Tops and Flops of Serie A Round 38: Nicola Completes Another Great Escape

Even though the most important business of the campaign had been previously settled, the final round of the season certainly didn’t lack the fireworks. Inter and Milan were both embroiled in entertaining draws while Juventus won a match and even produced decent football for a change. But the most thrilling and meaningful plot of the weekend was reserved for the relegation scrap which saw Udinese and Empoli escape thanks to late winners, and Frosinone astonishingly relegated. So let’s review the action from Serie A Round 38 in our final edition of the Tops and Flops of the 2023/24 season.

Top (Player): Marko Arnautovic

While it certainly wasn’t his most prolific campaign, Marko Arnautovic at least gifted himself a season finale to remember by scoring a brace that encapsulated his undying instinct for goals.

For some reason, the Inter veteran was in no mood to celebrate his strikes, but many observers tip him to remain at the club for another season, even though he could drop further down in the pecking order once Mehdi Taremi arrives at Appiano Gentile.

Top (Duo): Tijjani Noslin & Tomas Suslov

Despite Arnautovic’s brace against Verona, the Nerazzurri didn’t register a win at the Bentegodi. That’s because Tijjani Noslin and Tomas Suslov combined to score a brace of their own, thus ending the match 2-2.

The Slovakian youngster provided the assist for the Dutch striker on the first goal, and the latter returned the favor by swapping the roles on the second strike.

This duo played an instrumental role in the club’s unlikely survival, so it remains to be seen if they’ll be poached by bigger fish.

Top (Manager): Davide Nicola

When it comes to rescuing hopeless causes and completing great escapes, Davide Nicola is well and truly the best of the business. The 51-year-old had famously led Crotone and Salernitana towards salvation in the past when the odds were heavily stacked against these teams, and he has now replicated this great achievement with Empoli, and in the most dramatic fashion possible.

With only three minutes remaining in added time, the Tuscans were staring relegation in the face, until Mbaye Niang scored the 93rd-minute winner against Roma to spark raucous celebrations at the Carlo Castellani.

Empoli looked already relegated with Paolo Zanetti and then Aurelio Andreazzoli in charge, but they eventually made the ideal choice by appointing Nicola, and this allowed them to live another day to tell the story of their great survival.

Flop (Manager): Eusebio Di Francesco

You have to feel for Eusebio Di Francesco. After enduring a rough career patch that saw him getting sacked four years in a row, the Frosinone job appeared to be his ticket back to prominence, especially following a fantastic start of the season.

However, the Canarini gradually lost the plot as the campaign progressed, and the management’s continued trust in the manager’s services appeared to have backfired, as some of his players entered the decisive clash against Udinese looking coy and shaky.

By the final whistle, the former Roma man had his head between his hands, looking absolutely inconsolable, as he must have realized how hard it would be to rebound from this dolorous career blow.

Top (Team): Atalanta

While many observers expected Atalanta to be suffering from a hangover after achieving the greatest feat in the club’s history in midweek (and in Dublin out of places), it turned out to be quite the opposite.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s men showed almost the same hunger and desire from the Europa League final when they hosted Torino in an almost meaningless match, putting three past the Granata who were no match to Bergamaschi.

Flop (Team): Roma

We praised the achievement of Empoli and Nicola above, and rightfully so. But now, we must address the elephant in the room.

In the final minutes at the Castellani, Daniele De Rossi’s men appeared complacent and almost uninterested in the result, as if they weren’t too keen to deny Empoli a memorable salvation story, even though the coach expressed his dismay with the display after the match.

Did Roma advertently drop their guard? Or was it simply the case of Empoli wanting it more?

Don’t expect to receive a definitive answer for this one.

Top (Goalkeeper): Maduka Okoye

While Keinan Davis produced the winner that saved Udinese’s disappointing campaign, Maduka Okoye was the one who kept the Zebrette alive with a string of brilliant saves.

The Nigerian has truly been one of the revelations of the season.

Extra Top (Goalkeeper): Carlo Pinsoglio

Juventus are blessed with a top-notch goalkeeper like Wojciech Szczesny and a more than reliable understudy in Mattia Perin. But that’s not all, as their third-choice between the sticks can also produce the goods.

Carlo Pinsoglio already has a cult following among Bianconeri supporters thanks to his cheerful character, but his second-half appearance against Monza proved that the Italian is much more than a lucky charm for the Old Lady, as he preserved a clean sheet with some impressive stops.

Flop (Goalkeeper): Vincenzo Fiorillo

In earnest, Vincenzo Fiorillo bounced back with a host of superb saves, but the damage was already done when he gifted Rafael Leao a free goal by bizarrely dropping the ball, in what can be deemed as the perfect scene to depict Salernitana’s catastrophic campaign.

And yet, Milan somehow managed to squander this win, instead settling for a 3-3 draw.

Top (Match): Cagliari vs Fiorentina

Many of us would have hoped to see Claudio Ranieri bowing out with a win on what could be the final match of his illustrious managerial career. Yet, the chaotic back-and-forth action between Cagliari and Fiorentina felt like a proper sendoff for the Tinkerman who experienced great highs and lows throughout his time in the dugout.

The Sardinians managed to turn the match upside-down much to the delight of their retiring manager, but the Viola then scored two late goals to restore their lead, including a spot kick in the 12th minute of added time!

Top: Farewell Goals

Before heading towards the western sunset (more commonly known as Major League Soccer), Olivier Giroud added one more goal to his Milan tally in the 3-3 draw against Salernitana.

But while the Frenchman’s farewell strike was hardly a surprise given his prowess in front of goal, few among us envisioned Alex Sandro achieving such a feat on his Juventus swansong. The Brazilian defender nodded the ball home to secure Juve’s 2-0 win over Monza before receiving a proper homage after the final whistle.

Top (Moment): Sven-Goran Eriksson Returns

While the departures of Ranieri, Stefano Pioli, Giroud, Simon Kjaer, Alex Sandro and Felipe Anderson all made for emotional moments, Seven-Goran Erkisson’s appearance at the Stadio Olimpico was much more striking.

After all, the legendary Lazio manager has a much more significant battle on his hands, and the Biancocelesti supporters pledged to fight by his side until the very end while showering him with love and support.

Top (Super-Subs): Keinan Davis & Mbaye Niang

Two substitutes, two late goals, and two escapes from relegation. While Niang has become accustomed to the last-gasp hero role, this happened to be Davis’ first-ever goal since joining Udinese last summer, and he certainly chose the perfect occasion to open his account.

Sometimes, one goal is all you need to acquire the local-hero status.

Top (Goal): Giacomo Bonaventura

Truth be told, this round lacked truly magnificent strikes, so Jack Bonaventura’s lovely curler against Cagliari was enough to win the nod.

The Fiorentina veteran is hitting his stride just when Luciano Spalletti and the rest of the nation are calling.

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One comment

  1. Though Bonaventura’s goal was pretty nice, he didn’t even have the best goal of that game! Mutandwa’s goal was a much trickier shot, and the curve on that strike was a thing of beauty. Zaccagni’s goal for Lazio was also much better than Bonaventura’s in my opinion.

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