There’s really only one place in Europe right now where you can find a multi-team title race on the cards, and that’s in Italy for the 121st edition of Serie A.
While Leipzig, Dortmund and Leverkusen are flailing around in the realm of inconsistency in Germany, Marseille, Lyon and Monaco are constantly trying to rebuild to keep pace with PSG. Manchester City look set to lead the way in the Premier League while La Liga will most likely be won by Barcelona or Real Madrid. For Italian football fans, though, the 2022-23 Serie A season is hard to call. There’s no clear favourite running away with the competition even as we reach match week eight.
If the winner of the league was judged on who started the season with the most exciting squad, then Stefano Pioli’s AC Milan would render the title race useless. The Italian won the league with the fourth-youngest team in the division last season and has kept hold of his illustrious stars; Franck Kessié was the only first teamer to leave, and Pioli added Charles De Ketelaere, Malick Thiaw, Aster Vranckx and Sergiño Dest. Those four, plus the arrival of last summer’s signing Yacine Adli, are all 21-years-old or younger. It’s a squad oozing with potential, but it has not been plain sailing for the Rossoneri.
Two draws against Atalanta and Sassuolo have stuttered the start to the campaign for the champions and it’s worth remembering that by FBREF’s expected goal difference p90 statistics, it was eternal rivals Inter who ‘should’ have won the league last season.
Simone Inzaghi’s men were expected to win the title in 2022 and many believe they will be claiming a scudetto in 2023, even if they’ve already suffered crucial defeats to Lazio and Milan. The summer business hasn’t been without issue either, as losing Ivan Perisic on the left wing will be a huge blow for Inter across the season. The Croatian contributed to sixteen goals last year and played the fourth most league minutes of any outfielder in the squad.
Fans of I Nerazzurri will feel at rest, though, knowing they have January’s signing of Robin Gosens ready to step in. He forms part of a first team that, on paper, is possibly the strongest in Italy right now. The club have held onto the magic trio of Milan Škriniar, Stefan de Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni, while adding Henrik Mkhitaryan to a midfield already featuring Nico Barella and Marcelo Brozović. That’s a healthy supplyline to a dangerous frontline that rotates between Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martínez, Joaquín Correa and Edin Džeko.
The issue with Inter is a historic one though, in that they are infamous for falling at the last hurdle. Whether that be in 2022 or 2003, it’s never plain sailing for the blue half of the San Siro. The same can’t be said for a team two hours west in Turin.
Juventus are in a strange state. Max Allegri has stirred up aggravation on social media for his confusing tactics already this season, and Denis Zakaria leaving after just 8 months got people whispering about what exactly was going on behind closed doors. Yet the 36-time Serie A champions still have an air of inevitability around them, especially since their coach was lifting his fifth consecutive title just three years ago. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Juventus, while suffering a poor start to last season, took 36 points from a possible 57 in 2022. That averages out at 1.89 points per game, not too far off Milan’s 2.26 pg from last season. The arrivals of Paul Pogba and Bremer, and the hopeful growth in form from Dušan Vlahović would suggest the gap between challengers and table-toppers closes this year.
Another team expected to improve this season is José Mourinho’s Roma. Although they spent the least of the seven sisters of Italian football (Roma, Juventus, Milan, Inter, Lazio, Fiorentina, Napoli) they made the loudest noise in the window by capturing the services of Paulo Dybala on a free transfer.
Amid the quarrelling over his contract with Juventus and the various injuries suffered at the Allianz, the simple fact is that Roma have added a man with over 150 goals and assists in 293 Serie A games to a frontline that already includes Tammy Abraham and Lorenzo Pellegrini. The additions of Zeki Çelik from Lille, a more than competent full-back, Nemanja Matić and Andrea Belotti have sparked more excitement amongst fans. Yet, there’s still a linger of the more modern Mourinho inconsistency that’s holding them back, shown by their recent 4-0 humbling away at Udinese.
Roma still have the ambition and the recent pedigree, after winning the UEFA Conference League, to aim for a Serie A title. That’s maybe more than can be said for last season’s challengers Napoli, where some fans suspect to see a considerable drop-off. Luciano Spalletti lost Lorenzo Insigne, Kalidou Koulibaly, Fabián Ruiz, Dries Mertens and David Ospina over the summer and only had €52m to replace those titans from recent iterations of the Little Donkeys.
Thankfully, their recruitment drive already looks to be a splendid success. Young 21-year-old Georgian winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has netted four goals inside his first four games. His exceptional dribbling has stolen the limelight, and almost makes you forget this new-look squad features the talents of Tanguy Ndombele, Giacomo Raspadori and Giovanni Simeone.
What cost Napoli last year especially late on was their lack of depth so the small moves made this window are encouraging. Leo Östigard garnered plaudits in a turbulent spell in Genoa last season, and has been signed for €5.8m. Mathías Olivera, a Spanish left-back from Getafe, represents another competent edition. Of course, much of the hope this campaign will lie on the shoulders of talismanic striker Victor Osimhen. He scored 14 goals from just 23 starts last season, as the 23-year-old is able to find success in a range of testing situations due to his giant leap and speed. However, the Nigerian has missed nearly 40 games with injury since moving from Lille in 2020, which marks a big asterisk over the chances of a trophy coming to Naples. Still, Napoli were one of just three teams to go the first five games of the season unbeaten.
Alongside Napoli and Milan are perhaps the unlikeliest contenders of them all in Atalanta. The 21/22 season was a down year relative to the now-lofty expectations set by fans in Bergamo. Gian Piero Gasperini’s side finished eighth, his lowest finish at Atalanta since moving there in 2016. As usual, goalscoring wasn’t a major problem with La Dea hitting 77, the same number they finished with when they secured third in 2019/20. It was defensively where the side were let down, conceding 48 goals from xGA of 45.3.
The defence looks better protected now though with Dutch midfielder Teun Koopmeiners fully acclimatising to Italian football 12 months after leaving AZ Alkmaar. His midfielder partner Marten de Roon is averaging over 4.2 tackles and interceptions p90 too, helping break up opposition counterattacks.
Atalanta are forever the hipster’s choice, and it would be an almighty feat to finish first in such a competitive title race. Third is the highest they’ve ever reached in top-flight Italian football. Yet their quality is undeniable, as the rotating front three of Ruslan Malinovskyi, Luis Muriel and Duván Zapata strike fear into every defence in the league.
In overall quality, both sides of Inter will argue they have the means to stomp to another title. Or perhaps Juventus, with an injection of youth and Paul Pogba still to come back, may return the league to the monotonous state of the mid-to-late 2010s. Unpredictability is a rare trait in modern football but the fact there are seven teams at the minimum who have a genuine shot, and likely ambition, of ending the year head and shoulders above their peers bodes well for another exciting year in Serie A.