Coppa Italia: Third Round / Team rating: [5/10] / Top scorer: Francesco Caputo (16) / Europe: N/A
Empoli tried to change what got them into Serie A in the first place and returned to their identity too late, writes Chris Matta.
If they had stuck to the approach that earned them the Serie B title and promotion only a few months earlier, Empoli might still be in Serie A. Instead, their decision to sack Coach Aurelio Andreazzoli only to recall him after a brief period under Beppe Iachini proved to be deeply damaging.
It’s not that the Tuscans were ever sailing towards mid-table comfort, of course, as they never found themselves above 15th place after the opening month. However, the performances once Andreazzoli returned had so much quality and attacking intent that many felt they didn’t deserve to go down. His men beat Napoli, Fiorentina, Sampdoria and Torino, while holding Atalanta to a surprisingly dramatic 0-0 draw.
Going into the final game of the season, Empoli had a one-point advantage over Genoa, who occupied the final relegation place. The Tuscans needed to defeat Inter at San Siro to decide their own future, but unfortunately for them, the Nerazzurri had left it to the last round to secure their Champions League status and were highly motivated too.
Genoa got away with a dire 0-0 draw away to Fiorentina, while Samir Handanovic heroics alone prevented Empoli picking up the point they needed against Inter. The Grifone were saved by a superior head-to-head record.
The Coach: Aurelio Andreazzoli and Beppe Iachini
Andreazzoli was sacked on November 5 and Iachini had an initial new Coach bump, securing 10 points in his first four games, but it was all downhill from there and a deeply negative approach pleased nobody. The man who got Empoli into Serie A in the first place was recalled on March 13 and at least they went down fighting in style.
Player of the Year: Francesco Caputo
The 31-year-old had only experienced top flight football once before, with a handful of appearances for Bari in 2010-11, scoring one goal. ‘Ciccio’ had a fairy-tale campaign with 16 goals and three assists, finding the net against the likes of Juventus, Milan, Napoli and Torino.
Highlight: Empoli 4-1 Torino
Enthusiasm was sky high in the penultimate round, as they demolished a Toro side challenging for Europe with some sensational football. It was their third straight win, the result that took them out of the bottom three for the first time since the start of April and their fate was at least in their own hands.
Nightmare: Inter 2-1 Empoli
It's the ultimate nightmare for fans on the final day of the season. You know the future is in your hands, a win against Inter could’ve seen them hold tight to that 17th position and they pinned the multi-millionaires back into their own penalty area for long periods. A thrilling game for the neutral, heart-breaking for Empoli.
Did You Know?
- Empoli had the second worst defensive record in Serie A this season with 70 goals conceded, fewer only than rock bottom Chievo.
- Bartlomiej Dragowski made 17 saves in the 0-0 draw with Atalanta, a record since Opta began collecting Serie A data in 2004-05.
- No team threw away more points than Empoli from leading situations this season – 27.