Another season has been put to bed, and I’ve got mixed feelings about this one (as always). Bologna finish on 47 points, a record during the Saputo era. Still, 12th in the standings compared to 10th last season. Have the team progressed this year?
Well, the simple answer is yes. Three points more than last season is progress, if you look at it without context. However, everything comes down to where a team ends up in the standings. Last season was very skewed by the horrible start to the season under Filippo Inzaghi, and Sinisa Mihajlovic’s incredible stats from the last part of the season. With an entire season under his belt, Mihajlovic had much to prove this season. Unfortunately, the summer and a large part of the first couple of months of the season was put on the back-burner as our coach suddenly had an entirely different fight to win; the fight against leukemia. Mihajlovic eventually won the fight. The effect of not having Mihajlovic on the bench and in training for several months, is hard to analyze.
Still, Bologna were never in danger of going down. From the get-go, Bologna put distance between themselves and the relegation zone. Nevertheless, a top ten finish seemed too far, as they never found the consistency to warrant such a position in the standings.
There were some definite highlights during the season: The 2-1 win vs Atalanta in December; 3-2 vs Roma in February; 2-1 versus Inter in July; the 1-1 draw against Napoli in July which we should have won. Bologna have what it takes, in some games, to beat the bigger teams. More often than not, actually, Bologna played very well against the stronger teams. This is a trend that was evident even before Mihajlovic. The team seems to up their game when up against the top teams.
However, there were also the terrible games which we want to forget: the 1-0 loss against Udinese in September did hurt; as did the 3-2 loss against Cagliari in October; losing 3-0 vs Genoa in February was ridiculous; and of course the 4-0 thrashing by that purple lot was horrible.
As much as Bologna upped their game against the big teams, the performances dropped significantly against the teams around us in the table. This trend must be turned if Bologna are to fight their way into the top 10 next year, and more importantly, kill the distance up to the Europa League qualification that both Joey Saputo and Sinisa Mihajlovic have been talking about. Overall, I would say that Bologna have progressed this year, the first full season under the guidance of Mihajlovic.
And if they are to do that, Saputo must invest this summer to strengthen the team. And nothing is more important that getting a new, stronger central defender into the side. If we look at the stats for goals scored and conceded the last three seasons, a pattern emerges:
We have scored more goals each season, something which was a problem before, especially during the first couple of seasons after promotion, under Roberto Donadoni. Now, that is not a problem. No team behind Bologna in the standings have scored more goals (Cagliari and Lecce also scored 52). However, we also see that Bologna concede more goals each year, with a considerable increase from last year to this year. Last summer, Bologna spent 9.90m on Tomiyasu, 6.60m on Denswil, 2.97m on Bani and 2.20m on Medel. That is a lot of money on strengthening the defence (and a regista) with nothing to show for it in the season statistics.
However, most of these signings have been a success in my opninion. Takehiro Tomiyasu has been brilliant at times in his first season in Italy. Mattia Bani has formed a strong partnership with Danilo in central defence, whilst Gary Medel has steadied the ship after his compatriot left for that purple lot last summer. Stefano Denswil, however, has been a disappointing signing. He has often misplaced passes, has struggled to read the game and has been a liability in defence, which is the reason why Bani has played himself into the starting line-up, and Denswil has had to sit on the bench and deputize for Bani and Dijks.
Bologna should be looking to acquire a central defender to lead a defence which has looked out of sorts more often than not. A physical strong player who is good at distributing the ball should be the number one priority this summer. In my opinion, the Bologna hierarchy should be looking at Kevin Bonifazi, which was mentioned last summer before he went to Spal. With them having gone down, he might be available. I also think Bologna should be looking at finding a replacement for Lukasz Skorupski. Although he is very good 1v1, he often struggles in the air and at commanding his defence. If there comes a possibility to cash in on him, and find a new number 1, Bologna should definitely consider it. Still, lately Gary Medel has been mentioned as a possible central defender next year. Against Torino, the Chilean dominated in that very position, a position in which he has played a lot for his national side. His ability to read play, his passing ability and even his aerial ability makes him a good fit for that position. There has also been talk about bringing in another full-back, and Lorenzo Di Silvestri is a recurring name here.
If Bologna manage to tighten up the defence, there aren’t any other big holes in the team. Bar any big exits, this teams has the potential to do great things next year. The young midfielders Nico Dominugez, Jerdy Schouten, Andri Baldursson and Mattias Svanberg have showed lots of potential and will only get better. We get Emanuel Vignato back from loan at Chievo, who should be very exciting. With an attack consisting of Ricardo Orsolini, Andreas Skov Olsen, Nicola Sansone, Musa Barrow, Musa Juwara and the everlasting Rodrigo Palacio, Mihajlovic has lots of options, especially on the flanks. However, there remains a question mark around the striker. Will Barrow play centrally? If not, a striker which can guarantee 15+ goals should be looked at. A striker which guarantees goals has been a problem for Bologna ever since the promotion. This year, Barrow is our leading scorer with 9, even though he only arrived in January. Orsolini has 8, whilst Palacio has 7.
Who should Bologna be looking at to fill that position? It is difficult to find a striker that guarantees lots of goals. Look at Francesco Caputo, who has 21 for Sassuolo this season. Joao Pedro has 18 for Cagliari, whilst Andrea Belotti has 16 for Torino. The latter would have been a dream signing, but is way out of reach for Bologna. I really like Andrea Petagna who has 12 this year for Spal, last year he had 16. His physical presence in the box, as well as his technical ability could well be the answer. Definitely a player Riccardo Bigon and Walter Sabatini should pursue. Spal has gone down to Serie B, but the player is the property of Napoli. I really struggle to see how Petagna is going to play his way into that team, so a deal should be possible. Still, Sabatini has lately been talking about the need to go abroad to find a hungry, fast striker. Alfredo Morelos at Rangers has been mentioned, so has Alexander Isak at Sociedad.
We should also see several outgoings. Players like the aforementioned Skorupski and Denswil, alongside Ladislav Krejci and perhaps even Andrea Poli. Then there are the players who will return from loans, like Luca Rizzo, Godfred Donsah, Diego Falcinelli and Nehuen Paz. There is definitely a possibility to cash in on these players. We also have Mattia Destro who’s contract is expiring.
Anyway, I am expecting lots of out’s, and a few major in’s this summer. We really don’t need a major squad overhaul. A few strong players into the line-up, as well as a few exciting youngsters should be enough.
PHOTO: Bologna FC