Every time a new campaign begins, we end up saying the same old clichés about starting from scratch, turning points, the pressure is on this coach or that player. We go into 2020-21 after a practically non-existent pre-season, with the transfer window still open for several weeks and teams in a constant state of flux.
When there’s no time to prepare, practice or check for the flaws in a strategy, that’s when relying on what you know becomes truly valuable. Casting an eye over the 2020-21 Serie A Season Preview, we see the importance of picking up exactly where you left off. The teams who maintained their basic structure and continue the work done by the coaches in the final months of the last campaign will have a significant advantage over the others, at least in the early rounds. That means Lazio, Milan, Atalanta and Inter have the opportunity to get points on the board and surge away from other potential top four candidates who are taking the tougher path.
For the second year running, Juventus are scrapping a Scudetto-winning project to bring in a new coach with a completely different mindset to his predecessor. Andrea Pirlo has more in common with Maurizio Sarri than the ex-Napoli boss ever did with Max Allegri, but we already saw the difficulty these Bianconeri stars have in adapting their movements. They are like old dogs who resist new tricks, not because they are incapable of learning them, but because it is difficult to convince someone who won nine Serie A titles in a row that they need to change.
Hiring Pirlo had precious little to do with his tactical acumen, which remains entirely unknown to fans, players and President alike. It was a gesture to get the spoilt champions on board, give them someone they will automatically respect and listen to due to his playing career. The problem is that any new coach will take time to get his movements drilled into the minds of the players, even more so a tactician who has never worked as a boss before and has a shorter pre-season than most to get it all done.
It’d be worth checking the live betting for odds on Sampdoria getting at least a point from the Allianz Stadium in the opening game. Even rougher for the Bianconeri will be the next few rounds, against Roma, Napoli, newly-promoted Crotone and Ivan Juric’s surprise outfit Hellas Verona. That’s a rough start to any season, let alone one with so much uncertainty within the reigning champions.
Of course, we said all this last year too, that it would take Juve a long time to get to grips with Sarri’s tactics. Ultimately, they never managed it at all, but got through by the skin of their teeth thanks to the old-school Old Lady approach: grit, determination, grinding out results. They won the Scudetto by default, as the chasing pack were so busy tripping up over their own feet that they never got close enough to take the leaders down.
So, tip Juventus to get off to a difficult start. Inter have an extra week to prepare for their debut against Fiorentina, having ended their campaign late in the Europa League Final, and are relatively unchanged. Napoli transformed their attack and it remains to be seen if Kalidou Koulibaly will still be there once the Serie A fixtures kick off. Atalanta generally start seasons slow under Gian Piero Gasperini anyway, so don’t be surprised if they struggle a little in the opening weeks while they get that diesel motor of a team up and running to full speed.
Lazio have a very different problem. This is a team that is practically unchanged since last season, which is good for a strong start to the campaign. They’ll need that when beginning against Atalanta, Cagliari and Inter. The problem is they’ve still got the same issues as last term, with the added bonus of Champions League football that will deplete their resources quicker than the Europa League group stage ever did. There can be no resting of half the squad on a Thursday evening, no writing off the tournament as even less important than the Coppa Italia. Simone Inzaghi needs reinforcements, he was promised them, and so far they have not arrived. Mohamed Fares is an excellent buy, as he already knows the system and his old SPAL teammate Manuel Lazzari, but the others just aren’t up to scratch for a side in three major tournaments.
Milan did not change, they added, and that could finally push them into the top four. The early fixtures also look promising, Bologna, Crotone, Spezia, until Inter and Roma come along with the big tests. Another side that evolved rather than revolutionised is Sassuolo, and under Roberto De Zerbi, they truly can be a force this season. A relatively easy run of early fixtures can put them on the map and boost confidence.
I worry for Torino, Cagliari and Parma, sides under new coaches with extremely specific tactics that are not easy to grasp. We saw how badly Marco Giampaolo and Eusebio Di Francesco did last term adapting to new environments, while Fabio Liverani’s approach could not be more different to predecessor Roberto D'Aversa. It’s going to be a rough opening few rounds for clubs unaccustomed to being in the danger zone.