‘Italian Serie A is a league tournament where twenty top teams from the country compete for over a season long period, at the end of which Zlatan Ibrahimovic wins.’
At the conclusion of the 2010-11 season, the Big Swede actualized the statement on a straight sixth time ever since moving to Italy back in 2004 representing Italy’s three biggest clubs – Juventus, Inter and Milan in that order – in these seven years. As the opening of the new season finally beckons, Zlatan in all probabilities will add the ninth league title in as many years to his already gleaming kitty with AC Milan starting as the favourites to retain the title.
The mercato – though not as exuberant as that in Manchester City – has been quite exciting across the peninsula and the season promises to uncover rather yet unbeknownst talents aplenty. The administrative and technical problems in the league have been well documented and adequately discussed over various forums but now is the time to set the focus completely on the most enthralling part that is to let the players do their talking on the field and let the managers device the most astute of strategies to suit to the tactical complexities and mind-boggling intricacies of Italian football.
TheHardTackle attempts to examine all the prospective moulds the league may cast into over the course of the entire season and predict the possible outcomes in the race for the title as well as the battle for survival.
The Race for the Title & Champions League Spots – A More Open One?
Massimiliano Allegri-led AC Milan successfully broke the monotony of Serie A title being quite uninterestingly handed over to arch-rivals Internazionale as a defaulted practice for good five years. The change in power has immediately opened the floodgates for the others to actually believe they stand a realistic chance to have a claim at the elusive trophy, though few boast of the potent enough pedigree amongst their top ranks.
Sanity would suggest against prematurely predicting the champions but from a naked-eye analysis of squad strengths and weaknesses across the top contenders, it would be very fair to assume Milan would claim their 19th league title in a year’s time being crowned as the second most successful Italian team after Juventus, surpassing Inter’s 18. The squad boasts of the required depth and variety to last over the 38 fixtures but with the ever-aging midfield, finding the right mix to advance to the later stages in Europe would be nothing short of an acid test for Allegri. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mark van Bommel, Kevin Prince-Boateng and Thiago Silva should remain the players of prime importance to Allegri’s plans to defend the title.
With the introduction of some fairly new players to the league and a debutant manager of highest repute, AS Roma are the strongest outfit to pose a threat to destabilize Milan off their perch. With his Barcelona ideology, Luis Enrique is expected to bring an attractive brand of football on the table and the owners have splurged the right amount of cash on young players that may suit to the style the Spaniard wants to introduce in the capital city.
With the loss of one Champions League spot to German Bundesliga, the third spot is ever so crucial in Serie A this season and the teams with a reasonable chance to grab the spot are Inter and Napoli. Under the tutelage of former Genoa manager Gian Piero Gasperini, the Nerazzurri are largely expected to struggle as his adamance in sticking on to his favoured tactical formations haven’t exactly gone down too well with the teams he has managed and the parting of Samuel Eto’o – one of the greatest strikers of present times – is going to hurt the former champions big times, as the Latin Americans who have been signed to fill into his shoes do not really boast of his merit to score at will.
Walter Mazzari’s Napoli were undoubtedly the surprise package from the last season, but the fairy-tale like journey may just end here as the Azzuri may fall short on credentials to maintain the mental and physical toughness having been put into one of the toughest groups in Champions League. The management must be duly credited for having retained all their star players despite lustrous offers from big name clubs all around. The attitude speaks for the ambitious sights the club has set for the seasons to come but replicating last season’s heroics may just be too much to ask for from the likes of Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik.
The Europa League Qualification
Though Italian teams do not exactly hold the second-tier continental tournament in the highest regard, it is nonetheless a chance to represent the league at the European level and the index that determines the co-efficient does not regard it any lesser than the premier and more fancied competition. The change in approach may therefore be on show this season and teams may actually start taking the race for the Europa League spots a bit more seriously rather than treating it as an unnecessary burden that hampers the general fitness of the squad.
Napoli will be the favourites to occupy the fourth position in the league table and hence should automatically reserve a position of theirs in Europe whereas Udinese too shouldn’t drop beyond the fifth position despite losing two of their starlets of last season in Sanchez and Inler to Barcelona and Napoli respectively. Club icon Antonio Di Natale should once again be central to the heights Udinese are able to scale during the season. Much like Napoli, they are least likely to reproduce another dream season like the previous one.
What’s common between Arsenal’s disasters and Juventus’ restructuring plans? Well, they happen every year.
Another listless season might well be on the cards for Italy’s most successful club ever but the team looks pretty motivated under the former Juventino Antonio Conte’s leadership going into the new season. The club has become Italy’s first in owning a stadium which may prove to be an auspicious sign of better things to come in near future. Juventus have been one of the biggest spenders in Europe in the transfer market but have failed to attract any of the ‘world-class’ players that Beppe Marotta quite confidently boasted of. Yet, the additions of the likes of Pirlo, Elia and Vucinic may add the much needed flavour to the overall quality of the squad but it only remains to be seen whether these enhancements to the squad reflect any substantial change in the league table’s reading.
Lazio and Palermo have both lost a host of players pretty important to the team’s setup but are still expected to finish in the top half of the table. Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini has already sacked Delio Rossi but one should hardly be surprised to learn about his re-appointment in only few more weeks. Parma may prove to be the surprise package as Sebastian Giovinco would be all raring to go make a statement of his merit to establish himself as the most stunning winger in the country.
Battle For Relegation – Will The Fittest Survive?
Among the three promoted outfits, both Atalanta and Siena are fairly equipped with the top flight experience having played in Serie A only as recently as in 2009-10 season. However, Serie B champions Atalanta start their league campaign after compromising on six points owing to their alleged involvement in the match-fixing scandals. Club captain and icon Cristiano Doni has been banned from playing professional football for three years, which only goes on to signal an unceremonious end to his career. Coping up with these adversities right from the beginning of the season may take its toll on the Bergamo based club and may well see them once again being relegated to Serie B at the end of the season.
Among the other two new entrants, Novara, who make a return to Serie A after being devoid of a chance to do so for 55 long years, may pretty much succumb to the higher demands in the top league and the loss of their two premier strikers during the summer may prove to be too much to handle. Siena, though fairly experienced, are pretty thin on their squad and may spend the larger part of the season struggling between stepping out of the relegation zone only to be slipping in again. Gaetano D’Agostino and Emanuele Calaio will certainly be the two prime weapons in their armour.
Teams like Catania, Cagliari, Lecce and Cesena are all walking on thin ice and if not for some extremely disciplined defensive resolve, all may be seen battling their ways out of the R-zone at various instances in the season.
Manager(s) To Watch Out For
Antonio Conte & Luis Enrique
Both the managers have had quite an illustrious time in the lesser leagues leading their respective teams to success at a pedestrian level but now is the time to mean business at the highest stage as they are at helm of two of the biggest clubs in Italy and with every round passing, there would be much more than three points at stake during every game. The pride and the stature have to be restored both in Rome and in Turin and the newly appointed managers have both been supported by their respective owners providing them an overhaul of squad according to their recommendations.
Owing to the fact that Conte has been a fan favourite at Juventus during his playing days, the Juve fanatics may well be behind him even during the dire times but Luis Enrique, being the outsider in Italy that he is, will have to adapt rapidly to the customs that are followed in the country. He has already demonstrated some bold intent by sidelining Francesco Totti for some crucial games and should he now fail to deliver in immediateness, the fans’ backlash shouldn’t surprise him at all.
The Aging Yet Agile Legs To Watch Out For
Filippo Inzaghi (AC Milan)
TheHardTackle already presented five veteran legends to watch for during the Serie A this season, who may be taking the field at this level for one last time. However, one of the most prominent names went missing in that list – Filippo Inzaghi. The world’s best 38-year-old player has pretty much expressed his dissent at being left out of the Champions League squad by Milan coach Max Allegri, which may effectively mean Super Pippo may never be able to go past Raul Gonzales as Europe’s all time top scorer.
This exclusion brings down Pippo to a situation, where he may relish at once again proving to his own manager what he is going to miss out on in Europe. Competing with the likes of Ibrahimovic, Pato, Robinho and Cassano for a place in the starting eleven, and with constant issues regarding match fitness, Inzaghi’s name may not be seen being scribbled into the chart of top scorers, but he has never disappointed the fans when the team has needed him the most. Memories of his famous heroics on European nights may well be revisited at some point in time, not to mention when it is least expected.
The Young Starlet To Watch Out For
Bojan Krkic (AS Roma)
Much like his manager, the La Masia product himself is an unproven prodigy in Italy but only a couple of years back, was touted to be emerging as a player who may keep Messi on his toes. Inconsistent displays and an uninspiring fitness level saw the likes of Pedro and Busquets outpacing him to their way to cement their places in the Barcelona first team. The transfer to the Italian capital is a second chance for Bojan to justify his true billing and the time to unravel the highest of his abilities is now.
Roma have had issues finding the right pair of strikers up front for some seasons now and with the departure of the ever-unreliable Mirko Vucinic, the onus much lies on Bojan to form a deadly partnership with the icon Francesco Totti. He may have to bring some changes in his style of play in the transitioning process from Spain to Italy but how soon can he adapt to the changes, will go down a long way in determining his merit as the next big thing to watch.
The New Signing To Watch Out For
Diego Forlan (Inter)
At the end of football’s biggest carnival during 2010 in South Africa, many thought the former Manchester United star had finally reclaimed himself to the best of his potential and was ready to take the world by storm all over again. However, that did not exactly happen as Forlan had a relatively indifferent season with Spanish side Atletico Madrid following the World Cup. With the departure of their talisman Samuel Eto’o, Inter were craving for a 20-goal-a-season striker and have finalised upon the Uruguayan.
Forlan would undoubtedly lead the Inter attack in a 3-4-3 with the rest of the two positions being filled by the likes of Diego Milito, Giampaolo Pazzini and newly signed Mauro Zarate. On paper, Inter attack does look threatening but Forlan has to find the net a lot more frequently than his last season in Spain for Inter to be reaching even remotely close to their accomplishments back in 2009-10.
The Race For Capocannoniere
A player’s presence in this list is hardly any indication of team’s collective success as a unit but the award is a prestigious one nonetheless. Players like Di Natale, Cavani and Di Vaio who virtually carry their teams single-handedly would once again maintain their presence in the list for the major part of the season while the likes of Ibrahimovic, Pato and Forlan too may hog their share of limelight by sneaking into the list with few random demolitions of weaker defences.
1. Antonio Di Natale (25-30)
2. Edinson Cavani (25-30)
3. Marco Di Vaio (22-25)
4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (18-22)
5. Alessandro Matri (18-22)