As the trophy was hoisted and the players celebrated a third consecutive scudetto, you could forgive Juventus fans from feeling a little giddy. With one of the best coaches in Italy, an ownership group that seemed interested in boosting the squad for the Champions League, and the spine of the Italian national team under contract, fans looking ahead to the next season could be forgiven for already getting a little excited.
Flash forward three months, and the calculus has changed. But while The Old Lady no longer looks as indomitable as it did last season, it is still the team to chase in the race for the scudetto due simply to lack of attrition.
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As it has in the past few seasons, Serie A has been hemorrhaging a number of world-class players. The result has been a league that while internally competitive falls short on the international stage. Juventus, for example, set a record for most points in a season in 2013/2014 but still meekly fell out of the Champions League group stage. Now down to three Champions League places, Serie A does not look to challenge for more.
The upside of the departure of players like Edinson Cavani over the years is that Italian clubs are developing a wealth of young talent. As these players mature, clubs that can both hold on to and build around these players have risen up the standings. They key for Serie A and the clubs themselves, however, is whether they ultimately can hold onto talents like Arturo Vidal and Mehdi Benatia. As the transfer window draws to a close, the fate of their teams may depend on ownership holding tight to them.
As for the teams themselves, maybe the biggest upheaval came from the champions. Prior to the World Cup, Antonio Conte and the Juve brass seemingly worked out a deal where the team would increase spending for players deemed worthy of a run at a Champions League trophy. However, after the World Cup and Italy’s shameful record, Conte ran for the Italy job and left Juventus with Massimiliano Allegri, who had a history of some success in the league but (a) was fired from Milan last season for an abysmal showing and (b) has been publicly criticized for his management by stars like Andrea Pirlo. Whether Allegri will stick to Conte’s plan to move to a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 (probably not) we will have to see but the talent cupboard is not bare. The biggest name they picked up is Patrice Evra from Manchester United but the squad will succeed if Carlos Tevez continues his renaissance that began last season, Gigi Buffon and Pirlo continue to defy age, and Juventus can hold on to Paul Pogba and Vidal. While Allegri could screw this up, the defense is still incredibly good and there is talent at every position.
Last season, Roma ran off ten consecutive victories and for a brief time looked to be the class of Serie A. Once Juve righted itself and steamrolled i Lupi, that talk abated but the foundation of Roma is very strong. Walter Sabatini has an excellent reputation as a talent scout and manager Rudi Garcia finally gave Roma the coach it had long been seeking. The most exciting part of Roma is that, like Juventus, it balanced exciting young players with known veterans. So while Francesco Totti scored goals, young Mehdi Benatia held down a stingy defense. Roma strengthened the team all around, acquiring Ashley Cole as well as Juan Iturbe (a player to watch) and a mix of other Serie A skill players. The key for i Lupi, however, is not who they bring in but who they let out. If Benatia and Destro are sold as rumors indicate, the team could lose key players in key positions. Also, can Gervinho keep up his form from last season?
While they were the preseason favorites to challenge Juve last season, Napoli fell behind the two front runners and settled for a Coppa Italia title. While they are still trying to make some major splashes in the transfer market, this team is stacked in attack. Gonzalo Higuain can be supported by Marek Hamsik and Lorenzo Insigne, among others. By bringing in Jonathan de Guzman and Michu (on loan), the team has stacked its midfield as well. They key will be if their defense can play close to the extremely high level of the other two clubs; if so, they are certain title contenders.
Who else could challenge for a scudetto or Champions League place? Fiorentina has an exciting attacking style and good young talent, but has not stocked up in the transfer market to keep up with the big three. Internazionale has acquired big names like Nemanja Vidic, Dani Osvaldo, and Yann M’Vila but still has some deficiencies throughout the squad. Parma and Torino are good stories but do not have the overall talent or depth to contend with the top three (especially with Torino losing Immobile).
Milan is the other big name that is often mentioned, but they are clearly going through a long-term rebuild. While clearing the squad of overpriced players and mostly replacing them with youth players, the Rossoneri are clearly going through a belt-tightening process. Losing Mario Balotelli this week, however, could be a long-term blessing if Stephan El Shaarawy remains healthy and has the playing time to blossom into the immense talent he seems to be. Questions remain, however, on how effective new manager Filippo Inzaghi can be with this staff.
At the bottom of the table, tiny Sassuolo will again try to hang in the top flight after losing a number of quality players in the offseason. Palermo, Empoli, and Cesena are the three promoted teams and of the three Palermo has the money and players probably to make the best run at staying up. Empoli may have the pieces to stay just above relegation but look for Cesena to join Sassuolo and Chievo – as well as a few others – struggling to avoid the drop.
Serie A in 2014-2015 looks top-heavy and still a few steps behind the other European leagues. However, if the teams can continue to develop and hold on to the exciting young players produced, Italy could be a few years away from a true renaissance.