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Can Serie A minnows SPAL keep up their superb start to the season?

Nick Murphy | 18 September 2018

We check out the side setting Italy alight

The Serie A table is already taking a familiar shape. Juventus sit top of the tree on 12 points from four matches, with Napoli close behind in third-spot. Separating them in the table are SPAL. 

I Biancazzurri are the top-flight’s smallest side by capacity but are ripping up trees after surviving by the skin of their teeth last season. They take on Fiorentina next and are 19/4 for success. But before that, the Coral News Team looked into the minnows and the reasons why everything is going so right.

The story so far

After a 49-year absence, SPAL returned to Serie A in May 2017. Their first season back had its peaks and troughs, but eventually the Ferrara-based club guaranteed survival on the final day with victory over Sampdoria.

A summer refit saw several new faces join, although a backline which conceded just 59 goals last season has remained largely the same. Their start to this season has included narrow victories over Bologna, Parma and Atalanta alongside a singular defeat to Torino before the international break.

Their home form has also been a large factor in both their survival and impressive beginning to the current campaign. SPAL have lost just three matches at Stadio Paolo Mazza since October 2017. They’ve kept six clean sheets in their last nine home matches as well as winning their last four in home surrounds.

What’s going right?

SPAL’s success is built on a tight-knit defensive unit. They had the joint-second best defence in the bottom-half last season and so far boast the stingiest backline in Serie A this time around, alongside Sampdoria. Leonardo Semplici’s side have conceded just one goal in defeat to Torino – leaders Juventus have shipped four in as many games.

Their 3-5-2 approach provides solidity at the back while retaining width out wide which allows full-backs Mohamed Fares and Manuel Lazzari to get forward. A midfield refit has seen the club retain more of the ball – 51.7% this season v 46.2% last term – with the acquisition of Jasmin Kurtic on a permanent basis helping them utilise that going forward.

Pasquale Schiattarella both orchestrates and breaks up the play just in front of the back four. Meanwhile, the presence of 6ft 3in man Andrea Petagna on-loan from Atalanta up-front provides a real focal point. He’s already bagged three goals alongside the canny veteran Mirco Antenucci.

Can they keep it up?

No-one is suggesting SPAL are genuine Champions League contenders. But fellow minnows Sassuolo have shown that relative success is possible for sides promoted from Serie B.

A 17th place finish in their first season was followed up by a 12th place return the following year. They then built on that again 12 months later to bag a top-six berth and a Europa League spot for the first time in their history.

The two clubs share many of the same characteristics in the face of the huge swells of cash swashing around in Serie A at the moment. If Sassuoulo can do it, then why can’t SPAL?

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