Top of the class: Milan, Internazionale, Roma
2020 really was a renaissance year for Milan. Crowned ‘winter champions’ at the weekend, the title given to the team top after 19 rounds, the past year has really seen Milan return to something of their former selves. Their 3-1 defeat to Juventus in early January ended a 27-game unbeaten run in the league that saw them lose their first game since March 2020. It had been their longest unbeaten run in the top-flight since between 1991-1993, where they went 58 in a row without defeat. They were crowned ‘winter champions’ at the weekend, the title given to the team top after 19 rounds.
Stefano Pioli’s men have amassed 43 points so far, which is their biggest haul in the first half of the season in a 20-team league since 1950-51.
The signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic has certainly played a pivotal role in dramatically changing the Rossoneri’s destiny. The Swede – who was instrumental in their last league title back in 2011 – has scored 12 Serie A goals already in 2020-21, and he’s reached double figures in every league season since 2006-07.
Behind Milan, are Antonio Conte’s Internazionale. The Nerazzurri missed out on the opportunity to join their rivals at the top of the league last matchday, firing blank at Udinese. Not scoring has been a rarity for Inter so far this season, with their 45 strikes in the first half of the campaign their best return in the first half of a Serie A season in history. Key to their attacking threat has been Romelu Lukaku who has 12 goals for Inter so far.
The Belgian is have a fantastic season in the blue half of Milan so far, as demonstrated by the above chart. In Serie A this season, Lukaku has averaged 0.68 xG per 90 from non-penalty shots this season – his best-ever record in a single campaign. What makes him even more deadly is that he’s taking attempts from more intelligent positions than before. His average xG per open play shot is at 0.23 in 2020-21. This is another career-high and impressively up from 0.15 in 2019-20 at Internazionale and his previous highest of 0.19 at Manchester United in 2018-19. For a more in-depth look at Lukaku’s season, click here.
Roma have also been prolific going forward, netting 41 times in total – their best tally at this stage in the last eight seasons. The Stadio Olympic has been a fortress for them, with Roma the only team unbeaten at home. In those home games, they’ve won the most points (24) and scored the joint-most home goals (25, tied with Napoli and Inter) of any side.
The main man for Roma this season has been former Manchester United and Arsenal forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan. With eight goals, he’s Roma’s top goalscorer and his eight assists also see him top the assist chart for all players. In fact, his total of 16 goal involvements is the second-highest in the league, trailing only Cristiano Ronaldo (15 goals, three assists).
Ultimately, it’s been in defence where they’ve struggled, leaking 32 goals in total – the most conceded by any team in the top half.
Solid, But Can Do Better: Atalanta, Juventus, Napoli
After a difficult start to their season, Gasperini’s Atalanta have returned to something resembling their best. Since the start of December, La Dea are the only team without a defeat in Serie A (W6 D4) and that recent good run of form has taken their tally to 36 points, a record for them at this stage in the Serie A.
Key to their attacking play has been Luis Muriel. The Colombian, who is Atalanta’s top scorer in the league with 13 goals, has had the most goal involvements following a carry by a player in Serie A this season (six – five goals and one assist).
Getting the most out of his full-backs is a key trait of a Gasperini system. Over the last two seasons, no side has seen its defenders score more goals than Atalanta.
34 – #Atalanta have scored 34 goals with their defenders over the last two seasons in all competitions, a joint-record among sides in the top-5 European Leagues. Attitude.#AtalantaLazio pic.twitter.com/0TVvLDGAdd
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) January 27, 2021
Juve are undergoing a transitional season under rookie coach Andrea Pirlo and it was only normal to expect a period of adjustment until the club legend is able to effectively embed his ideals. Their inconsistent start is effectively what’s allowed their opponents to join the title race, in what is usually a one-horse race.
Pirlo’s team have a game in hand, making their current seven-point gap to the top slightly misleading. Win that and they go third.
Pirlo’s star man has been the everlasting Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese talisman has done what he does best this season and that’s scoring goals. His 15 goals make him Serie A top scorer and he also sits atop the Expected Goals rankings too.
Such is his consistency that if Ronaldo – who is without a goal in his last two Serie A games – fails to score against Sampdoria, it would be the first time since April 2019 that he’s failed to score in three consecutive games.
Napoli sit in sixth but with that game in hand against Juventus they could spring up to third. With the joint-best goal difference in the league, it’s evident that they’ve been strong at both ends of the pitch. Led by the attacking duo of Hirving Lozano and Lorenzo Insigne (both with nine goals), the side from Naples have fired more shots at goal than any other team, despite playing one game fewer. Lozano is looking to reach 10 goals in a campaign for a third time in the four league seasons he has played in Europe (since arriving in 2017-18) while Insigne could score 10+ goals in a fourth different Serie A campaign.
Notable Improvers: Sassuolo, Hellas Verona, Sampdoria and Benevento
Milan’s renaissance aside, De Zerbi’s Sassolo have improved the most from last season. They are 11 points better off than they were after 19 games in 2019-20, and their 32 goals is the highest total they’ve registered in a Serie A season at this point. They’ve done it through a possession-based brand of football too, with their average possession of 58% the second-highest in the league behind Juve (58.5%). That said, they’ve hardly had control of matches, leaking 303 shots so far (second-most) and both scoring and conceding in each of their last eight Serie A matches, the longest ongoing run among teams currently in the competition.
Another notable improvers are Ranieri’s Sampdoria – who closed the first half of the campaign with seven points more than at the same point last season (26 vs 19), while Pippo Inzaghi’s Benevento have already accrued more points (22) than in their entire Serie A debut season in 2017-18 (21).
Failing: Crotone, Torino, Parma, Cagliari
At the bottom, Crotone are in serious trouble. While they’ve shown glimpses of attractive football, they’ve been exposed defensively and have conceded a league-high 43 goals so far, shipping an average of 2.3 goals per game. There isn’t anything unlucky about this either: they rank second-bottom for Expected Goals Against and shots on target faced.
The team ranking first for those unwanted metrics is Cagliari. Eusebio Di Francesco’s side are on a six-game losing run and could lose seven in a row for the first time in their history in the competition. They’ve also gone 12 games without a win in the league, in a barren run stretching all the way back to early November (D4 L8). Over that stretch, Cagliari have scored 10 goals and conceded 22, for a combined goal difference of -12.
Torino have never had a worse first half to a Serie A season with just two wins so far. They’ve been crippled by their inability to hold onto leads, dropping the most points from leading positions of any teams in the top five leagues.
Parma have also chalked up just two wins, thanks to scoring the fewest goals in the campaign (14), and registering the lowest Expected Goals tally too (17). Their attack really is anaemic: since the start of December Parma’s shot conversation rate is just 4%, the lowest in the league.
The Stats Perform AI team has provided a simulation to generate predicted league tables for all of Europe’s top five leagues. The statistical model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team’s attacking and defensive quality. Those ratings are allocated based on four years’ worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for changes in form and personnel over time.
It’s set to be a wild and unpredictable three-horse race in Italy. Our model gives Internazionale (35.8%) a slightly better chance than rivals Milan (21.3%) and Juventus (23.1%) of winning the Serie A crown. At the bottom, the trio of Crotone (78.9%), Parma (56%) and Cagliari (49.4%) look likely to face the drop.
One thing’s for sure: Juve have got a big fight on their hands to make it 10 titles in a row.
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