For so long, the Serie A title race was a foregone conclusion. Amid Juventus’ tyrannical reign over Calcio in the 2010s, the Old Lady were rarely tested on their way to domestic glory.
There was the odd anomaly, mind. Maurizio Sarri’s scintillating Napoli ran them close in 2017/18, while Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan caused a scare in 2019/20. When they were eventually usurped by Conte’s men a season later, they were beaten emphatically, finishing fourth as the Nerazzurri waltzed to their first title in a decade.
However, with Conte now watching games from a studio as opposed to the touchline and the once-dominant Juve undergoing a period of transition, the Scudetto race hasn’t been so open since the Seven Sisters era at the turn of the Millennium.
During that period, from the mid-’90s up until the Calciopoli scandal of 2006, seven clubs (Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Lazio, Roma, Parma and Fiorentina) were all regarded as genuine Scudetto contenders. Between 1999 and 2006, five different teams won the title.
Something similar is playing out in 2021/22. While Serie A lacks the star quality of yesteryear, there’s no doubting that the current iteration of the division has the potential to be as competitive as its golden era.
There are a multitude of contenders for this year’s crown, and here’s an assessment of each team after the opening seven games.
The leaders – Napoli
League position after Matchday 7: 1st (21pts)
Top scorer: Victor Osimhen (four goals)
Early star: André-Frank Zambo Anguissa
Key man in title charge: Victor Osimhen
Luciano Spalletti’s showtime Napoli are the only perfect team left in Europe’s top five leagues. They’ve won seven from seven, beating Juventus and Fiorentina in the process, to sit two points clear at Serie A’s summit.
Led by September Player of the Month Kalidou Koulibaly and marksman Victor Osimhen, the table-toppers have scored the second-most goals in the division (18) and conceded the least (three).
Building on the sturdy foundations laid by Gennaro Gattuso, Spalletti has transformed this Napoli side into a well-balanced machine. The switch to a 4-3-3 has proved an undoubted success, with Fabian Ruiz shining as the metronome and summer signing André-Frank Zambo Anguissa starring in a box-to-box role.
They retain the ball well (no team has completed more passes than Napoli’s 3775), press effectively and defend their box superbly. They’re currently surrendering an xGA (expected goals against) of 0.56 per 90 minutes. That’s wildly impressive, and if they’re able to sustain such stubbornness in defence, they’ll be tough to pip to the Scudetto.
A huge challenge awaits at the start of 2022, however, as the likes of Koulibaly and Anguissa compete in the African Cup of Nations. That period will determine how far this Napoli side goes in 2021/22.