Serie A: Once Again Heading Straight For the Top

“…Every team had a star. This was a period when the Fiorentina of Gabriel Batistuta could finish as low as eighth among 18 clubs but still impress, and Gheorge Hagi’s Brescia were relegated. Even beyond the stars and before we get to the true teams of stature like Arrigo Sacchi’s Total Football-inspired AC Milan and a controversial Juventus, the stats say so much. Of the 66 places in European finals across these 11 years, a remarkable 10 different Serie A clubs occupied 28 of them, and had at least two finalists in every season bar 1995-96… Then there are the names that immediately conjure so many images: Marco van Basten, Diego Maradona, Jurgen Klinsmann, Ruud Gullit, Lothar Matthaus, Beppe Signori, Roberto Mancini, Gianluca Vialli, Dejan Savicevic, Roberto Baggio, George Weah, Alessandro Del Piero, Ronaldo… the list goes on, the era went on for a long time…” (Miguel Delaney, Independent, 2017)

As Miguel Delaney, who is Chief Football Writer at Independent, was putting down dominant eras of European football’s major leagues, he took Serie A between 1988 and 1999 to the top with above words.  Indeed, this period could really be considered as the highest level of football ever seen with regard to a considerable number of high-quality teams, competitive as well as trophies and – at least – finals on the European championships.

However, Serie A had lost its privileged position to Premier League and La Liga, respectively. Despite hosting tougher and more tactical games, mainly stemming from the high level of skill and technique as well as the native art of defending;  complex passing drills lead to a slower game compared to its contenders. In addition, Premier League has stepped into a new age of broadcasting and digital marketing, and reached an incredibly high economic magnitude by particularly increasing teams’ broadcast and central commercial revenues.

Nevertheless, Serie A is once again challenging other top leagues by attracting world-renowned players exporting first-class coaches to other leagues. On the one hand, Carlo Ancelotti and Claudio Ranieri could be considered as coaches belonging to the former generation, they guided Chelsea and even Leicester City to Premier League title over the last ten years. On the other hand, Manchester City and Chelsea reached Premier League titles with other Italian coaches Roberto Mancini and Antonio Conte in 2012 and 2017, respectively. What’s more, Chelsea is competing with Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United under the leadership of Maurizio Sarri, who is the same age as Carlo Ancelotti and waited for demonstrating his advanced coaching skills until 2015. 

“I thought I could reach such a prestigious objective like this, but not so soon,” Conte told Rai Sport. “The secret of the success of Italian Coaches abroad is Serie A. Ours may not be the most beautiful League in the world, but it’s certainly the most difficult. That’s why whoever wins in Italy can do so all over the world,” (Antonio Conte, The Star, 2017)

Goal types, pass types, attack side and action zone – from 2009 to 2018 – are visualized within the context of the blog post. While goal types and pass types are analyzed with aggregate figures, attack side and action zone represent the average value of whole Serie A teams during the related season.  

Following the triumph of Inter and AC Milan, Juventus has literally put an embargo to the throne since the season of 2011-2012. On the other hand, the league had welcomed Benevento (2017-2018), Carpi (2015-2016), Frosinone (2015-2016), Novara (2011-2012) ve SPAL 2013 (2017-2018) with open arms. 

Napoli is seen as the most scorer team over the last few seasons, although they could not reach the happy ending since 1990. With a mortal attacker quarter as Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon and Marek Hamsik, Napoli became a nightmare of the rivals and had an unforgettable season with a total of 94 goals in 2016-2017.

Looking at the cumulative goal numbers, a gradual increase was seen in the number of goals scored by open play. During the first seasons of the study, there has been no significant difference between top teams and the teams within the relegation zone. Nevertheless, a significant difference in goal figures between these teams has stood out since 2015.

In terms of set piece, the percentage and amount of the goals were higher on home games than away matches. While goals from the counter attack had occurred at the level of 100 in seasons of 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13; it decreased to 26 in 201-17 season, mainly driven by the decline in the counter attack goal numbers of top-6 teams. 

Alteration of pass types and action zone also stand behind the statistics in question… 

In 2009-10, top-3 teams have an average of 400 short passes and 65 long passes per game, while these figures were recorded as 551 and 60 respectively as of 2017-18. Besides, one of the most striking changes appeared in metric of cross pass. The average cross pass of top-10 decreased from 70 to 62 during the last nine seasons. The Italian teams, who genetically prefer to play by short pass, experienced a significant change in terms of action zone statistics. In particular, contender teams’ actions on ‘opposition third’ reached up to 30%, while their ‘own third’ activities decreased to 22.7%. In addition, top-4 teams had stood at the forefront by playing on opposition third higher in home games compared to away games. As of 2017-18, contenders, who had played in home games 31.8% on ‘opposition third’ and only 21.3% on ‘own third’, had taken 25.8% of their action on ‘own third’ for away games.

Teams playing in the top league of ‘the Boot’ had improved their attacking skills down the wings over the last 5 years. While 32% of the attacks were organized from the middle of the pitch in 2012-13, Italian teams had designated wing drills as the primary attack strategy in recent years. For instance, according to the average figures for the 2017-18 season, teams had organized their attacks from left and right sides as 37% and 36%, respectively. Regardless of the ranking, such transformation had taken effect on characteristics of almost all Serie A teams.  Compared to top-8, other teams had even applied for more wing drills in home games.

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