“The usual… unsuspected.”
So last year we titled our analysis on the promotion of Crotone in A, which followed those of Carpi and Frosinone the year before and several others in the recent past. Teams not expected to make the big leap, which has gradually shown us what the B series is today: a championship that escapes all logic, too balanced to be predictable. A championship in which, with very few exceptions, the technical differences are minimal and therefore other factors are often decisive (ideas, group compactness, the chemistry between players, enthusiasm). And understanding in advance who can put these credentials on the plate is almost impossible. If we then add that, while Serie A and Serie B are separated by the Mariana Pit, between B and LegaPro the gap is much smaller, here is that from the list of potential surprises you can not exclude even those who come from the third series, indeed.
This year further confirmations have come: two of the three newly promoted (Spal and Benevento) have even made the double jump. The third, on the other hand, came from Serie A (Verona). Considering that the relegated from the higher category were also the two teams that most of all have caressed the triumph missing it by a whisker (Frosinone in the regular season and Carpi in the playoffs), the moral is that no real “consolidated” among the cadets have played a leading role this season. This, if you like, certifies once more the decline of a category that, since its League separated from the Serie A with the 2009 split, has taken an unstoppable downward trend.
Of the three new features of the A series opens with Spal, who returns to the top of the stage after 49 years, but above all just one luster from what can be considered the lowest point in its history: the failure of 2012, which was followed by an anonymous season in the D series. The merger of patron Colombarini and president Mattioli with Giacomense was decisive, as it allowed Spal to rediscover professional football in 2013 (in the second division) and then to start the great climb on the field. Escalation culminated this year with a B championship won by a newly promoted player, among other things with the lowest score for the first-place since 2010, when Lecce triumphed at 75. The Emilian points have totalled 78, with the third-best defence of the championship (39 networks suffered: only Spice with 34 and Pisa with 36 have done better), but especially with the best attack, although 66 goals to the credit are certainly not a figure to be overwhelmed eyes. The fact is that this year in Serie B has scored very little in general: just 1,021 total goals, 102 less than Serie A despite 82 more games, the average of 2.21 per match (against 2.96 recorded upstairs).
And to say that the white-blue ride had not even started so well. Defeated at the debut in Benevento, Spal had immediately made up with Vicenza, but the further setbacks at the hands of Verona and Perugia had made it slide to third last place on day 6. And when Donnarumma had led the Salernitana al Mazza on 1 October, in what seemed already a direct clash for salvation, no one could have imagined the turning point that would follow. Success in the comeback (3-2) with the Campania team, thanks to the first of the 18 centres of Antenucci, and away towards the playoff area, grabbed for the first time on 22 October with the 3-1 at the Carpi, thanks to 10 points won in 4 games. Despite the next knockout in Frosinone, by now it was clear what the team was made of, a feeling confirmed by the triptych of victories against Avellino, Novara and Brescia, resulting in landing at 3 points from second place. Olimpo reached its first time on December 10 (2-1 in La Spezia), before a bad mistake in Vercelli prevented him from celebrating a Christmas with a view on the Serie A. The first overtaking against Frosinone arrived at the resumption after the stop, thanks to the success on Benevento, but the subsequent draws with Vicenza and Ascoli made it a blow to salvation. More convinced the attack launched at the end of February, when the 2-0 to Perugia, combined with the defeat of Verona in Ciociaria, allowed the Spal to settle again in the promotion area, this time to not give up more. On March 11 another 2-0 (on Cesena) also gave the first taste of the top of the standings but frustrated by the internal defeat in the direct clash with Frosinone. Here, too, the second tear was the decisive one: 5 consecutive victories in an unforgettable month of April to return definitively to the lead (with the 3-1 of Brescia at the 35th) and crash the competition, digging an unbridgeable groove (7 points on Verona and 8 on Frosinone with 4 days to go). The last effort proved to be the most complicated, with the arithmetic promotion vanished first in La Spezia and then at home with the Pro Vercelli: two 0-0 that prolonged the wait of the fans of Emilia until May 13. The goal of the liberation scored him… Ceravolo, sending to the carpet in full recovery the Frosinone in Benevento, while a Spal in reserve ended legs in the air in Terni: the sweetest defeat of the last half-century for Ferrara.
The young sports director Davide Vagnati (39 years old) and Leonardo Semplici, a coach who in the 7 seasons in which he led a team from beginning to end once came second (with the newly promoted Figline in series D in 2007), led Spal to this historic feat. He won the other championships. All of them. Twice in Excellence (Sangimignano and Figline), once in D (again the Figline), once in the second division of LegaPro (always with the Figline) and once in the first division (with the Spal last year), to then centre the double jump this year. Six triumphs in five different categories. Only Arezzo and Pisa did not go well, but in both cases was exonerated or took over the current season (or both). Two negative experiences that had convinced him to leave momentarily from the lap to embrace the role of technician of the Spring of Fiorentina, the team of his city. Three seasons, before Spal thought of him to replace Oscar Brevi in December 2014 and the wheel of success returned to turn swirlingly for the Tuscan coach.
The starting module has never changed, despite the initial difficulties
3-5-2 fixed for the entire season. To change were the interpreters, 30 those used throughout the championship, 25 of which have played at least one game as a starter and 18 have totalled at least 10. Even on goal, 4 players took turns, even if Poluzzi enjoyed only one catwalk on the last day. Meret, a very promising 19-year-old on loan from Udinese, didn’t have his way, having to give way at the start of the season first to Branduani and then also to his son Marchegiani. Healed from a wrist injury, the young Friulian finally won his starting jersey only on 17 December, on the occasion of the trip to Vercelli, but from that moment on he never left it. In defence, the most used was the 21-year-old Vicari with 34 appearances, followed by Cremonesi, who won the second consecutive A promotion after the one obtained last year with Crotone. Giani, Gasparetto and the 20-year-old Bonifazi grenade school the other elements rotated by Semplici in a department that also distilled 10 goals in the season (4 Giani, 3 Bonifazi, 2 Cremonesi and one Vicari).
The right outside was the only player who could not be moved: Manuel Lazzari, 22 years old, has played 38 games out of 42 since the beginning, ending up being the most employed player of the team, with 3335′, ahead of Antenucci (3088) and Schiattarella (3048). More traffic on the left, where Mora started, then Beghetto won (ceded to Genoa in January), his Del Grosso space was cut out and finally Filippo Costa took over, who arrived at the middle of the season on loan from Chievo. Luca Mora, however, acted mainly from the left half of the pitch, making the most of his skills of inclusion to achieve 7 goals (5 headers), which made him the third-best scorer of the team along with Floccari, behind Antenucci (18) and Zigoni (10). However, Mora himself was also the most cautioned player (12 yellows as Schiattarella) and the most expelled (2 reds as Gasparetto) of Spal 2016-’17. Castagnetti or Arini in front of the defence, Arini and Schiattarella as well as the other protagonists of the median Estense who, in addition to the already mentioned exploit of Mora, contributed in terms of achievements with the 3 goals each of Arini and Schiattarella and the acute singles of Beghetto, Costa, Pontisso and Schiavon.
In addition to being the most employed forward and the most prolific as mentioned, the expert Mirco Antenucci, returned from his two-year experience at Leeds and in the past already promoted in A col Torino di Ventura in 2012, has also played the role of the best assistant of the team. He was the first, but he shared it with three teammates, the external Lazzari and Beghetto and the mezzaluna Schiattarella, all with 7 winning passages, like the 31-year-old from Termoli. And in order not to miss anything, Antenucci was also the rigorist of Spal: 4 centres from the disc on 5 attempts for him, to which are added the individual penalties transformed by Zigoni and Floccari.
Semplici has often shuffled the cards in this department too, especially in the first part of the season, when they had their chances from the beginning Cerri (7 starting games plus 8 coming in, with a goal, before moving to Pescara in January) and especially Zigoni and Finotto, even if the latter have provided their contribution mainly by getting up from the bench. If midfielder Castagnetti was, in fact, the most substituted player of Spal (17 times out of 24 starting games), the first of the substitutes was Zigoni, with 19 chips per game in progress (compared to 17 from 1′, with 10 goals as mentioned above), while Finotto entered the game 16 times, in addition to the 13 starting games, scoring 3 goals. The hierarchies of the department were consolidated in the return round with the arrival of Floccari, who joined Antenucci in the initial formation in 11 of the 12 games played as a starter, putting his brick with 7 personal goals.