Serie A hopefuls eye Juve's crown
Defending champions Juventus will start the new Serie A campaign intent on recapturing the form that saw them go unbeaten throughout the whole of last season. Playing an ambitious, attack-minded game, the Turin giants reflected the sea change that has taken place in Italian football in recent years, one brought about by a new generation of enterprising young coaches.
Ironically, this shift has come about at a time when the Italian game, beset by financial worries, has bid farewell to several of its star players, without being able to recruit replacements of the same calibre. Hoping to challenge La Vecchia Signora once more are habitual northern rivals AC Milan and Inter Milan, while Roma have ambitious plans for the year ahead, as do Napoli.
FIFA.com sets the scene for the new league season in Italy, one in which the great Alessandro del Piero will not feature for the first time in 19 years.
Juventus have gone to every effort to bring in cover for every position and give themselves the comfort of being able to reshuffle the side according to tactical requirements. That policy has spelt the arrival of versatile performers such as Sebastian Giovinco, Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla, who should have little trouble switching between 4-3-3 and 3-5-2.
The vastly experienced Lucio will add steel to an already solid back-line that doubles up as the Italian national side’s rearguard, while French-Guinean youngster Paul Pogba has joined the club from Manchester United with a view to nailing down a first-team place.
The only shadow on the horizon is the ten-month suspension handed to coach Antonio Conte, though the club have stated they will stand by their man. Replacing him in the dugout for the duration of his ban will be Juventus’ training academy coach Massimo Carrera, who has said he will continue to pursue Conte’s ideas.
Since 2001 no other side apart from Juve, Inter Milan and AC Milan has won the title, and it will be no surprise to see the Milan twosome in the mix once more. That said, Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri faces an intriguing task following the departure en masse of several established figures, namely Maxi Lopez, Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Mark van Bommel, Alberto Aquilani, Gianluca Zambrotta, Filippo Inzaghi, Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, last season’s top scorer in Italy with 28 goals.
Over at Inter, meanwhile, evergreen skipper Javier Zanetti is still going strong at the age of 39, though young coach Andrea Stramaccioni has sensibly opted to rejuvenate the rest of his squad by bringing eight new names in and ushering nine players out of the door. His most surprising recruit of all is Antonio Cassano, who has joined I Nerazzuri as part of an exchange deal that saw Giampaolo Pazzini take the place he vacated at Milan.
Following Luis Enrique’s short spell in charge, Roma have turned to the venerable Zdenek Zeman, who has coached no fewer than 16 Italian clubs (Roma already among them) since arriving in the country in 1968, following the Prague Spring. An advocate of the 4-3-3 formation, the 65-year-old Zeman has already overhauled the squad, recruiting 12 new faces and releasing as many old ones, strengthening his defence in the process. More importantly, he also persuaded new club captain Daniele de Rossi to resist the close-season overtures of Manchester City and beat off the challenge of Italy’s other major clubs to land the signature of hugely promising young striker Mattia Destro.
After impressing in the UEFA Champions League last season, Napoli will be back with their unique 3-5-1-1 line-up. Coach Walter Mazzarri has held on to all but one of his prized assets, with Ezequiel Lavezzi having left for Paris Saint-Germain. But with the transfer window yet to close, he will have to endure a nervous wait to see if goal machine Edinson Cavani decides to stay put.
Udinese have compensated for the departure of three big names by welcoming 13 youthful recruits from a variety of locations, while Lazio will be looking once more to durable goalgetter Miroslav Klose in their bid to dent some lofty reputations.
The close season was marked by the departure of a clutch of big names, with clubs choosing to replace them with youngsters rather than buy like for like.
Aside from the eye-catching Cassano-Pazzini swap, the biggest move on the domestic front was Milan’s swoop for Fiorentina midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, who has made 37 appearances for Italy and is set to become I Rossoneri’s new linchpin.
Players to watch
Regarded as the prolific striker Italy has been waiting for, 21-year-old Mattia Destro has joined Roma to get more first-team football under his belt and to link up with the great Francesco Totti. Meanwhile, 28-year-old Moroccan international Mounir El Hamdaoui, who came to fame as the Eredivisie’s Player of the Year in 2008 and the top scorer in the Netherlands a year later, has joined Fiorentina in a bid to revive his career.
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