After dominating the Italian peninsula in the last seven years, Juventus believe it is time to dominate on the continent and who else can lead the Bianconeris to European success if not a five-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese attacker believes he is still the best in the business at 33; he said “I am going to prove that I am still a top player,” he said. “I am going to work hard in training…I am very ambitious and I like challenges.” Asked whether he talked to ex-Juve player Zinedine Zidane before agreeing to the move, he answered: “No, I didn’t speak to him. There was no need for anyone to tell me just how good a team Juventus is. Everyone knows that. In the last four years they have twice played in the Champions League Final, while in the last seven years they have won seven league titles. This is one of the strongest teams in the world.”
If 2018/19 season provides as much as excitement as last season did when Napoli pushed Juventus all the way for the Scudetto, then we are in for another monumental season in the Italian peninsula.
Ahead of the new season which kicks on Saturday, we take a look at the top teams in the Serie A and other supporting cast who make the Calcio one of the top five leagues in Europe.
Last season was probably one of the hardest for the Old Lady who were pushed all the way by Napoli. The experience within the Juve camp helped as they stayed firm and focus till the very end. In addition, the Turin giants won the Coppa Italia to seal a memorable double but this season, the target is a treble. The biggest arrival of the summer is Cristiano Ronaldo. The former Real Madrid forward will provide goals and leadership in the final third of the pitch for Juventus. Leonardo Bonucci has returned after his one year stint in Milan to forfeit an aging defense who have lost legendary Gianluigi Buffon to PSG. Other additions including a free transfer of Emre Can to the midfield to add energy and power to the White and Black stripes. It is not in doubt Juventus have the strongest squad in the league and are favorites to win their eight consecutive title.
The Naples club ran out of steam in the end during an exceptional campaign which saw the finish with 91 points, the highest points tally ever for a runner up in the Serie A. With Sarri’s depature, the club is embarking on a new adventure with Carlo Ancelotti. The former Bayern Munich coach is expected to bring his calm leadership and style to the San Paolo with focus on winning silverwares like he has done in most of his previous clubs. Napoli have kept the core of the team that battled Juventus all the way with only Jorginho and Pepe Reina leaving. Both have been replaced with highly rated younger players – Fabian Ruiz and Alex Meret. Since Ancelotti arrived, he has had a lot to do and one of the most important task was convincing club captain Marek Hamsik to stay and reposition him in the team. The Partenopei have a balanced squad good enough to compete on all three fronts but will they be successful? Can Carlo bring success to the Southerners? Coppa Italia success isn’t out of reach and a top four finish should be the minimum.
One can be forgiven to query the ambition of the Rome club after selling two of their best assets in an impressive 2017/18 season but with a sporting director in Monchi, the board, fans and coach can go to bed with confidence. The Spaniard is a master of wheeling and dealing who works with his club coherent strategy and ensure he delivers. Radja Naingollan and Alisson Becker have departed Trigoria but several younger players have come in. Javier Pastore is the biggest name to arrive the Eternal city; the former PSG attacking midfielder is a game changer, something many Calcio fans can attest to during his time at Palermo. Roma are trying to build a team and system that is very flexible and can accommodate departures when the big money arrives for any player. Eusebio Di Francesco had a inspiring debut season taking the Giallorossi to the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League and he would be expected to take La Lupa into the latter stages of the competition once again this season. With several youngsters including Justin Kluivert to blood in, the former Sassuolo coach will need to show his rigidity and flexibility as Roma look good for a top four finish even with a younger squad.
Internazionale are back in the UEFA Champions League after six years hiatus; qualification was sealed in the dying moments on the final day of last season at the Olimpico with Matias Vecino firing home the winner to stun Lazio and send over 10,000 Inter fans into wild jubilation. It was their reward for a long and hard fought season under Luciano Spalletti in his first year as La Beneamata coach. The Tuscan-born coach along with the club sporting director Piero Ausillio have been proactive in the market as they prepare for Champions League football at the Giuseppe Meazza. Radja Naingollan, Kwando Asamoah, Stefan De Vrij, Sime Vrsaljko are amongst the big name arrivals with significant interest in Arturo Vidal who opted to join Barcelona while still in pursuit of Real Madrid’s midfield maestro Luka Modric. The Blue and Black stripes have bold and brave in their hunt for quality acquisitions which shows the club’s ambition to return to the top of Italian and European football. The Nerazzurris appear to have found some stability under Spalletti which was evident with their brilliant start to the 2017/18 season, a run which saw them remain unbeaten till November. They will be eager to repeat similar feat even with European challenge on board. Internazionale have invested heavily and are still looking to improve their team; they look good to challenge the top three clubs who finished above them last season.
Lazio have had enough time over the summer to get over last season final day disappointment of missing out on Champions League football but Simone Inzaghi and his team can be proud of their spectacular Serie A campaign. The objective has for this season has to be the UEFA Champions League once again for Biancocelesti. Seven-time European champions AC Milan are under new management after the brief tenure of Yonghong Li. An American hedge fund company is now in charge of Diavolo and were able to successfully appeal UEFA ban and got reinstated for the Europa League. The new owners have retained the services of Gennaro Gattuso who expected to resurrect the sleeping Milan giant while club legend Paolo Maldini and Leonardo have been brought in to serve in various capacity in the boardroom. Milan lost their skipper Leonardo Bonucci who chose return to Juventus but got a certified goal scorer in Gonzalo Higuain who should fire the Rossoneris up the table. After the success of 2016/17, Atalanta BC are proving to be no flash in the pan by finishing seventh in the 2017/18 season; Gian Piero Gasperini team reached the Coppa Italia semifinals and fell to a late defeat in the Europa League Round of 32 to Borussia Dortmund. The Orobici fans have every right to starting believing in their team and the expectation for the season cannot be any lower than the last two under the leadership of Gasperini. Fiorentina suffered a tragic loss last season with the sudden death of club captain Davide Astori in March. The Violas are embarking on a new path as the club has decided to put its faith in youngsters. Giovanni Simeone, Marko Pjaca and Nikola Milenkovic are expected to be the leaders in Stefano Pioli’s new Fiorentina team who have their eyes set on European qualification. Walter Mazarri has the unenviable task of managing a team which is seen as the lesser club in Turin. On the brighter side, the Granatas finished in top-half of the table last season making it the third time in the last four seasons to achieve such a feat. Torino strategy is to acquire rejects from the top clubs which is a stark reality of where they truly belong in the Italian football food chain. Andrea Belotti recapturing his deadly predatory form means Torino can secure another reputable finish or become an outside contender to secure European qualification. Sampdoria have made two consecutive top half finishes and last season was a 10th place finish. The Blucerchiati have lost several key players including midfield lynchpin in Lucas Torreira; Duvan Zapata, Ivan Strinic, Matias Silvestre and Emiliano Viviano have all moved on too. Marco Giampaolo is saddled with the responsibility of rebuilding Sampdoria’s defence which looks very weak on paper. La Samp are weaker as we head into the new season and a top-half finish is a tough ask for Giampaolo except they strengthen adequately.
Empoli, Parma and Frosinone are back in the top flight. Empoli earned the right to come back to the Serie A after one year of relegation. Aurelio Andreazolli ensured instant return to the big league guiding the Azzurri to Serie B title with four games to spare. They were the highest scoring side (88 goals) in Italy second division but will need to improve on the defensive side to ensure they can stay up. They need a better squad to have a successful campaign. The Crociati are back in business and having secured promotion back in Serie A, four years after going down to Serie D due to financial troubles, Parma secured promotion on the final day of last season. As the nostalgic feeling of returning to where they belong settles, the tough reality for the Gialloblù is the fact that they do not have a squad to compete at this level. Emmanuele Calaio, the club’s top scorer is on a lengthy ban in a match-fixing scandal which leaves Parma short in terms of goals and survival. Frosinone booked their place back in Serie A thanks to a play-off victory over Palermo; the second leg game was shrouded with controversies but the Canarini are back in the big league for the second time in the club’s history after going down in the 2015/16 season. Moreno Longo took over Frosinone last summer and secured promotion to Serie A on a shoe string budget. The objective for the season would be to stay up which is very unlikely but the former Torino youth coach will hope to catch the attention of bigger sides in the league as it might be the available option for him to stay in the top division. The Giallazzurri are prime candidates to return back to the second division.
The 2018/19 Serie A season is packed with some many interesting plots. Cristiano Ronaldo will be plying his trade in Lega Calcio and there are several derbies to look forward to this season in Turin, Milan, Genoa and Rome, not to mention the Tuscan tussle between Empoli and Fiorentina and the big one between two brothers who will face each other. Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio taking on Filippo Inzaghi’s Bologna. The entire 2018/19 Serie A season game odds are available on our sports book. Visit Babaijebu.ng and place your bet for all Serie A TIM league and cup games.