Another long Serie A season has come to a close and a great year it has been. The 2010-11 season has been a great advert for Serie A and has been the most competitive Scudetto race since the Calciopoli scandal.
Of course one could make the argument that the league has not been as competitive as I might be claiming it however. After all last year’s runner-up, AS Roma, have finished in sixth place and only clinching a Europa League birth. The other great Italian giant, Juventus, have failed to qualify for any kind of European football by finishing seventh this season. In fact many make the argument that champions AC Milan have won it by default.
However there have been more challenges from the rest of the league as the likes of Napoli, Lazio, and Udinese had great seasons with all of them clinching European berths.
Udinese had a remarkable year, and barring a stuttering start to their season, when they began with four consecutive losses, they could have possibly clinched an automatic Champions League spot ahead of Napoli. The revelation of Chilean starlet Alexis Sanchez has been a great asset to the Zebrette. Of course the blistering goal-scoring form of captain Antonio Di Natale, which saw him finish capocannoniere (Italy top-scorer) for the second year in a row, has been another factor in Udinese’s great exploits this yeat. Finally a lot of plaudits must also be given to the coach, Francesco Guidolin, for organizing and setting up a great outfit.
Along with Guidolin, Napoli’s Walter Mazzarri and AC Milan’s Massimiliano Allegri have been the architects of their side’s successes. In Mazzarri’s case, the purchase of Edinson Cavani has really played a major role in pushing the Neapolitan club into automatic qualification for the Champions League. The Uruguayan enjoyed his best season yet in scoring 26 goals and ending second top-scorer (two goals behind I Natale) in the league. As for Allegri, he led his team to lifting the Scudetto in his first managerial year at Milan. Allegri’s managing of the dressing room and his tactical acumen have both been the key ingredients of his Scudetto success. AC Milan deservedly lifted the Scudetto with the best defensive record in the league (24 goals conceded, having led the league for 27 consecutive weeks, and having defeated all their direct rivals (Inter and Napoli) both home and away. So given all this, the claim that the Rossoneri have won the title by default is a clear fallacy.
AC Milan’s city rivals have finished runners-up but have had a real Jekyll-and-Hyde season. The appointment of Rafael Benitez in the off-season proved to be a complete and unmitigated disaster as Inter quickly slipped out of the title race. His sacking, following the FIFA Club World Cup triumph, saw ex-Milan coach Leonardo take the Inter hot seat. A host of signings followed as Massimo Moratti splashed the cash to bring in the likes of Andrea Ranocchia and Gianpaolo Pazzini from Genoa and Sampdoria respectively. Under the Brazilian the Nerazzurri underwent a miraculous revival as Leonardo dragged them back into championship contention. The penultimate Derby della Madonnina however saw AC Milan run rampant as a 3-0 defeat to their bitter rivals saw the end of Inter’s title charge.
Lazio were very much another surprise package this year. The performances of new summer recruit, Hernanes had much to do with it. The Brazilian rounded off a good season with 11 goals in his first year with the Biancocelesti. The great from shown by vice-captain Stefano Mauri have also been a highlight of Lazio’s season and indeed of the league as well. After all the playmaker’s performances have even awarded him a place in the Azzurri fold. Lazio’s resilience and staying-power in the face of so much doubt from both media and fans and given their lack of squad depth is certainly to be applauded as a great achievement for the club in their ultimately [narrowly]failed quest for Champions League football.
The disappointments of the season will easily be both Juventus and AS Roma. Under Luigi Del Neri, the Bianconeri finished outside the European places, where inconsistency was very much their undoing. A poor hit-and-miss Mercato under new sporting director, Beppe Marotta, also had its consequences. Good signing were secured in the shape of Milos Krasic and Alessandro Matri. But others did not pan out so well – Simone Pepe for instance – whilst others like Jorge Martinez proved to be complete flops. A lot of Juventus’ woes this season must however come down to the loss of Fabio Quagliarella [through injury]halfway through the season, as his goals and attacking flair were sorely missed.
AS Roma once again experienced their usual season this year, filled with controversy both on and off the field. The main catalyst for it was [unsurprisingly]the club’s talismanic captain Francesco Totti. Despite being the main conspirator behind Claudio Ranieri’s sacking, it has to be said that Totti enjoyed one of his best seasons in recent times under [new coach]Vicenzo Montella. He recovered some of his goal-scoring touch, a rich vein of form that had Roma on the verge of a Champions League fourth place. In fact, Totti set a new Serie A record this year by netting his 207th league goal, overtaking Roberto Baggio’s goal-scoring record.
Palermo were another disappointment this year. The Rosanero were in inspired form at the beginning of the season but really fell off towards the end. The sacking of Delio Rossi – following a humiliating 7-0 home defeat to Udinese – and appointment of Serse Cosmi did nothing to help. Palermo president, Maurizio Zamparini, would even later go on to fire Cosmi after the derby defeat to only re-hire Delio Rossi. The Palermo president interfered all year-long and will have to take the bulk of the blame for the Rosanero’s disappointing performances.
Sampdoria’s Riccardo Garrone, is another club owner who will have to be shouldering the blame for his club’s failures. In this case however, the consequences were much more dire as Sampdoria found themselves relegated to Serie B. In a campaign when they had begun in a Champions League qualifier against Werder Bremen, their season simply spiraled out of control. A personal spat with Antonio Cassano saw a breakdown of the relationship between the Italian and the club supremo. Garrone eventually sold Cassano to AC Milan in the January mercato. But all would be further exacerbated as Pazzini also found the exit door when Inter made a bid for him. Replacements were brought in the form of Massimo Maccarone from Palermo, Jonathan Biabiany from Inter, and Federico Macheda from Manchester United. None of them proved themselves saviors however as all three accounted for a mere four goals combined. If we look back at it, it was very much stoppage time that proved to be Sampdoria’s undoing this season. After all it was Mark Rosenberg’s goal which saw Werder Bremen advance to the Champions League at the expense of the Genoa-based club. In Serie A, the penultimate derby saw Genoa defeat their bitter city-rivals thanks to a 96th minute winner by Mauro Boselli. The loss had effectively relegated Sampdoria until it was [mathematically]confirmed in the following week, at home to Palermo, when another late goal – an 85th minute winner from Mauricio Pinilla – sealed their fate.
And so a great season came to an end. Brescia have also fallen to relegation while Bari were doomed from the start as they paid the price for selling both Ranocchia and Leonardo Bonucci. The Cinderella story of the season will definitely have to be Cesena, who secured their Serie A status and counted very good performances throughout the season, including a 2-0 win against Milan at the start of it. With a great crop of players like Emanuele Giacherrini and Marco Parolo (who finds himself on the outside looking-in of a possible spot on the Azzurri), and the fantastic atmosphere of the Dino Manuzzi stadium, the Sea Horses will have proven a great addition to Serie A and I am sure all Calcio fans will be looking forward to them for next season.