In this aggravating time between the end of the Serie A season and the beginning of the World Cup, we can bide our time by looking back at the past Serie A season. As expected by many, Inter Milan won the title. In my series of posts reviewing the season, however, I want to begin by looking at those teams that surprised the experts. These are the clubs that exceeded expectations the most. At the end of the post, vote for which club you think was the most surprising club of the past season and post any comments or additions. Also feel free to share your thoughts via Twitter @roberthayjr. Clubs listed in alphabetical order –
Bari – The recently promoted club began the campaign by losing the manager (Antonio Conte) that lead them to win Serie B in 2008-2009. The club was also put up for sale and seemingly sold to U.S. businessman Tim Burton in September, only to have the team pull back and the sale fall through.
Despite this, Bari flirted with a European bid for most of the season, sitting in the top 8 until injuries and a late swoon landed the club a respectable tenth. Their defensive prowess also made stars of Andrea Ranocchia and Leonardo Bonucci plus introduced the league to Jean-Francois Gillet, one of the world’s most underrated keepers. The club goes into next season again unsettled, but can build off a successful return to Serie A.
Season highpoint– Bari 3, Juventus 1 (12/12/09). The match put Bari one point within a Champions League spot and gave them their first win over Juve since 1990.
Palermo – Success is nothing new at Palermo, and this season’s fifth place finish should be considered another success. Their new coach at the beginning of the season, Walter Zenga, was an inspired hire away from rival Catania. However, Zenga struggled to lead the club and was fired after thirteen Serie A matches despite a three year contract. The new manger, Delio Rossi, was much more successful, leading the club at one point to seven straight victories. The club was also undefeated at home, with a 13-6-0 record.
The star of the team was Fabrizio Miccoli, who notched 19 goals for the team lead. He became Palermo’s all-time leading goal scorer against Sampdoria on May 9th but hurt his knee in the match. The squad also had two players make the provisional Italian national team: keeper Salvatore Sirigu and defender Mattia Cassani.
Season highpoint – Palermo 2, AC Milan 0 (12/13/09). Delio Rossi earned his first high-profile victory with Palermo’s away win. It was only second win of the campaign, and the first of many more.
Parma – Two seasons ago, Parma went through three managers and still fell into Serie B. After promotion last season, the club shot up the Serie A rankings, sitting in fourth place in December. Although it struggled to win consistently after, Parma finished eighth in the standings, higher than Bari who finished ahead of them in Serie B last season.
One of the up and coming players on the club is Davide Lanzafame, a former Juventus striker who spent some time on the Italian U-21 squad. He notched seven goals and six assists, both good for second on the team.
Season highpoint – Parma 2, Bologna 1 (12/13/09). Just like Palermo, Parma climbed the highest they would reach in the table (fourth place) with a win on December 13. Nicola Amoruso scored the game-winner in the 86th minute after missing a penalty shot earlier in the match.
Sampdoria – Sampdoria earned a spot in next year’s Champions League qualifier by means of a fourth place finish in Serie A. And it was a close call – they won their final match of the year 1-0 to secure the final spot. That ending is probably fitting for this club.
Early in the season Sampdoria looked to threaten for not just qualifying but for top spot in Serie A, holding off Inter in the fall for first. They then fell down the standings and at one point went seven matches without a win before finishing the season by gaining points in all eight of their final matches. They achieved this despite the distractions of the talented Antonio Cassano, who at one pointed looked to be traded/released/dispatched via loan due to his fights with management. But his suspensions helped Sampdoria fellow striker Giampaolo Pazzini shine and earn his way onto the Italian National team provisional squad. His manager Gigi Del Neri also gained widespread fame, enough for Juventus to hire him last week.
Season highpoint – Sampdoria 1, Napoli 0 (04/16/10). Sampdoria finishes fourth and secures an unbeaten home record. The only goal, appropriately enough, is scored by Giampaolo Pazzini.