The Serie A Season preview no one asked for! Part Two.
By Frank Risorto.
Let’s go for part two of the Serie A season preview.
With changes all over the league, who knows what this season has instore for us.
The Scudetto battle could arguably be fought out between five sides, the Champions League race is on between perhaps eight sides and the relegation race is open to possibly eight sides.
For those that missed it, we previewed Atalanta, Bologna, Cagliari, Empoli and Fiorentina in part one here.
Today it’s the turn of Genoa, Hellas Verona, Inter Milan, Juventus and Lazio.
Thanks for reading, it’s much appreciated.
Genoa will be looking to consolidate their status as one of the Serie A usual suspects after finishing with another steady as she goes season.
After the 9-time Scudetto winner (please Calcio gods, let them win just one more for that star!) lost 2–0 to Benevento, and the club found themselves languishing in 19th position after Matchday 13, the club sent Rolando Maran packing, and in came rescue worker and former Genoa coach Davide Ballardini and from there it was onwards and upwards.
The Ligurian side clawed their way back up la classifica to 11th place, however, still ultimately have the feel they’ll finish again in the lower half of the table.
Their reliance on the ‘young brigade’ Andrea Masiello, Domenico Criscito, Valon Behrami and Goran Pandev helped them last season though this season they’re trying to refresh the squad with some notable arrivals including the highly rated Mexican centre back Johan Vasquez joining on loan from UNAM Pumas, Salvaore Sirigu on a free transfer from Torino, Zinho Vanheusden on loan from Inter and the experienced Stefano Sabelli from Empoli on a free.
Can this be a relatively drama free season for Genoa? That’ll depend on how all the new recruits fit in with Ballardini’s 3–5–2 system and if they can sign a reliable goalscorer between now and the mercato closing.
If they do, who knows, Davide Ballardini may even find himself still coaching Genoa on matchday 38 and left to his devices, by the unpredictable club owner Enrico Preziosi.
Key Player — Mattia Destro.
As it stands Destro will lead the line for Il Vecchio Balordo (the old fool) come the season opener and with a cast of thousands, yet some unknowns around him, Genoa will be hoping he can improve on his 11-goal finish from 2020–21
Destro, very much a confidence player, will be looking to consolidate his position at Genoa in his second full season with the club.
Destro looks capable of anything one moment, then looks capable of finishing with the bidone d’oro the next and with crowds returning to stadiums every half-chance or half-miss will be highlighted and picked apart.
If there’s ever player who could do with the support and backing of the Genoa faithful, it’s Destro.
Player to Watch — Kevin Agudelo
The young Colombian made his presence felt in the Spezia midfield last season helping the newly promoted side retain their Serie A status.
Never one to trouble the scorers, Agudelo returns to Genoa for his second spell with the club, after spending time with Fiorentina and Spezia respectively, for the past two seasons.
Agudelo’s versatility will be a huge plus for Genoa.
Aside from left midfield, the Colombian spent time playing in every position across Spezia’s midfield last season, as well as some time at centre forward, and with his passing, technique and work-rate an absolute standout last season, Genoa will be hoping he brings the same approach to the Luigi Ferraris this season.
All of Hellas Verona’s pre-season talk has been about one man, who doesn’t even play for them.
Eusebio Di Francesco.
Also, Ivan Juric, but for the narrative let’s go with the incoming, not the outgoing.
Are Hellas getting the EDF from Sassuolo, the next big thing, the up and comer who lead Sassuolo from Serie B to the Europa League or are they getting the EDF from Sampdoria, who left the club, in last place after 6 losses in 7 games.
Hellas have done well to keep most of their squad together, three notable departures were left back Federico Dimarco, returning to his parent club Inter Milan, centre back Matteo Lovato, who started the season strongly but faded away as the season progressed, and goalkeeper arguably the in-form goalkeeper of the 2020–21 season Marco Silvestri.
There are some big gloves to follow with Silvestri departing, and that will fall to former Benevento keeper Lorenzo Montipo and young Croatian keeper Ivor Pandur, both vying to claim a stake to the number one position.
Their one obvious need is up front, and with Hellas relying on the likes of Nikola Kalinic, Samuel Di Carmine and Kevin Lasagna for regular goals, we may have more success nailing a watermelon to a tree.
Antonin Barak has made his loan-move permanent and returning to Verona is highly touted Manchester City prospect Ivan Ilic, joining Giangiacomo Magnani and Federico Ceccherini, from Sassuolo and Fiorentina respectively.
Can the fairy tale in Verona continue or will it be at stretch too far for the I Mastini — look at their logo.
One thing’s for sure, their kits are stunning, so if they are going to go down, and I don’t think they will, they’ll at least look good doing it!
Key Player — Mattia Zaccagni
The young midfielder made his presence felt around the league last season with some stunning individual goals and outstanding performances.
Linked with moves away from Verona, Zaccagni contributed five goals and seven assists last season and will be once again looking to further his reputation across Italy.
With his bicycle kick against Spezia last season going down in folklore, even getting its own name — ‘Zaccagnata’.
Capable of playing anywhere across the midfield, or further up the park if required, the former Hellas Verona Primavera product will be looking to further increase his reputation and make an impact this season as one of Italy’s next generation midfielders following in the footsteps of one time teammate Matteo Pessina.
Player to watch — Ivan Ilic
Would love to pick a personal favourite Pawel Dawidowicz here, but that’s too obvious right?
So instead will follow the crowd and go with Ivan Ilic.
The young Serbian central midfielder finds himself returning to Verona for a second spell on load from Manchester City.
Ilic plays to his strengths with his passing, positional play and defensive a strength there’s no telling what type of player he could become but keep an eye out for him this season if he makes that left sided central midfield role his own.
Where do we even start? Scudetto winning coach Antonio Conte left the club, ok there’s that.
With money required to help pay for the ridiculous loan they acquired from the vultu … , sorry capital asset management firm Oaktree, they needed to raise funds and the only way to do that was sell Achraf Hakimi, and only Achraf Hakimi.
So, with that in mind, and with the absolute transparency of Baghdad Bob (remember him!) joining Hakimi out the door, who departed Milan for French minnows PSG for 60million euro, went the club icon, the heart and soul of the team, reserve goalkeeper Daniele Padelli.
Also, they sold star striker and talisman Romelu Lukaku for 115million euro.
As new coach Simone Inzaghi sat silently watching his squad get ripped apart, before he could get his favourite ciabattas under the desk, Inter did begrudgingly strengthen their squad.
Federico Dimarco, Hakan Calhanoglu, Denzel Dumfries and Edin Dezeko all arrived at the club and will, immediately become key starters for Inter.
With a disillusioned fanbase, rival clubs hovering like vultures ready to pick off their prime players (and if reports are true everyone is for sale, even Roberto Gagliardini) and owners who are unlikely to be welcomed back to the San Siro with open arms anytime soon it’ll be crucial that Inter get off to a strong start to put all this mess behind them and quieten the noise.
Their first four opening fixtures are to Genoa (H), Hellas Verona (A), Sampdoria (A) and Bologna (H) so it’s not a lock that Inter will be sitting pretty on 12 points before matchday five.
Will they fall out of the top four? Perhaps. Will they challenge for the Scudetto? I still think so, yes.
They’ve lost two very important players, that’s my glass half full take.
Is that the end of the fire sale? Perhaps not, but the fans will be there, whether it’s there to cheer the side on or protest the owners, probably a little of both.
I’m not as down as some on their chances this season, however, I just can’t see them lasting the distance, unlike another Turin based machine.
They’ll be there or thereabouts come seasons end, however if that’s good enough to calm the ever-growing wave of anger and resentment towards the club on the black and blue side of Milan, we’ll see.
And I’ve purposely ignored Antonio Conte leaving the club, it’s too sad to discuss, he, and his special brand of beautiful chaos, will be sorely missed.
Key Player — Roberto Gagliardini
No not really, I just wanted to see if you were paying attention!
I love ‘Bobby Gags’ however for me it’s Denzel Dumfries.
A lot of pressure to place on the Dutch fullback/midfielder (I know he reads my blog), but his ability to fill the shoes of one season legend and club icon Achraf Hakimi will be so important.
Like Dimarco on the left-hand side, Dumfries capability to join his sides attack and still fulfill his defensive duties will be key to helping out Edin Dzeko and co replace Romelu Lukaku and his 24 goals.
Player to watch — Roberto Gagliardini
No not really, I need to stop I know.
Young Uruguayan striker Martin Satriano has stolen the show in the preseason scoring goals for fun however I’d like to see another young striker get a runoff the bench, adding depth to the Inter attack, and that’s Eddie Salcedo.
Salcedo, who’s returned to Inter after spending two seasons with Hellas Verona, and to be fair only scored four goals in all competitions, has the work-rate to match Lautaro, but falls way short on the finishing front.
Fit and handy to play wide in a front three, the young Colombian could bring something different to Inter’s front line plus, how many Serie A players are called Eddie?
For that alone he should be a part of the first team squad.
Still only 19, it looks likely he may leave on loan again however with Simone Inzaghi giving fresh starts to all, Roberto Gagliardini included, and the chance to prove himself, like Roberto Gagliardini, Eddie Salcedo (remember his name now!) may come in handy off the bench between now and the end of the season.
Like Roberto Gagliardini!
Massimiliano Allegri is back, that’s it!
Key Player — Matthijs de Ligt
The colossus that is Matthijs de Ligt got better and better as the season progressed going on to become a rock for the Juve defensive line, in lieu of Bonucci or Chiellini’s absence, unlike his first season where he gave away so many handballs and penalties, he single handily forced Maurizio Sarri to start smoking on the sideline during matches (in the tunnel at least!).
After missing the first seven matchdays with a shoulder injury the 22-year-old (22!) went onto play all but two games and more importantly his disciplinary record improved.
Now that Allegri has arrived to reclaim his throne atop the Italian football pyramid you get the sense de Ligt will only get better for the Turin side.
If he’s not forced to play alongside Daniele Rugani that is!
Player to Watch — Dejan Kulusevski
It’s the second act for Dejan Kulusevski at Juventus.
Not quite the Terminator like machine we saw at Parma, yet he still managed to show glimpses under the stewardship of Andrea Pirlo.
With Allegri in tow, actual tactical instructions, and an actual position to play, I get the sense Allegri doesn’t quite know what he’s in for with the Swede’s tactical discipline and work-rate outstanding.
Like the unexpected present found amongst the torn up wrapping paper on Christmas day, Allegri will quickly realise that the 21-year-old Swedish midfielder will become his most valuable and important player sooner rather than later.
Maurizio Sarri sees himself arriving at a club with a side who are used to playing a certain way, an experienced squad, replacing a club icon and long-term manager, and with an owner who won’t take to criticism lightly.
This sounds oddly familiar of his time in Turin.
To say that history will repeat itself is selling Sarri’s ability short, in replicating his time at Empoli and Napoli, though the recipe is there for both disaster and success, which way Maurizio cooks is the interesting subplot.
Whether this Lazio side can adjust to Sarri and his ways, and Sarri can adjust to life in Rome, is the big question heading into the season.
How will Inzaghi favourites Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Ciro Immobile be utilised? Will Joaquin Correa be as effective? Will Lazio revert to Inzaghi ball when all hope is lost?
Why is Pepe Reina their number one goalkeeper ahead of Thomas Strakosha?
Do Francesco Acerbi and Lucas Leiva have one more good season left in their legs?
Should’ve the club have cashed in on Luis Alberto last summer?
Questions, questions, and more questions.
Perhaps time away from the game has done Sarri good and refreshed and renewed his passion for the game.
If he’s able to show his adaptability and flexibility, traits you would like to think he took away in hindsight from his one Scudetto winning season with Juventus, Lazio will be competitive and pushing for Europe again.
Uncertainty surrounds both Roman clubs, though admittedly it’s leaning towards optimistic uncertainty, however if Lazio start the season poorly, with a local derby versus Roma on matchday six, it’ll be sooner rather than later that Sarri will be reaching for a durry e caffe.
Key Player — Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
The powerful Serbian midfielder, (and Under 19 Euro Champiosn and Under 20 World Champion — I love that!) is still only 26.
Incredible to think the impact he’s had on his side and the Roman club, and to think there’s more to come, having not yet reached his ‘peak’.
Linked with French minnows PSG (Remember them?) earlier in the off-season Sergej has pledged his loyalty to Lazio and although one gets the sense Claudio Lotito would love to cash in on the midfielder, he’d have to go a long way to sooth the muddy waters of their fanbase trying to justify that sale.
Last season was one of Milinkovic-Savic’s most productive season, despite what felt like one of his quieter seasons, finishing with eight goals and ten assists.
If he can replicate that this season, it’ll go a long way towards brining Lazio to the top four rather than the top seven.
Player to Watch — Raul Moro
The former Spanish youth international was a standout for the club’s Primavera side last season scoring 11 goals in 22 appearances, combined with six assists, and has made several appearances this pre-season.
Moro, who made his single Serie A performance on the final matchday against Sassuolo, is capable of playing in a support role behind the striker and in his preferred position on the left-hand side of a front three which sounds right up Sarri’s alley.
From all reports has made an impression on new coach and the 18-year-old may find himself lining up more regularly for the first team
NB: If home schooling, lockdown and work allows it I’ll try to get to parts three and four published before the weekend but no guarantees.
Thanks for reading, much appreciated!