5 Things to Watch Out for in Serie A Week 1
Finally, Serie A is back in action. Europe's other top leagues have all started, but the football is just getting underway in Italy with a bumper weekend packed full of fascinating fixtures.
On paper, Roma v. Fiorentina looks like the tie of the round, but Inter's trip to Torino and Lazio's visit to the San Siro to face Pippo Inzaghi's Milan all have plenty of potential to thrill as well.
New boys Cesena, Palermo and Empoli will face Parma, Sampdoria and Udinese, respectively, pitching them all against established top-flight sides in their debut weekend.
But it won't just be results that people will be watching out for. There have been several headline-grabbing managerial appointments made in Italy this summer, and there's plenty of fresh talent to ponder over.
Everything at Juventus
There's no getting away from it. After three stellar years under Antonio Conte, Juventus will begin their new Max Allegri era with all eyes focused firmly on them.
The Bianconeri's opening fixture is a relatively easy journey to Chievo Verona, but Allegri needs a convincing performance from his side to get his tenure off to the right start—and to send a clear message to fans and the media, who'll be comparing everything he does to Conte.
At Milan, he had his best players sold out from under him and was constantly undermined by the board. He didn't do a perfect job, either, but he didn't become a bad manager in the last 18 months of his career at the San Siro. Having begun Sassuolo's rise to the top before enjoying more success at Cagliari—where he was voted manager of the year for Serie A in 2008-09—the 47-year-old Tuscan is a capable pair of hands to steer Juve.
He is, however, a coach who tends to get off to slow starts, so it will be interesting to see how much slack—if any—people cut Allegri. In his first season at Milan, they bagged just five points in his first four games before going on a run where they lost just twice and drew once in three months on the way to the Scudetto.
There are several tactical questions still looming, and it remains anyone's guess what formation the new manager will use. The roles of several senior players are also still up for debate, and having been lead for three seasons by a dominant and popular personality, it remains to be seen how Juve's stars will react to Allegri's style and his ideas.
Despite saying that he was going nowhere, Roma will start the new season without Medhi Benatia. And that's going to open the Giallorossi's defence up to plenty of examination and criticism.
The centre-back was among the best performers in Serie A last term and had his head turned by several lucrative offers from abroad before settling on a big-money move to Bayern Munich.
It's a shame for Roma to lose such a talented player, but in the long run, the club was probably right to offload the 27-year-old. Giving in to a player's demand for an improved contract after just one season at the club would set a dangerous precedent.
Benatia was central to Roma's good defensive record last season, but the fact is that teams defend with 11. Rudi Garcia's tactics, and the amount of talent in Roma's starting line-up, contributed to that success too, and they'll all now want to move on from the Moroccan's protracted transfer saga, focus on the new campaign and prove that there was more to them in 2013-14 than just Benatia's defending.
Davide Astori and Kostas Manolas, who have been signed to replace Benatia in the back line and provide more depth, are both talented players, and it wouldn't be surprising to realise quickly that rather than weakening the side, losing their star defender had actually strengthened the squad thanks to Walter Sabatini's clever work in the transfer market.
The season hasn't even begun, and already Giuseppe Rossi's fitness is causing Fiorentina plenty of heartache.
Rossi's one of the league's most talented forwards when fit, but the 27-year-old spends far too much time on the treatment table, and now, thanks to the latest knee injury, Vincenzo Montella's side will have to start the season without its main striker in a crucial away fixture against Roma, a key rival.
This is the kind of fixture in which players like Rossi are supposed to make the difference, and three points—or even a draw—away at the Olimpico would be priceless to the Viola. Montella will be hoping the rest of his squad can pick up the slack, but he'll be bitterly disappointed that his star man isn't more reliable. Injuries to Rossi and Mario Gomez cost Fiorentina dearly last year, and the misery looks set to continue.
Inter's Development over the Summer
Will this be the year that Walter Mazzarri brings Inter back to the Champions League? The Tuscan coach will have an uphill battle on his hands with the likes of Juventus, Roma, Napoli and Fiorentina ahead of him, but his rebuilding work at the Nerazzurri should start producing rewards soon, and it will be interesting to see how they look in their first game of the season, which is away to Torino.
Inter begin the campaign without Javier Zanetti in the squad for the first time since 1995. The Argentine's retirement will have had an effect on the dressing room at the San Siro, although how much his loss will be felt will be down to the club's transfer business in the closing days of the window and Mazzarri's ability to raise spirits and lead Inter's younger players towards a new chapter.
Gary Medel looks on paper to be an able replacement for Esteban Cambiasso in the midfield, but it remains to be seen if the new arrivals like Medel, Nemanja Vidic at the back and Dani Osvaldo up front can settle quickly in their new surroundings.
Torino are never an easy nut to crack, so a positive result in Turin would be a big confidence boost for the Nerazzurri and suggest that they're on the right track.
How AC Milan Will Fare Without Balotelli
Filippo Inzaghi's honeymoon period in charge of Milan will be well and truly over by Sunday if he doesn't manage to beat Lazio at the San Siro.
The Rossoneri have sold Mario Balotelli, their best player, to Liverpool, a counter-intuitive move that unfortunately seems all too like Milan these days. Another forward must now surely be brought in to replace Balo, but he won't arrive in time to start against the Aquile, so it will be up to Giampaolo Pazzini to lead the line.
The 30-year-old striker is better than his recent stats suggest, but it should worry Milanisti that their attack is now being trusted to a man who managed just two goals in 18 games last term.
Stefano Pioli's Lazio will also be worth watching. The new coach's style is quite different from what the Biancocelesti have been used to recently under Vladimir Petkovic and Edy Reja. Both sides have potential but could just as easily implode under the weight of their own expectation.