With the Italian season beginning this weekend as Lazio and Inter battled it out for the Supercoppa Italiana, cash-strapped calcio faces a new dawn finally accepting that it no longer holds a place at the same table as the Premiership or La Liga. Having been decimated in Europe for the second time in a row and with the loss of it’s crown jewels to Spain, Italian football faces a new threat from the rejuvenated Bundesliga for it’s fourth Champions League place and a national team trying desperately to piece together a squad good enough to retain the World Cup. On that happy note on the future of Italian football here is the season preview…
New coach Angelo Gregucci takes the perennial challenge of trying to keep Atalanta in the Serie A and should manage this with relative ease after last seasons 11th place. Despite losing Floccari to Genoa they have bought well up front bringing in prolific Azzurinni striker Acquafresca and one of Lecce’s few shining lights last year Simone Tiribocchi. 36 year old Christiano Doni will again be the fulcrum of the team and if age finally catches up with him Atalanta could be found wanting for creative flair but they should still have enough quality to avoid the drop
The winners of Serie B have had a fairly tumultuous summer after Antonio Conte, the mastermind behind their promotion, angled for a return to Juventus by securing his release from Bari only to be left without a job when Juve went for Ferrara. Adding to the uncertainty in the Bari camp a takeover was completed last week by a Texan based company. Bari still have a very stable base in formerly disgraced keeper Jean Francois Gillet, who has put to bed his past involvement in the nandrolone scandal with solid performances while they have extended the loan of Baretto from Udinese who, having scored consistently at Serie B, will be essential for their survival. They do lack players with top flight experience and their survival could depend on whether Matteo Paro finally develops his long hyped potential to help them rise above a relegation dogfight that otherwise they seem destined to lose
Saved from relegation on the last day of the season, Bologna should be in big trouble this year as Marco Di Vaio’s remarkable 24 goal haul last year is unlikely to be repeated. Giuseppe Papadopulo however is an underated manager capable of working magic (as his time with Siena proved) and if he can build on his last minute salvation of the club and work on a defence that conceded more goals than any team but bottom of the barrel Lecce last year they may not have to rely on Di Vaio’s heroics. It seems unlikely though with only two new defenders arriving for the tough campaign that awaits and a probable relegation
If there is ever a guarantee in Italian football it is that the island teams will always dominate at home and struggle away. Cagliari adopted this tradition with gusto last year losing only four games in Sardinia with the best defensive record at home in the league (shared with Milan) while sporting a better away record than either Catania or Palermo. However, the loss of Acquafresca who chipped in with 14 goals last season could be extremely detrimental if new signing Nene cannot adapt to life in Italy and continue the form he showed in the Portuguese league last year. If Simone Barone can achieve his best form (massive if) then the combination of him, Dessena and Conti should prove for an impressive midfield. Home form will protect them from relegation but don’t expect higher than tenth at best
Bar a wondergoal from talisman Giuseppe Mascara, Catania had little to shout about last season finishing comfortably ahead of relegation (there were some points given to team who needed them once safety was secured leading to a deceiving 15th place). They have continued at the same pace in the transfer market this year as last adding 15 new players to the 10 that were introduced last year making their first team impossible to predict but players to look out for include former Italian international Gennaro Delvecchio returning to the club, emerging Argentinian national keeper Andujar and Andujar’s potential teammates in the national side, Nicolas Spolli and Pablo Barrientos. Expect them to make huge strides next year even without Zenga at the helm
The flying donkey’s fairytale might have ended but they are still in the top flight after a campaign of two halves last year: shockingly bad for the first 19 but losing only 4 of their second set and they will be hoping to continue that form and an impressive defence into 2010. Captain Sergio Pellisier is the talisman of the team and his 13 goals saved Chievo this year but Chievo are in desperate need of some extra firepower to add to last year’s pathetic tally of 35 goals and are banking on Pablo Granoche to deliver. Having spent two campaigns in Serie B with an average of 1 goal in 2 games, he’ll have to replicate something similar with Chievo to avoid a swift return
Having completed a miraculous recovery getting promoted 3 times in 2 years and re-establishing themselves as a top Serie A side, Fiorentina are finally in the position to launch a title bid. With the standard at the top of Serie A declining over the years Fiorentina have steadily improved and in Adrian Mutu have the most consistent attacking player in the league. Mutu and Gilardino broke 30 goals last year and the same can be expected again complimenting a team with quality in every area including Frey, Montolivio, Gamberini and Kuzmanovic as well as money to spend. If they can replace Felipe Melo’s presence this could be their year to challenge Inter but anywhere from third to sixth is more realistic
Coming up with Juventus in 07, Genoa have only ever been one step behind the Turin club as Gasperini has moulded a squad that have continued to advance and defy the pundits. Last season il grifone only missed out on a Champions League spot based on their head to head record with Fiorentina. Their success has not gone unnoticed and this summer saw Inter pick up Diego Milito and Thiago Motta for £40m. The money has been reinvested wisely with seasoned hitman Hernan Crespo arriving on a free alongside Zaragoza captain Albert Zapater, Buffon’s Italian understudy Marco Amelia,the promising Andrea Esposito, Atalanta striker Sergio Floccari and most notably Boca Junior’s hero Rodrigo Palacios. Genoa are clearly gambling on the potential chemistry of this new team to break the top 4 and potentially even challenge but given what Gasperini has achieved already the gelling of Genoa is well within his reach
After years of being the bridesmaids to the other seven sisters and seemingly being unable to win a Scudetto under Moratti, Inter have dominated Serie A recently, taking full advantage of the Calciopolli scandal to cement their place as the dominant force in Italy. And on paper this year they have improved again. Milito, Motta, Lucio and Eto’o would add to any team while they have kept hold of the best full back in the world, Maicon. However, the departure of the mercurial Ibrahimovic has left Inter bereft of creativity and flair up front and in the middle – and with Eto’o used to the comforts of Messi, Henry, Iniesta and Xavi to provide for him there are doubts as to whether he will conjure up as much moments of individual brilliance as Ibracadabra. Although Inter do have millions to find a play maker and on paper their squad maybe better, it’s certainly duller. Anything but the Scudetto and a quarter final in the Champions League will be a failure for Mourinho but Juve present the biggest challenge since their domination
Poor Claudio Ranieri. Gets sacked by Chelsea for failing to beat the Invincibles and gets sacked by Juve for failing to topple a near invincible Inter side in his first realistic chance but his loss is Ciro Ferrara’s gain. Juventus have bought extremely well this summer signing Brazilian midfield duo Diego and Felipe Melo to revolutionize their underwhelming midfield. The return of Fabio Cannavarro and Caceres on loan has helped to strengthen the defence while Buffon ensures that no improvement could have been made in goal. Up front there are question marks over Iaquinta, Trezeguet, Del Piero and Amauri as Del Piero continues to get older while neither Iaqunta or Amauri can nail down the second spot up front. 37 goals last season between the three of them was a decent return, and both Iaquinta and Amauri will hope to do better to secure a place on the plane to South Africa. Should finish in the top two
Last seasons winner of the Coppa Italia have regressed to midtable since they finished 3rd in 2007 but still boast incredibly impressive attacking options with Pandev, Rocchi, Zarate and now Julio Cruz offering i Biancocolesti both quality and depth up front. Bizzarri of Catania has come in in goal while Matuzalem has signed on a perminent basis from Zaragoza to combine with Ledesma in an impressive midfield while the departure of manager Delio Rossi has left the door open to those exiled, Stendardo, Lionel Scaloni and Baronio, to come back and fight for places and add quality to the bench. A solid team with flair up front, they should fight alongside Genoa, Udinese and Palermo in the push for European places but ultimately fall behind to eigth, ninth or tenth
Having finished third in Serie B last year and winning the playoffs, Livorno are expected to struggle to stay up and their squad certainly lacks depth although they have brought in two quality players. In Cristiano Lucarelli they have brought a proven Serie A goalscorer who has as much home town passion as Totti and an absolutely outstanding record for Livorno. Joining him up front will be Francesco Tavano, top scorer in Serie B last year who impressed at Empoli before moving to Roma and Valencia. If Tavano and Lucarelli hit the ground running Livorno could have enough firepower to stay up. If not they will look to their defence which has been strengthened following the return of Dario Knezevic from who was on loan at Juve. The Croatian international should add to a settled team which has not made many other moves in the transfer market. Their relatively incredible firepower could lead to an extended stay in the top flight
With all the pessimism surrounding the Milan camp it’s easy to forget they only lost out on second place due to their head to head record with Juve – and two years ago a near identical side were champions of Europe. But the loss of Kaka, the injury problems of Nesta, the unstoppable march of father time and the lack of new quality arrivals is not promising. Of the new signings, only Huntelaar meets the quality the Rossoneri’s tifosi demand. Alexi Lalas had more talent and charisma than Onyewu in his beard alone. The key to Milan’s season is whether their veterans can continue to defy the odds and whether a lightweight attacking pair of Pato and Huntelaar can avoid being bullied off the ball. If they do, there is no reason Milan can’t challenge Inter but it’s more likely the old guard will face a fight from the next generation for their Champions League spot.
After an amazing start to the season which saw them challenging for a Scudetto, Napoli’s title and European dreams fell by the wayside as the club entered a downward spiral that saw them finish an incredibly dissapointing 12th. Despite this, Napoli are still fancied to challenge for Europe again having kept hold of Hamsik and Levezzi and signing Italian internationals Morgan De Sanctis and Fabio Quagliarella and former Boca Juniors winger Jesus Datolo. If they can be consistent their is nothing to suggest they couldn’t challenge but to expect them to jump eight places in the league is far to over ambitious despite adding some quality to a young side
Boasting a home record behind only Inter, AC and Fiorentina, Palermo continued their stellar displays in Serie A falling just outside the European spots in 8th place which is even more impressive considering they sold Amauri, Zaccardo and Barzagli the season before. Palermo’s new manager Walter Zenga has not gone mad in the transfer market, instead building on an impressive squad including Cassani, Nocerino, Liverani and Bovo and the 28 goal strike partnership of Cavani and Miccoli with shrewd buys including young Argentinian midfielders Pastore and Bertolo and Romanian international Goian. If they can improve their dismal away form they have enough quality and stability to challenge for at least a top 6 place
Once a major force in Italian football, Parma now seem doomed to hover above relegation with the occasional slip into the abyss of Serie B. Having climbed their way out of that league last year they are desperate not to go back and have made some interesting signings. Valeri Bojinov has joined on loan escaping his Manchester hell and if he can avoid another horror injury he is a great addition to a side like Parma. Daniele Galloppa is a shrewd signing as well being a mainstay of a Siena side who have perfected staying up without any amazing quality in their team and Christian Panucci will add experience and class to the defence. Antonio Mirante will relish his chance at first team football at last having impressed at Siena and Sampdoria. Coupled with some solid players they have brought up with them from Serie B like Julio Leon,Alberto Paloschi ,Damian Zenoni and Mariga they have a good chance at survival but if Bojinov gets injured they may regret loaning out Lucarelli as Paloschi is unproven at this level.
After a disasterous start to last season Roma still managed to find some form to return to sixth place, but for a club in the financial trouble i Giallirossi are, the poor season had some long term consequences and led to the departure of one of their three homegrown midfield maestros. And while Aquilani was the least important of the three, and Roma will now save a fortune on medical bills he is irreplaceable. Roma’s squad is still very very talented and in Totti they have one of the most naturally gifted players in the world but with the exception of De Rossi, Vucinic, Motta and Mexes the supporting cast have often been found wanting while the likes of Baptista and Menez are a liability. With Roma looking likely to have to sell again and with the club so dependent on Totti it will take a major effort to regain their top 4 place and stop the break up of the team again next year but an effort that I believe is sadly above them
For years the team that needed their star to perform for the team to perform was Roma and Totti. Last year, ironically given their history, Sampdoria and Cassano took that honour as a revitalised Cassano emerged showing everything that convinced Roma to pay £20m for him all those years ago. Gone was la Cassanata and what arrived was a new determination to win a place in the Italian national side and together with Gianpoalo Pazzini the two formed a dangerous attacking parternship with amazing chemistry. On the transfer front, Samp have added Fernando Tissone and Luciano Zauri to a decent squad which providing Cassano behaves should see them push into the top 10.
Never has a club exceeded so well at mediocrity. Entering their seventh season in Serie A and their seventh season where they have been tipped to be relegated Siena remain like a rock in a river, never moving watching everybody else come and go. Their transfer policy has remained the same as well. Taking in young players from Juventus and moulding them into a team. This year the cream of the crop are young playmaker Albin Ekdal who is tipped to go far and Michele Paolucci who impressed last term at Catania. They join a team with some very capable players including Curci, Codrea, Vergassola, young portuguese international Brandao and Massimo Maccarone who has found a home. They have always had too much experience at this to go down but this year they should also have just too much quality
A very respectable seventh placed finish for a young Udinese side (who haven’t spent like their other counterparts hopeful of challenging for Europe) was a fair return for another good campaign. Udinese have been very quite on the transfer front with Quaglierella’s exit the biggest thing to happen in Friulli during the close season but why do you need to buy when you have some of the best young players in Italy at your desposal. Zapata,Handonovic, Felipe, Ingler, Isla and the spectacular Alexis Sanchez guided by the two gifted Italians Di Natale and D’Agostino. If Udinese can keep this team together for a few more years they should become fixtures near the top of the table and while this season could be their breakthrough, seventh to fifth seems more achievable