The Premier League started last weekend and it’s still a couple of weeks until La Liga begins in Spain but this weekend Serie A kicks off in Italy and Paul Grech has been generous enough to offer us a full run-down of the chances for the runners and riders in Italy this season. If you can’t get enough of Serie A, feel free to drop by at Paul’s blog www.ilrecalcio.com for a detailed team by team preview including which players to watch out for.
Have we got a league on? It looks like it or, rather, it is being hyped up like it. After three years of Inter’s dominance there is a degree of eagerness within Italian football for someone, anyone, to offer them a challenge, and when that someone is Juventus it doesn’t take much to get people excited. How much those hopes are real or inflated remains to be seen but the reality is that Inter remain the team to beat.
Gigi del Neri decided that he had taken the club as far as he could and decided to leave. Atalanta then followed it up by selling highly rated striker Floccari which was seen as further underlying their lack of ambition. Yet the money they received was well invested in a host of promising players – striker Roberto Acquafresca being the most prominent – that have strengthened the squad and should allow them to aim higher.
Promoted at a canter, Bari were relieved when Antonio Conte decided to stay on as coach. That joy was short-lived, however, as a difference of opinion with the club’s owners led to his resignation (or sacking, depending on who you believe). Veteran manager Giampiero Ventura was named as his replacement whilst the squad was largely strengthened by a host of lower league players that hardly look enough to avoid relegation. The big news, however, is that American millionaire Tim Barton has agreed to buy the club, something that led a couple of thousand fans to take to the streets of Bari to celebrate.
A summer spent waiting for the club to be taken over by Albanian millionaire Rezart Taci ended in disappointment as he ultimately decided not to go ahead. This left Bologna in an awkward position of not having invested enough in strengthening the squad in the belief that someone else with more money was going to come in to do that. At least they’ve held on to Marco di Vaio whose goals helped keep them in the Serie A last season whilst Giorgio Papadopoulo is a manager with vast experience of these kind of situations.
A season that started with five straight defeats didn’t turn out to be half bad for Cagliari as new manager Massimiliano Allegri proved to be quite a revelation. His attacking brand of football not only got good results but also won him a lot of admirers although, evidently not enough since no offer came from a club worth moving to. So it is that Allegri starts his second season at Cagliari hopeful that he can maintain the same level of results despite the departure of striker Robert Acquafresa.
Another small club that punched above its weight last season, it remains to be seen how much the departure of Walter Zenga will hit them. As they have frequently done, Catania have brought in mostly players from South America with Mariano Andujar and Pablo Barrientos both looking like very good additions. Gianluca Atzori, with just one season at Ravenna under his belt, looks like a risky appointment but if he can harness the talents of Giuseppe Mascara they can look forward to another pretty satisfying season.
Destined for relegation until Mimmo di Carlo came through at which point their season changed drastically and they managed to finish off with a fair degree of ease. The squad has remained largely unchanged which makes it a bit of a challenge. Yet with Sergio Pellisier’s goal scoring ability they should make a decent shot of it.
The priority for Fiorentina was that of hanging on to their best players and, in order to do so, Felipe Melo was sacrificed with the Brazilian midfielder bringing in a hefty amount from Juventus. With Christiano Zanetti and Marco Marcionni at the club, Prandelli has a slightly stronger squad but he will have to work his management skills to get the best out of them.
For the second year running, Genoa have had to sell the Serie A’s top scorer (Marco Boriello to Milan last year, Diego Miltio to Inter this one). Yet they’ve used the money wisely and boosted their squad all over the pitch. Still the gap (and the goals) that Milito’s departure has left is very significant and it will remain to be seen whether Hernan Cespo can fill that role reasonably well.
A pre-season win against Real Madrid has been for the past two weeks held up as proof that Juventus are back and in championship winning mood. Not even the subsequent 4-1 defeat by Villareal has dampened expectations. Whether these are real or not remains to be seen. Juventus have indeed strengthened their side in midfield with the arrivals of Diego and Felipe Melo but they still appear to be somewhat lacking in strength in depth to really challenge Inter. Turning to Ciro Ferrara to manage the team is also something of a risk but he is both intelligent enough to make the job work and, perhaps more importantly, has the fans on his side.
Just as everyone seems to be willing Juventus to win the league, everyone apart from the Interisti is hoping to see Inter fail. The thing is, no one likes someone who wins so regularly and when that someone has a person like Jose Mourinho on board then they become all the more insufferable. Yet the feeling is that those who want to see Inter fail will have to wait a bit longer as the team is, if anything, a bit stronger then it was. Key to everything is how they cope with the loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic but Diego Milito and Samuel Eto’o should be enough for them not to miss him too much.
Last season’s win in the Coppa Italia was Delio Rossi’s swansong as the manager’s contract was not renewed at the end of the season. In his place has come Davide Ballardini, a man who has proven that not only can he do well with limited resources but also that he can handle meddlesome owners of which Claudio Lotito certainly is one. Their start of the season has been nothing short of excellent with a Super Cup win over Inter and then an easy success in the Europa League which has raised hopes that they can aim for a Champions League spot. A threadbare squad, however, greatly limits those chances but, if they can keep Mauro Zarate fit – he is undoubtedly in the top three players in Italy – then they will have an edge on other sides.
Livorno were expected to bounce straight back into the Serie A and they duly did so. That, however, disguises the fact that they struggled throughout the second half of the campaign and ended the year in dramatic fashion when manager Luca Acori was sacked with one game to go. In his place they appointed Gennaro Ruotolo who promptly took the side up via the play-offs and won the job on a permanent basis. During the summer, prodigal son Cristiano Lucarelli has come back but there has been very little else. Even so, the quality is there for them to retain their place in the league but they must avoid injuries to key players like Cristiano Diamanti and Francesco Tavano.
In Silvio Berlusconi’s view, what Milan need is a coach who knows how to use Ronaldinho. In everyone else’s view, what Milan need is an overhaul of an ageing squad. Then again, to do that you need money which is something that Berlusconi no longer wants to spend on the club that made him famous. Former midfielder Leonardo has taken over from Carlo Ancelotti but he too has already been vocal in demanding new players to boost a squad that still relies far too heavily on veterans like Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi. At best Milan can aim for a spot in the Champions League, at worst a season of anonymity in mid-table.
For the past two seasons, Napoli have started brightly only to suffer a vertiginous slump midway through the season which kills off any hopes of a good placing. The last one cost Edy Reya his job with Roberto Donadoni coming in to replace him. The former Italy boss didn’t do too well but it was written off as part of is learning curve but people won’t be so forgiving this year. The arrival of Fabio Quagliarella boosts their attack considerably whilst Morgan de Sanctis should solve their goalkeeping problem. If Napoli can maintain their excellent home form and carry forward at least part of it away, then they should do well.
Walter Zenga has promised the league title but getting into Europe – and beating local rivals Catania – would be enough for Palermo. The squad appears strong and Palermo have a knack of finding unpolished gems which they can help progress. Last year it was Simon Kjaer and Edison Cavani, this year it could be Javier Pastore and Dorin Goian.
Back in the Serie A with the hope of at least clinging on in their first season, Parma are a far cry from the club that challenged so heavily for the league title back in the nineties. It is difficult to judge the current squad that is full of journeymen and inexperienced youths so much will depend on how manager Guidolin manages to shape it.
One player out, one player in: it has been a mediocre summer for Roma where the main rumours have centred around possible new owners taking over from the Sensi family. Despite the stories, nothing really ever comes out of them so they remain heavily in debt and without the ability to really make any headway. The sale of Aquilani was welcomed because not only was he always injured (like so many other Roma players, which hints at a not-too-good medical team) but because it meant that others like Philip Mexes would be retained. Even without any new players, Roma remain a good team (if they can keep everyone fit) and should offer more of a challenge then they did last season.
The arrival of manager Gigi del Neri was the big news of the summer for Sampdoria whose transfers have largely been low key. Of utmost importance for them was keeping the strike duo of Giampaolo Pazzini and Antonio Cassano after the two hit it off so well in the second half of last season. Sampdoria is usually a tranquil club where expectations aren’t too high but neighbours Genoa’s success last season has raised the stakes and they will now be expected to do just as good, even though the squad doesn’t look good enough to do so.
Another summer, another host of key players that have left but still no one seems overly worried. Key for them was holding on to manager Marco Giampaolo whose organisational skills is at the heart of their continued survival in the Serie A despite the constant sale of key players.
Having waiting as long as they could, Udinese cashed in on Fabio Quagliarella this summer and with the money that they got ensured that they could comfortably price the likes of Gaetano d’Agostino, Gokhan Inler and Cristian Zapata out of the market. It is around that trio that coach Pasquale Marino will build his squad that, as per tradition, has been boosted by a host of new players from South America and Eastern Europe in the knowledge that one or two of them will turn out to be quite good.
Champions League: Juventus, Lazio, Fiorentina.
Relegated: Bari, Bologna, Chievo.
Promoted: Torino, Reggina, Brescia