The Big 5 After 5: Serie A
We complete our roundup of the first five matchdays of action in the major European leagues with a look at some early trends in Serie A.
The Highest Scoring of the Big Five Leagues
Anyone still clinging to that age-old stereotype of Italian football being boring and defensive needs to readjust to the current reality: Serie A is the highest scoring major league in Europe.
Just a glance at last weekend’s results provides a flavour of what the league is now producing. There were two 3-3s, a 4-2, a 3-2 and a 2-2. Not a single encounter ended scoreless. In fact, there has only been one 0-0 draw in the 48 matches (actually) played so far this season.
Serie A saw a stable 2.68 goals, between 2.43-2.44 non-penalty goals and 2.36-2.39 expected goals (xG) per match through the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, but those figures shot up to 3.04 goals, 2.64 non-penalty goals and 2.54 xG last time around.
That has increased again in the early running of the new campaign, with an average of 3.75 goals per match. That isn’t inflated by an abnormally high penalty count either, as around one penalty goal for every three matches is consistent with the recent average across the major leagues. The average of 3.44 non-penalty goals per match is also comfortably the highest mark across the big five.
The early pace is eventually likely to ease off a little. That average of 3.44 non-penalty goals per match is around 116% of the xG sum of 2.96, which is marginally higher than the highest overperformance in any 48-match sample last season, although nowhere near as extreme as the 130% rate across the first five matchdays of the Premier League season. The xG sum itself is also comfortably ahead of any 48-match sample last season.
But unless something dramatic occurs, Serie A will remain the prime choice for goal hungry viewers. Just maybe don’t tune in to Hellas Verona. Their matches were some of the lowest scoring in the league last season, and that has carried over into the new campaign, with their encounters featuring the lowest number of both goals (1.40) and xG (2.41).
Finally a New Champion?
Juventus are seeking a 10th consecutive Serie A title this season, but it is probably fair to say that their long run of successes is in more danger of coming to an end this time around than in any previous campaign.
That is partly because of their own level. Last season’s total of 83 points was their lowest in any season in their title-winning streak, and they only had the fourth-best metrics in the division. It is actually necessary to go back to 2016-17 to find the last time Juve had the best underlying numbers in Serie A, despite the fact they’ve continued to accumulate titles.
The gift of three points from their unplayed match against Napoli has helped them take nine from their opening five matches of the new campaign, but they’ve not looked convincing in Andrea Pirlo’s first steps as a head coach.
Inter and Napoli both had marginally better underlying numbers last season and have both picked up more points with better metrics in the early running of 2020-21. Antonio Conte and Inter finished just a point behind Juventus last season and look particularly well-placed to challenge strongly. In fact, most bookmakers now have them as the favourites for the title.
But there is also another potential challenger in the form of early leaders AC Milan, who have carried their excellent form from the back end of last season into the new campaign. No team picked up as many points as the Rossoneri between the resumption of action in June and the end of the season, and only Inter had better metrics.
Milan’s recent focus on the signing of the young players seems to be bearing fruit, although it is notable that Zlatan Ibrahimović has been their primary goalscorer since his return in January. We’re not sure if it says more about Ibrahimović or the openness of the league that he’s still putting up numbers like this at the tail end of his 30s.
We haven’t even mentioned Atalanta yet, arguably the most entertaining team in Europe, and certainly the one with the best metrics in Serie A last season. They’ve made a slightly less impressive start to the new campaign, although their matches remain the most open in the league, with 4-2, 4-1 and 5-2 victories followed by 4-1 and 3-1 defeats.