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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Serie A 2007-2008 Preview by Jim Riggio

Still Favorite Inter Will Face Tougher Time in 2008

By Jim Riggio for World Football Commentaries.

If there is one thing the 2007-2008 Serie A season should be, it is that it will be more competitive than last season. With Juventus back in Serie A, following a drop to Serie B for match-fixing allegations, the league once again has another strong side.

Inter Milan, which won the league title by a giant 22 points last season, will face a bigger challenge this season.

Intercity rival AC Milan and AS Roma appear to be the biggest threats to Roberto Mancini’s side.

A very strong Fiorentina side, along with Juventus, Palermo, Lazio, Sampdoria and Udinese appear to be a step behind, but will figure for the fourth and final UEFA Champions League berth.

Most of the remaining 11 Serie A squads figure to be in a battle for salvation to remain in the top flight for the following season.

Perhaps the most interesting of this group is Empoli, which finished seventh last season and will be competing in the UEFA Cup this season. The club from a small Tuscan city just outside Florence, is coming off its best record ever. It lost just one key player, Sergio Almiron, who was sold to Juventus. He will be replaced by Serie A veteran Guillermo Giacomazzi of Uruguay, who finished last season with Palermo after having spent many years with Lecce.

Inter are the defending champions and appear to have finally started to develop a rhythm the last few years under Mancini, who unlike many previous Inter coaches, has for the most part a starting lineup that he sticks to. Defender Christian Chivu, who moved over AS Roma is the biggest off-season signing. Honduran forward David Suazo is a very talented player who comes over from Cagliari, where he was the star of the squad. Now Suazo will find himself in a logjam of forwards as Inter is deep up front with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Hernan Crespo, Adriano, Julio Cruz and Alvaro Recoba.

While Inter won the Scudetto last season, rivals AC Milan took the UEFA Champions League title. Milan did very little in the transfer market, as young Brazilian Alexandre Pato was the lone significant addition to an aging squad. Milan has great players and a great system, but lacks the depth that Inter has. The biggest key for Milan is keeping midfielders Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo healthy, as the squad’s midfield depth is thin.

AS Roma’s loss of Chivu to Inter may be viewed as a loss, but Roma didn’t exactly just let the player go and not do anything about it. Roma picked up three quality defenders in Brazilian internationals Juan and Cicinho, as well as Italian Under-21 star Marco Andreolli. Roma also added French international Ludovic Giuly and former Cagliari star Mauro Esposito. Although Chivu is gone, and Vincenzo Montella returned to Sampdoria, Roma should be even better this year – especially now that captain Francesco Totti has ended his international career, leaving him more time to concentrate on playing for Roma.

Fiorentina is once again becoming one of the top clubs in the world. The viola sold Luca Toni, but have picked up Christian Vieri, who along with young talent Giampaolo Pazzini will try to fill his loss. The rest of the team has remained intact, and is very solid everywhere on the pitch, especially in goal with Sebastien Frey, arguably the second best keeper in Serie A after Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon.

This could be a big breakout season for midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, who won’t be 23 until January. Montolivo has drawn comparisons to Totti and Pirlo.

Juventus is back in Serie A and has many new faces, as well as a new coach in Claudio Ranieri. Ranieri is a fine coach who is coming off a superb stint as Parma coach. His group may take some time to gel, but will certainly be one of the top sides in the league. If Juventus is to take the Scudetto, chances are it will be because of Buffon, the world’s top keeper.

Palermo still has two players from the 2006 World Cup winning Italy side in defenders Andrea Barzagli and Cristian Zaccardo. One of the most interesting things this season will be to see how Brazilian forward Amauri recovers, after starting out the season on a tear last year, only to see his season cut short due to injury. He will be partnered up front with Italian Fabrizio Miccoli, previously owned by Juventus.

Lazio is in the Champions League qualifying stages, but doesn’t figure to be around for long. The team has had difficulty with the transfer of Argentinian Juan Pablo Carrizo, who was supposed to be the replacement for the recently retired Angelo Peruzzi. Instead, 43-year-old Marco Ballotta has taken over as the club’s top keeper.

Sampdoria have a new coach in Walter Mazzari, who did an outstanding job last season with Reggina. The club lost Fabio Quagliarella in a blind auction with Udinese, but has a new attack with the return of Vincenzo Montella, after many years with Roma. The team added a power forward in Andrea Caracciolo from Palermo and have picked up the talented, but often troubled Antonio Cassano on loan from Real Madrid.

Udinese was active in the transfer market, gaining Quagliarella from Sampdoria. But the club also lost several key players, including goalie Morgan De Sanctis, who went to play for Spain’s Sevilla. Also gone are forward Vincenzo Iaquinta, a World Cup champion, who moved over to Juventus, and midfielder Sulley Muntari, who joined Premership club Portsmouth. Expect high scoring contests when Udinese plays.

The remaining Serie A sides:

Atalanta – The Bergamaschi should have a solid side under new coach Luigi Del Neri (ex-Chievo, Roma, Palermo). Veteran Cristiano Doni was a key to the side last year and should be once again.

Cagliari – This team appears destined for Serie B, after losing three of its top players in the transfer market – Suazo, Esposito and Antonio Langella (Atalanta). Two players to look out for are young forward Robert Acquafresca and playmaker Pasquale Foggia.

Catania – Although this team will be in a fight to remain in Serie A, it should be able to pull through, as the squad made a few key additions, most notably central defender Claudio Terlizzi. New coach Silvio Baldini should also help, as the team suffered defensively last season under attack-minded coach Pasquale Marino, who is now at Udinese.

Genoa—The Ligurian side returns to Serie A and like its intercity rivals Sampdoria, should have a fine attack led by veteran Marco DiVaio, who most notably played for Juventus and Parma. Whether the side can play defense will dictate how well it does. Cesare Bovo should give the team a boost on defense.

Livorno – This club was very active in the off-season, selling its hometown hero Cristiano Lucarelli to Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. But the team has picked up several key players, including Francesco Tavano (ex-Empoli, Valencia and AS Roma), veteran Spanish forward Diego Tristan, and veteran midfielder Giulio Giannichedda, who played with Juventus last season. Star goalie Marco Amelia remains with the squad.

Napoli – One of Italy’s most beloved teams returns to Serie A. In recent days, the team picked up two key players in midfielder Manuel Blasi and longtime Juventus forward Marcelo Zalayeta. The team doesn’t figure to be in the top half of the standings, but should survive. Two interesting newcomers to the squad and Serie A are Uruguayan midfielder Walter Gargano and Argentinian forward Ezequiel Lavezzi.

Parma—No, Giuseppe Rossi is not going to be back this season. But Parma has made a few solid moves in the transfer market by bringing in a few key players who should make the team better than last season. Young midfielders Daniele Dessena and Luca Cigarini are future stars. I see this team escaping relegation yet again.

Reggina – Only a miracle will save this team from dropping to Serie B. There are many new faces as Rolando Bianchi has moved on to Manchester City. Nicola Amoruso will try to pick up the pieces, but he faces a very difficult challenge.

Siena – Siena has picked up a few young players on loan from some of the larger Serie A squads. They will need to perform at a high level if this team is to avoid relegation. Alexander Manninger is one of the league’s better goalies. But Siena appears to be in a fight to remain in the top division.

Torino—Longtime Sampdoria coach Walter Novellino takes over and Torino should benefit from the addition of forward Nicola Ventola, who comes over from Atalanta. Novellino doesn’t have a great team to work with, but one that should have enough to remain in Serie A.

About the Author

Mr. Riggio has written about Italian and international soccer for ESPN/Soccernet, and was an interviewee for my column at AC Cugini Scuola Calcio. Last summer, he contributed an interview with Gianluca Zambrotta for my World Football site.

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