Kickoff for the new Italian Serie A season is this weekend, so here’s the second instalment of Sports Pundit’s club-by-club preview.
In this second part, we go alphabetically through the clubs from G-N, including Genoa, Internazionale, Juventus, Lazio, Livorno, AC Milan and Napoli.
Thus we’ll discuss the big three plus plenty of the big-name new arrivals including Diego, Samuel Eto’o, Diego Milito and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
*Genoa’ Last season; **5th (19 wins, 11 draws, 8 losses)Top scorer; ‘*Diego Milito (24 goals)
Gian Piero Gasperini worked miracles at the Luigi Ferraris last season propelling Genoa up the table and within a whisker of a UEFA Champions League spot. And Gasperini did so, whilst producing some entertaining football which impressed many onlookers. But the *Grifoni *have lost their two stars of that side, Diego Milito and Thiago Motta, leaving Gasperini with much to do, although an impressive crusade in the transfer market means optimism remains in Genoa.
Genoa have managed to bring in Moroccan Houssine Kharja from Siena to replace Motta in midfield, while finding someone to step into Milito’s shoes might not be so easy. Gasperini has signed a number of new attacking options headed by Hernan Crespo along with Rodrigo Palacio and Sergio Floccari and they’ll be expected to produce the goals. To cap off a good transfer period, Genoa have also signed Italian stopper Marco Amelia to reinforce their backline.
Indeed, fans at the Luigi Ferraris will be thinking top four this season. Crespo is the great hope for Genoa and with Gasperini, who has revived ageing stars’ careers before, maybe the Argentinean can deliver. But considering all the changes, it may take some time for the Genoa players to get used to one another and the worry is a slow start.
Fantasy Gun; Domenico Criscito
*Last season; *‘Champions (25-9-4)**Top scorer; ‘Zlatan Ibrahimovic (25)
The Italian champions of the last four seasons continue to dominate Serie A post-Calciopoli although perhaps the ambition stretches a little further nowadays under Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese didn’t make the progress hoped for with Inter in the Champions League last term and he’s now lost superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, leaving him with a few headaches. But Mourinho has dabbled well in the transfer market with a bunch of shrewd purchases at knockdown prices. Indeed, ‘The Special One’ knows what he’s doing (despite all the nonsense) and one suspects the *Nerazzuri *are rightfully hot favourites for another Scudetto.
Following the departure of Ibra, replenishing the attacking stocks was always going to be a priority and bringing in Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o] and Genoa’s Diego Milito represents great business. The pair though, are not the same type of player as the Swede and Mourinho realizes he’ll need to implement a new system at the San Siro this season which may take some getting used to.
Mourinho has also recruited Brazilian pair Lucio and Thiago Motta to bolster his squad which looks pretty strong. Inter based their success last season on a stringent defence, led by Javier Zanetti, Ivan Cordoba and Maicon combined with Ibrahimovic’s magic down the other end. Without Ibra, Mourinho’s new system will be under scrutiny and the boss will need to ensure it doesn’t take too long for his players to adjust. But with Eto’o and Milito up front, Inter fans won’t worry too much.
**Fantasy Gun; **Esteban Cambiasso
*Last season;’ 2nd (21-11-6) *Top scorer; ‘Alessandro Del Piero (13)
Third in 2008, second in 2009 and then first in 2010? Finally, the Old Lady can realistically challenge for the Scudetto for the first time since Calciopoli. Confidence and optimism amongst the *Bianconeri *is sky high following a successful recruiting campaign which saw the likes of Diego, Felipe Melo, Fabio Cannavaro and Martin Caceres all join. Rookie boss Ciro Ferrara] has been made permanent manager in Turin and he’s got a big year ahead.
It is expected that of the arrivals, Diego will have the biggest influence with the Brazilian midfielder expected to be central to Ferrara’s plans. The former Werder Bremen man will take over Pavel Nedved’s reigns in the centre of the park providing Amauri, Vincenzo Iaquinta and the forever-young Alessandro Del Piero with the chances.
Diego’s arrival is exactly what Juventus need, with Gianluigi Buffon and his trusted partners in defence such as Giorgio Chiellini and Zdenek Grygera providing a robust backline to build the foundation for a Scudetto winning side on. Many are claiming Diego’s arrival will result in more goals for Amauri, so no doubt it’s a big season for him, but the untested Ferrara is the one with the real test ahead with the fans beginning to expect silverware again.
**Fantasy Gun; **Gianluigi Buffon
*Last season;’ 10th (15-5-18)*Top scorer;’ Mauro Zarate (13)
Impressive coach Davide Ballardini has landed a good job at Lazio after successful stints in charge of Palermo and Cagliari. Ballardini and Lazio are a good match and the *Biancocelesti *will be hoping for a more consistent campaign this time out, with European qualification expected. A long Europa League campaign might prove a fun distraction though, but Lazio should improve on Delio Rossi’s days.
Ballardini has made a few useful additions to his squad in the shape of classy stopper Albano Bizzarri, Portuguese midfielder Eliseu and Argentinean hitman Julio Cruz for Internazionale. The latter is expected to have a major role to play alongside Mauro Zarate, who proved to be a handful for opposition defences last season. Unfortunately, controversy with Goran Pandev, Lorenzo De Silvestri and Cristian Ledesma’s futures at the club may be an unwelcome sidestory, but Ballardini is charged with the responsibility of keeping on the job.
Nevertheless, last week’s surprising Super Coppa victory over Inter suggests Ballardini has something to work with at Lazio this term. A few more goals at home this season and Champions League football might be a possibility but claiming a Europa League spot is much more realistic. Ballardini though, will be keen to make plenty of progress at the Stadio Olimpico.
**Fantasy Gun; **Pasquale Foggia
*Last season; *‘3rd in Serie B (16-20-6), won promotion via playoffs **Top scorer; ‘Francesco Tavano (24)
Despite drawing almost half their league matches last season, Livorno claimed promotion back to Serie A via the playoffs. Interestingly, late in their successful Serie B campaign club president Aldo Spinelli saw fit to replace his current boss with assistant Gennaro Ruotolo and he’ll lead the Amaranto ‘‘into the top flight despite not actually have his official coaching badges yet. Needless to say, this will be a tough season for Livorno and survival would be an achievement.Labronici ‘‘are hugely boosted by the return of club legend Cristiano Lucarelli and if he can combine well with Francesco Tavano and Alessandro Diamanti, who both had great seasons in Serie B, then Livorno should score plenty of goals. They’ve also added exciting youngster Antonio Candreva from Udinese.
Defensively, Livorno do enjoy some seasoned players such as Fabio Galante], Mirko Pieri and Dario Knezevic and their experience of Serie A football from a few years ago will be invaluable to their survival hoes. Funnily enough, Livorno won more matches on the road than they did at home last season, so if they can produce some decent away form in Serie A, their survival hopes will already be boosted. But it is clear the unheralded Ruotolo has a lot to do.
Fantasy Gun; Antonio Filippini
*Last season;’ 3rd (22-8-8) *Top scorer;’ Kaka (16)
The consensus seems to be that AC Milan are in for a difficult year following a number of big-name departures at the San Siro. Plus following Carlo Ancelotti’s move to Chelsea, Milan have opted for the underwhelming appointment of former player Leonardo to the top job. Basically, it is the beginning of a new era for the *Rossoneri *but all indications from pre-season form are the new regime may need some time.
The list of those who departed Milan from last season includes Kaka, Paolo Maldini, Andriy Shevchenko and David Beckham. That list reads worse than it is in reality and the *Rossoneri *retain a good side, although they are littered with veterans including Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso. Obviously, Kaka’s departure will be a major blow, but it may provide Ronaldinho with the opportunity to return to form after a poor first year at the Meazza.
Milan can also look forward to a new partnership up front with young Brazilian Alexandre Pato alongside new Dutch signing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The pair are excellent players, and both still young, which bodes well for the club’s future. The new boss Leonardo, too, is still young and perhaps Milan are looking ahead of this campaign. Realistically, the Scudetto is out of reach for now, but the top four rightfully remains an absolute necessity for the fans.
Fantasy Gun; Massimo Ambrosini
*Last season;’ 12th (12-10-16) *Top scorer; ‘Marek Hamsik (9)
Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has had enough of Napoli’s disappointing days and spent big this close season with the expectation coach Roberto Donadoni can deliver European qualification. The ex-Italy boss, who joined Napoli midway through last season, will have a lot of demands to satisfy this season and significant improvements will need to be made.
Rightfully, Napoli have backed up their ambition with investment, signing Italian trio Fabio Quagliarella, Luca Cigarini and Morgan De Sanctis, as well as retaining stars Marek Hamsik and local hero Ezequiel Lavezzi. But Napoli’s new signings are good pickups with experienced De Sanctis sure to aid the *Partonopei *backline which struggled for several weeks around the turn of the year.
To take the next step, Napoli do need to improve their form on their travels and signing Quagliarella helps this goal with the ex-Udinese man sure to hit double-figures with the right service this term. Cristian Maggio, Hamsik and Cigarini will be those providing the creativity. But the club’s targets are rather ambitious and Donadoni has a big job at hand. Realistically, the Neapolitans should be content finishing top-half.
**Fantasy Gun; **Marek Hamsik