SERIE A 2015: Intriguing year sets up exciting 2016 for Italy's title race

Raf Diallo looks at Italian football in 2015

Inter Milan, Juventus, Paul Pogba, Miranda

Juventus' Paul Pogba, right, challenges for the ball with Inter Milan's Miranda at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

What a difference a year makes. 365 little days … to paraphrase the song made famous by Dinah Washington.

When it comes to the Barclays Premier League, to give it its full name, our yesterday was Blue at the start of the year but while the hue remains the same, it’s the Leicester of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez who have been the real story of 2015.

While their run to the upper reaches of the table this season will never be forgotten, let’s not forget that the first half of the calendar year bore witness to their great escape from relegation thanks to the not-so-media-friendly Nigel Pearson.

But while cross-channel action captures the attention for traditional reasons, it’s been an interesting year of football on the continent, spanning the end of last season and the start of the current campaign.

Today let's look at the footballing year in Italy.

At one time, it looked like it was going to be a tail of two halves to 2015 for Juventus. Having marched to another Serie A title in May and reached the Champions League final for the first time in 12 years, the Bianconeri completely collapsed at the start of this campaign.

Losing Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal over the summer was always going to hurt and it showed at the start of this season, as they lost three of their first six games, including defeats to early contenders Roma and Napoli.

However, with new signings like Paulo Dybala starting to fire, Juve have climbed up the table and are back in the thick of the title race heading into 2016.

Meanwhile, Napoli have had an impressive second half to 2015 since parting ways with Rafa Benitez in the summer. Between January and the end of May, the Southern Italians lost eight of 22 league games.

Under new manager Maurizio Sarri, they look primed to challenge for the Scudetto, if Gonzalo Higuain can keep scoring. From August when the season re-started to mid-December, they had lost just two from 17 and won 10 times, including a 5-0 thrashing of Lazio and a 4-0 win at Milan.

Speaking of Milan, the city has been experiencing a slight resurgence after a period in the football doldrums.
Roberto Mancini’s stamp is becoming firmer at Inter with the Nerazzurri top of Serie A and conceding just 12 goals from their opening 17 games.

Less dramatic has been AC Milan’s slight improvement since Sinisa Mihajlovic replaced Filippo Inzaghi with the seven-time European Cup winners within touching distance of the European qualification spots after a 10th place finish in May.

It’s far from where they want to be but at least they appear to be pointing in a more positive direction and have also seen a potential new goalkeeping superstar emerge in the shape of 16-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma, who could be a new Gianluigi Buffon in the making.

For Roma, Francesco Totti is still on the scene at the age of 39, but all is not well at the club.

Having scraped into the final automatic spot for this season’s Champions League, the capital club are down in fifth and have been plagued by defensive issues, putting pressure on manager Rudi Garcia, who failed to inspire the Giallorossi to a more resounding title challenge in the second half of the last campaign.

The stands are almost empty ahead of an Italian Serie A soccer match between Roma and Lazio at Rome's Olympic stadium, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. In a rare show of unity, hard-core fans from Roma and Lazio boycotted the match in protest at new security measures which have split the Stadio Olimpico 'curve' the ends of the stadium where the ultras sit. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

There have also been tensions between the club and their ultras, including over the decision to add more barriers in their Curva Sud of the Olimpico.

The story of the little clubs in Serie A have also been interesting. Frosinone and Carpi were promoted in May, Lazio president Claudio Lotito was hardly welcoming: “Because when I go to sell the TV rights – which brought in €1.2bn thanks to my skill, I managed to bring Sky and Mediaset together, in 10 years nobody had managed that – in three years, if we have Latina, Frosinone, who the f*** will buy the rights? They don’t even know that Frosinone exist.”

Both Carpi and Frosinone are in the relegation zone this season but while Lotito is concerned about TV rights, Serie A has been exciting to follow especially thanks to Juventus’ slight blip at the start of the year.
The competitive balance between Inter, Roma, Lazio (off the pace this season), Fiorentina and a Sassuolo punching above their weight has been enthralling and the games have been pretty intriguing between the teams at the top end.

It’s not quite Gazzetta Football Italia standard fare yet, but it was still well worth checking in during 2015 and definitely will be in 2016 with so many teams vying for the title. Andiamo!