Here’s some things we learned from the opening gameweek.
The Rossoneri may not be as bad as expected
A lot of the talk surrounding Italian football over the last 18 months has been regarding the well documented fall from grace of AC Milan. After their atrocious showing in the domestic campaign last season and the subsequent sacking of Clarence Seedorf and departure of Mario Balotelli, it was almost taken as read that it was going to be very much more of the same from the San Siro side this season; early indications suggest this is not necessarily going to be the case.
In their opening fixture against Lazio they were almost unrecognisable from the team that wore that famous red and black strip last year. New coach Pippo Inzaghi seems to have really put his stamp on this team as they moved the ball around the pitch with real purpose and in a much more direct and high-tempo manner than under the surveillance of Seedorf and even his predecessor: Massimiliano Allegri.
Diego Lopez had a solid debut; denying a frustrated Antonio Candreva from the penalty spot and only being beaten by an unfortunate own goal from fellow debutant Alex. Stephan El Shaarawy looked near enough back to his best as he returned from several injury problems to play in the 4-3-3 system which saw him thrive in 2012. Another positive point for Inzaghi will be that Jeremy Menez looked as though he actually wanted to be playing football again – always a plus.
Roma mean business
I tipped them as my pre-season favourites for the Scudetto and I must admit I was a bit nervous for them ahead of their opening day fixture at home to Fiorentina. It is always preferable to ease your way into a season and it can perhaps be forgiven if a team doesn’t quite click as they might have hoped on the first game of the season. Rudi Garcia’s men didn’t have this problem, however, as they looked to start this season as they did last.
The defeat of La Viola saw no less than four players make their Giallorossi debut from the start, namely Ashley Cole, Davide Astori, Kostas Manolas and Juan Iturbe, with Seydou Keita coming on in the second half for his first Roma appearance. All these new faces in mind, this result is even more impressive as Garcia proves once again his effectiveness in rapidly putting together a team and putting across his ideals and philosophies.
Goals from Radja Nainggolan and Gervinho secured them the three points on the day and performances like this will see them right up there, going head-to-head with Juventus for the title come May.
Juve are still Juve
It might not have been the most convincing result, but the scoreline certainly flatter Chievo as Juventus left the Bentegodi with all three points to claim their 53rd opening day Serie A win – more than any other club.
The Bianconeri hit the woodwork three times throughout the match but could only find the net through a Martin Caceres which found its way past Francesco Bardi via Cristiano Biraghi. The missed chances almost proved fatal when Maxi Lopez missed a good chance late on but Juve did what Juve do and managed to secure the victory.
With all the talk around Juve mainly focusing on the past significance of Antonio Conte to the side and how they will be an inferior beast without him, Max Allegri will no doubt be happy to carry the reduced weight of lowered expectations into the season with many people seeing Roma as the team to beat in Italy this time around.
Form is temporary, Toto is permanent
I would like to take a moment to thank Antonio Di Natale on behalf of all Serie A fan’s for making an Usher-esque U-Turn on his decision to retire at the end of the 2013/14 campaign; I would also like to subsequently apologise to Toto and everybody else for that metaphor.
His recent form would lead you to question why he ever felt it was appropriate to hang up his boots. He opened his account for the season in the Tuscan town that gave him his first chance in football. As well as being the town from which his wife originates, Empoli is a town close to Di Natale’s heart as he made 150 league appearances for the club and scored 49 goals in doing so.
Empoli, and more specifically Vincent Laurini decided to show their adoration for the great man as he inexplicably played the Udinese striker though on goal to gift him his 195th Serie A goal, putting him just ten behind the record of Roberto Baggio.
Di Natale now has eight goals in his last four Serie A appearances, as well as scoring all five in the Zebrette’s Coppa Italia win against Ternana recently, not bad for a man who turns 37 next month.
Some footballers do still love football
Deadline Day is always a little bit mental and it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of it all so you can be forgiven for missing Milan’s signing of Giacomo Bonaventura from Atalanta in the dying hours of the mercato.
On the surface the transfer seems like nothing more than a good move for both player and club as Bonaventura looks to realise his full potential and Milan look to add strength in depth to their squad. When you look a little closer, this move is actually one of football’s rare beautifully emotional and touching moments.
The player’s agent described the move as a “dream come true” for Bonaventura and revealed the former Orobici player cried as he signed his new contract.
Let’s hope Giacomo can go on to build on his one international cap and possibly become a regular in Conte’s new look Azzurri as they build towards the European Championships in 2016.