The new Serie A season kicks-off today and after an eventful summer in the transfer window, where Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan have thus far spent a cumulative €253 million, here are a few things to look out for over the course of a 15/16 campaign that should be more eye-catching than usual.
Having signed three forwards and a winger in Paulo Dybala, Simone Zaza, Mario Mandzukic and Roberto Pereyra this summer, Juve’s strikeforce, despite losing Carlos Tevez with Fernando Llorente soon to follow, could potentially become one of the most formidable in Europe.
‘Potential’ being the operative word here, as despite Juve spending an unprecedented amount of €86 million, there are a couple of factors that could have a bearing on whether these players are able to form a cohesive attacking unit.
The first, and most obvious, is that in 24 year old Zaza and 21 year old Dybala, signed for €18 million and €32 million from Sassuolo and Palermo respectively, they have two rough diamonds who are both yet to cut their teeth with a big club, thus representing calculated risks on the part of Juve’s management.
At Argentine Dybala’s precociously talented feet, in particular, most of the hype and expectation has fallen – unsurprisingly – given his transfer fee and his brilliant 14/15 season with Palermo. However, previous cases of Pablo Aimar, Javier Saviola and more recently Erik Lamela, have shown us precocious young Argentines are liable to disappoint, and despite Dybala standing out as more headstrong than most, his first challenge will be gaining a berth in the Old Lady’s starting eleven.
And if Dybala thinks himself headstrong then the fiercely competitive nature of Zaza, Morata and most notably Mandzukic will offer him cause for self-reflection, here-in-lying the second potential quandary for coach Allegri; with such an array of attacking talent, how do you fit them into one team?
An enviable predicament it may be, however off the back of such a glorious season, where team spirit played such a significant part in their success, anything threatening harmony needs to be paid close attention.
If Allegri is able to find a balance and have each one of these highly talented performers singing from the same hymn sheet, it could lead to a fifth successive Scudetto and perhaps more.
A New-Look AC Milan
A lot of encouraging things have happened at AC Milan this summer, and for the first time in a number of years, optimism has been instilled in supporters.
Significant new investment from Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol, a new coach in Siniša Mihajlović and quality new players in Carlos Bacca, Alessio Romagnoli and Luiz Adriano have been the cause as Milan look intent on reclaiming their previous elite standing in the game.
At last, the board have taken into account the supporters, ‘action speaks louder than words’ criticism, to the extent that until Juventus signed Brazilian full back Sandro from Porto, Milan had spent the most of any Serie A club this transfer window.
However, despite being much more prolific than in past transfer windows, the Rossoneri haven’t had things all their own way; twice being ‘shafted,’ first by Jackson Martinez who effectively manipulated Milan to get a more desired move to Atletico Madrid, and secondly by brilliant young French midfielder Evans Kondogbia who after having assessed his options decided blue and black preferential to red and black, choosing city rivals Inter instead.
These were two of Milan’s primary targets and not acquiring their services highlighted how the allure of AC has faded over the years, as they languish behind a number of other European heavyweights.
Overall however, it has been an excellent transfer window for Milan. Not only have they strengthened, they haven’t had to weaken, retaining their best players in last season’s top scorer Jeremy Menez and midfield anchor Nigel de Jong, while also selling or releasing superfluous squad members like Essien, Rami and Pazzini.
With all this in mind, for the first time since Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were among their ranks, AC Milan can look forward to a new season with genuine belief.
How Will Frugal AS Roma Fare?
Roma have been Juventus’ only serious title challengers over the last two seasons, yet while many of those around them are strengthening by spending large sums, Giallorossi have dispensed a sum total of €4.5 million this summer, preferring instead to sign out of favour Premier League talent on loan – namely Edin Dzeko, Mohamed Salah and Wojciech Szczęsny.
Whether this strategy proves effective in the long term is doubtful, however what cannot be ignored is that they still possess a very solid squad of players, improved, for this season at least, by the arrivals of the loan signings.
Indeed, there are high hopes that Salah in particular might have a career defining season in 15/16 and finally sustain bursts of mercurial brilliance over the course of an entire campaign instead of just a few matches, as was in evidence on loan at Fiorentina last season.
He will doubtlessly be supported on and off the pitch by the seemingly ageless, legendary Roman duo of Daniele De Rossi and Francesco Totti, whose pace may have declined over the years but whose standards haven’t.
Their influence, as always, will be pivotal to Rudi Garcia’s side’s hopes of going one step further this season and achieving a first title in fifteen years.
Will Serie A’s Golden Oldies Continue to Shine?
For better or worse, both Serie A’s pace of play and style of play has evolved over the years, gradually growing out of it’s overly defensive, catenaccio oriented tactics in favour of more modern, balanced approaches.
However, despite this shift, one constant that has remained is the regularity in which strikers well into their thirties – see Inzaghi, Del Piero, Baggio – have historically been able to find the back of the net.
This was in fine evidence last season when 38 year old Luca Toni finished as the league’s joint top scorer alongside Inter’s young whippersnapper Mauro Icardi.
The ex Bayern Munich man had a remarkable season and somewhat overshadowed Serie A’s other veterans who continued to defy their age as Antonio Di Natale, 37, yet again was Udinese’s most prolific marksman, Miroslav Klose, 37, Lazio’s, and the aforementioned ageless Totti who, as it turns out is 39 next month, finished top of Roma’s goal scoring charts.
The question, therefore, of whether Serie A’s elder statesmen can continue their incredible strike rates, unencumbered by the fact that they are 20 years older than some of their competition, will be an intriguing sub-plot to the main action, and with odds of 33/1 for Totti to finish top scorer, this writer might just have a punt – for old time’s sake.