Empoli 2016/17 Serie A season preview: Empoli out to defy the odds again

For a third straight season, the Florence side aren't expected to do anything special but for the past two season's they've done far better than tipped

Empoli 2016/17 Serie A season preview: Empoli out to defy the odds again
Empoli 16/17 season preview | Photo: Cammy Anderson/VAVEL

Empoli defied odds last season and survived comfortably having been tipped for the drop when manager Maurizio Sarri departed this time last year. Inspired performances from Leandro Paredes, Piotr Zielinski and Riccardo Saponara in particular earned the azzurri a number of plaudits last term as they finished 10th.

Potential to go backwards instead of forwards

Over the summer, the squad has been well and truly picked apart of its stars, leaving little more than a shell of what was one of the most exciting sides to watch last term. Had they held on to their stars, a push for a first voyage into European football since 2007/08 would’ve definitely been possible but now it is uncertain how they will quite do and are more likely to narrowly avoid the drop.

A kind start

Empoli start the season welcoming Sampdoria to the Stadio Carlo Castellani, before travels to Udinese and Torino fall either side of another home game with promoted Crotone. A relatively kind opening four games where two to three victories are absolutely achievable. On match day five and six however things get that little bit harder as they face Inter Milan at home then travel to the capital to take on Lazio. A good start is vital for Empoli as things only get harder as aforementioned from match day five.

They’re closing games are somewhat mirrored to the opening six in the sense that they have two harder games before moving onto four, arguably easier ties. Milan away from home kicks off Empoli’s last six and then Sassuolo come to town the week after. The final four games come against teams who could well be fighting alongside Empoli near the Serie A exit door. First up its Bologna, before they face promoted Cagliari away from home on match day 36. Their final home game of the 2016/17 season comes against Atalanta before they make their way to Sicily to do battle with Palermo to close the season.

Although not a major derby in calcio, Empoli compete in the derby Arno with Fiorentina as both sides hail from Florence. The first meeting is on match day 13 when Empoli play host and the reverse game is played on matchday 31. 

Transfers

Ins: Matheus Periera ( Corinthians – £1.7m ), Marcel Buchel ( Juventus - £1m ), Manuel Pasqual ( free transfer ), Alberto Gilardino ( free transfer ), Giuseppe Bellusci ( Leeds United – Loan ), Federico Dimarco ( Inter – loan ), Andres Tello ( Juventus – loan )

The azzurri have made some sound signings in Manuel Pasqual and Alberto Gilardino, both of whom are no strangers to the top flight and share 20 years’ experience in it between them. Federico Dimarco is definitely one to keep your eyes on this term too having shone for Italy at the U-19 European Championship’s where they would finish runners up.

Outs*: Lorenzo Tonelli ( Napoli - £8m ), Mario Rui ( Roma – Loan w/ obligation to buy ), Dramane Konate ( Pro Vercelli – free transfer ), Alessio Agrifogli ( released )

*plus 9 loans and 5 expired loans including Lukas Skorupski, Leandro Paredes & Piotr Zielinski.

Club captain and formerly one club man Lorenzo Tonelli began what would come the exodus as former coach Sarri would lure him to Napoli. Mario Rui followed soon after to the capital. Losing those two alone would’ve been a big enough kick in the teeth but losing the three mentioned expired loans is an even bigger one on top of that. They were going to lose them anyway but it by no means softens the blow and means five of the real stars of last season have moved on to pastures new.

A shadow of last season’s squad

Lukas Skorupski won’t be taking up the position in between the sticks next term and Alberto Pelagotti is likely to get the nod ahead of Maurizio Pugliesi.

Federico Barba has returned from his loan in the Bundesliga and will likely fill the gap left by Tonelli while there will be a toss-up between Pasqual and Dimarco for the left back slot left open by Rui and the other will likely take the right back role.

Diousse could be a surprise star for the azzurri | Photo: gazzettaworld.com
Diousse could be a surprise star for the azzurri | Photo: gazzettaworld.com

Youngster Assane Diousse could be thrown into the mix at defensive midfield while Daniele Croce is likely to take the other central role. Riccardo Saponara (if he remains) alongside Matheus Pereira will make up the attacking midfielders in the starting 11. 

In the striker department, veterans Massimo Maccarone and Alberto Gilardino will likely lead the line.

Empoli have a very small squad and while there is still time to add to it, an injury to a striker or central midfielder especially could have huge consequences with depth scarce in those areas. 

Old but gold

Maccarone is still scoring in his old age | Photo: usatoday.com
Maccarone is still scoring in his old age | Photo: usatoday.com

Gilardino and Maccarone will undoubtedly be the ones relied on most to keep Empoli as far from relegation as possible. Both have around 100 goals to their name in the top flight and the Empoli hierarchy will no doubt be hopeful they add to their respective totals over the course of the coming season. Last term, Gilardino’s 10 goals arguably saved Palermo from relegation while Maccarone scored an impressive 13 for Empoli.

Another season, another manager

Typically, a side that goes through manager after manager is going through a bit of a rough patch but for two consecutive years they’ve lost their coach for doing so well despite being expected to do little. Marco Giampaolo came in and replaced Sarri this time last summer now Giovanni Martusciello has been handed the throne after Giampaolo moved to Sampdoria. Martusciello certainly knows his way around the club having been assistant manager for the past six years and it will be interesting to see if it will be possible for him to build on Giampaolo’s unexpected success with some success of his own.

Will they meet objectives?

A straight drop out of Serie A, is as good as out of the equation as they are by no means a weak team, just a little short on numbers. An improvement on last season is unlikely as the squad lost so many of its key players from last term. Empoli will likely finish just below the mid-table mark but they surprised everybody last season, so only time will really tell if they can do the same again this time round.