Ciao e benvenuto in una nuova stagione del calcio!
Hello and welcome to a new season of Italian football!
As an AC Milan fan, my love for Italian calcio is eternal and it’s an honour to be asked to preview the upcoming season for this site.
Of the “big 5 leagues”, Serie A is perhaps the most old fashioned. The smell of cigarettes fill the air, the stadiums a hark back to a by gone era filled with Ultras and passion not seen too many other places. There’s a romance and beauty to Italian calcio but it’s not perfect. It still has a fair way to go to catch up to the other major European leagues but one hopes it never looses what makes it so special.
Juventus, the “Old Lady” of Italy are coming off their 8th straight Scudetto and 35th in total. Their complete domination of the Serie A in recent years has been on the back of ruthless, cold hearted football with defensive structure and organisation at the core of their success. The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo at the start of last season the icing on a dominant black and white cake. This past offseason has seen a fair bit of change at the “Bianconeri”, starting with a change of manager. Maurizio Sarri and his brand of possession football will be quite a move from the more pragmatic play of past years. With a number of senior players and players more suited to a slower style, it will be interesting to see how they transition. On paper it should work nicely but football is played on grass and one feels Juve are as vulnerable as they have been in many years. They are still the favourites but one can see them in a scrap till the end.
Their main challenge will come from Internazionale and Napoli. Inter have too swung the changes in the last few months with the pragmatic tactician Antonio Conte taking the reigns. New signings Romelu Lukaku, Diego Godin as well as a number of young Italian faces have arrived and in Conte’s favoured 3/5/2 system threaten to take Juve’s crown away from them. Napoli on the other hand have been steady and bring back the same group of players as last season and with Carlo Ancelotti at the controls, it’s easy to see them making life very difficult for Juve and Inter and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they are holding their 3rd Scudetto May next year.
The battle for the all important 4th and final UCL spot will be tight and intense with up to 6 teams all believing they are capable of taking it out this season. Milan, Lazio, Roma, Atalanta, Torino and Fiorentina all have cases to be made. I of course would love to see the “Rossoneri” rise back up to their historical greatness but the capital clubs Roma and Lazio, backed by endless passion from their supporters will fight all the way. Atalanta with their UCL commitments will perhaps struggle but they have proven many wrong in recent times and don’t put it past them to do it again. Torino and Fiorentina are full of talent and will expect to be in the European places this season.
Trying to work out the mid to lower table battle in Italy is near on impossible at the best of times but several clubs have seemingly made a real step up with major signings strengthening squads. Cagliari and Genoa have spent significant money with Radja Nainggolan and Nahitan Nandez joining the Sardinian club and Genoa signing a number of new attacking weapons and Cristian Zapata bringing experience to the defence. Both sides will hope to perhaps challenge for Europa League spots this season.
Relegation is not a place any club likes to be but as always 3 clubs will have to go down at season’s end. Newly promoted clubs Hellas Verona, Brescia and Lecce will be natural candidates to head back to Serie B but one suspects the likes of Bologna, SPAL and Sassuolo will find themselves fighting for survival. I wish I could accurate predict what will happen towards the bottom but one striker finding form for any of these clubs could be enough to see them stay up for another season. Mario Balotelli returning to Brescia will be a fun story to follow and he alone could be enough to save Brescia from the drop.
Calcio is back for another year and one feels it will be one of the best Serie A seasons in a while. A genuine title race awaits us and a deep contingent of mid-table teams with plenty of quality will make for exciting viewing for all fans of Italian football.
The season starts early Sunday morning with Parma hosting Juventus and Napoli travelling to Florence to play Fiorentina.
Grazie and Forza Milan!