.
We make Sassuolo second favourite based on the talent of manager Roberto De Zerbi and the experience and quality of the squad he has at his disposal. But their finances may mean that they are left behind when it comes to a long-term Atalanta style insurgency.
Bologna certainly have the potential to be an outside shot, and they come in third. Their young squad and healthy budget show that a long-term vision for the club is in place and while they may not be the best placed to challenge immediately, their shrewdness in the transfer market is likely to bear fruit in the future.
Hellas come in bottom of the pile largely due to their lack of financial muscle and their place in the Serie A food chain. However, with coach Ivan Juric showing his capability, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see them upset the odds and surge up the table. If anyone can do it, Hellas can.