Serie A's Top 3 Strikers for 2013-14
The Serie A is known better for its culture of defense, but as the 2013-14 season opens, Italian fans can tune in every weekend and see some fantastic strikers.
The last two transfer windows have seen some top-notch attackers join Italian squads. That talent will be combined with a few excellent midfield units that could produce goals in bunches this season.
Who are the ones to watch in 2013-14? Read on to find out.
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Antonio Di Natale
The former two-time Capocannoniere defines the term evergreen. He will turn 36 this October, but he's scored more than 20 goals in each of the last four years.
Udinese's talisman is getting a rare treat this year. For the first time in several years, the team has not engaged in a massive sell-off in the summer transfer window.
That means that Di Natale will be complemented this year by young attacker Luis Muriel (11 goals in 23 games in all competitions last year). He won't have Matej Vydra to play off—he's going to England on loan again, this time to West Brom. However, the league's top returning scorer will have enough around him to score in bunches.
Di Natale is looking to get to one last World Cup this summer, providing added motivation for a good season.
Antonio Conte's new toy has a fantastic midfield behind him, anchored by one of the best passers in the history of the game in Andrea Pirlo. The service he's going to get with such fantastic support will be excellent.
However, that midfield is also why Tevez isn't a sure bet to challenge for the Capocannoniere. Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio have scored 17 and 15 goals in the league over the last two seasons. That's not to mention Paul Pogba, who scored five in a part-time role and has a proclivity for long-distance shooting.
Such accomplished goalscorers in the midfield will siphon goals from Tevez and new strike partner Fernando Llorente.
Conte's system spreads the scoring burden. He's never had a striker of Tevez's quality, though, so it's not certain whether that is a natural quality of his 3-5-2 or if it was meant to mask his heretofore lack of an elite finisher.
Regardless, Tevez can be expected to score 15 to 25 goals—something Juve hasn't had in years.
The young Argentine broke out last year with 15 goals for Roma. Only Pablo Osvaldo scored more for the capital club.
The 21-year-old will have Osvaldo and club legend Francesco Totti to play off, and there's no telling what the fallout will be from Osvaldo's dustup with former coach Aurelio Andreazzoli at the Coppa Italia final, and whether it will affect his place in the team.
If he takes a more focal role in the team's attack and continues improving on the same curve, a 20 to 25-goal season is by no means out of the question.
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Gonzalo Higuain presented a warning to Serie A defenders in Wednesday's friendly between Italy and Argentina in Rome.
Higuain opened the scoring and then set up a second-half goal that turned out to be the decider after Lorenzo Insigne pulled one back late for the Azzurri.
Brought in from Real Madrid to replace the titanic production of Edinson Cavani, Higuain will be the focal point of Napoli's attack. It's a heavy burden. Cavani scored almost 40 percent of the team's goals a season ago, and while the acquisition of Dries Mertens and the continued emergence of Insigne promises to balance the attack, Napoli is still going to lean heavily on Higuain.
The Argentine will benefit immensely with Serie A assist leader Marek Hamsik playing behind him, along with Insigne's abilities as a provider up front. A total of 25 to 30 goals is a more than reasonable prediction for his output this season.
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Fiorentina pulled off the coup of the transfer window when they snared Mario Gomez. The German international had been rendered surplus to requirements at Bayern Munich, and Fiorentina muscled themselves to the head of the line in the battle for his services.
Vincenzo Montella's Viola played some of the best soccer in Europe last year, but with Stevan Jovetic often injured and Adem Ljajic only breaking out in the last few weeks of the season, all the great buildup often found a dead end.
Between Gomez and Giuseppe Rossi—who returns from injury after a year and a half—Montella now has the strikers to finish his team's fantastic attacking movements.
Even if Ljajic ends up leaving the team by the end of the transfer window (or loses motivation if he stays), Gomez—who scored 11 times in the Bundesliga last year despite only getting part-time work—should have a huge year. Expect him to be in the running for the Capocannoniere this year.
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Mario Balotelli exploded when he arrived at Milan from Manchester City at the end of January.
Balotelli wasn't expected to debut with his new team quite so soon, but when Giampaolo Pazzini suffered an injury on February 3 before a game against Udinese, Super Mario took his place.
He scored a pair of goals in that game, including a last-minute penalty that won the game. He added 10 more goals by the time the season was done, giving him a whopping 12 goals in 13 games.
Balotelli arrived in the nick of time. Breakout star Stephan El Shaarawy was beginning to fade as he was exposed to the rigors of a full Serie A and European season for the first time, and Balotelli picked up the slack. It allowed the Rossoneri to complete a remarkable comeback, going from 15th place all the way to the cherished third Champions League spot.
Balotelli has shown good chemistry with El Shaarawy on both the club and international level, and he is going to have a great midfield behind him. Riccardo Montolivo anchors a unit that will include Kevin-Prince Boateng, Sulley Muntari and youngster Riccardo Saponara. The prospect of Keisuke Honda's arrival from CSKA Moscow—which will happen in the winter on a Bosman, regardless of what happens in this window—makes this attacking group even more exciting.
With that ammunition behind him, Balotelli is my favorite to win the Capocannoniere this year.