Finally, the best league in the world is coming back this Friday! Italy’s top division, Serie A, kicks off Friday September the ninth. For those of you that missed it, that first week of action was suspended. After the Players’ Union (AIC) and the Italian FA (FIGC) failed to agree a contract that revolved around the Solidarity Tax and whether a club can drop players from training with the first team. The season will now kick-off two weeks late with current champions AC Milan taking on Lazio.
Serie A will be very different this year compared to that of 2010-2011. Apart from the fact that players have come and gone, this year there will only be three UEFA Champions League places. Last year Germany overtook Italy in UEFA’s co-efficient table, meaning they gained our place. Many Italian fans and pundits have been very disappointed with results in the Europa League, with the likes of Napoli, Palermo and Roma going out at early stages. The Italian press have criticised UEFA for making points in the Europa League almost as much as the main competition, the Champions League, where generally Italian sides have done well.
The Italian leagues in general have also been slowly changing over the last few years, with coaches throwing off the defensive or catenaccio shackles. The stereotypical view of Italian football will dramatically change the coming years, and this year will show that. Italian coaches have started to look at systems such as the Spanish and English methods of running a club. Looking more at the youth sector and building with more attacking formations. Clubs such as Napoli in particular have been playing with three at the back for years now.
Here is a short paragraph on every side:
During the summer Italy was hit with another match-fixing scandal, and the team hit hardest was newly promoted Atalanta. The FIGC docked them six points and has banned their captain Cristiano Doni for six months. They already had a weak squad, and with that they have to be considered favourites to be relegated.
Their biggest summer transfer achievement was not even a signing, but instead Bologna were over the moon when the market shut because it meant Uruguayan forward Gaston Ramirez stayed. When goal machine Marco Di Vaio is fit they will always have a chance, and great addition were made in Alessandro Diamanti and replaced goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano with Jean-François Gillet. Overall a thin but very strong team, leadership is badly needed.
The surprise sacking of Roberto Donadoni did not go down well with the Cagliari fans: but replacement Massimo Ficcadenti has little time to make adjustments. The starting eleven from last season has stayed relatively intact. With three key losses being Robert Acquafresca, Federico Marchetti and Andrea Lazzari which will almost certainly put them in the relegation scarp.
Ex-Roma manager Vincenzo Montella took over a southern strugglers Catania towards the end of last season. They managed to hold onto their main striker Maxi Lopez. Honduran striker Humberto Suazo has also been brought in from Inter. They have a certainly have a solid team, but by virtue of other teams simply being better, they will be involved in the relegation battle.
Cesena deserve an honourable mention for running a club the right way and getting success. They were heavily rumoured to be going to down last time round, but proved their worth. They’ve lost important players such as Luis Jimenez Emanuele Giaccherini. While improving by signing controversial Romanian striker Adrian Mutu, and keeping midfielder Marco Parolo. Whether they can do it second time round is the question.
The only side in the whole of Italy that is are actually boring to watch, Chievo are aiming to finish in mid-table. The Stoke City of Italy, the Flying Donkeys have a few new faces and will need time to settle in.
Looking at the individuals they have, Fiorentina could be a very strong side. They managed to hold on to bomber Alberto Gilardino, midfield playmaker Riccardo Montolivo and tricky winger Juan Vargas, as well as bringing in one of the best full backs in Italy with Mattia Cassani. The only problem seems to be the manager Sinisa Mihajlovic, who no one seems to have complete faith in.
The merry-go-round that is Genoa’s calciomercato never seems to succeed on the pitch. They are even buying players for other teams, look at their close relationship with Milan. Great players come and out, and this season it looks as if it will be the turn of Kevin Constant and Sebastian Frey, but they never seem to settle.
Although they lost key striker Samuel Eto’o to Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, Inter managed to hold on to midfield general Wesley Sneijder. The forward line now includes some different faces in Diego Forlan and Mauro Zarate, but who will be doing the defending? New manager Gian Piero Gasperini will be playing three at the back, but an aging squad doesn’t look like they have it in them to repeat their amazing achievements.
Having spent more than any team in Italy, Juventus have a lot of expectation riding on them. With a breath taking new stadium, this might just finally be their rebirth. With additions such as Arturo Vidal, Mirko Vucinic and Andrea Pirlo they have a very deep squad now. With no European action this year, you have to bet on them to be the team to break into the top three.
Players have come and gone, but can Lazio do any better than last season? Controversial striker Mauro Zarate is gone, but in come veterans Miroslav Klose and Djibril Cisse who certainly know where the nets are. Edy Reja will have some task on his hands though, with only three Champions League places.
They have lost some players and gained some players: Lecce have to be thrown into this relegation battle. The main thing is they need time to settle with their new coach, Eusebio Di Francesco, and players. The two biggest coups have to be Julio Sergio from Roma and Rodney Strasser from Milan. The question is whether they can hit the ground running. Although Di Francesco was the first to admit that they will struggle.
The current champions and favourites for this season’s scudetto, AC Milan have largely the same starting eleven as last term. Strengthening was the main objective this summer, and was realised with a tight budget with names such as Alberto Aquilani, Philippe Mexes and Antonio Nocerino. You can’t really see past them this season either.
The fact that Napoli managed to hold on to Marek Hamsik, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi could be described as a minor miracle. They reinforced in midfield with Gokhan Inler, and overall they look very solid, but Champions League football might just catch up with them.
Two years ago Novara were playing in Italy’s second division (Serie C1), and when promoted into Serie B they were expected to go straight back down. Instead they put together an incredible run, not losing a single game at home. During the summer they lost their best striker in Pablo Gonzalez, but for a three million profit. It’s hard to predict how they will fare in Serie A, they will definitely be tough to beat, despite being expected to go down.
Despite the fact that PSG stole their best players in midfielder Javier Pastore and goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, Palermo are still going into the season reasonably well. He performed last season but Josip Ilicic really has to set it up this year. Their biggest disadvantage is President Maurizio Zamparini, as his idiotic decisions really hold them back.
The Juve reject team Parma were saved by Amauri towards the end of last season. Veteran striker Hernan Crespo is still the main man, and is the one they rely on for the goals. The ‘Atomic Ant’ or Sebastian Giovinco is the playmaker, and it looks as though with those two being their best players they will struggle.
The American/Spanish revolution took off at Roma during the summer, and the starting eleven is almost completely different. With ex-Barcelona B coach Luis Enrique at the helm many will be expecting tiky-taca football. With so many new faces, the real question is whether they manage to settle before the season is over.
The last of the three sides to be promoted last season were Siena. They have reinforced their squad with midfielders Gaetano D’Agostino and Daniele Mannini. Juventus snapped up their coach Antonio Conte, who has been replaced by Giuseppe Sannino. Conte was the essence of the team, and it remains to be seen how they fare without him.
By far the best team in Italy towards the end of last season, Udinese were dealt a huge blow with the losses of Alexis Sanchez, Gokhan Intler and Cristian Zapata this summer. They played well against Arsenal, but were still knocked out. Their system of making a team out of youth team players might cost them.
Without doubt Serie A will be one of the most exciting and intriguing league to watch this year. The players, managers, presidents and fans are what make Serie A special, for good and bad reasons. Hope you enjoy it as much as I will!