Milan giants nowhere while Parma maintain professionalism amid crisis
12 June ~ Before the season started, it was clear that Juventus would not repeat their 102 points of 2013-14 and so it was hoped that the title race would be closer. Right and wrong. Juventus won their fourth consecutive scudetto with 87 points, but that again gave them a 17-point margin over Roma.
Massimiliano Allegri has made them more likeable and more attractive to watch and, unlike Antonio Conte, he has done well in the cups, winning Coppa Italia and reaching the final of the Champions League. Allegri has shown that with good players, which he did not have in abundance at Milan, he is as good a coach as any in Italy. He has also recognised the one big error he made at Milan, his mishandling of Andrea Pirlo which led to a move to Juventus, where he showed that he was as good as ever if used properly.
The opposition to Juventus’ dominance was feeble. Roma were a shadow of last season’s vibrant side as Rudi García lost the plot. Napoli, who would have clinched the third Champions League spot with victory over Lazio on the last day, were infuriatingly inconsistent under the perennially tinkering Rafa Benítez. Their attack with 70 goals scored was excellent, the defence, conceding 54, was relegation material. They also paid for four missed penalties by Gonzalo Higuaín, the last of which would have put them 3-2 up in the final game with 15 minutes to go. Instead they lost 4-2 and finished fifth.
The third Champions League place went to Lazio. They made a stuttering start but recovered well, at one point winning eight consecutive games and playing attractive football. Much of this was due to the emergence of the Brazilian Felipe Anderson. Fiorentina waxed hot and cold and were not helped by their Europa League commitments, so fourth place was more than they expected for most of the season. They were handicapped by the continuing injury problems of Giuseppe Rossi, Italy’s Andy Carroll.
The positive surprises were Genoa, Sampdoria, Sassuolo and Empoli. Genoa qualified for the Europa League on the field, but may be excluded because of financial problems. City rivals Sampdoria will probably take their place. Sassuolo survived comfortably and have two of Italy’s most promising strikers, Simone Zaza and Domenico Berardi. They often fielded an all Italian team.
Empoli, who made few changes to their promotion-winning team, were expected to go straight back to Serie B, but playing pleasing football, they were safe well before the end of the season. Incredibly, their young defender Daniele Rugani played every minute of every game without even one yellow card. Honourable mentions also for Torino, Verona, Palermo and Chievo, while Udinese were very disappointing.
The Milan giants were nowhere and face a difficult future. They do not seem to be able to attract the top names any more, and with neither in Europe turning things round will be difficult. More experienced coaches than Pippo Inzaghi, who will surely be replaced now that the season is over, would have struggled at Milan. Roberto Mancini will be given time at Inter. Milan’s most successful newcomer was Giacomo Bonaventura, hardly a household name, while for Inter Mauro Icardi was the league’s joint top scorer with 22 goals along with Verona’s evergreen 38-year-old Luca Toni.
Cagliari, Cesena and Parma went down to Serie B, with a poor Atalanta side also in danger for most of the season. Cagliari paid for putting their faith in Zdenek Zeman. Cesena were willing but simply not good enough. Parma were overwhelmed by their debt crisis. Nobody knows whether they will start next season in Serie B or Serie D, and only an injection of cash from the league enabled them to finish the season. Coach Roberto Donadoni and those players who did not jump ship then performed admirably to ensure that the championship did not descend into farce. In fact, without a seven-point deduction they would have finished above Cesena. They even equalised in the last minute of their last game against Sampdoria. Their professionalism was astonishing
Coming up are two minnows and complete newcomers to Serie A, Carpi and Frosinone. Nobody would have predicted this, and no doubt everyone will now predict their immediate return to Serie B. They will be joined by Bologna, via the play-offs. All in all, another forgettable season dominated by one team and with few if any memorable games, crowds down and violence a problem still a long way from being solved. And that is without mentioning the still ongoing match-fixing investigations. More developments can be expected during the summer. Richard Mason