The 2021-22 Serie A season has witnessed a big change. Of the teams occupying the top seven positions in the table, six have a new coach in charge. Here, we look at how these new coaches are faring and what impact they’ve made at each of their clubs.
Luciano Spalletti – Napoli
After a two-year break from management following a spell at Internazionale, Luciano Spalletti was announced as the new manager of Napoli in May. He’s made up for lost time with a fantastic start in Naples.
Napoli haven’t won the Serie A title since 1990, when Diego Maradona led them to glory. They’ve made the best start possible 31 years later though, as Spalletti’s led them to seven successive victories and to the top of the Serie A table – it’s only the second time in their history that they’ve started a season with seven wins since 2017-18. Back then, Maurizio Sarri started with eight wins from eight games, but his side were eventually pushed into second place by the power of Juventus.
Spalletti’s belief in build-up play has been weaponised by Napoli so far this season. Not only have they averaged the most successful passes per game in 2021-22 (518) and kept the most possession (59.4%), but they’ve also enjoyed a league-high 129 sequences of 10+ passes. In fact, 31 of Napoli’s attacks have come from these long, build-up sequences in open play, more than any other team.
As shown from the graphic above, Napoli have had the most intricate and patient build-up this season in Serie A.
So far in 2021-22, they’ve spent just 8% of ball-in-play time in a losing position (a league-low), so it’s evidently a plan that’s been working.
Simone Inzaghi – Internazionale
After winning their first Serie A title in 11 years, this summer saw a big overhaul at Inter Milan. Not only did they lose full-back Achraf Hakimi to PSG, hotshot striker Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea and the services of Christian Eriksen following his very public health battle, but their head coach Antonio Conte also departed. Tasked with the new challenge of winning a back-to-back title was Simone Inzaghi.
In his five full seasons as Lazio coach, Inzaghi led them to four top five finishes, won the Coppa Italia (2018-19) and secured two Super Cup victories (2017-18 & 2019-20).
Inter replaced Lukaku with Roma’s Edin Džeko, and so far this move has paid dividends. Inzaghi’s side have scored 22 goals in their seven games in Serie A – the only season that they’d scored more at this stage of a campaign was in 1948-49 (23). Džeko’s scored six of these from just 15 shots at a crazy 40% conversion rate and sits as joint leader of the Serie A scoring charts ahead of MD8. Such has been his fast start, that he’s only one goal off his 2020-21 seasonal tally for Roma in the competition (7).
So far in 2021-22, Inter have averaged 2.01 xG per game from non-penalty shots. The only team to have an average of over two per game in a Serie A season since 2015-16 were Atalanta in 2019-20 (also 2.01). Fans of the blue side of Milan will hope that this attacking ethos is here to stay, but unlike Atalanta, it leads to a title-win.
José Mourinho – Roma
Getting José Mourinho to become Roma manager was a big coup for the side from the capital. His most recent spell at Spurs might have been deemed a failure, and he hasn’t won a league title since 2014-15 at Chelsea, but his great start at Roma has made everyone believe again.
Welcomed as the new king of Rome, Mourinho recently surpassed 1,000 games as a top-flight manager, while he’s currently unbeaten in all 42 of the home matches he’s coached in the competition – a new record in the three-points-for-a-win era, ahead of Massimiliano Allegri’s previous record of 41 between September 2015 and September 2017.
So far in 2021-22, Mourinho’s Roma side have scored 11 goals from midfield in league competition, which is more than any other club in the big five European leagues. This is partly thanks to the explosion of Lorenzo Pellegrini, who’s already scored four goals in seven Serie A games and seven in 11 across all competitions. The Roma midfielder is now only four off last season’s competitive goal tally of 11, which is his highest across his career.
So far this season, Roma have allowed opponents an average xG per game of 1.20 – their best ratio in four seasons – while still creating good chances themselves, with their 1.72 xG the fifth-highest in the competition in 2021-22 ahead of MD8.
Vincenzo Italiano – Fiorentina
Possibly the most surprising team in the top seven places of the 2021-22 Serie A season so far are fifth-placed Fiorentina, led by new coach Vincenzo Italiano.
The new Viola coach arrived in the summer following two seasons at Spezia – the first getting them promoted to Serie A, the second keeping them in the top-flight despite their small stature.
Of the top five sides this season, they have been losing for the highest proportion of ball-in-play time (22%), whilst winning for the lowest ratio (41%) – despite this they haven’t won any points from losing positions and have already lost six from leading.
Italiano has leaned towards a possession-based style of play, with Fiorentina completing the third-most passes (2,982) and the fourth-highest average possession (55.3%). Against Napoli on MD7, they surrendered a 1-0 lead but enjoyed more possession than the league-leaders – something that hasn’t happened in any other game involving Luciano Spalletti’s side in 2021-22.
Maurizio Sarri – Lazio
Maurizio Sarri’s management style has always been synonymous with controlling the ball and passing. Across his years at Napoli, his sides have always ranked highly for total passes and this season is no different. Only the league leaders from Naples (518) have averaged more successful passes per game than Lazio (496).
In his three seasons at Napoli, no side made more high turnovers than Sarri’s side. 2021-22 at Lazio looks like replicating this style, with the side from Rome having the third-most high turnovers (57) and shots from high turnovers (13) behind only Milan and Torino in both categories. They have, however, scored a league-high three goals from these turnovers within 40 metres of the opposition goal.
This Lazio side are encouraged to progress the ball out from defence, with no central defenders in the league having progressed up the pitch with ball carries more often than Luiz Felipe (1002m) and Francesco Acerbi (894m). They have also completed the most passes of any central defensive partnership in 2021-22 so far (810).
Sarri’s side may already be 10 points off the top of Serie A, but they did win the first Rome derby of the season with a 3-2 victory on September 26. It’s very unlikely a title will be coming Lazio’s way in 2021-22, but if they can secure Champions League football for a second successive season, it would probably be deemed a success.
Massimiliano Allegri – Juventus
Massimiliano Allegri won Serie A in all five of his previous seasons at Juventus between 2014-15 and 2018-19, before leaving the club. He’s returned with the club in a different state to the one he left it two years ago, but signs that he’s beginning to fix some of those issues are starting to come through.
A complex start to the season didn’t help – with tricky fixtures away at Udinese, home against Empoli, away at Napoli and hosting Milan resulting in a meagre two points. However, three successive Serie A victories, coupled with a great Champions League win against reigning champions Chelsea are helping Juventus fans see light at the end of the tunnel.
They return to league action with tough matches against fourth place Roma and Internazionale in third, but they’ll be buoyed by memories of their title win in 2015-16. That season started with one win, two draws and two defeats in the first five games – exactly the same as this season.
Juventus have allowed opponents a non-penalty xG of just 7.85 this season across their seven matches, with over a quarter of this (27%) coming in the 2-1 defeat to league-leaders Napoli on September 11 – more than in their last three games combined (2.48 vs. 2.15). At an average of 1.12 per game, this is still much higher than last season (0.85), but if anyone knows what’s required to fix that, it’s Allegri.
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