Spezia couldn’t have chosen a worse season to embark on their first-ever Serie A campaign. Promoted through the Serie B play-offs in late August, coach Vincenzo Italiano had just one month to prepare his side - who were hardly promotion favourites in the first place - for top-flight football. To make matters worse, their 10,000 capacity Stadio Alberto Picco wasn’t up to scratch for Serie A, meaning that they had to enter into a temporary groundshare agreement with Cesena - who are based over 300km away from La Spezia - until renovations were completed on the stadium.
In an attempt to build a side capable of competing in Serie A on short-notice, Spezia recruited in numbers, their transfer strategy seemingly consisting of phoning other top-flight clubs to ask whether they had any players available on loan. In total, they brought in 19 new players, with 13 of those arriving on either a dry loan or an option to buy at the end of their loan spell. Despite this, Spezia still appeared, at least on paper, to be one of the weakest teams in the league.
Naturally, most pundits predicted that Spezia would go straight back down. They might yet be proven right - it’s still early days - but Italiano’s side have begun the season in promising fashion. Gli Aquilotti currently sit 14th in Serie A, with a record of two wins, four draws and three defeats, and are currently adrift of the relegation zone by a margin of four points.
It’s not like they were handed an easy start, either. Spezia’s three defeats came at the hands of teams who currently occupy the top six (Sassuolo, Milan and Juventus), and their draws have been against well-established top-flight teams (Parma, Fiorentina, Atalanta and Cagliari). The match against Atalanta was particularly impressive, as they managed to keep a clean sheet against a team who scored nearly 100 goals in Serie A last season. Gli Aquilotti also failed to concede in their victories against Udinese and Benevento; the latter victory noteworthy as they scored three goals and held possession of the ball for 63% of the game.
What’s been key to Spezia’s success so far this season has been the fact that they seem to thrive off their underdog image. In his interview with Sky Sport Italia after the Atalanta game, Italiano said: “We read the predictions before the season began that we were guaranteed to go down, so that sparked some pride and we wanted to prove them wrong”. Indeed, Spezia have proven not to be the kind of team that goes down without a fight, as demonstrated in their 2-2 draw with Fiorentina back in October. They had conceded twice within the first five minutes, but fought back, scoring two of their own to ensure they returned to Liguria with a point.
Their start to the season seems all the more impressive when you consider how newly-promoted sides tend to fare in Serie A, especially the smaller clubs who have never played in the league before. Carpi, Frosinone and Benevento were all relegated in their first-ever season in the top-flight; the latter infamously had to wait 14 matches before registering their first point. Crotone also struggled in their maiden Serie A season, and only stayed up due to a superb run of form in their final nine games.
The fate of these sides should also serve as a warning to Spezia. They’re far from being out of the woods in terms of relegation yet, with 29 games still left to play. They’ve begun the season in the right way, though, and, if they are drawn into a relegation battle, we know they won’t go down without a fight.