This summer in Serie A was dominated by the return of Jose Mourinho, Massimiliano Allegri, and Maurizio Sarri to Italy’s top flight. However, so far this season the race for the Scudetto is being fought between two unheralded managers of Napoli and AC Milan.
Both Napoli and AC Milan are seven points clear of reigning champions Inter Milan. Both have dropped just two points so far this season. It is a race that looks set to go all the way to the wire.
Unheralded Managers Leading Serie A Title Race
Stefano Pioli Continues to Transform AC Milan
It is fair to say that AC Milan fans were not exactly enthused by the appointment of Stefano Pioli in October 2019. To be honest that is probably an understatement. On the day Pioli was announced as the Rossoneri’s new boss #PioliOut was the top trend in Italy.
However, he has proved his critics wrong. Pioli has transformed AC Milan from a club going nowhere fast to a side who are title contenders.
In his first full season in charge, he guided them to a second-place finish and a return to the Champions League, something that had alluded the Rossoneri for seven years. This season, he has guided AC Milan to their best-ever start to a Serie A season in their 122-year history.
The biggest key to AC Milan’s success under Pioli has been the midfield partnership of Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer. The duo forms the heartbeat of the side and both are industrious and hard-working. They have made it possible for Milan’s attacking players to flourish. These include Zlatan Ibrahimović who, aged 40, is still playing at the highest level.
AC Milan’s Clear Vision
Pioli has also implemented a clear vision and style of play. He has bought well, with Simon Kjaer being a key cornerstone of Milan’s backline. New goalkeeper Mike Maignan is impressing after being signed to replace Gianluigi Donnarumma who left in the summer for Paris Saint-Germain.
Milan have shown they are a match for anybody and impressed against Liverpool and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. In both games, they were unfortunate not to pick up any points. On Sunday, they face rivals Inter in the first Milan derby of the season. A win would put them 10 points clear of the Nerazzuri.
Pioli has no major honours to his name as a manager but what better way to start than with the Serie A title. On their current form, you wouldn’t put that past his side.
Spalletti Turns Napoli Into Serie A Title Challengers
Last season, Napoli finished a disappointing fifth place. From being perennial title challengers under Maurizio Sarri, Napoli have finished the last two seasons outside the top four. But this season, Luciano Spalletti looks set to mount a serious title challenge with the Gli Azzurri. Appointed in the summer, Spalletti has had decent success as a manager, unlike Pioli.
He won two Coppa Italia’s and an Italian Super Cup with Roma. He also guided Zenit to two Russian league titles, a Russian Cup and Russian Super Cup. During his time at Inter Milan, Spalletti guided them back to the Champions League for the first time in six years.
It has been an incredible start for Spalletti in Naples. He has won nine of his first 10 league games and has conceded a paltry three goals – the least amount in Europe’s top five leagues.
New Formation Has Been Very Effective for Napoli
Spalletti has decided to use a 4-3-3 formation with two box-to-box midfielders in Piotr Zielenski and André-Frank Zambo Anguissa on either side of Fabian Ruiz. This has allowed the Spanish international to see more of the ball and dictate the play.
Also, Napoli are looking to put opponents under pressure in the final third and this allows them to essentially pin them in, set up camp in the opposition’s half, and have a base for their wave upon wave of attacks.
Spalletti is also getting the best out of striker Victor Osimhen. The Nigerian international had a stop-start debut season with a mixture of injuries and Covid hampering his impact in the Napoli side. But he is starting to show why Napoli paid €81.3 million. He has scored five goals in nine Serie A appearances. In Spalletti’s chosen formation, Osimhen sees a lot of the ball in around the penalty area. The manager is treating him as an out and out number nine.
Last year, Napoli’s greatest player Diego Maradona passed away. Maradona helped guide Napoli to two Serie A titles. Luciano Spalletti knows that if he is to guide Napoli to their first title since 1990, the form of Osimhen will be key to their title aspirations.
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