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Serie A season preview, how to watch and who to support

Italy's top flight is back for its most interesting season in a decade.

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Why should you watch Serie A?

The obvious answer is that it's the league that legends like Zinedine Zidane, Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Diego Maradona and Zlatan Ibrahimovic plied their trade in. Serie A has a reputation for being a retirement home where past-their-prime dinosaurs play catenaccio and offense goes to die, but it was actually the highest-scoring league among Europe’s Big Four last year. You'll get exciting soccer if you watch Serie A.

But that's not the biggest reason why you should watch -- comedic drama is everywhere.

Sometimes, the drama begins even before the season begins. Napoli’s owner Aurelio De Laurentis once accused the league’s brass of conspiring to make Napoli’s schedule more difficult than all the other teams’. He said everyone in the room was "shit" before running out to the curb, flagging a passing moped and riding off angrily into the distance:

There's also drama in the form of match-fixing, specifically the strange ways it rears its head.

That’s Torino’s goalkeeper, Daniele Padelli nonchalantly, suspiciously and extremely hilariously kicking the ball into his own goal to cause a 1-0 defeat. It may have been match fixing, which is bad, but it was also a bizarre moment we'll remember forever.

Most of the time, the drama happens fuori dal campo, or beyond the pitch. Managers are hired and fired everywhere, but no league has as entertaining a coach’s carousel as Serie A. In 2013 alone, Palermo owner Maurizio Zamparini hired and fired five coaches, one twice. Javier Zanetti, Inter’s legendary defender, lived through a whopping 20 managerial changes in 19 years. (He would have seen 37 if he played for Palermo).

Those types of shenanigans are the epitome of the Serie A. That, amici, is why you should watch.

-Elizabeth Cotignola, AC Milan Offside

How to watch

If you live in the United States, games are shown regularly in English and Spanish on beIN Sports. You can watch all games live -- even the ones that aren't on the broadcast channels -- online at beIN Sports Connect. If your TV provider has it and you don't mind watching in Italian, RAI will carry games as they have for decades. RAI and beIN Sports are also the rights-holders in Canada.

In the U.K., BT Sport has the rights and will show games online.

Returning to glory

It's no secret that Serie A has fallen off in quality. Between the match-fixing scandal and a severe downturn in Italy's economy, most Italian sides just couldn't compete with their English, German or Spanish counterparts on a financial level. The slow decline of the Milan teams and Juventus' long road back after being relegated as part of the calciopoli punishment meant Serie A spent a long time not being particularly competitive or interesting.

That's no longer the case. Juventus is a big-boy team in Europe again after Max Allegri led the Old Lady back to the Champions League final for the first time since 2002. Roma has struggled in Europe, but is a strong side in the league again. Napoli have flirted with contender status, both in the league and in Europe, for the past several years. The Milan teams continue to disappoint, but they could rise again quickly. Serie A is actually interesting again.

Italian teams still aren't as rich as their counterparts around Europe, but top players are starting to come to Italian teams instead of fleeing the country in droves. There's still a ways to go, but even with the Milan teams in the dumps, things are finally looking up again in the land of calcio.

That's only a good thing for fans of one of the craziest leagues around.

-Conor Dowley, The Siren's Song

Rome's revival

Only a handful of clubs actually have a chance to halt Juventus’ march towards a fifth consecutive title. With an incredibly talented and cohesive unit that remains largely intact despite some summer departures, Juve are heavy favorites to continue their half-decade of dominance. Can any of the 19 other teams stop them?

The real threat to Juve’s dominances rests in the revival of the Eternal City. Rome plays host to two bitter rivals who are on the rise and have the best chance at wresting the Scudetto from the Old Ladies claws. AS Roma and Lazio, last season’s second- and third-place clubs, are poised to take the next step, thanks to the retention of key players and the infusion of some new, intriguing talent.

Led by the quartet of Antonio Candreva, Felipe Anderson, Lucas Biglia and Miroslav Klose, Lazio was second to only Juve in goals scored and goal differential last season. Manager Stefano Poli’s squad has been reinforced with impressive young defensive talent like Serbian center back Sergej Milinković-Savić and Dutch sensation Wesley Hoedt. Lazio now has a well-balanced and potent squad capable of exploiting any cracks in Juve’s armor.

Roma have gone all out in their attempt to end their run of consecutive second-place finishes. The Giallorossi relied on a stingy defense to hold second over their city rivals, but knew they needed to add some sting to their attack. Thus, they made a hefty financial commitment to bring in former Manchester City standout Edin Dzeko, Chelsea winger Mohamed Salah and Genoa’s 13-goal scorer Iago Falque. That trio will lighten the load on Miralem Pjanic, Adem Ljajic and the ageless Francesco Totti, who still managed to lead Roma in goals at 38 years old.

Juventus has more than enough firepower to continue their historic run, even after losing the inimitable Andrea Pirlo and the relentless Arturo Vidal. But thanks to shrewd purchases and an impressive stable of in-house talent, Roma and Lazio have a real chance to finally put The Old Lady to bed.

-Bren, Chiesa di Totti

Subtle brilliance

Don’t be fooled by Serie A's reputation for defensive football. It's enjoyable for the same reasons Mad Men is enjoyable. It may not be the most dramatic show, but its masterful blend of sophisticated style and painstaking subtleness engages the viewer in a unique and interesting way.

Almost every Serie A side possess the methodic discipline to calmly see off a barrage of chances by the opposing attack while sipping their afternoon espresso (or espressino). Naturally, goals won't fall from the heavens when two of those teams meet, but Serie A creates excitement in lieu of six-goal games. Sides have to capitalize on the one or two solid chances they get in the run of play, and there’s a certain appeal to watching these high stakes be played out every week. It's admittedly an acquired taste, but it only gets better with time.

You want counterattacks? Watch the Bundesliga. You want dry, functional pragmatism? The Premier League is for you. But if smart defending, clever set pieces and world-class free kicks are your cup of tea, look no further than Serie A. These teams have such astute awareness and an advanced understanding of their individual assignments.

Serie A is at its very best when the tension of possession-based football and strategic defending collide. This is what gives the Italian top flight its distinctive flare.

-Brett Callan, Inter Offside

Old-school fans

Watching Italian football often feels like turning back time. That can have a negative connotation to some because of overbearing ultras, old stadiums and occasionally racist or sexist chants, but there are plenty of positive ramifications, too, if you are at all nostalgic.

In Serie A, the fans are so deeply entwined that nearly anything to do with the clubs sparks a deep emotional reaction. The stadiums -- even when half empty due to the economic downturn in Italy -- are full of songs and whistles. In Florence, the fans packed the train station to greet returning Fiorentina after winning a Round of 16 Europa League tie against Roma. Not a trophy, not a Champions League place, but a quarterfinal berth in the Europa League.

And you better believe the players feel this emotional connection. There's a reason that the classic "derby" matches were still hotly contested last season even when Milan and Inter had little to play for. Great players rarely spend a decade at their club elsewhere in Europe, but Serie A continues to find ways for bandiere -- essentially "flag-bearers" -- to represent clubs of all sizes for years.

Take two very different examples. Striker Antonio Di Natale is now returning for an 11th season with Udinese; if they played in Germany, Bayern Munich would have bought him eight years ago. Meanwhile, Cagliari bandiera Daniele Conti is now a free agent after his club got relegated, ending 16 years with the club. That's 434 appearances, about 70 fewer than Steven Gerrard. The difference: Conti's club never played in Europe and Conti surely didn't make hundreds of millions.

Italian fans treat their club like their own house. If you are respectful when you arrive, they'll like you. If you love and care for it, they will love you back forever and do everything to keep you there. If you disrespect the house, then you better find somewhere else to live.

-Lorenzo Landini, Viola Nation

Who to root for

Atalanta: Probably not worth it, to be honest. They’re not bad, but they’re pretty boring.

Bologna: They're back up in Serie A after some time away and have new North American owners that are trying to turn them into an Italian powerhouse. If you want a long-play team to follow that could have some fun times along the way, Bologna is a solid choice.

Carpi: Carpi have rocketed up the Italian football pyramid the last few years despite operating on a shoestring budget. They’re going to have a hell of a time staying up in Serie A with that operating model, though they have assembled an intriguing squad with boom-or-bust potential. They could be fun or they could implode, so follow at your own risk.

Chievo: For your own sake, don’t. The "flying donkeys" moniker is fun, but it’s literally the only fun thing about this team. They’re boring and only just good enough to avoid relegation.

Empoli: Empoli shocked everyone when they proved to be awfully hard to beat last season in their first year back in the top flight. That makes them a big favorite for those who love underdog stories. However, they lost their manager and some of their best players, so be prepared for massive heartbreak if you follow them.

Fiorentina: This is a stylish team in a stylish city with beautiful jerseys in a beautiful stadium that wins a good amount of games every year and has a playing style that's easy on the eye. But be prepared to get your soft little artist heart broken in new and increasingly creative ways every year.

Frosinone: They're one of the newly-promoted teams in Serie A, but look likely to head straight back down. You should probably stay away, but they might turn out to be awfully lovable losers.

Genoa: You probably shouldn’t. After being denied an appeal for their UEFA license last May due to their home stadium not being up to code, Genoa are forced to miss out on international competition in 2015-16. What’s more upsetting is that I Rossoblu would’ve made it into the Europa League had that appeal not been denied. This is a club in very murky water, so it’s probably best to watch from a safe distance for now.

Inter Milan: Inter are a club that have been going through a rebuilding stage for a long time. In 2010, the Nerazzurri reached a pinnacle of their existence, winning their fifth consecutive Scudetto and becoming the first Italian side to ever win the fabled continental treble (Serie A title, Coppa Italia and Champions League). Since then, however, the club has failed to live up to fans’ expectations and fell all the way to 10th in the table last season. Yet Inter Milan is a sleeping giant, and the fans and the organization are hoping favorite son Roberto Mancini can unleash the full potential of this legendary Italian side.

Juventus: You’d be a front-runner to start supporting Juve now, but they’re certainly likable. They have half the Italian national team paired with some seriously talented foreign nationals, and they play a fun style of football. Plus, they’re known as "The Old Lady," which is possibly worth supporting Juventus in and of itself.

Lazio: They seem like a great choice on paper. They're a big club (but not too big) with a fun eagle mascot, some great players in their history, an entertaining counterattacking style and will even play Champions League football this season. But the neo-Nazi and fascist connections continually floating around the club are very unappealing, to say the least.

Milan: A fallen titan trying to do anything to return to prominence always makes for an interesting, if frustrating, team to support. They’re an absolute mess right now, but if you want to support a team that starts lower and can become great, you could do worse than supporting Milan. Just know they’re going to make you mad at first.

Napoli: A former hipster favorite, Napoli struggled the past two years under Rafa Benitez and are now moving forward with a new manager and a radically different playing style. They could be great or they could tank, but you can guarantee they'll be crazy, especially with owner Aurelio De Laurentiis often straddling the lunatic fringe.

Palermo: When the transfer window opened, Palermo promptly lost their best young prospect – a brilliant young Argentine forward named Paulo Dybala – to Juventus. You must get used to this sort of thing to become a Palermo supporter. You must also be OK with having no top-flight hardware in your case. But when your club calls a gorgeous Sicilian beachside city home and your kits sport bright pink and black, winning is the least of your concerns, right?

Roma: Are you looking for a club with fame, fortune, and ambition, but don’t want to be branded a bandwagon fan? If so, take a look at the club from the capital. Led by the ageless Francesco Totti, Roma boasts an impressive collection of talent born from the city itself. Despite not having the wealth of Juventus or Milan, the Giallorossi are a constant title contender and have rearmed themselves this summer with striker Edin Dzeko, who many believe is the final piece of the puzzle. Consider yourself warned, though: being a Roma fan comes with equal parts elation and frustration.

Sampdoria: If you are inclined to chaos and drama, this is a great choice for you. These days, there is no risk of winning a trophy or getting relegated to spoil the reality-TV style entertainment, thanks to an insanely passionate (and just insane) owner using the club as his plaything. Did we mention Antonio Cassano just signed for them? VH1 ahoy.

Sassuolo: If you like underdog stories or just black and green stripes, Sassuolo is the team for you. Having earned promotion for the first time ever in 2013, the Neroverdi have survived two seasons in the top flight, rising all the way to 12th place last season. Led by the dynamic Domenico Berardi, who has 31 goals and 16 assists over the past two seasons, Sassuolo is far and away one of Serie A’s most exciting teams. They may not finish above 10th, but they’re sure to entertain along the way.

Torino: The hipster choice in Italy. "Toro" has one of the wiliest old-school Serie A coaches and is a club with a proud but tragic history. Unfortunately, your favorite player will get sold every year, and if you lose to Juventus in the derby, you will be clinically depressed for months.

Udinese: The zebrette have always been an enjoyable team, even if they rarely win much of anything. They weren’t very good last year, but they look primed for a bounce back. For fans that love loyalty, Antonio di Natale has been there for all of eternity despite huge teams lining up for him in the past. He loves the club that much, and that’s worth a lot to fans.

Verona: After winning it all 30 years ago, The Mastiffs suffered through several years of misfortunes, finally resurfacing in the top flight in 2013. After finishing 10th and 13th in successive seasons, Verona now seems like a Serie A mainstay, much of which is due to Luca Toni’s continued excellence. If you long for the days of the classic number nine, or even if you just like mastiffs, you may be a Verona fan.

5 players to watch

Paul Pogba, Juventus: The best player in Serie A. Pogba is immensely talented, with athletic and technical gifts almost unparalleled anywhere in Europe. He’s been given the No. 10 shirt, and that number holds even more meaning at a storied club like Juventus. It's also a major statement given the ever-swirling rumors that assume he’ll leave Juve sooner rather than later. Still just 22, Pogba’s potential is limitless. Seeing what he does this year will be all kinds of fun.

Marek Hamsik, Napoli: Napoli’s captain and spiky-haired playmaker had a rough couple of years under Rafa Benitez, as he dealt with a few injury issues on top of being asked to play a role that seriously limited his ability to show off his best traits. He's been given much greater freedom under Maurizio Sarri and looks set to explode into prominence again.

Radja Nainggolan, Roma: He was always hard to miss on the pitch because of his brick-wall physique, impressive collection of tattoos and a multicolored Mohawk, but he became even more visible last year by adding an offensive flourish to his hard-tackling reputation. Nainggolan is electric, whether he’s pulling the ball off the goal line, threading the needle in the final third or scoring a cracker from distance. With the new talent that surrounds him, this could be Nainggolan’s finest season yet.

Federico Bernardeschi, Fiorentina: The Tuscan-born player has been with Fiorentina at the youth level since 2004 and broke through with the first team last season, only to miss six months with a broken ankle. Now healthy, the 21-year-old fan favorite has claimed the number 10 and warmed up for the coming season with a brace against Barcelona in a friendly. He's less technically flashy than some other young attackers in Serie A, but "Bernie" could be Italy's version of Thomas Müller: smart, adaptable, and with an uncanny eye for goal.

Jeison Murillo, Inter: The Colombian international certainly has his work cut out for him this season in the Inter Milan back line. He came to the nerazzurri from Spanish side Granada after a breakout showing for his country in the Copa America, where he was named "Best Young Player" of the tournament. While Colombia struggled mightily throughout the competition, Murillo did his part in making he likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar look like total scrubs. Inter fans will be hoping that the 23-year-old defender will be the lightning rod their back line needs after a decidedly rough performance last season.