15 Players to Watch in the 2014/15 Serie A Season
Saturday marks the return of Serie A as Chievo and champions Juventus open the season. There were a lot of significant changes during the summer. Managers have stepped down and players have been sold, but they've been properly replaced.
There are several storylines heading into in the 2014/15 season. Roma is searching for that elusive Scudetto, and Juve will try to continue their success under new boss Massimiliano Allegri.
However, there are also individual players to keep an eye on this year. The ages fluctuate, but they all have the same objectives for the upcoming campaign.
These players either have something to prove to their critics, they've slipped under the radar and are set to impress, or they're hoping to continue their strong form from last season.
Here are the 10 players to watch in the 2014/15 Serie A season.
Stefan de Vrij
15. Luca Toni
Hellas Verona striker Luca Toni had a surprisingly successful campaign in 2013/14. The 37-year-old scored 20 goals in 34 league appearances, and was the second leading scorer in Serie A.
Toni was key to Verona's impressive 10th place finish last year. However, with the departures of Jorginho and Juan Iturbe, many wonder if the Italian forward can replicate that kind of scoring output again.
There's no question that Toni's season played a large part in Verona's success. The worry is that he's 37 and doesn't have as many talented playmakers around him. If he can't score, the Gialloblu might be in trouble.
14. Francesco Tavano
Empoli are certain relegation candidates, but one man who will be key to the Azzurri staying in Serie A is Francesco Tavano, their top scorer in Serie B last season.
Tavano had 23 goals in 43 games, good enough for second overall on the league scoring list. The 35-year-old will be crucial this season, but has traditionally struggled in Serie A.
In Tavano's previous stint in the top flight, he had four goals in 24 appearances in 2009/10 with Livorno. His career high is 19 goals in 37 matches back in 2005/06 with Empoli when they last participated in Serie A.
If Empoli has any hope of staying up, they'll need Tavano to replicate that form. Maybe he'll be able to channel his inner Luca Toni and clinch survival for the Tuscans.
13. Antonio Cassano
The traditional bad boy of Italian football has reportedly gotten into some trouble over the last few months. Antonio Cassano was apparently one of the Italian players who was a disruption during the World Cup, per Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia).
More reports claimed that Cassano had gotten into a row with manager Roberto Donadoni, among others, per La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia). However, Donadoni rejected those claims, via the aforementioned sources.
The 32-year-old enjoyed an excellent season at Parma last year. That probably led to Cesare Prandelli including Cassano in the World Cup squad.
On the other hand, the striker's hot-headed ways could get in the way of him improving on his 12 goals and six assists in 2013/14. Either way, he's always entertaining to watch.
12. Keisuke Honda
Mario Balotelli left AC Milan for Liverpool, and it appears as if Chelsea's Fernando Torres is going to replace him, per Dominic Fifield of The Guardian. However, Japanese playmaker Keisuke Honda might have a more important season ahead of him if Torres arrives.
Honda signed with Milan in January, and on paper it was a smart signing given the free transfer and player's ambition to move to the Italian giants.
The Japanese international struggled in his first few months in Milan. Both Massimiliano Allegri and Clarence Seedorf pushed him out wide, where he looked uncomfortable compared to his usual central attacking position.
With Filippo Inzaghi as manager, Honda might be able to build on a decent World Cup performance and could get some key minutes in his primary role.
This could be a make-or-break season for the 28-year-old. If he flops, he could end up on the market this winter.
11. Antonio Di Natale
Udinese's Antonio Di Natale is an ageless wonder. The 36-year-old scored 17 league goals, which to many is an impressive feat, but it's Di Natale's lowest return since the 2008/09 season.
Every season presents the same discussion of whether Di Natale still has enough left in the tank to play at the highest level. The veteran continues to amaze even as he approaches 40 years of age.
Udinese's attack will obviously go through Di Natale. Luis Muriel underachieved last year, so the former had to carry even more of the load up front.
Seeing if Di Natale can challenge for the Capocannoniere should be reason enough to keep tabs on him.
10. Gary Medel
Gary Medel could be one of the signings of the season. He was a key part of Chile's World Cup run, playing in a three man defense. It was impressive given Medel's small stature, plus he played as a deep lying midfielder with Cardiff during the previous season.
That didn't stop "The Pitbull" in Brazil, no matter how much he was bruised and battered. Inter's £10 million capture of the Chilean, per the BBC, should be considered a bargain for that reason alone.
Medel can play in Walter Mazzarri's three man back line, and he can slot in as a defensive midfielder. He'll be key for the Nerazzurri making a push for a Champions League spot.
Inter lacks some grit without the likes of Esteban Cambiasso anymore. Medel can fill that void and then some. He's arguably the top Nerazzurri player to watch to see his tenaciousness and all-around ability.
9. Mario Gomez
Fiorentina's 2013/14 season can be described with the word "injury." Strikers Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez were the two big names to miss significant time. Rossi is reportedly suffering from "knee overload," but it's improving, per Goal.com.
Gomez's season was also riddled with injuries. The Viola's campaign requires their two strikers to be healthy, especially the German forward given Rossi's current troubles.
Gomez scored 75 goals in 115 league appearances with Bayern Munich, so if the striker can stay healthy, he can replicate that for the Tuscan side.
8. Kevin Strootman
Kevin Strootman has been linked with a move away from Roma, mainly to Manchester United in January, per Jamie Jackson of The Guardian. Strootman's knee injury has held back United from pulling the trigger this summer.
The Dutchman is set to return in October, and when he does, it will be a tremendous relief for Romanisti as he's a crucial player to manager Rudi Garcia's system.
The 24-year-old made 28 appearances in all competitions for the Giallorossi, until he suffered that devastating knee injury. Surely he'll slot right back into the starting XI once the midfielder is fully fit.
Given United's interest and his importance to Roma, Strootman is easily one of the top players to focus on this season. Watching him operate in that deep lying role is a pleasure to witness.
7. Nemanja Vidic
Nemanja Vidic might not be as quick as he was in his prime with Manchester United, but the defender is a welcome addition for Inter given all of the leaders that have left the club.
Javier Zanetti, Diego Milito and Walter Samuel have all left. Esteban Cambiasso was the latest to depart, signing with Leicester on Thursday, per James Andrew of the Daily Mail.
Andrea Ranocchia was named captain, but Vidic will be a leader on this team. He'll also be crucial in Mazzarri's system. Playing with two other center backs should help nullify the Serbian's declining pace.
Vidic might not have many years left, but in the near future, he'll help anchor a back line that's lacking in big game experience.
6. Giuseppe Rossi
Like his teammate Mario Gomez, Giuseppe Rossi must stay healthy. It's what's derailed Fiorentina's campaign, but Rossi continued to experience the ramifications after the season.
Rossi's omission from Italy's World Cup squad was apparently down to his lack of fitness. Now his current knee complications have ruled out the 27-year-old from starting the season opener against Roma, per Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia).
Before Rossi got hurt, he was leading Serie A in scoring, but was eventually passed by Ciro Immobile, Luca Toni, Carlos Tevez and others. The Fiorentina man can certainly keep up when fit.
If the Italian international manages to avoid injury, then both Rossi and Fiorentina will be interesting to watch this season.
5. Stephan El Shaarawy
Stephan El Shaarawy had a monster year in 2012/13, but it turned sour once Mario Balotelli arrived to AC Milan.
The 21-year-old scored just once from Balotelli's arrival until the end of the season. The Pharaoh had 15 goals prior to the signing.
Now with the Italian striker departing the club, it's time for El Shaarawy to put his injury problems behind him and return to his old form from a couple of seasons ago.
It's going to be intriguing to see how El Shaarawy fares coming off an injury-riddled campaign and with higher expectations on his shoulders. Milan look thin up top, so it might be up to the young forward to lead this team again.
4. Marek Hamsik
Napoli captain Marek Hamsik was arguably one of the Partenopei's best players from 2010-2013. However, last year he declined, scoring seven goals and recording just five assists in 28 games.
On the surface, they're decent numbers, but for Hamsik, it was his worst season statistically since 2008/09. The 27-year-old was named captain last year, so that could have weighed him down.
Now that Hamsik has had a year to wear the armband, he might bounce back. He's in his prime years, but hasn't played like it, which is a worry for manager Rafa Benitez. If the attacker doesn't recover, he could be on his way out of Naples.
3. Miralem Pjanic
Under first-year coach Rudi Garcia, Roma had several outstanding performers. Miralem Pjanic was one of them, and his season was so impressive that PSG were reportedly interesting in signing him, per Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia).
However, Pjanic ended those rumours by signing a contract extension. Rightfully so, as the Bosnian had six goals and six assists in the 2013/14 Serie A season, appearing in all but three games.
Pjanic built on that at the World Cup. He was the only bright spot for a disappointing Bosnia and Herzegovina side, as he recorded a goal and an assist in three starts.
Now the 24-year-old has a chance to impress on another big stage in the Champions League. Pjanic has slowly budded into a terrific midfielder who will surely be a star for Roma for many years to come.
2. Paul Pogba
No one's stock has risen more than Paul Pogba's has over the last two years. The Juventus man is already a key player for Didier Deschamps' French squad, and has been earning regular starts with the Bianconeri.
At 21, Pogba is certainly on the road to becoming a star. Manchester United reportedly wanted to bring the Frenchman back to the club, per Daniel Taylor of The Guardian. However, with the new Serie A season on the horizon, the midfielder is probably staying in Turin.
If Pogba can produce another season like last year, surely it will be extremely difficult for Juventus to keep their starlet. This campaign could be a big one for the 21-year-old.
1. Francesco Totti
The world has run out of superlatives to describe Francesco Totti. The Roma captain is a legend and will go down as one of the best to ever play in Serie A.
At 37 years old, it's amazing how Totti continually produces terrific performances. His free kicks are still lethal, his playmaking ability is top notch and his goalscoring is as strong as ever.
In September, Totti will turn 38. He is currently the all-time second leading scorer in Serie A history with 235 goals. Silvio Piola is at the top of the list with 274.
It might take the veteran a couple more years to claim that record, but in the meantime, he'll be working on winning Roma's fourth Scudetto in club history.
That alone is the reason to pay attention to Totti, to see if he can end his career by winning that elusive title.