The new Serie A season starts next weekend and the big question at the start of the 2019-20 campaign is can anybody stop the Juventus stranglehold which has seen the Old Lady win the last eight league titles without even breaking sweat?
Last season’s championship was pretty much sewn up by Easter, but the signs are positive ahead of the new campaign, that they finally have some serious contenders for their crown. Let’s now mark your card ahead of next weekend’s big kick-off.
THE TITLE CONTENDERS:
It looks likely to be a three-horse race for honours this season with perennial runners-up Napoli and Inter, now with Antonio Conte at the helm, likely to push Juventus all the way. The Turin giants are also under new management, with Maurizio Sarri having returned to the peninsula after a year in the Premier League which saw him guide Chelsea to third spot and win the Europa League.
The Bianconeri haven’t rested on their laurels either, having spent big on Dutch central defender Matthijs de Ligt, with Welsh international midfielder Aaron Ramsey on a free-transfer from Arsenal. An exchange with Manchester City that saw Joao Cancelo head to England and Danilo arrive at the Allianz Stadium has also strengthened Sarri’s hand, whilst Frenchman Adrien Rabiot has arrived to give support in the midfield alongside Ramsey and Miralem Pjanic.
Napoli’s defence looks solid as a rock after their summer capture of Kostas Manolas from Roma. The Greek international will form a formidable centre-half barrier with Kalidou Koulibaly as coach Carlo Ancelotti plots to bring the league title to the city for the first time in 29 years.
With a couple of weeks still to go before the transfer window closes, Ancelotti still have hopes of bringing in a top-class striker and the player at the top of his wish-list is Inter frontman Mauro Icardi. Hometown boy Lorenzo Insigne has divided the tifosi at the San Paolo, but there are signs in pre-season that the 28-year-old is ready to take up the mantle as leader both on and off the field this term.
New Inter boss Antonio Conte stated from day one of his arrival that Icardi has no place in his new-look side and he has proved this by splashing out around £75 million to bring Belgian battering ram Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United.
The way the two men embraced after Lukaku touched down in Milan was like a father welcoming a long- lost son, but after an indifferent season in the Premier League last term, Lukaku knows he has to repay the faith shown in him with goals and lots of them, as he leads the Nerazzurri line.
Conte’s style of play should benefit the big man however, who is tough enough to mix it with any of Serie A’s hatchet men. Inter’s other big summer arrival is young Italian midfielder Nicolo Barella who is one of the country’s rising stars and who could be one of the big players for Conte this season.
At the other end of the spectrum, veteran defender Diego Godin has arrived from Atletico Madrid but there are already worries about his fitness after picking up an injury in pre-season which could rule him out of the opening weekend.
BEST OF THE REST:
The race for the final Champions League spot could be fascinating this season with Atalanta, Milan, Roma and Lazio all in with a serious shout of a top-four finish. Bergamo has already been gripped with Euro fever after Atalanta’s incredible third-placed finish last term, ensured that they will play in Europe’s premier club competition for the first time in their history.
The fact that they will have to play their home games in the competition at the San Siro, seems to have galvanised Gian Piero Gasperini’s men but the big question is will Champions League football impact on their domestic form and has the departure of young central defender Gianluca Mancini left a huge hole in their back-line that hasn’t been properly filled as of yet.
Milan has yet another new man in charge with Marco Giampaolo now tasked with getting the Rossoneri a place at Europe’s top table for the first time since 2012. The former Sampdoria boss has been shopping in Madrid this summer bringing in French left-back Theo Hernandez, but the 21-year-old will miss the first few weeks with an ankle injury.
Another new arrival has been Portuguese striker Rafael Leao from Lille and the 20-year-old is likely to lead a front three alongside Suso and Polish goal machine Krzysztof Piatek.
Over in the capital, Roma has gone back to “year zero” after a woeful campaign last season and have brought in new coach Paulo Fonseca from Shakhtar Donetsk. Having had one of the most porous back-line’s in Serie A last season, new Sporting Director Gianluca Petrachi has brought in Gianluca Mancini from Atalanta who has big shoes to fill following the departure of Manolas, and Leonardo Spinazzola from Juventus.
Midfielder Amadou Diawara has arrived as part of the Manolas deal and another midfielder, Frenchman Jordan Veretout, has made the switch from Fiorentina. Dzeko’s future is now sorted and the Giallorossi received a further boost last week when Italian midfield sensation Nicolò Zaniolo penned a new five-year deal in the capital.
Incredibly, Lazio still has ownership of Serbian midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic despite rumours all summer that he was heading to Manchester United. Simone Inzaghi’s squad has also been boosted by the arrival of Italian international midfielder Manuel Lazzari from SPAL.
The Biancocelesti have been very quiet in the transfer market so far this summer with their only other new arrival being Slovakian centre-back Denis Vavro from FC Copenhagen.
THE NEW BOYS:
Last season’s Serie B champions Brescia are reportedly closing in on a deal to bring Mario Balotelli back to his hometown club. By “Super Mario’s” standards, it’s been rather a quiet summer with the scooter incident in a Napoli marina (in which he bet a barman 2K that he wouldn’t dare ride his Vespa into the sea) the only blemish.
One player to watch out for in Eugenio Corini’s team is highly-rated 19-year-old Italian midfielder Sandro Tonali, who is surely destined for the top and who has already broken into Roberto Mancini’s full national team.
Lecce are back in the top-flight after a seven year hiatus and the club that are twinned with Partick Thistle (due to the fact that they wear the same colour shirts) have been writing cheques out all over Italy to give coach Fabio Liverani the reinforcements he needs to keep them in the top-flight.
Eight of the current starting XI is likely to be new signings with many experts predicting the Southern club will do a Fulham and go straight back down to the second tier.
Hellas Verona won the Scudetto in 1985 but 34 years on from that, the club from the Stadio Bentegodi will be glad to preserve their top-flight status after a turbulent few years which has seen them fall into Italian football’s third tier amid financial catastrophe.
It’s hard to make a case for coach Ivan Juric and his men to preserve their Serie A status such is the gap between the haves and the have not’s and along with the other two newcomers, they will be firm favourites to finish in the relegation places next May.