It’s one of the first signs that the season is well and truly on its way.
On Wednesday, Serie A released the fixtures for the 2021-22 season. It’ll be a season unlike any we’ve seen in a long time, as this year the andata and ritorna won’t mirror each other. In the past, the season would be far more predictable in terms of stretches that were relatively easy and those that would be more challenging, but now with the second half of the season out of sequence it will be more difficult to map out the path to the championship.
There are a lot of things that we still don’t know about this coming year. Juventus have barely dipped their toe into the transfer market, and while its unlikely that there’s a massive mercato given the team’s financial situation, the roster will likely look at least a little bit different by the time games start on Aug. 22. But the reveal always does turn out a storyline or two, and this year is no exception.
As has been tradition the last few seasons here at BWRAO, we’ll take a deeper dive into the schedule and pick out the five most intriguing matchups at first glance. Let’s go.
Round 3: at Napoli
For the third consecutive year, Juventus and Napoli are scheduled to meet each other within the first three weeks of the season. Hopefully this time around there won’t be the ... disturbances that affected last season’s game.
That said, the storylines in this game write themselves. Napoli were well on their way to qualifying for the Champions League — and dooming Juve to Thursday nights in the process — before blowing a lead late against Hellas Verona on the last day of the season and allowing the Bianconeri to slip into the top four.
That led to a lot of changes in Naples. Manager Gennaro Gattuso fell out with Aurelio De Laurentiis and was replaced by Luciano Spalletti. Spalletti is a good coach, but his career has been that of Serie A’s perpetual bridesmaid, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll get his team to follow him the way they did his predecessor. There’s also a question as to whether some of the team’s most important players will be there. Kalidou Koulibaly is perpetually in demand as one of Europe’s better center-backs, and there are questions about the status of Lorenzo Insigne, whose contract expires at the end of the season and could be moved if it isn’t renewed.
These two teams have always been around the top of the league for years now, and this game will be an early opportunity for them to put down a marker in the race for the scudetto.
Round 10: vs. Sassuolo
The Serie A coaching carousel was spinning even more than usual this summer, and one of the strangest moves came in Sassuolo, where longtime coach Roberto De Zerbi decided to go abroad and accepted an offer from Shakhtar Donetsk. He was replaced by Alessio Dionisi, who led Empoli to the Serie B title last season to bring them back into the top flight.
The exodus might not stop at the touchline.
Manuel Locatelli, Domenico Berardi, Jeremie Boga, and perhaps more could move on to bigger clubs by the time the season starts, leaving the Neroverdi bereft of a lot of the factors that made them out of the toughest outs in the league over the last few years. Their early form will be telling, but if they can get anywhere close to what they did in the last few years, this game will be the last in a rough early-October stretch, following the Derby della Mole, a home game against Roma, and the Derby d’Italia — with both derbies coming on the road. With the Champions League also sprinkled into that group of games, how Juve finishes that string will be important, and Sassuolo’s trip to Turin will be either a chance to consolidate a great run of form or to arrest some struggles.
Round 25: at Atalanta
Unlike Sassuolo, La Dea will be relatively unchanged this season. They’ve bene a thorn in Juve’s side for years now, as Atalanta have a 3-6-1 record against the Bianconeri since the 2016-17 season in league play.
This game will be a major touchstone in the season. By this point, the shape of the title race will likely be far more clear, and if these two teams are, as many expect, near the top of that race, this game could be quite important indeed. In addition, it comes on the weekend of February 12-13, so a potential Champions League Round of 16 tie will be in the picture as well. This is a game that could have a lot of implications for the run-in as the business end of the season commences.
Round 31: vs. Inter
It’s rather amazing that in the two years Antonio Conte was at Inter he never played a game at the Allianz Stadium when there were fans there.
Of course, Conte isn’t at the helm of the defending champions (I just threw up in my mouth a little typing those words). With little confidence in the team’s direction and financial situation, Conte cut bait and was replaced by Simone Inzaghi. The 3-5-2 will remain, but the leader will be different, as will some key personnel. It remains to be seen whether Christian Eriksen will ever play soccer again, let alone in Serie A, which does have a rule prohibiting players with implanted pacemakers from playing. The future is far less ambiguous in the case of Achraf Hakimi, who has since moved to Paris Saint-Germain but was one of Conte’s most important players the year.
This early-April game, coming at the start of the home stretch, is going to be at the Allianz, and with fans hopefully in the stands this could well be an early decisive advantage, with the added wrinkle of how Simone Inzaghi will adjust to being at the very top of the table for the first time in his career.
Round 37: at Lazio
This barely needs to be written. Maurizio Sarri will have met his old charges for the first time in November at the Stadio Olimpico, but this game in Turin in the penultimate game of the season could, depending on how the season shakes out, be decisive in any number of ways for these two clubs. If Juve manage to reclaim their title, this game could either be a dead rubber or a criticial result in the title chase.
How will Lazio adapt to Sarri’s system after years of Inzaghi’s 3-5-2? Will he struggles as an opponent of Juventus — and Max Allegri in particular — the same way he did at Napoli? Will Allegri’s second stint be as successful as his first? By this point this game is played, we’ll have a pretty good sense of all of those, and it could be a decisive day on a lot of levels — as well as one of the most intriguing matches of the season.