Serie A is up and running for another season, with fans and pundits alike excited by the possibilities that the 2017/18 competition might bring.
AC Milan have benefited substantially from their new Chinese investors and have dominated the summer transfer headlines, while simultaneously looking to weaken the reigning Champions and Scudetto favourites Juventus. Meanwhile, Napoli’s team have remained consistent and continue to build on the progress made by Maurizio Sarri in recent seasons, Luciano Spalletti has revitalised supporter confidence at Inter and Eusebio Di Francesco begins Roma’s new post-Totti era.
Following the opening weekend of fixtures, here are five features which have captured the headlines in Italy’s top flight of football.
Youth steals the show from Milan stars
The Rossoneri have embarked on a record-breaking transfer window by spending over €200 million over the summer. However, in their season opener against Crotone, it was the club’s own youth team graduate Patrick Cutrone that stole the show and led the way towards a 3-0 thumping at the Stadio Ezio Scida.
The 19-year-old started ahead of summer import Andre Silva and was in the thick of the action in the opening minutes after being brought down in a challenge to earn a penalty and condemn Crotone to playing the match with 10 men.
The Como-born striker was not finished there though and had soon netted his first senior goal for the club with a glancing header off a Suso cross. He would then repay the favour just five minutes later by cutting the ball back to Suso in the box, who powered home their third.
Replaced after 62 minutes by their star signing from Porto, Cutrone showed that sometimes exuberant youth can out-shine million-dollar transfers.
Napoli are ready to entertain
The Azzurri began their campaign with a relatively straightforward 3-1 win away to the newly promoted Hellas Verona. While Maurizio Sarri’s men were far from their best and suffered in the final 10 minutes – conceding a goal and a red card – Napoli showed glimpses of the electrifying football we can expect from them over the next nine months.
Amassing a week-high shot tally of 22, the Partenopei look set to continue the eye-pleasing attacking brand of football they have become synonymous in recent seasons. This was perfectly displayed for their second goal, during which the ball was carried three-quarters of the pitch with just five touches from three different players, ending with a pin-point shot from Arkadiusz Milik.
Considering Dries Mertens, the club’s top goal scorer last season, started on the bench due to Sarri favouring Milik, there is much to look forward to as Napoli sets their sights on a title challenge.
VAR victory in Serie A
One of the most notable changes in Italy’s top flight this season is the introduction of the new video review system. Despite an aura of confusion around how the technology would work in practice, VAR debuted in Serie A over the weekend and has been largely met with positive reviews.
It did not take long to witness the system in action after Fabio Maresca reviewed a challenge from Alex Sandro in Juventus’ match against Cagliari, with a penalty awarded after play had initially been allowed to continue. The awarding of a spot-kick against the Champions, an area of much debate in previous seasons, was perhaps the best possible introduction for VAR.
The technology continued to be used throughout the weekend, confirming goals for Napoli, Sampdoria, a penalty for Inter, in addition to upgrading a yellow card to a straight red for Crotone’s Federico Ceccherini.
Of course, there are still room for improvements, with both Fiorentina and Bologna feeling hard done by decisions which would have likely been overturned by VAR if used. Additionally, the time taken to review will no doubt be an element the league will be eager to reduce as officials become used to the system.
Though, all in all, when in the majority of cases the correct decisions are being made, new technology is set to continue to be embraced in Serie A.
Icardi efficiency remains ever-present for Inter
Arguably one of the most consistent elements of what has been a troubled few seasons for Inter has been the ability of Mauro Icardi to score goals.
The Nerazzurri captain has been the club’s top goalscorer for the past three Serie A seasons, netting a total of 78 goals at an average of 26 in each season. What has often made his feats more impressive is the Argentinian continues to find the net even when service has been lacking and opportunities are limited.
While this wasn’t necessarily the case in Inter’s 3-1 defeat of Fiorentina, the 24-year-old grabbed a brace to start the season with just four shots on goal, and came within inches of making it three goals from the same amount of shots if not for the goalkeeping heroics of Marco Sportiello. The Beneamata’s second goal was a great illustration of the striker’s ability to find the back of the net from any position in the 18-yard-box after heading home an Ivan Perisic cross.
The Nerazzurri’s midfield and defence has seen many changes over the last three seasons, though one factor remains constant; if Luciano Spalletti’s men are to secure Champions League qualification, Mauro Icardi will play a starring role in achieving their goal.
Attack is the new defence for Juventus
As the world has watched Juventus claim title after title for a record-breaking six consecutive seasons, many would argue that their unprecedented success was built upon an era-defining defensive line.
However, with Leonardo Bonucci departed and the likes of Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Gianluigi Buffon ageing, the Bianconeri defence no longer looks the impenetrable fortress of years gone by.
Luckily, Massimo Allegri has two weapons who have the potential to define the next era, which may well be characterised by an awe-inspiring attack. In their 3-0 win over Cagliari, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain showed their potential to lead one of Europe’s most threatening offences.
The 23-year-old continued his pre-season form, creating goal-scoring chances from various positions inside the final third, providing an ever-present danger for opposition defensive lines. Meanwhile, his elder counterpart, while far more limited in his involvement, displayed just how little he needs to make his mark on a match, turning and shooting past Alessio Cragno for Juve’s third.
As their combination improves, complimented by the likes of Mario Mandzukic, who grabbed the match opener, and the exciting potential of Douglas Costa, Juventus’ biggest strength may no longer be at the back but in the two men leading the way forward.
Week 1 Results:
Juventus 3 – 0 Cagliari
Verona 1 – 3 Napoli
Atalanta 0 -1 Roma
Bologna 1 – 1 Torino
Crotone 0 – 3 Milan
Inter 3 – 0 Fiorentina
Lazio 0 – 0 SPAL
Sampdoria 2 – 1 Benevento
Sassuolo 0 – 0 Genoa
Udinese 1 – 2 Chievo