Why Serie A is Europe's Most Exciting League to Watch This Season

Adam Digby@@Adz77Featured ColumnistSeptember 7, 2017

ROME, ITALY - AUGUST 26:  Mauro Manuel Icardi of FC Internazionale and Kostas Manolas of AS Roma in action during the Serie A match between AS Roma and FC Internazionale at Stadio Olimpico on August 26, 2017 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)
Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Boring. Seemingly forever, that has been the knock on Serie A; it is not as entertaining to watch as the other major competitions around Europe, and it has been left behind by rival leagues in Spain and England.

Dour, negative and defensive tactics led to the catenaccio stereotype that lingers even today, decades after Karl Rappan and Nereo Rocco's style was discarded. In recent years, Italian football has had another issue, the complete dominance of Juventus making it less appealing to casual viewers.

The Old Lady has won six consecutive titles by a wide margin, with the gulf between her and the chasing pack making each Scudetto race something of a foregone conclusion.

However, this summer saw a major shift in the Serie A landscape, one sparked largely by Leonardo Bonucci's decision to leave Juve for AC Milan, which followed Dani Alves' switch to Paris Saint-Germain.

Fueled by an influx of cash from their new Chinese owners and looking to quickly return to relevance, the Rossoneri are just one of the teams looking to reel in Juventus, with many regular observers of Italian football believing the 2017/18 campaign could be a memorable one.

"The summer spending of Milan and the ambition they are showing is a source of great intrigue," BT Sport commentator Adam Summerton told Bleacher Report.

"Watching their season unfold, whatever happens, is going to be fascinating. I believe Napoli are playing the most exciting brand of football in Europe right now, and their stability, continuity and quality makes them a serious threat to Juventus for the title.

"For the first time in a while, I think genuine questions are being asked of Juventus. I don't think that it's now just seen as a given that they'll win the Scudetto.

"How damaging will the loss of two world-class defenders prove? Will the new additions fit into the legendary Juventus ethos which has made them such a power. Has much of this squad already peaked? Will there be a hangover from the Champions League final?"

Those doubts about the Bianconeri seem well-founded after poor performances in their opening two matches. Manager Massimiliano Allegri's men may well have won against Cagliari and Genoa, but their displays were far from convincingand that has given hope to fans of rival clubs.

Perhaps none should be better prepared to challenge than Napoli. This summer saw them ward off advances for star men Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne, while the squad returned early from their summer break in order to be ready to launch a Scudetto bid.

They successfully navigated a tricky UEFA Champions League playoff clash with OGC Nice, and their early outings have given their passionate fanbase belief this could be the year they finally overhaul the Bianconeri.

"I think this is the season when our mentality—our biggest hurdle—is finally strong," Napoli supporter Phil told Bleacher Report. "The recent match at home against Atalanta was the perfect example: a goal down at half-time, we didn't panic and convincingly won 3-1. That confidence is going to help us be true title contenders."

Followers of the Partenopei are far from alone, though, with many others believing their own sides could be crowned champions in May 2018, including those who support last season's runners-up, AS Roma.

"Coming off a season in which they achieved a club points record, Roma are ready to embark on a new season with a new manager, Eusebio Di Francesco, and a new sporting director, Monchi, at the helm," John Solano, editor of the RomaPress website, told Bleacher Report.

"While many were skeptical of the Giallorossi's summer transfer market, which saw Mohamed Salah, Antonio Rudiger, and Leandro Paredes depart the club, the depth which had been brought in by the Spanish transfer wizard is reason for healthy optimism in the capital,” he continued.

"This is a new cycle for Roma, but with a strong base of players such as Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman to build upon, Roma should be ready to challenge for silverware this season."

Indeed, those seeking excitement in Serie A need look no further than the spectacular clash between the Giallorossi and Inter Milan on Aug. 26. The San Siro team ran out 3-1 winners as former Roma boss Luciano Spalletti showed he has already made his new side thrilling to watch.

The coach has been helped by a relatively calm summer that saw them refuse bids from Manchester United for key winger Ivan Perisic, while the team contains a large number of talented stars.

"Inter are more complete this season in all regards," Nima Tavallaey—founder of SempreInter.com—told Bleacher Report. "The squad is more homogeneous in terms of quality and is built to play the way Spalletti wants them to play.

"More importantly, the entire club is backing Spalletti and allowing him to set out the direction without being questioned. This gives the club a sense of strength through unity which it has been lacking since the days of Jose Mourinho."

Yet, as mentioned earlier, it is arguably Inter's crosstown rivals who have been most improved this summer, with the AC Milan spending spree inspiring fans to get behind the team after years of mediocre showings.

As can be seen in the tweet above, a raft of new talent has been bought in to help head coach Vincenzo Montella lift the team back into contention, supplemented by a special group of homegrown youngsters.

Gianluigi Donnarumma needs no introduction, but striker Patrick Cutrone has quickly catapulted his own name into the spotlight with four goals in six first-team appearances this term. The rise of the 19-year-old was discussed in this previous post, but it is the giant leap made by the entire club that has injected incredible amounts of optimism into Rossoneri supporters.

"In my opinion, Milan will be definitely better this coming season," lifelong fan Michelangelo Gamberini told Bleacher Report. "First of all, the club signed more skilled players for each role of the line-up, while the club also worked during transfer window to sign players which fit Montella's tactics, so I'm hopeful that we will see a vastly improved team as the season progresses."

So, it's clear the biggest clubs in Serie A will be back and challenging, and their resurgence could not be better timed. This year, Italy will have four places in the Champions League rather than three, and with Napoli, Roma, Milan and Inter all improving behind Juve, the battle for those spots will be intriguing.

Further down the table, though, there are a number of other teams to keep an eye on, too. Atalanta surprised everyone by securing a UEFA Europa League spot last term, while Lazio—superbly coached by Simone Inzaghi—defeated the Bianconeri in the Supercoppa Italiana in August and will be a tough opponent throughout the campaign.

Even Fiorentina, despite selling Federico Bernardeschi, Borja Valero and many other important players, look set to be much more watchable this term after investing in some promising talent.

"The transfer window kicked off with large amounts of unrest from Fiorentina fans as the club cleared out some of their longest-serving players," Viola fan and Serie A writer Chloe Beresford told Bleacher Report. "Since then, there have been multiple new arrivals including young and exciting players such as Giovanni Simeone and Marco Benassi.

"New boss Stefano Pioli has been handed the task of assembling the new squad into a team, and although they have suffered two straight defeats in the opening two rounds of the season, optimism remains that the Viola are about to enter a positive new cycle."

Everywhere around the league there are storylines to monitor. Can Sassuolo remain competitive after coach Eusebio Di Francesco left for Roma? Will Torino fare better now that Salvatore Sirigu has replaced Joe Hart in goal? How will minnows Benevento and SPAL fare in the top flight?

But it is the title race that will earn the most attention and, despite the loss of Bonucci, it would be dangerous to ignore just how formidable Juventus remain.

"I still make them favourites for the title," BT Sport's Summerton concluded when asked about the Bianconeri, which is understandable after six years of evidence.

Yet, what it will not be is boring. The first two rounds showed it could be a spectacular season, with teams up and down the table capable of delivering moments of sheer brilliance. Prepare to be entertained.

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