Not too long ago, Serie A was considered a selling league. The league’s brightest young stars left for larger clubs and Serie A sides collected the money and invested. Along the way, new owners and new money came into the league.
Now we face a new reality. Serie A has once again positioned itself as one of the best leagues in the world. The top of the table is heavy with Juventus and a number of other traditional powers who have invested and strengthened in the offseason. While their financial might cannot rival PSG or most Premier League clubs, calcio again is fun to watch and the pitches around Italy are overflowing with international talent.
Week one of the season features only a few truly “must see” match-ups but there are a number of opportunities for clubs to set the narrative early. Who will be the true rival to The Old Lady and have the best chance of grabbing the scudetto? Will there be more parity a year after the bottom of the table was so abysmal? Which club will pull an Atalanta – use smart development and investment to jump up the standings over some traditional powers. Of course, there is the big question: is Milan truly back?
Each matchday we will preview the matches in a more creative way than picking a winner or giving a bland description. Every matchday will have its own defining movie or television show, and each match-up will have a quote that best summarizes what’s at stake in that match. To begin the season, we will use one of the greatest English-speaking movies to feature Italy as a setting – The Godfather Part II.
Juventus v. Cagliari – “He was stupid. I was lucky. I will visit him soon.”
Five consecutive scudetto. Seneca famously said “luck is when preparation meets opportunity” and to be dominant for so long in this sport takes both talent and a little luck. While The Old Lady was undoubtedly talented and well coached the past few years, it lacked a true equal. Roma and Napoli did come close, but it was still an uneven playing field and both had fatal flaws. Now, with Milan and Inter ascendant and Roma and Napoli still talented, Juventus face numerous challenges to the throne.
First up is Cagliari, which like Corleone is located on an Italian island. Gli Isolani survived their first season back in Serie A and now look to re-entrench under head coach Massimo Rastelli.
Hellas Verona v. Napoli – “The family had a lot of buffers!”
With Roma, Napoli have been a consistent thorn in Juventus side but have done no more than draw a little blood. With Inter and Milan grabbing headlines, a quiet offseason for the Southerners means they may fly under the radar. Discounting the high-scoring side which retained its major talent for the first time in years would be a fool’s errand. They start the season visiting newcomer Hellas Verona, who returns to Serie A after a season in the lower level. Unfortunately, Antonio Cassano’s retirement denies us the opportunity to see the sparkplug play in Serie A one more time.
Atalanta v. AS Roma – “I can handle things! I’m smart… I’m smart and I want respect!”
Poor Roma, always the bridesmaid and never the bride. This season, they again are churning through some players although they did retain keys like De Rossi and Nainggolan. The arrival of Sassuolo genius Eusebio di Francesco could be the key to finally winning the scudetto (that and signing another player or two). They travel to Atalanta, last season’s surprise top four finisher. The little club developed some exciting attacking talent, but with the clubs around them spending gobs of money to improve, a result in this first match would be beneficial to stir some optimism early on for a repeat miracle.
Bologna v. Torino – “Good health is the most important thing. More than success, more than money, more than power.”
Torino lost their famous Englishman Joe Hart but replace him with an even better keeper in Salvatore Sirigu. The Bulls are cementing themselves as good midtable side and although past glories fade further into the distance, the club’s business seemingly is pointed in the right direction. They start the season visiting Bologna, who the past two seasons have made a habit of escaping relegation. At some point, they will succumb or actually start to stabilize in Serie A. A home match against a solid opponent even this early will be a good clue as to their direction.
Crotone v. AC Milan – “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”
Little Crotone were a story in Serie A last season, barely escaping dropping back down into Serie B. They inspired by using what little they had to put together a club good enough to stay up. Across the pitch to start the new season is the exact opposite – a club stuffed full of new money and talent. We’ve all read about Milan’s new riches at this point, so all eyes will be on Stadio Ezio Scida this Saturday to see the new Rossoneri on display. Will Milan challenge their enemies from the start or need time to gel as a team, time they may not have?
Inter v. Fiorentina – “We’re both part of the same hypocrisy”
Poor Fiorentina. At one time the Viola were known for beautiful football in a gorgeous setting, but last season internal strife made their play ugly. After a purge of some known entities, Fiorentina will put out new faces and possibly surprise some clubs in Italy this season. Inter have been just as active in the transfer market as Milan, but without the splash and massive euros. Still, Luciano Spalletti is a good manager and Inter look like another club that could surprise, just further up the table than Fiorentina.
Lazio v. SPAL – “Tell your friends I don’t want a lot. Just enough to wet my beak.”
SPAL return to Serie A for the first time in almost 50 years and retain a core of talented players. They will be looking to hold on and start building next season. They start the season at Lazio, who as always have talent, a smart coach, and one day will make a run for the scudetto. That year could be this year, as they have already stunned Juventus with their 3-2 victory in the Supercoppa Italiana. Keep an eye on Jordan Lukaku.
Sampdoria v. Benevento – “What does this tell you? They could win.”
Benevento have the markings of a club buying a cup of coffee in Serie A. The finished fifth in Serie B and won promotion through the playoff, then didn’t strengthen their squad considerably. But for every Pescara there is a Sassuolo, a small club that finds a way to survive. Battling them to survive is their first opponent, who again lost some key players this offseason. However, it is dangerous to doubt Marco Giampaolo.
Sassuolo v. Genoa – “I suppose I always knew you were too smart to let any of them ever beat you.”
Their manager is gone, but somehow Sassuolo have retained Domenico Berardi. As long as he stays (healthy), it is hard to see Sassuolo going down. They can help their cause early hosting a Genoa side that dances with the bottom three every year but somehow escapes. This is another match which, although it is early in the season, could be a critical late season six pointer.
Udinese v. Chievo Verona – “Ask your friends in the neighbourhood about me. They’ll tell you I know how to return a favour.”
These two clubs could not be more evenly matched. They finished 13th and 14th last season and, over their last five match-ups, both have one win, one loss, and three draws.