Few things whet the appetite of sports fans like the return of the football season. The beautiful game returns to Italy on Saturday with Fiorentina and Torino getting things started. Naturally everyone will be excited to see the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo return to action but who else could make a name for themselves this season? Here are 5 Serie A players to watch in the 2020/21 campaign.
Serie A players to watch this season
Marash Kumbulla (Roma)
Rewind 18 months or so and Marash Kumbulla was struggling for minutes in Italy’s second tier as Hellas Verona finished fifth on their way to promotion. Following the step up to Serie A for the 2019/20 season, Kumbulla’s performances were so impressive that the 20-year-old became one of the first names on Ivan Juric’s team sheet.
He’s a dominating figure who doesn’t shy away from the physical side of defending but he also has that quality where he rarely leaves the field with muddy shorts with his reading of the game exceptional. He can play a bit too with an 85% pass completion testament to that. Inter Milan and Lazio had been keen but he has now been rewarded with a move to Roma for the upcoming season and is certainly one of the Serie A players to watch.
Achraf Hakimi (Inter Milan)
Real Madrid surprised a few when they agreed to sell right back Hakimi to Inter in July. The fee of £36m will likely prove a steal too, providing he maintains the form he showed at Borussia Dortmund. The 21-year-old, who already has 28 Moroccan caps to his name, had been on loan in the Bundesliga for two years but Dortmund couldn’t afford to do a permanent deal. Their loss is definitely Inter’s gain.
Antonio Conte loves to play with wing backs that contribute in an attacking sense and Hakimi ticks that box. Last season he managed a goal contribution every 189 minutes, with nine goals and 10 assists. For context, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold – also 21 – has the same number of goal contributions split as four goals and 15 assists but played more minutes than Hakimi. Letting Hakimi go could be one of Zinedine Zidane’s biggest transfer mistakes.
Victor Osimhen (Napoli)
Napoli’s attacking options last year weren’t what you’d call sensational. Yes, Dries Mertens is a class act but, at 33-years-old, he’s hardly on an upward trajectory. Then there were the likes of Jose Callejon and Fernando Llorente who are both well past the 30 mark too. Arguably, they should be doing more to keep hold of Arkadiusz Milik but he looks destined to move on. It’s not all doom and gloom though. The £63m signing of Lille striker Victor Osimhen should add a spark to their ageing forward line and he’s most definitely one of the players to watch in Serie A as the season kicks off.
Nigerian international Osimhen, 21, was prolific last season as he scored 18 goals despite the Ligue 1 season being curtailed early. His style will excite and frustrate The Blues fans but probably not in equal measure. They’ll undoubtedly grow to love him pretty quickly. His hold up game isn’t fantastic, which is where a few grumbles may come from but if Gennaro Gattuso sets up in the right way then his new man will score a hatful of goals with his pace and power likely to give plenty of Serie A defences nightmares.
Sandro Tonali (AC Milan)
When you’re regularly being likened to Andrea Pirlo, you’re probably on the right track. That is definitely the case where Sandro Tonali is concerned. His Brescia side might have been relegated with a whimper last season but that’s no slight on Tonali. The deep lying playmaker is only 20-years-old and already has 93 senior appearances – including three Italy caps – to his name.
In the season ahead, he’ll be plying his trade for AC Milan after they fought off competition from several others, including Juventus and Manchester United, to secure his signature. What will they get from him? He does a fair job screening the defence but it’s really on the ball where Tonali shines with his desire to break the lines by playing forward at every opportunity. Last year he registered seven assists but was feeding a rather toothless attack. Now, at Milan, you’d hope the two key passes he provides each game grows with better players ahead of him and are converted more often.
Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan)
In England, a lot of the Inter Milan talk has been focussed on the former Premier League players in the team. Romelu Lukaku excelled for Conte’s side netting 34 goals but his strike partner, Lautaro Martinez, was no mug either weighing in with 21 goals and laying on a further seven. It is form that has seen him linked with a big money move to Catalan giants Barcelona who are looking to rebuild in the wake of their first trophyless season in 12 years.
Argentinian Martinez has only spent two seasons in Europe. His first with Inter saw him grab just nine goals and a solitary assist meaning he still has a bit to prove to show he’s not a one hit wonder. Given how he plays, which is as a direct and skilful dribbler who can turn defenders inside out, the first year could just be him acclimatising to Europe. At 23-years-old there is plenty of time for a big move. For now, his task is to help Inter knock Juve off top spot.
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