The Serie A season gets under way on the 31st August 2014 with two of the fixtures of the weekend, Milan v Lazio and Roma v Fiorentina, stand out games. 19 teams will be hoping that they can displace Juventus, who have won the Serie A title for the past three years.
The Old Lady will start the new season as the hot favourites to take this years Scudetto once again, so what are their chances and what are the prospects of their closest rivals? We’ll find out in our preview of the Serie A season below.
For the Champions Juventus, it has been something of an unusual off season. Manager Antonio Conte resigned stating in his farewell speech that “my feelings had led me to this choice” and that “It may be more difficult to keep winning with Juventus”.
Make of that what you will but the announcement came hot on the heels of mooted sales of Paul Pogba to Paris St-Germain and Arturo Vidal to Manchester United or Liverpool.
Conte’s absence will be keenly felt, in the last three years he has led Juventus to the league title and also won the Coppa Italia twice, but they have failed to shine on the European stage. With all their major European rivals busy making top quality signings, perhaps Conte felt that success in the European stage was just not possible with the current crop of stars.
Domestically, Juventus will still be a real contender in Serie A this season. So far Pogba and Vidal remain at the club and they’ve been joined by ex-Real Madrid youngster Alvaro Morata, a talented young striker as well as veteran left back Patrice Evra, who joined for a reported £1m from Manchester United. Juve have also signed several fringe players such as Leonardo Spinazzola from Siena, Cristian Pasquato from Udinese, Kingsley Coman from Paris St-Germain and Roberto Pereyra on loan from Udinese.
Juventus will certainly be the bookies favourites for title success, but how have their chief rivals fared this pre season?
Rudi Garcia’s Roma have also been busy in the transfer market. Their top signings this summer have been Antonio Sanabria from Sassuolo for €4.9m and Radja Nainggolan signing permanently from Cagliari for €6m. They’ve also snapped up Urby Emmanuelson from Milan, Ashley Cole from Chelsea and Seydou Keita from Valencia on free transfers.
With veteran Francesco Totti still leading the way and a squad that includes players like Kevin Strootman, Adem Ljajic, Miralem Pjanic, Daniele De Rossi, Mehdi Benatia and Mattia Destro, this is a team that could really push Juventus hard this season.
Another team expecting to push towards the top spot in Serie A is Rafa Benitez’s Napoli. After spending a huge amount of money in the past couple of years thanks to new owners, Napoli have been more circumspect in the transfer window this time around signing Michu on loan from Swansea City, keeper Mariano Andujar from Catania for €2m and French defender Kalidou Koulibaly from Belgian side Genk for €7m.
Don’t let that relative inactivity fool you however as this is a squad that is packed with talent like Marek Hamsik, Gonzalo Higuain, Jorginho, Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Christian Maggio.
With a large squad, Napoli could really push the top two of last season hard this time around and once again, it looks like Serie A will be a three-way race between these three sides this season.
That’s not to say that another team may not break the stranglehold and of the rest of the sides in Serie A, two seem most likely to be able to do this; Fiorentina and Inter.
Vincenzo Montella’s Fiorentina squad boasts some outstanding talent in the likes of Juan Manuel Vargas, David Pizzaro, Juan Cuadrado, Matias Fernandez, Giuseppe Rossi and tall German striker Mario Gomez. New signings have been somewhat thin on the ground however with only Jose Basanta from Monterrey a really noteworthy addition to the squad from last season.
For Fiorentina, much will depend if they can hang on to Colombian ace Juan Cuadrado, who has been strongly linked with a move to Spain or England during the summer. If they lose him and don’t replace him adequately, then it could be a less successful season this time around.
So can Inter Milan break the dominance of the top three this season? Walter Mazzari’s men were well off the pace last time around but facing tough financial times, the club has only spent a total of €1.2m on new players which makes you wonder if they have the quality in depth to sustain a title challenge.
Nemanja Vidic from Manchester United on a free has been their biggest signing of the summer so far. Several other players have been signed on a free, while the club signed Rene Krhin from Bologna for €1.2m.
The club have also moved to sign three key players on loan, Dani Osvaldo from Southampton, Dodo from Roma and Yann M’Vila from Rubin Kazan.
Inter do have some strong players, Rodrigo Palacio, Mateo Kovacic, Ricky Alvarez, Fredy Guarin, Andrea Ranocchia, Hernanes and Mauro Icardi but there just isn’t the same level of quality throughout the squad as at the top three sides, so while I feel Inter will improve, it is hard to see them being genuine title contenders.
Of the rest of Serie A, arguably only Lazio have made the signings required to push them into Champions League contention. After a disappointing season last time around manager Stefano Pioli has moved to strengthen their leaky defence by signing Dutchmen Stefan de Vrij and Edson Braafheid as well as Dusan Basta. They have also snapped up Filip Djordjevic on a free from Nantes, while Marco Parolo looks an astute signing at just €5.5m from Parma.
Could Milan also return to the top level of Serie A? Well after viewing Pippo Inzaghi’s team in a recent pre-season tournament in the US, the answer to that seems that such an improvement in form would be somewhat unlikely.
With captain Riccardo Montolivo still out for several months through injury, speculation over the future of star striker Matio Balotelli, Brazilian Robinho out of sorts, much will depend on the success of new signings Alex (ex-Chelsea defender), Keisuke Honda, Adil Rami, Michael Essien and Jeremy Menez.
Milan do have some good players, Ignazio Abate, Giampaolo Pazzini and Stephan El Shaarawy in particular catch the eye, but this is a Milan team that is a pale imitation of the team that last lifted the Scudetto back in the 2010-2011 season.
For the rest of Serie A, the best they can seemingly aim for is either avoiding relegation, or at best pushing on towards the Europa League spots in Serie A. Clubs like Genoa, Cagliari, Parma, Udinese and Torino have been amongst the biggest spenders in Serie A this off season and they’ll want to see some return on that investment in terms of improved performance.
At the other end of the table, it will be interesting to see if tiny Sassuolo can once again defy the odds and stay in Italy’s top flight. The club had a miracle escape from relegation last season and they have spent over €12m during the summer in the hope of maintaining their place in the top flight this time around.
Our Top Tips for Serie A this season
So if you are looking for a solid bet or two on Serie A this season, what would be my top picks?
Juventus are the 6/5 favourites to win Serie A and while they’d be my choice, there’s just not enough value at those odds to consider backing them. With Each Way paying out on the top three places in Serie A, I feel there is better value to be had elsewhere.
Sadly, it isn’t really worth backing Roma each way as at 2/1, they are also too short a price for me to consider for this type of bet.
Napoli are more interesting at 5/1 and they’d be my smart each way choice here, but I would also consider a smaller outside bet on Lazio. They are currently 150/1 with Bet365 but I think they have signed some good players in pre season and should be a much tougher prospect this time around.
My advice? If you want an outright winner bet then lump on Juventus to win Serie A – the Old Lady are the class act in Serie A. I’d then follow that up with a couple of each way bets on Napoli and an outside bet on Lazio, which if it comes in, could see you quids in.
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