Serie A 2017/18 Preview: Juventus to rule again, while Milan return to the top European table
Excitement is building ahead of the new Italian football season.
For too long now, Serie A has not been taken seriously when being compared to the Bundesliga, La Liga or the Premier League. Labelled as boring and unwatchable by those who never so much as cut it some slack, Italian football has a stigma, one it has not been able to shake in recent years because of Juventus’ stranglehold on the game, winning the last six league titles and three Coppa Italias.
But now could be the beginning of the end for an uncompetitive league. Juve remain strong, but the rise of others has made some sit up and take notice ahead of the 2017/18 campaign, which kicks off this weekend. At the bottom, too, it could be interesting, with relative unknown quantities Benevento and Societa Polisportiva Ars et Labor (SPAL) joining the returning Hellas Verona in coming up from Serie B. Genoa, Cagliari, Bologna and others could be in a battle too, so let's take a comprehensive look at what could happen this season.
The title race
Before we begin, let's get something straight; Juventus are the favourites for the Serie A title and probably will lift a seventh consecutive Scudetto in May. But the Supercoppa Italiana defeat to Lazio this week told a story, Max Allegri and the players must beware against complacency.
Roma ran them close last season, finishing just four points behind them in the table, and despite losing both Mo Salah and Antonio Rüdiger to the Premier League, the best signing of the European summer is the arrival of Sevilla’s sporting director Monchi, a man known as the ‘transfer guru,’ which is rather self-explanatory.
The Bianconeri are strong, having signed the likes of Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina, Bayern Munich winger Douglas Costa and most recently Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Blaise Matuidi; but losing Dani Alves to PSG and more crucially Leonardo Bonucci, perhaps the best defender in the world, to big-spending AC Milan, simultaneously weakens them and could propel the Rossoneri into genuine challengers for the first time since 2011.
A Chinese consortium is funding something rather special at the San Siro, but it could take a lot of time for the project to bear fruit, certainly domestically, given how strong Juve have been for so long. The Europa League may be their best shot at glory this season, and although Napoli remain as strong as they do entertaining under Maurizio Sarri, the empire in Turin is just too strong to crumble this year.
It goes without saying that the three teams who fail to clinch the title will be well in the race for the Champions League. That will be Milan boss Vincenzo Montella’s aim at the very least after seeing money splashed on the likes of Bayer Leverkusen playmaker Hakan Çalhanoglu, Wolfsburg defender Ricardo Rodriguez and Atalanta pair Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti as well as Bonucci.
Inter have strengthened well while going under the radar, doing most of their business domestically, weakening another opponent for a top three or five finish, Fiorentina. Borja Valero may be 32 now, but the Spaniard remains one of Serie A’s most cultured midfielders and alongside Matias Vecino, who has also moved from the Stadio Artemio Franchi, should thrive with the Nerazzurri under Luciano Spalletti. He left Roma at the end of last season to take over from Stefano Pioli who took over at La Viola, with the two sides clashing on the opening day of the campaign.
Sarri’s Napoli will be another excellent watch this season, but the return to full fitness of €30million striker Arek Milik gives the manager a real selection headache. Does Sarri keep with the formation which saw Dries Mertens score 28 of 94 goals as a ‘false 9’ and risk upsetting the applecart? Whatever happens, the San Paolo will be rocking again this year, but surely Milan’s wealth means one of Napoli and Roma at risk of falling out of the Champions League places.
Lazio beat Juve 3-2 last week, and with Keita Balde Diao, Ciro Immobile, Felipe Anderson and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic all still at the Stadio Olimpico, they could be in for another good campaign under Simone Inzaghi. Atalanta, though, could find it tough to repeat last season’s fourth placed finish after losing a number of key players. Could Torino spring a surprise if Andrea Belotti stays?
Prediction: Champions League - Roma and Milan. Europa League – Napoli, Lazio and Inter
It would be easy just to say Benevento and SPAL will go straight back down, but the latter do have some Serie A experience, particularly up front in the shape of Alberto Paloschi, who played for AC Milan and Parma but Premier League fans may remember his short spell at Swansea City. Having romped to the Serie B title last term under boss Leonardo Semplici, they will be confident of survival this season.
Hellas Verona were runners up under Fabio Pecchia and they, in turn, will see themselves as able to survive. A summer’s worth of drama which typified Antonio Cassano saw the former Roma striker retire and return twice before finally, and definitively, hanging up his boots, was an unwelcome distraction, but with Giampaolo Pazzini and Alessio Cerci in attack they should have the quality.
Genoa and Crotone will be worried, too, but Diego Simeone’s son Giovanni netted 12 times for Genoa last season and should provide the outlet once again. Cagliari’s main issue was in defence, and they conceded a staggering 76 times last season. They did score 55, but surely they can’t survive with a repeat of that terrible defensive record and they may actually find themselves embroiled in trouble in spite of finishing 11th last term.
Prediction: Cagliari, Benevento and SPAL
Player to watch: Andre Silva – AC Milan
One of the Rossoneri’s major acquisitions this summer was FC Porto striker Andre Silva. The 21-year-old cost £35million after an impressive early career in Portugal and has become the big forward hope for his national team. Other than Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal have not really had too many top goalscorers, but Silva arrives in Milan with a reputation as one of the best finishers around and someone with unbelievable movement. The stats, namely 16 goals in 32 games in the Primeira Liga last season, certainly back up what everyone is saying about him.
With Çalhanoglu, Kessie and Suso who was already at the club in behind, Silva could have a lot of chances to put away this season. Milan have arguably lacked a top-class striker since Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and while new Villarreal striker Carlos Bacca did well at Milan, they have definitely upgraded with a much younger model.
Milan are reaching for the stars and their main aim is to return to the glory days of the 1990s and 2000s. Andre Silva is his own man, but there could be something very ‘Andriy Shevchenko’ about him and he should thrive in Italian football.