Following on from last season’s battling display to bring us back to mid-table, I knew we could go on a run that could just see us sneak into the playoffs. Summer recruitment had to be correct, to begin with, but I felt that the team’s core was in a good place.

Ruan strengthened our defence last season; Coric looked to bolster the attack; could I build on what appeared to be steady foundations and kick on for the playoffs?

Immediately, I set about improving the defensive depth with the signing of Elio Capradossi for free following his release from Cagliari. Praised for his consistency, speed and marking, I knew that he would be a real asset to the side. On the left, I knew we needed a stand-out starter, and I paid a million to Internacional for their winger Alemão. Capable of playing in any of the advanced roles, I was getting a player that had the pace to burn whilst the intelligence to create chances for his three attacking partners. A million was more than a fair price for the winger.

After failing to get Russo back on loan, I had to rectify the goalkeeping situation. Simon Ghidotti would step up to be the first-choice goalkeeper, but with no backup behind him, I knew I would be in trouble should anything happen there; Luca Maniero ticked all the boxes to be the backup goalkeeper for the foreseeable, as he joins for free from Cittadella.

Our final two signings came in the shape of a central midfielder – who I absolutely love – and an opposite winger from Alemão; let’s start there. Hamza Rafia joins the club from Lugano for a measly £300,000 and provides that pace and directness down the right-hand side. I may be expecting big things from him, but I know that the talented Alemão will take all the accolades over this hard worker.

Þórir Jóhann Helgason, remember the name. The Icelandic central midfielder moves to the club on deadline day for a fee that could rise to £4.5 million. Coming to the club with Serie B experience was massive for me, not to mention the fact that he had played 4 times for Lecce in the Serie A also – yet another win. Certainly, one of the signings I am most excited for!

Electing to stick with our previous season’s successful formation, I slotted my new signings into the side and prayed it would be as successful as it was before the summer. A mixed month of August consisting of pre-season friendlies, the Coppa Italia Fanta and the league left me wondering if it was going to be as successful.

One thing to note was losing the games by such slim margins, but that was what was infuriating me the most. Cutrone continuing his goalscorer exploits into the friendlies and not beyond was infuriating. But it is a marathon, not a sprint and with 2 games out of 38 done, I was determined not to beat myself up over it.

Serie A Monza was certainly worrying about their status in the cup as it took them till the 83rd minute to restore their lead in a game where we created more chances; sound familiar? This was then followed by throwing away a 2-0 lead over Empoli on the opening day of the season; the hosts hit us for 3 goals in the last 20 minutes with no reply at all.

Ending the month with another side that was relegated from the Serie A, I did not know what to expect from Lecce and how they strengthened over the summer. However, Ćorić sealed the three points with a calm penalty late in the game, and we stood firm to ensure the 3 points.

We opened the month of September with a poor and very fortunate victory over Pordenone, but that level of performance then carried its way through this quarter of results. Defeats to Cremonese, Ancona, and Venezia were topped by an appalling defeat in front of our own fans against Catanzaro. Südtirol then claimed another victory over us to make matters worse.

We did record an impressive duo of victories over Benevento and Ternana; both of which were pushing for the automatic promotion spot within the league, so I knew that the squad was certainly good enough, it was just about getting the best out of it. At this moment in time, the squad wasn’t playing to its full potential; backed by the lack of goals from Cutrone, Ćorić & Rafia.

Finding positives right now was difficult – Alemão being in form which was probably the only bright spark to take from the team’s performances right now, but I could not continuously rely on the young Brazilian to pull us back up the table – I was actively searching for reinforcements when the window opens.

A very poor month on the road and at home as we slumped back down the table towards a relegation fight – something I knew we could avoid. Cutrone decided to remind me he was still a Como player with his two goals in a 3-2 win over Parma, but that was about all he had done for the rest of the year, prompting his drop to the bench. Cerri came in to replace him and almost justified the decision with 2 goals in 3 games, but we were still generally playing poorly. It was time to review the tactics and see what could be tweaked.

A slight variation of the system already in use, I wasn’t expecting fireworks from this right away as I had to recruit the correct type of players for it, but it was a start nonetheless. With a transfer window open, I needed to recruit correctly in the attacking positions.

In almost a boot-up-the-backside move to Cutrone, I brought in a striker as part of my attacking reinforcements. Cerri was capable of doing a job, but being that bit older and not as mobile as he once was, he wouldn’t fit the position well enough. Sebastiano Esposito arrives from Inter Milan on loan for the rest of the season, and the thought of having another option bodes well for the club’s immediate future.

At the other end of the park, the goalkeeping situation didn’t satisfy me and I made a few approaches for players on a pre-contract. Ludovico Gelmi was one of these players, and the Atalanta youth keeper was fed up with not getting a chance at Bergamo. Once the pre-contract was signed, sealed and delivered, Atalanta offered his services for a measly £10,000 – a deal I would be mental to turn down.

Esposito had a fellow player to enjoy linking up with, as Franco Carboni arrives on loan from Inter Milan also. The Argentine left-back is certainly more of an attacking threat than Cypriot Ioannou, and with the potential to link with Alemão, I was excited to see this partnership. And to round things off, Mohamed Ihattaren arrives from Juventus, to help push Rafia on the right-hand side. The Dutch winger has been known to be temperamental but I felt we could get the best out of him, or enough to allow others to express themselves.

And it is fair to say that the impact of the new signings wasn’t immediate, as I expected with the introduction of the tweaked system. Another disappointing couple of months rolled back, and we were extremely fortunate that mid-table was very close-knit and we could still push for playoffs towards the end of the season. But we had to hit the ground running, sooner rather than later.

And finally, it looked as though it started to click. Cutrone finally decided to start playing for the badge once again, picking up 4 goals in this run of 8 games, whilst Carboni and Esposito were chipping in where they could also. The freedom this system now creates for the attacking quartet was starting to show, and we were starting to look a bit clinical on the attack.

Claiming 21 points from a possible 24 saw us rise up in the table, and with the right results in May, we could just about secure those lucrative playoff spots…

And by god did we secure the right results in style. Patrick Cutrone took inspiration from Kyle Lafferty with his goalscoring exploits in the final few weeks of the season, whilst Esposito was causing havoc in the 10. Brescia was pushing for the automatic spot in the league, but the 6-2 drubbing in front of their own fans saw them tumble down into the playoffs, and they never really recovered from that result.

Champions Cagliari was on their holidays early it seemed, as a Cutrone first-half hattrick was enough to sink them, a late consolation was all they could muster. With these two results, all I had to do was secure a point to make the playoffs ours, but a comeback from Cutrone once again claimed all three points against our playoff rivals and secured a 6th place finish for the club – their highest in the last 20 years.

And into the playoffs, we went. Italian rules state that the higher league-placed side will proceed into the next round should the game be tied after 90 minutes in the preliminary round, and after 120 in the semi-finals.

Como and Ternana always put on a spectacle if previous games were anything to go by; the last three league games saw 20 goals scored. But on the day, the game was not as exciting as it was made out to be; a nervy affair but Icelandic Helgason stepped up in the 52nd minute to rifle home a cutback.

Como managed to hold out for a 1-0 victory that secured passage to the semi-finals, where Lecce would be waiting. Knowing that we had to win the game outright over these two games after Lecce secured third, it was going to be a massive ask for the boys to do such a feat.

An early goal from Paolo Faragò in the 9th minute was enough to take the game to Lecce in the second leg, and hopefully see the tie out. How the game only finished 1-0 I will never know as both sides had plenty of opportunities to win the game; Gelmi recorded a 7.4 match rating to give you an idea of the type of game he had.

The cruellest of ways to lose a playoff semi-final is to lose due to seeding. We absolutely battered Lecce in the second half, but we couldn’t find a way through to dig Gelmi out after his horrific mistake for Hein’s goal. For a team that looked as though they may have been dragged into the relegation battle, to then have Lecce on the ropes at the death spoke massively of the winter recruits and the tactical tweak – more than enough confidence going into the new season that we could actually push for the automatic spots instead of a playoff.

And it was time once again for the end-of-season awards, the sit down with the board and ultimately plan for the future. With interest peaking in Patrick Cutrone, Ruan and Alemão, I knew it was going to be a busy summer either convincing the players to stay or to replace them. The biggest blow we had at this point was Inter Milan and Juventus both announcing that they will not be sending their players back out to us on loan for the next season, meaning recruitment just got ten times more precise and difficult; who really wants to lose a precious number 10 in the summer?

One thought on “#2 – Causin’ A Comotion

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