Thursday, 22 August 2019

Preview: Serie A 2019/20 Season

Serie A makes its return this weekend with plenty of changes across the league. The Max Allegri era is over at Juventus after deciding to leave at the end of last season. Maurizio Sarri is tasked with continuing Juventus' dominance of Serie A but Napoli, Inter, Roma, Atalanta and AC Milan will push them hard meaning it promises to be an enthralling season in Italy.

Juventus head into the new season as overwhelming favourites after collecting an 8th straight league title at the end of last season but Max Allegri waves arrivederci citing he needed a break from football. His replacement is Maurizio Sarri who arrives after a sole season at Chelsea where he secured his first trophy as a manager. Sarri struggled with the culture of England and English football and now returns to his homeland determined to continue the success Juventus have had over the last decade. It has been a busy summer in Turin with the likes of Moise Kean, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Spinnazzola and Joao Cancelo all leaving the Old Lady this summer but once again Juventus' shrewd approach at free transfers have come up trumps again. Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot have arrived on free transfers to enhance their midfield while Gianluigi Buffon has returned after leaving PSG. The experienced keeper is expected to challenge current number 1, Wojciech Szczesny. However, the Old Lady's big investment this summer is the most highly rated centre back in world football in Matthijs De Ligt. The young Dutchman arrives after a stellar season at Ajax and now he is hungry for even more success after completing a bargain £67M move to the Serie A champions. Juventus are desperate to dominate Europe and with the league expected to go their way, can they finally become kings of Europe again? We shall watch with interest. 

Meanwhile, Carlo Ancelotti is plotting a serious title challenge in his second season in charge of Napoli. Ancelotti's team finished runners-up and were a long way behind Juventus overall but a summer of reflection has taken place and Ancelotti is aiming to bring glory back to Naples. It has been a quiet summer in the transfer window for Napoli with their main business consisting of tying down their three goalkeepers on permanent deals. But they have made a statement signing in Kostas Manolas from Roma for a cool £32M. The Greek has impressed in the Italian capital but with Roma struggling to sustain a title charge, the defender felt a change was needed. Napoli are determined to challenge this season and more business is expected in the window with a deal for Mexican winger Hirving Lozano close. Napoli has plenty of talent across the pitch but consistency let them down last season and Ancelotti must address that if they are to topple Juventus this season. But could last season's dark horses Atalanta spring a surprise this season? Well, they were outstanding last season in securing a first-ever season in the Champions League and Gianpiero Gasperini is determined to continue the success this season. Duvan Zapata was sensational in the attack and he will be crucial once again this season if Atalanta is going to challenge for the league title. There is always one team that can cause shockwaves in any league and could that be Atalanta?

It is all change in Milan in more ways than one. Both Milan clubs begin the season with new managers and a new stadium is on the horizon meaning it is the end of the iconic San Siro. Inter Milan have Antonio Conte at the helm following the sacking of Luciano Spalletti. Conte is back in management after leaving Chelsea in May last year. He is back in Italian domestic football for the first time in 5 seasons since his title wins at Juventus. Conte is tasked with putting Inter back into title contention as well as impressing on the Champions League stage. Inter are determined to make a splash both in Europe and the transfer market. Conte has so far got targets he wanted in Italian midfielders Stefano Sensi and Nicolo Barella, flying wing-back Valentin Lazaro, veteran defender Diego Godin and big signing Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United. He is Inter's record signing and the game-changing player the fans and manager wanted. Lukaku is a goalscorer but also has pace, skill and strong physique which will be suited perfectly to Serie A. Lukaku and Conte are in to bring glory back to Internazionale and the fans are expectant and excited ahead of the new season. The red of Milan is also looking to make waves this season. Gennaro Gattuso is gone after getting the chop and his replacement is Marco Giampaolo who arrives after an excellent spell at Sampdoria. AC Milan are desperate to bring the glory days back after constant seasons of struggle. Their determination to bring success back has seen them make a splash in the transfer market. Theo Hernandez, Rade Krunic, Rafael Leao, Ismael Bennacer and Leo Duarte have all arrived while Frank Kessie's move is now permanent following his 2-year loan. Giampaolo and Milan are not done there with a few more signings being lined up. Rafael Leao is their big signing so far costing £27M from Lille. The Portuguese teenager has lighting pace and skill and does have an eye for goal so the Milan fans are very excited at what he can bring to the table. AC Milan are expected to cause a few surprises this season and with no European football, could this be the year they finally return to the Champions League? We shall see but there is an air of optimism at both Milan clubs and while the title is unlikely to return to Milan this season, don't rule out the title coming back to Milan in the near future. 

It is also plenty of change in the Italian capital as Roma have waved goodbye to Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Ranieri with the latter leaving at the end of his short-term contract. Roma has appointed Shaktar Donetsk manager Paulo Fonseca as the man to lead Roma back into the Champions League. Roma finished outside the top 4 last season and the fans were left frustrated and disappointment in what was a poor campaign. But there is a real sense of optimism this season with Fonseca targeting success after a terrific spell in charge of the Ukrainian club. He has trimmed the older members of the squad out including Daniele De Rossi who leaves at the end of his deal while Steven Nzonzi, Kostas Manolas, Ivan Marcano and Stephane El Shaarawy also exiting the club this summer. While fresh, younger blood has arrived with the likes of Jordan Veretout, Leonardo Spinnazzola, Mert Cetin and Amadou Diawara all ready and raring to impress this season. Diawara, in particular, is expected to be a big player this season after an inconsistent season at Napoli. Fonseca is expected to play high pressing, attacking football and this will cause a few waves this season and while a title fight is unlikely this season, a place back in the Champions League is very much a possibility.

The summer offers the opportunity to make changes and like the giants of Serie A, some of the other clubs have also changed their leader. Sampdoria's hands were tied when Marco Giampaolo decided to join AC Milan this summer but acted quickly in sourcing a replacement in former Sassuolo and Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco. Di Francesco arrives determined to push Sampdoria forward this season after their 9th placed finish last season. Europa League football is their target and with the squad they have, expectations are high. Meanwhile, Sampdoria's city rivals Genoa also start the new season with a new manager after Cesare Prandelli left at the end of last season. His replacement is Aurelio Andreazzoli who arrives from Empoli despite failing to keep them in Serie A but clearly, he has impressed and earned the right to have another crack at Serie A. He will be tasked with improving on Genoa's disappointing 17th place finish.  The final Serie A to change boss is newly promoted Hellas Verona who start the season with a new manager after Alfredo Aglietti left on a high at the end of his contract. Experienced Serie A coach Ivan Juric is Aglietti's replacement and he is tasked with ensuring Serie A football remains in Verona.

Along with Hellas Verona, Brescia and Lecce have joined the Serie A elite after earning promotion from Serie B. It was a fantastic campaign last time out for Brescia and Lecce who both secured automatic promotion. Brescia went up as Champions and are determined to make a statement in Serie A this season. Mario Balotelli is their big signing, returning to his home club determined to fire them to safety. He is excited as are the Brescia fans who would love to rock the boat this season. Lecce are also looking to cause a few surprises. Fabio Liverani's team got promoted because of their rock-solid defence and hardworking team ethos. Survival will be tough and they are going to need a regular goalscorer to step up this campaign but the overall feeling is excitment for Liverani's team. Survival would represent a tremendous season for all three of the promoted sides but it will be tough with Serie A becoming a difficult league for promoted teams to survive in.

It promises to be another exciting season in Serie A with plenty of quality goals and fantastic football on display. Juventus remain clear favourites for title glory but can someone knock the Old Lady off her perch? We shall see but it promises to be an enterprising, enthralling season of Serie A football.

My Predictions:

Champions: Juventus
Champions League: Napoli, Inter, AC Milan
Europa League: Roma, Lazio, Atalanta
Relegation: Hellas Verona, Brescia, Leece

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