8 Bold Predictions for the 2014/15 Serie A Season
Finally, another Serie A season is almost upon us. The league has some fresh faces, Juventus have a new coach and Roma have a string of new players to help them take on the Bianconeri and try to deny them a record fourth Scudetto in a row.
Palermo make a return to the top flight after winning Serie B, and they're joined by Cesena and Empoli, taking the place of last year's relegated sides Catania, Bologna and Livorno.
Juve, Roma and Napoli remain the favourites for the title but should face some opposition from Fiorentina. Inter continue to rebuild under Walter Mazzarri, and on the red and black side of the San Siro, it's up to Filippo Inzaghi to pick up the pieces for Milan after a horrible 2013-14 campaign.
How it will all end is anyone's guess, but that doesn't stop us from making some bold—and perhaps foolish—predictions before it all kicks off at the end of August.
Juventus Will Struggle in Serie A
Of all the predictions on this list, this is most likely to blow up in the author's face, but it's still hard to shake the feeling that Juventus will struggle in 2014-15.
Losing Antonio Conte will have upset the balance in Turin, and there's no telling how well new boss Max Allegri will settle at the club or how effectively he'll be able to set them on the right path again in the short term.
Long term, Allegri is a solid choice as a coach and one deserving of a much better reputation than the one he currently enjoys. He did, after all, win a Scudetto at Milan, while having his best players sold out from under him and having to deal with a disruptive and often openly critical board.
The 47-year-old should enjoy his new stable surroundings with the Old Lady, but continuing on Conte's incredible run of three titles back-to-back is no easy feat, and after a hat-trick of league trophies, any less than another win has to be categorised as a disappointment.
Their opponents have all strengthened this summer, too, which is a concern for the Bianconeri because they still could lose one of their two most valuable players, Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal, before the end of the transfer window.
If they keep both, and Allegri can work out his past differences with Andrea Pirlo, Juve still have perhaps the most complete squad in the league. And they've made a couple of interesting additions, because like Ashley Cole at Roma, Patrice Evra will bring some much needed experience at left-back, while Alvaro Morata's signing from Real Madrid will offer Allegri more options up front.
The problem for Juve is they'll have to be almost perfect right from the beginning if last season is anything to go by. Roma look stronger and Rudi Garcia is now well-settled as coach. Likewise, Vincenzo Montella, Rafa Benitez and Walter Mazzarri will all benefit from being on the bench a year at Fiorentina, Napoli and Inter respectively, and it's impossible to think AC Milan will be as hopeless as they were last year.
The pressure will be on right from the start for Allegri and his new side, and while it's true he won the league with Milan in his first season, the Rossoneri were afforded plenty of breathing space by their rivals. After an impressive opening win, they lost their next game and followed that by two draws. That's the kind of stuttering start that will almost certainly end a contender's campaign in 2014-15.
But Allegri Will Prove His Worth in Europe
It's worth pointing out that, despite the fact the wheels quickly fell off their league campaign, Allegri took Milan to the Champions League knockout stages last year—something Conte failed to do with Juve.
The Rossoneri were sent packing pretty definitively by Atletico Madrid, who eventually reached the final with Real Madrid, but Allegri had serious squad problems right from the off, and with the players at his disposal, even getting out of the group was no small achievement.
Milan held Barcelona to a draw at the San Siro in their group, and the year before in the Round of 16, they beat the Spanish giants in Italy. Both times, Allegri had to combat the might of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Co. with a vastly inferior team that included the likes of Valter Birsa, Bakaye Traore and Cristian Zapata.
Serious injury problems with Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli's streakiness left Milan without many first-class options up front in 2013-14, whereas elsewhere in the squad, years of neglect from the board meant very little quality remained. Allegri won't have that problem at Juve; he'll have more options in terms of what formation he wants to use and more choices in terms of personnel.
Conte's forceful personality seemed to drive Juve to their dominant league runs but did little for their fortunes in Europe. It will be interesting to see how Allegri matches up to his predecessor this season in the Champions League, and even if he cedes the league to Roma or another rival, reaching the final stages of the continent's biggest competition would be an important success.
Roma Will Win the League
Hardly the boldest of predictions, given Roma's form last term, but a call has to be made on who will lift the Scudetto next May and the Giallorossi look like firm favourites.
Rudi Garcia's debut season at the Olimpico would have been good enough to win the league most years, and the Lupi's stellar return of 85 points and 72 goals in the league only fell short because Juventus enjoyed a truly outstanding campaign.
Roma have since strengthened, and Juve no longer have Conte on the bench. The ex-midfielder was a crucial component to their success, not just in terms of his tactics and coaching but also because he's a natural leader and former club legend.
A bold move for Juan Iturbe added more creativity going forward, while Davide Astori and Ashley Cole have brought more quality to what was already one of the best defences around. Roma also boast one of Europe's most exciting midfields, and bringing in Seydou Keita complements it with the Malian's extensive title-winning experience to give Garcia more options in depth.
They'll have their work cut out for them, but there's no doubting this season Roma are a compelling package.
Pippo Inzaghi Will Take the Fall for the Board's Failures at AC Milan
Milan can't afford another annus horribilis, but the evidence suggests that's just what they're in for. And unfortunately for Pippo Inzaghi, that means he'll almost certainly be left to take the blame for the continued mismanagement of one of Italy's great sporting institutions.
Last season was a disaster, not just because they finished eighth, well off the pace and out of the Champions League places for the upcoming campaign and their worst finish in 15 years. They also fired Clarence Seedorf as coach after less than six months in charge, severely tarnishing the image of a club hero and leaving a sour taste in the mouths of all involved.
Letting the same thing happen to Filippo Inzaghi should be unthinkable, but at a club run by career politicians, it's unlikely anyone higher up will take the fall for the problems that have so far cost Max Allegri and Seedorf their jobs and a good portion of their reputations.
Silvio Berlusconi no longer likes spending big money on his football club, but the former Italian prime minister will need to invest something if he wants to stop the rot at the Rossoneri.
The season has yet to start, but they've already conceded 12 goals while losing to Olympiakos, Manchester City, Liverpool and Valencia.
Almost every area of the pitch needs improvement because the current squad is most made up of average players. The likes of Riccardo Montolivo, Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli are all young and talented enough to be part of the club's future, but for the most part, the disappointing, creaking squad should be consigned to the past.
Signing Diego Lopez from Real Madrid is an improvement in goal, and the free additions of Alex and Jeremy Menez will add some more quality outfield, but it's nowhere near enough to make the Rossoneri competitive again.
Alessio Cerci is reportedly their top target and he'd definitely improve their attack, but doubts remain about Milan's willingness to meet Torino's price, and the Gazzetta dello Sport reports (here, in Italian) that while the two clubs are still talking, there's a difference of €6 million in their respective valuations.
Considering how much a Champions League place would be worth to Milan, it's incredible they're so slow to spend money while all of their rivals have improved their squads.
Even a huge improvement on the pitch won't be enough for a top-three finish with this squad. If Inzaghi is to succeed as Milan coach, it'll take more than a season and a handful of bargain basement signings, but this far in his career as a player and as coach at youth level, he's shown enough intelligence and dogged determination to suggest he can end the decline and give fans reason to be hopeful long-term. It's just a shame he's unlikely to get enough time to do it.
Lorenzo Insigne Will Become a World-Class Player
The cognoscenti have been talking about Lorenzo Insigne for some time now, but 2014-15 should be the season when the diminutive Neapolitan finally grabs the attention of the wider football-watching public.
Insigne was largely ignored by Walter Mazzarri while the Tuscan was on the Napoli bench, and though he was an occasional starter, the young forward was never given the consistent game time needed to polish his talent properly.
Benitez found a player who was still rough around the edges and turned him into one of Serie A's best attackers and an Italian international. His control, mobility and creative flair was never in doubt, but Insigne is now quicker to act and less greedy with possession thanks to a season working with Benitez, and he should be a key part of the Spaniard's plans at the San Paolo.
Palermo President Maurizio Zamparini Will Go the Season Without Firing Anyone
This is about as far from a safe bet as you can get, but it has to happen sooner or later, doesn't it?
Since Maurizio Zamparini took over as Palermo president in 2002, the Rosanero have seen 30 managerial changes. Some gluttons for punishment like Gian Piero Gasperini, Giuseppe Sannino, Delio Rossi and Francesco Guidolin have made multiple appearances in the Stadio Renzo Barbera's technical area, but it remains a frightening number.
Back in 2011, Serse Cosmi lasted just four games, and having been hired the following summer, Stefano Pioli didn't even make it past August.
By comparison, Giuseppe Iachini been in his job an age, taking over in September 2013. And having brought Palermo back to the promised land of Serie A, he deserves the time to prove he can cut it as a top-flight coach. He's brought Sampdoria, Brescia and Chievo Verona to Italy's first division in the past but has yet to make his mark long-term against the best opposition.
One of Walter Sabatini's New Signings Will Cause a Stir
Mehdi Benatia, Leandro Castan, Kevin Strootman, Miralem Pjanic, Marquinhos, Erik Lamela, Radja Nainggolan and Gervinho are just some of the successful transfer moves Walter Sabatini has made—and that's just at Roma.
Elsewhere, just some of the talent he's brought to the fore includes Aleksandar Kolarov, Valon Behrami, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Hernanes and Javier Pastore. He's also been known to discover talent among the youth ranks, too, putting his faith in Alessandro Nesta at Lazio and Gennaro Gattuso while at Perugia.
It seems that not a season goes by without Saba putting his faith in a player who ends up with grabbing the world's attention.
This summer, he's added Juan Iturbe to the Roma lineup, but the former Verona star had already made a name for himself at the Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi, and his big-money arrival in Rome precludes listing him as a player who could still be "discovered."
The Argentine Leandro Paredes, formerly of Boca Juniors, is one signing who could make headlines, however. Paraguay's Antonio Sanabria is another. Or perhaps it will be Fenerbache's Salih Ucan. All three are still relative unknowns with much to prove. Don't be surprised if one of them is the subject of big-money transfer gossip this time next year.
Fiorentina Will Be Undone by Injuries
It's harsh to make such a negative prediction about a side that brings so much positivity to Serie A, but it's difficult to see Vincenzo Montella's Fiorentina getting through the season without one or two serious injuries to key players. And like in 2013-14, that will ultimately be the difference that separates them from the likes of Napoli and Inter in the race for Champions League football.
Injury kept Josip Ilicic from showing his best form in Florence since moving from Palermo, and it was injury that meant Mario Gomez barely had any impact at all last term after his exciting move from Bayern Munich.
Too much time on the treatment table damaged Alberto Aquilani's development at Roma and limited his impact at Liverpool. He improved on loan at Juventus and Milan, but his fragility almost certainly stopped him from becoming the brilliant midfielder his coaches predicted he'd be at a young age.
But of all Fiorentina's injury worries, none are greater than Giuseppe Rossi, a player whose talent and eye for goal is only matched by his vulnerability to affliction. Because were it not for the string of knee problems that have blighted his career, he'd be ranked among the world's very best forwards.
The American-born Italian was unhappy about being left out of Italy's World Cup squad due to concerns about his fitness, but he'll now miss another key game for the Viola, the season opener against Roma, due to a recurring knee issue according to Fifa.com. In a crucial game like that, having your best striker is potentially make-or-break for the whole season and it's unlikely to be the only important fixture he misses.
Even away from the most injury prone, important squad players like David Pizarro, Stefan Savic, Manuel Pasqual, Nenad Tomovic and Juan Manuel Vargas all spent four or more games out with problems last term, as did new signing Marko Marin.
Every side expects some casualties over the course of the season, but the susceptibility of Fiorentina's best coupled with the fact Montella doesn't have as deep as squad as some of the opposition should continue to cause the former striker serious problems.