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SB Nation Italy's Serie A previews conclude with AC Milan, last year's scudetto winners. We've asked Gianfranco Barbato for his views on the season ahead because we could think of no one better than the expert behind AC Milan Offside.
Entering the season as the reigning Scudetto Champions brings back fond memories for most Milan fans, but seeing as this is our first reminder in seven years it is best not to dwell on recent success and focus squarely on the challenge ahead. They say winning cures all that ails you, and in Milan's case the uncertainties of last season's aging roster and new arrivals made for an interesting start of the season, but the prize at the end of the road put all that negativity behind. Gone is the uncertainty of last season and in its place is the expectation of retaining the Serie A title and adding to Milan's trophy cabinet.
For many, Massimo Allegri was a relative unknown, a Coach who cut his teeth in lower tier Serie A teams, and climbed the proverbial Coaching ladder. While it took him some time to instill his own image on the tactics of the team, when he was finished he had created a Milan team comfortable in possession, bullish in defense, and elegant in attack. Boasting Serie A's best offensive and defensive record, it is the defense that proved the backbone of this team. If Allegri can continue to build on this defensive foundation and continue to receive a steady stream of goals from an electric attack comprising of the dynamic Brazilians, Pato and Robinho, the giant Swede, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the wiley Antonio Cassano, and evergreen Pippo Inzaghi, then he may have success for a second season.
Pirlo: A once and a lifetime player, and arguably one of the most visionary passers of the last decade. Allegri and Milan decided to move on without the services of Andrea Pirlo. Pirlo, unhappy with a short term contract offer, decided to ply his trade for Juventus. Never a good practice to sell to a direct rival; Milan will hope this move works out in the long run. For Milan fans it wasn't easy to say good bye to such a special player, but the thought of the team moving in a new direction is just as exciting.
Taye Taiwo: I have been an admirer of the Nigerian for quite awhile now. Having watched him since his time at OM, I am glad he has finally made his way to Milan, and on a free transfer to boot, a great piece of business all around. Strong, durable, and an excellent motor makes him an imposing figure at left back and a handful going forward. His defense needs work, but there is no better league to learn defense than in Italy, and no matter teacher than Mauro Tassotti. What once was a liability of AC Milan, the outside back position may finally return to glory with Abate and Taiwo.
Philippe Mexes: Not sure what to make of this move, the price was surely right, but the risk is fairly high. Coming off a pretty serious knee injury, if his pace doesn't return he may lack the mobility and speed that Milan really need in center back depth. Ideally he is the third CB, but that is all dependant on fitness. There is also the little problem of the two red card per season average, that lack of discipline won't fly at Milan, and hopefully he can stay fit, disciplined and on the pitch. He has talent, let's just hope he can remember that fact.
Stephan El Shaarawi: The Little Pharaoh is an interesting signing. Young and full of promise, it is the type of signing formula that Milan has shown to be successful in the past. Buy young, and let the player develop and become the star the Club thinks he can be. Drawing comparisons to both Kaka and Baggio, the talent is there, the size and experience is not. Milan desperately needs a player to link the defense to the attack, and without putting too much pressure and expectations on the youngster, his success will be crucial to Milan's future.
What to Expect from 2011-2012
It is easy to claim the desire for more trophies but a more efficient and competitive AC Milan is the real expectation. Watching Milan struggle in last year's Champions League due to a lack of depth and versatility in personnel was difficult, a team historically dominant in Europe's showpiece competition has not been successful since last lifting the trophy in 2007. While I don't harbor a strong belief that Milan is a true contender, a stronger showing coupled with a little bit of luck may go a long way. Retaining the Title domestically is certain expecation, but adding a Coppa Italia to go with this year's SuperCoppa would make for a successful season on all fronts.
Potential Breakout Star
We witnessed Tiago Silva become a truly exceptional Center Back last season, and I think this season's breakout star comes from the defense as well. Milan has always had a legacy of strong fullbacks in Maldini, Costacurta, Tassotti, and Cafu and Ignazio Abate looks poised to carry the mantle. His defensive lapses are almost extinct, and his forays forward are electric and full of pace. His crossing has improved and his ability last season to give trouble to both Cristiano Ronaldo and Samuel Eto prove he has the fearless mentality of the defenders before him. It will only be a matter of time before Cesare Prandelli has no choice but to call up the Milan right back.
It is always easy to look at an attack like Milan's and say that a player like Zlatan is crucial to the team's success. Many seem to forget that while he carried the team early in the season, it was at the end of the season, without him, that Milan seemed to find the identity of an entire team, and not Zlatan dependant. Robinho's propensity to get into dangerous areas and create chances should make him a key man in the attack, and if he finishes the chances he squandered last season we may see a player capable of scoring thirty goals.
Mark Van Bommel and Massimo Ambrosini, two very similar players in the central midfield role, will provide leadership and give Allegri the strong defensive presence in the middle of the park. Both players are on the wrong side of thirty, so rotation will most likely be employed to keep the fit and healthy over the length of the season in filling this vital role to Allegri's Milan.
I hate predictions! You either come out looking like an oracle or an overzealous super fan. For me retaining the title is crucial, restore Milan's domestic glory while the team builds and progresses toward the success in Europe that was once the expectation of each and every Milan team. Can they win the Champions League this season? Probably not, but it doesn't mean they can't be competitive on all fronts and show that Italy and the Serie A are not in a catastrophic decline.
SB Nation's Serie A previews continue with last season's second place finishers, and winners of the Coppa Italia, Inter Milan. Interista Johonna Shea, who writes at Internazionale Offside, gives us the lowdown on what to expect from the nerazzurri this season.
F.C. Internazionale Milano in 2011-2010, And So It Begins...
Here we are, at the start of a new Serie A season, in what has become a familiar situation. Inter has a new coach, a crop of young hopefuls, and has just sold one of their highest profile players. Given that Inter are on their fifth coach in almost as many years, we Interisti have become used to the gastric upset and sweaty palms that come with opening day under unknown and untested guidance. Fortunately, this has worked out pretty well for Inter - well, except for that one Spanish blip last season but the less said about that the better. I don't see any reason why the team can't roll with this next punch and aim high. New coach Gian Piero Gasperini is well respected on the peninsula, now he has the money and the talent at his disposal to really show what he can do.
BEST GOAL FROM LAST SEASON
Samuel Eto'o had 34 goals for Inter last season and I am sure many of them were spectacular. For me, though, thinking back now, the best goals were Giampaolo Pazzini's injury time double against Cesena last April. Neither one was particularly spectacular but I think they embodied the 2010/2011 Inter exactly: they were the result of a team that never gave up, that battled to the last possible moment to get a positive result when that seemed almost impossible. They just went to show that even when down, you can never count Inter out.
SUMMER MARKET: Comings and Goings
Last summer, Massimo Moratti learned that even with the sword of Financial Fair Play hanging over your head, it is imperative to participate in the summer market, especially when the team has a new coach. This summer the coffers have been opened a bit and reinforcements have come to augment the crop of youth players moving up to play with the big boys.
In defense, we have one new player, Brazilian right back Jonathan, the self-proclaimed heir to Maicon. Jonathan is 25 and joins Inter from Brazilian team Santos. Unfortunately, he joined the club with a muscle strain and is just now beginning to train with the team. The real bonus with him, though, is that he already has that all important Italian passport. In the world of UEFA's home grown player rule and the Italian FA's limit on non EU transfers, this makes Jonathan all the more desirable. He joins promoted youth players Faraoni, Bianchetti, and Caldirola. Of these, Davide Faraoni looks most promising. He joined Inter's youth team last season from Lazio. At the time, it was considered a real coupe. In addition, Davide Santon has returned from his loan and, with Maicon's injury, it looks like he may actually stay for a while (Yipee).
Thanks to Bologna's spectacular clerical error when it came to settling the joint ownership, Inter picked up goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano by mistake and for a song. Unfortunately, he broke himself during preseason training which means he will have to hang around Milan for a few months. The club has no intention of keeping him so look for his move to Genoa this winter.
In midfield, the club has brought in one new player (so far), Ricardo Alvarez. At 23 he is young, though should be entering his prime. He is an attacking midfielder, best played on the left or in the center, and joined Inter from Argentinian club Club Atlético Vélez Sarsfield. Bonus! He joins recent Primavera graduate (and all around hottie) Lorenzo Crisetig. So far, Alvarez has been struggling with the transition to Italian football, but it is early days yet. I think most Interisti are well aware of Crisetig. He is a fixture with the Italy U20 side and made his full debut with the men's team when he was 16. Plus, he really is a looker - no lie.
Up front, Luc Castaignos has finally moved to Inter. If you recall, he was bought last year but wanted another season at Feyenoord before making the big jump. Stay tuned, though, as I don't think Inter is done shopping yet. Gasperini has said that the squad needs a couple more players, specifically a wide attacking player or two and a midfielder. I expect at least one forward and one midfielder to join the bench before the market closes.
With the new, though, we must also have some outgoing. Probably the two biggest outgoing names this season are Marco Materazzi and Sameul Eto'o. After ten years of service to the club, Materazzi (Matrix to his fans) has moved on. It isn't clear whether he has hung up his boots for good or will be playing a couple more seasons abroad (like in the MLS), but his days at Inter are (at least temporarily) over. I suspect he will return to Inter in the front office, but it won't be the same.
Samuel Eto'o is finally off to Russia where his obscene salary will keep him warm at night. I am sad to lose his talent at Inter, but if he wants to go then I would rather not keep him. Besides, who can compete with 20 million euro a year? I think my biggest beef with this sale is that it took so long to conclude. Now Inter has to work double time to try and work out a deal for new forwards (no one man can replace Samu) and other clubs will know they have us over a barrel.
Other outgoing players include McDonald Mariga, who has landed a loan deal with Real Sociedad, and Houssine Kharja who went back to Genoa after Inter declined to pick up his card (he has since moved to Fiorentina). Newly promoted Denis Alibec has gone on loan to the Belgian club Mechelen. Davide Suazo is finally out of contract and has left Inter's physical therapy rooms for Catania's (he was going to make an emotional return to Cagliari but that fell through). Rumors are that Goran Pandev and Sully Muntari are also on the way out, though both want to stay.
2011-2012, WHAT TO EXPECT
With a new coach and this many new players, I think it is fair to say that this year will be bumpy. Preseason friendlies show the squad is having a little trouble effectively implementing Gasperini's three man defense and the loss of Eto'o leaves a huge hole right were 30-some-odd goals uught to be. A lot will depend on just how much the new coach can wring out of aging players like Stankovic and Lucio and how fast the younger set can pick up his ideas.
So what do I expect for the coming season? Gray hairs, sweaty palms, a sore throat from shouting at my TV, and manic depressive highs and lows. Basically, the same as every year for the dedicated football fan.
I think this year will be made or broken by our youngsters. Look for Ranocchia to grow into that gangly body and Joel Obi to give us hope for a post-Cambiasso Inter. In attack, all eyes will be on teenage phenoms Coutinho and Castaignos. If they can live up to their hype, then maybe, just maybe, things will be ok.
THE NEXT BIG THING
I am hoping that this is the year that Pazzini really breaks out as a super star. I think he has the talent, now he just needs the stage and the service. Another place to look is young Luc Castaignos. FIFA named him one of their Players to Watch in 2011 while Spanish magazine, Don Balon, put him on their 100 top young players in 2010. The hope that this step up will allow him to blossom.
I like to maintain a positive attitude, especially about new seasons, but is the team to repeat the triple? Probably not. Still, I think we have a pretty good shot at at top two finish, maybe even a scudetto depending on AC Milan's fortunes, and a Coppa Italia final. Inter is transitioning from our old guard (you know, the ones who won five scuddetti in a row and are the only Italian team to triple) to who will be the next generation in Nerazzurro. There will be growing pains, but in the long run, it will all be worth it, I'm sure.
Today's Udinese preview comes from a slightly surprising source: Gianfranco Barbato, editor of AC Milan Offside, which will soon be part of the SB Nation network. He shows he's knowledgeable about more than the rossoneri with this look at the zebrette.
I have always looked at Udinese as the Arsenal of Serie A. Comprised mostly of young talent and complimented by a strong veteran core, Udinese has some of the best scouting and plays some of the most entertaining football in all of Italy. Like Arsenal they never spend big, and the dynamic duo of the shrewd owner Giampaolo Pozzo, and the master tactician Francesco Guidolin are always able to recognize new talent and integrate them into the squad. What they share in positives with Arsenal they also share in negatives, and their lack of experience sometimes shows on the pitch as they are not always as consistent as their talent should be, and because they operate on a shoe string budget they often have to sell to keep the Udinese machine running at full force.
This season was no different, despite qualifying for Champions League football, and playing none other than the aforementioned Arsenal in the qualifying round, Udinese was forced to sell some key pieces. This move was not exactly met with praise by fans of the Club and Serie A, wondering why a team with such potential would sell at this pivotal moment, but such is life for a small provincial Club. It would appear belief in the system that Udinese has created is far superior to belief in a single player, a formula that if successful may give hope to smaller Clubs across Europe.
Alexi Sanchez: the energetic forward/winger was chased by many Clubs, but finally landed in Barcelona. I guess better at the Camp Nou then with Inter Milan, but his loss will prove pivotal as he was one of Serie A's best last season.
Gokhan Inler: the winger was sold to direct rivals Napoli, which is never a good piece of business, but the money was right and it appears Guidolin was happy with the success of a player like Pablo Armero and willing to give him the reins on the left side.
Cristian Zapata: the most difficult loss to contend with, as Zapata was a stalwart in defense. One of the most underrated defenders in Serie A; he makes Villareal's back line instantly better. What Udinese loses in the back though is a field marshal comfortable playing in a three man defense, centrally in a four man defense, or on the wing in a back four. At 18M Euros his value was justified, but Udinese will struggle to replace such a key component.
Diego Fabbrini: co-owned with Empoli the twenty one year old attacking midfielder is a promising prospect for both Udinese and Italy. He can play both behind and off a striker and if he can work his way into the first team will surely assert himself in hopes of realizing his potential.
Danilo Larangera: seen as the heir apparent to Zapata, the twenty seven year old Brazilian can play in a three man back line or a four man defense. It will take some time for him to adjust to playing defense in Serie A but his skill set is strong enough to slot him into the first team.
Abdou Sissoko: younger brother of Momo Sissoko, his work in the preseason will determine if he stays with the Club or is loaned out to further develop. A smart low risk buy for Udinese and one that could provide dividends in terms of depth for a player like Giampiero Pinzi in central midfield.
Thierry Doubai: twenty three year old Ivorian midfielder was purchased from Young Boys and can play almost any role in the central midfield. Another low risk high reward move, for a player hoping to return to his National team after his only cap in 2008, something that will surely please the Club as Doubai will work hard to earn his next cap.
What to Expect from 2011-2012
One thing is certain every time Udinese steps on the pitch they will do their best to play an entertaining style of football that is tactically diverse and fun to watch. A repeat of last season would be a hope for everyone, but the turnover in personnel may make that impossible. If anything it will be exciting to see the new players slotted into their roles and if they can overcome Arsenal in the second leg of the qualifying round at home, Udinese fans may have something to cheer for in terms of Champions League football.
Potential Breakout Star
Midfielders Armero and Kwadwo Asamoah are poised to have breakout seasons. Asamoah had an excellent World Cup last year and he carried his form into the Serie A season. Tracked by Clubs like AC Milan you can see why, a pure box to box midfielder who is adept at attacking and just as bullish in defense. A complete player in every sense of the word he should be crucial to any success Udinese have this season.
As for Armero, he is lighting fast, and a player who started to come on strong at the end of last season. A winger type who is comfortable on the ball, but balanced enough to be successful in Guidolin's wide formation, you can see why Inler and Sanchez were good sales because there is talent behind them on the depth chart. Armero will be a handful for slower full backs, and he gives the pace and width needed to make Udinese dangerous.
There is no player more crucial to his Club than Antonio Di Natale. One of Italy's most consistent goal scorers over the past five years and Club captain, when he is on his game he can score goals in bunches. A workhorse striker, he is just as dangerous on the ball as he is off it. Udinese need his goals now more than ever with departure of Sanchez and he will always bring his A-game for the Club. His love for the Club is so strong that he refused to leave despite offers from clubs such as Juventus. Players like him are becoming a rarity in the modern game, and he is key to the success of his Club and a hero to all the fans.
When you run a team like Pozzo, success has an ebb and flow feel. Sell off some pieces; buy the right players and sometimes things just click. In the same sense it may take some time for the new team to gel and success for Udinese often comes after a year or two. It will be difficult for them to repeat the success of last season, but no reason why a team with this much talent and ability to play some pretty football can't be certain of a place in European football, even if it is just the Europa League.
Less than a week until the Serie A season starts, and SB Nation is on to the top five clubs of last season. Previewing Lazio is Rocco Cammisola, who manages to hide his fandom quite well on his Twitter account. Rocco can be found writing about Italian and English football on various sites, including his own, The Football Express.
The 2010-11 season of great joy for Lazio fans. Lazio soared to the top of the table early in the season and remained there for the first few months of the campaign. Their grip on top spot was not tight enough, though, and they eventually slipped down to fifth, losing out on the Champions League. This could be regarded as a relative failure given their quick fire start, but after flirting dangerously with relegation the season before fans should be glad to have European football back in their calendar.
The signing of Hernanes was certainly a pivotal moment in the transfer campaign, but Edy Reja's side were built on some solid foundations. Cristian Ledesma, Andre Dias, Stephen Lichtsteiner and Stefano Mauri - six goals and nine assists - all proved they were worth their match fee. Edy Reja, too, isn't resting on his laurels and has refused to sign anything more than a one year contract extension. Here goes then.
As well as the usual exodus of youth players on loan to sides further down the Italian league pyramid, a few bigger names have left Formello in the summer. Mark Bresciano has left for the riches of the UAE Pro League, joining Al Nasr, after seeing his playing possibilities diminish and his age increase. Juventus have sought to plug the huge gaps in their squad at full back by purchasing Lazio's Swiss right back, Stephen Lichtsteiner for a reported €10 million. The most controversial exit of the summer so far has been the young goalkeeper, Fernando Muslera, who refused to sign a contract extension was sold to Galatasaray in Turkey - seen as a strange move for a man who has just won a Copa America with his National side.
The transfer window has been described as "the first time in Lotito's tenure in which Lazio fans are actually able to get excited about their transfer window". The club have brought in a number of players to add depth. Bosnian left back, Senad Lulic, from Young Boys and Lorik Cana made use of Fernando Muslera's return flight, joining from Galatasaray, will add intelligent steel to the Lazio central midfield. Abdoualay Konko joins from Genoa, a replacement for Lichtsteiner, as well as bullied and exiled goalkeeper Federico Marchetti who will replace Muslera between the sticks.
All of these have been able replacements, or added depth to the squad but the real show piece signings have come up front. Lotito has raided the war chest and signed Ex-Liverpool and Marseille striker Djibril Cisse - who has been scoring goals for fun in Greece. The marquee signing of the window, though, has to be German international marksman Miroslav Klose. Klose joins on a free transfer from Bayern Munich and will be paid approximately €3 million a season, making him the highest paid player at the club. Hopefully he can translate his form for the national team to his new club.
What to expect from 2011-12
Fighting on two fronts will present a new challenge for Reja and the squad. There are certainly enough bodies there but it remains to be seen whether they possess the quality to battle for top honours among other sides who are engaging in some exciting transitional periods. Qualification from the Europa League group stage and a top six finish should be an acceptable lower limit for the side, anything more should be seen as a bonus.
Potential breakout star
Tomasso Ceccarelli was included in the match day squad for the Europa League playoff, but it remains to be seen how much hope Reja will be pinning on the exuberant youngster this season. He shone on multiple occasions for the primavera side last season and could be a very useful addition for use in wide forward areas of the pitch - something the squad currently lacks.
Alvaro Gonzalez isn't a new face to Lazio fans, but his debut season was a tentative one. The dazzling limelight of Hernanes allowed him to take his time to settle in to life in Rome, but at the Copa America he showed what a marvelous player he can be. While he may not be as gifted technically as Hernanes, he has the lungs to make up for it. Gonzalez will be looking to make his mark, positively, on the Lazio side this season.
Djibril Cisse will be relishing the opportunity to have another go to impress in one of Europe's top five leagues. He hasn't had the best of luck over the years - two broken legs - but he will know that at 29 years of age this is his last chance. Lazio were light on goals up front last season, which is what saw them eventually topple down the table. Cisse will be one of the main protagonists in turning this around.
Hernanes had a wonderful season, greasing the wheels in the Lazio midfield. From his trequartista position he was able to provide beautiful passes for Zarate, Floccari and Mauri to bury. There has been no concerted effort to find a deputy for the Brazilian, so it is paramount that he keeps turning up this season. Great things are expected from the prophet, but he'll know that already.
All the talk in pre-season has been very optimistically predicting a charge toward the Champions League places this season, but battling on two fronts (League and Europe), the reduction in available spots from four to three and the raft of positive changes elsewhere means that expectations need to be managed and predictions readjusted. A successive fifth place finish should be seen as a success - despite the idle chatter.
Immediately following their 1-0 first-leg loss to Slovan Bratislava in Europa League play, SB Nation brings you a preview of AS Roma's 2011-2012 season. This one is by Chris Govoni, who can be found at Roma Offside when he's not banging his head against a wall. (I imagine. After Thursday, anyway).
Roma in 2010-2011
Great expectations followed shortly by lots of fans looking at their watches, wondering just when the hell the season would be over, with a capitulation (or several) and a coaching change in the middle.
After Claudio Ranieri's wizardry in picking up the pieces when Luciano Spalletti resigned in 2009-10, bringing them to a scudetto fight on the final day, it seemed life would be grand with a full year under his stewardship and hopes were high. Unfortunately, the whole thing crumbled from the off, with the staunch defense and hardened mentality which had served as the backbone of its 09-10 success off on holiday in the Maldives, along with Mirko Vucinic's smile, which didn't help.
Claudio fell on his sword and playing legend, coaching novice Vincenzo Montella was brought in, which worked briefly, but was ultimately flawed, as the problem wasn't with the coach, who was also flawed, but rather in the locker room. As they were demolished by Shakhtar in the Champions League Round of 16 and barely scraping to a Europa League spot, it became clear heads were going to roll in the summer with a new ownership on the horizon.
In the summer, they rolled like Cicero on loop.
Goal of Last Season
The opposition, the timing, the assist, the celebration...the brilliantly unexpected essence of it all. Unfortunately, it sums up Vucinic's career for Roma, leaving him much missed.
John Cascarano takes a look at the upcoming season for the Old Lady of Italian soccer, and discusses what could be in store.
Disclaimer: SB Nation Italy editor Kirsten Schlewitz sincerely hates Chievo Verona, and it's only fair that this is stated up front.
Our Serie A previews continue with Palermo, written by a true rosanero expert, Lorenzo Vicini. Lorenzo is the force behind Palermo Offside, and can also be found dispensing his knowledge of the Sicilian side at Serie A Weekly and Mediagol. The latest news and amusing rants can be found on his Twitter account.
Palermo already can scratch one of their objectives off the list for the 2011-2012 season. After sensationally crashing out of the Europa League against small Swiss side FC Thun, the Rosanero have immediately started off on the wrong foot in a new era. With the European campaign done and dusted, Palermo will shift its attention to their other two goals: securing a spot as high up the table as possible and winning the Coppa Italia.
Palermo in 2010-2011
Expectations were high after narrowly missing out on Champions League football in 2009. With an early exit from the Europa League after failing to advance out of the group stages, Palermo focused primarily on the league and the Coppa Italia. Unfortunately, a disastrous run of results starting in February saw the Rosanero fall out of contention for Champions League spots and led to Delio Rossi being sacked. One month later, Rossi was brought back on board as the club set its sights on the Coppa Italia. Palermo made it to the final after knocking off Milan in the semis, but ultimately lost out on silverware to Inter 3-1 in front of 40,000 Rosanero fans who made the trip to Rome. Palermo finished in 8th place, but qualified for the Europa League via the Coppa.
Club president Zamparini did himself no favors in the face of those supporters who claim he runs the team like one of his supermarkets. After all, the club sold its most prized possession in Javier Pastore to French side Paris St. Germain for a record €43 million. While the loss of El Flaco was expected, the deal that paved the way for the Argentine's move was unexpected by everyone. Palermo sold current Italian international goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu to the French team only a week before. With two of the biggest names headlining the departures list, Palermo has been very active with player sales. Other familiar faces leaving the club are Cesare Bovo (Fiorentina), Dorin Goian (Rangers), Moris Carrozzieri (Atalanta), Jasmin Kurtić (Varese), Pajtim Kasami (Fulham) and Matteo Darmian (Torino). With a few weeks still left, one or two players still may be on the way out.
Surprisingly, despite disappointment about the lack of "big names" joining, Palermo has been very active on the transfer market. While many of the arrivals have been brought in to bolster the Primavera, Sogliano made the defense a priority. Andrea Mantovani, a Pioli pupil from his days at Chievo, and Matias Silvestre, who captained rivals Catania, are the biggest reinforcements to a defense that operated like a sieve last season. The defensive purchases didn't stop there, however, as the Rosanero added Mauro Cetto (Toulouse), Eros Pisano (Varese), Luca Di Matteo (Vicenza) and winter signings Carlos Labrin and Milan Milanović - even if the latter two may still be loaned out. The lamentation of a big name is evident but Palermo can count on two potential purchases that have shown promise during the preseason: Eran Zahavi, an attacking midfielder from Hapoel in Israel and promising striker Pablo Gonzalez who helped lead Novara to Serie A promotion. The club still is frantically searching for a Sirigu replacement, although all signs point towards Pioli's goalkeeper from Chievo, Stefano Sorrentino.
What to Expect from 2011-2012
Uncertainty surrounds the club with a whole host of new faces at the top. Zamparini had to start from scratch after the departures of the club's previous leaders. From new sporting director Sean Sogliano to new coach Stefano Pioli, the question is whether or not Palermo can ride the success paved by their predecessors, Walter Sabatini and Delio Rossi.
Stefano Pioli was brought on specifically for his defensive prowess and it is in that area where the club must improve if it wants to aim for lofty objectives. With a brand new back line and the likelihood of a new system and style of play, it will most likely take time for the club to adjust as the early exit from the Europa League can already attest to. Patience is the operative word, but with a firebrand for a president, Pioli knows he must deliver results immediately if he wants to stay on the Palermo bench. To make things even more difficult, the ex-Chievo boss must deal with the standard set by beloved ex-mister, Delio Rossi.
Easing the loss of Javier Pastore was having a ready replacement already in the wings. The Rosanero will be counting on Josip Iličić to take up the mantle left behind by the Argentine. Last season, the pair formed a magical duo of thrills and skills in Delio Rossi's system. Now, Pioli is hoping the Slovenian can carry the burden whether it's alone in a sole trequartista system or alongside another attacking midfielder. It will be a true test for the kid entering his second Serie A season but Palermo will need him to succeed.
Matias Silvestre must prove that he was worth the price tag that Palermo spent in order to shore up the back line. Whether it's alongside Cetto or Mantovani, the Argentine must exhibit all the positive qualities of the defensive leader he was during his time at Catania.
Up front, Abel Hernandez will want to make sure last season's disappointment due to injuries is behind him. The young Uruguayan boasts excellent pace and is deadly in front of goal. He'll be vying for playing time along two others who are hungry for goals. Mauricio Pinilla has all the characteristics to be a big-time striker, the only thing holding him back is his fragile physical state. Meanwhile, team captain Fabrizio Miccoli wants to reestablish himself as Palermo's best scoring option after coming off a year that saw him on the sideline with only spot appearances throughout.
Potential Breakout Star
Much attention will be focused on the Slovenian sensation, Josip Iličić, but it is newcomer Eran Zahavi who could turn out to be the biggest surprise. Secured for a paltry €1.7 million, the Israeli can claim one of the best goals of the past Champions League campaign to his name with his bicycle kick goal against Lyon:
Italian football writer for more than 20 years, and Viola follower for a lifetime, Giancarlo Rinaldi previews Fiorentina's season for SB Nation. You can find more of his thoughts on Twitter (@ginkers) or at Rinaldi's blog (giancarlorinaldi.tumblr.com).
It is the year of truth for Sinisa Mihajlovic. Last season he could blame injury and transition for a disappointing campaign. This time around the Serbian boss will have to deliver in Florence or he will surely be shown the door. The fans have been in turmoil for some time.
Viola supporters believe their side has a duty to fight for at least a place in Europe which, this year, means a top six slot. The club's owners have said that is their target too. They have been criticised for cutting back the wage bill this summer but they still believe they have a competitive squad. Only time will tell whether more heartache awaits or a revival could be seen on the banks of the River Arno.
Fiorentina in 2010-2011
A drab campaign ended in midtable but only thanks to a decent second half of the season. In early weeks, the Viola found themselves hovering above the relegation zone. They recovered but their football, overall, was a shadow of the play they produced in the Champions League the previous year.
There has been a major clearout with many big names shown the door to cut the salary spending. Adrian Mutu takes his troubled soul to Cesena, Mario Santana and Marco Donadel found a new home in Naples, while club legend Sebastien Frey was moved to Genoa. And Riccardo Montolivo has been looking for a new home.
Signings have been slow to come but new Brazilian right-back cum midfielder Romulo has looked promising pre-season. Also on the arrivals list have been Andrea Lazzari from Cagliari and Gianni Munari to help boost the midfield with their creativity and work ethic respectively.
What to Expect from 2011-2012
An apparently soft start away to Siena could set the tone for the Viola's season. If they can come away with a victory from their Tuscan rivals it would start the confidence flowing and silence their most vociferous fans. If they flop, however, the knives will be out for the club's coach and owners.
The club needs to find a new tactical identity after going through countless changes last year. If Mihajlovic can get his ideas clear and transmit them to his players, he still has a squad that is capable of fighting at the upper end of the table. However, if the confusion persists, they might struggle to do much better than last year.
The Viola desperately need the boost of a few good results and performances early in the season to buy themselves some time. A bad start could be fatal for their prospects of European football which they hope to get back to sooner rather than later. If they don't make a serious challenge for the top six then expect a change in manager and crowds to dwindle at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
Ruled out last season with injury, everything revolves around Stevan Jovetic this year. If Jojo comes back to form, the Florentines can be a significant force. Otherwise, they are midtable at best.
At the back, new captain Alessandro Gamberini will have to try to tighten up a defence which threw away too many goals last year. While up front the biggest contribution will be expected, as always, from Alberto Gilardino.
Potential Breakout Star
New Brazilian boy Romulo was signed as a right-back but has been used in right-midfielder in pre-season with impressive results. If he can settle into that position and not suffer too much for the tactical change to Serie A, he could surprise a few defences.
The Viola could finish anywhere from fourth to 14th but it is probably best to split the difference with a realistic target being sixth or seventh.
SB Nation Italy welcomes back Adam Digby for the "Juventus Reserves" preview. More than a mere tifosi, Adam is one of the most knowledgeable sources to be found on Italian football and contributes to IBWM, SI.com, Calcio Italia and Beyond the Pitch, and is also the co-founder of JuventiKnows.com
SB Nation Soccer's Serie A previews continue with Parma. The Ducali have always been one of the leagues most admired teams, a veritable supermarket of talent that has been continually raided by Europe's best sides since the club's first ever promotion to Serie A back in 1990. Consistently good to watch they faded from being one of the Seven Sisters after the Parmalat meltdown, returning to the second tier but seem to be improving steadily under Tommaso Ghirardi's ownership.
Sporting Director Pietro Leonardi has brought together an impressive squad over the past two years, taking few risks and signing proven Serie A performers. A number of these are men like Amauri who have hit poor form and Parma have become something of a rehabilitation centre. Francesco Guidolin left for Udinese last summer and his teams have been among Italian footballs best the past two years, sadly for fans of Parma only one of those seasons was on their bench.
With a pre-season to put over his ideas Franco Colomba will have no excuses and should be in the top half of the table if they realise the immense potential within the group. Cristian Zaccardo has been linked with a number of moves away which would be a shame, his veteran leadership and mentality have been vital to the club.
Parma in 2010-11
Given the talent available last season was something of a disappointment for Parma. Pasquale Marino struggled to fill the void left by Francesco Guidolin's resignation and was sacked in early April with seven games left to play. Franco Colomba earned the desired results and avoided relegation two weeks from the end of the season. There was much to admire in their play but the club will rightly expect much more this time around.
Goal Of Last Season
This stunning backheel from Amauri was amazing even without considering the goal drought he put long-suffering Juventus fans through, a truly great goal.
SB Nation's Serie A previews continue with Catania, whose potential is cheekily penned by Paolo Mancini. Paolo keeps the world informed of the crazyness of Napoli through both his Twitter and his Tumblr.
After finishing 17th and only six points above the drop-zone last season, Bologna will be aiming to move higher up the table in this upcoming campaign. Over the past few years the Rossoblu have gone through countless sets of owners, and stability has always been a huge concern. Towards the end of last season they were relying on a few individuals to carry the team. There were huge gaps, especially in midfield, and some players had no backup. Alberto Malesani's squad was not deep enough to realistically go any further. Serious investment was necessary in the off-season to really sustain a push up the table.
Now journeyman manager Pierpaolo Bisoli was brought in. He looks likely to play a 4-3-2-1 that at times can be punished down the wings, but other than that it's an attacking side.
Marco Di Vaio is by far Bologna's biggest player and goal scorer, ending last season with 19 in 38 appearances. Many clubs around Italy have tried to draw him away from the Renato Dall'Ara, but he has always refused, insisting he is happy in Bologna. Di Vaio normally plays alone up top, so it's to his credit he manages so many goals. As long as he's around the Rossoblu have a chance.
Gaston Ramirez plays in the two just behind club captain Di Vaio, and provides the fulcrum that gets the ball from midfield and into the main man upfront. Ramirez has also been linked with a move to a bigger club, but unlike Di Vaio he has been considering it. The Captain has told him through the media: ‘please stay, we've have a lot of enthusiasm'. It remains to be seen whether Bologna can hold on to such a talent.
Roberto Acquafresca has been brought in on loan from Genoa, who just love sending out the forward. Last season he scored 8 goals with Cagliari, having earned himself a starting role after Alessandro Matri left for Juventus. Acquafresca is a player still seeking the right fit, and the Rossoblu are hopeful he'll finally fulfill the potential he's meant to have.
Alessandro Diamanti is in after a co-ownership deal with Brescia was agreed. The attacking midfielder will play alongside Ramirez, assuming, of course, that Ramirez sticks around. Jean François Gillet, who spent 11 years with Bari replaces Emiliano Viviano. He deserves to be in Serie A and arguably at an even bigger club then Bologna, so they did very well to get him in.
Mikael Antonsson and Josè Angel Crespo have both been brought in to shore up the defence, from Copenhagen and Padova respectively.
The biggest loss so far is the previously mentioned Viviano to 2009/10 Champions Inter. Julio Cesar is the number one goalkeeper there, but backup is needed. Unless he is loaned out I feel like that's a bad move for Viviano more than Bologna. Gillet has been brought in to replace him, and he is a very solid keeper.
Miguel Britos left for Napoli, who are intent on doubling their squad size before Champions League play begins. Britos is a quality defender who will certainly be missed.
Potential Breakout Star
I personally think Ramirez will be the main man in the midfield and he could really prosper and live up to the potential he has always had. He's playing alongside Diamanti and behind Di Vaio meaning he won't be replied on to consistently score. While Ramirez is still very young, he scares defences all over Italy with his pace. Watch out for the young Uruguayan.
What to expect
For the size of the club, they have had a great transfer window so far, although there are still three weeks to go. Holding on to all their key players and perhaps making a few reinforcements in midfield and they could make a huge leap up the table. With the players brought in expect them to attack more than last season (not that this is saying much) but remain solid at the back. Injuries to key players could be an issue as they don't have a huge squad.
I want to say middle of the table because I like the team and their mentality, but taking into consideration potential injuries I'm going to say fifteenth. There are much worse teams in Serie A and I have no doubt that they will not be relegated, but they might be part of a relegation battle.
SB Nation Italy welcomes a new voice for our Cesena preview. More than a mere tifosi, Adam Digby is one of the most knowledgeable sources to be found on Italian football. Adam contributes to IBWM, SI.com, Calcio Italia and Beyond the Pitch, and is the co-founder of JuventiKnows.
SB Nation Italy Editor, Kirsten Schlewitz, thinks it's fun that Lecce's name reminds her of caramel. Read on to find out a bit more about the potential of the giallorossi in 2011-2012.
Disclaimer: SB Nation Italy editor, Kirsten Schlewitz, writes this preview while wrapped in a "Forza Siena!" scarf. But that's mostly because she's just cold.
For the start of the 2011-2012 season, SB Nation previews each of the 20 clubs in Italy's top flight. Novara are next up, promoted from Serie B.
SB Nation Soccer's Serie A previews kick off with Atalanta, not because La Dea finished lowest of the 2011-2012 clubs in Italy's top league, but because it's still uncertain whether they will even be allowed to compete in the league. 18 clubs, including Atalanta, were referred to the FIGC Disciplinary Committee for their alleged participation in match-fixing last season. The team's captain, Cristiano Doni, has been accused of violating Article 7 of the Code of Sporting Justice, with the prosecutor citing sporting fraud in relation to a match between Atalanta and Piacenza. Doni could face a three-year suspension, almost certainly ending the midfielder's career.
Hearings are set to start this week, and it is hoped that they will end by mid-August, in time to start the season. Speed during this time might help clubs that have yet to be implicated stay out of trouble (although don't mention that to Juventus supporters still fuming over Calciopoli).However, the likelihood of Atalanta being relegated back into Serie B (in which case, Sampdoria would resume their spot in Serie A) is extremely slim. It is likely the club will begin the season with a points deduction, creating a tougher struggle to stay up.
Atalanta in 2010-2011
La Dea certainly do a wonderful job of yo-yoing: the club has been promoted and relegated six times since 1984. They were relegated again at the end of 2010, but bounced back up after just one season in Serie B, ready to establish themselves in the top league again (if, of course, they don't have to deal with a points deduction).
Goal of Last Season
I challenge you to find a particularly inspiring Atalanta goal. This one is chosen for its timing -- a goal in the 93 minute by Simone Tiribocchi to give La Dea all three points against Torino.
Gennaro Delvecchio, has, surprisingly, returned to Catania after his loan spell at Atalanta, despite being Italian. For the most part, though, players who have left remain in Serie B.
Midfielder Fabio Caserta returns from his loan spell at Cesena, but more interestingly, Argentine playmaker Ezequiel Schelotto is back from his time at (where else), Catania. Defender Stefano Lucchini joins from Sampdoria as well as Andrea Masiello from Bari.
Atalanta also just completed the signing of another Argentine playmaker, Maxi Moralez from Velez Sarsfield, who is as amazing as he is tiny-he's only 1.60 m (5 ft 3 in).
What to Expect from 2011-2012
I'd love to tell you it all depends on the amount of points deducted from Atalanta, but that's probably not the case - with the club's tendency to move up and down rapidly, it's hard to see the staying in Serie A next season. Then again, the likes of Lecce and Cesena are still knocking around the top flight, so the nerazzurri may have a chance
Key Players (2-3)
Your guess is as good as mine - I could pretend I know something more about specific players on Atalanta, but it would be a lie. Resolved: pay attention to Serie B this season.
Potential Breakout Star
It can't be anyone but Moralez, can it? El frasquito (please, please let "little flask" really be his nickname) made his full international debut in the spring, and in June he helped guide Velez to the 2011 Clausura title. Moralez may not be attracting the sort of attention his compatriot Sergio Aguero is receiving, but for a just-promoted side, Atalanta did well to snatch the playmaker.
Relegated, particularly if a points deduction occurs.
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