Finally, the moment we've all been waiting for, the thing that has gotten us through the dull, dreary summer months: the return of Serie A! Yes, Italian football is back, my friends, but is it better than ever? This summer saw a Parisian migration, with some of the league's best players, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, pulling up and heading to Paris Saint-Germain.
In addition to the great westward trek, in August we've also had to deal with calcioscommesse, the notorious Italian betting scandal that has everyone paying attention to Antonio Conte rather than the transfer market. At the moment, the Juventus boss remains banned for ten months, but, as always when the Old Lady is involved, appeals are ongoing.
Besides Conte's ban, four teams start the year off with negative points: Sampdoria and Torino have each been docked one point, Atalanta two (will they ever start a Serie A season without a docking?) and Siena a whopping six. That's a lot to overcome for these sides.
For a more in-depth look at each of the twenty clubs in Serie A, check out SB Nation Soccer's Serie A Previews stream. If your side's not up just yet, you'll find it by the time all the action kicks off on Saturday.
Saturday, August 25
18:00 CET / Noon ET
Remember how dreary the Viola were last season under Siniša Mihajlovic, and then their utter inability to play for more than a point under Delio Rossi? The most exciting thing that happened was Rossi getting fired after he shoved Adem Ljajić. But now they've got Vincenzo Montella, the handsome man that made Catania a joy to watch. They're also out from under the Riccardo Montolivo shadow and ready to let Stevan Jovetic shine (we hope, anyway). Meanwhile, Udinese are busy being Udinese, having just earned a 1-1 draw against Braga in Champions League qualification with a bunch of players most people have never heard about. This could be a great match to open the season.
20:45 CET / 14:45 ET
Parma visits Juventus to say hello to an old friend, Sebastien Giovinco. They'd probably also like to be the first team in approximately a hundred years to take three points off the Old Lady. Parma may have lost Seba, but they've done well in the offseason -- they scored Amauri in return! No, seriously, they might not have any huge names, but they've added quite a bit of depth to their squad, and will be solid this season. As for Juventus, they're set to defend their title, even without Conte on the bench. The majority of the squad remains unchanged, but they've added Kwadwo Asamoah from Udinese in midfield, and Lucio from Inter as cover in the back. They still lack a star-studded forward, however.
Sunday, August 26
18:00 CET / Noon ET
Last year's runners-up probably won't feel too much pressure by the returning Sampdoria, but an easy start to the season shouldn't mask what's been a near-train-wreck of an offseason. Ibra and Thiago Silva were lured away by PSG, and about all Milan have managed to add are Giampaolo Pazzini and Montolivo. Doesn't really pack quite the same punch, does it? Plus, Alexandre Pato is, once again, injured. Then again, Sampdoria's most successful acquisition is Maxi Lopez. Yeah, you're pretty much watching this one because no other match is on.
20:45 CET / 14:45 ET
Zdenek Zeman! The loyalty of Daniele De Rossi! Michael Bradley! Talented youngsters! Attacking football! Ok, so Roma had most of this last season, but they couldn't bring it all together under Luis Enrique, and the impatient ownership gave him the boot in favor of the charismatic Zeman. It nearly guarantees that Roma will be fun to watch, at least. That was almost a guarantee at Catania last season, but they're more of an unknown entity this time around, what with Montella heading off to Florence. They've still got the talent in Pablo Barrientos, Alejandro Gomez, and a bunch of other Argentinians -- it remains to be seen if Rolando Moran knows how to use them properly, however.
Atalanta may be down two points already, but they overcame a six point deduction last season to finish 12th, so they'll likely be just fine. La Dea have retained the majority of their squad, and will be looking to Maxi Lopez and German Denis to provide much of the threat. Lazio, on the other hand, are a bit of an enigma. Edy Reja has finally thrown in the towel, leaving the squad in the hands of Vladimir Petkovic. The Bosnian's preseason didn't go so well -- turns out most squads can defeat his favored 4-4-2. Who knew?
Midtable meets midtable in a clash of disharmonious colours.
Neither squad have done much of anything over the summer. Please, please, find another match to watch.
Napoli managed to get Walter Mazzarri's ban overturned, but Goran Pandev, Camilo Zuniga and Andrea Dossena are still banned for their antics during the Italian Super Cup. I'm not positive that Napoli have enough players to cover in their absence. I am sure they don't have enough left sided players. If you turn on the match and Salvatore Aronica is playing left wing, grab a bottle of whisky and a box of Kleenex. Palermo, meanwhile, have a rash of new signings and could be out to make a statement of their Serie A intentions.
Pescara, first in Serie B last season, were a delight to watch last year. But now they've lost Marco Verratti (PSG), Ciro Immobile (Genoa) and Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), as well as coach Zeman. What they are now is anyone's guess. As for the nerazzurri, they're hanging on to the tried and true, the tested players, although one hopes we'll see more of Philippe Coutinho and Fredy Guarin this season.
Torino have made great strides in creating a squad suitable for Serie A competition, with a side that looks, on paper at least, able to stay up. Which is more than one can say for Siena, who've lost Mattia Destro, who created the goals, and Zeljko Brkic, who prevented them. This might be an easy start for il granata.