AC Milan are a sure bet for Scudetto!
Italian Serie A Preview
Another league season that was delayed by strikes finally gets under way this weekend. The Italian Serie A season kicks off on Friday evening and it is safe to say that it is lining up to be one of the most competitive and entertaining seasons in recent times.
After the summer's extremely busy transfer activities you could throw a blanket over the five favourites for the Scudetto this season.
The stands out favourites are current champions, AC Milan. They have strengthened with the signings of Philippe Mexes on a free transfer from Roma and Taye Taiwo on a free from Marseille. The defence has been strengthened on this evidence but question marks have been raised up over the fitness of Mexes. The French centre back struggled with niggling injuries but there is no doubt that on his day he will be an outstanding signing for the Rossoneri. The partnership Thiago Silva draws up with the Frenchman could be key to Milan's chances. They have also added in midfield with Antonio Nocerino from Palermo and a brilliant bit of business in securing the loan signing of Alberto Aquilani from Liverpool who will take the place of Andrea Pirlo who has left on a free. Aquilani was on loan at Juventus last season and showed why Rafa Benitez had spent as much money as he did on the former Roma midfielder. Liverpool's decision to get rid of him is baffling as he had played himself into fitness and form. But what is Liverpool's loss will definitely be Milan's gain. They also added the exciting Stephen El Shaarawy from Genoa who could make an impact if given an opportunity this season.
With all the new signings talk, it is hard to remember who they still have in Milan. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is still there and he will once again be looking to lead the goal scoring charts. If the big Swede gets the service and if he is in the mood, the 8/1 about him being the top marksman in Italy this season should have its fans. He is easier to trust with your money than Cassano and Robinho but they will help him rack the goal's up. Ibrahimovic is still lacking in Europe but Serie A is perfect for him. Ibrahimovic and Milan are a match made in heaven and if it works out as it should do, top goal scorer for the Swede should coincide with another championship for Milan. They are 5/4 favourites.
Inter Milan are the closest challengers to their city rivals but after a summer of change for the Nerazzurri doubts do remain. Gian Piero Gasperini is the new man at the helm after joining from Genoa. He played an interesting 3-4-3 formation at Genoa and it is rumoured that he may well be taking the same approach at Inter. It would involve three centre backs, in theory with wing backs working very hard as the two wide men of the four. Nagatomo and Maicon could well get the nod there but then there is a problem of having Wesley Sneijder as a sitting midfielder alongside Motta, Cambiasso or Zanetti. It is a tough ask for Gasperini but he will have to play to the strength's of the players he has and not so much his favoured formation.
Inter have been busy in the transfer market but on paper it looks like they have been weakened. This is purely down to the exit to Russia of Samuel Eto'o. He has been replaced by Diego Forlan from Atletico Madrid and Mauro Zarate on loan from Lazio. They are good players on their best form but in the case of Forlan more than Zarate, last season was a struggle. Maybe there will be a new lease of life for the Uruguayan in the slower paced Italian league. Ricardo Alvarez has also joined from Velez Sarsfield, another creative midfielder. The main striking role could go to either Pazzini or Diego Milito. Milito had a quiet season last term after his heroics in the treble season the year before but this was mainly due to injury. He was managed by Gasperini at Genoa in a successful spell but he faces competition for the starting berth from Pazzini who had a fantastic end to last season after signing from Sampdoria in January. Whoever plays will get goals and to back both of them for the golden boot each way would be a good way of edging bets. Pazzini is 12/1 and Milito is 14/1. Inter will be there or there abouts but the indecision in selection and lack of strengthening in defence could be their problem this season.
One of the highest interest stories this summer is that of Juventus. They have a brand new stadium, which the club own and have added some strength to a squad that needed a bit of a kick start. They have added Andrea Pirlo, Swiss defender Stephan Lichsteiner from Lazio, Arturo Vidal from Bayer Leverkusen, Mirko Vucinic from Roma and a much needed winger in Eljero Elia from Hamburg. The squad is strong and there is depth especially in attacking areas. Matri, Toni, Quaglierella, Del Piero and the ever improving Milos Krasic are all at manager Antonio Conte's disposal.
There is a buzz around Juventus at the moment but one of the biggest problems is the fiery manager. He has come to loggerheads with the board with his outspoken attitude but he does have success in the lower Italian leagues. If Conte is given time he will be able to mould this squad of talented individuals into a fully functioning team. With attackers like they have got it is hard to see how this team will not get goals and with Giorgio Chiellini at the back, marshalling things in front of Gianluigi Buffon they will win more games than they lose and will be hoping to turn the disappointing draws of last season into wins. They again will run Milan close but might just have a slow start, which in the end could harm their progress.
Meanwhile, in the eternal city it is all change for Roma. New owners, a new coach and pretty much a brand new team shows that it is more revolution than evolution in Rome. Luis Enrique has been acquired from the Barcelona B team whose attacking play straight from La Masia drew many admirers. Many signings have been made as well including Fernando Gago from Real Madrid, Bojan from Barcelona, Miralem Pjanic from Lyon, Simone Kjaer from Wolfsburg, Pablo Osvaldo from Espanyol, Maarten Stekelenburg from Ajax, Gabriel Heinze from Marseille, Erik Lamela from River Plate and Stefano Gulberti from Sampdoria. It is safe to say that every area of the pitch has been strengthened and with players like Simone Perotta and Daniele De Rossi still at the club, there is potential there but the Roma fans are an impatient bunch.
Enrique will not get much time due to the fact that Francesco Totti is an idol, which could be the situation that makes or breaks the young coach. Totti has the potential to destabilise the Roma project. He knows how much of a force he could be if he were to decide to be disruptive in the dressing room. What Enrique needs to make Totti realise is that he is still a big part of the squad even if he isn't playing every game. The way Del Piero is still around at Juventus or Ryan Giggs is at Manchester United. They are big influences but at the same time, not necessarily first name on the team sheet. It will be an interesting season but surely no more than a stabilising season for the Roma project. It will be possible for this team to push on in future seasons. Maybe they will be concentrating on the Coppa Italia, but the league is too soon this season. If Osvaldo hits the ground running he could well be a better bet than Bojan for top goal scorer.
Napoli are the outsiders of the teams that have a good shout this season at winning the Scudetto. They had a fantastic season out of the blue last term but they have lost hardly any of their top draw players. Marek Hamsik, Ezequial Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani have all stayed after they struck up fantastic partnerships last season. They have added the impressive Gokan Inler from Udinese and Blerim Dzemaili from Parma to strike up a brand new central midfield combination. They also have Goran Pandev from Inter Milan and Mario Santana from Fiorentina on a free transfer. Not only have they not weakened they have made some smart, very smart acquisitions.
Naples as a city expects from their side and if they keep injury free they are a huge price at 20/1. To back them each way to finish in the top two at a third of the odds is a must. All that Napoli need is an improvement in the big games and to not become shell shocked away at the Milan clubs or Roma. If those fears can be allayed and they make the Stadio San Paolo a fortress, this could be a special season. Edinson Cavani also looks huge value to add to last season's impressive tally and at 9/1 is worth a punt. The Uruguayan is in his element at Napoli and the £16 million they have reportedly paid Palermo for him is huge.
Napoli are the value this season where as AC Milan are the safe bet. The international team might well be lagging but the domestic game is flourishing. With attacking teams in Italy finally starting to flourish it could be one of the most entertaining Scudettos in a very long time.