Serie A: Previewing the 2012-13 Season
The cloud of another Italian soccer scandal still hangs over Serie A as the new season is set to kickoff this weekend. Since the first news broke of the match-fixing affair that would come to known as calcioscommesse few around the game in Italy have avoided suspicion. That includes the reigning Serie A Champions, Juventus will have to defend their title and return to the Champions League without their coach Antonio Conte, as he serves a ten-month suspension.
The league is not only dealing with another blow to its reputation but from harsh financial realities. The English Premier League and Spanish La Liga are, at the moment, tops in Europe in terms of competition, marketability and generating revenue. This was no more evident then the steady exodus of some of Serie A’s finest players to England, Spain and even France.
And despite the additional loss of a peerless goal scoring trio in Filippo Inzaghi, Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Del Piero some young talents are emerging as the next bright generation of Serie A strikers. Mattia Destro, Sebastian Giovinco, Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne, all under 25 years of age, could breakout in big ways this season.
Despite being down, Serie A should be an entertaining league to watch this season. There is great parity throughout the league, and hardly anything is set in stone as to how the league might go. As play begins this Saturday, we take a team-by-team look at how some of B/R’s top writers see the season progressing.
We asked six of B/R's own experts to rank, from top to bottom this season's Serie A teams. Each position was given a value from 1-20, the top spot garnering 20 points, 2nd, 19 points and on down. After all the rankings were in, we totaled up the points and put the teams in order from last to first.
We've also sought insight on each team from our experts and which players they believe will be the difference makers in 2012-13.
The contributors to this report are:
Mohamed Al-Hendy: World Football Featured Columnist
Roberto Alvarez-Galloso: World Football Senior Writer
Michael Cummings: World Football Lead Writer
Tim Fontenault: World Football & AC Milan Featured Columnist
Sam Lopresti: World Football Featured Columnist
Daniel Manichello: World Football Featured Columnist
Manager: Giovanni Stroppa
Key Players: Vladimir Weiss, Jonathas, Danilo Soddimo (player in bold received the most votes)
2011-12 Record: W26, D5, L11 83 Points (Won Serie B)
Top goalscorer: Ciro Immobile (28)
Sam Lopresti: The team that won the cadetto last season has been completely gutted of everything that made the team relevant last season. Leading scorer Ciro Immobile, loaned to the delfini from Juventus, is off to Genoa, who bought half his rights from the bianconeri in January. Lorenzo Insegne returns to parent club Napoli, where he will be expected to help replace Lavezzi. Regista Marco Verrati was snapped up by PSG (seriously, I’m tired of using that phrase), and manager Zdenek Zeman has returned to Roma. Manchester City wantaway Vladimir Weiss is the only signing of special note. He’d have to be absolutely phenomenal and the rest of the team would have to play out of their heads in order for them to stay up.
Daniel Manichello: Pescara won the Serie B on the final day but otherwise dominated the second division. With the likes of Ciro Immobile, Marco Veratti and Lorenzo Insigne the Dolphins scored 90 goals, 27 more than their closet competitor in the category. Unfortunately those players returned to their clubs or in Veratti’s case were scooped up by free spending Paris St-Germain. The club still has a solid youth system and some talented youngsters but not enough to avoid a return to Serie B.
Manager: Serse Cosmi
Key Players: Emanuele Calaio
2011-12 Record: W11, D11, L16 44 Points (14th Place)
Top goalscorer: Mattia Destro (12)
Mohamed Al-Hendy: With a six point deduction and Mattia Destro gone, the scoring burden falls heavily on Emanuele Calaio’s shoulders. He played well last season, and will likely play well this season, but even he might not be able to score enough to save Siena.
Sam Lopresti: Simply put, Siena is doomed. If the six-point penalty assessed to them for their involvement in calcioscommesse didn’t do it, the sale of up-and-coming striker Mattia Destro to Roma did. Atalanta was able to overcome the six-point penalty they suffered last year with relative ease, but they had a far better team than Siena does now. Destro could’ve given them a shot, but there’s very little top talent on this team, and it could take them several weeks to get out of the red. Fans should make their plans for Serie B next season.
Manager: Giampiero Ventura
Key Players: Gianluca Sansone, Angelo Ogbonna, David Di Michele
2011-12 Record: W24, D11, L7 83 Points (Runners-up in Serie B)
Top goalscorer: Mirco Antenucci (10)
Daniel Manichello: Of the promoted sides, Torino has the strongest squad and best chance to avoid an immediate drop back to Serie B. Italian international Angelo Ogbonna anchors a defense that only conceded 28 goals in Serie B last year. Torino’s top flight pedigree is rich, seven times a champion, seven times a runner up. A return to stability starts with surviving life back in Serie A.
Sam Lopresti: Angelo Ogbonna is no longer the token Serie B player on the national team. How long that will be the case may depend on how long he stays with il toro. The other Turin team has some solid players, and get a big upgrade in goal in the form of Serie A veteran Jean-Francois Gillet, but Ogbonna is the only truly exceptional player on this team. I don’t see the derby della mole being revived for more than one year.
Manager: Ciro Ferrara
Key Players: Roberto Soriano, Maxi Lopez
2011-12 Record: W17, D16, L9 67 Points (6th Place in Serie B, Won Playoffs)
Top goalscorer: Nicola Pozzi (15)
Sam Lopresti: Samp finished sixth in Serie B after being demoted last season, but was able to claw their way back to the top flight through the playoff. They’ve gone on a bit of a spending spree since then, securing Juve castoff Marcelo Estigarribia and Catania wantaway Maxi Lopez on loan. The two of them give this team some experience from the top of last season’s title race (Lopez was on loan at Milan the second half of last year), and Andrea Poli’s return from loan at Inter brings talent and experience to the team. I don’t see them venturing too far up the table, but they’ll stay up and be able to set up for the possibility of rebuilding to their Champions League heights of a few years ago.
Mohamed Al-Hendy: Sampdoria may have been the lowest ranked Serie B side to be promoted, but they’ve invested the most in their squad this summer. Marcelo Estigarribia, Lorenzo Di Silvestri and Maxi Lopez have all come in on loan, and Angelo Palombo and Andrea Poli have returned from their loan spell with Inter. All should go straight into the starting lineup, and give the team a big boost of quality.
Roberto Alvarez-Galloso: Recently defeated Barcelona 1-0 in the Joan Gamper preseason trophy game.
Manager: Massimo Ficcadenti
Key Players: Davide Astori, Michael Agazzi, Radja Nainggolan
2011-12 Record: W10, D13, L15 43 Points (16th Place)
Top goalscorer: Mauricio Pinilla (8)
Mohamed Al-Hendy: Another ho-hum team with a good playmaker and a couple of good surrounding players. Andrea Cossu and Mauricio Pinilla, among others, should help Cagliari finish comfortably in the bottom half of the table.
Tim Fontenault: A team that at one point last year looked like a surprise European contender, Cagliari have returned to their old midtable selves. They should finish just outside the top half.
Sam Lopresti: Despite all the transfer rumors over the last year, midfielder Radja Nainggolan remains with the rossoblu. He will be the linchpin of the Cagliari attack, which will be led by young Columbian Victor Ibarbo. If they succeed, they could both be elsewhere by this time next year. I don’t like their defense though, and the change of stadium might be a bit of a distraction.
Manager: Rolando Maran
Key Players: Francesco Lodi, Gonzalo Bergessio, Pablo Barrientos
2011-12 Record: W11, D15, L12 48 Points (11th Place)
Top goalscorer: Francesco Lodi (9)
Daniel Manichello: The Sicilian outfit will look to better fellow islanders Palermo for a second consecutive season. They will rely heavily again on one of the better central defenders in Serie A, Nicola Legrottaglie. Last year they battled to 15 draws, tied for first in that category with Juventus. More of the same will see them stay up for a seventh straight year with relative ease.
Sam Lopresti: Vincenzo Montella had gli elefanti playing far above their heads last year. Now that he’s moved on to Florence, I expect the Sicilians to drop back down into the table. They have a good but not great attack led by Bergessio and Davide Lanzafame, with Takayuri Morimoto returning from his loan at Novara last season to supplement the front. Nicola Legrottaglie will anchor the defense, but how long will he stay effective as he gets on in years?
Manager: Luigi Di Canio
Key Players: Ciro Immobile, Sebastian Frey
2011-12 Record: W11, D9, L18 42 Points (17th Place)
Top goalscorer: Rodrigo Palacio (19)
Tim Fontenault: Genoa are a team that can either play really tough or just roll over and play dead. This team may avoid the relegation battle near the end though. There's quality throughout the pitch, but putting it together is the problem.
Mohamed Al-Hendy: Genoa sold Rodrigo Palacio to Inter this summer, but in his place they brought in Serie B topscorer Ciro Immobile. Genoa’s success will likely be defined by how well he adjusts to Serie A life.
Sam Lopresti: Genoa was so bad last year that they were nearly relegated and fans at the Luigi Ferraris staged a mid-game revolt toward the end of the season—only the pleading of captain Marco Rossi prevented a full-scale riot. I think they’ll be safer this year, but not by that much. Alberto Gilardino is still not 30 but has shown serious signs of regression. If he and Immobile both start to fire on all cylinders Genoa might be able to take down a giant or two, but early signs don’t look good—they’ve already crashed out of the Coppa Italia. The highlight of the season for them will likely be the return of the derby della lanterna.
Manager: Domenico Di Carlo
Key Players: Sergio Pellissier, Stefano Sorrentino, Alberto Paloschi
2011-12 Record: W12, D13, L13 49 Points (10th Place)
Top goalscorer: Sergio Pellissier (8)
Mohamed Al-Hendy: Every year, Chievo compete in Serie A with a very modest squad, yet every year for the last five years they’ve been able to finish modestly well above the drop zone. They won’t do great, but they’ll live to see another Serie A season.
Sam Lopresti: As captain Sergio Pelissier goes, so goes Chievo. He’ll have some help this year from Milan loanee Alberto Palsoschi, and they have a goalkeeper in Stefano Sorrentino who is as solid as one can be. It will be up to Kamil Vacek and Luca Rigoni to supply the front line. The Flying Donkeys are always a solid team but will never challenge for the title.
Daniel Manichello: The recurring theme amongst the smaller clubs is that there are fleeced of their best talent year after year, Chievo was no exception. Michael Bradley and Francesco Acerbi departed for Roma and Milan, respectively. A hardworking side, but one that ended last year with a minus ten goal differential. The drag of another long season will see Chievo struggle more this time around and fall amongst the bottom half.
Manager: Guiseppe Sannino
Key Players: Fabrizio Miccoli, Abel Hernandez, Josip Ilicic
2011-12 Record: W11, D10, L17 43 Points (16th Place)
Top goalscorer: Fabrizio Miccoli (16)
Sam Lopresti: Fabrizio Miccoli has turned into a bona fide star for the rosanero, as has Josip Ilicic behind him in the attacking midfield role. If 22-year-old Abel Hernandez truly realizes his potential, Palermo could have a truly terrifying attack. The problem is their back line, which is a sieve. I don’t think Palermo will ever contend until they get a president who stops changing coaches twice a year. You can’t play with that lack of continuity and expect to win.
Tim Fontenault: After an uncharacteristic campaign last season, this year could be even worse for Palermo who must deal with the losses of Cassani, Pinilla, Tzorvas and of course Balzaretti. Josip Ilicic will need to pull the strings from the midfield and try to salvage something for Palermo this year.
Manager: Stefano Colantuono
Key Players: Ezequiel Schelotto, German Denis,
2011-12 Record: W13, D13, L12 46 Points (12th Place)
Top goalscorer: German Denis (16)
Mohamed Al-Hendy: Even with their two point deduction, Atalanta have the talent to finish comfortably mid-table. German Denis had an excellent season last year, and Ezequiel Schelotto, Luca Cigarini and Maximiliano Moralez give Atalanta a good midfield.
Sam Lopresti: Atalanta started last season off with a six-point penalty, but wiped it out in only two weeks. They would have finished ninth rather than 12th last year if it weren’t for that penalty. German Denis was tied for sixth in Serie A in goals last year, and he’s supported by young up-and-comers Manolo Gabbiadini and Guido Marilungo. They’ll give the attack an edge, and la dea gave up fewer goals last season than any of the three teams that made the Europa League.
Manager: Roberto Donadoni
Key Players: Jonathan Biabiany, Amauri, Raffaele Pallodino
2011-12 Record: W15, D11, L12 56 Points (8th Place)
Top goalscorer: Sebastian Giovinco (15)
Daniel Manichello: Winning their final seven games, no one finished the 2011-12 season on a stronger note then Parma. Brazilian-Italian Amauri returns from an unremarkable loan spell with Juve to fill the considerable void left by Giovinco’s depature. Colombian Dorlan Pabon also joins from Atletico Nacional where he scored 29 times in 65 appearances. Jonathan Biabiany and Sergio Floccari will also help Parma stay worry free and within striking distance of Europa League spots again.
Sam Lopresti: The gialloblu surprised a lot of people by getting to within two points of the Europa League spot Inter ended up getting. Unfortunately, they’ve regressed this season. Losing Sebastian Giovinco is a huge blow. They’ll look to Amauri to replace his production and hope he turns into the player he was with Palermo. The defense, led by keeper Antonio Mirante, was suspect at times; if they’re not careful, they could slip back down into the relegation fight.
Manager: Stefano Poli
Key Players: Gaston Ramirez, Alessandro Diamanti
2011-12 Record: W13, D12, L13 51 Points (9th Place)
Top goalscorer: Marco Di Vaio (10)
Tim Fontenault: Obviously, losing Marco Di Vaio hurts, but this side could remain in the top half as there is still quality. Gaston Ramirez is one of the best young players in the world. Fans of Bologna and Serie A in general will rejoice that his Southampton move is off.
Sam Lopresti: Watch for Diamanti-to-Robert Aquafresca to produce some great goals this season. Bologna is one of those middle-of-the-road squads that will sit squarely in the middle of the table. Look out for Danish defender Frederick Sorenson to make an impact.
Daniel Manichello: This is a tough team, an aggressive outfit who have taken on the character of their two prominent South American players, Gaston Ramirez and Diego Perez. Bologna’s leading 2011-12 scorer, Marco Di Vaio, is now with the Montreal Impact so the squad will have to find more goals from Alessandro Diamanti, Ramirez and a number of unproven forward options.
Manager: Vincenzo Montella
Key Players: Stevan Jovetic, Alberto Aquilani
2011-12 Record: W11, D13, L14 46 Points (13th Place)
Top goalscorer: Stevan Jovetic (14)
Sam Lopresti: There’s a ton of parity beneath Juve and Milan, and I think Fiorentina has made the right moves to capitalize on that and make their first run to the Champions League since the Cesare Prandelli era. This prediction could go up in smoke if Stevan Jovetic flees Florence, but it looks like La viola will retain their star striker, who should get good service from the midfield with the addition of Aquilani to replace the departed Montolivo. He will be a nice compliment to mainstay Juan Manuel Vargas out wide. Look for Alessio Cerci to take a step forward as well. Defensively, they’ve beefed up with the addition of Italian international Emiliano Viviano. Vincenzo Montella worked magic at Catania last season, and I think he will establish himself as a top Italian manager during his time in Florence.
Tim Fontenault: With arguably the best mercato in Italy this summer, La Viola can return to competing for a spot in Europe as opposed to Serie B.
Mohamed Al-Hendy: In the wake of last year’s disastrous season, Fiorentina have seriously shaken up the squad and signed talented players like David Pizarro, Alberto Aquilani, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Borja Valero, Emiliano Viviano, Matias Fernandez, Mattia Cassani, Mournir El Hamdoui and Egyptian prodigy Ahmed Hegazy. It’ll take time for the team to gel, but they should eventually start developing a good rhythm under Vincenzo Montella.
Manager: Francesco Guidolin
Key Players: Antonio Di Natale, Giampiero Pinzi
2011-12 Record: W18, D10, L10 64 Points (3rd Place, Champions League)
Top goalscorer: Antonio Di Natale (23)
Michael Cummings: It just feels like Udinese lost too much this summer. But we were saying the same thing last year.
Tim Fontenault: With so many good clubs at the top, someone's going to be the odd man out. Antonio Di Natale can still score at will, but the loss of Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla to Juventus, the Zebrete may be on the outside of the European zone. 31-year-old Giampiero Pinzi will need to keep control in the middle of the park.
Daniel Manichello: Here’s a partial list of players who’ve left Udinese in the last three years: Simone Pepe, Fabio Quagiarella, Alexis Sanchez, Mauricio Isla, Samir Handanovic and Kwadwo Asamoah. Here’s where Udinese has finished in Serie A the last three years: 15th, 4th and 3rd. Partial drop off this year, the loss of Handanovic in goal will be particularly painful but they’ll still be competing for European spots late in the season.
Mohamed Al-Hendy: Without Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla, I can’t see them challenging the elite this season.
Manager: Vladimir Petkovic
Key Players: Hernanes, Miroslav Klose
2011-12 Record: W18, D8, L12 62 Points (4th Place, Europa League)
Top goalscorer: Miroslav Klose (12)
Sam Lopresti: The walls may come crashing in on Lazio this year. Stefano Mauri is no longer captain after he was caught up in calcioscommesse, and Edy Reja left the team in a messy divorce at the end of last season. Lazio was seriously hampered by the injuries to German legend Klose, which hampered their attack later on in the season. Sergio Floccari and new captain Tomasso Rocchi need to support him if Lazio is to win
Michael Cummings: As long as Hernanes is around, this team will be dangerous. With Napoli losing Lavezzi and Udinese losing more stars, this could be Lazio’s breakthrough year.
Daniel Manichello: It might not be the most intimidating group on paper, but they are resilient; six times last year they won games after conceding the first goal.
Manager: Zdenek Zeman
Key Players: Daniele De Rossi, Erik Lamela
2011-12 Record: W16, D8, L14 56 Points (7th Place)
Top goalscorer: Pablo Osvaldo (11)
Tim Fontenault: Owner Thomas DiBenedetto wants to put some American influence into the squad and he's started by bringing in Michael Bradley. After a big year at Chievo, expectations are high.
Daniel Manichello: Roma is a vastly improved side and will contend for Champions League spots in 2012-13. With Daniele De Rossi and new addition Michael Bradley down the middle, the core of the team is composed of strong, defensive midfielders with the ability to open the opposition. Federico Balzaretti, off an impressive debut with the national team at the Euros, also joins. The strike force lost Fabio Borini to Liverpool but still has Erik Lamela, Daniel Osvaldo, Bojan, newly added Mattias Destro and the indefatigable Francesco Totti. Definitely going to be one of the more entertaining sides to watch in the league.
Mohamed Al-Hendy: It’s round two for the American project at Roma. Zdenek Zeman is a manager with a solid résumé, but he’ll have his work cut out for him turning a ton of talent into a cohesive and performing unit. If he can get the likes of Lamela, Pjanic, Destro, Osvaldo and De Rossi clicking though, the sky is the limit for Roma.
Manager: Walter Mazzarri
Key Players: Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik, Christian Maggio
2011-12 Record: W16, D13, L9 61 Points (5th Place, Europa League)
Coppa Italia Champions
Top goalscorer: Edinson Cavani (23)
Daniel Manichello: Lavezzi is a loss but the club smartly (and cheaply) filled the void with Pandev, Eduardo Vargas and Lorenzo Insigne. Napoli beat out a number of higher profile clubs last winter in signing Vargas, one of Chile and South America’s top talents. The 21-year old Insigne, playing under now Roma coach Zdenak Zeman last year scored 18 goals with Serie B champions, and newly promoted, Pescara. Napoli also retained Marek Hamsik. The defense around stalwart Paolo Cannavaro is solid but aging and remains the biggest question mark heading into the new campaign.
Sam Lopresti: Their defense is OK, but Chelsea may have exposed a weakness in the UCL last year when they staged an improbable comeback during the round of 16 by peppering the box with crosses and feasting on the fact that the Napoli defenders couldn’t match them in the air. This team also has to stop making excuses. Last year Mazzari made continual references to the Champions League draining his players, and after the Supercoppa last week he whined about his team not getting any calls against Juve.
Michael Cummings: Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik are still around, but the transfer of Ezequiel Lavezzi will be a bigger loss than most think. It will be interesting to see what tactical wizardy Walter Mazzarri cooks up next.
Manager: Andrea Stramaccioni
Key Players: Wesley Sneijder, Rodrigo Palacio, Antonio Cassano
2011-12 Record: W17, D7, L14 58 Points (6th Place, Europa League)
Top goalscorer: Diego Milito (24)
Sam Lopresti: Andrea Ranocchia must bounce back from a bad season to take over in the center of defense for center-back mainstays Lucio (to Juve), and Ivan Cordoba (retired). In attack, Inter’s bad season masked the bounce-back of Diego Milito, who will look to form a productive partnership with newly-arrived countryman Rodrigo Palacio. Sneijder is key in midfield, but must stay on the field to make an impact.
Tim Fontenault: With a solid market, including the addition of Antonio Cassano, Inter could contend in a three-way race for the title. (Key player: Antonio Cassano will take some of the pressure off of Diego Milito in attack)
Mohamed Al-Hendy: I’m a big fan of Andrea Stramaccioni, even if he’s young and unproven. Inter’s squad has changed tremendously, but the veterans still remain, and if Stramaccioni can develop consistency with his team, I think a second-place finish shouldn’t be ruled out.
Manager: Massimiliano Allegri
Key Players: Alexandre Pato, Stephen El-Sharaway, Kevin Prince-Boateng, Riccardo Montolivo
2011-12 Record: W24, D8, L6 80 Points (2nd Place, Champions League)
Top goalscorer: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (28)
Tim Fontenault: There's a little time left, but so far it's been a tough market for Milan. Losing all those veterans and selling Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, and Antonio Cassano will make this a new-look side. Milan have discipline and could play spoiler for a top three club, but for now, hello Europa League. Alexandre Pato must stay healthy, no ifs, ands or buts about it.
Michael Cummings: The defense is looking slow and old, and the attack doesn’t have the same edge that Ibra brought. With that said, not many teams are better than Milan. Riccardo Montolivo could turn out to be a great pickup in midfield.
Sam Lopresti: In the back, Milan has problems. Mattia De Sciglio may be a long-term start at fullback, but he’s untested, while Francesco Acerbi will be relied upon to replace Thiago Silva in the center. They can’t challenge Juve for the title, but they should be able to overwhelm the rest of the league.
Daniel Manichello: Undoubtedly a full rebuilding phase finds the club at its lowest point in a generation. Also gone are long time club veterans Alessandro Nesta, Mark Van Bommel, Pippo Inzaghi and Gennaro Gattuso. The additions of Montolivo and Pazzini can't mask what's going to be a pretty dramatic drop off (by Milan standards).
Manager: Antonio Conte (Massimo Carrera will likely fill in in Conte's absence)
Key Players: Andrea Pirlo, Mirko Vucinic, Arturo Vidal, Giorgio Chiellini
2011-12 Record: W23, D15, L0 84 Points (Won Serie A, Champions League)
Top goalscorer: Alessandro Matri (10)
Daniel Manichello: Frankly, they could go another year without losing. Asamoah and Pogba add depth to a midfield where Pirlo, Vidal and Marchisio regularly feature. Additionally, Juve fortified perhaps their one weak spot from last year by bringing Giovinco back from loan, he should be a boon to their scoring bite. With Conte absent from the touchline all year it could affect morale but won't derail their scudetto charge.
Sam Lopresti: The effects of the suspension to Antonio Conte will be minimal as he will be allowed to continue to train the team and develop tactics in between matches—his biggest strength. They still need a top-notch striker to be considered contenders on a European level, but with their excellent defense and transcendent midfield they are easily the class of Serie A.
Tim Fontenault: Conte is a brilliant coach, but with that group of stars and veterans like Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, it's hard to think that they won't be able to cope for 10 months. Pirlo is a general in the midfield; his experience and leadership will be crucial without Conte.
Michael Cummings: Some will say the lack of a star striker will hurt, but with the peerless Andrea Pirlo in the midfield, Juventus still look like the best team in Serie A. Still, picking up a striker like Fernando Llorente would be a big plus.
Our Final Table
|2||AC Milan||109||Champions League|
* Napoli had a higher ranking in 4 out of the 6 polls so we put them just ahead of Roma even though they were tied on points.