The new Italian Serie A campaign kicks off on Saturday August 22, so it’s time for Sports Pundit’s first instalment of our season preview.
*‘Atalanta Bergamo’’ *Last season; 11th (13 wins, 8 draws, 17 losses)Top scorer;’’’ Sergio Floccari> (12 goals)
After a couple of decent seasons under Luigi Del Neri, Atalanta will be looking to consolidate following the departure of their experienced boss to Sampdoria. In comes the rather-untried Angelo Gregucci, who’s only Serie A experience is an ill-fated five week stint at Lecce. But Gregucci has at his disposal a squad good enough to survive in the Serie A. The only question mark is can Gregucci deliver at the top level.
In the close season, Atalanta have lost last season’s topscorer Sergio Floccari to Genoa but seem to have wisely replaced him with exciting 21-year-old Robert Acquafresca whilst also adding Lecce’s Simone Tiribocchi and they’ll form a sharp forward line behind club legend Cristiano Doni. The *Oribici *have also picked up some of the best talent from last season’s relegated clubs including Fabio Caserta and Paraguayan Edgar Barreto, who should ably replace defensive midfielder Luca Cigarini, who has headed to Napoli.
The *Oribici *produced excellent home form last season buoyed by a solid defence led by Gianpaolo Bellini, Thomas Manfredini and Austrian international Gyorgy Garics and they all remain at Atalanta which keeps things stable. The question marks though lie in Gregucci’s ability to coach at the top level and perhaps also Atalanta’s depth up front could be tested with a few injuries. But realistically, Atalanta should be strong enough (having signed Acquafresca) to stay in Serie A.
**Fantasy Gun; **Cristiano Doni
Last season;Serie B Champions (22-14-6)Top scorer;’ Barreto (23)
A few months ago Bari celebrated their triumph as Serie B champions and promotion to the top flight, but how things change quickly in football. Victorious coach Antonio Conte and the club have parted ways in controversial circumstances, to be replaced by 61-year-old Giampiero Ventura. Also the owners who made those decisions will depart, with Texas businessman Timothy L. Barton due to take over in October and perhaps his funds may boost the club’s plight.
Brazilian Barreto, who scored 23 league goals last term, inspired Bari’s success and the club have ensured he remains at the Stadio San Nicola this season, albeit on loan. But they have lost influential winger Stefano Guberti to Roma. The *Galletti *may feel there’s a dangerous over-reliance on Barreto up front and have accordingly bolstered their forward line with Riccardo Meggiorini and Ferdinando Sforzini and they’ll need to score goals if the club are to survive.
The Apulian club will have a fight on their hands this season with relegation a real possibility. Reinforcements have been brought in to bolster the squad, including Andrea Ranocchia in defence and Vladimir Koman in midfield, but perhaps they’ll be relying on Barton’s money in the January transfer window. The new boss Ventura is an experienced manager though and could just get the best out of this squad.
Fantasy Gun; Alessandro Parisi
Last season;17th (9-10-19)Top scorer;’ Marco Di Vaio (24)
Giuseepe Papadopulo’s Bologna finished last season well to avoid relegation on the final day of the campaign. Optimistic *Rossoblu *fans will be hoping their side can push on with that late season form, but realistically it seems the club are set for a difficult season battling the drop.
Last campaign, brilliant 33-year-old skipper Marco Di Vaio saved Bologna with an incredible output of 24 league goals. Considering Sergio Volpi was the club’s next highest scorer, with 4 strikes, it’s obvious a lot depends on Di Vaio. Massimo Marazzina or Pablo Osvaldo will need to step up to support him but the club have lost a few important midfielders meaning good service won’t be regular.
The backline was a big weakness for Bologna last season too but Papadopulo has bolstered those stocks with 23-year-old goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano (who is tipped to play for Italy) joining from Brescia, along with a few new defensive players including Andrea Raggi, Rafael Santos and Daniele Portanova. If Papadopulo can get that defence tighter and keep Di Vaio scoring goals, Bologna might just save off relegation. But what’s for sure, is it’ll be a long season at the Dall’Ara.
Fantasy Gun; Marco Di Vaio
Last season;9th (15-8-15)Top scorer; ‘Robert Acquafresca (14)
Led by manager Massimiliano Allegri, Cagliari enjoyed a superb ninth place finish last season and with the boss committing to the club in the summer, optimism is in an abundance at the Sant’Elia. Allegri’s men conceded just 12 league goals at home last season (which was the equal best in Serie A) providing a solid base to grab a top-half finish. More of the same is expected this term.
But Allegri has had to deal with the departure of topscorer Acquafresca. The *Rossoblu *have taken a punt on Portuguese Liga topscorer Nene who joins for €4.5m and they’ve retained impressive Brazilian forward Jeda. Cagliari have also lost regulars Michele Fini and Paolo Bianco but have added experienced Simone Barone from Torino as well as Croatian Mario Brkljaca to bolster their midfield.
Allegri has managed to retain a sense of continuity in the Cagliari squad and another top-half finish is a realistic goal but the worry remains who will score the goals? If Jeda or Nene score frequently, then pushing for a European place wouldn’t be out of the question but the club’s away form would need to drastically improve, especially defensively where the likes of Alessandro Agostini will need to lead the way.
Fantasy Gun; Daniele Conti
Last season;15th (12-7-19)Top scorer;’ Giuseppe Mascara (12)
The off-season has been a painful one for Catania fans, who saw their boss Walter Zenga do the unthinkable and join Sicilian rivals Palermo. Catania knew Zenga was leaving, but they didn’t expect his destination. Nevertheless, in comes Gianluca Atzori, a former assistant at Catania who only has one full season of senior managing under his belt with third tier Ravenna. His appointment is a risk by Gli Elefanti, but Atzori has a reputation as an exciting attack-minded boss.
That bodes well for a side boasting attacking talents like Giuseppe Mascara and Takayuki Morimoto. And considering Catania’s woeful away form last campaign (they collected the equal least points on the road) a few more goals might be what they need. But Atzori’s style, which will likely see him employ a 4-3-3 system, may run the risk of defensive frailties so the signing of current Argentina stopper Mariano Andujar is a timely move after the departure of the impressive Albano Bizzarri to Lazio.
Catania have also added a few more Argentineans to their squad in the shape of new number 10 Pablo Barrientos, Nicolas Spolli and Adrian Ricchiuti, but the arrival of Polish defender Błażej Augustyn is an important move to shore up their backline. Atzori has plenty to do to ensure Catania don’t face a relegation scrap this season, but, on paper, his squad looks capable of staying afloat.
**Fantasy Gun; **Gennaro Delvecchio
Last season;16th (8-14-16)Top scorer;’ Sergio Pellissier (13)
The unbelievable tale of the Serie A minnows, known as the Flying Donkeys, continues with another season of struggle soon to kick-off. Boss Domenico Di Carlo has a difficult job keeping Chievo in Serie A, but he did it last year. One man who helped him achieve that was skipper Sergio Pellissier, who’ll need to continue to score plenty of goals if the *Ceo *can stay up again.
Di Carlo, who likes to employ the 4-3-1-2 formation, has enjoyed an off-season of few changes at the Bentegodi with the only major new face in Chievo colours being Uruguayan hitman Pablo Granoche, who returns after a loan stint with Triestina. But with little changing, one would expect Chievo to have more of the same and that means another relegation scrap.
Chievo do enjoy a solid foundation though in their side with Stefano Sorrentino decent in goals, whilst Mario Yepes, Michele Marcolini and Giampiero Pinzi are all handy at Serie A level. A lot of responsibility falls on Pellissier though, so some goals from Granoche or Erjon Bogdani would help ease the load. One positive for Chievo is that there’s room for improvement with their home form and if they do that, then that will go some way towards maintaining their top flight status.
**Fantasy Gun; **Michele Marcolini
Last season; 4th (21-5-12)Top scorer; ‘Alberto Gilardino (19)
Cesare Prandelli’s Fiorentina grabbed fourth spot and the final UEFA Champions League place last season. Viola’s solid defence combined with Felipe Melo’s craft and Adrian Mutu & Alberto Gilardino’s astute finishing, earned them their rewards. But Melo has since left for Juventus and his absence leaves a gaping whole, which may be hard to fill. It puts Fiorentina’s ambitions for this season at mercy.
But Prandelli has a few willing replacements in the shape of veteran Marco Donadel along with new signings from Juventus, Cristiano Zanetti and Marco Marchionni. Perhaps even Melo’s absence will allow impressive youngster Riccardo Montolivo to shine more, in what could be a huge year for the new Fiorentina skipper, with the World Cup not far away.
Retaining the services of stopper Sebastien Frey in the off-season was good business by Fiorentina and he along with Alessandro Gamberini form a solid backline. Up front it seems Gilardino is thriving under Prandelli’s leadership and if Mutu can enjoy a full season perhaps Fiorentina can push for a trophy. But *Viola *need to stay injury-free and have a lot of luck along the way. Realistically, making the top four again is the target.
**Fantasy Gun; **Juan Manuel Vargas