Welcome back, boys and girls! It's time to start the Serie A season and we're doing it in style, with a Saturday match between Hellas Verona and Milan. The Bentegodi will see top flight football for the first time in...oh, oh wait. There's that other team in Verona.
Anyway. This will be the Verona side's first match in the top division since 2002. Over the past eleven years, the gialloblu managed to slip down into the third division, spending four seasons there before earning promotion. Hellas made the playoffs in the first season upon their return to Serie B, but needed an extra season before going up. Last year they finished top of the Serie B table, earning automatic promotion to Serie A.
As for Milan, they've certainly made their presence felt in Serie A over the past couple decades. Last season the rossoneri finished third in spectacular fashion, falling behind to already relegated Siena while Fiorentina dominated Pescara. But Milan roared back, thanks in part to a questionable penalty that will forever be held against them by viola supporters, and managed to secure third place and a Champions League playoff spot.
Both sides are coming off successful weeks. Verona entered the third round of the Coppa Italia, beating newly relegated Palermo with a goal from veteran Luca Toni. The rossoneri won't play in the Coppa until the next round, but had an even bigger fish to fry, traveling to Eindhoven to face PSV. Stephan El Shaarawy opened the scoring, but Milan's shaky defense allowed the Dutch side an equalizer in the second half. Still, Milan go into the second half with a crucial away goal, and they must be feeling pretty good about that.
On the face of it, this looks like an easy three points for Milan, what with the whole newly-promoted-to-Serie-A thing. But Hellas have reinforced their squad, bringing in the aforementioned Toni as well as Massimo Donati, Rômulo, and most recently, Samuele Longo. Then there's the tough task of playing at the Bentegodi in front of thousands of Verona supporters thrilled that their side is back in Serie A. The fans have a reputation for racial abuse, but even if they stay away from those taunts, Milan will still be walking into a hostile atmosphere.
Hellas injuries and suspensions
Milan injuries and suspensions
Hellas Verona: Rafael; Sala, Maietta, Moras, Cacciatore; Jorginho, Donati, Hallfredsson; Cacia, Toni, Martinho
AC Milan: Abbiati; Abate, Zapata, Mexes, Constant; Poli, Montolivo, Nocerino; Niang, Balotelli, El Shaarawy
Saturday, August 24 at 6 p.m. local / 12 noon ET
Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi, Verona
Sky Calcio 1 (Italy); BeIN Sport / BeIN Sport Play (USA); RAI Internazionale