Calcio has historically been renowned for a defensive brand of football that relies on tactical organisation and structuring.Ask anyone who doesn’t follow Serie A closely and that is what they’ll no doubt tell you it represents.
Ever since Inter won the Champions League in 2010, that reputation of Italian football has never really dominated Europe. Juventus, who themselves played a pragmatic brand of football under Massimiliano Allegri, came close twice, but they could never win the elusive crown.
Italian football has lost its dominance over the years, as the Spanish and English counterparts have reached out and gone ahead. Their different approaches to the game have seen clubs from England and Spain win European crowns over the years.
But when Napoli signed Kostas Manolas from Roma, it made many look up and take notice. Not because they had signed the Greek defender, but because they were pairing him up with one of the best centre-backs in the world- Kalidou Koulibaly.
If Juventus sign Matthijs de Ligt from Ajax, the Dutchman will join the likes of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. Elsewhere, Inter already have a considerably impressive backline which will likely play three defenders at the back in Stefan de Vrij, Milan Skriniar and summer signing Diego Godin.
In Antonio Conte, Inter have a Coach who thrives on playing a pragmatic brand of football. Keeping things safe at the back comes first for him and his preference for playing an extra defender at the back shows that. If a manager like him is given a defensive line like that, a massive part of the process is complete. Inter have some other issues to sort out as well, with Nicolò Barella still not done and talks for Romelu Lukaku ongoing.
Napoli still have to decide who they play at full-back with Mario Rui and Elseid Hysaj on their way out, but Giovanni Di Lorenzo already a Partenopei player. It is likely that Di Lorenzo plays at right-back and Kevin Malcuit is on the left, like he did many times last season. They too have a more pragmatic manager at the helm. While Ancelotti has carried forward Maurizio Sarri’s system to mould it into a more Ancelotti-esque style, he will certainly make sure that things at the back are sorted before anything else.
While Sarri relies more on attacking football, the capture of De Ligt can be a game-changer. They’ve already confirmed the capture of Merih Demiral and by the looks of it, Juve already have a secure defensive line. Daniele Rugani is expected to be the second-choice centre-back and there is still every chance that Joao Cancelo stays.
All three sides are a work in progress. Napoli might be in their second season of rebuilding under Don Carlo, but they will need to get some things on track when it comes to scoring goals. Both Inter and Juve have new Coaches who will take time to get the combinations right, but the foundation has been set already.
These teams are all built on defences that can, on their day, be world class. It is what Calcio has always been known for and has been long been proud of ever since the Helenio Herrera days. The three biggest clubs in Italy are trying to reform that lost legacy.