Serie A returns in a few days with the first round of the season kicking off on August 24, when newcomers Hellas Verona host AC Milan prior to Juventus visiting Sampdoria. Waves of controversy are never too far away from the murky shores of Italian football, especially towards the beginning of each new season over the past several years.
The Calciopoli match-fixing scandal in 2006 shook the entire sport to its core with the trial lasting for years. It was followed by a mass betting-chains tied in with organised crime groups called Calcioscommesse which led to another investigation but aside from these controversies, there is some football played in the country and this sew season promises to be better than the previous one. With just three Champions League spots up for grabs, competition promises to be fierce, and with the incoming stars, this campaign looks promising.
High on their super cup victory over Lazio last Sunday, Juventus start their title defense away at Sampdoria. For the past two seasons, Antonio Conte’s Juventus were nearly unstoppable in the Serie A. They won the 2011-2012 scudetto without a single loss, and last season won it again with ease. With the addition of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente they’ll undoubtedly be stronger this season. Their biggest strength has been their defense as they don’t concede a lot and they have strengthened their defense by acquiring Ogbonna from Torino for 13 million after fighting off competition from Milan and Inter.
Even at 34, Pirlo continues to unlock opposition defences almost effortlessly and along with young blood Pogba, the hard working Marchisio, and the powerhouse Vidal, Juve have a steady mid field.
With the squad at their disposal, its hardly surprising that they have the favorites tag and as the Italian national manager said’
“After what Conte has done in the past two years, there have been further reinforcements to the squad and it will be difficult to remove them from the top of Serie A.”
With Conte’s 3-5-2 working effectively in Italy, anything other than the top spot would be a disappointment.
With a horrendous start to the previous campaign where they flirted with the relegation zone, Milan finished an impressive 3rd in the league. Milan had a super impressive 2013 losing only one of their remaining twenty games to steal the final Champions League spot. After losing plethora of stars, their shaky start was inevitable but with the summer aquization of Super Mario their luck changed and they finished the season strongly.
Milan bought Zapata from Vilareal for 6 Million and acquired Poli from Sampdoria who had an impressive campaign. Milan bought Sivestre from Inter on loan as a back up for Bonera who suffered an injury. Going with the youth policy, Milan promoted 2 of their Primavera stars – Cristante and Petagna to the senior team.
The biggest question is will Allegri stick with his 4-3-3, which is clearly disliked by the president or will he revert back to 4-3-1-2?
Mexes and Zapata formed a formidable partnership and kept several clean sheets post January. Abate will occupy the right where as De Sciglio and Constant will fight for the left back spot. Montolivo, the new club captain along with De Jong will take up the mid field and the 3rd spot will fought for by Poli, Nocerino, Muntari and the youngster Cristante. Boateng will fill the hole behind the strikers. Robinho will fight for the spot and SeS and Balo will lead the attack.
The team gelled extremely well and showed what they can do if they play to their potential and we all got to see that when they beat Barcelona 2-0 at San Siro but their lack of experience can be their biggest let down. If Milan capture Honda and Ljajic they can be considered as title contenders but they need to consistent to stand a chance. They will need something special to win the league but a top 2 finish wouldn’t be surprising considering the talent they possess.
Runners-up last time out, Napoli lost their coach Walter Mazzurri to Inter as well as Cavani to PSG, yet appear to be to in a stronger position to challenge for the scudetto. Rafa Benitez has wasted little time in moulding his own side: They have been the busiest Italian side this transfer season and have captured – Gonzalo Higuaín, and Reina, Albiol, Callejon and Mertens all of which can be considered as shrewd signings
The biggest issue for the Partenopei will lie in the switch from Mazzurri’s 3-5-2 to Benitez’s preferred 4-2-3-1. Lorenzo Insigne is currently the most exciting prospect in Italy, yet it will be interesting to see if Benitez’s system can get the best out of him, Marek Hamšik and Goran Pandev: with the arrival of Mertens and José Callejón, Benitez has many attacking options. Overall, Benitez has a fine squad and Napoli will be expected to strengthen their challenge this year. Top finish seems far but not out of reach and I expect them to fight Milan for the second spot.
The under dogs for the title and one of the most entertaining teams to watch last season, Fiorentina have certainly made a statement this mercato and should be taken seriously. Coach Montella has renewed his contract and has ambitions to challenge for the title. Though they have lost their talisman Jovetic to Man city for 30 million but like Napoli, they have invested their money wisely. In Gomez, Viola have captured one of the best stikers in the world for 20 million from the current European champions, Bayern Munich.
Noted as a pure goalscorer (as evidenced by his 113 goals in 174 appearances for Bayern), Viola fans will be hoping that he’ll form a dangerous partnership with Adem Ljajic and/or Giuseppe Rossi in the Fiorentina attack.
Fiorentina also bought Palermo midfielder Josip Ilicic for €9m. The Slovenian midfielder is coming off his most prolific season to date, scoring 10 goals in 31 appearances in a campaign that ended in relegation for the Rosanero.
They also bought Spanish winger Joaqain from Malaga for a paltry sum of 2 million who will provide an additional dimension to their attack. Montella will, most likely slot Ilicic into midfield alongside David Pizarro, Alberto Aquilani and last season’s revelation Borja Valero. With the acquisition of Ambrosini, they have some experience in the middle and after an injury hit season, Rossi would be itching to make an impression before the world cup next year.
All in all Fiorentina are the dark horses and don’t be surprised if they manage a top 3 finish this term.
Inter limped to a 9th place finish in the previous campaign, their worse since 1993-94 and expectadly, Moratti has made a heap of changes, one of them was replacing the hapless Andrea Stramaccioni by Walter Mazzarri. Morratti will be hoping Mazzarri helps inter to reach the heights they once scaled under Mourinho.
Mazzarri has strengthened the defense by bringing in Hugo Campagnaro from Napoli and Rolando on loan from Porto. Inter also snapped up the Algerian powerhouse Ishak Belfodil from Parma as Cassano went the other way in a swap deal. They did snap up the Argentine sensation Icardi from Sampdoria after he shined with them last season, which prompted Inter to move early for the young Argentine. He should fit in with his compatriots Palacio and Milito to form a formidable forward line.
Their biggest loss would be Dejan Stankovic: After nine years’ service and just about every medal available in Calcio, the tenacious Serbian midfielder finally departs. Inter will take time to adjust to Mazzarri’s 3-5-2 and we saw them struggling in their pre season matches. Even with mazzarri at the helm I don’t see Inter challenging for the title or the champions league spot. A 5th place finish on the cards.
One of the most entertaining teams in Serie A over the past few seasons has been Roma. Roma managed a 6th place finish, marginally missing out on the Europa League spot. They scored a massive 71 goals (Only Fiorentina scored more -72) and conceded 56 goals (More then Palermo, who got relegated).
Roma sold Marquinhos to PSG for a massive £27 million and held on onto Daniele De Rossi, Serie A’s highest-paid player. De Rossi is just one representative of a very strong midfield, which also includes Michael Bradley, Miralem Pjanic and new signing Kevin Strootman, a target for Manchester United this summer. Roma snapped up Mehdi Benetia from Udinese who was one of Serie A’s best defenders.
Lets not forget Roma’s captain, Totti. This might just be his last season so he would want to give his best. Lets see if Roma’s boss Rudi Garcia can surprise a few people and help Roma finish in the top 3 but it looks unlikely. They will fight Inter for the last European spot. A 6th place finish is what I predict.
Its good to see Serie A attract a host of stars like Higuain, Gomez, Tevez etc and the upcoming season looks like it has a lot to offer. With Milan, Juventus and Napoli representing Italy in Europe, things look good in that front too. As for the league, it is Juve’s title to lose but like people say, anything can happen in football.
As my friend, Twister says,
“Scandals will pass, however repulsive they may be, Italy still remains the heart of stylish and tactical football. With fanatic fans and intense rivalries, this season will be a spectacle to behold. So let the games Begin!!!”