Serie A Preview – Can Catania Take The Next Step?
The other Sicilian club in Serie A last season, the Elefanti finished in the bottom half of the standings but avoided relegation by mid-April. Since their return to Serie A in 2006, this has been a trend for the club – struggle at the beginning of the year only to secure enough points to avoid relegation with time to spare. But their bitter rivals Palermo are playing in the Europa League, and fans of the club have to wonder when their team can make that next step into tournament contention. This is a talented club that showed last season that it can compete with the best in Serie A; the question is can they build on that success and take the next step.
Transfer Review: Juventus must have been scouting Catania intensely this offseason as they have signed one of Catania’s strikers and pursued another. Last month, Juventus acquired striker Jorge Martinez for 12 million euro (a move panned by former Juventus management). Juve however was not able to acquire Maxi Lopez, who Catania refused to sell. Their only acquisition on the market was permanently acquiring the rights to defender Giovanni Marchese, a former up-and-comer who only made four appearances for the Elefanti. They have, however, been rumored to be close to completing a deal for Rosario Central striker Milton Caraglio.
Meet the New Manager: The club has to feel like a bit of a stepping stone – this offseason manager Sinisa Mihajilovic left the club to take over Fiorentina. The previous season, Catania’s manager Walter Zenga left the club to manage rival Palermo. New man Marco Giampaolo successfully guided Ascoli to Serie A earlier this decade and has two somewhat successful stints with Cagliari. But once again this club is starting from square one after a manager with proven success has left.
Players to Know: The star of this club is the talented and creative Maxi Lopez. The midseason acquisition scored twelve goals in seventeen matches and is finally seeming to live up to his incredible potential. A full season with him leading the attack gives the club a new dimension – his height was an asset last season in set pieces and created opportunities on crosses into the box. Lopez is one of twelve Elefanti with Argentinean nationality, an oddity in Serie A. The club has good depth at this position.
Another player who was linked to every big club in Italy is midfielder Marco Biagianti. The twenty-six year old Florentine has been Catania’s most consistent player, making more appearances than anyone else on the club last season.
But the strength of this team could be its backline. Anchoring the defense again will likely be Christian Terlizzi and Matias Silvestre, although the lineup has changed over the past two years depending on the manager. What will be consistent will be the play of Argentine keeper Mariano Andujar, who in addition to his solid year last season gained good experience in the 2010 World Cup, albeit only in training. The club allowed only 43 goals in 38 matches in 2009-2010, and to remain successful it will have to continue its defensive excellence.
Outlook: This team is solid all around. It can score with Lopez, hold the middle of the field with Biagianti, and defend against any club in Serie A. Last season, the team finished with a record number of points, in the process knocking off Inter, Milan, Juventus, and Palermo. The talent is there for a possible run at a top ten finish, but once again the club will have to adjust to a new manager and a new style. If there is a hitch in the adjustment (and their history has shown that there often is) then this team’s chances will again be in the bottom half, worried about avoiding the bottom three.