Serie A 2018\2019 Season Preview
Ferragosto. Italian beaches get crowded with people enjoying the last stint of their summer vacations, but you can tell that they are waiting for something. The anticipation is tangible. Some people are reading La Gazzetta dello Sport, wondering if this would finally be their year or if the club will eventually conclude the deal for that player. On the 18th of August their wait will be over: a new Serie A season it’s about to begin.
Serie A: a “one-team league”
While Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival to the Italy could definitely be a positive factor for the exposure of the league, there is a factual risk that CR7 could eclipse all the previous progress that Serie A made over the years in terms of quality of the product for the audience.
The argument of “a one-team league” can hold up if we look at the list of Serie A winners of the last 7 years: Juventus have taken all their competitors over. Doing such an analysis, however, would be like following a team only by reading the final results of each game week in, week out. There is so much going on in a single game, let alone a whole season, that can’t be summed up by a scoreline or a league table. There’s joy, anger, frustration, sadness, and a whole range of emotions that is what makes football so enjoyable.
The 2017\2018 Serie A season sets the perfect example of how mere and cold facts can be extremely deceiving. On paper, Juventus walked the league for the 7th time in a row, but the reality is that the race for the Scudetto was one of the most open and enjoyable in all of Europe. Likewise, the battles for a Champions League spot and to avoid relegation were fought until the very end. Ronaldo’s signing can amplify the perception that Juventus will have a field trip once again, but there’s a whole world beyond Cristiano: let’s try to take a closer look at it.
Let’s start from last year’s champions: Juventus. After the so-called “signing of the century”, the Bianconeri remain the main candidates to lift the Serie A trophy at the end of the year. The departures of big names like Buffon, Lichtsteiner, Higuain and Caldara would have been a huge blow for almost every club on the planet. Not for Juventus though as the Bianconeri managed to replace them and arguably improve their squad in the process, bringing in the likes of Perin, Emre Can, Cancelo and Ronaldo, together with Bonucci’s return from Milan. Their incredible squad depth could be once again the decisive factor in their pursuit to the 8th Scudetto in a row.
Here are the challengers. This campaign could be one to remember especially for the Scudetto and Champions League race. Behind Juventus there are in fact at least four or five teams that could make things interesting in the top quarter of the table.
The team that has improved the most during this summer’s mercato is Inter. The Nerazzurri have addressed many of the liabilities they had last season while granting all of their coach Spalletti’s wishes, especially with the acquisition of Nainggolan. The Belgian, in fact, enjoyed the best season of his career under the former Roma boss and, despite being in his thirties and not having the healthiest lifestyle in the world, could be the difference maker in Inter season. Nainggolan, however, was just one of the additions of Suning’s summer, as the Nerazzurri were one of the liveliest teams on the transfer market, signing Asamoah and De Vrij on free transfers, Vrsaljiko, Politano, Keita and the Argentinian wonderkid Lautaro Martinez.
In third position there’s Roma. The Giallorossi lost the best keeper in the Serie A last season and a crucial player like Nainggolan, but they did an excellent job reinvesting the money from those sales. They bolstered the midfield with players like Cristante, NZonzi and Pastore, while also adding even more youth and unpredictability to an already dangerous attack with the signings of Kluivert and Coric. This mix of “innocence and experience” is the prelude to a win-win situation for Roma. Should the youngsters they’ve brought in struggle to adapt to Serie A, Roma could count on the more experienced guys to carry the team and wait for the more unexperienced players to improve in the years to come. On the flipside, should the younger players hit the ground running this season, the Giallorossi would be a serious contender to Juventus’s domain.
Who would have thought that Milan could be a candidate for a Champions League spot? The Rossoneri’s summer was a real rollercoaster, as they went from being banned from Europa League to having new owners, a new management team and to signing players like Caldara, Bakayoko and especially Higuain. Despite the loss of Bonucci, who never truly impressed with a Milan shirt, the Italian back-line formed by Donnarumma, Conti, Romagnoli, Caldara and Calabria, has the potential to be one of the most solid of the league, not only for this campaign but for at least 7-8 years. Newly-appointed sporting director Leonardo, addressed also Milan’s main problem of the last few season, bringing in a proven and prolific striker in Higuain, one that can easily make the difference in Serie A.
At the bottom of the group of teams that could battle for the league there’s Napoli. The only world-class addition they brought in was new coach Ancelotti, while the scarcity of options for the goalkeeper and striker positions could be a cause for concern for the Azzurri fans. The good news, however, is that the club managed to keep all their key players, except for Jorginho and Reina. How fast the squad will adapt to a different football after three seasons of Sarri-ball, it remains to be seen.
Honorable mention for Lazio: the Biancocelesti have managed to keep their star Milinkovic-Savic (until now) and they also brought in some Tare-esque signing such as Berisha, Durmisi and Correa, together with Badelj and Acerbi, two very good players with plenty of Serie A experience. The Biancocelesti could be the “fifth wheel” of this Serie A campaign.
That was unexpected - possible surprise of the season
Sassuolo - Despite finishing bottom of the league last season, De Zerbi’s Benevento showed glimpses of very enjoyable and attacking football. The former Palermo coach is now at the wheel at Sassuolo, the perfect club to develop and take into practice his idea of football, based on a Zeman-esque 4-3-3. With Kevin-Prince Boateng as “falso nueve” and explosive wingers like Di Francesco, Boga, Brignola and particularly Berardi, the Neroverdi could be the most pleasant surprise of the season, especially if De Zerbi managed to revive the lost talent of the
Serie A’s got talent – two young players to watch
Musa Barrow – the Gambian striker introduced himself to the big stage of the Serie A last season and now he seems set for his break trough season. Lightning quick and with a knack for goals, the Atalanta striker could soon become a recurrent name on the big clubs’ shortlist for next season transfer window.
Lautaro Martinez – The Argentinian striker has impressed everyone in preseason with his fighting spirit and determination, combined with a killer instinct in front of the goal. The tango duo with Icardi could be one of the most prolific partnerships of the upcoming campaign.
Redemption song – two players that could have a much better season than last year
Patrik Schick – the Czech international didn’t have his best first season at Roma. After struggling with injuries for most of the year, it took him a while to find his confidence with his new club. Towards the end of last season, however, he showed that he has all the right credentials to be a protagonist in the Giallorossi attack.
Andrea Belotti – Last summer Torino were asking €100 million for him, but after a disappointing season the Italian striker seems set to stay with the Granata one more year. Just like Schick, also Belotti had a season plagued by injuries but, should he remain fit, he could return to be the amazing striker we admired in the past, especially under Mazzarri, a coach known for bringing out the best from his strikers.