The unprecedented financial climate brought about by the coronavirus pandemic didn’t prevent Serie A clubs from splashing the cash last summer.
Napoli splurged upwards of €70m on Lille hitman Victor Osimhen, while Juventus‘ move for Arthur Melo set them back €72m in a swap deal with Barcelona that involved Miralem Pjanic moving in the opposite direction.
Nevertheless, with the campaign reaching its final stages as Inter Milan seek to end the Bianconeri’s monopoly over Calcio, we at Old Juve thought we’d conjure up a list of the league’s best signings of the 2020/21 season.
Here are our top five!
Honourable mentions: Mikkel Damsgaard (Sampdoria), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Alvaro Morata (Juventus), Gianluca Caprari (Benevento), Matteo Darmian (Inter), Antonio Sanabria (Torino).
5. Antonio Candreva (Sampdoria)
Antonio Candreva enjoyed a fine season at wing-back under Antonio Conte last time out, but Achraf Hakimi’s arrival from Madrid rendered the Italian’s departure inevitable.
He joined Claudio Ranieri’s Samp on loan – a move that’ll surely be made permanent in the summer – and is poised to enjoy his most prolific campaign since 2016/17 in Liguria. Candreva’s notched five goals and six assists in 30 league appearances, proving a reliable workhorse down the right flank as well as a useful penalty-taker – scoring from the spot against his parent club in the Nerazzuri’s most recent league defeat (in January!).
Overall, there’s little doubting that the move exceeded expectations, with Candreva’s form in a plucky Samp side enough for him to sneak into our top five.
4. Antonin Barak (Hellas Verona)
Boasting a unique man-oriented defensive approach and harmonious attacking dynamics, Ivan Juric’s Hellas Verona are always an intriguing watch.
The dynamic Mattia Zaccagni has been the name on the tips of everybody’s tongues as the leading protagonist in Juric’s side, but it’s loanee Antonin Barak who’s the real star. The Czech midfielder typically lines up in tandem with Zaccagni in an inside forward position: wreaking havoc from the right half-space.
Barak’s an elegant footballer and one who enjoys entering deeper zones to get on the ball, break lines and manipulate the opponent’s defensive structure through sheer subtlety. In an intense Verona side, Barak so often plays the game at his own tempo, while he also has the knack of pulling off the spectacular in the final third.
The Czech has seven goals and a pair of assists this term, with his form key in ensuring Verona’s mid-table position despite losing a bunch of stars last summer.
3. Cristian Romero (Atalanta)
Another prosperous loan deal. After enjoying a fine campaign at Genoa last season, Juventus opted to hand Atalanta Argentine centre-half, Cristian Romero, for 2020/21.
The move’s been the making of Romero, who’s swiftly emerged as one of Serie A finest defenders. His proactivity, aggression, and comfort in possession have allowed him to thrive in Gian Piero Gasperini’s man-oriented defensive system. The Argentine ranks in the 99th percentile of all centre-backs in Europe’s top five leagues over the past year regarding pressures (16.38 per 90 minutes), tackles (3.10 per 90), and interceptions (2.63 per 90) – neatly depicting his imperious campaign under Gasperini’s tutelage.
Goals in victories over Milan and Napoli manifest his set-piece threat, too. Fortunately for La Dea, they’ll have another season of the robust Argentine before his Turin return.
2. Federico Chiesa (Juventus)
One of our own. There were certainly a few eyebrows raised when Federico Chiesa jumped ship to Turin despite his obvious talent. His development had somewhat stalled under Beppe Iachini at Fiorentina, with the Viola boss deploying the electric Italian as a wing-back as his rawness in the final third remained distinct.
Chiesa’s bright start at Juventus was undermined by his dismissal in the home draw with Hellas Verona. However, it wouldn’t be long until the versatile winger emerged as a protagonist in Andrea Pirlo’s flawed Bianconeri.
His superb brace against then league-leaders AC Milan proved the mere beginning of Chiesa’s swift evolution. The Italian’s netted nine times in 2021 (all comps) and notched four assists, with his status in Turin already bordering on superstardom despite Juve’s stuttering season.
Boasting freakish pace, dogged resolve, wonderful versatility, and a newfound maturity in front of goal; the sky’s the limit for the 23-year-old.
1. Achraf Hakimi (Inter)
Antonio Conte’s fetish for wing-backs has been distinct throughout his stellar managerial career, with Achraf Hakimi perhaps the most gifted he’s ever laid his hands – or lips – on. While the majestic Moroccan can undoubtedly be a source of frustration considering some of the situations he squanders in the final third, his production is still immense.
Hakimi’s notched 14 combined goals and assists in his debut Serie A season, with Conte’s meticulous possession structures and emphasis on wide overloads facilitating an easy transition to Italy for the former Borussia Dortmund star.
The wing-back’s had a transformative effect on the champions-elect, and what’s really scary is that you feel there’s a lot more to come from the gazelle-striding wing-back.