Home Sport How Italy's biggest teams have started the new Serie A season in...

How Italy's biggest teams have started the new Serie A season in the most open title race in years


The Premier League is not the only season to have started brightly as the 2020-21 Serie A season looks to be as open as ever before. 

Juventus’ quest to win 10 Scudetto titles in a row is hitting a snag as Andrea Pirlo struggles to sort out his best side, while AC Milan are showing signs of a solid revival after they stunned Inter Milan in the Derby della Madonnina over the weekend. 

Antonio Conte’s Inter have invested well but started poorly, while last season’s surprise packages Lazio and Atalanta have showed promise but had mixed fortunes. 

Sportsmail takes a look at the state of play in Italy following the opening four matches of the season… 

Juventus' quest to win 10 Scudetto titles in a row is hitting a snag as Andrea Pirlo (R) settles in

Juventus’ quest to win 10 Scudetto titles in a row is hitting a snag as Andrea Pirlo (R) settles in

Inter Milan

Antonio Conte is running out of excuses at Inter Milan. After being convinced by the Europa League runners-up to stay on as manager, his side was constructed just how he requested in the transfer market.

One of the biggest investments over the summer was full back Achraf Hakimi, who joined in a £35million deal from Real Madrid. However, the Moroccan is showing defensive lapses in a back line that has already shipped eight goals in four matches. 

The defence is becoming a clear weak spot for Conte’s Inter, despite heavy investment in their back line during the window.  Their other defensive signing, Aleksandr Kolarov from Roma, is deemed as too attacking for the left centre back role and often gets caught out on the break.

Antonio Conte is running out of excuses after his Inter side lost the Milan derby on Saturday

Antonio Conte is running out of excuses after his Inter side lost the Milan derby on Saturday

Achraf Hakimi was a big investment for Inter Milan over the summer but has unimpressed

Achraf Hakimi was a big investment for Inter Milan over the summer but has unimpressed

Both Hakimi and Kolarov were nowhere to be seen in the first half of their 2-1 defeat by AC Milan on Saturday, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic gave Inter’s arch rivals a two-goal lead. 

This time last season, Conte side registered three clean sheets in their opening four matches last term, with the likes of Antonio Candreva and Ashley Young providing stability in the wing-back areas.  

Now the Italian coach needs to change his defensive structure if he wants to mount a Serie A title challenge.

Aleksandr Kolarov (left) is another new defensive addition who has struggled so far

Aleksandr Kolarov (left) is another new defensive addition who has struggled so far

There’s also the problem of Christian Eriksen at Inter, who is slowly turning into a flop at the San Siro club. 

The Danish midfielder is a slow player with flair, with Conte preferring fast and physically strong middle men in his 3-5-2 set-up. 

The 28-year-old is getting game time at Inter, but every time Eriksen enters the pitch he suffers with the pace of Italian football. 

With a £9million-a-year salary, he is not justifying his hefty wage packet. 

Christian Eriksen (right) is also struggling to start matches under Conte this season

Christian Eriksen (right) is also struggling to start matches under Conte this season

Juventus

Under the young stewardship of Andrea Pirlo, Juventus are still a work in progress and the Old Lady are suffering from a true tactical identity. 

In his first three matches in charge, Pirlo has changed the Juventus formation three times, between a 3-5-2, 3-4-1-2 and a 3-4-3 set-up. 

The Juventus coach is asking for a quick and relentless style of progressive passing but his players are taking their time to get to grips with this.  

Andrea Pirlo has played different formations in first three matches in charge of Juventus

Andrea Pirlo has played different formations in first three matches in charge of Juventus 

Furthermore, Pirlo cannot decide who forms the best partnership in midfield which is leading to disjointed performances, such as the back-to-back draws against Roma and Crotone. 

New signing Weston McKennie started the first two games alongside Frenchman Adrien Rabiot, but their lack of presence in the defensive side of the roles was clear to see in the 2-2 draw against Roma last month – so much so that Rabiot was sent off for two yellow cards. 

Pirlo opted to play £75million Arthur and Rodrigo Bentancur against Crotone, but the new midfield pair didn’t do much better as Juventus slipped up with a 1-1 draw against the newly-promoted side. 

Pirlo started then dropped midfielders Adrien Rabiot (middle) and Weston McKennie (right)

Pirlo started then dropped midfielders Adrien Rabiot (middle) and Weston McKennie (right)

The new Juventus coach must fix this obvious problem in midfield if he wants to guide his side to a 10th Serie A title in a row. 

Another issue for Pirlo to deal with is how to fit in Paulo Dybala, who has been an unused substitute for all three of Juventus’ league games this season. 

Last season’s Serie A MVP runs the risk of being exiled by the new Juventus head coach, just like Massimiliano Allegri did when he was in charge at the Turin club. 

Last year's Serie A MVP Paulo Dybala (left) has also failed to play a single minute under Pirlo

Last year’s Serie A MVP Paulo Dybala (left) has also failed to play a single minute under Pirlo

Youngsters Dejan Kulusevski and even the raw Manolo Portanova have been preferred to Dybala since the start of the season, putting serious doubt as to whether the forward will sign a new five-year deal at Juventus. 

However, Cristiano Ronaldo’s recent coronavirus diagnosis could allow the Argentinian attacker to return to the line-up, starting in the midweek Champions League clash with Dynamo Kiev. 

AC Milan

The Rossoneri are now one of only two teams, along with Aston Villa, in Europe’s top five leagues who are yet to drop a point this season.

Milan currently lead the Serie A table and while talk of a title challenge seems a little premature, there is certainly a case to warrant discussion of a top-four challenge.  

To think that the club nearly replaced Stefano Pioli for Ralf Rangenick earlier this year, but some excellent form at the back end of last season led to Paolo Maldini sticking with his current option – and boy is it paying off.  

AC Milan, who beat Inter in the derby, now lead Serie A after four wins from four this season

AC Milan, who beat Inter in the derby, now lead Serie A after four wins from four this season

Milan nearly dismissed head coach Stefano Piolo (above) but rightly stuck with the manager

Milan nearly dismissed head coach Stefano Piolo (above) but rightly stuck with the manager

The former Fiorentina, Inter and Lazio manager proves to be the best man to handle Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s interesting character. An over-reliance on the Swede used to be a problem at Milan – but not anymore. 

The Swedish forward used very strong words to define his great impact on Serie A and the Milan derby win over the weekend. 

‘Milan has no king, Milan has a God,’ said the 39-year-old, who is acting like he’s 29 looking at the way he runs and fights on the pitch.

AC Milan rely on Zlatan Ibrahimovic (above) for goals and he scored twice in the Milan derby

AC Milan rely on Zlatan Ibrahimovic (above) for goals and he scored twice in the Milan derby

Defender Simon Kjaer is also one of the high-performers in this Milan side and has surprised many in Serie A despite being 31 years of age. The Danish central defender is reliable and aggressive and is calm at the back for Milan. 

Hakan Calhanoglu is one of the star midfielders in Pioli’s side, and is also becoming one of the leaders on the pitch after years of being the up-and-coming middle men in European football.   

Despite the faultless start, there are some negative aspects to the current Milan squad – one of them is inexperience. 

Simon Kjaer (left) has been a surprise high-performer for the Rossoneri this season

Simon Kjaer (left) has been a surprise high-performer for the Rossoneri this season

Pioli’s side have the lowest average squad age in the league (23.6 years), as Milan try to emulate how Arsenal have acted in the past 15 years by promoting youth players to cut costs. 

Milan are, of course, run by chief executive Ivan Gazidis, who oversaw matters at the Emirates Stadium during Arsene Wenger’s reign.  

Yet the youthfulness in the AC Milan squad could damage their chances in Serie A this season.    

Napoli

Gennaro Gattuso’s side were given a 3-0 forfeit loss and a one-point deduction for failing to turn up against Juventus before the international break.

It is a great shame for Napoli, as they probably would have beaten Andrea Pirlo’s Serie A champions if form is anything to go by. 

The southern Italian side rose to prominence under Maurizio Sarri but were in relegation form under Carlo Ancelotti. But Gattuso is performing better than either manager so far as his 4-2-3-1 attacking style is bringing the best out of his forward players. 

Gennaro Gattuso (right) is creating a new era at Napoli as they have started the season well

Gennaro Gattuso (right) is creating a new era at Napoli as they have started the season well

This Napoli side seems to have entered a time machine and rebirthed the ‘Sarriball’ that earned the Italian coach a move to Chelsea in 2018. 

Back then, Napoli had Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon, now the likes of Victor Osimhen and Hirving Lozano are the new star men up front.  

Osimhen and Lozano starred over the weekend as Napoli blitzed Atalanta 4-1, with all of their goals coming in the first half.  

Strikers Victor Osimhen (left) and Hirving Lozano (right) fired Napoli to a 4-1 win over Atalanta

Strikers Victor Osimhen (left) and Hirving Lozano (right) fired Napoli to a 4-1 win over Atalanta

At the back, David Ospina is the defensive leader while Kalidou Koulibaly and Kostas Manolas are a reliable partnership for the Partenopei. 

Meanwhile, Chelsea outcast Tiemoune Bakayoko is proving to be the perfect replacement for Allan, who jumped ship to join Ancelotti at Everton.

Atalanta

Gian Piero Gasperini’s men were the talk of Serie A last season as they were the league’s top scorers and also reached the Champions League quarter-finals. 

But following the damning defeat by Napoli last weekend, is the magic coming to an end?

It’s not all bad for the Bergamo side, who were up there with AC Milan as one of the teams with a 100 per cent record going into the weekend’s fixtures, but there are some areas of concerns to look at. 

Gian Piero Gasperini is trying to take Atalanta to the next level after a good season last term

Gian Piero Gasperini is trying to take Atalanta to the next level after a good season last term

Papu Gomez (right) was a key player for last season's Champions League quarter-finalists

Papu Gomez (right) was a key player for last season’s Champions League quarter-finalists

Atalanta’s players look tired after a daunting season which saw them progress deep into European territory last term, while talisman Papu Gomez is now 30-years-old and could be starting to decline. 

Meanwhile, back-up goalkeeper Marco Sportiello is proving to be error-prone as he steps in for the injured Pierluigi Gollini. His latest error came when he failed to claim Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s early cross which allowed Lozano to tap home for the opening goal. 

Meanwhile, new midfield signing Fabio Depaoli has been a disappointment so far, though Atalanta do have striker Josip Ilicic back after an extended period back while Aleksei Miranchuk and Sam Lammers have some time to gel into the side. 

Lazio

Before the coronavirus hiatus in March, Lazio were the best team in Serie A and were closing in on a shock title. 

Yet Simone Inzaghi’s side have been on a downward curve since then and now lie in 15th place with just one win all season so far.

The Serie A club have had a difficult run of fixtures to begin the campaign, having faced Atalanta and Inter Milan in their opening four games, but this is not looking like the Lazio side that wowed Italian football last term. 

Lazio lost 3-0 to Sampdoria over the weekend and have just won one game all season so far

Lazio lost 3-0 to Sampdoria over the weekend and have just won one game all season so far

Lazio’s success over the past few seasons has been based on not changing the squad too much in order for Inzaghi to create a well-drilled side. However, this team is in desperate need of freshening up as they are becoming too predictable for their opponents.

It’s not without a lack of trying, Lazio tried to bring in the likes of Olivier Giroud, Diego Godin and David Silva, who snubbed the Serie A side for Real Sociedad over the summer, but all of their targets failed to come to fruition. 

On top of this, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto are struggling for form, while Ciro Immobile’s goals have dried up at the start of this Serie A campaign. 

Simone Inzaghi's side need freshening up and are becoming too predictable at present

Simone Inzaghi’s side need freshening up and are becoming too predictable at present

Roma

They say Rome wasn’t built in a day. But the signing of Pedro from Chelsea is helping AS Roma revive their top-four chances this season. 

Under the new ownership of the Friedkin family and straight off the back of a 5-2 win over Benevento, there is much to be pleased about for the Giallorossi.

Pedro’s arrival on a free transfer has been a welcome addition to the squad and he has scored twice in his opening four games for the club. 

New winger Pedro (right) and Edin Dzeko (middle) are creating a positive environment at Roma

New winger Pedro (right) and Edin Dzeko (middle) are creating a positive environment at Roma

The Spaniard is forming a dymanic front three with Henrikh Mhkitaryan and Edin Dzeko, who has overcome the disappointment of not joining Juventus this summer by netting two goals in three games to start the current campaign. 

With Chris Smalling set to come into the side following his permanent move from Manchester United, Paulo Fonesca is on the verge of creating a harmonious atmosphere at the Stadio Olimpico. 

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