Serie A 2018/19 – The Season of the Unheralded Striker

As we move into February, the 2018/19 Serie A season and league table is beginning to take shape. As always, there are a few surprises, a few big sides underperforming, smaller sides impressing and as has usually been the case in recent years, the Bianconeri leading the way.

Speaking of Juve, back in the summer they were the ones who signalled their intent for the forthcoming season with the mega bucks purchase of one Cristiano Ronaldo – many pundits outlined this as a purchase to focus a title tilt on the Champions League, but it was also widely accepted and expected that this would further cement their position as the domestic league leaders with a new goalscoring powerhouse leading from the front.

As was expected, Ronaldo does lead the way in the race for the Capocannoniere crown, but the list of scorers behind him is not one that many would have expected at the start of the season. Players such as Ciro Immobile, Mauro Icardi, Dries Mertens Andrea Belotti and the man who was displaced at Juve, Gonzalo Higuain are present in the list and all enjoying some good, solid seasons – but the most notable names on the list, the players most impressing, are those of less heralded forward men. Here we look at some of the more eye catching performances so far, those who many would not have expected to have been ripping things up at the start of the season.

Fabio Quagliarella (Sampdoria)

The experienced Italian forward has long had a reputation as a great goal scorer, and a scorer of great goals. With 16 goals scored for Sampdoria at the time of writing, this is proving to be another stellar season for the 36 year old.

The season started with “Quag” illustrating just how much technical ability he possesses with a couple of jaw dropping back-heel finishes in a mater of weeks, which made waves across Europe and added a couple more strikes to his already extensive wonder goal show-reel.

Notwithstanding the beauty of some of the goals scored, the real marker of the season so far has been the consistency of his goalscoring run – at the time of writing matching the long standing record of one Gabriel Batistuta, scoring in 11 consecutive Serie A games in which he has played. Mighty impressive in any league, by any player, but of a 36 year old whose previous best was 19 goals last season and 13 goals in a couple of seasons previously, this season’s goal scoring record is nothing short of exceptional and a true demonstration of a great goal scorer.

It is little wonder that there are widespread calls for Quag to lead the line (once more) for the Azzurri (Italian National Team), given his scoring exploits and continual demonstration that class truly is permanent.

Duvan Zapata (Atalanta)

The Colombian is actually a team mate of Quagliarella at Sampdoria, but has spent the season on loan at Atalanta. The Bergamo side have been having a mightily impressive season so far, establishing a reputation as one of the best sides in Italy to watch, with their intensive and free flowing attacking football, scoring 47 goals after 21 games (outscoring the aforementioned Juve and knocking them out of the Coppa Italia along the way).

Zapata has effectively “torn it up” this season, hitting 15 goals so far (most of which have actually come in matches since December – quite a purple patch of form). This current record surpasses anything he has done before anywhere in his career, his Serie A best being 11, and all time best being 13 for Estudiantes de La Plata in Argentina.

Blessed with a potent mix of strength, speed and power, Zapata has added a bit of guile and ruthlessness to his game this season, no more encapsulated than in a 5-0 demolition of Frosinone in January, where the big man netted 4 times – a powerful header, tidy left footed strike after skinning a defender inside the box, a predatory right foot volley from just inside the box and a further powerful header to complete a perfect hattrick and showcase his full repertoire of striking ability. Using is natural attributes when required, combined with an ability to become involved with the more intricate and swashbuckling, fast paced fluid football of Atalanta has made for an outstanding season so far for Zapata.

Krzysztof Piatek (Genoa/AC Milan)

When Genoa signed this relatively unknown young Polish striker from Cracovia for a reported €4Million in the summer, one would have been hard pushed to find anyone who could honestly and accurately predict what was to come.

As outstanding start to the season saw the young goalscorer net 8 goals in his opening 6 games, then became the first player since the aforementioned Batistuta to net in his first 7 Serie A games. A mixture of potent, poacher finishing alongside lethal shooting from in and around the box marked Piatek out as one of the leagues leading marksmen in the early season. What made this form all the more impressive, was that Piatek was scoring these goals and effectively winning these games for Genoa, rather than what one might think of as a more attacking or successful team (in recent years at least). Indeed, his 13 goals so far this season, compared to the 28 that Genoa have mustered as an entirety demonstrates his worth.

This worth, was further demonstrated in January when AC Milan stumped up €35Million (reportedly all up front), to take the Pole in and effectively replace the good, but expensive and arguably underperforming (by his own standards) Gonzalo Higuain. A €31Million uplift in value over just a few months represents both an exceptional piece of business and scouting from Genoa, but also what a magnificent season Piatek has had so far. It remains to be seen how he will do in Milan, with arguably more scrutiny and pressure, but a great start to his career in scoring 2 goals against Napoli in the Coppa Italia puts him in a great position to become one of the league’s and indeed Europe’s top marksmen in the coming months and years. The man labelled a goalscoring “Robocop” by Milan manager Gattuso, has hit the ground running in Serie A and will be expected to continue this great form at San Siro.

Gervinho (Parma)

With 8 goals so far this season, for a mid table side, the Ivorian may seem like an odd choice for this list compared to the other goalscorers listed. However, Gervinho makes the list for wider reasons.

A double, including last minute equaliser against Juve on matchday 22 made the headlines, but the former Arsenal and Roma man has also made headlines for some absolute wonder goals this season.

There were many (myself included) who watched with interest, rose tinted spectacles and no shortage of nostalgia as Parma made it back to Serie A in the summer, after falling into the abyss and climbing their way straight back up from the very bottom. With finances now seemingly in check following historical issues, the Gialloblu set about building a squad to try to compete and retain their position at the top table – where many a 90’s Italian football fan would expect to see them.

Some left field signings, like the former Rangers man Bruno Alves at the back as well as Gervinho himself who had returned to Europe after a spell in China (where he scored only 4 goals in 29 games), many wold have sneered or at least questioned the logic by those in charge.

However, Gervinho has made many eat their words with some great performances and a number of truly exceptional goals. In September, he picked up the ball around 30 yards from his own goal and then raced past the entire Cagliari defence, showing pace, power, skill and guile to make it through on goal himself and send an emphatic finish in off the post. He then scored a similarly lung bursting goal against Udinese where he raced the length of the field after an Udinese corner, shrugged off the attentions of a chasing defender before calmly rounding the goalkeeper and slotting the ball home.

Wonder goals aside, other vital and tidy finishes have marked Gervinho out as another top striker so far in the Serie A season, again a player who wouldn’t have been predicted to tear things up as much as he has done so far this season.

 

The season so far hasn’t been all about the aforementioned strikers. As above, the likes of Mertens, Icardi and Immobile have chipped in and delivered their usual and expected goal returns, many of which have been fantastic in terms of ability or finishing prowess. However, in the season where Ronaldo has come in, a man who throughout his career has set the bar higher in terms of what can be considered exceptional, it is testament to Quagliarella, Zapata, Piatek and Gervinho that it is they who are making waves and producing the headline grabbing moments. Serie A 2018/19 is certainly the season of the unheralded striker.

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