With Serie A about to begin in a few days, TheHardTackle makes five predictions for the upcoming season.
1) Juventus to retain league title
After two stupendous years where they proved themselves to be the best in Italy, Juventus will surely be favorites to retain their crown this year. Conte’s project with the Old Lady has been appreciated from all quarters and after two successive domestic triumphs, Juventus and Conte will be looking to make their mark in Europe this season. Juventus have been buzzing with transfer activities and till date they have acquired some very fine players who will make them nearly invincible this season.
Taking a look at the new recruits, Juventus has managed to form one of the best forward lines in the peninsula with their acquisition of Llorente and Tevez. Llorente arrives from Athletic Bilbao following the expiry of his contract. Joining as a Bosman transfer, Llorente will add significant fire as well as muscle power to Juventus’ forward line. With a physically imposing frame and also his ability to hold up play up top, Llorente will act as the perfect target man for the midfielders, who all like to go forward and take a poke. Fending off defenders with his strength, he can lay the ball for the attacking midfielders like Marchisio or Vidal.
This brings us to the next big capture by Juventus – Carlos Tevez. The 29-year-old has had mixed success with Manchester City with his very public fallout with Mancini. Although he did mend the broken bridge, he knew his time was coming to an end with City. Last transfer window, it was Milan who was heavily linked with him. However, this time, Juventus managed to capture the temperamental Argentine with a penchant for brilliance. It is well-known how Tevez can single-handedly turn a game on its head with his explosive performances and add to that the extra responsibility of being handed the famous number ‘10’, there is a lot at stake. The last number ‘10’ at Juventus was none other than Alessandro del Piero.
Juventus also bolstered their defensive line with the signings of Ogbonna and Peluso. The capture of Ogbonna did raise few eyebrows and it remains to be seen how Conte hones the raw talents of this former Torino player. Known for momentary lapses in concentration, Ogbonna now has the perfect platform to showcase his talents and with Conte to guide him, he is on the fast-track to becoming one of the very best.
2) Milan to be haunted by internal feuds
Milan have been the strongest team in the second half of the Serie A season last time. So much so, if we only consider the second half of the season, they would have won by a mile. Yet, they managed to finish on third place, that too after a last day struggle. All is not well at Milanello and it does not take a genius to figure out that all of the blame will once more come on Allegri should Milan falter this time.
Starting last season with a huge summer exodus of talented and experienced players, Milan seemed destined to the relegated initially, suffering their worst start in over 30 years in the process. However, slowly and steadily they have climbed their way back to the top. The journey has been arduous, which has separated the true fans from the plastic ones. The main focus last season was on Allegri and how he will manage to get a team together from the paltry transfers last summer. Allegri has waged a silent war against the President Berlusconi, who has not let go of an opportunity to undermine him – most of them in public. This washing of the dirty linen in public has angered the fans, even the ultras, who brandished a banner supporting Allegri and even forcing Berlusconi to keep him. Allegri bore all the bitterness directed towards him with a gentlemanly elegance and never did he speak any ill of anyone during the entire saga.
This season, the last remaining member from the old guard left after his contract expired. Ambrosini was snapped up by Fiorentina who themselves have harbored European ambitions for some time now. Milan have spent on youth this season with their erstwhile project now in full flow. Having promoted Petagna and Cristante from the youth team, Milan is looking to go all out in favor of youth. However, what they really need to realize is that this process is a time-consuming process and no one can expect these youngsters to become superstars overnight. Keeping that in mind, expecting Allegri to land the league title or even the domestic cup might prove to be too much. All we can hope for is that Milan finish within the third place and ensure European football. Allegri has one year left on his contract and whether he will remain at Milanello will be solely judged by how he manages his resources this year. Finally, it might come down to when Allegri bursts with all the abuse to be directed at him.
3) Strootman to be the main driving factor behind Roma
Roma has always been one of the challengers for the Serie A crown every year and yet somehow, somewhere they always seem to fall short. The Luis Enrique project bombed big time after the acquisition of Roma by the American owners. A lot of players were brought in as Enrique tried to imbibe the ‘Barcelona philosophy’ in Serie A. After failing badly in his attempts, Roma brought in Aurelio Andreazzoli.
Sadly last season too, did not end well for the Giallorossi. Coming to the present season, Roma began their annual shake-up with a change at the helm. Rudi Garcia was brought in from Lille and he immediately endeared himself to the Roma fans by thrashing Lazio. Roma have been pretty active in the transfer window, bringing in the likes of Gervinho, Morgan De Sanctis, Kevin Strootman, Maicon and Benatia among others. The most interesting transfer has to be the one with Strootman. Having played at every level from U18 for the national team, Strootman is surely one for the future – both for club and country. Usually deployed as a central midfielder, Strootman can also play either as a defensive midfielder or on the left side of midfield. Although he was once linked to Milan, Strootman never mentioned the club when he arrived at Rome, stating that only Roma were interested in bringing him to Italian shores.
Roma now have one of the best midfields in Serie A with Strootman, Pjanic and Bradley leading the fore. In a recent friendly against the MLS All-Stars, these three players gave a small look into what was in store for Roma as well as for Serie A this season. Strootman pulled all the strings from the midfield and even scored a goal himself at the very onset of the match. Strootman joining Roma has certainly added a new dimension to the side, who have strengthened themselves in almost every department this transfer window.
4) Youth to be the driving force in Serie A
After a long time, youth is finally the focus for Serie A. Deemed as a league where the youngsters and the Primavera players rarely got a chance to showcase their talents on a bigger stage, Serie A is shedding that image on a wide scale. Almost all of the teams in the top tier have invested in youth this season – either promoting players from their youth team or by buying young players. During the last two seasons only, youngsters like Veratti, Icardi and Marquinhos have made big money moves outside Italy.
Almost all the top clubs excluding Juventus and Internazionale have brought in youngsters this season, while Milan, Lazio, Napoli, Udinese and Sassuolo have unearthed rough diamonds. Players like Strootman, Cristante, Felipe Anderson and Berardi will get ample chances in the upcoming season to grab the spotlight and set the league on fire. Coaches will be eager to give more time to these newcomers with the hope that they will lead their respective teams to glory. The wisdom of experience is being replaced by the exuberance of youth. Only time will tell whether Serie A has indeed moved in a new direction or whether all this has been an experiment in futility.
5) Sasuolo to avoid relegation
Among the promoted clubs this season, this will be Sasuolo’s first foray in the topmost tier of Italian football. Last season, they started their campaign with a bang, winning 8 of their initial 9 matches. Such a start will not be repeated in Serie A for sure, but Sasuolo can give the top teams a run for their money. They might not have the biggest players in their team, but like other clubs, they too have promoted youth and as a result, we now have Domenico Berardi, one of the young players to watch out for this season. This is a side which might prove to be a tough nut to crack for the bigger teams and should be perform like they did last season in Serie B, there is no reason why they will be relegated this season.
All in all, this is one Serie A season which both clubs and fans are waiting very eagerly to begin. With new managers, new teams and young players entering Serie A, surely the present is the best time to be a Serie A fan.