Coppa Italia: Fourth Round / Team rating: [8/10] / Top scorer: Andrea Petagna (16) / Europe: N/A
Leonardo Semplici’s side made another step up, combining attack-minded football with results and mid-table comfort, writes Susy Campanale.
Every season with Leonardo Semplici at the helm seems to be a step forward for SPAL, climbing another level towards something truly special. He has taken this tiny club from Serie C to the top flight, then even avoided last year’s late struggle to secure safety. Their status never seemed to be in doubt and that was also thanks to a spectacular start, which saw the Spallini win three of their opening four games, conceding only one goal. They seem to step up a gear against the big clubs, perhaps because the expansive playing style thrives in open spaces, resulting in victories home and away with Roma, not to mention a late surge with wins over Lazio and Juventus.
It is probably no coincidence that their negative run of results came around the same time as winger Manuel Lazzari’s injury, only going to show just how essential he really is to SPAL’s system. If he is to be sold this summer, as seems inevitable, then Semplici must find an alternative fast.
With the passionate fans and compact Stadio Paolo Mazza in Ferrara, SPAL are quickly becoming a firm fixture in Serie A. They hadn’t popped their heads into this division for 55 years and yet now feel perfectly at home. It’s success stories like this that point the way forward for Italian football, both on and off the playing field.
Coach: Leonardo Semplici
Compared to Gian Piero Gasperini of Atalanta, and with good reason, Semplici is such an integral part of this project and their climb from obscurity of Serie C is inspiring. His approach is based on quality, with very attacking wing-backs Manuel Lazzari and Mohamed Fares pumping in crosses from all angles. SPAL are never passive and that is to be admired.
Player of the Year: Andrea Petagna
During his time with Atalanta and even going back to the Italy Under-21 side, Petagna was known as a hard worker who held up the ball, helped his teammates and couldn’t hit a barn door. Being able to score goals seems like it ought to be important for a centre-forward and Petagna finally found his mojo in Ferrara. He pulverised his previous Serie A personal best of just five goals with Atalanta in 2016-17 by finding the net 16 times.
Highlight: SPAL 2-1 Juventus
The shining moment in a commanding run of six wins in eight rounds from March to May was their defeat of the Scudetto victors. Moise Kean had opened the scoring for Juve, but Kevin Bonifazi and veteran Sergio Floccari turned it around in a sparkling second half performance that pretty much guaranteed Serie A comfort.
Nightmare: Historic VAR
Referred to as the nightmare scenario ever since VAR was introduced, it really happened on February 17. SPAL scored a goal on the counter-attack to go 2-1 up, but not only was that disallowed, play was brought back to an earlier foul on Federico Chiesa and a penalty awarded to Fiorentina instead. The hosts were so furious they fell to pieces and eventually lost 4-1.
Did You Know?
- Andrea Petagna set a new club record with 16 Serie A goals, beating the previous best of 12 by Egidio Morbello in 1959-60.
- SPAL found the net with 18 headers this season, more than any other Serie A side.
- Only 10 times in 38 rounds did the Spallini fail to score, none in the final 11.