In case you missed Milan’s season opener against Verona away from home, you surely haven’t missed much since the game hardly offered anything that you haven’t seen in the Milan games of last two seasons. Lack of penetration from the midfield, lack of pressing from a high line, full-backs not tracking back enough, forward line being left stranded deprived of service, Abate’s atrocious crossing and yet another goal conceded from a set-piece – it seemed everything technically wrong about this Milan side was wrapped up in a package that the fans were presented with on the opening day. One more time, the result underlined how unimaginative this team looks at the slightest of resistance from the oppositions and that the incredibly successful second half of the last season was indeed an over-achievement.
A 36-year-old Luca Toni may well have been deemed past his sell-by date by a certain club in Florence but the former Italian World Cup winner proved more than just handy against the Milanese defence that definitely needs to take a lesson or two on the basics of positioning and discipline. Toni, Verona’s only threat from the aerial balls was left as good as unmarked (he was being marked by Kevin Constant) while Milan were trying to defend a corner at the half-hour mark. What followed is not hard to guess. While you might be forgiven to think Milan would have wasted no moment in getting back the control of the game and tried everything in their power to regain the lead, things went in exactly contrasting fashion. It was Verona that dictated the tempo of the game from there on, played better football throughout and once more exploited the lack of co-ordination in Milan’s defensive line as Luca Toni scored his second. Partly Abbiati too has to take the blame for the goal for he had ample of time to move to the near post having seen Toni making his run.
Debutant Andrea Poli had earlier opened his account for Milan in what looked like a very well-constructed goal. Balotelli provided a delightful ball bisecting two defenders and Poli timed his run to perfection before placing the ball to the far post. The goal gave the impression that Milan might just leave the woes of last season behind and indeed start afresh with more organization and intent. That was not to be however and the display was thoroughly lackluster. Milan do need to address these concerns pretty quick as the margin for error is ever so thin this season. Balotelli’s markers were visibly physical and that’s one trend that should continue as the season progresses. Milan must explore other attacking outlets and free Mario off a defender or two. The midfield woes reek of desperation now and one signing before on the creative front is a must.
In his post-match assessment, Massimiliano Allegri represented similar sentiments.
‘We played badly at football, badly as a team and should’ve controlled the ball better.’ – He said to Sky Italia.
‘In order to get results, we need a different attitude. There are some players who didn’t manage much pre-season training, but that cannot be an alibi. When your legs give in, you have to defend with 10 men and that didn’t happen today.’
As the match-day progressed, the disappointment for Milan might have grown even further as every other so-called big team in Italy made a winning start to their campaign. Champions Juventus, although far from convincing, were very professional in their approach at Luigi Ferraris against an impressive looking and well-oiled Sampdoria side. Delio Rossi had clearly done his homework and got it tactically absolutely correct on the tactical front. The former Palermo and Fiorentina manager attempted to negate the extra man in the Juve midfield by fielding the same 3-5-2 formation, albeit with the midfield sitting considerably deep.
The plan worked for the entire first half but there’s only so much you could hold back a team that stars Vidal, Tevez and Pogba in its lineup. A wonderfully weighted ball from Vidal managed to find Pogba inside the box and the former Manchester United prodigy wasted no time in passing the ball across to the feet of Tevez who was unmarked and right in front of an open goal. Once Juventus got their goal, there was only one result on the cards. However, one might have expected Conte’s men to play with much more flair and dictation but perhaps being a bit conservative on the opening day away from home wasn’t such a terrible idea after all – especially against the only team in Serie A Juventus were yet to beat in the Conte era.
Last season’s most exciting team from the peninsula and according to many, the worthier contender for the third spot that eventually went to Milan, Fiorentina started the season with a win over Catania at Artemio Franchi playing two halves of contrasting nature. Vincenzo Montella’s team is known for their fluidity and incredible understanding between the players going forward and the same was on show during the first half. Giuseppe Rossi’s early opener was perhaps the moment of the weekend.
Cuadrado was as usual marauding from the right flank and his influence proved too much to handle for Catania over 90 minutes. Fiorentina’s defensive stability went for toss at times and they even leaked in a goal restoring parity for the time being only for David Pizarro to score an absolute scorcher to settle the contest in the first half itself. Post taking the lead, Fiorentina were largely unimaginative, changed the tactical structure a bit and showed little intent to go for the kill. The result matters however and by the time they play their next game, the Ljajic situation would definitely have been cleared out. Mario Gomez didn’t mark the best of the debuts but there’s hardly a need to press the panic button.
Inter have considerably chopped and changed their squad for the season but it is not for the first time they’re doing that ever since Mourinho called it a day at San Siro. They have signed some talented, impressive young players – particularly in the attacking department but there will always remain an element of skepticism about Inter’s transfers making it count on the big stage. Well, their start to the season, playing at home against a lowly Genoa was far from impressive but as the popular cliché goes, end justifies means. Both the teams missed a handful of chances but more so due to the errors in marking by the opponents rather than creating something extra-ordinary of their own. Eventually Nagatomo broke the deadlock late into the second half to be followed up by another goal from Palacio in the stoppage time. Mazzarri’s first game in-charge yielded the crucial three points but right from the tactical setup to the choice of personnel, there’s a lot of thinking to be done.
For a team that has consistently flirted around the Champions League spots during the last few seasons, Lazio have terribly underachieved after showing immense promise in bits and pieces. Their adorable start to the season last time around flattered to deceive and whether the trend continues remains to be seen but their performance on Sunday was indeed an impressive one. Facing Udinese at Stadio Olimpico, Lazio immediately showed some bright sparks creating chance after chance. Midfield star Hernanes scored a screamer from a difficult angle to give the hosts a lead shortly to be doubled by an Antonio Candreva penalty. One of the brightest talents in Serie A, Luis Muriel did find one back for Udinese in the second half but that was just about it. Expect Udinese to once again take their time to get things going but Guidolin should ensure the ship is steadied before the damage is done.
AS Roma are the more glamorous, more adored, more flamboyant but also a far more unpredictable side from the Capital. After the much hyped appointment of Zdenek Zeman last season which saw a downturn of great proportions for the club, this time the plans seem different. Playing their first game against Livorno at the opposition’s den, Roma were more watchful and patient enough to wait for their chances. Roma looked quite threatening right from the start and although the first half finished goalless, Florenzi, Totti and Maicon all came close to scoring. The visitors continued to dominate in the second half too but Bardi’s clinical shot-stopping denied them the lead.
Right after the hour mark, it was a classic Daniele De Rossi effort from distance that opened the account for Roma in the most emphatic style. In another two minutes, Florenzi was third time lucky and went past Bardi from a close angle. Quite surprisingly, Roma maintained a clean sheet but then Livorno is not the hardest of tests either. Both attack and midfield looked in great shape for the Giallorossi and the quality is only expected to grow with Strootman being introduced in the pack. Lamela’s imminent departure might allow Florenzi greater playing time in a more advanced role.
After the departure of two of their extremely popular holy trinity, it was perhaps the right time for the third and the only remaining one to do something truly spectacular to mark the perfect start of the season for Napoli thwarting Bologna at San Paolo . Starting by setting Callejon up for the easiest of tap-ins after his powerful strike was deflected off the keeper, Hamsik then made a wonderful run inside the box lurking on a Zuniga ball before turning the ball inside from a virtually zero angle. The skipper put the final nail in Bologna’s coffin in the second half with a ferocious strike from just outside the box.
The final 3-0 scoreline doesn’t do much justice for the kind of dominance the home side held on the proceedings. Quite unlike the Napoli of last three seasons, Benitez opted to go with a traditional four man defence in a top heavy 4-2-3-1, often switching to a 4-2-2-2 formation. Hamsik, flanked by Pandev and Callejon on either side, played behind the team’s new number 9 – Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentine isn’t enjoying his best time in Italy as not only did fail to score any of the three Napoli goals but on the following day, enjoying an off, Higuain had to be cured with ten stitches after severely damaging his jaw slipping on a rock at the Capri Island. His situation is still unclear but should this keep him out of action even for a couple of weeks, Napoli won’t find the going easy.
Cagliari made a winning start beating Atalanta 2-1 courtesy goals from Nainggolan and Cabera. For Serie B champions Sassuolo, it was their first ever top division game in the club’s history and it ended in disappointment as goals from Brighi and Cerci won Torino all the three points. The only goalless draw from the weekend was played out between Parma and Chievo.