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2019-20 Italian Serie A season Preview – Juve gunning for ninth consecutive Scudetto

With only a few days until the start of the new season in the Italian peninsula, we are exciting about a season which promises to be one of the most exciting seasons in recent Serie A history. Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan and AS Roma have all hired new coaches and we are set for new projects in these clubs. How will last season surprise package Atalanta balance their Champions League adventure with domestic competition? Mario Balotelli is back in the calico and signed for new boys Brescia – can he help them beat the drop? What about Lecce and Verona’s chances? Defending champions Juventus get the new season under way at the Parma Store, Stadio Ennio Tardini.

JUVENTUS

After five successful years with winning 11 trophies and making two Champions League finals, Juventus decided to open a new chapter by dispensing the services of Max Allegri in its quest for more success not just locally but on the continent. Maurizio Sarri arrives in Turin as the new boss to spearhead the ambition to play attractive football and remain successful on the pitch. The former Chelsea boss won the Europa League with his previous employer and European success is top priority for La Vecchia Signoria. In recent seasons, Juventus have picked up some bargain acquisitions including Dutch starlet and key summer signing Matthijs de Ligt. The arrival of Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot should provide extra quality in the middle of the park but they are not Pogba and Vidal. The former Juve stars offered power and speed but the incoming ones are technical players who should provide Sarri with a different dimension and a different skill set that was unavailable in the midfield last season. The Turin giants should be cautiously optimistic about the arrival of the former Napoli boss; he is a systems man who is very rigid in his belief. While Allegri was flexible with his formation, Sarri has shown to do the opposite and stick to his preferred 4-3-3 during thick and thin. The expectation is for the team to hit the ground running from the start; the current side is built to win now with most of the key players in the 30s. “Winning is not important, it’s the only thing that matters,” former Juventus player and president Giampiero Boniperti once remarked. This slogan is imbedded into the very soul of the club. Juve have dominated the Serie A, winning the last eight Scudetto title and are favorites once again to make it nine but the reason Allegri was pushed out was his failure to land Europe’s top prize. Sarri will be judged on his European performances as well, it is the Holy Grail in Turin.

NAPOLI

The Partenopei have established themselves as the main challenger to Juventus crown in the past two seasons particularly in the 2017-18 season when they lost out narrowly. Carlo Ancelotti’s first season as Napoli boss saw the Naples team finished season but never really threatened the champions after the winter break. Napoli finished the season 11 points behind Juventus compared to the four points the season before. While Juventus bolstered their squad with Cristiano Ronaldo, Napoli lost inspirational skipper Marek Hamsik in the winter transfer window to Chinese money and that sapped quality out of the team. There have been further departures at the end of the season but Napoli are still building a great team and working well in the transfer window, even as the fans are still expecting a big name to come along. They missed out on Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal and Jamez Rodriguez arrival looks almost impossible. 24-year-old winger Hirving Lozano is expected to join the Partenopei in a transfer worth a reported €42 million. Kostas Manolas, Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Eljif Elmas have arrived while Amadou Diawara, Raul Albiol and Marko Rog are out. Keeping star defender Kalidou Koulibaly is fundamental to what Ancelotti aims to achieve; the Senegalese international could form a formidable partnership with Manolos which would be crucial for Napoli. The former Bayern Munich and Real Madrid coach will be keen to avoid the inconsistency that plagued his team last season, resulting in needless dropped points and an early exit from the Champions League in the group phase. The club was also knocked out of Coppa Italia in the quarter-finals to Milan. The expectation in Naples is for the team to make improvements from the last campaign and provide Juventus with a proper title challenge. It is mission impossible for land the Scudetto but then there is no harm in giving it a go.

ATALANTA

A season that began with a false start with the shock exit in the Europa League play-off round to FC Copenhagen ended with qualification for the Champions’ League group stage for this new season. Atalanta had arguably their best season in the Serie A and could have celebrated with a victory in the Coppa Italia but lost to Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio in the final. Gian Piero Gasperini’s style of play has been pleasing to watch, La Dea had the best attack in the league last season outscoring champions Juventus and runner up Napoli to underline the Italian coach philosophy. The success is even more remarkable considering they operated on a small budget with their wage bill standing 14th in the league last season and lower than clubs like Genoa, Cagliari, Sassuolo and Bologna. With Champions League football in Bergamo, Atalanta has reinforced the side with some key signings. Colombian forward Luis Muriel enjoyed a successful loan spell in second half of 2018-19 season has been signed permanently. Former Liverpool centre-back Martin Skrtel and Ruslan Malinovsky have arrived to bolster the defense and midfield depth. Martin Skrtel signing will also add experience at the back, particularly in Europe while Ruslan Malinovskyi’s arrival could be an important signing. He adds depth in their creative department that was at times lacking if Ilicic or Gomez were missing, and that could prove decisive when the games are building up. It’s no secret that Papu Gomez is the man who makes Atalanta tick. Gian Piero Gasperini has truly revolutionised this Atalanta team and can probably be named as the main reason for the club’s meteoric rise to success. It’s not going to be easy for the Nerazzurri this year, but that hasn’t stopped them from reaching two top-four finished in the last three seasons. How they combined Champions League football with Serie A business is an interesting spectacle to see unfold.  

INTER MILAN

It is a new dawn at Inter; having achieved back-to-back top four finishes, Inter should be finally ready to challenge for more. There have been changes at La Beneamata from the hiring Beppe Marotta as general director to appointing Antonio Conte as new coach then add in Gabriele Oriali, who will serve as first team technical manager. The owners at Inter want to adopt the Juventus template that seen the Old Lady dominate the league over the years be replicated – remember who was in charge at the start of the dominance – Antonio Conte! The changes didn’t stop with the backroom staff or those behind the scenes, some of the big guns over recent seasons perceived not to be in line with the new vision are being eased out. Radja Nainggolan and Ivan Perisic have been shipped out while the future of erstwhile skipper Mauro Icardi remains in the balance with Napoli currently looking his best option to secure a move away from the club. All three played a part in the unrest that nearly derailed Inter’s top-four finish last season. The new era demands hard work and respect as stated by Conte when he addressed the team in the first training session of the season. The club has moved on by replacing all three swiftly. Romelu Lukaku is the club’s new front man and he has been assigned Icardi’s squad number; Stefano Sensi and Nicolò Barella have arrived on loan to improve the midfield while not feeling Nainggolan’s absence and Valentino Lazaro has been brought in from Hertha Berlin to add some much needed pace on the right flank not to forget Diego Godin arrival on a free transfer from Atletico Madrid. The Uruguayan international comes with a wealth of experience and should slot in fine in Conte’s 3-5-2 preferred system. Antonio Conte is the key to Inter’s new project and no one in the peninsula needs a reminder of how he succeeded with the same template at Juventus. Inter should be a force to reckon with in the Serie A this season but any talk of winning the title might be a bit premature for this season.   

OTHERS

AC Milan start the new campaign with high hopes just like the previous season. Marci Giampaolo’s arrival should boost their hope for Champions League qualification with the former Sampdoria coach infusing his attacking philosophy and big-team mentality which has been lost back to the Rossoneri. Much will depend on how quickly players integrate and Giampaolo establishes his brand of football, but fourth is achievable for Milan. AS Roma‘s 2018-19 season was one with the objective of consolidating on the successful 2017-18 season but it ended on a miserable note with no one smelling of roses at the end. Coach Eusebio Di Francesco and sporting director Monchi are out of the door and the fans utterly unhappy with the poorly-handled of club legend Daniele De Rossi exit. Paulo Fonseca is the new coach; he has the unenviable task of partly reshaping a dysfunctional club and bringing back some of the lost enthusiasm in the players and fans. A return to the Champions League must be the aim for Roma and if the Portuguese tactician can get his team firing, edging out AC Milan and Lazio for the final qualification spot is more than doable. Torino finished in seventh place in the Serie A table last season and missed out on European qualification by just three points. However, after Milan agreed to not partake in this year’s Europa League in a bid to alleviate their Financial Fair Play woes the Granata were given the opportunity to replace the Rossoneri. After the standout campaign last term under Walter Mazzarri, the big challenge is on at Torino to attempt to replicate that form. If Toro do manage to secure Europa League group stage football – if they can overcome Wolverhampton Wanderers in the the play-offs, then the Thursday-Sunday schedule will stretch their thin squad and could hurt unless some late signings are made. Lazio ended 2018-19 on a high by lifting the Coppa Italia and securing a Europa League spot in the process, but the reality of a disappointing eighth-place Serie A finish soon gave way to a period of uncertainty. Squad depth is required by Le Aquile to battle on all three fronts to ensure the stuttering second half of last season experienced last campaign is not repeated. Sampdoria start life without Giampaolo but the uncertainty about the ownership of the club could derail a campaign that is yet to start under new coach Eusebio Di Francesco. Giampaolo’s team played attractive football but failed to earn qualification for the European competition. With a coach like Eusebio, the Blucerchiati can aspire under his guidance as he can provide the experience needed to sustain the fight for a European spot. The transformation of Bologna under Siniša Mihajlović was extraordinary; the Rossoblu were prime candidates for the drop under Filippo Inzaghi until the Serb returned for his second stint as manager to completely transform the team. They have done well in the transfer market and are in a good spot with Mihajlovic at the helm.

GENOA, ITALY – MAY 26: Antonio Allegra awards Fabio Quagliarella of Sampdoria as “Best striker of 2018-19 season” during the Serie A match between UC Sampdoria and Juventus at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on May 26, 2019 in Genoa, Italy. (Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images)

The Serie A welcome three fresh teams to the top flight this campaign – Brescia, Lecce and Hellas Verona. After seven seasons in the wilderness of the Serie B, Le Rondinelle have returned to the top flight and their progress will be followed after the signing of Mario Balotelli on a free transfer. The former Manchester City striker will be the big fish in a small pond at Brescia. Still only 29, Balotelli has years left in him and a point to prove. He could make the difference for Brescia this season. Back-to-back promotion has seen Lecce move from the obscurity of Serie C football back to the elite level. The Giallorossi scored the second most goals in Serie B last season, but the top division in Calcio is another kettle of fish altogether. However in – 29-year old journeyman Gianluca Lapadula, Fabio Liverani has a versatile striker who can operate along the front-line and his experience of having spent the last three campaigns in Serie A should prove vital to any hopes il Lupi have of surviving. Hellas Verona fans have reasons to celebrate more having secured their return to Serie A but more importantly seeing their city rivals heading in the opposite direction would have given the Gialloblu fans more joy and satisfaction. Staying in the division is top priority for them and their sensible route this summer, it could be argued, by bringing in a mixture of some exciting young players and Serie A proven players who Juric knows well from his Genoa days.

The 2019-20 Serie A season promises us excitement throughout the nine months of the season. Interestingly, we have 16 Italians coaches, two Croats and one Portuguese and a Serbian coach in the league. The good stuff starts very early this season as the calendar has thrown up some mouthwatering clashes with the campaign barely underway. Topping the bill in week two is a Derby della Capitale clash between Lazio and Roma but there is also the small matter of a meeting between Italy’s top two in Turin as Juventus take on Napoli. Derby della Madonnina, Derby della Capitale, Lombardy derby, Derby della Lanterna, Derby d’Italia and and other derbies are some of the exciting derbies for the season. We shall be previewing matches from this league as part of our FESIG focus weekly. The entire season odds are available on our sports shop. Simply visit Babaijebu.ng and place your bet on all Serie A matches.

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