Italian football never manages to disappoint. The highly skilled and determined Italian clubs impressed in Europe last year, with Inter’s Champions League success, and a number of notable victories for other clubs, including Fiorentina’s double over Liverpool. In Serie A, Inter gained their 5th consecutive Scudetto, this time winning on the last day after Roma’s second half of the season push kept the title race alive. For the coming season, Inter will be a new entity, with the departure of Jose Mourinho, and the league should be opened up thanks to heavy financial investment by the likes of Juventus. It should be another fascinating season in Serie A.
Title Race – Traditional challengers
Italy’s four powerhouse clubs, Inter, Milan, Juventus and Roma, rule the roost when it comes to press coverage and fanbase, and they often dominate on the field to back up that up. The season before last saw one of those top squads temporarily leave the top 4, as Milan’s Champions League place was taken by Fiorentina, whilst last season Juventus’ disappointing 7th place finish meant Sampdoria made the lucrative breakthrough.
Calling Inter the favorites isn’t exactly a gamble here. Their five straight victories turning into six wouldn’t surprise anyone. Nor would you be competing with the odds of online slot machines to claim Juventus will get its act together and contend for the Serie A title next season. Along with Milan and Roma team, the four-way title race seems to be set, with everyone else playing catch-up, with the likes of Sampdoria, Palermo, and Fiorentina aiming to be this years surprise package.
I Lupi (The Wolves) had a golden opportunity to win the title last season, missing out on the final day of the season. Their progress, as ever, will be limited by how much business they can conclude in the transfer market. In recent years money has been hard to come by, with the Giallorossi often having to offload players in order to bring in stronger players – Marco Motta has gone to Udinese, Luca Toni, unwanted by Ranieri, has joined Genoa, and important players like Mirko Vucinic and Daniele De Rossi are linked with moves away, even if the latter seems unlikely.
As for signings, they have been linked with Arsenal right-back Emmanuel Eboue, with the big Ivorian potentially an alternative to Marco Cassetti, and probably a few young Italian squad players will arrive, but big-money signings will be few and far between.
The likelyhood is that this season we kick-off saying the same things we have for the past two or three years – their success depends on the fitness of Francesco Totti, the form of Vucinic, and the teams ability to play cohesively together. If these three things happen, then Roma will be there to take advantage of any inconsistencies at the top of Serie A.
Inter and Roma dominated the table last season, with Milan coming in 10 points behind in 3rd, with 70 points. They played solid football for large portions of the season, but a three-game losing streak knocked the wind out of their sails, and the squad appeared to lose confidence from there on in.
Milan might decide not to make all the necessary changes, with Club owner and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi loathe to put in the money needed to make the Rossoneri true title contenders. Of the top teams, they are however one of the teams in most need of replacing players, notably due to them reaching the end of their careers. in order to compete for the title. There is expected to be one reasonably high profile signing to add to the back-up goalkeeper Marco Amelia who has joined in the summer. This signing could well be Sevilla and Brazil forward Luis Fabiano, who has impressed in the World Cup 2010, and is known to want a move to the San Siro.
It is possible that the World Cup performances of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will decide whether or not Milan Vice-President Adriano Galliani keeps the struggling player and hopes his second year with the club is more productive, or if he decides to offload the Dutchman, with the former the most likely outcome. Striking gold with a deal for Allegri and getting more production out of Huntelaar is Milan’s best hope – but if they can’t find a deal equivalent to the best casino bonus, they may have to settle for any open gaming table and put their chips on bench rotation and a veteran-led squad.
Some positivity coming out from Milan, is due to the new Coach in charge, Massimiliano Allegri, who replaces Leonardo. Allegri is expected to play two up-front, Alexandre Pato and Marco Borriello possibly, with Ronaldinho playing “in the hole” behind the front two, where it is hoped he will perform better than on the left of a trident attack where he was deployed with Leonardo. A reinvigorated Ronaldinho, fit Pato, Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Nesta, along with a high profile signing of the calibre of Luis Fabiano, could see Milan challenge for the top places this year, although with a number of injuries, their team could be decisively weakend.
Inter Milan are in the best situation, undoubtedly, as five-time champions looking to only keep their core squad together in order to pursue a sixth Scudetto. However, they only finished two points ahead of Roma, and it took a stroke of genius by Diego Milito in their match against Siena to do so.
New Coach Rafa Benitez is likely to want his stamp on the team, but will want to avoid changing too much of a Champions League winning side. Many rumours have suggested that Liverpool’s star midfielder, Javier Mascherano, is likely to follow manager Rafa Benitez to the squad and give Inter more in midfield, possibly as a replacement for Thiago Motta, and reports of an exit for Argentinian midfielder Esteban Cambiasso are wid of the mark.
Indeed the best “signings” that Benitez could make could be holding on to a number of top quality players – Douglas Maicon is widely expected to make a move to Real Madrid, whereas Inter believe they can convince Diego Milito, Lucio and Wesley Sneijder to stay. If Inter can keep those, and make additions in midfield and right-back, the Inter will go into the new season as firm favourites.
Finishing in a disappointing 7th place doesn’t sit well with Juventus nor their fans. Newly acquired coach Luigi Delneri, who took Sampdoria to the Champions League lasy year, has the task of building a new team, and he is set to be given the funds to achieve this.
Cannavaro is officially out, moving to Al-Ahli in Dubai, replaced by Leonardo Bonucci, who joins from Bari. The major new signing so far is Udinese and Italy winger Simone Pepe, who it is hoped will supply the crosses for Amauri and David Trezeguet. Delneri also wants to build his side around promising midfielder Claudio Marchisio, who although disappointing in the World Cup, is thought to have a very important and long-term future with Juve. Juve’s goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, was recently injured and spurred the club on to sign Marco Storari from Milan as back-up.
It now remains to be seen what success the Bianconeri have in bringing in top players, and the club have already been linked with many, from Palombo to Pazzini, Mexes to Motta, Krasic to Kjaer. There is a lot that happens in the transfer market over the summer, and a lot that can happen unexpectedly in a World Cup year.
The Old Lady’s hopes are increasing, and they just have to hope that all the new pieces of the puzzle fit together and form a winning team, although much will depend on the ability to convince the right players to sign, considering the anysmal record the club have had in this area in recent years. Delneri has money, fan, club and player support, and a new era of growth is expected in Turin.