Juventus have been Italian football’s lone rider among the elite clutch of clubs over the last few years, reaching two Finals in five seasons. Yet they are the only team from the peninsula to play in a European Final this decade. Indeed, this term marks 10 years since Inter won the Champions League so are Serie A sides in need of new tactical ideas or a new mentality?
Italian football is still under reconstruction after the Calciopoli scandal from 13 years ago. It set the whole football community in Italy back a few years and they struggled to keep up with other countries. Nonetheless, Serie A looks like regaining some of its lustre. Cristiano Ronaldo’s return is impossible not to mention as his arrival is significant proof of Juve’s position in Europe - he wouldn’t have joined the Bianconeri if he didn’t believe they could win the Champions League.
However, they also need help from the other top teams in Italy. Juventus need to be pushed by other competitors at home to keep them awake, particularly in April or May. Napoli did a few years ago, and Juventus played in a Final. Inter have started well this year but might have to strengthen during the January transfer window to keep competing after the winter break.
There’s still a long way to go for the rest, though - Celtic claiming their first-ever win in Italy, Inter crumbling at 2-0 up in Germany, Roma being as unpredictable as ever and Napoli, who have thrown away a great position after beating European rulers Liverpool. Then there’s Atalanta, whose squad has been hit by a whirlwind and must feel dizzy after collecting only one point in four rounds of their debut Champions League campaign.
Football has moved on from the Catenaccio style, which plundered its way through frustrated foreign sides trying to find a way past the solid defensive lines from Italy, before being raided by world class-attackers from a period when you could argue that 50 of the stars from Serie A clubs could be in a top 100 list of the best players throughout history.
The quality isn’t the same anymore, and without the best players you need intensity and high pressure to compete in Europe. The lack of experience in that area is still something the Italian teams need to work on. There’s a big difference travelling to the Paolo Mazza to play SPAL in Serie A to playing away at Vitality Stadium against Bournemouth or at Ciudad de Valencia to take on Levante in La Liga.
The so-called ‘lesser’ sides apply a different mindset. Mostly it’s not about dropping two points but winning one against a top team. Instead of putting up a fight, they prefer to sit back and suck the life out of the game, in doing so sapping all the intensity that you see in other European Leagues.
Making an error in Serie A is less likely to result in a goal conceded than if you do against an aggressive side who play with nothing to lose in Europe, remembering that these are also the best teams from their respective nations. We have proof that Italian clubs can play with such intensity, though – that they may beat Liverpool at their own game or to turn around a 2-0 deficit to still go through to the next round by throwing everyone forward in the return leg.
We have witnessed a Cagliari side this season employing such adrenaline and unorthodox tactics, in the same way Atalanta have cemented their position among the top four in Serie A.
Still, the overall mentality of Italian football has to change to help the bigger teams get used to a high intensity wherever they go. Whether those further down the food chain opt to change theirs remains to be seen.