Serie A : Best Of The Rest

Serie A has been downplayed in recent times as being boring and one-sided. With a single team winning the title in past few seasons, it’s hard to disagree with this perception. Internazionale is still the strongest team in Italy, by a fair distance; they might very well win a record breaking sixth title in a row. But hold on; once you get past the obvious winner, it gets really interesting. The patchy form of Milan and Juventus, combined with the rise of other teams, has suddenly made Serie A wildly exciting and unpredictable.

In the glory days of the 90s, Serie A was famously referred to as a fight between ‘Seven Sisters’. Other than Juventus and the Milanese teams, Sampdoria, Fiorentina, Parma and Roma also fought for the title. Last season, at one point, the 4th and 11th placed team was separated by mere 9 points. The league may not be such a cliff hanger these days, but the fight for the European spots will surely heat up again.

The contenders

Napoli

After the golden era of Maradona, Napoli struggled for years. They were rescued by Aurelio De Laurentis in 2004. Outspoken but prudent, the new owner has made brilliant investments, and The Azzuris have been on a steady upward curve. They are coached by Walter Mazzari, quite possibly the best tactician among the new generation of Italian coaches.

Last season, Mazzari turned Estadio De Paola into a fortress, with Napoli losing only two home games. Some of their best away results included a 3-2 win over Juventus, where they came back from being 2-0 down till the hour mark.

Despite some blistering football, Napoli lacked a prolific striker. While Quagliarella scored a few goals, neither German Dennis nor Ezequiel Lavezzi managed consistency. They were bailed out by Marek Hamsik on more than few occasions. Hamsik’s tally of 13 goals last season made him one of the most sought after players in Serie A.

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Will Cavani be in same kind of form for Napoli?

To avoid last season’s problems, the squad has been bolstered with Palermo hit-man Edinson Cavani. The Uruguay striker enjoyed a brilliant season last year. With him, Napoli now has one of the most exciting frontlines in Italy. The midfield pair of Christian Maggio and Walter Gargano would like to replicate their superb form of last season. Centre-back Fabio Santacroce didn’t have the best of seasons in 2009-10, and his form would be crucial to Napoli’s season. Paolo Cannavaro and Huga Campagnaro form a stable central-defence, with the dependable Morgan De Sanctis in goal.

A lot will depend on how well Mazzari manages to juggle between Serie A and Europa League. Napoli have both the manager and the personnel to break into the top four.

Players to watch out for: Edinson Cavani, Christian Maggio, Marek Hamsik

THT Verdict: 5th

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Palermo

Sampdoria might have finished fourth last season, but it was Palermo who looked the most worthy competitor for most of the season. Since getting promoted in 2004, two things have remained consistent about them every season.

Firstly, Estadio Renzo Barbera has been one of the toughest away trips in Italy. Palermo have lost just 23 home matches in 6 years, including an unbeaten record in ’09-’10. They have finished in the top six in four out of last six seasons.

Secondly,eccentric president Zamparini has fired a coach. Walter Zenga audaciously claimed that Palermo would compete for Scudetto last season. They failed, and Zenga was axed. His replacement Delio Rossi did a commendable job. The Rossonero challenged till the last day, and missed out on a Champions’ League spot by just two points.

Palermo lost Simon Kjaer and Edinson Cavani in the transfer market. But they can bounce back; losing players like Toni, Grosso and Barzagli didn’t affect them before. The Southern Italian club’s Primavera unit won the League title in 08-09, and is one of the strongest youth teams in the peninsula.

Apr. 11, 2010 - Palermo, Italy - epa02113053 Argentinian midfielder Javier Mathias Pastore of US Palermo celebrates after scoring during the Italia Serie A soccer match, US Palermo vs Chievo Verona in the Renzo Barbera stadium, in Palermo, Italy on 11 April 2010.

Pastore will be crucial for Palermo’s campaign

They can boast of some of the finest young talents in Serie A. Buffon’s possible successor Salvatore Sirigu, midfielder Javier Pastore and striker Abel Hernadez showed immense potential last season. Cesar Bovo, Balzaretti and Mattias Cassani add experience and grit to the defence. The Rosanero’s best player last season was Fabrizio Miccoli; the mercurial striker netted 19 times, including some scorchers. The ex-Juventus striker will be supported by another ex-Juventino in the midfield – Antonio Nocerino. Zamparini bought in experienced striker Massimo Maccarone to replace Cavani. The veteran striker scored 12 goals for relegated Siena last season, and has the ability to provide temporary support to Miccoli.

Players to watch out for: Fabrizio Miccoli, Salvatore Sirigu, Javier Pastore, Mattias Cassani

THT Prediction: 7th

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Fiorentina

After going bankrupt in 2003, the once mighty Florentine club ceased to exist for some time. They were revived by a group of dedicated businessmen, and promptly came back to Serie A after a hiatus. The first major change was appointing Pantaleo Corvino as Sporting Director. Corvino, a shrewd transfer guru, made brilliant deals and scouted out unknown players who turned out to be gems. In the same season Cesar Prandelli was appointed as coach. Prandelli’s exciting 4-2-3-1 system with Toni as lone striker did wonders for them. Under his stewardship, Viola finished in the top five in three back to back seasons.

They started out well last season, but were pegged back by Adrian Mutu’s suspension. Mutu was crucial in the wings, and his absence led to Viola’s poor run of form. They did put on a decent run in Champions’ League, beating Liverpool and Bayern Munich. Prandelli left to coach La Nazionale and was replaced by Sinisa Mihailovic, who did admirably well at Catania.

Bildnummer: 04115754 Datum: 25.11.2008 Copyright: imago/Gribaudi..Karim Benzema (Lyon, li.) gegen Alessandro Gamberini Photo via Newscom

Gamberini, a rock at the back for Fiorentina

Corvino has once again worked his magic, as Viola have snapped Gaetano D’Agostino. The highly rated Udinese play-maker joins an already dynamic attack led by Ricardo Montlivo and Juan Vargas. Vargas was one of the best players in Serie A last season and was pursued by a number of clubs. Alessandro Gamberini and Koldrup form the heart of the defence. In Sebastian Frey, Fiorentina have one of the best ‘keepers in Serie A; Artur Boruc will further bolster that department. Stevan Jovetic’s heart-breaking injury will definitely hurt Viola. But with Mutu’s ban ending in October, they will get back one of their talismanic players. Gilardino would look forward to replicating his form of last season.

Players to watch out for: Stevan Jovetic, Juan Vargas, Gaetano D’Agostino, Ricardo Montlivo

THT Prediction: 8th

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Lazio

Last season, President Claudio Lottito wonderfully exhibited how to spoil an otherwise decent squad. He froze out Cristian Ledesma and Goran Pandev, two of their best players, due to contract disagreements. Aquile’s Coppa Italia winning team disintegrated, as they hovered around relegation zone. The 12th place finish was just not good enough. The Biancocelesti have lost Aleksander Kolarov, their best player last season. In what looks to be a good deal, they acquired cash and Javier Garrido from Manchester City in return. Highly rated Brazilian Hernanes has been their major acquisition so far. Mark Bresciano, with over eleven years of Serie A experience, would add stability to an attacking line-up which is often prone to foolishness. Uruguayan Alvaro Gonzalez is an unspectacular but solid player to have in one’s squad.

Apr. 28, 2010 - Lima, Peru - epa02135669 Sao Paulo's Hernanes (L) drives in front of Universitario's Antonio Gonzalez during their Libertadores Cup soccer match at Monumental stadium in Lima, Peru, 28 April 2010.

Hernanes is action for Sao Paolo

Lazio have a good squad; all they need to do is forge a winning combination. Mauro Zarate had been selfish last season. With service from Ledesma and Hernanes, he might regain his form.

Players to watch out for: Fernando Muslera, Hernanes, Mauro Zarate, Stefan Lichsteiner

THT Prediction: 10th

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Sampdoria

Blucerchiati made their way back into the Champions League after a long hiatus. The blistering form of Antonio Cassano and Pazzini upfront was their primary strength, while youngster Andrea Poli made headlines in the second half of the season with his consistent performances. Their play-maker and captain Angelo Palombo has been impressive for last two-three seasons. Ziegler and Gastaldello formed a stable defensive line that saw ‘Doria go unbeaten at home.

Mar. 07, 2010 - Genova, Italy - epa02068777 Sampdoria's soccer player Giampaolo Pazzini celebrates after scoring a goal against Lazio Rome during the match in Genova, Italy, 07 March 2010.

Pazzini was in top-form last season

However, the transfer market has not been kind to Sampdoria. They lost a chunk of officials to Juventus; coach Luigi Del Neri, sporting director Giuseppe Marotta and chief scout Fabricio Patarici all left. Del Neri’s replacement, Dominic De Carlo, is experienced at the domestic level but not in European football. Their small squad might struggle to cope with the rigours of mid-week European games.

Players to watch out for: Andrea Poli, Giampaolo Pazzini, Antonio Cassano, Angelo Palombo

THT Prediction: 9th

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Genoa

Giam Piero Gasperini has transformed Italy’s oldest club into one of the most stylish teams in the peninsula. Ever since getting promoted in 2007, Genoa have played a scintillating brand of attacking football. Preferring a 3-4-3 with attacking wing-backs, they almost made it to Champions’ League in their second season after promotion. Last season, Grifoni’s inability to defend well was exposed in multiple occasions, as they finished a disappointing 9th.

In order to rectify their errors, Genoa has so far made commendable forays in the market. They have shored up their defence with the addition of Rafinha, Chico and Andrea Rannochia. Italy U-19 sensation Mattia Destro has been added to bolster the attack. He will join fellow new signings Luca Toni and Gergely Rudolf. Another master-stroke was to obtain the services of Portuguese ‘keeper Eduardo. The Braga ‘keeper has been brilliant for both club and country last season.

Portugal's goalkeeper Eduardo celebrates his team's 4th goal against North Korea during the 2010 World Cup group G soccer match at Green Point stadium in Cape Town June 21, 2010.    REUTERS/Carlos Barria (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

Eduardo will look stop the flow of goals conceded by Genoa

Both Houssin Kharja and Bosco Jankovic will be back from long injuries. They will further strengthen the Rossoblu.

Unless their campaign is again marred by injuries, Genoa has a strong enough team to crack the top-4. With the absence of European football, they will be able to fully focus on the league.

Players to watch out for: Andrea Rannochia, Eduardo, Giandomenico Mesto

THT Prediction: 4th

Serie A is not going through its best phase right now. These clubs along with the surprise packages like Udinese, Parma or Chievo hold the key to recovery. They have young, dynamic coaches who are not reluctant to try out young players, and most of the teams play exciting football. Italian football’s future may very well lie with how consistent they remain in next few seasons.

  • Chelston

    Top 4 will remain the same IMO.
    Followed by ..
    Genoa, Fiorentina, Napoli, Palermo, Sampdoria, Lazio.

    An exciting season beckons, can’t wait.

  • redNblack_blood

    @ som –if ur giving 4th to the Rossoblu… who do u think will slip up Milan, Juve or Roma??????

  • Somnath Sengupta

    I dont think Roma will finish outside top-4, it will be Milan or Juve.

  • Shubhasish

    I would love to see Napoli back into Top-4… it is the team for which I used to follow Italian League in the late 1980s…

  • Dinar

    I would say Roma will drop out of CL places & either Genoa or Napoli will bag it. Would dearly like to see a full San Paolo in UCL rather than half empty in Europa League.