Italian football has long been a cornerstone of football culture across the whole world. From players to managers, the history of Italian football and the coaches that manage within it have deeply enriched the sport as we know it.
From Fulvio Bernardini to Vittorio Pozzo, from Fabio Cappello to Carlo Ancelotti, the masterminds of Italy have consistently been intertwined with the development and enrichment of the game.
This season has been no different, with tales of Italian-led successes being one of Europe’s most prominent headlines, with coaches striving to achieve, inspire and innovate like those who have before them.
Roberto De Zerbi’s Brighton & Hove Albion
Turning Seagulls into Pythons
For some, when Graham Potter left the south coast of England, the immediate reaction was panic. But that panic didn’t hit Brighton. Instead, chairman Tony Bloom took a calculated risk and brought in Roberto De Zerbi.
De Zerbi’s standing in the game really grew when he started coaching Sassuolo, he steered the club to two consecutive eighth-place finishes whilst also playing incredibly entertaining football.
After his spell in Ukraine was prematurely cut short due to the Russian invasion, De Zerbi became a free agent and it would be Brighton who would take the gamble on the Italian in a huge job in replacing Potter.
This season has seen Brighton’s stature rise massively, with the Italian’s brand of football at the centre of it. It is possible to compare elements of the Seagulls‘ style of play to others, with De Zerbi having education from Pep Guardiola and Marcelo Bielsa, two modern footballing managerial icons.
Yet, the seaside club’s style of play is innovative and new in its own way. It’s methodical, with Brighton looking to draw teams into pressing higher, leaving themselves open to a strike.
Bloom’s Moneyball-esque approach has paid off again, with the club recording their highest-ever finish, and securing Europa League football for next season, it seems as though the Seagulls will continue to fly, higher and higher, under Roberto De Zerbi.
Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli
New names inscribed into folklore at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium
Football in Naples has rich names, rich icons, and a richer fanbase. Italy’s major cities often share teams; Milan, Turin, and Rome just to name a few all share more than one Serie A side. Yet for Naples, the Partenopei is the be-all and end-all. You’re Napoli or nothing.
The North of Italy’s dominance of the Scudetto has been constant, with the title being won by sides in Milan or Turin most commonly. That is partly why Luciano Spalletti’s side have written themselves into Serie A and Neapolitan folklore.
The main figureheads of Napoli’s recent history departed last summer, with Kalidou Koulibaly and Fabian Ruiz departing for a combined fee of €61 million. Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens also departed for America and Turkey respectively at the end of their contracts. The club needed new heroes to fall in love with, alongside those who remained.
“Systems no longer exist in football, it’s all about the spaces left by the opposition. You must be quick to spot them and know the right moment to strike, have the courage to start the move even when pressed.”Lucianno Spalletti, After Napoli 4 – 2 Ajax
So in came, Kim Min-jae, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Tanguy Ndombele, and Mathias Oliveria, who have all played the majority of the side’s games this season in Serie A. The headlines, of course, have been flooded with the names of the Korean centre-back and also the Georgian starlet, though the Partenopei’s most expensive signing was the one to set the stage fully alight.
It hasn’t been the breakout season for Victor Osimhen, but it has been the one where everyone has truly begun to take notice of his presence. The Nigerian has scored 28 times in 36 matches, across Serie A and the Champions League.
This wouldn’t have been possible without Spalletti though, his system, or lack of it this season, has been superb. Their pressing? Relentless. Their attack? Deadly, with terrifying speed. Their defence? Impregnable. Their football? A joy to watch.
Spalletti’s system and squad building are a large part of why the Scudetto was brought back to Naples after 30 years, but his brains were just as important. Unfortunately for Napoli, though, he has now confirmed that he will leave the club this summer.
Vincenzo Italiano’s Fiorentina
A new set of icons for the Viola?
Fiorentina’s last European honour came after the Second World War, winning both the European Cup Winner’s Cup in the 1960/61 season and also the Mitropa Cup in 1966.
In Serie A, the Viola have had a somewhat regular season, finishing middle of the pack and failing to out any pressure on the European places. Things were very tough to begin with, Vincenzo Italian wrestled it back in the second half of the campaign.
It’s cup competitions where the side have massively impressed though, reaching not only the final of the Coppa Italia but also the Europa Conference League.
The side’s route to the Coppa Italia final hasn’t seen them overcome any major challenges, facing Torino, and two relegated sides in Cremonese and Sampdoria. Although Lautaro Martinez proved too much for the side in the final, it is still their first final since the 1998/99 season, which is a testament to the work Italiano has done.
Their route to the final of the Europa Conference League was very mixed Basel, the side they beat in the semi-finals, or Braga, who they strolled past early in the tournament, being the toughest tests before the final against West Ham United.
Italiano’s football is about being constantly in control, of both the tempo and also spaces, which is why his team’s defensive lines sit so high. The idea is to suffocate teams with their press and minimise the spaces that they can play into.
The 45-year-old has almost fully transitioned his side from being reliant upon their No.9, Dusan Vlahovic, to becoming a more fluid team which is relentless in the press.
Raffaele Palladino’s Monza
The rise of Monza
The start of the season for Monza was quite treacherous. Picking up only a point in their first six games of a first-ever Serie A season, it seemed as though Silvio Berlusconi’s statement about winning a Scudetto and a Champions League seemed even more silly than first thought.
However, since the sacking of Giovanni Stroppa and the internal promotion of Raffaele Palladino from the Primavera side, the Brianzoli have been on the up, currently sitting in the top half of Serie A. Only four clubs have been better than the Biancorossi since Palladino’s appointment, those being; Inter, Juventus, Napoli, and Lazio.
Palladino’s methodology revolves around playing with “heart and soul” and it is clear to see. Without the ball, his team sits in a mid-block, if not even a high block with a high focus on winning the ball back in dangerous areas.
This obviously comes with the risk of conceding, yet since his appointment his side have conceded the fifth least amount of goals in the league – conceding 32 in 30 games, keeping 10 clean sheets in this time too. This is likely due to the compactness of the 3-4-2-1 system that his team operates in.
This also helps when building from the back, another prominent feature of Palladino’s system. In the first few phases of play, Monza often play higher risk passes in order to try and expose the opponent’s press. They then look to play more direct once entering the opponent’s half.
Berlusconi’s significant investment into the club has created the rise of Monza, but with the infrastructure of the club, on and off the pitch, set up for the long term, Monza may be in line to continue their rise in Italian football with Palladino at the helm.
Simone Inzaghi’s Inter
Inter’s return to the European limelight
After Antonio Conte’s departure from Inter, many questioned whether Inter could possibly get someone better. In stepped Simone Inzaghi and, whilst Serie A performances have left a lot to be desired, he has excelled in cup competitions.
In his first season in charge, Inter won the Suppercoppa Italiana, the Coppa Italia, and finished second in Serie A, scoring the most goals as well. Considering Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi were sold in the previous summer, it was viewed as a good season.
Inter have only gone from strength to strength when it comes to cup competitions, even if their Serie A form has been terribly inconsistent. They’ve done the Suppercoppa and the Coppa Italia double again and, remarkably, reached a Champions League final. The fact Inter have won four of five derbies against AC Milan this season will also aid Inzaghi’s popularity.
Inzaghi’s system has followed many of the same principles as Conte’s time, playing a similar 3-5-2 with attacking wing-backs confident in both defensive and offensive phases of play.
Nicolo Barella continues to be a mainstay within the midfield, however, he is now regularly accompanied by Hakan Calhanoglu and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Turk sits in the deeper holding role, meaning that you get the most out of Barella and Mkhitaryan’s attacking qualities.
Scoring a vital brace in the Coppa Italia final against Fiorentina, and scoring the only goal in the home leg of the Champions League semi-final, Lautaro Martinez has proven to be Inzaghi’s main man.
Winning a Champions League would immediately make Inzaghi an Inter legend, regardless of what else he has won with the Nerazzurri.
Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus
The situation at Juventus has been incredibly turbulent this season, with the Old Lady swarmed by controversy. Originally given a 15-point deduction for inflating their transfer revenues, that was then suspended.
Shortly before their Matchday 36 fixture against Empoli, they were handed a 10-point penalty which took them out of the top four.
The 55-year-old has done an overall excellent job of isolating the players from the club’s off-the-pitch drama. His football may not have been entertaining, but he has kept Juventus’ form at a level where they have been the second or third-best team in Serie A.
With Gazzetta dello Sport reporting that Allegri’s time at the club may be up due to the board considering his future, it would potentially be unfair given how much the coach has had to silence noise from off the pitch. He has also had a lot of injuries to key players to deal with.
Maurizio Sarri’s Lazio
After two consecutive finishes in the Europa League places, there was a significant belief around the Lazio camp that this season the side could go one better and qualify for the Champions League, and that is exactly what they have done.
Lazio’s major issue in recent years has been defensive solidity, but this season Maurizio Sarri has enacted a big shift with Lazio conceding the second least amount of goals in Serie A, with 28. This is a major improvement from last season where they conceded 58 goals.
The 64-year-old has also ensured that his defence is confident in being able to drop off if their opposition plays passes over the top for attackers to run onto, or if they want to press higher up the pitch.
Their squad as a whole is extremely similar to the one from last season, yet players seem to be more comfortable in the roles that they play and are more confident in their manager’s style.