By Nicholas D’Urbano and Adriano Del Monte
It’s almost time.
The drama, action and excitement of the Serie A season is upon us.
With the season ending in the most dramatic of circumstances at both ends of the table and in the words of the mighty Thanos – Juventus were “inevitable” as they brought home yet another Scudetto.
The off-season has provided a major shakeup to the foundations of the competition as the contenders have strengthened while some new challengers look to emerge from the rubble with some ambitious signings.
Here are some of the burning questions heading into the new season.
Can Juventus go one step further?
Juve, storia di un grande amore!
The great love story continues into 2019 and after off-season of much upheaval, they are looking to make it an incredible – nine straight Scudetti. However, their form in Italy has never exactly translated to Europe as they have been unable to bring a Champions League trophy over their incredible eight-year run. With Max Allegri moving on and being replaced by Maurizio Sarri – the expectations are once again centred around another Serie A crown along with bringing home the ultimate prize in European club football.
They have also been heavy hitters in the transfer window, strengthening their midfield with the signings of both Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot but also signing the most-wanted transfer target of them all, Matthijs de Ligt from Ajax while Gianluigi Buffon has also returned to the club from PSG. However, the departures of Moise Kean and Joao Cancelo take a heavy hit – especially the latter who is arguably one of the best right-backs in the world.
With their depth considerably stronger, can they balance their domestic and continental commitments and this time go that one step further into cementing themselves as one of the dominant forces in modern European football?
Is Conte the saviour Inter have been crying out for?
Antonio Conte is known for his ability to win whatever is put in front of him.
Whether it’s Juventus, Italy or Chelsea – Conte’s strict coaching style has brought almost imminent success to every side he has coached. At Juventus, he turned a team who finished 7th into an undefeated juggernaut the next season. He almost led one of the least talented Italian sides in history to a European crown and took Chelsea from 10th to an incredible title win the following year.
It is without saying his coaching style does have numerous critics. He demands a lot from his players and expects his charges to bleed for the shirt. It is almost a match made in heaven – Conte joins a sleeping giant of Italian football with a poor culture and aims to take them back to their glory days of the late 2000’s.
Within only months, you can see the Conte foot-print stamped all over the Inter squad. The signing of Diego Godin forms arguably one of the best defensive units in the world alongside Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar. While Ivan Perisic and Radja Nainggolan have been offloaded and Mauro Icardi has been frozen out of the Inter setup.
The signings of both Romelu Lukaku and Nicolo Barella are those of intent as he looks to form a formidable spine with hard-working wing-backs in his famous 3-5-2 formation.
Expect this Inter side to climb the table and be a real challenger this season. With Juventus hell-bent on bringing home European success, the Nerazzurri will be looking to capitalize and come home with the chocolates for the first time in almost a decade.
Enter Giampaolo: what now for the Rossoneri?
Milan have been in a state of flux for far too long.
A side with an enormous pedigree which has been starved of success for almost six years. This off-season, the Rossoneri have gone through their own changes. A new coach, a European setback and an almost brand-new squad entirely. Marco Giampaolo joins Milan after strong tenures at both Empoli and Sampdoria where he won numerous admirers with his attacking style of football based around high-pressing and scoring quick, decisive goals.
The Rossoneri took a step-back in accepting their Europa League ban in order to balance the books and it may have been the best possible move for the club. This off-season, they have still been able to bring in numerous under the radar signings who form a young and exciting new era.
Theo Hernandez, Ismael Bennacer, Rafael Leao and Leo Duarte are not house-hold names but are all under the age of 23 and have shown glimpses of their enormous potential so-far in their career. In particular, Bennacer who is coming off an incredible campaign for Empoli before backing it up at the African Cup of Nations with Algeria.
However, these signings are also smart. They fit the exact needs which Milan have been crying out for throughout the past few years and bolster positions which need improvements.
This new spine coupled by the retainment of Gianluigi Donnarumma and Alessio Romagnoli along with fellow young-guns Krzysztof Piatek and Lucas Paqueta makes for what could be a very exciting season for Milan fans.
Which mid-table club can make the climb?
Talk about a silly season, right?
We have marvelled at the rise of Atalanta from relegation scrappers to their eventual rise to Champions League football over the past few years. Now, many other clubs are looking to emulate the side from Bergamo with an off-season including some huge arrivals for some of Italy’s middle of the road clubs.
After missing the drop last season, Cagliari have gone to town since the loss of Nicolo Barella – replacing him with three quality midfielders. Radja Nainggolan makes his return to Sardenia as he looks to revive his career alongside youngster Marko Rog and Uruguayan Nahitan Nandez forming an incredible midfield trident.
Fiorentina’s incredibly poor season could very well be an outlier with the incredible signing of Franck Ribery on a free transfer. He joins Kevin Prince Boateng and Erick Pulgar as two superb additions to La Viola who have been able to retain Federico Chiesa thus far and brought back on-loan goal-keeper Bartlomiej Dragowski after his unbelievable season with Empoli.
Genoa have also put their stake in the ground signing experienced defender Cristian Zapata and enigmatic midfielder Riccardo Saponara while bringing in Lasse Schone after his superb season with Ajax last year.
These three sides who all struggled last season are looking at being major players this season and could very well be a major player among the giants this season.
Are Brescia primed to be one of Italy’s most dangerous sides?
One team not mentioned above is newly promoted, Brescia.
It has been eight years since one of Italy’s most historic sides were in Serie A and after a scintillating season in Serie B last year and a strong off-season – the league may hear the mighty roar of La Leonessa. Led by Eugenio Corini, Brescia have a great mix of experience and youth which could very well hold them in good stead this season.
The most exciting of them all is perhaps Sandro Tonali who found himself in the national side after an incredible season in Italy’s second tier. There will be a lot of keen eyes on whether he will take the next step this season as many of Italy’s and Europe’s big sides keep tabs on the 19-year-old.
Serie B goal-machine Alfredo Donnarumma after two seasons tearing up the second tier and he is set to be partnered by one of Italy’s most dangerous hitmen – Mario Balotelli. The volatile talisman has made an emotional return to his home-town as he looks to make a return to the Azzurri and stamp his ticket to the Euro’s.
This attacking duo may form one of the most potent forward lines in the competition and while they may linger in the middle of the pack – they are looking to set off some fireworks – as long as Balo isn’t doing it in his bathroom!
European Qualification (top six/seven):
Fiorentina (scrape in due to one of top six winning Coppa)
Romelu Lukaku/Cristiano Ronaldo tie
Signing of the year:
Romelu Lukaku or Diego Godin