The Bandinis 2017: an exhaustive review of the Serie A season

A season of expected change in Italy ended in familiar fashion but Napoli’s title bid, Lazio’s resurgence and a host of young talent made for a memorable campaign

This was supposed to be a season of change in Serie A. VAR would put an end to the old polemics about match officials favouring the big clubs, while Milan’s lavish transfer spending would restore them as title contenders. Juventus, shorn of Leonardo Bonucci and Dani Alves, looked vulnerable after losing to Lazio in August’s Supercoppa.

By the end, what we had was the same old story. The bianconeri lifted their seventh consecutive scudetto – benefiting from a bad refereeing decision at a vital moment just when they appeared to be unravelling in late April. Milan finished sixth, and might yet be excluded from the Europa League after failing to meet Uefa’s financial fair play requirements.

Same old, same old. And yet, there was so much to enjoy along the way. Napoli, despite faltering at the end, produced a sensational campaign, becoming the first team ever to pick up more than 90 points and not win Serie A. Roma, in their first season under Eusebio di Francesco, reached a Champions League semi-final after a comeback for the ages against Barcelona. Lazio scored 89 goals in 38 games.

Fans were enraptured by emerging young talent, from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to Cengiz Under, Patrick Cutrone, Federico Chiesa and Pietro Pellegri – who made his dad cry by becoming the youngest player ever to grab a Serie A double. Average attendances across the league rose by almost 2,500.

This was a season marked by sadness, too, following the death of Davide Astori. The summer pause might yet be the hardest time for his Fiorentina team-mates, for whom playing games – and winning them – became a coping mechanism.

Juventus players were applauded by fans of the Viola – their bitter rivals – after flying directly back from their Champions League game at Tottenham to attend Astori’s funeral. It was a reminder that football remains, as it ever was, a game: the most important of the least important of things.

Six weeks later, Fiorentina effectively handed Juventus the Scudetto with a 3-0 rout of Napoli. The ending might feel familiar, yet it is easy to forget how many improbable twists and turns we witnessed along the way.

Player of the season

His team-mate Ciro Immobile finished joint-top of the scoring charts and Luis Alberto had more assists, but for me Lazio’s Serb midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was this season’s standout performer.

Twelve goals from midfield are no small thing, but to fully appreciate his contribution you need to see his outlandish blend of power and finesse in action. The expectation is that he will be sold this summer. In this post-Neymar transfer market, the €100m+ transfer fee being sought by Claudio Lotito does not feel like an unjustifiable sum.

Goal of the season

5) Federico Bernardeschi tees himself up against Spal.

4) Foot like a traction engine dept: take your pick from Suso against Udinese or Sampdoria’s Lucas Torreira against Chievo.

3) Duván Zapata goes coast to coast for Samp against Udinese.

2) Simy’s overhead kick for Crotone against Juventus was good. But Andrea Belotti’s for Torino against Sassuolo was better.

1) Oh nothing, just a backheel volley lob from Ciro Immobile to equalise in the 94th minute of an away game.

Best goal by a keeper

Benevento had lost the first 14 games of their first-ever top-flight campaign – more than once snatching defeat from the jaws of a draw – before hosting Milan at the start of December. This time they would be the ones to find a 95th-minute equaliser, courtesy of goalie Alberto Brignoli – whose eyes-closed technique supported his own claim that he’s afraid of heading the ball.

Alberto Brignoli leaves his goal, leaps through the air, shuts his eyes and heads a historic goal.

Save of the season

Gianluigi Donnarumma had been in erratic form for Milan after signing a lucrative new deal following his stand-off with directors last summer. But the point-blank stop he pulled off to deny Arkadiusz Milik an injury-time winner in April was a reminder of his outrageous potential.

Honourable mention: Torreira comes to Sampdoria’s rescue against Spal. It’s just a shame he wasn’t playing in goal

Team of the season

(3-5-2) Alisson; Milan Skriniar, Kalidou Koulibaly, Giorgio Chiellini; Douglas Costa, Luis Alberto, Miralem Pjanic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Lorenzo Insigne; Mauro Icardi, Ciro Immobile.

Subs: Mattia Perin, Aleksandar Kolarov, Alex Sandro, Davide Astori, Allan, Jordan Veretout, Josip Ilicic, Suso, Papu Gómez, Edin Dzeko, Paulo Dybala.

Manager of the season

A big part of me wants to give this award to Simone Inzaghi. He has taken other teams’ trash and turned it into treasure – from Luis Alberto to Immobile – developing tactics that exploit his players’ strengths and fostering a blisteringly direct style that is both effective and wildly entertaining. Lazio faced Juventus three times this season and outplayed the champions on every occasion.

In the end, the biancocelesti did come up short, and Inzaghi’s substitutions in that final game against Inter were questionable. The nerazzurri’s own manager, Luciano Spalletti, might deserve consideration here for steering his team back into the Champions League for the first time in six years. Then again, how to explain that almost catastrophic run through December and January?

You could likewise make a case for Maurizio Sarri, who took Napoli further than even he might have imagined possible at the outset – and especially when you consider the injuries to Arkadiusz Milik and Faouzi Ghoulam. But did his reluctance to rotate his starting XI cause them to fade down the stretch? Eusebio Di Francesco impressed at Roma, but did his best work in Europe.

And so I am left with the obvious choice. Massimiliano Allegri likes to protest that a manager can only make, at most, a 5% impact on the performance of his team, and yet his knack for changing games, and seasons, on the fly is undeniable. There were times this season when Juventus looked a mess, muddling through 36 different starting lineups in 37 games and playing extremely stodgy football.

Yet they finished with 95 points and an unprecedented fourth domestic double. When the chips were down away to Lazio, to Inter, even to Napoli early in the season – when Juventus were already trailing by four points – his team always found a way to win.

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Best prophecy

Federico Chiesa, predicting as a little boy that he would score Fiorentina’s goals after Gabriel Batistuta moved on.

Best pass

Antonio Candreva’s endless futile crossing could drive Inter fans to distraction. But he sure nailed this 30-yard ball to himself.

Most supportive family

Cristián Zapata provided the headed assist as his brother Duván opened the scoring for Sampdoria against Milan in September. It’s just a shame that Cristian plays for the rossoneri.

Honourable mention: Bastos’s son was not impressed at being made to leave the pitch before Lazio’s home game against Cagliari.

Worst chat

Mario Mandzukic, talking his way from a yellow card to a red in under three seconds.

Quote of the season

“If my grandfather had three balls he’d be a pinball machine” – Gennaro Gattuso, responding to suggestions that Milan’s season might look very different if it weren’t for a few key incidents going against them in big games.


Nicky Bandini

The GuardianTramp

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