La Gazzetta dello Sport (Fabio Bianchi) Things were set in stone. It shouldn’t have been possible for them to change. But now the old cliché of Italian teams setting themselves up primarily not to concede goals has finally been turned on its head. Scoring is, finally, at the forefront of our league’s top sides. It’s the most obvious thing of all to say that to win you have to score goals. To score goals, teams need lots of attackers – and good ones. 20 years ago, the system changed to 3 points for a win, and this helped enormously. But recent seasons have shown a surge of goalscorers, particularly this season. We’re just past the halfway mark of the season, and you can clearly see that this scudetto race will be a race like few others.
Take a look at the league table and the goalscoring charts. There’s a gap of at least 7 goals between the top 3 and the rest, with the exception of Torino (5) who are stranded in mid-table but have Belotti firing in goals for them – he is in good company in 2nd place in the goalscoring charts behind Icardi. Clearly the top sides are all striving for success by scoring as many goals as possible. And why not, other big clubs in Europe score for fun and are always lifting trophies. Sarri’s efforts, in particular, should be underlined because of the budget and players he is working with. Despite the big loss of Milik, he has turned his diminuitive frontline into goal machines. The average goals scored by Juventus (2.1), Roma (2) and Napoli (2.24) are still some way off Monaco, surprisingly, (3.05) – although French teams aren’t particularly well-drilled – and the two big Spanish sides, Real Madrid (2.67) and Barcelona (2.68). But they are certainly similar to or better than the top clubs in the Premier League, Chelsea (2.14), Arsenal (2.27), Liverpool (2.32) and Manchester City (1.95), or Bayern Munich (2.35) and PSG (1.95). Basically, we’re getting close.
The importance of strikers in the scudetto race is clearly shown by the statistics. Juventus and Roma have scored 42 goals so far, Napoli 47. 131 in total. 89 of those goals have been scored by forwards, which works out as 67.94%. Their strikers have been unleashed: it’s the best goals-per-game average for the top 3 sides’ forwards for 10 years. Only last season and 2010/11 come close (67.21% and 67%). Other seasons have seen an average from anywhere between 40% to 61%. If we keep looking back at the last 10 years, we only saw more goals in 2013/14: Juventus, Roma and Napoli again scored 140 goals between them. But their strikers only contributed 53.57% of these goals. And you can bet that the current trend will continue to increase, because the top 3 are either waiting for attacking players to return from various absences or are looking to add new forwards to their squad.
Are we now seeing the real Allegri? The way he overhauled his team against Lazio, setting up a 4-2-3-1 with Mandzukic, Higuain, Dybala and Cuadrado (as well as Pjanic) playing together for the first time, was partly a reaction to his critics and to the defeat against Fiorentina, but it was also a clear indication he was looking for alternative attacking options. It’s no coincidence that, of the top 3, Juventus are the team whose strikers have scored the least goals: 23, 14 of which have been scored by Higuain. The rest have come from Dybala (5), who has been out of the team for some time, and Mandzukic (4), who has been in and out of the side. Max won’t be able to use his new system every game, but the impression is that he will use it frequently, maybe even in Europe. If they are able to maintain a good balance between attack and defence, like they did against Lazio, Juventus will become even more ruthless. On that hot afternoon in the Juventus Stadium, Juve’s stars beat Marchetti twice but could have scored several more. So far, they have scored 3 or 4 goals 8 times in 20 games – more than a third. Not bad. And Allegri wants to do even better.
Roma have scored the same amount of goals as Juventus, but 33 of their 42 goals have been scored by their forwards. This is mostly down to Dzeko, who is enjoying one of his best seasons. He’s already on 14 goals, alongside Higuain and Belotti. The rest of their goals have come from Salah (8), Perotti (6), El Shaarawy (3) and Totti (2). Roma have scored 3 or 4 goals in 9 games, but Spalletti has recently reinstituted the policy of trying to win games 1-0. It isn’t a step back, but rather has been dictated by circumstances: their second top scorer is currently away at the African Cup of Nations. The goals will start to flow again once the flying Egyptian returns.
The Oscar for goalscoring goes to Napoli. They lead the way with 47, 33 of which have been scored by their forwards. It’s a lower average, because Hamsik (6) has been contributing in attack as well. Maurizio Sarri has done a superb job in selecting Mertens as a false 9 after Gabbiadini’s failure to adequately replace Milik, who managed to score 4 goals in a short space of time himself. The Belgian has never scored so often in Italy: he is leading their scoring charts with 12 goals. The attacking trio’s wingers follow: Callejon has 8 and Insigne has 6. Poor ‘Gabbia’ is stuck on 3, and is likely to leave. Milik will be back soon and Pavoletti has also arrived, champing at the bit. Napoli, like Juventus, have scored 3 or more goals in 8 games, but have twice scored 5 times (against Torino and Cagliari). They have dropped a few more points than the other 2, but that’s a subject for another day. The fact is that things were starting to get boring a few years ago, but now this old fashioned title race could yet throw up a few surprises.