Just like the enigma it is, Serie A is returning back to action on August 24, later than the other European leagues, with reigning champions Juventus facing Parma away from Turin. Even with the existing monopoly of Old Lady as the incumbent, and the decline of economy in the league, Italian Calcio surprisingly, promises to be enthralling this time around.
After helping the Old Lady for their record-breaking eighth consecutive title, manager Massimiliano Allegri chose to take a hiatus leaving behind a team that has success ingrained in them. Looking to topple the hierarchy, all of Italy has prepared over the summer bringing in experienced managers, new recruits and a lot of optimism.
THE FAMILIAR FACES IN UNFAMILIAR ROLES
The land of pizza and pasta has been on a merry-go-round this summer, with players moving from one team to another and managerial appointments happening every other day. Adding to the headache of Napoli’s Carlo Ancelotti, ex-Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri has joined Juventus, and ex-Juventus manager Antonio Conte has joined Inter Milan.
2019/20 looks to have it in its store a proper three-horse challenge, with Juventus, Napoli and Inter Milan all bolstered over the summer. Structuring his team around Cristiano Ronaldo, Sarri has roped in Golden Boy Matthijs de Ligt for £67.8 million from Ajax, midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot for free, and right back Danilo in a cash plus swap deal for João Cancelo with Manchester City. In the regista role where Sarri had Jorginho at Napoli and Chelsea, he has the experienced Miralem Pjanić to pluck the strings from deep. To provide competition for Wojciech Szczęsny, Juventus have provided a homecoming to club legend Gianluigi Buffon too.
Antonio Conte made his return to Italy after three-long years, after his title-winning managerial stint at Chelsea, and he has already shaken up the squad that was left by Luciano Spalletti. For implementing his 3-4-2-1, he has brought veteran centre-back Diego Godín to marshall the defence, right midfielder Valentino Lazaro, midfielders Stefano Sensi and Nicolò Barella on loan. While Conte is still looking to get Alexis Sanchez in from Manchester United, he has secured the services of former Red Devil, Romelu Lukaku for £73 million to partner Lautaro Martinez up top.
Meanwhile, Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli would look to reduce the 11-point gap of last season and hope to take it all the way for the first time since 1990, boasting arguably the best defensive pair in the league after the £32.2 million acquisition of Kostas Manolas from Roma. Adding more ferocity to an already fiery attack of Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens, José Callejón and Arkadiusz Milik, Napoli have broken the Mexican transfer-record to get Hirving Lozano for £38 million from PSV Eindhoven.
THE UNRELENTING CHASING PACK
Although the quality of Calcio has dropped over the years, the tension and competition has always been there amongst the likes of AC Milan, AS Roma, and Atalanta. Missing out on a UEFA Champions League spot last season by just one point, AC Milan under new manager Marco Giampaolo will aim to bring back their glory days, fighting off competition from the aforementioned teams, and even the likes of Torino, Lazio, and a refurbished Fiorentina. With no European involvement to distract them and big-money signings like left-back Theo Hernández and striker Rafael Leão, the Rossoneri are in a good position to make everyone’s life difficult.
Finishing third last season and scoring a league-high 77 goals, Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta surprised the world by qualifying for UEFA Champions League for the first time in its history. Adding to their inspired squad of 28-goal-machine Duván Zapata, Josip Iličić, Alejandro Gómez, Timothy Castagne and Mario Pašalić, the blue-and-black outfit have signed forward Luis Muriel for £16 million, and also midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi and former Liverpool centre-back Martin Skrtel.
Although, AS Roma lost their club legend Daniele De Rossi to Boca Juniors and their sporting director, Monchi to Sevilla, the Giallorossi are hopeful for the new season under new manager Paulo Fonseca. They would look to better their sixth-placed finish of last season, with the help of new arrivals like midfielder Amadou Diawara, goalkeeper Pau López, midfielders Bryan Cristante, Jordan Veretout and wingbacks Leonardo Spinazzola and Davide Zappacosta.
THE NEW FACES ON THE BLOCK
Antonio Conte finally managed to bring in Romelu Lukaku after expressing interest in him for many years, and for £73 million and his pedigree, goals would be expected from him, propelling Inter Milan’s charge for the Scudetto. On the other hand, Juventus’ Matthijs de Ligt would look to replace the aging Giorgio Chiellini, forming a formidable defensive partnership with Leonardo Bonucci at the heart of Turin. Apart from him, Juventus’ Aaron Ramsey, Napoli’s Hirving Lozano, and AC Milan’s Rafael Leão will be ones to watch, who can change the fortunes of their clubs.
Looking further down the table, footballing fanatics from all over the world would keep their eyes peeled on the developments of Vincenzo Montella’s Fiorentina, for mostly one player — Franck Ribéry. Meanwhile, Cagliari’s £16.2 million signing Nahitan Nández can prove to be a midfield gamechanger for the club, and also Lasse Schöne, who joined Genoa after ending his seven-year-stay at Amsterdam. Among the promoted clubs, Brescia, Lecce, and Hellas Verona, last season’s Serie B top scorer, Alfredo Donnarumma would look to light up the league with Mario Balotelli.
THE ELUSIVE EUROPEAN CONQUEST
With mismanagement behind the scenes and a failing economy, Serie A have kept on dropping in the UEFA coefficients ever since Jose Mourinho’s fabled Inter Milan team lifted the UEFA Champions League trophy in 2010. Since then, even though Juventus have been runners-up twice in 2015 and 2017, Italian record in European competition has been abysmal.
Fresh from his Europa League victory, Maurizio Sarri would look to deliver Juventus’ first UEFA Champions League title since 1996, while Carlo Ancelotti would also hope that Napoli get an easier group stage than last season, where they were pitted against to-be-champions Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain. As for Inter Milan, this season would be the first time they would be appearing in the Champions League in successive seasons since 2011/12, where Conte would want to reach the knockout stages at the very least.
On the other hand, with AC Milan banned from European football for breaching UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations, AS Roma have found an easy way into the group stages of UEFA Europa League. Torino’s fate is yet to be decided, as the second leg of their qualification against Wolverhampton Wanderers is yet to be played.
With the return of Conte in the country, the thirteenth manager of Inter ever since Jose Mourinho left Milan in 2010, the season promises to be exciting, both domestically and continentally, considering how, previously, he has shaken up the hierarchy when he was at the helm of Juventus in 2011.
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