In October, fellow StatsBomb writer Dustin Ward had a look at the wild title race in Italy.
Three months later, at the halfway of the Serie A season there are still a handful of team fighting for the Scudetto, with Juventus and Napoli as the most believable contenders according to the bookmakers.
League Rank 1st Points 41 Shots Rank 1st Shots Conceded Rank 4th TSR Rank 3rd
Thanks to a 5-1 thrashing of Frosinone, Napoli won their first “winter title” since 1989/90 and lead the league at the halfway. In just six months, new manager Maurizio Sarri turn the 5th placed team of last year in a Scudetto favourite. In comparison to last season the Partenopei have improved their efficiency at both ends of the pitch: Napoli have increased their 1.84 goals scored per game to 1.95 and above all they got way better defensively moving from the 1.42 goals conceded per game which denied their title hopes last season, to 0.79 this season.
Napoli are the most powerful Serie A offensive force in pretty much every category, TSR excluded: they lead the league in goals scored (38), goal difference (+23), chances created (262) shots attempted (327), shots on goal attempted (118), passes in the last third (1584) and SoTR (71.5%). Their conversion rate (11.6%) is the 5th best in Italy, but it’s not much greater of the league average (~10%), while their 32.2% shots on target conversion (7th best in the league) is pretty much average, suggesting a long term sustainability of their attacking performance level. Sarri’s team is benefiting of one of the most dominant striker the Italian league has seen in ages: the 2015/16 version of Gonzalo Higuaín.
Higuaín’s season so far is better than every of his or Edinson Cavani’s Napoli seasons and in Europe's top-5 leagues just Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored as many as him (18 goals). The Argentinean's 0.95 non-penalty goals p90 are unrivalled in Serie A, meaning that Higuaín has already staked a claim on the top-goalscorer title.
The only other strikers in history with 30+ goals in a single Serie A season are Luca Toni (31 goals in 38 games in 2005/06), Antonio Angelillo (33 goals in 33 games in 1958/59) and Gunnar Nordhal (35 goals in 37 games in 1949/1950 and 34 in 37 the following season).
At this rate all their records are in serious danger. Thanks to Sarri’s defensive organization and with the same centre-back pairing of last season, Napoli have conceded the 4th fewest amount of shots (187) and the 3rd fewest amount of shots on target (47), while only Juve conceded a fewer amount of xG according to Michael Caley’s data. Other good news for the Azzurri: over the last 9 seasons, the Serie A title has always been won by the team who were top of the table after 19 match-days.
League Rank 2nd Points 39 Shots taken Rank 2nd Shots conceded Rank 2nd TSR Rank 1st
In October, after the first 10 Serie A games, Juventus had collected just 12 points, and they sat at 12th place on the table, 11 points away from then leaders Roma. Their underlying numbers were still excellent (they have essentially led in TSR for the entire season), but they had a considerable amount of bad luck in a period where Allegri was trying to find the right balance for the team, after the departures of Tévez, Vidal and Pirlo. A comeback was predictable but a fifth consecutive Scudetto seemed out of their reach.
Note: averages for the last 10 Serie A season. With a rough estimation (credit to Max Allegri) 82 points should be enough to win the league this season.
19 games into the league, Max Allegri has probably found that balance considering that Juve have won 9 games in a row and climbed to 2nd place in the table. The emergency of Dybala (5 goals and 4 assists in his last 8 games) and an in-form Mario Mandžukić (the Bianconeri have won every game in which the Croatian has scored) have contributed to raise their conversion rate to a level that fits league average (10.7%), while the comeback from injuries of the likes of Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira, combined with the return to the good old 3-5-2, gave the team the necessary stability in both phases of play: they now rank 6th in conversion rate against (8.9%), while no other team has recorded a lower opposition xG. Other underlying numbers like shots taken (307, 2nd best in the league), shots on target taken (97, 3rd best tied with Fiorentina), SoTR (68.3%, 2nd), shot conceded (169, 2nd), shots on target conceded (45, lowest amount tied once again with Fiorentina) reinforce Juventus' title hopes. But first they have to bare the roots of Napoli.
League Rank 3rd Points 39 Shots taken Rank 7th Shots conceded Rank 8th TSR Rank 8th
At the start of the season Inter's realistic target was European qualification: 19 games into the season their shot numbers are perfectly in line with a team chasing an Europa League spot. So what’s the problem then?
Well the “problem” it’s that they started 2016 at the top of the league, and after losing to Sassuolo they now sit 3rd, with the same amount of points of 2nd placed Juventus and with league leaders of Napoli just 2 points away. Inter have been able to build their point tally recording an astonishing conversion against of 5.2%.
Basically while every other team's shots against are converted at an average rate of 1 every 10 attempts, you need 10 more shots to put the ball into Samir Handanovic’s goal. Handanovic himself is probably the main contributor to this figure, since he has conceded just 12 goals and has kept 12 (!) clean sheets over the course of 19 games. The Inter goalkeeper has saved a resounding 85.5% of the 83 shots on target he has faced, remarkably over-performing his 70.3% career save rate. Just seven teams in the last seven Serie A championships have concluded a season with a SoT conversion against lesser than 20.0%.
Offensively Inter are just an average team: there are seven teams, including AC Milan and Chievo, which have scored more than Inter's 24 goals. Moreover if we consider they put 4 goals past Frosinone and Udinese, they have scored 16 goals in the remaining 17 games, scoring more than a goal in just another occasion (2-1 at Carpi) and winning 10 games by a single goal margin, upholding the fact that they build their victories on their compact defence. Also, they are pretty average at creating scoring chances (193, 7th in the league).
Mancini’s team has surely improved defensively with the likes of João Miranda and Jeison Murillo joining the team and with another destroyer like Felipe Melo partnering Gary Medel in the middle of the pitch. However Inter are not good as Juve or Napoli at preventing high-quality chances and considering the amount of shots (229, 8th) and shots on target (83, 12th) they have faced I would not be surprised to see a concrete regression in the second half of the season, especially if they will not be able to fix their relative offensive sterility. Inter concluded the year with a 9-3-1 record in games decided by a single goal which is a performance rarely sustainable over the course of an entire season.
That their record is already 10-3-3 suggests that their regression is already in progress.
League Rank 4th Points 38 Shots taken Rank 3rd Shots conceded Rank 1st TSR Rank 2nd
Under Vincenzo Montella, Fiorentina collected four consecutive 4th places. At the halfway point of the 2015/16 season, the first under new manager Paulo Sousa, they sit once again at 4th even if only Inter have led the league for more weeks than la Viola. Montella’s style of play was already possession based but still Sousa found enough margin to increase this feature of Fiorentina’s philosophy.
They lead the league in average possession (62.7%) and passing accuracy (86.6%). Fiorentina have scored the second highest amount of goals in Serie A this season (37), and they have now scored in 26 consecutive Serie A games, converting 8 penalties this season, an amount that is unlikely to be doubled up in the second part of the season. Their shots number alone are very good, since they have recorded the 3rd highest amount of shots (228), but we have to consider that the 56% of those shots have been attempted from outside the box. Like many possession based teams, sometimes Fiorentina lack penetration and so they seek help from long range shots more often than any other team in the league. In their style of play, newly acquired striker Nikola Kalinić fulfils a pivotal role.
When Fiorentina are in possession the Croatian impressive movements are fundamental to almost every play of the Tuscans, because he is equally able in attacking the depth himself or in opening space for his team-mates to run into. As Sander Ijtsma pointed out on Twitter a month ago, no other Serie A team create for their striker a volume of shots so close to goal as Fiorentina do for Kalinić, but if we exclude him, the average shooting positions of his team-mates are out of the box or just inside it.
However the vast amount of time Fiorentina spend on the ball, also thanks to an effective implementation of pressing and counterpressing, gives them a decisive defensive edge. They are league leaders in shots conceded (162) and tie with Juventus in least shots on goal conceded (45). The problem is that even if they have conceded a relative small volume of shots their opponents convert those attempts quite easily. Ciprian Tatarusanu has saved just 57.8% of the shots on goal he has faced, a league worst among keepers with 900+ minutes played. Fiorentina's overall conversion against is slightly better (11.7%), but still worse than league average.
Even so, xG conceded suggest they are not remarkably under-performing. Basically they concede few chances, but the chances they do concede are largely dangerous. Fiorentina have been the only team putting 4 goals past Inter, but if we exclude that exploit at the San Siro they have lost against the other top-5 teams (Fiorentina 1-2 Roma, Napoli 2-1 Fiorentina, Juventus 3-1 Fiorentina). All in all a fifth consecutive fourth place would be very good for la Viola and Champions League qualification would be a success.
League Rank 5th Points 34 Shots taken Rank 4th Shots conceded Rank 7th TSR Rank 6th
In two seasons under Garcia, Roma were the only team able to worry Juve, even if in both occasion they finished 2nd with a 17 points gap. Given the initial struggles of the Bianconeri, many had Roma as their Scudetto favourite back then.
After their 2-1 win in Firenze (in which they recorded the worst possession % of the last 10 years) they topped the league, 699 days after the last time. But then started the crisis which lead to Garcia’s sacking and the recent appointment of Luciano Spalletti. Roma have won just 3 of their last 10 matches and just 1 of their last 5.
They have already conceded 22 goals (4 from the penalty spot): last year they conceded 31 all season, two years ago just 25 in total. The main issue is that their opponents are not riding on conversion, since Roma goal conversion against is essentially league average (10.2%) and their shots on target conversion against of 28.2% is 3% better than the league standard (but still 14% worse than Inter!). It is not the end of the story, however.
Their xG and their conversion, a 2nd best in the league 13.1%, suggest that they are also over-performing in terms of goals scored. Spalletti’s second experience on the helm of Roma will start uphill, but at least it would be difficult to make worse than the first 19 games of his predecessor. No matter how, with 7 points less than Napoli, the Giallorossi’s all-desired shot at title has most likely vanished.
Rest of the league trivia Sassuolo – If Serie A would be contended by the top-5 teams and Sassuolo only, the Neroverdi would sit 1st .
Empoli - Empoli went ahead in 14 league games this season (W9, D3, L2), only Fiorentina (15) made better among Serie A teams
AC Milan - AC Milan have had only 11.7% non-blocked shots conversion in this Serie A, in 14-15 they had recorded the highest in the league (17.2%).
Lazio – Pioli’s team has conceded just the 3rd least amount of shots, but the 40.3% of those attempts have been on goal. That’s a league worst and considering their xG numbers too, it is likely that their second part of the season would be better.
Chievo – Last year Chievo scored a league worst 28 goals. This season they have already scored 25 times.
Atalanta - Atalanta 10 red cards this season are a record among Euro top-5 leagues.
Udinese - Antonio di Natale has failed to score in his last 9 matches, his longest scoring drought since 2006. The 38 years old striker will probably hang up his boots at the end of the season.
Sampdoria - Thanks to 11 goals and 2 assists Éder have contributed to the 46% of Sampdoria goals. Only Higuaín have had a greater influence on his team.
Torino - Torino recouped 10 of their 22 points from trailing situations.
Bologna - Bologna collected 16 points in 10 matches under Roberto Donadoni, and just 6 in 9 with Delio Rossi at the helm.
Palermo - With the recent hiring of Gustavo Schelotto, Maurizio Zamparini has now hired 46 different managers over the course of his 28 years as a football president.
Genoa - Genoa have lost 5 of their last 6 matches. Last year they finished 6th, now they have just 4 points over relegation zone.
Frosinone – Frosinone have conceded 384 shots, a negative record in Euro top-5 leagues. Their matches feature the highest amount of shots of the entire league (32.5 per game).
Carpi - Carpi have converted a league worst 7.7% of their shots. However they are unbeaten in 2016 (1W-1N).
Hellas Verona – Verona are the fifth team in Serie A history winless at the halfway point. With just 8 points collected so far, they are already virtually relegated.
Serie A title race is still very much open, but Napoli and Juventus are the two teams who will most likely fight until the end. Fiorentina and Roma could take advantage of a probable drop in Inter level of overperformance and compete for the 3rd spot the last available for Champions League qualification. Hellas Verona have been historically bad and they are almost already in Serie B. Frosinone and Carpi have been bad on a similar level and I don't think they could overcome better established teams like Genoa or Palermo in their fight to avoid relegation.
Thanks for reading.
(All data originally from OPTA)