The new Serie A season is kicking-off this weekend, as Chievo Verona host holding champions Juventus on Saturday (Noon ET). Will the Old Lady retain the title for a fourth consecutive time or will the ever-improving Roma snatch it away? Can Napoli enter the argument and what will Fiorentina, Inter and Milan have to say about it?
Atalanta: Stefano Colantuono is currently the longest-serving manager in Serie A. He will be starting his fifth consecutive season in charge, a minor miracle in Italy. He will be pleased to have retained the services of star players such as Germán Denis, Carlos Carmona and Marcelo Estigarribia. They, along with Luca Cigarini and Andrea Consigli, form the core of a team which never flirted with relegation last season, finishing in 11th. Another mid-table finish should be the goal.
Cagliari: A slightly unknown package as previous owner Massimo Cellino has sold the club to a Sardinian chemical interest, who have appointed new manager Zdeněk Zeman. With Zeman comes the guarantee of a 4-3-3, but whether he is has the personnel to execute this system with aplomb remains to be seen. Víctor Ibarbo is fantastic talent, capable of pressing thanks to his speed and stamina. There are other quality players in the squad, such as Marco Sau, but they’re not necessarily adept at the intense high pressing of Zeman’s game. Zeman will be pleased to have talented youngsters Nicola Murru and Samuele Longo to mould.
Cesena: The Serie B play-off winners look likely to be candidates to drop back down as their squad is significantly lacking in Serie A experience. Franco Brienza and Stefano Lucchini have been brought in from Atalanta but both are in the twilight years of their career and neither shined last season. Juventus’ highly-rated goalkeeper Nicola Leali has arrived on loan and he’ll have to be on top form in what will surely be an extremely busy season for him.
Chievo: The Flying Donkeys were disappointed to have struggled last season as they have a decent squad with depth in both attack and defense. There will be fierce competition to wear the gloves – Christian Puggioni will be challenged by the return of both Andrea Seculin and Francesco Bardi. Manager Eugenio Corini will be looking forward to seeing new signing Maxi López, who will probably partner Alberto Paloschi in attack.
Empoli: Serie B runners-up are also likely to severely struggle, with a squad limited in talent and Serie A experience. Club talisman Francesco Tavano is in his second spell at the club, starting his ninth season at the club where he has 262 appearances and 108 goals. He will be joined in attack by young Uruguayan loan signing from Udinese Rodrigo Aguirre. Tiberio Guarente will bring Serie A know-how, but he was hardly a star player at Chievo. The big challenge will be the step up for young defenders like Daniele Rugani, Franco-Italian Vincent Laurini and Lorenzo Tonelli.
Fiorentina: Finished last season in 4th place, but 13 points adrift of third. Last season was not particularly fair to the Viola, as they have a world-class attacking partnership that was never used. If Mario Gomez and Giuseppe Rossi stay fit they should be the deadliest duo in the league. Allied to a very talented squad with depth in almost every position and an equally talented young manager Vincenzo Montella, Fiorentina should make a serious challenge for the top three. European competition will strain the squad, however, and it remains to be seen whether Serie A will be prioritized over the Europa League, as Fiorentina traditionally take the competition seriously. A first team squad of 34 players – including new signings Marko Marin and José Basanta – will have to be trimmed to prevent disquiet and to give opportunities to promising youngsters like Federico Bernardeschi.
Genoa: Gian Piero Gasperini faces an uphill struggle this season as he will have to deal with a squad not overly burdened with quality. Key striker Alberto Gilardino has been replaced by Alessandro Matri, who should prove himself to be a good goalscorer again. Veteran Nicolás Burdisso, captain Luca Antonelli, Juraj Kucka and youngsters Mattia Perin and Andrea Bertolacci form a decent core. If Matri starts scoring early in the season and continues his form then they shouldn’t have any relegation worries.
Internazionale: On paper Inter have a squad worthy of challenging for the top three and perhaps even the Scudetto, but whether Walter Mazzarri can make the most of it remains to be seen. Inter have a great youth academy and many promising youngsters in the first team but Mazzarri has never been that sort of manager – he trusts experience. Despite the departures of Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti, this Inter squad is, as usual, stacked with quality players. Additions such as Pablo Osvaldo, Nemanja Vidić and Yann M’Vila can only strengthen a squad, and if M’Vila successfully resurrects his career we could be talking about a player at the level of Makélélé. The tactical rigidity of Mazzarri may be Inter’s downfall, as every team they play will know how they line up well in advance. Andrea Ranocchia will hopefully mature now he’s taken the captain’s armband, and if this team gels then they will be a very dangerous opponent this season.
Juventus: Massimiliano Allegri faces the challenge of his career in maintaining Juventus at the summit of Italian football. When he started the Milan job expectations were low, but this time he must improve Italy’s record breaking three times champions by going deeper into the Champions League. His squad is largely unchanged, with the flanks having been fortified with the recruitment of Roberto Pereyra and Patrice Evra, while Álvaro Morata and Kingsley Coman will add depth to the attack. What remains to be seen is if Allegri is able to motivate the players to play with the same intensity as Conte did. Due to the Mourinho-like presence of Conte at Juventus, he completely dominated proceedings, so it’s very difficult to envisage how this Juventus will be. The sheer quality of players will mean that they will be in the top three, whether Juventus can motivate themselves for a fourth Scudetto is another question. Allegri is actually an extremely shrewd tactician and will be hoping to leave a mark on Europe.
Lazio: Fans were very displeased at the lack of business done, even more galling for them is the work done by Roma. However, the additions of World Cup bronze medal winner Stefan de Vrij, Marco Parolo and Dušan Basta have remedied this for the moment, giving their squad the look of one which can challenge for a Europa League place. Key players such as Miroslav Klose, Cristian Ledesma and Stefano Mauri are not getting any younger and are likely to be less influential than in past seasons. After his performances at the World Cup, Lucas Biglia should surely be able to force his way into the starting XI, and fans will be hoping that Antonio Candreva continues to progress.
Milan: This will be a transition season in many ways for Milan. Filippo Inzaghi undertakes his maiden season as manager with a strange mix of a squad. A handful of potential world-class players in Nigel de Jong, Stephan El Shaarawy and Cristián Zapata are mixed in with a bag of mediocre players and youth team players. Inzaghi was promoted from the youth team so he knows them intimately and will hopefully place his trust in them. The excitement around Hachim Mastour is very high but he’s unlikely to feature that heavily. Milan have been underwhelming to say the least in pre-season, but the same was said before Allegri won the title with Milan. However, these comparisons are unfair as this is unfortunately not a great Milan team. Jérémy Ménez, Alex and Pablo Armero are not signings that will take them to the next level, but are good players who will reinforce the squad. A Champions League place is likely beyond them, especially if an adequate replacement for Mario Balotelli cannot be found. Losing him may improve the dressing room dynamic, but Milan have sold their one global talent and international media attraction.
Napoli: Rafael Benitez will be hoping to consolidate the work done last season, but principally, to improve on it. Napoli were aiming for 2nd place last year but didn’t bet on Roma. This season a genuine Scudetto challenge is demanded by the supporters, but Benitez does not yet seem to be in a position to deliver. The attack and defence have been adequately enhanced with Michu and Kalidou Koulibaly, but the midfield, which needed strengthening, has been weakened. As things stand Napoli are not in position to win the league, but are still strong enough to finish in the top three. The Champions League play-off against Bilbao will be a decisive moment for the season. A victory and Champions League football is assured until December and big money can be spent on a midfielder – or two – whereas defeat and the season will start with a great disappointment.
Palermo: The Serie B champions will feel that they are retaking their rightful place in Serie A. It is certainly a shame when Sicily is not providing a contestant to the nation’s top competition. The squad was too strong for Serie B and should be strong enough to survive this year. Serie A and international veterans such as Édgar Barreto, Stefano Sorrentino, Abel Hernández and Ezequiel Muñoz allied to the solidity of Francesco Bolzoni, with the young striker Andrea Belotti trying to keep Palermo in the division.
Parma: Still disappointed to have lost their Europa League place to Torino due to tax problems, it will be a challenge for Parma to repeat the feat. The spine of the team remains solid, from Antonio Mirante in goal, Gabriel Paletta and Alessandro Lucarelli in defence, Massimo Gobbi and Marco Marchionni in midfield and veteran Antonio Cassano in attack. With Amauri ageing, young Ishak Belfodil will be hoping to take his place, but will face competition from Jonathan Biabany and new Greek signing Sotiris Ninis. If Daniele Galloppa can ever regain full fitness he’ll be another weapon in Roberto Donadoni’s arsenal. They certainly have the quality in the first team and should achieve another top ten place.
Roma: After last season’s accomplishments only one target is reasonable: lo Scudetto. With the number and quality of acquisitions Roma have made over the summer they should be hoping to progress from the group stage of the Champions League, at the very least. Ashley Cole is sure to be an improvement at left-back, while the eventual return of Kevin Strootman will be a massive boost in the middle of the park. Purchases such as Davide Astori, Juan Iturbe, Salih Uçan and Antonio Sanabria will allow Rudi Garcia to rotate without compromising in quality. This has the potential to be a special team when one considers what Garcia was able to achieve last season. This should be the year that Miralem Pjanić dominates a division; he has the talent to be the heir to Totti in terms of vision and touch.
Sampdoria: Siniša Mihajlović affected an admirable turnaround at Sampdoria last season, from being hired in late November to finishing the season in 12th place. They will want to keep that momentum going into the new season. A limited squad will again be asked to do a lot with little and the job is made harder as World Cup winner Shkodran Mustafi was sold and Maxi López left. Much will rely on Pedro Obiang continuing to progress and Manolo Gabbiadini finally scoring goals to match his talent – he has never scored more than eight in a league season.
Sassuolo: Theirs was a romantic tale last season, amplified by manager Eusebio Di Francesco’ on and off relationship with the club. The most important figures of the second half of the season last year have been either purchased in Paolo Cannavaro and Simone Zaza or brought back on-loan like star man Domenico Berardi. The additions of Federico Peluso and Šime Vrsaljko will shore up the defence meaning Sassuolo should once again survive.
Torino: Catapulted into European competition, Torino remain strong enough to finish in the top 7 again, but competing on two fronts may be beyond them. The loss of Ciro Immobile is softened by the return of his Neapolitan neighbour Fabio Quagliarella, and as things stand Alessio Cerci will stay in Turin. This on its own is a major coup and the squad has been strengthened with the Immobile money injection. Experience in the form of Antonio Nocerino and Cristian Molinaro will be joined by young prospects Juan Sánchez Miño (signed from Boca Juniors), Rubén Pérez (Atlético Madrid) and Marco Benassi (Inter Milan). Omar El Kaddouri has joined for another season on-loan and he was considered very important by manager Giampiero Ventura in moving the ball quickly to the fast forwards. Quagliarella plays a very different style to Immobile so it will be interesting to see how both Ventura and Cerci adapt their methods.
Udinese: A new start with a new manager. Udinese disappointed for the first time since Guidolin was manager last season and this year Andrea Stramaccioni will take the helm of a side which is largely unchanged from last season. A few players left during the summer, as always, and dozens were brought in, as always. The Udinese method of gambling on lots of youngsters has paid off over the years and one would imagine that Stramaccioni is the right man to integrate them into a first team which could use a bit of regeneration. Antonio Di Natale is not the force he once was but will likely still be relied upon in attack. The one to watch is the schoolboy come goalkeeper Simone Scuffet who astounded global audiences with his scintillating displays wearing the gloves last season. Frenchman Cyril Théréau is their biggest name signing. He is an unspectacular player but one who knows where the goal is and bullies defenders.
Verona: Last season Verona were newly promoted and nobody expected anything of a team which had the 36-year-old Luca Toni as its star player. They finished 10th, hurting the big teams, Toni scored 20 goals and Juan Iturbe mesmerised opposition defenders. Iturbe has departed, replaced by Giorgi Chanturia, known as the ‘Georgian Leo Messi’. Chanturia is still young and is yet to earn that moniker. Aptly for Hellas, a pair of World Cup Greeks have been drafted, in the shape of Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and Panagiotis Tachtsidis.
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